Archive for March, 2008

The Capacity To Discover The True Nature Of Reality Is A Religious Belief

March 29, 2008

264 magnify

Space is the interpretation of the phenomena that we ascribe to nature according to law-it’s a geometrical presupposition

Discussion in thin air

“Slow down,” I said, “I need to know if I’m keeping up with you guy’s or not. Are you saying that, in effect, space and time are to problem solving what muscles are to locomotion?”

“Well, I wouldn’t put it quite like that Dave, but yes;” replied Noel, “We are able to predict events in our field of perception because of the meaningful connections that space and time bring to the sensuous contents of that field. However, what gets revealed to us is less about what’s ‘really out there’ as it is about answering the questions that we bring to the table of our understanding.”

“Hold on Noel, what about the effects, the predictable consequences of Einstein’s theory?” said Tony. “If they don’t occur in reality, then where do they occur?”

“Right where they are predicted to occur,” Noel replied. “In the surrounding manifold of our sensual experience. Nature, or the name that we give to that manifold, takes in everything we can see, hear, feel, taste, smell, and explain. Space, as an ontological entity, in the theory of general relativity, doesn’t exist. The being of space has been replaced with purely methodological considerations. What space ‘is,’ or whether any definite character can be attributed to it, is no longer a concern. Rather, we must be concerned with the geometrical presuppositions, the ‘ideal meanings’ that get used in the interpretation of the phenomena that we ascribe to nature according to law.”

“I’m getting tired of this,” said Tony. “Science gets done and benefits follow, which, really, is all we have to worry about, right Stan? How come you’re so quiet, anyway? That’s not like you. Are you sick or something?”

“I’m fine. You know me, quiet as a mouse, but sharp as a tack,” said Stan. There’s a time for talking and time for listening. I’ve been enjoying the latter. I’m not sure how much of this conversation the boys have actually caught. I’d like to try to catch them up; that is, after I throw another log on the fire.”

“Always the educator, eh Stan,” said Tony, “but that’s why we love ya.”

“Take nature for instance,” responded Stan, “For you Tony, it is independent of the observer. It’s a bit complicated, but knowable, and it exists before one begins to experiment on it. That’s not the case for Noel. For him, nature does not exist independent from the observer. In fact, the questions raised concerning nature, for Noel at least, actually bring nature into existence. And, he looks to quantum mechanics to substantiate that claim. On that level, the physical world seems to emerge from the observations made on it. Any argument there fellows?”

“You’ve got the stage,” replied Noel, “go for it.”

“Now for the hard part,” said Stan, “On the one hand we have Einstein’s theory of general relativity, and on the other hand we have quantum theory. Both theories are proven successes, but when taken together they are out of joint. The equations that describe the gravitational field are completely different from the one’s that describe subatomic interactions. Moreover, space and time are intimately related in relativity theory. They are dependent on the state of motion of the observer. In quantum theory space and time are not tied to existence at all. As far as man’s limited reason is concerned, there is no quantum world, just an abstract quantum physical description. Given this confusing state of affairs, it would be doctrinaire and dogmatic to say that one theory is better than the other, or that one is talking sense and the other is lacking in it. Right fellows?”

“Who’s patronizing now,” replied Tony.

“Guilty as charged,” responded Stan, “I guess nobody’s perfect. For Tony, the mind’s ability to discover the true nature of ‘reality’ is a religious belief, just like it was for Einstein. If Einstein had a religious belief, it was that the world is comprehensible and objective.”

“I’d probably go to church, if I could sit next to Einstein,” Tony replied.

“As I was saying,” said Stan, “under the rule of cause and effect everything has its place and time, but that is not what works for Noel. Knowledge, for him, constitutes what we take to be the physical world, and new knowledge may substantially alter that world. In other words, for Noel, over time, both knowledge and the perceptual field that we find ourselves in changes according to how it is symbolically constituted. Both Cassirer and Kant agreed on this. The function of the mind’s capacity to connect meaning to sensual contents goes beyond sensual contents and establishes an order among the connections between them. The necessary elements of every assertion—being and non-being, similarity and dissimilarity, unity and plurality, identity and opposition—cannot be represented by any content of perception, but through them, ‘ideal meanings’ get created, and when applied to the perceptual field, they fill our perceptions with meaning. That process, over time, alters both the meaning and the content of our perceptual field. But, what it comes down to in the end is testing the deductive consequences
of those ‘ideal meanings’ against the sensual contents in the field of our perceptions. That certainly is the way it works in Einstein’s universe, but, according to Noel, Einstein’s success represents little more than that failed attempt by the old Greek, Pythagoras, when he tried to reduce a whole universe of meaning to a few integral numbers some 2,500 years ago.”


