The Power of Guessing
According to Usama Fayyad, “Sometimes guessing is the best you can do. In the real world, we guess all the time and it serves us well.” In the story “Serpents and Skulls,” by Italo Calvino, a man named Mr. Palomar is visiting the ruins of Tula, the ancient capital of the Toltecs, with his Mexican friend. Also, a group of school children move among the ruins. The teacher keeps saying, “we don’t know what they mean ” after he/she explains what the statues are. But later, Mr. Palomar’s friend finally says “Yes, we do…” Mr. Palomar’s friend guesses what a statue or ancient artifact is. Italo Calvino aims to convey the message that people should guess and interpret when they do not know something because making guesses and interpretations can create more enthusiasm, help people discover new meanings, and exercise the brain.
Firstly, making guesses and interpretations can create more enthusiasm. It can create more enthusiasm because sometimes when people keep hearing the word, “we don’t know what it means,” it can get tiring and make one feel very bored, but then once someone guesses, that person might have more interest and feel some enthusiasm or excitement. For example, it is just like in the short story when the teacher keeps telling his/her students, “we don’t know what they mean,” but all of a sudden, Mr. Palomar’s friend tells the teacher and students his interpretations about the ruins, to which, “The boys listen, mouths agape, black eyes dazed.” That shows that the students do actually feel enthusiastic or excited about what they hear from Mr. Palomar’s friend. Also, in the story, the teacher is boring and just does the job of telling what the ruins are, and then saying, “we don’t know what it means” while Mr. Palomar has, “A Mexican friend [who] accompanies him, impassioned…” That suggests that his friend is very impassioned, meaning his friend is interested, unlike the teacher who shows no enthusiasm. This shows that making guesses and interpretations can help create more enthusiasm because saying “I don’t know” is boring.
Secondly, making guesses and interpretations can help people discover new meanings. It can help people discover new meanings because if someone does not know something, they can guess, and if the person gets it right, they basically learn something new. It is just like when the teacher is on one part of the ruins called the “Serpents and skulls,” and the teacher once again says, “we don’t know what it means.” Mr. Palomar’s friend guesses, “Yes, we do! It’s the continuity of life and death; the serpents are life, and the skulls are death. Life is life because it bears death with it, and death is death because there is no life without death…” After Mr. Palomar’s friend guesses it, he/she learns something new, and so does the teacher, along with the students and Mr. Palomar. Also, unlike the teacher, Mr. Palomar’s friend does something completely different, which is how “Mr. Palomar’s Mexican friend pauses at each stone, transforms it into a cosmic tale, an allegory, a moral reflection.” That shows that he is turning the sculptures into moral reflections that help him discover new things. In the end, guessing helps discover new things because when someone guesses, if they get it correct, they learn something new.
Thirdly, making guesses and interpretations can exercise the brain. It can exercise the brain because when someone guesses, they need to think, which exercises the brain since they are using clues to find out while thinking, or maybe just thinking about what they do not know. Then after, if the person guesses it right, then they learn something new, and doing it more, would exercise the brain. It is like how the Mexican friend of Mr. Palomar’s believes that ” the play of interpretation, allegorical readings, has always seemed to him a supreme exercise of the mind.” That shows how Mr. Palomar’s friend thinks guessing is an exercise to the mind, proving it probably does really exercise the mind since it can lead to new knowledge. Also, when someone is guessing, they are using context or clues, or just trying to relate and find an answer to the question they do not know, making their brain work hard thinking logically to try to guess it. It is like how the ancient Mexicans in “Serpents and Skulls,” believe that “We are in the world of pictographic writing; the ancient Mexicans, to write, drew pictures, and even when they were drawing it was as if they were writing: every picture seems a rebus to be deciphered.” So, this proves that guessing can exercise the mind, because the ancient Mexicans always thought and thought, which exercised their minds, and led them to learn new things. In all, making guesses and interpretations can exercise the mind because when someone guesses, their brain needs to think, which exercises their mind.
In all, guessing and interpreting can help when someone does not know something, because it creates more enthusiasm, helps people discover new meanings, and exercises the brain. In the end, the story “Serpents and Skulls,” encourages guessing and interpreting because it will help discover new things, build technology and many more things, and most definitely help learn and upgrade the world, because “knowledge is power, and so is interpreting.”