Single Minded Dedication

I watched a NOVA program last night on the Easter Island statues. You know, those big rock fellows with the stern expressions. The information was new to me, although at the end of the show I saw “2012” in the credits.

Scientists have been trying to figure out for a long time how in the world primitive peoples moved the statues, some 30 feet tall and weighing buko tons, to their ultimate destinations. Twasn’t easy. Seems there are fifty of said statues still laying either on their backs or face-planted along the ancient roads, having keeled over enroute. (No explanation was offered for why the earlier people didn’t try to rastle them back up and keep on going.)

One theory suggested that a system of rolling logs was used to move the big boys horizontally. Some years back scientists attempted to replicate the rolling log method which a few snippets of film footage showed.

A more recent theory said no, the statues were moved standing upright and essentially walked to their resting spots. This is what the NOVA program explored in detail. The scientists who did the work were obsessive. They were going to prove those statues were moved standing up come hell, high water, or, I assume grant-funding expirations.

With the aid of a computer they made absolutely precise 3D measurements of a statue, including such information as its center of gravity. Then they made a doll-sized replica. Next they made a child-sized wooden contraption tied to ropes which they used to “walk” the figure and move it forward. Only then did they proceed to build their own exact replica of an Easter Island statue, scaled down to a third of the original size so that their statue would be 10 feet tall and a bit under 6 tons. This involved making a mold, mixing a specific kind of concrete, and finally, using a crane to get the statue on its “feet” and outside.

Once outside the statue was tied with ropes and teams of people attempted to walk it. A safety harness attached to the crane was initially left in place as I imagine crushing volunteers or low-paid grad students in the course of research probably wouldn’t do much for one’s credibility or future employment prospects.

So. It was all hit and miss for quite awhile – ropes were tied and re-tied repeatedly – and things weren’t looking good. The statue could be rocked but he wasn’t going anywhere. Now, had I been one of the dozens of people on site, I probably would have had enough of this endeavor by lunch time the first day. These folks, driven by the two lead scientists, pressed on. A third team of rope pullers was brought on-board and damned if that didn’t do the trick. At least until they dropped the statue in the dirt. But they weren’t done; with the assist of the crane, the statue was righted and set back to “walking” again with the 3 rope-pulling teams. The only concession was that instead of the earlier goal of hauling this concrete behemoth 50 yards, the plan was now ten yards. Which they did, to much rejoicing. I was awfully tickled myself to see them succeed.

Then one of the jubilant scientists was saying he was certain if they had a to-scale, 30-foot replica, why, it could be walked as far as they wanted! You could just see his wheels turning. Given all the trouble and missteps in just getting this far, his optimism seemed a tad unreasonable. (On the heels of this comment, I would have loved to have seen a shot of the many volunteers, particularly the rope-pullers whose arms probably felt about yanked out of their sockets at this point, scattering like frightened rabbits.)

Watching the show and observing these scientists, I felt, as I often have when faced with such obsessive single-mindedness, mostly perplexed. I know it’s good that there are people who are driven this way, but I don’t understand them. I don’t know what it is to dedicate your life, or your working career to such narrow, specific concerns. It isn’t only guys obsessed with making Easter Island statues walk that I’m referencing, but anybody so single-minded. There are lots of such people spread across many disciplines. Look at the artists who spend their lives painting essentially the same thing over and over. I recently read a quote by one such artist in his eighties, still painting, who felt he hadn’t quite reached his potential or accomplished whatever it was he thought he should. 80?! I hit 80 and I’m done obsessing over things I haven’t accomplished. I should hope.

While I have my interests, things that excite me, areas I feel compelled to learn about, there isn’t one very specific concern which rules my world. In fact, something in me always guarded against becoming too narrow or specific – that inclination goes way back. I didn’t even want my college degree to be too defined. I’m not sure if this makes me a generalist. I don’t think of myself that way. I’m more specific-resistant.

Anyway, this isn’t the first time I’ve thought about this and I’m certain it won’t be the last. Don’t misunderstand me; I don’t think one way (of being) is right and the other wrong. It’s more an area I’m curious about and puzzled by, namely that trait some people have – whether they are born with it or develop it along the way – that makes them so compelled, so dedicated, to one thing.

