Now don’t think that all I did during those summer holiday periods at Sechelt was work with stones. Stonework was only what I did most of the time! I love working with tools.
We also went on some long sailing expeditions. In Ontario I had designed and built what was, so far as I know, the first take-apart catamaran sailboat ever seen in that province. Kay sewed up an efficient set of sails. Nobody ever had more thrilling rides anywhere than we had back there on Lake Huron, racing the wind under full sail on the big waves from the west. Our flat-bottomed pontoons would rise out of the water and we’d skim along like a double surfboard. We never wiped out. As we rushed toward the shore, we’d slide down the front of some swelling big comber heaving itself up for its last breaking. When the roaring chaos was over and the swirling sheets of water had returned to the lake, we’d be left away up on the wet sand of the beach.
When we moved West, where the winds come from, we brought out our boat and adapted it for saltwater sailing. We had to carry a motor. If the wind died down when we were far from home, tidal currents could carry us miles even farther away. So I added a transom between the sterns of the pontoons. We also devised a neat way to double our mainsail area without increasing the height of the mast. The rigging then took on an unfamiliar “oriental” look, but it increased our speed remarkably.
The winds at Sechelt were pretty reliable. Each morning about eleven o’clock a wind came up the inlet from the Gulf of Georgia and it died away about five in the afternoon. In midsummer we could almost set the clock by those breezes.
Our boating expeditions provided some unforgettable experiences. Once we were caught by a sudden wild eddy below the white water of Skookumchuck Rapids. I was standing up so that I could see better to steer. Only a quick grab for a sidestay saved me from being pitched overboard in high rubber boots.
Wherever we stopped along those wilderness shores there were always oysters and mussels free for the taking. In season we could have our fill of berries, and occasionally a feed of mushrooms. A number of islets had patches of wild onions. If we had a cookout, these morsels added real zip Eto our hamburgers or hot dogs.
In one quiet cove we found a clear creek that flowed out of deep forest. Back in there somewhere we could hear a waterfall. We made our way upstream past weird old vine maples, their trunks completely overcoated in fresh green moss. Stumps and fallen branches were likewise hidden beneath four-inch flourishing cushions of a dozen kinds of moss. Glades back in that forest could well have been prehistoric landscapes of ferns.
Then we entered a spacious canyon place where water came down in white streamlets from somewhere above a high cliff. Instinctively we began to whisper when we spoke. Huge moss-draped trees stretched away up through the damp shade to sunlight far above. Great branches overarched the pools of the stream like the roof ribs of a great Gothic cathedral. A tumble of mossy logs below the backdrop of the falls could have been taken for light-dappled green velvet benches. On each side of the falls there was a sheer wall of wet rock, every crevice on every ledge bedecked by bouquets of miniature ferns. Each cranny was the site of a tiny exquisite moss garden. We had come upon a hidden sanctuary prepared by God himself where primitive plants, sprayed by living water from above, might lift up their silent beauty in joy.
We sat for a while, feasting our eyes and spirits on this holy place, breathing in the fragrance of ferns. We knelt and drank of the sweet water. Then quietly we departed.
Our life at Sechelt, however, was not all sweetness and light. In fact one of our most troublesome problems was that of the smelly darkness. A family of skunks—mama, papa and several youngsters—was also spending the summer at the seashore. No doubt they reasoned that since we used our property only during the daytime, it would be all right if they used it at night. In theory, this double-occupancy policy should have worked out fairly well. Unfortunately, the skunks neglected to negotiate an agreement with us as to just when the day-shift should end and the night-shift should begin.
Sometimes on fine evenings we humans would stay up later than usual around a long-lasting campfire. Our nighthawking would throw the skunks off their regular schedule. When Kay would go into the dark shelter to bring some goodies out to us at the fire, she sometimes found that mama skunk had already arrived and was busy in there. We feared that one of these confrontations between momma and mama might one night turn into a disaster.
