During the days of my youth, I often heard my parents or their friends talking about someone being as 'dumb as a box of rocks'. Now of course being both inquisitive and a bit of a skeptic, I couldn't help but wonder at the accuracy of a comparison between human intelligence and that of a stone or the relative comprehension of rocks in general for that matter, as studies on the subject seemed rather limited and theoretical. Beyond that, whether there was an measurable increase in the collective intelligence of such rubble by containerizing it was something I had never seen a proper published academic study on. My own limited experimentation in this area probably lacked proper scientific method and controls (owing no doubt, to a lack of proper federal funding), were unable to provide me with the answers I sought, and were set aside in favor of other youthful pursuits.
Much later in life, I was exposed to friends describing a similar comparative situation, though this time the expression being used was that someone was instead 'dumber than a box of hair'. Naturally, this recalled to me the experiments of my youth and intrigued me to once again take up my research, but the analysis implied in this comparison presented a number of new variables that would require study. While the concept of a container appeared to remain consistently essential to the comparative measurement involved, the contents now seemed even to an untrained eye, as a thing altogether different. I now wondered how dumb either of these materials originally were (and compared to each other) without the container.
Hair after all, was a much more complex substance that carried the genetic code of its owner. Was animal hair therefore less intelligent than human hair and could this affect the comparison effected? Was the relative intelligence of the person that the hair was collected from a factor that needed to be considered as well? What about their level of education? Would that of the owner of an advanced college degree fare differently than one of a person without a high school diploma? Would being subjected to public education vs admission to private or parochial education carry weight in analysis?
What about employment? Would the hair of a doctor or lawyer factor differently than that of a salesman or a politician? Would gender be a factor, and women's hair be smarter than men's, thus affecting the comparison? (I know that women's hair is smarter, because one told me so.) Does hair color make a difference (after all, many of us have likewise been told over the years that the intelligence level of blondes is not as high as those with other hair colors)? Are the length of the individual strands likewise a factor to be considered in the discussion? Would the level of compaction of this material in the container be something worthy of consideration; and would therefore denseness of the packing affect the measurement of the denseness of the person being compared to it?
It was then that I was confronted with the daunting realization that in all the thought that I was giving to the two materials used as container contents, that the relative size of the repositories was receiving no consideration. Could this be yet another of those situations where, regardless of popular myth, size indeed mattered? Would there be a measurable difference of containers of equal size but with different shapes? And what about the material of which the container was constructed? Would differences appear in a cardboard box versus a wood or plastic one? Would the potential for electrical conductivity of a box made of metal make a difference? Would copper serve better than tin? Would the density of lead rather than steel have an impact affect the comparative density of the human involved?
In the deceptively complex conundrum that now presented itself, the variables under consideration that began as a simple youthful challenge now expanded to far greater proportions. As I continued to contemplate what for me now threatened to become and insurmountable lifelong study, I realized that proper scientific scrutiny might in fact never be possible, even if I applied for and was granted sufficient government funding to expand my research.
Just as I was about to abandon my inquiry all together, I realized that though one had once been living and the other never had, both substances were now inert (like many people I had known over the years). Perhaps then the nature of the comparison had nothing to do with the substance itself, so long as it was a substance which was currently in an inert state. The comparison could just as easily been about a box of shrubbery, a box of pudding, or a box containing members of Congress. So long as whatever it was being used carried the property of 'inertness' when outside the box, it was equally valid for use in the comparison. In fact, I rather liked the idea of someone being as dumb as a box of pudding or a box shrubbery (I rather liked the Monty Python "Holy Grail" reference.)
(I later found the Congressmen comparison potentially valid, but was still uncomfortable with it. Further deliberation made it seem perhaps a bit over the top and maybe even overly harsh for someone already apparently burdened with a bad case of stupid. Understanding the nature of the other substances, the comparison might also in fact be unfair, since rocks, hair, pudding, and shrubbery often seem to act far more intelligently than your average member of Congress.)
What a revelation! This at last was the prize that I had been looking for; and not only had I answered a dilemma equal to that (at least in my mind) of the 'question of the sphinx', but I had reached this conclusion using facts, logic, and reason (something almost entirely unknown to me under normal circumstances). After many long and arduous years of study, I might now finally put my labors to rest, and perhaps even shred the research grant application for federal funding that while now all but completed, was taking up considerable space; since it was now apparently unneeded. (Well, maybe I'll just hang onto that, you never know when a filled out federal grant application will come in handy.) It was only then however, in the midst of an almost unparallelled celebration of singular intellectual achievement, that I realized that the profound knowledge that I had gained had only been reached when I abandoned the use of the traditional scientific method and considered the problem instead by thinking "outside of the box".