Only three teams were invited to the Ultimate Award Ceremony. In fact, they were the only ones who had managed to even complete the race.
It had been the longest race ever. It had begun right at the beginning of the universe itself. At that time, there were no teams. In fact, there was no one to form any teams. Life hadn’t even emerged in the universe. The universe was just a huge cloud of gas. But, soon enough, stars formed, planets formed around them, and life emerged on countless worlds all over the universe. The variety of life was mind boggling. Each kind of life was specialized for the environment it had emerged in. Each type of life evolved in its own way, adapting to changes in its environment. Each type of life also affected its environment, sometimes in a good way, i.e., in a way that enhanced its chances of survival, and sometimes in a bad way, i.e., hurting its chances of survival. The vast majority of these life-forms were short-lived. Either their environment changed too drastically for them to adapt, or they made some big changes to their environment that wiped them out, or a new life-form emerged (or arrived from elsewhere) that drove them to extinction. The race for survival was long and tough. It was full of challenges, successes, catastrophes, and blunders. All of this went on for billions of years…
Finally, the time came when the universe was nearing its end. By then, only three types of life-forms were left in the universe. Each of these life-forms were informed by the Master of the Ceremony, or the MC, to send their representatives to the Ultimate Award Ceremony. Of course, the race had been so long and so tough, that it made no sense to declare just one of them to be the ultimate winner. All of them would receive the Ultimate Award.
Each team had chosen a name for itself. The first team called itself “The Silent Geniuses”. Their story was pretty simple. They had evolved an extremely high level of intelligence very early on in their evolution. They had gone on to develop the most amazing technology in the universe. They had even figured out the mysteries of the universe, why it exists, what rules govern it, and how it will end. They had surveyed the whole universe and had realized which life-forms would make it to the end. Of course, they knew that they would be there, too.
In an earlier era in their history, they had travelled all over the universe, trying to educate other life-forms about the mysteries of the universe and the deep philosophy they had developed to cope with it. Of course, since the other life-forms were not even one-tenth as intelligent as the Silent Geniuses, it had all been in vain. In fact, in many cases, it had had disastrous consequences. Their teachings were misunderstood, misinterpreted, or simply misused. Eventually, the Silent Geniuses realized the futility of this exercise and retreated within their own kind, never to communicate with anyone outside their species again – hence the name “Silent” Geniuses. Ultimately, there was nothing much left for them to do for eons after they had figured all these things out. They spent most of their time either arguing philosophical issues among themselves or just sleeping.
When the time came to send their representative to the Ultimate Award Ceremony, they had to wake up and discuss among themselves who would go. It would be extremely difficult for someone less than one thenth as intelligent as the Silent Geniuses to translate their thoughts into a language the rest of us can understand, but here is the gist of their conversation:
“I don’t feel like going, can you please go?”
“I don’t feel like it either. I mean, what’s the point? I don’t really care about receiving any awards. Moreover, we already know what is going to happen after the ceremony is over. It is all about to get over anyway. Plus, on a philosophical level, does my physical existence at a certain point in space-time really matter in the big picture? I am going to skip it. You go.”
And so on. No one really wanted to go. Thus, no one went.
The second team was called the “Unruly Gamblers”. Their story was a little more interesting than that of the Silent Geniuses. As their name suggests, these life-forms were big believers in luck. They were quite intelligent, though not as intelligent as the Silent Geniuses. They had realized very early on in their evolution that the universe is vast, impossible to fathom fully, too random, and thus, not worth thinking too hard about. There was no point in planning for the long term, because things could change in totally unpredictable ways, and all of their plans would go to waste. Thinking in the present, making decisions on the spur of the moment, and leaving everything else to luck were the order of the day. They believed that God played dice with the universe, and they were perfectly happy to work with it. They had evolved a system based purely on luck and transfer of wealth based on it. The amount of wealth you accumulated was directly proportional to the amount of luck you had. Their society as a whole was quite prosperous, and they would totally agree that it was all due to their good luck, but their society was also very dangerous. One’s luck could change at any time, and not just due to natural causes. Individuals would cheat or even steal from each other, and that was perfectly acceptable in their society. The whole universe was a game of dice anyway.
When they received the invitation from the MC for the Ultimate Award Ceremony, they had a massive lottery to decide which one of them would represent them at the ceremony. Bets were placed on who would win, who would make the right bet on who would win, what would be the sum of the numbers on the winning ticket, what region of their world the winner would come from, and so on. Odds-keepers got busy as usual, calculating the odds, publicizing them, and recalculating them as people adjusted their bets to the new information about the new bets and the odds. It was all they could think about. This would be the last time they would get to gamble, after all!
On the day of the lucky draw, there was a big ceremony during which one of them was declared the lucky winner. There was a huge party afterwards, everyone wished the winner good luck, and she sailed for the planet where the ceremony was to be held. Of course, she hadn’t made it very far when her ship was attacked. She was taken prisoner and the attacker declared himself to be the real representative of the Unruly Gamblers. Of course, there were other ships on his tail, they attacked him, took possession of the winning lottery ticket, and so on. Of course, all of this meant that a lot of time was wasted. Ultimately, they started coming to the realization that none of them was really going to make it to the ceremony. Of course, being gamblers, they started taking bets on the chances that they would still make it due to some miracle, or whether the MC would delay the ceremony to accommodate them, or move it closer to their planet so one of them could still make it, or may be the whole award ceremony thing was a hoax to start with! Gamblers, after all, can never quit.
