“… So what we’re seeing is that for the first time in our history, humanity is on the verge of becoming an extraordinary evolutionary success.”

The man on the stage with the gnome-like body, fuzzily bald head and huge fishbowl eyes held me in absolute thrall. He had just explained the concept of “synergy,” as exemplified by the tensile strength of chrome-nickel-steel, and somehow related this to why life on this little planet in the year 1967 was bursting with potential, and I had somehow (though I couldn’t have told you how) understood his point.

The man was Buckminster Fuller, I was twelve years old, and I didn’t think I’d ever heard anything so captivating in my life.

“… So let me explain who you are,” he went on, now a good ninety minutes into his dizzyingly non-stop soliloquy about the universe and everything in it. “I’m holding a rope here”—and Bucky needed no props: when he held out his two hands, everyone in the auditorium saw that rope. That was one of his gifts: he could concretely see things that were there in thought only. And here was another of his gifts: when he saw them, you saw them, too.

This rope, he explained, was stitched together from several smaller lengths—cotton, nylon and silk. He tied a slip knot in one end, let the other end droop to the floor, and then passed his slip knot down through the length of the rope that wasn’t really there but that we could all see, top to bottom.

“Was the knot cotton, or nylon, or silk?” he asked us. “It was all of them and none of them,” he answered for us, “it was the pattern. And you—you are not your cells and tissues, those are last week’s breakfast, they’re your cotton, nylon and silk, but you, you are the knot. You are a pattern—a unique, magnificent, extraordinary pattern, and because you are here the world will never be the same…”

When I slipped my cotton, nylon and silk self under the sheets for sleep that night, I knew I’d seen something important. As Marshall Thurber, D.C. Cordova and Lynne Twist would all do some years later, I’d had my first close encounter of the Bucky kind, and it left me changed.

Bucky had the biggest appetite of anyone I’ve ever known. It wasn’t an appetite for things, for experiences, or even for knowledge that struck me (although he had all those in ample supply). It was his appetite for possibilities. He saw the universe as the most amazing playground, brimming over with things to be discovered and accomplished, to captivate and delight. And when he saw that, we saw it, too. To this day, I still do.

JOHN DAVID MANN is Consulting Editor to Networking Times.