Aside

* The Old Switch-er-oo *

Follow this link to the golb (the backwards blog)! Here the oldest posts are at the top and the story flows way better. Nau mai, haere mai!

ajourneyintotheworldofscience.wordpress.com/2014/?order=asc

Advertisements

8 / Connecting to the World

It had been a good day relaxing in the cave. I had napped a few times but it was when I woke again late in the afternoon that I felt the map in my pocket. Taking the offer of something to do, I pulled it out and began to study it.

The Map

The Map

The scientist noticed: “Is that the old map I gave you?”

“Yeah.” I answered.

He appeared to think hard for a few moments and then he moved over to sit beside me. “I want to tell you something more about that map,” he began. “You will have worked out that it is hand-shaped by now I assume?”

I had wondered that. ” Yes.”  I said.

“Did you ever wonder about the unknown?” He followed.

“A little,” I admitted, “I always had a bit of a desire deep down to just travel towards it instead.”

That made him smile. “You are more onto it than you think!” He said. “I want you to take your real hand and hold it out in front of you. Examine it closely. Do you see? It is connected to the rest of your body!”

“That’s just simple anatomy isn’t it?” I responded, a bit confused. I wondered if being in the cave all day had driven the scientist slightly crazy!

“You’re right, but don’t you realise what that means?” He said, watching my face carefully. I had no answer for him. “It means,” he continued excitedly, “That just as our hands are connected to our bodies, so too is the World of Science you think you are in connected to the rest of the World. That is life!”

I stared in silence at my  hand and arm in front of me. I was well and truly enlightened.

“As a matter of fact,” the scientist went on, “There is just one World in all reality; there are just many different ways of seeing it. Science is just one of those ways. It is quite a popular one in many regards but there are always some people who view the world through other lenses and that is OK. So, now that you have science on your side, I challenge you to go from this cave and combine it with as many other perspectives as possible in order to try and solve the many problems that our society has created.

“I accept!” I said with a new gusto. We even shook on it.

Little did I know, my chance to start this challenge would come sooner than I thought.

7 / All hail getting stuck

I felt as if I had been asleep for ages when I finally woke. Immediately, I felt anxious that I had delayed my progress towards the beach but reassurance came quickly: ‘You must have needed a good rest. Sometimes you do.’ I was relieved to see that the scientist obviously knew that too; he was still asleep over towards the other side of the cave, the embers of the fire he had lit the night before still smouldered gently between us. I got up and ventured to the cave entrance. Upon my first glimpse of the ground outside I knew the reason behind the allowed laziness of our morning.

DSCN1685

It had snowed, or hailed heavily at least and it looked like more was coming! There was no use continuing in this weather; we were stuck in the cave for today at least. Realising this, I bent down and took the time to examine the little ice balls: I was amazed, at once, by them and the mystery of their formation. I collected a few and took them back into the cave.

Photo by Luke Stephenson

The scientist had woken. He had just finished re-stoking the fire as I returned. ‘Oops, first things first next time!’ I noted in my mind. I took the hailstones over to him. He saw the look on my face. “It’s fascinating isn’t it?” he began.

“Yes, yes! How do they form though? Do you know?” I pushed.

“Hailstones,” he continued, relaxed, “Are formed by the uplift of air in cold and windy storms. As the air rises, the temperature of the atmosphere around it decreases. The air cools, condenses and, if it is cold enough, freezes. It must be cold enough, however, or else the condensed water droplets will not be able to freeze in time before they fall as rain. It also must be windy. For once the droplets form and freeze, they do drop and fall down through the storm but, if it is windy enough, they will get blown back up and recoated in another layer of moisture or fused with more droplets which again freeze and make the hailstone larger. So, the colder and windier the storm the bigger the hailstones that fall! I’m talking tornadoes and hailstones the size of golfballs!”

I looked at the hailstones in my hand, now a melted slush. I was silent in an all-new level of appreciation for hail, the weather… Heck… the world in general.

“The other thing you should know,” the scientist went on, “Is that hail is different to snow, although they both look similar mushed on the ground. As you have seen, hail falls as hailstones or balls. Snow, on the other hand, falls as crystals or flakes. The key factor is the wind. As I said before, the wind is what blows the little droplets of water or ice back up to freeze and fuse together as hailstones. The crystallization of water vapor for snow though is a much gentler process that is largely a matter of very cold temperatures and slightly different types of clouds, not wind. That’s enough for now I think!”

