history, photography, STEM

Beyond Measuring the Earth

Geometry began with practical measurements over moderate distances.  Boundaries of Egyptian farmers’ fields had to be restored after the Nile’s annual floods.  A taut rope between two posts marked where an edge of the base of a pyramid would be laid.  And so on.  This prosaic technology inspired ancient Greeks to create something weird and wonderful.
 

People like Pythagoras and Euclid reimagined the pyramid builders’ rope as perfectly straight (not sagging a little), so thin that it had no thickness at all, and extending forever beyond the posts.  Crazy.  They called it a “line” and found that they could reason about such things, proving new statements by deductions from what they already knew.

Those ancient geometers discovered much that was true and good and beautiful in the imagined world of points and lines, and a few of them took the first tentative steps toward using their discoveries to help answer questions about the experienced world of posts and ropes and much else.  Eratosthenes kept the promise made by “geo”+”metry” when he measured the circumference of planet Earth, even tho it was impractical to try to wrap a tape measure around it.

Modern STEM is rooted in ancient geometry (among other things), and a long hard slog has progressed from measuring the Earth to understanding it.  Our understanding is not perfect and never will be, but maybe it is good enough to help us save the Earth.  From us.  I hope we can rise to that challenge, and that I have risen to this one:

Geometry ~ Pic and a Word Challenge #269

Pythagoras_BlueMarble_840x842

Image Sources

  • The colorful frame around the image is upsized from my much smaller diagram for Bhaskara’s elegant proof of Pythagoras’ Theorem.  The resulting fuzziness of the points and line segments is a reminder that we cannot experience the ideal perfection of geometric shapes.  But we can refer to the shapes when we tell each other stories about what we experience!  (Tho often hard to read w/o wrangling equations, scientific theories are among the best stories we can tell.)  The colors of the line segments tie the image to the theorem’s bottom line w/o using letters that would clutter the diagram:
      a² +  b²  c²
  • The Blue Marble image overlaid on the diagram was downloaded from NASA Visible Earth: The Blue Marble.   Making NASA’s image cost a lot more than making mine.  That’s OK.  It was money well spent.
– Gray button (upper left corner) reveals widgets, –
– above post (on phone) or beside it (on desktop). –

enlightenment, ethics, fiction, humor, photography

Satori from a Consulting Gig

The who and how of sudden enlightenment might transcend ordinary logic.  To illustrate my short story about a weird instance of satori, I edited a NASA image formed by combining data from five telescopes.  While the image is for real, the story is neither the literal truth nor a bogus claim to tell it.
(BTW, the [Menu] button atop the vertical black bar reveals the widgets.)

Management consultant Frank Dow showed no surprise at the new client’s evident desire for a genuine consultation rather than a canned endorsement of plans already made.  Though unusual, the client’s sincerity was still less surprising than the client’s identity.  The client was God.  Dow listened intently as God began to describe His problem:

“Forget any twaddle you may have heard about omnipotence and omniscience.  The universe is too immense and diverse to be micromanaged, even by Me.  Roughly speaking, I built a big machine and let it run.  But it’s not boringly deterministic.  The universe is all about probabilities.”

As God continued, the proud-parent joy in his voice was clear:

“The probability that a randomly chosen planet will be suitable for life to appear at all is tiny.  The probability that creatures with any ability to understand and appreciate the universe will evolve is tinier still, but not exactly zero.  On the other hand, there are a lot of planets in the universe.  There’s no need to crunch the numbers right now.  The bottom line is that a few planets luck out.  On your little blue planet, life thrived and your species evolved advanced abilities to observe and learn, to imagine and reason, to build bridges and write poems.”

With joy replaced by sadness and frustration now, God explained what He hoped Dow could provide:

“While I mostly let things run, I am not absolutely hands-off when a planet has intelligent life that blunders into being cruel or stupid.  I nudge them in good directions by inspiring a few of them.  In your planet’s case, I have had a little success and a lot of failure.  I keep it simple and age appropriate, but they oversimplify half of what I tell them and obfuscate the rest.  The Golden Rule gets through as something to proclaim but not as something to practice.  Absurdly, much of what they think has been revealed to them is just their own bigotry and bullshit.  The way they distort My message is so alien to the corporate culture here that nobody has a clue about how to handle it.  As someone who is closer to the problem without being part of it, you may be able to help us.”

Given a temporary office with read access to the case histories (and full access to a plentiful supply of coffee and nutritious snacks), Dow went to work.  A recurrent pattern emerged:

Inspirations that did not fizzle attracted disciples, often with authoritarian personalities.  Authoritarian disciples misinterpreted God’s nudges and stridently claimed they could speak for God on all kinds of topics, now and forever.  Many of those who were strident were also willing to coerce people they could not convince.  Many of those who were willing to coerce were also willing to kill people they could not coerce.

Poring over the case histories was depressing, but Dow kept at it (with the able assistance of good coffee and good snacks).  Eventually, he was ready to offer God a suggestion:

“I believe there is a personnel issue here.  You have been inspiring people who mean well but score high on credulity and low on humor.  Maybe it would help to go outside the box.  For example, You could inspire a nerdy atheist who digs sacred music and pushes the envelope of haiku poetry.”

God was skeptical: “Does anybody like that exist?”

Frank Dow smiled the enigmatic Mona Lisa smile that sometimes appeared when he was moonlighting as a Zen master.  He leaned forward and spoke softly: “Does anybody like You exist?”

At that moment, God attained enlightenment.

satori_840x782

Sources

How to illustrate the concept of satori?  For this post, I cropped a NASA image of the Crab Nebula and told the Retouching tab in my photo editor that each star was a blemish to be removed.  If there is intelligent life on any planets orbiting those stars, I hope that nobody will be mad at me for dissing their sun.  Oh well, it’s a big universe.  I will be long gone before they have a chance to find out.

In its present form, this post’s story first appeared in Volume 1 of The Rabbit Hole, an annual anthology of weird stories.  None of the stories there are illustrated, and I had no good ideas for an illustration anyway.  How I came to write a story about God hiring a consultant whose recommendations are outside the box is yet another story, somewhat weird but entirely true.

haiga, haiku, photography

Looking Up or Down

How something looks may depend on how it is viewed.  Consider storm clouds.

Clouds ~ Pic and a Word Challenge #146

IMG_1967_Crop_Temp-30_Dra-6_840x673

Storm Clouds #1
|Looking up, I see
|trees wary of churning clouds.
|Wish I could look down.

~ ~ ~ ~

blue-marble_840

Storm Clouds #2
|Looking down, I’d see
|clouds caress dear Mother Earth.
|Rain for thirsty trees.

Image Sources

  • While doing a little yardwork before predicted rain, I glanced upward and noticed how trees framed a bright cloud in a darkening sky.  I ran for my camera and took a few photos.  For this post, I tweaked the image to mimic the ominous look I had often seen but not photographed.
  • The Blue Marble image was downloaded from NASA Visible Earth: The Blue Marble.  Making NASA’s image cost a lot more than making mine.  That’s OK.  It was money well spent.
(BTW, the [Menu] button atop the vertical black bar reveals the widgets.)