What were you thinking about late last night? You know the time, it’s that gray area after we get in bed, turn out the lights and start to drift off but before we go to sleep. People view the night in so many ways. For some, the night holds nothing but terror. For others, it is their favorite time. A vast amount of songs, poems, stories, plays, and films take place at night or are about night. Many are written at night. The night inspires creativity, terror, passion, love and warmth. It’s also that time when many of us, possibly out of a job, are looking at the future with fear.
We still have vestiges of the awe surrounding night. For eons, we viewed the night with fear, with superstition, with dread, with hope. There were no security lights, no alarms, and no police cars cruising the neighborhood. Yet hope also existed, because for all the fear that came with night there was still hope that you would wake up – and do so healthy and strong.
How do you view the night? Personally, I rather enjoy the night. Long after the sun has slipped below the horizon, after the birds have stopped their songs, the phones stopped alerting, and most of the cars are parked, I’m still awake. Whether writing, working on-line, reading or, yes, even watching television, I’m still awake with the night.
One of the many good things about the time after midnight
My best thinking comes late at night. After the house is quiet and after the crickets have called it a night and are giving their legs a rest, I’m still awake.
What am I doing still awake? I’m thinking. After all, there are so many great things to think about. And yes, there are also other less great things to think about as well, things like when to get a haircut, what color the next car should be, and do we really need two dogs. But beyond that, there are a few really wonderful things to ponder. For instance, the other night I got to thinking about the first thing that led to the first higher-level thought. Okay, maybe that’s not so wonderful, but I thought it was very profound at the time. And it was interesting, at least to me at 3:30 am.
Scientists who think about these kinds of things (and writers awake late at night) have often thought that fear was what led to speech and higher thought. For example, one might want, or in fact desperately need, to shout, “Run for your life, elephant stampede!” If you can’t put that kind of thought together you can’t say it. Or reach your natural life span.Perhaps the first thought was something along the lines of, “I’m hungry, and Fred (not his real name) over there has grapes. If I take them away I’ll get the fruit (and in a few millennia, learn how to make wine). But then he’ll probably kill me. Maybe it’s better to just politely ask for some.” And from that we might have the first rational thought.
My own thoughts on the first thought
Personally, I think that one of the first thoughts, if not the very first, was nothing more than figuring out how to tie a knot. I know you’re wondering, “why a knot? Are you crazy?” Well, sanity aside, I have an answer. To start with, let’s explore some of the other various possibilities of that “first thought”:
1. Hunger: Starfish get hungry too. Are they thinking? Not as far as anyone knows.
2. Cold: as in “Hey, I’m cold.” Now this one is possible, because after this thought one might look for a warm place. But rats do this too. Now some people might argue that rats in fact do think – at least enough to work their way out of a maze. But hunger (see above) is enough of a motivator for that as well.
3. Heat: as in “Whew!” But all animals seek shade, no higher thought required.
4. Fear: as in “Help, a tiger is after me! A drooling, starving tiger!” Now this one, like the stampeding elephant we discussed earlier, is a definite possibility. Fear is one of the great motivators of all time. And I would probably vote for this one were it not for the fact that other animals get afraid and warn each other of impending problems as well. Like parakeets. Enough said.
So that leads us back to the mundane. And what could be more mundane than tying a knot? Just look at what early humans could have used knots for:
* Tying clothes together to make them warmer
* Making pouches to carry water and food
* Making bows and arrows to hunt and defend themselves
* Aiding in delivery of the young and fixing wounds
* Tying up bad guys so they can’t escape
* Tethering the family dogs
* Having something to complain about after marriage was invented (remember that old saying “tying the knot?”).
Those are just seven little reasons that make knowing how to tie a knot so important. There are innumerable others, of course, but you get the point.
So as silly and mundane as it sounds, perhaps nothing more serious, intellectual or intellect-developing than tying a knot was responsible for putting humans on the path to higher thought, higher reasoning, and the ability to make wine.
Usually at night I’m thinking about future columns, the next class I’ll be teaching and the papers to grade, and ways to use social media in business and how it not only reports on, but influences, changing world events. But on that night, it was knot tying; just something to think about one quiet night instead of all the places my mind kept wandering: jobs, wars, housing foreclosures, bank interest rates and all the other ups and downs of a world in flux.