What a letdown to be almost finished a puzzle only to realize you’re missing a piece! First doubts arise with only a few pieces left and are abruptly confirmed when you are finally faced with a void that you can’t fill. All those hours spent on a project that’s left incomplete, contaminated by the absence of a ridiculously small fraction of its component parts.
There’s no way to know ahead of time. Who’s going to count the pieces before starting to make sure you’re in possession of the number indicated on the box? In spite of that, it wouldn’t be such a bad strategy since knowing in advance that you’re missing, be it a single piece, would surely quell your enthusiasm for the project and cast serious doubts on your willingness to proceed.
This is the unfortunate situation that came to mind as I was riding my bike and spotted a single piece of a puzzle lying abandoned in the gutter. I thought of the living room table in one of the town houses nearby on which lay the quasi-finished jig-saw of a picturesque summer scene forever maligned by the forlorn hole in its centre. This aberration jars the sensibilities of all those who cast a glance at it and motivates the most sensitive among them with the urge to dismantle the puzzle and put it back into its box, taking care to inscribe in large caps « WARNING – PIECE MISSING ». Like a black hole, the vacant space attracts all the attention. Impossible to ignore the negative piece whose sharply defined contour and surrounding textures offer a detailed description of it like the after-image left by an imaginary vision. In its incorporeal state, the absent piece has paradoxically become more present than the 999 others that it is holding hostage. After a painstaking but unsuccessful search of all the places where it might be hiding, the piece’s very existence will be called into question and the search will be called off. The jig-saw puzzle will henceforth be declared evermore flawed.
In an effort to free myself of this unpleasant scene, I searched for a less fatalistic perception of my chance find. I thus inverted the obvious interpretation to consider that what I had discovered was not the missing piece of a puzzle, but rather the puzzle in its own right which happened to be missing a large number of its constituents. This unconventional reading led to a jig-saw puzzle with the unique capacity of declaring from the outset its incomplete nature. You can’t be disappointed when you know from the start that there are missing pieces. This puzzle configuration also offers the major advantage of calling on your creativity for its solution. Starting from a minuscule piece of curvilinear shaped cardboard, you’re invited to imagine the complete scene, its colours, its shapes and even its dimensions. All proposals are valid, including that of a single piece surrounded only by empty space extending to the limits of the jig-saw’s boundaries. On completion, you frame it and expose it to the view of all those that you had invited to contribute with you to this exercise in creativity in order to admire the end results.
If this vision is found to be disconcerting, consider it to be a challenge very similar to the one that confronts us all as human beings. Is there not a more apt metaphor than this one-piece puzzle to describe the absurdity of our existence, that of being invested with the impossible mission of resolving the mystery of our universe from the infinitesimal knowledge that we are given to possess of it. Our genetic constitution condemns us to discover, from the single nano-dimensioned piece representing our human existence, the incommensurable immensity of the cosmic puzzle. To assist us in this quest, we’ve invented science, a perilous scaffolding of knowledge and interconnected theories whose instability is constantly threatening to bring crashing to the ground. The founding values on which we’ve erected our aggregate consciousness, even those that seem solid and inviolable, are susceptible to being overturned at the least gust of cosmic wind. The scientific proof dealing with gravity, one of physics four great forces, supported by seemingly unassailable theory and by almost unlimited empiric evidence, will crumble to dust at the single observation of an object being released that refuses to fall to the ground.
Others propose religion as key to unravelling the universal puzzle. Compared to science, religions have the advantage of being free of the requirements of rigour. Their foundations can therefore easily support any construct of beliefs that might be put forward. Conversely, they suffer an intolerance to ambiguity and ambivalence and are thus subject to endless conflicts of interpretation that they are unable to settle and that have often led to their demise. Like pieces of a puzzle with conflicting colours, shapes or sizes, religions are constantly clashing and attempting to dominate each other.
The analogy suggested by my bicycling find leads me to a more constructive conclusion, to consider our metaphysical quest, albeit unrealizable, as an invitation to develop our creativity. If a single piece can generate an infinite number of jig-saws, why be satisfied with a single solution? Let’s take advantage of the absurdity of our existence to live all those that it is possible for us to imagine. Why not fill in the immensity of the void that surrounds us with our most utopian aspirations and accept that nothing can harm them. Perhaps our destiny is to imagine the world of which we are a part in its most exuberant expression and articulate it according to our wildest dreams. The resulting puzzle will only be contested in the unlikely event that 999 cyclists, blest with 999 incredible good fortunes, stumble upon the 999 missing pieces that were dispersed on the roads of the cosmos.