The Magic of Coincidence: On the Solar Eclipse

The Magic of Coincidence: On the Solar Eclipse

Predicting the future sounds like the power of a super hero. But in early Aztec and Babylonian cultures, priests held the knowledge to do just that. Take for example, the total solar eclipse. Priests received the wonder of their flock for being able to chart the skies—something we consider now a natural science. The trick of magic is knowing where the secret actually is—up a sleeve, in a hat, coming out of a scarf.

In the case of the total solar eclipse, the magic of coincidence mounts. It is not only that the moon enters the path of the sun. The relative size and position of the sun and the moon also matter. The moon is four hundred times smaller than the sun, but it floats four hundred times nearer to Earth. From a certain spot on our globe, the smaller moon can then entirely cover the larger sun to the viewer on Earth. 

This is a coincidence in our notion of time and space. But in a few hundred million years, total solar eclipses will be over forever. The moon has been moving away from us at a rate of one and a half inches per year, since its birth four billion years ago. What we see in the sky the as the total eclipse will be but a memory, a chance encounter that can either change our perception of the world or simply pass us by. 

How easy it must have been for early cultures to believe that the sun revolves around the Earth. Like early humans, we too experience our day as starting with sunrise and ending at sunset. But we know now the opposite is true, that the Earth revolves around the sun.

The sun rises in the morning and the moon appears at night, two fixed points of reality—daylight and moonlight. Sure as can be, the world must be divided by twos. But this perspective changes when you’re in space. An astronaut sees a whole new reality—a system with moving parts. From a space ship there are 16 sunrises in 24 hours.

We are a part of a solar system that is a part of the Milky Way. How grand and beautiful it feels to see the whole splay of stars in the sky from a rural area on a cloudless night. You know where you are. But hold on. We are part of a galaxy that is one of two trillion galaxies. I repeat, two trillion, so far and still counting. Put your mind around it. You cannot. It’s more than we can fully comprehend. Yet it does quicken our appreciation that whatever answers we have are partial answers to ever larger possibilities. 

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Square, Triangle, Circle

Square, Triangle, Circle

You’ve heard about trying to put square pegs into round holes. The message is they don’t fit. It’s one of the first games young children are taught—how to distinguish a circle from a square from a triangle. Once we learn this way of seeing, we tend to categorize. We determine the shape of things and figure out what fits where. As useful as this lesson is, it sticks so deeply that we forget there’s more than one way to see things, more than one approach to a problem, more than one way to write an equation.

In today’s world, visual information outranks text. Animations can show us dimensional fields. With 3-D printing machines, children can easily imagine multiple dimensions. So let’s teach them how what seems impossible is possible with a new way of thinking, and that there can be multiple correct answers to a question.

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Upside Down

Upside Down

Have you ever looked at photograph of a human face upside down? It takes awhile for our eyes to process through our brain, to even be sure it is a face, much less a face we know.  Our automatic recognition of the world is keyed to frame and name the familiar. 
 
Today’s world can seem upside down. Accelerated change has made it almost impossible to find a fixed point that is not in flux. The shape of cities will alter as we go from cars we drive to cars that drive themselves. Drones multiply our capacities to see with 360 degree vision, both from above the landscape and within buildings .Think of astronauts floating in the space station, with no up nor down, somersaulting rather than walking. We relearn how to orient, how to pattern, while it’s all in motion.
 
Henry Ford said if he had asked people what they want, they would have said faster horses. If Steve Jobs had asked us, we could not have imagined icons that lead us to draw on a computer, icons that let us shop on a cell phone. So let’s be clear. Since we are in motion, since the new can come to us from any angle, we must start to see like a floating astronaut, alert in all directions.
 
Familiar patterns are coming to us upside down. Dylan the musician gave a concert in England in 1965 where the first half was his popular folksong style. The second half burst open with an electric band, full of unfamiliar sounds, that are now classics, such as Tell Me How Does It Feel from the song Like a Rolling Stone. Food is in fusion, from IndoChine to Tex Mex. Family systems now come in multiple combinations, as well as gender. It feels like a blend, a potpourri, but eventually fresh forms become their own new selves, like jazz, where African beats become American blues.
 
More voices are being heard today by more people than ever before. By voices I mean musicians, writers from all cultures, tech creations from drones to genomics.
It is the age of participation, of networking, of the inane and the incredible in the same mix.
It can disorient, seem raw, but also freshly intriguing, up to each of us to discern the pattern in unfamiliar terms, like recognizing a face upside down.
 

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