One day, Armen discovered the name “Cave Gulch” on a campus map. He set out the next weekend to see what that gulch had to offer, and indeed, he found a cave there, and he found several more as he explored over the following weeks. He had a system. He asked around about the caves, and knowing that caves tend to form in marble, he looked everywhere marble might remain on and between the ridges.
Once, in early spring, while Armen was sitting in a patch of sunlight by a cave entrance puzzling over an old textbook, a ragged greybeard emerged from the cave. At first, Armen thought the man had said something to him, but he quickly realized that the man was just muttering to himself. Armen nodded at him, and continued his reading. This occurred again and again over several days before Armen thought he’d try muttering to himself when the old man passed. He found it hard to do without interacting. When he heard the old spelunker cursing and scolding himself, saying “what the Hell do you think you’re doing?”, Armen let slip a response, saying “What does it look like?” and he lifted his book toward the man.
The old spelunker stopped in his tracks, but kept muttering.
“And what the Hell, may I ask,” Armen followed up, “are you doing?”
The man muttered, but then answered clearly and loudly, “Exploring!”
“Really?” Armen replied. “I didn’t know there were unexplored places down there,”
The old man creaked and groaned as he set himself down. Armen tried to ignore the odors that struck him every time the man moved.
“I didn’t say it was unexplored” the man replied.
“But you’re exploring it anyway?”
“You might say that. You also might say I’m exploring new ways to explore old caves.”
“I see … I think … Such as?”
The man barked out a laugh. Armen noticed another foul odor striking the air. “Sure you want to hear it?”
“All right,” The man conceded and paused. “I crawl the caves of the mind.”
“Okay,” Armen muttered while digesting the man’s words. “But that there’s a real cave.”
“No doubt,” the man declared. “You don’t think the caves of the mind are real?”
“No. I mean, the caves of the mind—that’s a metaphor. That cave is rea—physical.”
“Hmmm.” The man paused. “You don’t think the caves of the mind are physical?”
“Well, I guess I—I always thought everything in the mind was mental.”
“Oh, sure. If it’s in the mind it must be mental, right?”
“Yeah. But you think—you think the mental is physical?”
“Why not?” the spelunker challenged.
“Well it’s fine, I guess,” Armen conceded, but then another question occurred to him. “… but why do you need to explore that physical cave in there if you’re exploring the physical cave in your head?”
“I don’t know if I need to. I guess it’s just that one cave might teach you something about another.”
“You mean—a metaphor?”
“Oh, if you insist, why not.”
The old man bade Armen a good day, creaked and groaned his way to his feet, and went on his way. Armen wondered if he’d offended the old caveman.