In The Flux Of The LIving Moment Arises The Meaning Of Symbolism

March 22, 2008

259 magnify

Einstein’s universe attacks your sense of freedom and dignity

Conversation in thin air

“You see, it’s all about time and place,” the Philosophy Professor said, “a time to move forward and a place to rebel, a time to attack and place to settle down. Einstein had to reject the Newtonian paradigm before he could move on, and according to Cassirer, that process is inherent in the functioning of symbolic forms. In the relation between the symbol and its significance a polarity exists. In symbol formation there is a tendency toward stabilization and a tendency toward the breaking apart of permanent symbolic patterns. Myth explains new phenomena in terms of past origins. Language conforms to rules, yet over time, phonetic and semantic change takes place. Art inspires, but as a cultural phenomenon, it always remains in communication with its traditional forms. In science, the objective, stabilizing tendency predominates, but innovation and change will never be completely subsumed under determinate concepts. That’s where Einstein…”

“Maybe Noel,” Tony interrupted, “you’re referring to a different Einstein. The one that I thought we were talking about is the one who eliminated the confusion concerning space and time. We have known for a long time that people in other cultures experience space and time differently. But that’s the beauty of Einstein’s work; now we can all agree that space-time intervals are the same for everybody, even for space aliens traveling at close to the speed of light. We now know that the length of a space-time interval between any two events is the same for everybody.”

“Okay, Tony, if you want to jump into the thick of it, than lets do it,” replied Noel. “The space-time interval, what’s it based on?”

“The speed of light, or rather the constancy of the velocity of light,” Tony responded. “You and I share the same space-time, but my space and your space, and my time and your time, are the same only when we are at rest relative to each other. We live in our own private worlds of space and time, but in the new public domain of space-time, space and time are the same for everybody. In fact, the intrinsic structure of that space-time accounts for the constancy of the velocity of light for all observers.”

“Do you know why?” said Noel.

“Sure,” responded Tony, “it has to do with the implications of relativity theory. In the mathematics of space-time, Minkowski, Einstein’s mathematics professor, showed that even though the Pythagorean theorem does not work in space-time, something like the Pythagorean theorem is still at work. In Euclid’s geometry the square of the hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of its two sides. In the geometry of space-time, the distance between two events, like in the Pythagorean theorem, is equal to the time interval squared minus the space interval squared, however, that minus is the reverse of what takes place in the geometry of Euclid. Subtracting, instead of adding the two intervals, produces four-dimensional space-time. In space-time the distance between two events connected by a light ray becomes zero. Light rays coming at us from outer space take time to reach us, but in space-time no distance is traveled. That’s one of the incredible results that follow from Einstein’s theory. And that is also why the speed of light is constant for all observers. In space-time light is just there, everywhere.”

“I’m just a little confused,” said Noel, “If light doesn’t go anywhere, how can we know that the length of a space-time interval between any two events is the same for everybody?”

“Because of the constancy of light’s velocity,” Tony replied.

“So what you’re saying is that time doesn’t change, just space?” said Noel. “ Is that the answer? Don’t answer that. There’s ‘no’ time to answer, right? Anyway, Einstein’s field equations dictate the space of space-time, and, as you have all ready pointed out Tony, we can agree upon the measured value of space-time. Is that about right?”

