Fire on K-2
From high in Asia's Karakoram range last week came a terse but jubilant message: after 76 days of climbing, an Italian expedition led by Professor Ardito Desio of Milan had succeeded in reaching the 28,250-foot summit of Mount Godwin Austen (K-2)?a peak never scaled before (though six have died in attempts) and after Everest the loftiest in the world.
It is in order, therefore, to print again a piece of wisdom that helps to answer the question of why a man climbs a mountain. The words are those of Walter Lippmann and actually they were written after Amelia Earhart was given up for lost in her attempt to fly the Pacific, but they go well with the news from K-2:
"The world is a better place to live in because it contains human beings who will give up ease and security in order to do what they themselves think worth doing. They do the useless, brave, noble, divinely foolish and the very wisest things that are done by man. And what they prove to themselves and to others is that man is no mere creature of his habits, no mere automaton in his routine, but that in the dust of-which he is made there is also fire, lighted now and then by great winds from the sky."
Man and the amoeba
Among the simplest of living things is the amoeba, which does not play games.
This microscopic, nucleated mass of protoplasm, perpetually changing its shape by protruding portions of its body, nourishes itself by enveloping minute organisms. It does not fuss over cuisine. Furthermore, when an amoeba wants to reproduce it splits in two. This is the amoebic way of achieving immortality and is the best an amoeba can do.
But on the higher levels of life the animals enjoy special sauces and play games. Kittens, puppies, bear cubs, fox pups and, very likely, adolescent whales are sportive beasts. Dogs preserve the sporting instinct beyond youth and thus are especially dear to man, and so do horses. Man has therefor revered both dog and horse as "noble" animals, a term he does not apply to cats or cows.
Insects, which lie in the scheme of things somewhere between the amoeba and man, are despised, even abhorred. They enter the adult stage instantly, and since they never experience youth they never play. All things are clear to an ant from the moment he comes out of the egg. He knows what he must do and how to do it, and he does it.
The theory that kittens play at chasing spools so that one day they may be expert at chasing mice is easy and may even be true. Laboratory tests show, however, that kittens who never have seen a mouse have chased spools and that these same kittens in later years have refused to hunt mice. The theory that man likes to hit a ball with a club because it revives pleasant atavistic memories of a time when he thus dealt with his enemies may be true, too, but it is a good idea to suspect it.