Sunday, June 26, 2016

What a miracle we are

This post is the beginning of new content. Those writings from over twenty years ago having been transcribed in their entirety. What I will add here are thoughts that are sustaining me now, or intriguing me now, or anything else that I fancy because it is my blog after all. 

What does one do with a life regained? I have been given the most wonderful gift of rebirth. As a child I spent hours wondering about the darnedest things (my Grandfather's words at the time) and now I feel inclined to explore those darnedest things with the help of the most marvellous technology for exploration ever created.

Have you ever wondered about how the brain of any creature on the planet manages to do everything we think of as normal? We have biological receivers and processors for the five senses, and they do their job flawlessly. Nerve ends in our inner ear are stimulated, messages are sent to the brain by a relay system, and we think "that is a car; oh no, it is a truck and a heavy one, with a load in it".

What is sound anyway, but the compression and release of air molecules that is detected by our eardrum; a mechanical device sensitive enough to let us tell the difference between the roar of a truck on the road and the gentle sigh of contentment of a loved one nearby, and all sounds in-between.

Hearing is something we learn to interpret so early in life that it is hardly fair to call it learning at all. One day at the swimming pool, standing by the side and watching the waves lap up on the deck, it occurred to me that those waves carried enough information, that with training, I should be able to tell how many people are in the pool, whether anyone jumped in and how many are doing the front crawl, and so forth, just by carefully observing those wave patterns; that is what our ears do after all.

Today in an article in the New York Times Magazine online, I found out that humans do indeed have the ability if trained properly to use the same techniques for very practical purposes. It is called wave-piloting:

"Swells generated by distant storms near Alaska, Antarctica, California and Indonesia travel thousands of miles to these low-lying spits of sand (in the Marshall Islands). When they hit, part of their energy is reflected back out to sea in arcs, like sound waves emanating from a speaker; another part curls around the atoll or island and creates a confused chop in its lee. Wave-piloting is the art of reading — by feel and by sight — these and other patterns. Detecting the minute differences in what, to an untutored eye, looks no more meaningful than a washing-machine cycle allows a ri-meto, a person of the sea in Marshallese, to determine where the nearest solid ground is — and how far off it lies — long before it is visible."*

Perhaps our preoccupations with the mundane are somehow useful, too, but there are times I wonder how much more we could do if we applied our amazing brains to learn and do more.

*The Secrets of the Wave Pilots: Kim Tingley, New York Times Magazine, March 17, 2016

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