Totum maior summa partum

Six blind humans once encountered an elephant. Each of them tentatively approached the unknown form that they could neither see nor hear, and each happened to touch a different part of the great beast. They moved their sensitive fingertips across what their hands could reach, and curiously explored.

Meeting together again, each was excited to exchange notes. For what a curious thing this was! What was it called and what purpose did it serve?

The first one said:

“What tree is this that we have chanced upon?

Its trunk just seems to go on and on.

Or is it a pillar thick and round

Solidly planted in the ground?”


The second one shook his head to exclaim:

“Oh no, you are mistaken, friend

It is simply a wall without end.

I just ran my hand from side to side

It is so solid, so firm, broad and wide.”


The third person was amazed at such tall tales:

“What do you mean ‘so high and strong’?

I assure you that you have got it quite wrong.

It’s quite simply a snake, soft, thick and long,

I could feel its breath as it swayed along.”


The fourth one was a bit confused now:

“It’s true it was long, but I have a doubt,

It wasn’t supple nor smooth as you make out.

It was surely a rope you felt my friend

Why, it even had long tassels at the end.”


The fifth individual thought the four were quite crazy:

“Imagine, imagining it to be a tree or a wall

Just what has come over you all?

Do snakes or ropes flap like sails on boats?

They were those giant punkhas, like ones in the royal courts.”


By now the sixth was convinced that the rest were mad:

“Why are we making wild guesses and playing foolish games?

I know not to what you give different names.

Firm to the touch, sharp at the end; nothing large or loose or long

How could it be anything but a spear sharp and strong?”


And thus each one ‘saw’ a different sight

And each was convinced that they were right.

Alas the six could only see a part, but never understand

That it all the parts together that made the whole elephant.

Illustration: Roopalika V.

“The whole is more than the sum of its parts.” Aristotle


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