The Man and the Potion of Knowledge

Christopher J Munson Jr

“As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”
-Albert Einstein, “Geometry and Experience”

One hot and sunny day, a man from a village in the Amazon jungle journeyed into la selva. Once inside the jungle, he noticed mosquitos swarming, monkeys howling, and butterflies flapping through the air. Water condensed on the leaves and dripped to the root entangled ground. Tree trunks broke through the ground and supported leaves that reached into the skies, blossoming a continuous canopy above. The man, in his rubber boots, jeans, and green long-sleeve shirt, trudged through the swampy terrain and carefully climbed over fallen logs, carving the way with his machete. He trekked for two hours without pause. 

He stopped at the base of a large tree–an ancestral tree. Then he said to the jungle, 

“Oh jungle so wild and free, please would you share your great knowledge with me? I wish to be strong, so that I may work longer, cultivating fields to feed my family. Jungle, with your vast and infinite wisdom, please teach me so that I can share in your gifts.”

Moments later, the leaves to the man’s left rustled revealing the root of polyuria. The jungle then replied, 

“Happily will I share this root with you my boy. Allst you have to do is brew the root of polyuria into a tea and drink four times a day for two weeks. The tea will speed the recovery of your tired muscles four-fold and refine them into chiseled works of marble. In addition…”

The man unsheathed his machete and cut the root, enough for two weeks-worth of tea. He thanked the jungled and returned to the village. 

One month later, the man put on his jeans, slid on his rubber boots, and buttoned his green long-sleeve shirt and again trekked into the jungle. He completed the journey back to the ancestral tree, this time completing the journey in a mere hour. 

“Oh jungle so wild and free, please would you share your great knowledge with me? The root of polyuria made me strong. It also caused me to pee and pee and pee and pee. This constant urinating slows my work and we do not have enough water in the village to quench my thirst. Jungle, with your vast beauty and unlimited wisdom, please teach me so that I may share in your gifts.” 

The jungle replied, “My boy, I am happy to share with you the axia vine.” And the vine draped down to the jungle floor. “Allst you have to do is cut the vine at the top and then cut the vine at the bottom, from there water will flow. The flow from one vine will quench your thirst and that of your village for much time to come. It will also…”

“Oh wonderful jungle thank you for this marvelous gift. The people of my village appreciate your generosity!” The man exclaimed and bounded back for this village leaving a stream in his wake. 

Returning to the village, he shared that he would have water for all of eternity. The villagers rejoiced! Before he could share the water, a village elder approached him and asked. 

“Son, it is wonderful that we have this gift. But I worry. What will come if we use this gift?”

“What could go wrong with unlimited water!? The tree explained clearly what this vine will do. Thank you for your concern; however, I think you express too much worry. Drink!”

The old man acquiesced. The village enjoyed fresh water for some time. However, the more they drank and the longer they drunk, they became more fearful of how long the water would last. Before long, the village found itself dependent on a source that effortlessly quenched its thirst. Their anxiety grew like a fungus, branching out till they started worrying about whether or not the sun would rise the next day. Life in the village halted. Again, the man put on his jeans, slid into his rubber boots, buttoned up his green long sleeve shirt, and trekked to the ancestral tree. 

He cried out, “Oh jungle so wild and free, please would you share your great knowledge with me? Everything you have shared carry negative consequences. The tea you gifted caused me to deplete the villages water supply. Then, the vine brought great anxiety upon my village. Now we worry about worrying which threatens our mere existence! Why have you done this to us?”

“My boy. My gifts are gifts and that is that. I play no games or trickery of the sorts. I have tried to share all my knowledge with you, yet you run off each time before I explain fully, you only want to hear the good but there is always bad. You lack patience,” the jungle explained to the man. 

“Oh jungle, you are so kind and generous and true. I have so much to learn from you.”

“Yes you do,” affirmed the jungle. “What would you like to learn about this time?”

“This patience you speak of, how do I build it?”

As the man concluded his questions, a line of ants carrying leaves crossed in-font of the man. “Collect one thousand and one of these ants’ thorax and mash them into a sauce and heat the sauce for three and a half months. When finished, pour the sauce over rice. The sauce will build your patience such that you will remain unwavered waiting a thousand suns. Consuming the sauce, however, will develop an insatiable curiosity of the world.” Curiosity did not sound bad to the man, so he thanked the jungle, collected one thousand and one ants’ thorax, stuffed them in his bag, and set off back to his village. The man did not return for twelve and a half years. 

“Jungle! My patience. It has grown tremendously. I am the wisest man of all the lands. Fueled by great patience and curiosity, I have developed great technology for my village the future—lasting till the end of time! As you said, and as I knew would come, I am curious. My curiosity grows each day. It started like the fire struck by a match, and now roars like a village bonfire. This time, I seek knowledge, all of it. I want knowledge, great like yours—full of breadth and depth. I am ready, I wish to know all. 

The leaves of the ancestral tree shook and fell rest on a vine. “My boy, I am delighted to hear, please let me share with you Banisteriopsis caapi & Psychotria viridis, a vine and a leaf possessing great power. Take the vine and the leaf, and water from the nearby stream, and brew them into a potion. Then drink the potion at the base of this tree. You will know all, nothing more and nothing less.”

The man asked about the consequences and the jungle replied that “all knowledge” is all knowledge—timeless like the jungle. The man gathered the vines, leaves, water, and started a fire at the base of the grandfather tree. He set the potion to brew using a cauldron fashioned from bark. He followed the trees exact instructions. Finally, he transferred the contents of the potion to his water skin and drank.  

Nothing happened for a while. The man waited. He sat patiently through four days without food or water. As night fell on the fourth day, he entered into a dream state. The dreamscape took the structure of a vast library formed by hexagonal structures. He picked up four books and read them, learning about history, and language, and what question yields the answer forty-two as the meaning of life. He learned of great joy and immense suffering. Accomplishments and shortcomings. The nature of birth and death. And everything that sat on both sides of the coin in chance. For seemingly an eternity, he explored the library. 

To contain all knowledge that is, that was, and that could be, the library occupied near infinite space—bending space-time such that time and distance mimicked that of the real world by a ratio 1: near infinity. The man decided to read three more books, knowing that he could return to the library by remaking the potion. He quickly read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and then a story on a great flood. The flood story told that the man’s village would be destroyed by a flood not long after the year he entered the library. He quickly replaced the book to search for the exit! He frantically navigated the hallways of the library which led to more hexagonal bookstacks and so on.

The man could not find the exit! The library nearly destroyed space-time and rendered the exit just past a horizon he could reach—basically infinity. He frantically searched for a book on the nature of infinity. He found a proof showing that some infinities are bigger than other infinities. He learned that mathematics could manipulate it, but could not learn how to conquer it. He found a series of books that claimed to lead to the exit by directing each subsequent book to the next (Book A → Book B → Book C → and so on). The man did not understand, that to be infinite required forfeiting structure. Finally, he stumbled onto a book titled, Infinity: You, Me, and the Tree, by The Jungle. He opened the book to a mirror.  

The man’s body lay at the base of the grandfather tree decomposing. It had begun the process of transferring its energy into the jungle, where it would enter the ecosystem for infinite times to come. Over the years, the roots grew over the man’s legs, arms and head—infinitely knowledgeable and thereby timeless, exactly how he had wanted.  

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