“Woaah!” I managed, softly.

Still though, I couldn’t help but think about where we were meant to be. “My first feeling when I woke this morning was an anxiety that I had delayed my progress towards the beach by sleeping in,” I eventually admitted to the scientist, “I thought you’d be angry but then I looked over and you were sleeping too. Aren’t you angry that we haven’t been able to get to the beach today?”

“No.” he replied simply. He waited a while, as if in contemplation, and then elaborated: “I woke early this morning and saw the weather outside. It reminded me that sometimes you do get stuck on the way to your goal and that’s OK. The desire for progress can easily absorb us but we must be aware of this and not forget to make the most of being stuck, for who knows, it might just be a different type of progress. Although it seems the opposite, it is most likely that we needed a break in order to continue anyway and, usually, the things that we learn during this time become crucial contributions to our overall goal.”

My anxiety was completely relieved. I decided to relax my need to get to the beach and make the most of being stuck in the cave for the day.

6 / A DREAM

The scientist’s last words had echoed in my head as I drifted off to sleep – ‘…I will find that the ocean needs me too… How could that be?’ I wondered. It scared me a bit. Had something awful happened?

And, with those thoughts resonating quietly, I was lulled  into the comfort of the cave. For the first time in a while, I dreamed:

 

Two owls perched in a tree,

“HoohooHoohoo” echoed their cries

But they were quite different

I came to realise:

One thought deeper about things,

Not afraid to analyse.

The other was simply happy

With the life before its eyes.

That said, they both gave a hoot

And flew off to my surprise,

I couldn’t help but wonder

Which of the owls was wise.

And I wondered and I wondered and while I wondered

The scientist emerged beside me and he winked and the two owls reappeared flying

Towards each other in the sky and they collided and they burst into, into fireworks!

And while they did he said to me “the two owls are one, they are both wise and they cannot exist without eachother –

One needs the energy from being simply happy with the life before their eyes

To think deeper about things and be unafraid to analyse.

But being simply happy with the life before your eyes

Can only last so long before naturally you think deeper –

Analysing in disguise.”

 

Illustrious Owl by Kenojuak Ashevak. Lithograph.

Illustrious Owl by Kenojuak Ashevak. Lithograph.

 

5 / The Cave

I had been walking for a day and a half when I found the cave. I had decided to follow the ridge-line North. Uphill, towards one of the five peaks on the map, it had been hard going. I knew though that on the other side of the mountain the peninsula began and at the end of the peninsula was the beach and that beach = ocean.

Heading North

Heading North

Beach = ocean! That’s what had redirected my mind every time it had wandered. It was amazing that a simple fact could be so comforting. I welcomed that gift from the World of Science; out in the open, last night had been cold again. I needed shelter tonight. That’s half the reason why, when I came out of the tree-line and saw the mid-afternoon sun shining on the entrance of the cave near the peak, it would remain in my mind for a long time to come.

8868403720_4b862dd9b5_z

The other half of the reason I could never have guessed. “Hello…” I sounded, “Hello?!” No reply. I took that as my invitation to enter. As I began cautiously into the tunneled entrance of the cave, I noticed that it zig-zagged in a way that let the slightest ray of light from the outside carry on through.

IMG_0030

The cave entrance/tunnel

Spellbound, I followed that ray of light until the cave opened up into an internal cavern. Then, my feet stopped, my eyes blinked and my mind exploded. For, the little ray of light expanded towards the back wall and, there, it was projecting a stunning image. I was looking at the very view that I had seen whilst looking out at the world from in front of the cave moments earlier. I stared, gobsmacked at what I had discovered, but I couldn’t help but feel that something was wrong.

“It’s upside-down.” Came a voice from the shadows. I almost hit my head on the roof of the friggen cave in fright! I had been too absorbed in the image to realise that someone else was present.

“You have found my movie theatre.” said the scientist stepping into more light.

I couldn’t muster a reply.

“The cave has formed a natural camera obscura.” he explained, “‘Camera’ is Latin for ‘vaulted room’ and ‘obscura’ is Latin for ‘dark’ – meaning ‘dark room’ together. The camera obscura was an early optical  invention that has paved the way for photography and the cameras we have today. A hole – like the one at the entrance – lets light from the outside pass inside and it projects an image onto the opposite side of the room as you can see. The light travels in a straight line through the hole so the top of the scene outside projects at the bottom of the image inside.”