The skunk youngsters liked to stomp and dance barefoot on our tent platforms in the middle of the night. To make that heavy-footed racket at such an unseemly hour was not very tactful of them. Tension between the two families mounted unbearably when one of their clan pushed its way inside Karen’s tent one night and walked all over her while she cowered deep inside her sleeping bag. That was the last straw. That was IT! The skunks had to go!
These smallish Rocky Mountain skunks have fawn and white dappling throughout their basic black coloration. They are pretty little animals, flaunting glorious creamy white plumed tails. But the odors from their target practice sessions up the hill reminded us that skunks, pretty or not, always travel fully armed, their weapons loaded with butyl mercaptan. This variety have a peculiar habit of doing a handstand while they take aim. Their hind quarters are then free to swivel like a gun turret. Their squirt guns are reputedly accurate within a range of twenty feet, a fact I was reluctant to check out by actual testing.
But how do you get rid of skunks? They couldn’t be asked nicely to leave. Leg-traps, shooting and poison were out of the question, due to possible accidents. We had to devise a handy-dandy foolproof “take-em-alive” skunk-capturing outfit.
From somewhere we had come into possession of an open-ended ten-gallon gasoline drum. Lying on its side, it seemed a comfortable size for holding a captive skunk. I built a frame to accommodate a square door of heavy iron plate which could slide up and down like a guillotine in the frame. This sliding door could be held in the “up” position by a pin. According to my scheme, the skunk would walk into the drum and seize a piece of wiener dangling on a string at the far end. This would set off a mousetrap mounted above and outside the drum. The snap of the trap would pull out the pin which was holding up the door. The iron door would instantly drop down to close off the open end of the drum, the skunk being, we hoped, inside.
It took somewhat longer than I had thought to construct this infernal machine and make sure that it would operate as planned. We finished it by lantern light. I had an uneasy feeling that the skunks were watching this interesting activity from safety somewhere up there in the woods above the excavation. After we had set up the trap in the shelter, Kay and I crawled into bed in our tent, fourteen steps up.
An hour and a half later we were awakened in the darkness by the clatter of the skunk family noisily prancing around on some loose plywood we had stored away under our tent platform. When they had lost interest in their lively cavorting, the gang filed down the steps to the kitchen. Shortly after, the air was full of hissing and muffled squeals and mysterious bumping sounds. Then we heard a heavy “ker-thump!” The door of the trap had come down. From inside the drum there immediately arose a frantic, insistent scratching.
Suddenly I was conscience-stricken. Wouldn’t it be terrible if the little creature in there ever let fly with his squirt gun while he himself was confined to the trap! He’d asphyxiate himself. What a rotten way to die! I hadn’t thought of that possibility.
After five or so minutes of scratching, a sickening stream of poorly diluted skunk odor began to pour up into our tent. A dilemma: should we lie there and suffer, or should we go out into the night, perhaps to come face to face with an irate population of skunks? We stayed where we were. To our relief, in about twenty minutes the odor cleared away. For the rest of the night, all was silent—deadly silent.
In the morning as a family we surveyed the skunk trap in the kitchen from a respectful distance. Somehow we now had to dispose of a skunk. Dead or alive, it would be a hazardous task. We agreed that, if alive, it should be transported to the other side of the inlet and released. There, many miles away from our place by land, it could make a new start.
But maybe it was dead. Sniffing the air close up, I thought it strange that the trap didn’t smell skunky at all. Mustering all my courage I carried the contraption over to the edge of the wharf and stationed the kids below on the beach to observe whether the skunk was dead or alive. With a long pole I cautiously lifted the trap’s sliding door until the kids shouted. They had seen something moving in there. I hastily dropped the door shut again. We had a livin’ crittur in thar for sure!
