Gomboc is a little boring. I understand. This is not what the people want. We need faster, sexier, more intense, better special effects. So let’s try this.
Anyways, bad internet jokes aside, the point is that this weirdly shaped thing is a wonderful incarnation of applied mathematical principles and we can actually learn something from its bizarrely crafted form. But before we get to what we can gain from it, how about a little tour of what gombocs are all about?
In its simplest terms, a gomboc is a homogeneous mono-monostatic solid. What the hell does that mean? In its simplest terms, what this means is that it’s solid with one stable and one unstable surface. Alright, that’s not all that simple. Let’s try this.
The gomboc is the world’s only self-righting shape.
“Nuh-uh!” You may scream while vivaciously shoving a finger up your nose. “I had a Weeble when I was but an ovum with legs! That thing would always stand back up no matter how many times I knocked it over!”
I would respectfully disagree but I don’t care enough to be respectful so I’m going to say to sit your butt back in your chair and get your finger out of your nose because if you keep doing that it’ll stretch out and never go back.
I would also explain that things like Weebles may wobble but not fall down (please don’t sue me whoever owns those things) not because of anything intrinsic to their shape but because of their center of gravity. When the Weeble is wobbled, its center of gravity is no longer over its pivot point and gravity will pull it back into its resting position. But this action is not a direct result of the Weeble’s shape but its composition since its bottom half is made of a denser, heavier material than its top half. The gomboc, however, is the real deal, as I’ll now explain.
The gomboc, because of its shape, can settle in only one way. This is not a function of its composition so much as it is the intrinsic nature of the shape. It has only one resting configuration and will naturally orient itself to this resting state, as seen in the video below.
In other words, no matter how you place the gomboc, it will return to its upright and most stable position. Interestingly, nature beat us to the punch again and we see naturally occurring examples of gomboc like structures in the shape of some turtle and tortoise shells which is how these creatures are able to right themselves after being flipped over for either a bout of vigorous belly rubs or a horrific death.
This is all very cool and if you’re totally in love with gombocs now, which I don’t know why you wouldn’t be, I’ll provide some links to read up on this nifty little lump of niftiness as well as purchasing options at the end of the article. But what does this have to do with us? What can we learn from this lumpy solid?
The Teachings of Gomboc
The first thing we can learn from the gomboc is related to what is immediately obvious just by looking at it. Gombocs are weird, frumpy, seemingly useless things. At least to us. Tortoises find them quite useful. But at least from our perspective, they are novelties. And not exactly flashy novelties like those pink leopard print handcuffs you’re hiding under your bed. However, its apparent simplicity belies an incredible complexity. It’s not like the principle was discovered then these things were mass-produced like McDonald’s burgers or Hollywood blockbusters. No, the principle was theorized in 1995 by Russian mathematician Vladimir Arnold but not realized physically until 2006 by Hungarian scientists Gábor Domokos and Péter Várkonyi. These structures are not exactly easy to make either, with extremely specific tolerances. All this history and complexity is hidden within the simple, frumpy solid exterior. If there’s anything to take from this is that your supposedly mediocre, boring life is actually made of layers of complexity and it’s your fault for not appreciating that.Maybe you’re boring. Maybe you go to work, then come home to eat dinner with your family or significant other (or alone), then go to sleep only to do it all over again. Yes it is boring and routine. But it’s life. We can’t expect to go tooling around the world, doing all kinds of crazy things and being in all kinds of crazy situations all the time. It’s just not feasible. Besides, if you actually learn to pay attention, you’ll see that the banal and commonplace offer opportunity for happiness and contentment. In other words, learn to alter your perspective. Part of the problem is that most of us simply get used to doing things the same way and so we begin to tune out the world around us. So instead, learn to pay attention, learn to notice things again and see the world you thought was so boring in new ways. Then apply this to yourself. Sure there may be nothing special about you on the surface but that doesn’t mean there’s not a world of complexity going on inside you. You just need to learn how to appreciate it again. When you see the interesting in the mundane, you’ll be granted more options and more opportunities, which brings me to gomboc teaching number two.
Gombocs are weird looking things. I may have mentioned that. A few times. I’m not the only one to think that though. It’s hard not to think that considering its lumpy shape and its French bulldog level of adorably awkward movements.
However, despite their oddness, despite how atypical they are, they always manage to right themselves. Let that be a lesson to those of you out there complaining that you’re not perfect, believing you need to be better, you need to be more in order to get somewhere in life. You’re a mess and you are weird and imperfect and you’ve got more problems than Kirk has intergalactic love children. But, these idiosyncrasies are a part of your, “design,” and they are integral parts of what makes you you. If you go about smoothing out every edge, every inconsistency, you’re not going to be you anymore. You may also take away the things that may prove useful to you.You see, an incredibly intelligent psychiatrist named Carl G. Jung hypothesized something called the shadow complex. This comprises all the anger, the jealousy, the lust, the cowardice, the laziness, and all the other negative things we hate about ourselves. In our self-help crazed culture, we are constantly trying to erase these things. We want and need to be perfect and flawless. To do this, we usually try replacing every negative thought and emotion with its positive corollary. In effect, we try to breed out the negative tendencies with positive ones. The only problem is that this doesn’t work that well. In the end we think that just because we’re acting out the correct behaviors, we’ve won. We are now wonderful people and our names shall be forever committed to the Big Book of Wonderful People! How wonderful! Of course the truth is not so wonderful. The truth is that we still maintain the urges to lash out, to run and hide, to blame others, to hit on that fine creature at the bar even though we’re married/engaged/in an exclusive relationship. And the truth is that these urges will never go away. They are the ugly side of our personality and, according to Jung, unless we learn to accept and integrate these ugly aspects of our psyche, we can never live full lives since we’ll always be denying a part of who we are.