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23 thoughts on “Single Minded Dedication

  1. D. Wallace Peach

    I agree that the Easter Island endeavor is something that I wouldn’t put much effort into. I’d have a picnic there, wonder about how those stones were positioned, and then move on to more important thoughts…like what’s for dinner. Yet, when I think about my writing, I become one of those obsessed scientists, so I can relate to the passion and the joy of thinking I’ve solved a puzzle. Hopefully we all find something we are passionate about. FYI – I’m still thinking it’s the log-rolling idea. 🙂

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Yes, when you frame it that way, I can see it better. I consider writing my love above all others, that thing I must do, so I do relate to that kind of obsessiveness. That said, I think many people move through life without passion , but with passion substitutes.

      You’re in the log-rolling camp are you? Aliens were also another suggested possibility!. It wasn’t mentioned, but I’m partial to slave labor as a theory, like the pyramids. Who would do this willingly?!

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      1. D. Wallace Peach

        You make a valid point that many people travel through life with passion substitutes and don’t understand why they aren’t fulfilled. I think the answer is that passion comes from inside, not outside, and it doesn’t require skill or talent, only joy.

        When I was a kid, for lack of a trailer, my family moved a rather large and heavy boat using logs and levers. I hadn’t considered the alien option, though it’s a definite possibility 🙂

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        1. writerinsoul Post author

          That is so beautifully put. Only joy, not even skill or talent! Perfect. I think I need to write that down to keep (giving you credit of course). And yes, the substitutes are always externally driven.

          Clever family you had! –Colette

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  2. Rus VanWestervelt

    Hugh Prather wrote in Notes To Myself something like, “I teach, I write, I read, I sculpt, I walk. To do any one of these things exclusively would be to deny the other parts of who I am.” I have carried this notion with me since the late 1980s, and it is still with me today. I cannot focus so narrowly on any one thing that excludes the very things that contribute to who I am. Thanks for sharing this post. I, for one, appreciate the depth of this piece. I could read your writing hours upon hours…

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Thank you so much, Rus. What a generous thing to say about my writing and validation much appreciated.

      You know what I suspect? That our sort is thought to be noncommittal or wishy-washy in this culture. Or something along those lines. I could be wrong but sometimes feel this approach needs defense. I’m with you and Prather (I have that book); they are all me.

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  3. John Callaghan

    One area that makes me grateful for a single minded obsession is medicine. I think breakthroughs regarding very complex diseases have been brought about by reasearching the micro components of our physiology. You do make a good point though on the dangers of becoming too preocupied with any single endeavor and the isoltion it can cause. That is a theme articulated brilliantly in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Oh, I’m not challenging single-mindedness, John. Not at all. (Unless you end up crushing volunteers with Easter Island statue replicas or something.) On the contrary, this is me with my face against the glass trying to understand. I’m not feigning confusion; I genuinely don’t get it, that thing that drives some people to delve so deeply over such long periods into a single arena.

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  4. battlewagon13

    I only wish I could find something (seriously) that I was so compelled to do that I was just a single-minded machine. Alas, unless you have a job that you absolutely love and have absolutely lived for – that’s easier said than done. I know that when I put my head down to something I can do anything, but it seems as I get older and older my head just doesn’t go down as easily as it used to.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      I know what you’re saying and it strikes me as a danger of middle age and beyond – too many people end up more or less passing time without being truly driven by something they care about deeply. I’m wary of that.

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  5. Angie Mc

    Hi Colette, it’s been too long since our paths have crossed. And for some mysterious reason WP shows me as not following you (remedied). To your post, very cool thoughts. I, too, have thought about a similar question and will add this. I’m decidedly a macro-thinking gal. The big picture is where I’m happiest and most effective. About half of my family is macro-thinking an half is micro-thinking, or detail oriented. For some time, especially as a child, my macro-thinking was confusing to me and those around me. Now I embrace it 😀 Glad to reconnect and hope your summer is moving along swimmingly ~~~

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Hey again Angie. I had not though of this in terms of macro and micro but see your point. I’m a detail gal for sure but my focus varies; I could never see myself obsessively dedicated to one topic or narrow subject year in, year out. You strike me as the center of things, the one people depend on, and I can see that dovetailing with a macro point of view.

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      1. Angie Mc

        My son-in-law is earning his doctorate in physics. While living with them, waiting for their 1st child/my perfect grandson to be born, I spent much time watching him hard at his incredibly detailed work. Hours upon hours scribbling equations…and having the time of his life. Amazing to see it close up and first hand. And, yep, I’m the hub here. I drop a lot of details (blame it on my loved ones HA) but have a good handle on the big stuff. We all really do need each other, don’t we? Like pieces of a puzzle 😀

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