There once lived a dove in a forest — she had to fly many miles each day to find fruit for her chicks and would return to her nest very tired every evening.
One day, while fetching twigs with which to renovate her home, she met a magician and they fell to chatting. As a token of their friendship, the magician, as magicians were wont to do in bygone days, offered the dove a wish. The dove, not able to think of anything she might need just then, decided to redeem her wish later. And so they parted.
While flying to her nest, the dove felt exceedingly tired that day, what with the extra weight of the twigs and the gusts of wind blowing through the forest that season.
Then it occurred to her: it’s the air that makes it so difficult for me to fly… just imagine if the sky was empty of air… I’d be able to glide about so easily all day and would never feel tired!
Thinking thus, she cooed in her heart: “Magician! I have a wish! Would that there were no air to thwart my flight evermore!”
The magician, intuiting the dove’s wish, asked her to reconsider its wisdom, but she was very firm. He hesitatingly granted her the wish. In a small bubble just around the dove, there was no more air.
The dove felt incredibly light for a moment — she was overjoyed, and flapped her wings vigorously, enjoying the lack of resistance. Then she began to fall… she beat her wings harder, but hurtled downwards only faster.
Only then did it dawn on her, the purpose of the air: it was by pushing against it, by overcoming the resistance of this world that she could fly higher and faster.
A few minutes before the dove hit the ground, our wise magician took pity and restored the status quo: the dove felt the air under her wings again and flew forward steadily, having learned something to teach her own young that evening.
This story is based on a sentence in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason:
“The light dove cleaving in free flight the thin air, whose resistance it feels, might imagine that her movements would be far more free and rapid in airless space.”