It was hard to believe but the image on the wall of the cavern was becoming even more intriguing as the scientist spoke and he wasn’t done yet.

“The size of the hole determines the sharpness and brightness of the image,” he continued, “Just like adjustment of the aperture on a camera. Generally, the smaller the hole the sharper the image but the image also gets dimmer. Too small though and the light waves can’t pass cleanly through the hole – they undergo diffraction and spread out inaccurately. We are most fortunate that the size of the hole at the entrance here is perfect for the dimensions of this cavern.”

I was speechless as a sponge but had almost absorbed as much as I could. The scientist was aware of this.

“You know,” he concluded,  “The camera obscura – this cave – in principle, is just a big version of what happens in our human eyes. The pupil is the hole and the retina is the back wall. Our brains are just conditioned to flip the projected image so that we perceive things the right way up.”

The human eye as a camera obscure from Rene Descartes 'La Dioptrique' 1637

The human eye as a camera obscura from Rene Descartes ‘La Dioptrique’ (1637)

There was a long silence as the scientist let the information soak in.

“I thought you said I had to discover this world in my own way.” I managed eventually.

“Yes,  and you have been doing that haven’t you?” he replied. “Haven’t you learned a lot in the last few days?”

Well, yes…” I said, “But I have been thinking quite deeply about it all, too much probably, I’m a little worried I spend more time lost in my own head than exploring this world. I haven’t got that far after all.”

“It is good you have run into me again then.” The scientist said. “Personally, I think you have done well to get here. It is easy to get stuck in your own head and it is silly to think you are without the help of those you have met along the way. Have you still got the map?”

I pulled it out of my pocket. Proof.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“To the beach,” I answered without hesitation, “I need to be with the ocean.”

“Good,” he said. “You will find that it needs you too.”

4 / The leaf: A vibe, a plan

The bat made me think: ‘I want to put a vibe out. It is still troubling me a bit, this World of Science.’

So, as the sun rose, I sat down, a little on the Eastern side of the ridge next to a welcoming tree flowering creamy white. Noticing a leaf on the ground, I picked it up and turned it over in my hands. It had wavy edges, was just less than 20cm long and the bottom side looked and felt like note-paper! ‘Rangiora!’ I remembered, ‘A native tree which normally grows in coastal areas around the North Island and the north of the South Island of Aotearoa New Zealand, I can write on this and it’s good for toilet paper too.’

 

The Rangiora tree in flower

The Rangiora tree in flower

 

I chose the first option and wrote…

 

At times I feel unsure ~

Like: ‘Am I knocking on the right door?’

In life ~ It’s a natural cycle but hard to ignore.

So, I go to the sea ~ it’s shore!

