I must not think stupid thoughts.

Siva Choy

     Every schoolboy knows the story of how an apple fell on Isaac Newton's head and got him thinking seriously about gravity.

     When I first read the story, I thought that explained why my schoolteacher Mr See knocked me on the head a lot, sometimes with his knuckles and occasionally with a steel ruler.

     Maybe he thought it might provoke some inspired ideas.

     I am convinced now that hard knocks to the head don't stimulate genius, because if they did, heavyweight boxers should have outclassed Einstein and Bill Gates in logic.

     Also, I discovered that the whole story about Newton being hit on the head by an apple wasn't true.

     He merely saw an apple fall from a tree, and that prompted him to ask why it fell rather than floated around or drifted upwards.

     If Newton has been my classmate and asked Mr See all those questions, I am sure he would have earned several hard knocks on the head and the comment: "The apple fall because it is ripe, you stupid donkey! And the reason it fall is because it goes down - it cannot fall up because that is bad English.

     "Anyway, what are you doing loafing under a tree when you should be studying?

     "And why are you making up all these stupid stories? Because we all know there are no apple trees in Singapore.

     "Write one hundred lines and pass up before you go home - 'I must not think stupid thoughts.'".

     I don't think it occured to Mr See that most of the world's geniuses probably got their ideas while they were trying NOT to think.

     Archimedes was relaxing in his bath when he figure out his theory about displacement.

     He got so excited he ran out into the streets without his clothes on, shouting "Eureka!"

     It was just as well that Mr See (in one of his earlier reincarnations as a Greek policeman) hadn't been around, because he would have booked Archimides for indecent exposure.

     Steam power, which revolutionsed manaufacturing and transport, came about because James Watt, who had nothing better to do at breakfast, wondered why the lid on a boiling teapot was bobbing up and down.

     If Mr See has been present (in another of his later reincarnations as James Watt's father), he would have said: "The lid is jumping because the water is boiling, so why aren't you brewing the tea?

     "You think this is a hotel, and me and your mother got to do everything, is it?"

     I shudder to think what would have happened to Leonardo Da Vinci if Mr See has been his teacher.

     "Leonardo, why are you wasting your time painting portraits?

     "Your technical drawings are good and you should concentrate on interior design because there's big money in renovation nowadays.

     "Besides, you are in the science stream, not arts.

     "Fair enough, if you want to paint as a hobby, OK. But at least paint rich women, because they can really pay.

     "Why are you wasting time with common people like this... this... Mona Lisa. Who is she, anyway? Your maid from Surabaya, is it?"

     One of the reasons Galileo was convinced that the world was round was that ships appearing over the horizon emerged with their mast showing first, and then gradually the rest of the vessel.

     Now, you can't make observations like that unless you're prepared to make sacrifices - like staking out on a Mediterranean beach sunset after sunset, with plenty of spaghetti marinara and crates of Chianti.

     Mr See wouldn't have understood that.

     Maybe that's why, after an aborted attempt at selling real estate, he went back to teaching, then into insurance, then back into teaching, and then into retirement.

     Now he has all the time to make tea, relax in a bath, paint, wait for mangoes to fall from his tree, plan renovations to the home, and watch all the sunsets he wants.

     He also has all the time in the world to dream, but his only difficulty will be finding the right book which tells him, how it can be done.

The New Paper on Sunday
April 2, 2000