Since nobody wanted to ride in the same boat with the skunk trap, we had to make a fair-sized little raft for it. By this time the Carsons were also on hand in their boat. When we had launched our two boats and the skunk raft, our brave little flotilla proceeded across the two miles of water to an old log dump on the opposite shore of the inlet. I set up the trap on the shore, well out in front of the beached sailboat. I hooked the jib halyard into the hole in the sliding door. Everybody took up protected positions behind stumps, logs and boulders. They focused their cameras and held them at the ready. From the safety of the sailboat I gave a warning shout and pulled on the halyard to lift up the door. There was a dramatic pause. Then out trotted a befuddled gray cat, which forthwith bounded off into the woods. Robin was the only spectator who was sufficiently undumbfounded to take a picture.
“Oh my goodness,” exclaimed Kay. “Whose cat did we catch?”
In the next weeks we never heard of anyone in our vicinity who had lost a cat. Nor were we ever able to explain how that cat got into the trap following a skunk promenade, or why that rank skunk odor immediately invaded our tent. Maybe the cat ran into the trap in self-defense to escape those overfriendly young skunks on their way home from the dance.
Throughout that summer we set our trap again and again. In all, we actually caught five skunks and gave each of them a free trip across the inlet. There were no “accidents.” It became a rather routine expedition, with the trap in the prow of our cartop boat. The pretty little beasts were always reluctant to leave the dark interior of the trap. They preferred not to face the dazzling sunshine outside. After the third one unduly delayed its departure, Kay boldly went up to the trap and dumped its occupant out onto the gravel beach. Likewise with numbers four and five. Thus that year most of the members of that skunk family took up residence in the same new area. I hope they all found one another and made some friends. But somehow I can’t yet find it in me to pray, “May their tribe increase.”
What tools are for
We could never have done much with our Sechelt property if I had not learned somehow a little of the technology my grandfather had inherited from a long line of his grandfathers. With axes, saws and fire we could clear away most of the wooden material. Heavy logs in awkward locations, especially those occupied by colonies of wasps, posed other, more difficult problems. Hammers, chisels, wedges, pries, rollers, block and tackle, buckets, shovels and wheelbarrows could move stones and earth. The shelter and tents took care of the weather. Boats enabled the sea to serve us. Our domestic water supply was collected by boxes from springs and channeled through hose pipes. We would have been helpless without all this technical paraphernalia. Despite what people say, nothing much is ever done completely “by hand” without some kind of tool, implement or utensil in the hand.
One cool rainy day we were sitting around the hot stove, gabbing. We were thinking about building a tool shed that would double as a sleeping cabin. We had already accumulated quite an array of tools and equipment. Martin, the naturalist, observed that animals get along quite nicely without any tool sheds. My first thought was that no animal would ever attempt to transform its environment as extensively as I had. My second thought was that animals and plants do, however, come with special equipment that helps them to get along in their world, just as my tools (including implements, instruments and utensils) help me to get along in mine. I have access however to a far greater variety of tools than any animal ever has. Besides, few animals can put down a tool and pick it up again, or change one tool for another. They’re usually stuck with whatever they’ve been provided with.
While I was doing my various jobs around the place, I gave some thought to the nature of tools and began to classify them according to their differing mechanical functions. I found that there were three general classes: dividers, connectors and containers.
When I need to divide some material, to break into it, split it or chip it off, I need a tool that will concentrate force upon a point, or on a short line. Some such tools are picks, chisels, knives, planes, axes, files, woodrasps, drills and saws. Subhuman creatures use similar techniques.
One blow of my pointed pick, and I can penetrate hard clay or a crevice between stones. When a woodpecker drives its bill into a dead tree to excavate a nest, it is using the same “pick” principle. (I almost said, “using its head”! How do they keep from addling their brains? The long, pointed fangs of a wolf, mounted in strong jaws, can pierce and split flesh and bones. By the way, I’m not the only carpenter on our lot. The sharp mandibles of carpenter ants can soon chew out the whole interior of a log left lying in the woods. When they finish, nothing much will be left of it except an outer shell.
