Monday 27 October 2008
Egg of Columbus or Columbus’s Egg : Origin and meaning
I enjoyed this one. Again, I seem to be the last person in the world to find out about Columbus’s egg.
Anybody who has an enquiring mind and likes to try things out for himself will be able to relate to this concept.
But, before I get distracted and ramble off to other things, a definition of the meaning.
In an eggshell it means that no matter how much effort, brilliance, intelligence, hard work, perseverance or whatever one puts into creating or finding out something original, it appears to be easy, simple or mundane when you look at it afterwards, especially by other people who had no input or insight to that what was achieved.
Having spent many years in a research and development environment, I know what it is like to spend days or weeks, whatever, in getting to an answer. When you give feedback to the powers that be, the answer is simplified by oneself and does not always reflect the time, effort, frustrations that you put into the whole setup. Then you seem to always get someone who will tell you that the answer was evident. This usually after the fact, they are never around when the thinking part has to be done.
Origin. Obviously Christopher Columbus. The story goes like this. After finishing his journeys to the Americas and putting this continent on the map for the Europe, he was having a meal with his Spanish buddies back home. The comment was made by one of his friends or enemies that his achievements were not all that exceptional. Spain had a lot of talented sailors and generals, and given time anybody could have achieved what he had.
At this point he either asked for or took an egg and asked the guests to balance the egg on one of the points. All tried and none succeeded. The egg fell over, could not balance by itself. Then Columbus took the egg, tapped it until the shell cracked a bit, and flattened it. Now the egg could be placed on the table without falling over.
The moral of the story is once you know, or are shown, how to do something, it is easy. The difficult part is getting there.
Although it is evident that Columbus used this as an example, it is debatable whether he figured the egg example out by himself. The same example was quoted with Italian references to building a church some 15 years before Columbus’s extended lunch.
Image from, and more detail at Wikipedia