Rick was a scientist who, ever since reading “Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH” as a child, dreamed of developing a serum that would increase human intelligence. Day and night he injected mice with assorted mixtures, but nothing seemed to increase the speed through which they completed the maze through which he sent them.
One day, when he injected his newest mixture into a small mouse named Abner who had serious self-esteem problems, the mouse wandered back and forth through the maze aimlessly, unable to find the exit.
“God,” said Abner, who suddenly was able to speak, “I’m such a loser. I can’t get to the end of this maze.”
“Well,” said Rick, lifting him out of the maze, and busily making notes in his journal, “I guess this serum is a bust then.”
“It is,” wailed Abner, who, having hacked into the smart phone Rick kept next to his journal, busily began reading depressing existential literature. “I feel just like Meursault from Camus’ ‘The Stranger.’ Life is just meaningless.”
Rick put down his pen, and began to talk to Abner the meaning of life.
“I’ve often wondered if life has meaning,” Rick said. “I mean, here I am, and what do I really have to show for my efforts? Failure after failure after failure.”
“Well, if you feel like a failure, how do you think I feel?” said Abner, who, having absorbed the works of Kafka, Ionesco, and Sarte, began teaching himself biochemistry through an online college course, for he was quite intimidated by Rick’s vast knowledge on the subject. “I couldn’t even get through a literal maze, much less the maze of life.”
The continued to talk, and after an hour or so, Abner--who, by then had digested much of Freud and Jung--suddenly had an insight.
“You know,” he said, “maybe we’re looking at this all wrong. Maybe you’re not a failure. By taking me out of that maze, you actually helped me see that I could have just climbed out, and in doing so, made me an archetype of the concept of lateral thinking.”
Abner scratched his nose with his front leg thoughtfully.
“In many ways,” he said solemnly, “lifting me out of that maze was the behavioral psychology-slash-biochemistry equivalent of Alexander cutting that knot in Gordium.”
By that evening, Rick had taken Abner on as an assistant, and, bouyed by Abner’s pep talk, he pressed on. He tried serum after serum on a number of mice who, though hopeless at completing the maze, taught themselves biochemistry and behavioral psychology, and joined Abner so that Rick now had a small army of lab assistants.
To this day, Rick is still busy at work, looking for that elusive serum. Often, he is discouraged, but he takes solace in the Albert Einstein quote that his assistants included in the introduction to their bestselling work extolling the virtues of Rick’s persistence: “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”