With my chisels and axes I can drive an edge into material to divide it or split off a chip. By cutting out one chip at a time with their big strong front teeth, beavers can fall a fairly large tree.
Rasps and drills cut their way into things, working on a very short front. Logs left in seawater soon become riddled throughout with small-bore, winding tunnels lined by a smooth substance like mother-of-pearl. Split open, a log that has been attacked by ship worms (teredos) looks like a wooden sponge. Each of these tiny voracious creatures appears to be a mere blob of jelly bearing a small hard-edged shell on its head. With that simple equipment it bores along through a water-soaked log, merrily munching. By similar rasping, rock-boring clams can work themselves right inside rocks. In six months they can demolish unprotected pilings driven into the sea floor. A dog whelk can drill its way through the heavy shell of an oyster by patiently working its rasping tongue.
Not only do I need tools for dividing, splitting, piercing, cutting, grinding, scraping, chipping and cutting; sometimes I have to find ways and means of holding things together.
Humans have developed many ingenious devices for connecting, bonding and building.
I think of all our threads, wires, cords, ropes, fabrics and nets. Subhuman creatures also possess their own kinds of equivalent binding techniques. Mussels anchor themselves to submerged rocks with tough, flexible, yellow monofilament cables. Spiders spin their incredible nets to catch flying insects. They tie up their captives by rolling them round and round with silken cord. Long before humans learned how to make paper from fibers, wasps were making complex nests from this kind of substance.
Take things like cement, hinges and vacuum cups—the shellfish have them all. Barnacles produce a cement that sets under water. A clam lives in a house with two curved walls hinged together, walls that increase in size as the clam grows larger, requiring more space and protection. So far the housing industry hasn’t topped that trick! The vacuum cup created by the fleshy, flexible foot of a limpet will hold it so tightly to a rock that it can defy you to remove it by a straight pull.
A third class of tool consists of the containers we use for conserving and protecting things of special importance. I’m thinking of pots, jars, cans, baskets, cribs, bunny bags, walled fortresses and diving bells. These are intended to keep something either inside or outside, or both. A jar keeps preserved fruit confined within its walls, but also keeps out decay-producing organisms. Containers are really sorting devices developed to keep the right things in the right places and the wrong things somewhere else, where they can do no harm.
Subhuman creatures also use container (sorting) techniques for safeguarding what is vital or precious. Flowers keep their nectar in tiny cups, and beavers build dams on flowing streams to obtain ponds of quiet water. The bark on a tree and the skin on an animal conserve their vital fluids. As a container an eggshell is a marvel of simple efficiency, to say nothing of those wonderful banks of hexagonal wax capsules in which bees store their food and brood. Birds’ nests of fibers and twigs are not only the baskets in which they put their eggs; they are baby cribs for their young. The cozy cocoons which caterpillars spin for their long sleep are their version of bunny bags and sometimes of hammocks. Shellfish form stout walls around their soft bodies to discourage aggressors. European water spiders, by trapping bubbles of air beneath a web they form under water, are able to rear their young down there within the equivalent of a “diving bell.”
Containers are useful places to put things into so they can be found again when they’re wanted. That plain statement conceals the fact that the principle of a container involves a number of intertwined ideas. Let me take time out to disentangle a few.
Containers are “places.” A “place” isn’t “space in general.” It’s an area set apart for a specific occupant or a special kind of occupants. A corner of a table, a pigeonhole, a carton or any kind of container may be given the significance of a “designated place” to put something. The boundary of a place may be actual, like the walls of a room, the sides of a box or the fence around a schoolyard. On the other hand, the boundary may be purely imaginary, placed anywhere people want it, such as an international boundary, the perimeter of a pile of carrots or the definition of some class of things. A place may have high walls, low walls or no walls at all, as is the case with a “place at the table” or a place in a procession, or a written zero in a multidigit number.
