When Is A Punch Just A Punch?
So the other day I was waiting for my coffee order. It was at this small shop that had just opened and I suspected they were still ironing out all the bugs so to speak. They seemed to have quite a few different coffee selections, and while my particular order wasn’t all that complicated, I could understand how somebody, especially somebody in high school trying to make a couple extra dollars on the weekend, could easily become overwhelmed at both the complexity of the equipment and the throngs of curious crowds trying to squeeze their way into this ingeniously located attractor of customers.
“What is the difference?” I heard a voice behind me ask. Since the place was packed, I assumed the voice, or rather the voice’s owner, was speaking to somebody else.
“Really, what’s the difference?” I turned to see this person was talking to. He was looking right at me.
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“When you learn something, and when you know something already?”
I had to shake my head to make sure I heard him right.
“Huh?” Was the best I could do.
“That girl,” he said, motioning to the about to lose it girl who was struggling to keep up with the orders.
“In a few weeks, she’ll be able to do all this while talking on her cell phone to one of her boyfriends without any problems.”
“So what’s the difference?”
Now if this guy had been some smelly homeless person, I would have written this exchange off as some kind of random run in with a word salad generator. But he guy was clean-shaven, and dressed in clothes that he didn’t get from the good will. So I tried as hard as I could to figure out what in the world he was getting at.
I was reading this interesting article, or essay I guess, by Richard Dawkins, or maybe some other guy, the other day. He was talking about how genes have this uncanny ability to work together to give the illusion that we have genes for every specific action that is possible. Like I have a gene that makes me love chocolate ice cream, or I have a gene that makes me suck at fractions.
The example he gave was basketball. Some people are really good at basketball, and some people, like me, (actually many people like me) have no business being anywhere except in the bleachers at a basketball court.
But some people are naturally gifted basketball players. Which may lead some to believe that there is some type of “basketball” gene. As if two parents that were superb basketball players would automatically have kids that were superior at basketball.
But obviously, there was never any evolutionary selector for basketball. There certainly was for throwing rocks at moving animals, and being able to jump over ditches if you were being chased by a tiger, or being able to chase after a wounded zebra for a couple kilometers, or being tall enough to reach the good stuff that nobody else can reach. Only recently have these random genes been collectively beneficial in certain people who are good at basketball.
The point of this article is that one of the reasons, or at least one of the possible reasons, according to evolutionary biologists for humans’ dominance on the planet is our versatility. Humans have lived in all different kinds of environments from houses built out of ice to house built on the sides of cliffs.
The conjecture by this particular essayist is that we humans have such a versatile pool of genes to pull from that they can combine to form many useful skills in many useful environments.
One mistake people make is that humans have less instincts that so called lower animals, and more learning power. Lower animals have instincts built in so they are pretty much good to go after a few weeks. Human don’t have so many instincts, so it takes us a while to figure things out.
But more and more scientists are starting to agree that humans have both much more learning capacity than lower animals, and many more instincts. It is that combination that gives us our edge. To be able actually learn new things, until we can perform them as if they are second nature, or an instinct. We actually have the capacity to learn more instincts, so to speak.
Bruce Lee once remarked that before you learn Jeet Kun Do, a punch is just a punch. You throw it without thinking. Maybe it will hit its target, maybe it won’t. But when you start to study martial arts, a punch becomes a complex combination of intention, balance, breath and focus, and directed energy. After learn to master these different elements, and can do so without thinking, a punch is again, just a punch. But it is an altogether different, and much more powerful and deadly punch.
So I finally asked the guy, “What exactly do you mean?”
“When you come back in two weeks, she’ll me making coffee like a pro. If you compare her then, to somebody who is just naturally good at making coffee, how would you be able to tell the difference?”
“Hmm. I suppose you wouldn’t.”
“Exactly.” He said. Just then both our coffees were ready, and we both went our separate ways.