You may think that what I’m about to say may suck but there’s no way around this little nugget of insight which is that as human beings it is we who suck. So we should all kill ourselves since we’re all irredeemable pieces of crap, right? Not really. I want to know who it was who put it in our heads that we come into this world to be perfect because I want to slap that person in the face with a large fish. The painful reality of our situation is that we are malformed, strange, kinky, hurtful, and hateful animals. That isn’t all we are but it is certainly no small part either. There’s not much we can do about this. Some of our basic instincts push us towards these tendencies as they helped us survive in the harsh environments we had to live in. For example, our instincts may push us to try to hump everything. If we can’t hump it, maybe we can eat it. If someone else is trying to hump or eat the thing we had our little simian hearts set on humping or eating then we fight and/or kill that other stupid simian. This is the nature of our species. And, like the weird shape of our gomboc teacher, these very same negative or at least unseemly traits have helped us survive and may actually continue to help us even if we don’t realize it. Your being prone to aggression could make you fierce in achieving goals. Your being afraid of everything may help you minimize risk and take into account variables others dismiss. Your being a horny bag of horniness may help keep the sexual/physically intimate side of your relationships from petering out and becoming boring. The same way the gomboc’s weird shape allows it to do what it does, your apparent oddness may help you just as long as you are aware of it and use it for constructive ends. And if you can’t aim it at constructive ends, then at least be aware of it and accept it so you can work to live with it. You can’t control or mitigate a trait that you refuse to acknowledge or that you believe you’ve already beaten. Remember, when it comes to personality flaws and traits, there is no conclusive victory. These are parts of our psyches that will always be with us as long as we’re alive so every day has to be a battle to either contain the parts of ourselves that can hurt others or to aim these negative impulses to positive ends. So, like the gomboc’s odd shape, we may be able to get back up and recover or push forward, not despite our oddness and seemingly negative aspects, but actually because of them which brings me to the final thing our lumpy master can teach us.
Gombocs get knocked down a lot. But they keep getting back up. In fact, you could say that gombocs exist solely to get knocked down so we can delight in their awkward attempts to right themselves. I hate to break it to you, but human life is the exact same way if you haven’t been paying attention. We get knocked down a lot. Things go wrong, we screw up, other people screw us up, we experience loss, and we make decisions that later come to bite us in the ass. In these moments, of which there are no shortage, we always have the choice of whether to lie there as piles of whimpering meat or we can right ourselves like gombocs. Naturally this is not easy nor graceful. A lot of times it’s down right embarrassing. We may wonder why we bother, why we continue to get up after the universe makes it very clear it wants us to appreciate all the lovely dirt lying around by mashing our faces into it. But here’s the thing. Gombocs get up because it is the nature of the gomboc to make sure it is resting in a certain way. Likewise it is the nature of living things, humans included, to act and do things to achieve certain states. It’s also the nature of reality to be always shifting and changing, thus always moving the target we’re aiming at which means no matter how many times we think we’ve achieved our final state or our perfect happy place, we keep having to deal with issues and problems that arise or setbacks that pick us up and tenderly deposit us on our asses back at square one. So every time the universe knocks you down or disappoints you, be like gomboc and get back up because as living things, as human beings, that’s what we do. It’s our nature to act to achieve goals, even if it’s something as hoisting ourselves off the floor, putting on a pair of pants, and going to the store to get some more cereal. We have to do things because we’re alive, even when it hurts or we look stupid doing it.
So remember my beloved readers, your boring humdrum life is masking hidden complexity and opportunity that it is up to you discover by altering your perceptions. In other words stop complaining that you’re bored or that you are boring. You’ve just gotten used to seeing things how you expect them to be and not as they are. In other words, you’re being mentally lazy. Secondly, you may be a weird lumpy mess but you can’t get rid of those lumps (except the ones your doctor prescribed that cream for. Which make sure you use it or else you’ll never stop itching.) because those lumps are part of who you are, they are a key component to what makes up your identity. Finally, even when life tips you over, get back up. The other choice is to lie there and give up. But that’s, again, lazy and irresponsible. Get back up if for no other reason than that as human beings what we do.
And remember: gomboc may be lumpy, gomboc may be strange, gomboc may get tipped over, but gomboc will straighten out again.
Here are more links about the wonderful world of gombocs and how you can adopt a gomboc of your own!