Whatever is put into a designated place must obviously have been removed from its previous place. If you pick an apple from a tree, you separate it from its fruiting spur and the rest of the tree. You single out this one apple for your attention, possibly because it appealed to you more than anything else in its surroundings. When this apple took on a special value for you, everything around it was correspondingly demoted to the lowlier status of “mere environment for this apple,” and was put out of the picture. You picked the apple. The sequence of differentiating, valuating and removing something from its context is called “selection.”
Sometimes the items you want are somewhere in a heap of things and it isn’t easy to lay your hand on them at once. In such cases it is good practice to establish a set of designated places into which you put the various kinds of things, assigning one place to each kind. Postal clerks have boxes and sacks labeled according to the addresses on pieces of mail. The operation of putting the right mail into the right box or sack is called “sorting.” It’s separating things according to their kinds.
Notice what happens during sorting. The postal clerk takes a handful of letters out of the incoming sack or heap. One letter at a time is selected from the handful. The rest are temporarily ignored. Each letter is put into that box or sack whose address corresponds to the address on the letter. The other places, the wrong ones, are consciously avoided. Thus the clerk had to make two selection-rejection decisions: the first one when a letter was taken from the handful, and a second one when the letter was assigned to a place. This characteristic “sorting sequence” of selection-rejection decisions always occurs when things are taken from where they are and put into a designated place.
What is the minimum number of things and designated places you must have before you can said to be sorting? A postal clerk can certainly sort a dozen letters into a dozen different boxes. What if, during a postal strike, only one locally posted letter arrives at the post office? If the clerk puts that single letter into the one correct box, that may legitimately be called sorting. It was removed from the mailbag, not left there untouched. All the wrong boxes were passed by and the right box was selected. There were two selection-rejection decisions and a final resting place in a designated container. If you are tidying your house after entertaining visitors with active children, you may have to pick up the cushion (not the ball) from the floor and put it, not on the table, not on the windowsill, but back on the sofa where it belongs. That too may be called sorting.
The principle of a container involves all these ideas about places, selection-rejection decisions, sorting, and a few more beside. The boundaries of containers not only prevent their assigned contents from dispersing into the environment, but also prevent certain aspects of the environment from intruding themselves into the contents. What has been sorted into a container, therefore, usually remains sorted. Ordinarily the contents of a container continue unchanged, free from unintended or unexpected changes over a period of time. Because containers have this “holding function,” confining sorted contents to a protected, limited space during an interval of time, they are excellent devices for controlling movements, processes and qualities.
Tools maintain all identity
Now back to our observation that both humans and subhumans use the same three technical principles: dividing, connecting and containing. (Containing, as we have seen, includes sorting.) That these similar practices should be found throughout the whole organic realm only makes sense.
In order to obtain a portion of food, every organism must be able to break into (divide) the integrity of its environment and help itself. To penetrate its surroundings and prevail against opposition, it must have some means for dividing whatever resists it.
Likewise, every organism must be able to hold itself together. Internal skeletons, musculature and ligaments, external linked plates and shells, membranes and skins perform this function. Every creature must be able to achieve and maintain a togetherness with its food or whatever serves some vital need.
And, of course, if a living thing is to remain in charge of its own being, it must have some way of separating itself (and staying separated) from threatening interference by other creatures. Every organism needs a place of its own, a niche, a home, a container. It must be able to discriminate between good food and injurious substances. When excreting, it must be able to retain fluids and materials which are still usable and essential. Filtering is a form of sorting. At every organic port of entry or exit we may expect to find some selection device, some filter screen, some valves or doors by which an organism can admit or exclude, keep or reject, anything about to cross into or out of its bodily container.
Within the organism itself the same three tool principles are in operation. Enzymes split proteins, join them together and lead them off into other clumpings where their presence is necessary for tissue building.
