Electric meat

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Years ago, a dying friend conveyed to me a short story that I've never been able to forget--a story that has influenced the way I live my life.

(That friend was John "Reeves" Hall, my college roommate and a brilliant hacker taken in his prime by skin cancer. He died at 23, having founded a company, written a book on Linux Game Programming [in our freshman year] and obtained his pilot's license, among many other accomplishments.)

I don't know if he made this story up or he got it from somewhere else.

If someone can identify the origin, I'd love to know it (and provide attribution).

Read on for the short parable.

Update: The inspiration has been found, and Franklin Chen pointed out a connection to learned helplessness.

Don't touch the electric meat

Some time ago, a primatologist ran an experiment with chimpanzees.

The experiment involved a hanging pallet of meat that, when touched, sent an electric shock througout the entire chimp cage.

At first, the chimps responded with bewilderment every time one of them grabbed the meat and the shock rippled through the cage.

Eventually, the chimps realized that the shocks came from the meat.

The chimps began to attack and beat, savagely even, any chimp that approached the meat, and over time, fewer beatings were necessary.

At this point, the experimenter began to replace the chimps, one by one, with chimps that had never been shocked.

Naturally, when this new chimp went for the curiously untouched meat right before his eyes, he was attacked.

Confused at first, he eventually connected the meat to the beatings.

Each new chimp learned to attack when others approached the meat.

The experimenter continued replacing the chimps.

Within a month, none of the chimps which had been electrocuted remained.

The beatings continued, but diminished steadily in frequency over time.

Eventually, the experimenter switched off the electricity.

The meat was now safe to eat.

Yet no chimp dared touch the electric meat.


Ever since I heard this story, I can't help but see that we live in a world brimming with "electric" meat.

Learn to find it.

Then get out there and grab it.

Someone recently mentioned, "You can die twice. Once when the life leaves your body, and again when someone speaks your name for the last time. Try to only die once."

John was a good friend and human being, one who ought to die only once.

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