Knowledge is cumulative, wisdom is not.
His first memory was of being held by a nurse in the delivery room. She wiped him with a towel, put him on a scale and weighed him, then rolled ink on the bottom of his feet and pressed them onto his birth certificate.
Those prints have faded over the years, but his memory of that experience has not. In fact when he told his mother about his memory of that experience many years later, she looked at him with surprise and said that it had been exactly the way he remembered it. She went on to add that he had been unusually quiet and very alert right after his birth. And that when the nurse had finished toweling him off his eyes opened very wide and he began looking around the delivery room with an expression of wonder.
A few years later a similar eye-opening ‘footprint impression’ was left in his memory (see Born Young). This one, more ‘indelible’ than the first, recalled his beginning step upon a path that he would explore for many years to come. That first step was taken shortly before the age of five.
Returning home late one afternoon from an independent exploration of the area surrounding their home (including the forbidden next block), his mother greeted him with a slap to the butt and a stern admonition that it was time for him to start growing up! Not knowing exactly what she meant by that, he tried to connect it with what he’d just experienced on his afternoon walk. What, he wondered, should one use as a model for growing up? Should it be that of the ‘adult’ world he’d been observing on his tour of the neighborhood? Should it be the little old man, for example, who he’d seen transporting himself with 1-1/2 tons of smoking steel through the neighborhood streets…mostly to gain attention?
By the time he was fourteen he still hadn’t found anyone, or anything that suggested a more advanced state of understanding or awareness than his own. In fact, the older he got, the more childish (to him) most people seemed to be. Maybe somewhere in the wider world, he thought. Certainly there had to be examples out there, somewhere, even if only historic. And that’s when he began to read, voraciously. But the more he read, the more his hope of making that discovery began to dim. And while he found many literary examples of creative brilliance, they were invariably contained within a childish, culturally framed point of view.
For example, beginning with the Greek philosophers he expected to discover an evolution of philosophical thought progressing through the ages. But instead he found only a gradual deterioration of that original ‘seminal’ thinking. And in scientific literature, while there seemed to be an evolutionary trend (ideas and theories growing from earlier thoughts and experience), the general mind-set of its progenitors was also strangely confined to only “seeing” things in a certain way. And perhaps the least ‘evolutionary’ of all was to be found in the writing of popular novels..almost all of which served only to chronicle an endlessly repetitive variation of the post-pubescent conflict between all who live in that tightly packed, endlessly buzzing cultural beehive we call civilization. So not much help there either.
By the time he was twenty, he’d begun to think it was a pointless search for something which only existed in his mother’s imagination. By then it had become clear to him that human ‘maturation’ essentially ended with the onset of puberty. Once those hormones began to kick in they, more than anything else, determined the goals and boundaries of human behavior.
Of course by that time he was also experiencing that same ‘maturation’ dynamic, and his thoughts and goals were also being largely shaped by those same hormonal forces. And thus it was many years later before he began to think again about what might be accomplished if humans were to transcend their hormonal conditioning (not to mention the cultural matrix defined by it) and consider once again what it means to grow up.