The Absence of A Master Mind


I am a lead pencil—the ordinary wooden pencil familiar to all boys and girls and adults who can read and write.* I, Pencil, simple though I appear to be, merit your wonder and awe, (…)

Simple? Yet, not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me. (…) There isn’t a single person (…) including the president of the pencil company, who contributes more than a tiny, infinitesimal bit of know-how. (…)

Here is an astounding fact: Neither the worker in the oil field nor the chemist nor the digger of graphite or clay nor any who mans or makes the ships or trains or trucks nor the one who runs the machine that does the knurling on my bit of metal nor the president of the company performs his singular task because he wants me. (…) Their motivation is other than me. (…)

There is a fact still more astounding: the absence of a master mind, of anyone dictating or forcibly directing these countless actions which bring me into being. No trace of such a person can be found. Instead, we find the Invisible Hand at work. This is the mystery to which I earlier referred. (…)

I, Pencil, am a complex combination of miracles: a tree, zinc, copper, graphite, and so on. But to these miracles which manifest themselves in Nature an even more extraordinary miracle has been added: the configuration of creative human energies—millions of tiny know-hows configurating naturally and spontaneously in response to human necessity and desire and in the absence of any human master-minding! Since only God can make a tree, I insist that only God could make me. (Leonard E. Read, “I pencil”)

“I, Pencil: My Family Tree as Told to Leonard E. Read” is an essay by Leonard Read first published in December 1958.

One comment

  1. […] how to make a computer mouse? I guess you don’t. Matt Riley thinks nobody knows, following Leonard Read’s argument in “I pencil”. He also thinks it doesn’t matter indeed, because our collective brain allows us to go beyond […]

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