“Well, a stab in time will get you nine,” Tony muttered. “You know damn well what I’m talking about Noel. It’s just that you don’t like it. You won’t accept that in the cosmic scheme of things, you and I, and everybody else, are just world lines. That past, present, and future may, or may not, possess meaning scares the hell out of you. You hate the idea that your private frame of reference might be limited and meaningful only to you. Einstein’s universe attacks your sense of freedom, your dignity. Well I’ve got news for you. Nobody was more concerned about dignity than the old man. He didn’t bemoan the fact that he wasn’t God. It was enough for him to peer into the heart of nature, or the mind of God if you prefer to call it that, and understand what was really going on. It was enough for him to know that all human beings had this gift, but how it was used was a person’s own business. Denying it, however, was not dignified. It was plain stupid.”

“I read somewhere,” said Noel, “that in the world of space-time nothing changes; that all that has been and all that will be just ‘is.’ Like in a crystal ball, everything in space-time is just there, in Parmenidean stillness.”

“You’ve got to stop reading those ‘new age’ books, Noel,” responded Tony. “Nothing is quite that simple.”

“I absolutely agree,” said Noel, “It’s never simple, and that’s exactly the point. In Minkowski’s ‘absolute world,’ time, as a becoming, is abandoned. We have not learned how to express time as a becoming, either linguistically or mathematically. The temporal process that ps
ychologically constitutes our inner sense of consciousness, in Minkowski’s ‘absolute world,’ gets represented in the absolute rigidity of a mathematical formula. It becomes time as a state of being. That kind of time, as H.G. Wells pointed out a long time ago, sees a person only as ‘slices of time,’ like pictures in a photo album. The time that gets represented in a photo album lacks the flowing, wheeling, qualitative determinations that constitute our inner sense of time. Without that kind of time there wouldn’t be any photographs at all because there wouldn’t be anybody to take the pictures. In space-time the ‘now’ embraces the ‘whole life,’ but totally left out of that picture is time as a becoming. Cassirer comes to the rescue here.

“The time where ‘the whole precedes the parts,’ where ‘organic unities’ are formed, that time constitutes personal experience–our inner sense of becoming. In that time we become from one moment to the next our future. In that time, the continuity of our becoming signifies living flux, which is given to our consciousness only as flux, a transitional flux within which arises the meaning of symbolism. Whether we take mathematical time to be the t-coordinate of an undifferentiated continuum or the ‘absolute now’ of Minkowski’s space-time, for Cassirer, either way, it’s still only a conceptual symbolic form, a symbolic form that is produced by our personal time, our time of becoming.”

“So what are you saying,” I interrupted, “How exactly did Cassirer rescue us?”

“I’m saying,” said Noel, “that the conceptual symbolic form, the one that reduces everything to the lowest possible denominator, is a preeminent success. Except its meaning is only one of the many meanings that are generated by the multi-functional meanings of symbolic form. Success, when measured on the level of the conceptual symbolic form, reduces, to the simplest possible ‘ideal meaning.’ That success, along with every other meaningful success, has contributed to the survival of our species. In the evolutionary scheme of things, the innovations of sensed space and time, and mathematical space and time have been absolutely essential to the survival of our species.”

“What? Inventions, space and time are inventions? That contradicts everything,” exclaimed Tony. “Everybody listen up. No more whiskey for Noel. He’s cut off, as of right now.”

“Very funny,” replied Noel, “but if you think about it, the theory of relativity gives a clear indication of what Cassirer was talking about, that the meaning of space and time is found in its use value, not in the so called ‘objective world’. Think about it. In relativity theory ordinary methods of space and time measurement fall short. We no longer can use rigid bodies and ordinary clocks as measures of space and time. In Einstein’s calculations, space and time are reduced to mere effects.”

In The Early History Of Myth And Magic, The Sign And Its Significance Merged Into One Another

March 15, 2008
333 magnify

Expressed In The Minds Capacity For Representation Is The Ordering Of Particulars

Conversation In Thin Air

“So Noel,” I again interrupted, “what’s with Cassirer’s take on Einstein’s theory?”

“Well, before that question can be answered, you’ve got to know something about Cassirer’s philosophy,” Noel replied.

“But I do know something about his philosophy,’ I said, “I took a class in it. As I recall, it’s about how language, art, religion, and science are regarded as continuous aspects of cultural development, which, when understood from Cassirer’s point of view, were taken to be expressions of the power of man to build an ‘ideal’ or symbolic world.”

