I recently finished Daniel Keyes’ 1966 novel Flowers for Algernon. In this touching story, a mentally challenged man named Charlie Gordon undergoes an experimental surgery to improve his intelligence.
The surgery is so successful that at one point in the novel, Charlie discovers that the scientists he once thought of an intellectual gods are not even as intelligent as he. They are, as it turns out, human. At a scientific convention filled with great minds, Charlie observes that they are men walking on stilts among giants.
This powerful sentence has stuck with me now for a few weeks. Here’s why: Keyes takes an abstraction, intellect, and uses a metaphor to make it visible. Intelligence is not something we can taste, see, hear, or touch, and intellectual fraud is even more difficult to communicate. But we can see, in our mind’s eye of course, men walking on stilts among giants. And so we do.