Even the inorganic world possesses the same three technical capacities. If the crystals I discern in my rocks had had no way of establishing their own individual identity over against all other crystals while they were forming in the cooling magma, they would never have become identifiably separate crystals. Some force must have maintained the divisions between the several kinds of crystals. In order to form as crystals at all, however, there must have been an attracting force that enabled them to pull together and bond the right molecules. Thus far in history the rock crystals I have seen have not yet been dissolved or eroded away. They have fended off all threats of destruction and held themselves together. Each crystal is chemically homogeneous, and yet it may be quite different chemically and structurally from all adjacent crystals which were formed as some different kind of substance. Obviously selecting and sorting has taken place, however miniscule the mechanisms may have been.
Our dividing tools, as well as the devices they help us to make, must reckon with the powerful bonding forces that hold materials together. Differing arrangements of atoms and molecules are responsible for the various degrees of hardness, toughness, brittleness and density of different substances. In order to divide solid material, our tools have to overpower these inner bondings. Tools must therefore be harder than the work piece, tougher, and less brittle than those things they attempt to divide or to hold together.
Electrical, magnetic and nuclear forces are at work within and between the atoms, so that subatomic particles seem to attract or repel each other from a distance. By these forces some of the particles are separated, but others are bonded together. Thus, in the deepest penetrable depths of the inorganic world we find the same three dividing, connecting and sorting principles at work.
The stable behavior of characteristic combinations of atoms and molecules largely explains why our catamaran is able to shear so easily through the water, why it doesn’t fall apart, and why it keeps its passengers in and the seawater out. They also explain why our skunk trap can segregate an odiferous beastie from the rest of society. Skunk paws are softer than steel gasoline drums. The trap door is a sorting device because it lets air in, yet doesn’t let skunks out—except by prior arrangement.
The shape, hardness and other properties of materials may change as they pass through different levels of temperature. Water, ice and steam are the same substance chemically, but the ice which forms below zero degrees Celsius has far greater power to divide things, hold them together and contain them than does water at temperatures above zero. When the water is heated beyond one hundred degrees centigrade, it turns into steam which has properties water does not possess below the hundred-degree mark. When iron, no matter how hard or brittle or tough, is heated red-hot, it becomes relatively soft and malleable. Heating excites atoms so that they fly apart and thus scramble the orderly, mutually reinforcing organization of the molecules, despite the normal bonding forces.
We should never talk about the shape, hardness, toughness or brittleness of materials or tools without realizing that we must specify at what temperature. Temperatures may be raised or lowered by increasing the input or exit of energy. To control temperature the supply of energy must be controlled. To apply the right amount of energy at the right place at the right time, a controller is required—i.e., some appropriate device for selecting and sorting. That the average temperature of a certain place on earth never goes beyond a certain high level or a certain low level means that some kind of controller is operating.
Controlling devices must be able to maintain their own hardness, toughness, form and stability. Not only must the sails and rigging of the catamaran hold together when a brisk wind is blowing, but the arrangement of the whole assembly must be adjustable when the wind changes its direction, or when the skipper wants to change course.
Perhaps you will have noticed that each of the three technical principles is quite inseparable from the other two. Any tool that divides material must itself hold together and be controllable. To say that a tool holds together implies that if the existing controls should prove to be inadequate, the assembly could come apart (be divided). A control, being a selective sorter, must be able to separate some things, yet hold itself and other things together while doing so. The three operational techniques are mutually interdependent.
Technology and logic
In this discussion, dividing has been mentioned again and again as one of the most important functions of tools. In our introductory discussion of logic in chapter 2, a dividing slash was seen to be the basic instrument of all clear thinking. Traditionally, technology and logic have been studied quite separately. Indeed, the two subjects have usually been considered to belong at opposite poles of the academic world. If, however, both technology and logic make prominent use of dividing functions, they may have other basics in common that have long been awaiting recognition.