“That’s very good,” Noel responded. “You are a student of philosophy. Actually, Cassirer was a philosopher of the neo-Kantian variety, and he held that the objective world resulted from the function of human consciousness to symbolically produce, through a priori principles, culture–myth, religion, language, art, history and science. For Cassirer, man was a symbolizing animal, and the principles used to differentiate and order culture were, according to him, dispersed over a wider range than Kant supposed. Kant’s a priori principles were more restrictive and static than were Cassirer’s. However, that said, Cassirer still believed that the organizing principles of the human mind were responsible for all aspects of culture, including the dynamic critique of culture that formed the substance of his work on symbolic forms. In effect, Cassirer, like Kant, investigated not so much the objects of knowledge and belief as the manner in which those objects were constituted in consciousness.”

“But what’s that got to do with relativity,” I said. “How did Cassirer apply his a priori principles to the physical world, the world that we are able to know and predict?”

“I couldn’t have put it better myself,” exclaimed Tony.

“And, what principles did Cassirer take to be a priori anyway,” I said. “Obviously Kant’s space and time had to go, but causality and relation, I suppose, they could stay. Right?”

Woe, to many questions too fast,” responded Noel. “We need to back up a little here. First, no individual can claim to grasp absolute ‘reality.’”

“That’s what you say,” Tony replied, “Don’t tell that to my Harvard buddies.”

“Give it a break Tony,” Noel shot back, “and listen up.”

“Testy, testy, fellows,” Stan, the English Professor, interrupted, “after all this is not a stuffy conference. Mountain air is moving through our lungs, so lets try to keep it civil, shall we.”

“As I was saying,” Noel continued, “nobody has a claim on absolute reality, so we make do with approximations, and those approximations result from symbolic representation. And further, the pre-conditions for those representations are what make Cassirer a neo-Kantian philosopher. Expressed in the mind’s capacity for representation is the ordering and differentiating of particulars, the opposing of being to non-being. That was the source of expression early on in cave paintings and idol worship, and that is still the source of expression in today’s artwork. In fact, that is the source of expression in all symbolic forms, in literature, in science–the abstract and identifiable nature of that capacity drives the transmission of culture. At the cutting edge of symbolic representation is found the activity of ‘interrogation and reply,’ as well as the interplay of the understanding with our creative imagination, and the rules we use to extend and restrict that imagination. But here I am getting ahead of myself.”

“Yeah, I think some of this stuff is coming back to me now,” I said. “I’m beginning to remember why I liked Cassirer.”

“In the early history of myth and magic,” said Noel, “the sign and its significance merged into one another. For people about to embark on a dangerous hunt, the painted picture of the successful hunt on a cave wall, was not just a picture, it was ‘reality.’ No distinction was made between the painting and what it represented. The painting of the successful hunt and the upcoming hunt became ‘one.’ By such means early people gained control over their world and predicted many, if not most of the events.

“As language developed, and human societies became more intricately organized, a more symbolic intuitive function began to dominate. Language differentiated the perceptual world into spatially and temporally related material objects. The expressive ‘magical function’ that animated everything with human impulses and desires gave way to a more efficient, predictive power. The predictive power of ‘common sense’ worked to displace the predictive power of myth and magic. Now, however, even that predictive power has come under fire. Magic was the first to go. Now ‘common sense objects,’ the bearers of both subjective and objective properties, also must go. Science and mathematics–the conceptual world of relations, as opposed to the ‘reality’ of substances–owes its existence to the ‘symbolic conceptual function,’ and progress, as measured by that function, tends to move in a direction awa
y from the world of ‘common sense.’ One only has to look to where our knowledge has taken us for a confirmation of that idea. At the micro level of our experience we have a description of the ‘now you see it, now you don’t world’ of quantum mechanics, and at the macro level of experience we have a description of the curved surface of the four-dimensional space-time continuum.” In both directions little of our ‘common sense’ world remains.”

“So big deal,” said Tony, “Knowledge is like that. That’s why it’s called knowledge, and thank God for it.”

