Periodicity / Teaching / Thinking Tools /
@ K. 2004 02 20

We’ve all seen majestic waves. If you’ve never beeen to the shore you’ve seen them in the movies. And no matter where you live you’ve seen little jittery, nervous waves. Scientists talk about frequencies for such phenomena. Sound waves vibrate the air: and propagate in the hundreds of miles per hour. The frequencies for light are very fast: as is their velocity. In visible light, each color has its own frequency. The entire electromagnetic spectrum is a range of frequencies: how many waves it has per second.

Newlyweds may mate more than once a day. Tigers may mate a hundred times a day. Snakes take all day to do it. Turtles do it far less frequently. Mice, rabbits … are famous for their frequency. Some locusts make whoopie only at seven year intervals. Bamboo reproduces sexually only once each one hundred-seventeen years: how’s that for a hardship survival strategy? What predator is going to figure that one out? and time himself genetically to match?

On earth, day turns to night daily: and on again to day. Every day, fairly regular. If the earth’s orbit shifts, we’ll have to reconfigure our clocks and calendars: if our culture’s keepers allow us to notice. Yes, periodicity is experienced in common. Not equally, but everyone notices it. You don’t have to be sentient to be tuned to the rhythms of life and the universe.

Locally, we think of some things as simultaneous. Where distances apply, someone may be an hour away, days … months away by boat. Astronauts travel further, faster, and take longer to do it. Many of us by now are aware that some lights we see in the night sky are millions of years old: billions, if you have a telescope.

Today I want to start something briefly: a perception of something I’ve never in sixty-five and a half years had a whiff of anyone else so much as thinking (though I wouldn’t bet against Stanislaw Lem on the subject):

What about vibrations have haven’t reached us yet at all? Or haven’t repeated enough for us to notice the wave?

What if there’s a frequency with a period of one billion years? Why then no one on earth will have noticed it yet.

What if there’s a frequency with a period of fifteen billion years? Then nothing in this entire universe can yet know about it.

That’s all for this session. But you see my point, I hope. We see what we see, “know” what we know, and tend to think it’s everything to be seen or known. I suspect very much the contrary.

2004 11 27: When Denis Wood’s History of the Land compared currents in the atmosphere to currents in the hydrosphere I was right with him. My learning curve didn’t deflect in any direction. Ah, but when he pointed out that the same patterns held in the earth’s mantle, I jolted: momentarily. Of course. At Brobdingnagian magnification distinctions blur. Gas blends with liquid, liquid blends with solid: there is no solid.

This morning as I washed my face I was thinking about trying to scoop bubbles from the surface of boiling water. At normal time it would seem idle. You could never get the bubbles off the surface: other bubbles are coming up hard, right under them. I was thinking this in the context of New England farmer’s trying to clear boulders from their fields. Our mother drove us kids through New England on a precious vacation. She explained about the farmers and the boulders. She didn’t need to: we’d already heard it in school. But, I thought, how come the fields are still full of boulders?

Because they bubble up. They float: given a clear surface. Boulders on the surface retard the rising of boulders just below. It’s never all boulders; it’s never clear “soil”: not in New England. (The Mayflower colonists had been heading for Virginia, got lost: poor sods.)

Timothy Ferris in one of his excellent sci-docs shows the Manhattan skyline, familiar from the Hudson side as it is from the bay. All those skyscrapers are clustered downtown. then the city is sway backed: till 32nd Street where another cluster begins. The city built high where the granite was dense below ground: on softer ground we stayed low. We think of granite as so dense. But basalt is much denser, heavier. Granite floats like a bubble on basalt.

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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