Once a group of blind men heard that a strange animal, called elephant, had been brought to town, but none of them were aware of its shape and form. Out of curiosity, they said: “We must inspect and know it by touch, of which we are capable”. Soon, they decided to experience it out, and when they found the elephant they started groping it. In the case of the first person, whose hand landed on the trunk of the elephant said, “This animal is like a thick snake.” For another one whose hand reached its ear, it seemed like a fan. As for another person, whose hand was upon its leg, said, the elephant is a pillar like a tree-trunk. The blind man who placed his hand upon its side said the elephant, “is a wall”. Another who felt its tail, described it as a rope. The last felt its tusk and said, ‘the elephant is hard, smooth and like a spear.
The moral of the parable is that human beings have a tendency to claim about the absolute truth based on their limited, subjective experience as they ignore other people’s limited, subjective experiences which may be equally true.
In some versions, of the blind men, they discover their disagreements. They suspect the others to be not telling the truth and come to blows. The stories also differ primarily in how the elephant’s body parts are described, and how violent the conflict becomes and how the conflict among the men and their perspectives is resolved. In some versions, they stop talking, and start listening and collaborate to “see” the full elephant. In another, a sighted man enters the parable and describes the entire elephant from various perspectives, the blind men then learn that they were all partially correct and partially wrong. While one’s subjective experience is true, it may not be the totality of truth.
The parable has been used to illustrate a range of truths and fallacies; broadly, the parable implies that one’s subjective experience can be true, but that experience is inherently limited by its failure to account for other truths or a totality of truth.
By Kamlesh Tripathi
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