“I would whole heartedly agree with you Tony, except for one small snag,” responded Noel, “Our journey down the road of discovery is a very lopsided journey. In a technological society gone berserk, the ‘earth stewardship ethic’ seems to have disappeared at a rate inversely proportional to what gets called ‘progress.’ We are on a course of self-destruction, and, apparently, nothing can be done about it. It’s a damn shame.”

“Here, here,” exclaimed Peter, “If you ask me the world would have been much better off if mankind would have stayed painting successful ‘realities’ on cave walls, as opposed to creating successful war machines. What did that get us anyway–a predictable history of unnecessary suffering and an earth full of pollution?”

“Yes Peter, I know what you’re saying,” replied Noel, “but remember, all of civilization, the civilization we take for granted– agriculture, medicine, literature, technology—has benefited mankind immensely.”

“Fellows, I don’t mean to sound rude,” I said, “but what happened to relativity?”

“I’m getting there,” Noel replied, “and maybe we’re already there.”

“If you haven’t already guessed,” said Tony, “’philosopher speak,’ goes on and on and on. Here, have some more whiskey. The stuff only gets better.”

Does The Universe Really Come Down To A Dice Throw

March 8, 2008

265 magnify

Veracity issues extend beyond the calculations in your equations

Discussion in thin air

Peter, what you’re saying is interesting,” the Physic’s Professor responded, “but we really don’t want to go there?”

“Careful Tony,” Noel interrupted, “You’re patronizing. Don’t you think the boy has a point? I mean, no individual can claim to grasp absolute reality. How do you know the plane of the zodiac is out of synch? In fact, what makes a statement meaningful, anyway? Or, more to the point, how do you ‘know’ anything at all? Veracity issues, as I am sure you are aware, extend beyond the calculations in your equations. I would think that you physicists should be extremely sensitive to reality claims—of all varieties.

“Always the philosopher, eh Noel,” replied Tony.

“Yeah,” I interrupted, “what about the problems in quantum physics? Where is the reality there? I don’t know much, but I do know that at the subatomic level, some things just ain’t right. A couple of other campers and myself, in fact, discussed that subject just a couple of weeks ago. Help me out. What’s the real deal there?”

“Woe fellows,” the English Professor, Stan, said, “you’re about to put old Tony on the spot. Noel, you set this up, so I guess the question now is, ‘What are we going to do with it?’”

“What about mass and energy,” I said, “not to mention cause and effect. What’s going on there? Do they even exist anymore?”

“Of course they do,” Tony replied, “it’s just that we understand them from a slightly different perspective now. Actually, we have two different perspectives, one at the quantum level and one on a larger scale, on the scale of Einstein’s universe. At the quantum level, mass and energy are still in tact; it’s just that their quantification is a bit problematic. Our knowledge of small quantities is restricted. At that level, nature, apparently harbors secrets, but that has nothing to do with whether mass or energy exists. They do, or put more accurately, it does. We don’t want to forget Einstein’s equivalence equation. As far as cause and effect goes, well, again, we can only know it through statistical analysis at the quantum level.”

“What about Einstein?’ I said. “What’s his perspective? What’s he got to say about Virgo?” “I’m sure Peter would like to know?”

“Yeah, what’s the haps there, anyway;” responded Peter, “where does Virgo fit into Einstein’s universe?

“Einstein tells us,” replied Tony, “that the large-scale universe is a curved surface of four dimensions, three of space and one of time. The gravitational force, the force that binds us to the earth, and Virgo to the zodiac, arises from the very structure of that space-time continuum. Many believe, including myself, that mass/energy points will one day be understood as field intensities, and thus as a manifestation of that very same continuum. But that day hasn’t arrived yet. That’s what Einstein wanted to prove. It’s much too big a problem for me, though, but that doesn’t mean that someday somebody else won’t solve it.”

“I guess we’ll just have to wait for another Einstein,” I said.

“Well, maybe,” Noel added, “but Einstein spent thirty good years trying to answer that problem and came up with zilch. I’m afraid those fuzzy little phantoms at the small-scale end of the universe are not going to go away. We would be better off to recognize and accept that. It’s time to move on.”

