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October 22nd, 2019
By the word of some researchers, this may be the oldest story we know of, coming to us from the Bronze age,
6,000 years ago.
Despite it’s age, this story has never been more relevant than it is today, and it will be increasingly relevant as we move forward.
The story goes like this:
A blacksmith makes a deal with the devil. The deal is the blacksmith sells his soul in order to gain the ability to weld anything together. Once the blacksmith has this power, he then welds the devil himself to an immovable object, like a rock. Some versions report a tree. Rock sounds better. No matter what it is, the point is. . .
the blacksmith actually gets away with it.
He gets the power without having to hand over his soul.
This story is the original technological hack.
It is the original story of being able to eat your cake and keep it too.
And even if this isn’t actually the oldest story we have on record, the fact that it’s one of the very oldest isn’t just prescient and astonishing, it’s. . . hopeful.
In this little story, the blacksmith changes the rules of how things operate. The traditional rules are: you give something, you get something. But the blacksmith uses the situation to change the situation. He gets something for nothing . . . but it still requires one important ingredient.
What’s required to get something for free is ingenuity. He played by the rules of the situation, but there was a flaw in those rules, a loophole that the blacksmith saw and used.
One might say that the blacksmith didn’t play by the rules, but it’s far more accurate to say that the rules were not properly designed to account for all situations. In effect, the rules were not designed to deal with human ingenuity.
It’s appropriate that this story arose in the bronze age when humans began to discover the possibilities of smelting different metals. But it’s even more appropriate today, when it’s possible to make billions of dollars if you can touch a computer in just the right ways.
Our species seems principally defined by our ability to sneak treasures out of a lockbox that the Unknown keeps hidden away.
Anyone who reads or listens to this episode of Tinkered Thinking can only do so because of dozens and dozens of technological discoveries that have been laced together in an intricate way that compounds the beneficial effects of all those discoveries. And if say, you’re connected to a public wifi, then you’re doing so pretty much for free. It’s as though you and I both conspired against the devil to get some thoughts that are in my head into your head without having to give much of anything away. All it took was some ingenuity.
The story, as an analogy certainly seems even more ripe when you think of the recent scrutinies big tech has endured. In some cases it certainly looks like someone sold their soul for power. Regardless, that is a somewhat different topic.
At the heart of the Smith and the Devil is the notion that you can invent your way out of a situation.
That underlying principle is the reason we like James Bond movies, Mcgyver, and Jason Borne, along with the Indiana Jones series and The Da Vinci Code.
Fewer things are more satisfying than when a puzzle is defeated by human ingenuity.
In the broadest sense, it’s this that we seem to be naturally geared towards.
We seem to forget that our species is the product of natural processes. The difficult word in these last two sentences is the word ‘natural’. Plastic litter certainly doesn’t feel natural, but if we recognize humans as a natural process of environmental conditions. . . than it is.
Our drive as a species appears more and more like an unstoppable colonization of the unknown. No matter what the rules seem to be, we intuit the possibility of a deeper set of rules that allows us to act in a way that hacks the situation, and by this process we slowly tame chaos and uncover the unknown. And in the process we uncover treasures afforded by understanding these new secrets.
This applies on the level of our society and planet, but more importantly it applies to the individual.
With the internet, nearly anyone has access to the tools needed to teach themselves virtually anything. And with that, you can innovate your way out of your current situation and quite literally create a better situation.
Everyone is a smith.
And we all have the opportunity to trick the devil
and make a better life.
The first trick is to realize that your life, your current situation, is a puzzle.
Are you working to solve it?
or are you doing laps in the maze?
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