The Elephant in the Room


On average, an Asian elephant weighs anything from three to five tonnes. Their African brothers are larger and heavier still, weighing anything up to and in excess of seven tonnes (7000kg). And yet, these incredible beasts are often successfully controlled by nothing more than a short stake and a piece of rope.

Understanding this phenomenon is essential to securing a ‘Yes’ vote on September 18th.

To begin to grasp why elephants are so reluctant to break free of the shackles that bind them we must first introduce ourselves with a little known mathematical scientist, called George Bernard Dantzig.

In 1939, Dantizig was a doctoral candidate at Berkeley with a tendency to oversleep. One morning, late once more for a grad level statistics class, Danzig encountered two problems written on the board.

Dantzig takes up the story, in an interview for the College Mathematics Journal:

I arrived late one day at one of [Jerzy] Neyman’s classes. On the blackboard there were two problems that I assumed had been assigned for homework. I copied them down. A few days later I apologized to Neyman for taking so long to do the homework — the problems seemed to be a little harder than usual. I asked him if he still wanted it. He told me to throw it on his desk. I did so reluctantly because his desk was covered with such a heap of papers that I feared my homework would be lost there forever. About six weeks later, one Sunday morning about eight o’clock, [my wife] Anne and I were awakened by someone banging on our front door. It was Neyman. He rushed in with papers in hand, all excited: “I’ve just written an introduction to one of your papers… To make a long story short, the problems on the blackboard that I had solved thinking they were homework were in fact two famous unsolved problems in statistics. That was the first inkling I had that there was anything special about them.
Had Dantzig arrived on time to class that morning, he would have heard his professor state that Einstein had been unable to resolve the two problems. The fact is, Dantzig didn’t know he couldn’t solve them. So he did.


In India, when a baby elephant is born, she is immediately sent out to work. When not engaged in manual labour, she is tied by a heavy chain to a stake placed in the earth. To her utter dismay, the baby elephant finds that the chain is much too strong for her developing body to break free of. Despite repeated attempts to chew through the chain, despite whining and trumpeting, tugging and pulling, the baby elephant eventually resigns herself to her fate. She learns her limitations. Her spirit is broken.


The elephant is conditioned to believe that it cannot be free and that belief is enough to hold her.


To every neutral observer, it is self evident that the magnificent strength of the elephant would enable her to break free and gain her independence with little effort. In the conditioned mind of the elephant alas, it’s sense of self is that it is still ‘too wee, too poor, too stupid’.


The meritocratic, inclusive and participative society all reasonable people aspire to is not beyond the strength of the Scottish people any more than breaking of the chain that binds her is beyond the strength of the elephant. Declaring Yes is the easy part. It requires no more than the stroke of a pen. The real challenge is to conquer the learned helplessness that threatens our potential and undermines our talents.


Andrew S. Loveland’s ‘The Sound of Abundance of Rain’ is now available to buy on Kindle here



  1. “too poor, too stupid” I think that phrase was one nat soudbite John Swinney coined, shame on him putting words in peoples mouths. Scots are nothing of the sort.

    • NomadicHaggi said:

      Read the comments section of any major English newspaper lately?

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