It’s at my core ~

Water ~ Tangaroa ~ the ocean ~

My wairua ~ my double strength healing potion ~

That endless flowing motion ~

Washes away all negative notion

~~~~~~~~~

 

What started off as a confession became a deeper realisation and, by the end of the poem, a plan:

I would go to the sea.

3 / Sound it out

I woke. Cold! My teacher had gone. Māhutonga had gone, faded into the overcast beginnings of twilight. I had the map but it was still too dark to see it, let alone the surrounding landscape. ‘Great!’ I thought, ‘I’ll just have to wait here then.’ And just as I huddled up to wage an internal battle with that sarcasm, a dark, screeching object flitted by.

SONY DSC

I heard it just before I glimpsed its faint outline. Or maybe I imagined I saw it. My mind raced: ‘A hokioi!? That mythical bird, never seen, but whose cry heard in the darkness is to be greatly feared?’ I was scared but then I remembered a whakataukī – a Māori proverb – I had once read:

Pekapeka rere ahiahi, hokioi rere pō

A bat flies in the twilight, a hokioi by night

‘It is twilight… and a hokioi is meant to be bigger.. and mythical,’ my mind reasoned, ‘Must be a bat then! They’re pretty rare round here though!’

‘There are three types of native bat – pekapeka in Māori – known to the World of Science in Aotearoa-New Zealand,’ the memory of a conservation worker from somewhere in the past took over in my head, ‘The long-tailed bat, the more endangered, ancient, lesser short-tailed bat and the greater short-tailed bat which is thought to be extinct…’

I couldn’t remember the long, scientific names she had said but I do remember her saying that, with the amount of threatening pests about nowadays, you were incredibly lucky if you saw a native bat. They are our only native land mammal.

‘Wow!’ I thought to the bat, ‘Taputapu kē koe – you’re really something!’

Almost on cue, it flashed by again. ‘How can it fly so fast and accurately?’ I wondered, ‘I don’t think bats can see in the dark…’ As if in answer the bat screeched again: It was using its screech to locate itself in the dark relative to its surroundings and its prey!

Animal echolocation,’ the conservation lady returned again, ‘Is like an inbuilt sonar – similar to what they use on a boat to sense water depth. A bat emits sound and listens for its echoes rebounding off nearby objects – for example: trees or other animals. Echoes return to each of a bat’s ears at different times and loudness depending on the position of whatever is emitting the echoes. Things further away, for example, will take longer and echo more quietly. Those differences allow the bat to perceive, very accurately,  where and what shape the object is in relation to itself. Humans can do it too, you know. Blind people have trained themselves to hear more subtle echoes like bats. The best example, though, is when you yell out across a valley and you hear your voice come back from the other side.’

Bat echolocation

Bat echolocation

I saw the bat fly past once more, screech and snap a moth out of the air. Then, it was gone into the slowly brightening morning.

I had one last thought: ‘maybe it is important to be like a bat and send your vibe out to the people and things around you. Then, when they give you feedback, you’ll know where you stand and you might even get fed with some good energy that will help you get to where you want to go!’

2 / Navigation

I panicked. “This world is too big!” I exclaimed to the scientist, “How am I supposed to know which way to go?”

“Navigation,” he said, calmly. “It allows you to determine your position and direction on or above the surface of this world. I will teach you. It will be your first science.”

He turned and set off towards an incline nearby. “We humans,” he began, without even checking to see I was following, “Started with human navigation. It is more of a visualisation in our minds, an internal sense of spatial awareness. Strategies for gaining this differ from person to person. You though,” he said, looking at me for the first time, “Are unfamiliar with this world and it is big.” He trailed off.

We had climbed to a clearing on the ridge-line above the lower-lying mist and I could see for the first time, across the forest canopy, the lie of the land of the World of Science. Dusk was upon us and the sun was beginning to set. “Beautiful.” I uttered, into the ineffable expanse.

The scientist let it soak in. “You,” he continued after a while, “will benefit most from the use of more general external cues and relating them to each other to determine where you are and the direction you are going. This is called allocentric navigation. It has evolved to be more typical for us males perhaps because of our traditional role as hunters. Look here..” He offered me the back of his hand, on which there was a tattoo of a cross with a letter at each of the four line-endings: N, E, S, W. “The four cardinal directions, like those on a compass.” He explained. “You can draw these external cues from the world out there: see where the sun has set? That is West. Opposite to that is East. You can then work out North and South but the stars may also help.” I looked up and there they were, as if by magic.

“See that diamond shape with the two bright stars pointing towards it?” The scientist went on, “It is a constellation called the Southern Cross or Māhutonga in Māori culture. They and other early sailors of the Pacific Ocean used to use it to find South – ‘tonga’ means South or southerly you know. First, imagine a line connecting the Pointers. Then, extend another line at a right angle from the mid-point of it, until that line meets another extended along the long axis of the Southern Cross. The meeting place is the approximate location of the South Celestial Pole. You locate South by dropping a vertical line from here to the horizon.”

5928756223_9b96c0a863_n

How to locate South using the Southern Cross

We were deep into the night now and I stared at the scientist, flabbergasted: “Is that really all science?”

“Yes.” He replied with a friendly smile.

“And do you have to be a scientist to know all that?” I asked despairingly.

“Want to know a secret?” He said. “I am no more than a man who knows a bit about where I am and which way I am going from observing things and listening to people where I have been already. Now I have shared some of it with you and you can believe it or not. This world, after all, is yours to discover in your own way. We are all scientists really, you know. Here,” he concluded, “Take this, I don’t need it anymore. It’s not a GPS – they’re expensive and another story altogether – but it might just help you to know the World of Science like the back of your hand one day.”

I unfolded the worn, old piece of paper he had handed me. It was a map! Most of the place-names had worn off (if there had ever been any at all) but it gave me a general idea of where I was and which way I was going. With that comfort in my hand and in my head, I thanked my teacher sincerely and, with a sudden tiredness from the day, I drifted off to sleep.

The Map

The Map