No object can be clearly perceived unless every point in its complete outline marks a break between the color or substance of the object and the color or substance of the background. If the colors on a mottled bird tend to blur and blend here and there into those of its surroundings, at some parts of its outline we won’t be able to tell the difference between the “figure” and its “ground.” As our eyes run along the outline of such a bird making an inspection loop from its beak, over its head, down its back, over and under its tail and beneath its breast up to its beak again, if we come upon any ambiguous places, at those points the precise outline will not be entirely clear. Granted that we ordinarily find it unnecessary to run such an exacting and detailed inspection loop around anything, hunters, photographers and artists need to be aware of the sharpness or blur of outlines. It’s like cutting a certain shape out of paper with a sharp blade. It won’t be a clear cut if it’s still attached at several places. All the little cuts must join together into one continuous “loop” of severance.
The definition of a certain class provides a dividing criterion—i.e., it enables us to decide whether any object or idea belongs within a certain particular class or in some other. An imaginative mind might make circle tours around the entire known universe on every level, encountering one thing after another and deciding on the basis of that particular definition which things belong inside or outside that particular class. The class boundary, like the complete and clearly established perceptual outline of an object, is a kind of all-around “fence inspection loop.”
With the point of a pencil you can trace the outside edge of any clear figure all the way around to where you started. If you start with a blank sheet of paper, you can draw that same figure if you move the pencil exactly as you did when you traced it. As the line you are drawing becomes longer and longer, at each point it is continually and successively cutting off tiny connections between the “inside” and the “outside” of the figure. This lengthening divider line finally cuts off all the connections to the outside at the moment it rejoins itself at its own beginning, completing a dividing loop.
The instant all outside connections have been cut off is a “miracle moment.” A sense of “wholeness” suddenly emerges, not only for the completed boundary but for the space within the loop. The boundary line, that formerly occupied itself with sequentially dividing the paper bit by bit, immediately upon the completion of that task acquires an entirely new function. It becomes a container, holding the space it entirely surrounds into a kind of unity. The divider and the space within it are forthwith seen as a “figure.” The “figure” has received a new clarity, wholeness, permanence and stability that the lengthening divider line never had in itself until it had doubled back on itself and closed the loop.
The logical Law of Identity takes over as soon as the dividing outline has become a container. The contents of the outline are protected unassailably from interference by anything outside it. The Law of Identity asserts that, as long as we are discussing them logically, clearly defined subjects must remain the same. No inner changes or outside tampering are permitted.
Thus the logical divider, like any other tool, may perform each of the three technical operations: dividing, holding together, and sorting or containing. The logical divider with its positive and negative functions is well-named the basic tool of logicians. The subject of logic, fully developed, simply describes the techniques and rules for using this basic tool in the conceptual realm—the mentacosm. Logical dividers do the very same kinds of tasks in their own field that mechanical tools accomplish in the physical world.
Technology and logic thus belong together. They should never have been conceptually separated. Some of the most logical thinkers I have known have been engineers. During the last few decades, technology and logic have come together in a remarkable marriage called computer science. It has been a fertile union, the source of many remarkably brilliant offspring.
Technology and theology
The technical triad appears and operates in all the domains that are open to human knowledge. Dividing, connecting and sorting are at work in the inorganic physical world at all depths, in the organic realm, in the technical realm where the organic meets and reshapes the inorganic, and also in the logical realm of the mentacosm.
Since the three tool functions appear everywhere throughout the cosmos in the events of every age and stage, they are at work in every phase of our living, working and thinking. As constant factors in all human activity and understanding, they are sure to appear in some guise within every specialized study. In technology they will be called tools. In physics they will be forces, causes, methods, rules, instruments and numbers. In philosophy they will be called definition, classification, forms and truth tables. In sociology we have requirements, criteria, laws, rules, conventions, institutions and the like. When we meet the tool functions in theology they will be named as the activities of spirits, angels or various aspects of God.
