A Parable on Immortality

Some years ago (it might be as many as fifty) I read an article in a scientific journal (it might have been Science, The American Scientist, or Scientific American), which I believe was written by a Nobel laureate in physics from Asia (perhaps India) – as you can see, at my age details get obscured. It was the scientist’s acceptance speech.

The author wrote of a conversation between two dragonfly eggs, attached to a reed below the surface of a lake. They noticed that eggs on other reeds floated to the surface and then disappeared, and they told each other that, when they rise to the surface they would get back to the other and tell it what lies above them.

And then, of course, one of them floats to the surface, shedding its egg sac, its wings unfurl, and it flies off, never to return to make good on its promise. That is, it is basically a parable about one’s mortality and hope for immortality.

Is there anyone who has heard of this, or how I might go about finding it? Google failed me in this search.

Author: Mike Maltz

Michael D. Maltz is Emeritus Professor of Criminal Justice and of Information and Decision Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is currently an adjunct professor of sociology at the Ohio State University His formal training is in electrical engineering (BEE, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1959; MS & PhD Stanford University, 1961, 1963), and he spent seven years in that field. He then joined the National Institute of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice (now National Institute of Justice), where he became a criminologist of sorts. After three years with NIJ, he spent thirty years at the University of Illinois at Chicago, during which time he was a part-time Visiting Fellow at the US Bureau of Justice Statistics. Maltz is the author of Recidivism, coauthor of Mapping Crime in Its Community Setting, and coeditor of Envisioning Criminology.

5 thoughts on “A Parable on Immortality”

  1. I couldn’t find anything like that, but I did find a poem by W.S, Merwin about dragonflies:

    After the Dragonflies

    Dragonflies were as common as sunlight
    hovering in their own days
    backward forward and sideways
    as though they were memory
    now there are grown-ups hurrying
    who never saw one
    and do not know what they
    are not seeing
    the veins in a dragonfly’s wings
    were made of light
    the veins in the leaves knew them
    and the flowing rivers
    the dragonflies came out of the color of water
    knowing their own way
    when we appeared in their eyes
    we were strangers
    they took their light with them when they went
    there will be no one to remember us

  2. If there is a heaven, as members of many religions believe, it has to be located outside of, not only our universe, but outside of the multiverse, since all branches of the multiverse (if it exists) stem from the same big bang. If God indeed transports souls to such a place, it can’t be very easy to return. Much like the dragonfly case.

  3. There is this childrens’ book that contains the story you described:


    The parable is much older, however. Google books attributes one version to “Churchman’s Monthly Magazine”, 1859:


    Cannot find the speech you refer to, but this is an old tale. Have not tried to run down where it originally comes from.

    1. Thanks! Doubtless they have the same origin as the speech that I remember reading. And another blog reader (Keith Bloom) contacted me directly, referring to the same stories.

      I also wrote the Nobel organization, but don’t really expect to hear from them.


  4. Isn’t it an old internet tradition that a blog post of this sort must be preceded by a statement identifying them as a bleg? (See here as well).

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