Finally, there was the third team, “The Contentious Humans”. This life-form had emerged on a planet called Earth, which had luckily been far away from the more heavily populated sections of the universe. This meant that they were left alone for a very long period of time in their development. They had pretty much figured things out for themselves and evolved in their own way. Their history was full of wars, famines, epidemics, religious awakenings, technological revolutions, and so on. Throughtout all of this, they had realized one fundamental truth about themselves – they could never agree on anything! Every time there would be any new issue or, more likely, the re-emergence of an old issue (in fact, most of the issues just kept reappearing in slightly different settings), there would be big debates about how to deal with it. On the surface, it would look like there were just two or three major clusters of opinion. Sometimes the clusters would be called the Left and the Right, or the Scientists and the Faithful, the Haves and the Have-nots, the Sophisticated Elite and the People in the Street, the Long-term Thinkers and the Short-term Doers, and so on. But, when you looked under the surface, you would find further sub-divisions. Within each of these groups, there would be various shades and various combinations of opinions. And when you went even closer, there would be even more differentiation, and so on. The clustering of opinions followed a ‘fractal’ pattern – which is a pattern very common in nature that essentially repeats indefinitely at multiple levels. The fragmentation continued all the way down to the individual member of the species, and sometimes, even the individual was in two minds.
Through all of this conflict, though, they had managed to survive this far. That was quite an achievement for a species with mediocre intelligence (as compared to the Silent Geniuses) and mediocre luck (as compared to the Unruly Gamblers). They had overcome environmental disasters, epidemics, and catastrophes caused by misuse or accidental use of technologies that they had themselves developed. Their home planet and even their solar system had long ago become unfit for their survival, and they had figured out ways to proliferate through their galaxy and even beyond. Throughout the whole journey, they had maintained their innovativeness, their free mind, and their need to argue.
Of course, in order to make progress, they had to figure out ways of dealing with their differences of opinion. Thus, when the invitation for the Ultimate Award Ceremony arrived, they held an election to decide who would get to go. They elected five hundred thousand representratives from five hundred thousand different constituencies among all the planets they inhabited. After the election, the five hundred thousand representatives debated for long periods of time, forming clusters and alliances, horse trading and lobbying, and accusing each other of having ulterior motives and being out of touch with their constituencies. Finally, the time for debates was over, and they had to make a decision. Unfortunately, there were still five major clusters of opinion which simply could not be reconciled. After much anger and disgust, a decision was made that each of these clusters would elect one representative and all five of them would be sent to the award ceremony. It was either that, or miss the whole thing. They felt confident that they would be able to convince the MC that this is the way they did things, and that was it. After all, it was negotiation that they were really good at!
All the five representatives representing the Contentious Humans shared a single spaceship and arrived at the location of the ceremony at the given time. The stage was already set, with three platforms. Each platform had the name of one of the winning teams. All of them were the same height and surface area at the top, since they would all be considered to be equally deserving of the award. But, there was a problem. Each of the platforms was wide enough for exactly one individual from the corresponding team. Since the Contentious Humans had five individuals representing them, it was obvious that they were not going to be able to stand on the platform all at once. Of course, there was no point in electing just one of them to stand on the platform, either. They had already tried that and failed. After some debate and a little bit of experimentation, they finally came up with the right arrangement.
Finally the MC arrived, and looked very amused at the sight. The two platforms, belonging to the Silent Geniuses and the Unruly Gamblers were empty. That wasn’t very amusing at all, but it was something the MC had expected. But it was the third platform, belonging to the Contentious Humans, that had the most interesting spectacle on it. Each of the five representatives from the Contentious Humans had managed to climb on to the platform. They each had one of their feet on the platform, the other foot in the air, and were holding on to each other with their hands to keep themselves from falling. Of course, the balance was very fragile, and they had to keep adjusting it so no one would fall off the platform. The picture of these five humans, hands locked with each other, balancing each other with one foot each on the platform, was very amusing and very telling, indeed.
“Congratulations! I always knew you would make it. You didn’t make it because you are super-intelligent like the Silent Geniuses. Neither did you make it because you relied entirely on your luck, like the Unruly Gamblers. You made it because of a combination of your intelligence, your creativity, your passion, your hard work, and, most importantly, because of your ability to work through your differences of opinions. You figured out how to allow everyone to think and act freely by themselves, and balance that with furthering the common good. You realized that getting too philosophical or elitist about everything, like the Silent Geniuses did, would not get you here. But you also had the sense to not just go about your activities mindelessly. You also realized that focusing only on the short term, like the Unruly Gamblers did, would not get you this far. You figured out the right combination of all of these things, and kept adjusting it according to the situation. Most importantly, you kept the dialog going, respecting each other’s opinions, never believing for too long that you had found the One True Answer to anything.”
“Just making it here was hard enough, and you definitely deserve this award. What gives me even more pleasure is, as a result of all this struggle and adjustment and twists and turns in your long history, you have the most interesting story of all to tell. The Silent Geniuses and the Unruly Gamblers almost made it, and I should certainly give them credit for that, but, as compared to your story, their stories are rather uninteresting. You are far more interesting.”
“So, here is what I am going to do. As you are aware, this universe is about to end. But, I hear that a new universe is being constructed in our neighborhood and it will be my pleasure to help you settle into it. In this new universe, there will be a new race. But this time, the winner will not just have to make it to the end, but must also have the most interesting story to tell. I wish you well.”