The traditional creation stories (cosmogonies) of many peoples begin with the supreme god breaking open an egg, cutting a woman in two, splitting a sea goddess or some monster. By this operation heaven was divided forever from earth. The gods were said to have divided the zodiac into “houses” among the constellations, and things upon earth into corresponding kinds and categories, complete with rules about how each should be treated. In the first chapter of Genesis, the Hebrew scriptures tell how God separated the light from the darkness to make day and night. God also separated the water in the sky from the waters on the earth, the dry land from the seas, and the seasons from each other. Each of the various species was made distinctly different from all the other kinds, and the human female was taken from the male by divine surgery.
The gods traditionally also arranged certain relationships and prescribed rules of behavior that would hold together the community and all things, preserving them alive in a changeful world. The God of the Hebrew scriptures did likewise, giving his people their Law. The Son of God, as cosmically conceived by Christians, holds the whole world together in himself.1
The gods were known to favor some kinds of behavior and to disapprove of those who disobeyed established social rules. The deities would receive, promote and reward good people, but would reject and punish those who did evil. The God of the Hebrew scriptures revealed himself as a righteous judge. Divine selection-rejection decisions, or judgments, are a way of conceiving an ongoing divine sorting operation.
Since the activities of the divinities are so obviously characterized by the basic technical operations of dividing, connecting and sorting, we might ask: are the gods merely a reflection of human technology? I think not, for the same three basic technical principles operate throughout the entire universe, at every level of the inorganic physical realm and in every subhuman organic realm, quite apart from the touch of human hands.
In my opinion, it would make much more sense to say that just as something of the Creator God shines around every last thing in the created world, so we can catch a glimpse of the divine Maker in all our technical activities.
In the Christian scriptures, not only did God make the first man to be a workman; his special son Jesus was a carpenter. If the expanse of the heavens shows the work of God’s hands,2 surely the techniques of human workers may also legitimately be said to manifest something of the image of God in humanity. At any rate it seems legitimate to say that the image of God appears in human techniques at least as much as in human rational reflection.
Everyone who works seriously at any craft senses that something about working is linked with the most basic activity of all earthly things, of life itself, and the ultimate source of the universe.
Our working has deep and intimate coupling with God’s working. Jesus the carpenter said, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.”3
When I am working in my excavation, I can feel the crystalline forces and gravity holding those rocks together in whatever form I first find them. I then divide them by hammer and chisel and remove them using various pries. I sort out the loosened pieces of stone into those which I can use for building and those which are useful only as fill.
When I construct a retaining wall with the building stones, I use the same three techniques in a somewhat different way. The wall exists to divide the space behind it from the space in front of it. I build up my wall very carefully so that the structure will hold together for many years. My retaining wall controls the soil flow by confining the fill which I deposited behind it, so we can have a flat patio up on top of it all. The stones fitted into the wall, however, don’t form a watertight dam. Surface water can flow freely through the wall, instead of building up destructive pressure behind it. The wall thus functions as a selective sorter, holding back soil and stones but letting water flow through.
When I am gone, the dividing, holding together and sorting will continue for a long time. Years of earthquakes, soil creep and other erosion however will eventually burst my retaining wall and pull down its up-top patio. Everything I piled up so carefully will be reduced to sand and eventually it will all trickle in little runoff streams down to the sea. Yet there offshore the fragments of my working materials will be deposited in a definite, horizontal pattern. Sediment-bearing streams drop their coarsest material closest to the shore of the sea, their finer granules farther out, and their finest particles farthest out. At some places the sorting action of waves reverses this pattern, building up fine sand beaches on shore. Using the very materials and basic techniques that I used when I built the wall, the water that tears down my wall can elsewhere build up a fine beach. In that beach the particles of sand and gravel will be wedged together so that every bit of it all fits with its neighborhood.
I have been interested in building walls and I succeeded. But someday the universe may want to build a beach out of the same material. I have no right to complain. “Turn about’s fair play.”
In the meantime, as the universe goes, so go I.
1. Colossians 1:17.
2. Psalm 19:1.
3. John 5:17.