“Oh, do I smell a snide comment or what?” exclaimed Tony. “Move on to what, to where? I feel we are about to hear a different set of conjectures, never mind that Noel and I have agreed to disagree on this subject before. But, if you must Noel, go ahead, enlighten us.”

What are you guys talking about,” said Peter, “If there’s anything I hate it’s being left out a conversation.”

“Sorry old boy,” replied Tony, “Its just that Noel has this unorthodox way of looking at things. You’ll have to excuse him, though, his genealogy lists an ancestry of university professors and his father, a Philosophy Professor himself, went to Yale back in the ‘40’s and studied under this guy called Ernst Cassirer. Noel likes to bang Cassirer’s drum whenever he gets a chance. Like father, like son, eh Noel!”

“Cassirer, I know that guy,” I said. “He was one of my philosophy teacher’s favorite people. I had to read his books on symbolic form. But what’s he got to do with Einstein?”

“And,” Peter added, “I wouldn’t exactly call him unorthodox. Being German, I can vouch for the guy. I assure you that his work is well respected, at least in my country.”

“Well, before he published his work on symbolic forms,” Tony continued, “he wrote a short piece on Einstein’s Relativity Theory. In it he attempted show how Einstein’s work was an extension, if not a confirmation, of his own epistemology. Is that about right Noel? He even sent the manuscript to Einstein for his comments, but I don’t think the old man was impressed.”

“He published that book, Tony,” responded Noel. “You can check it out of the library if you want too. And Einstein was impressed. It’s just that his stubbornness, his psychological need to prove laws of strict causality, would not allow him to take Cassirer’s epistemology seriously. In fact, that same stubbornness never allowed him to take quantum mechanics seriously. Einstein’s obsession, answering the question—does the universe really come down to a dice throw, albeit by the hand of God—carried him, some might say sent him, to his grave. What a waste!”

“I’m not too sure that’s an accurate description of Einstein,” Tony replied, “ but you’re right, he challenged quantum mechanic’s credibility to the end.”

Super Bike Ride-Jasper, Alberta– And, Conversation In Thin Air Begins

March 1, 2008
333 magnify

Biking A Natural Valley With Mountains Rising Huge On Both Sides-A Super Ride

Jasper National Park, Alberta

July 7, ‘80

The train ride was great! After leaving Smithers, the countryside leveled out some. Looking at the pouring rain from my warm, dry seat on the train was a redemptive experience all by itself. Every so often the train would pass an attempt at a farm. Homesteading had to be difficult anywhere, but in the northern Canadian wilderness it had to be painfully difficult. At least that was the consensus of opinion that the girl I met on the train and I came up with after our first beer together. She was both pretty, and interesting to talk too.

I met Jean while watching the scenery pass from the bar car. She happened to fall into the seat next to me. Lucky for me, the seat was empty. She was from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and she had her own story about homesteading. She was returning from a visit with her three girlfriends who were homesteading a piece of land on the coast. They had lived in a log cabin in the middle of nowhere for the last three years. The girls supported themselves by working the land—barely. Things were falling apart, though. When Jean left, one of the girls called it quits, and returned to her parents’ home in Vancouver. There were only two girls left to do the work of three, but it was even worse than that because, according to Jean, the girl that left did the most of the work. She didn’t hold out much hope for the two that remained. I told her that all social experiments had that problem, the problem of unequal distribution of labor, and before we had finished our beer, we both agreed that guts, sweat, and a short life had to be the watchwords for anybody thinking about homesteading. Maybe it was the booze, or maybe it wasn’t, but Jean talked as if she was seriously thinking about joining the duo. Leaving her job and friends behind was, for her, the most difficult part though.

There were quite a few college age kids in the bar car, and everybody was having a pretty good time. All there was to do was look out at the falling rain and drink beer. Before Jean went back to her friends, she invited me to visit her in Saskatoon. That was a little out of the way for me, but you never say no to a pretty girl. She was a waitress at a steak house, and she promised me a beer if I showed up. I told her we had a date.

It was cold when I got off the train in Jasper. Fortunately, I found a place to get hot coffee and donut. By 6 a.m. I was headed south. Before sunrise I had already taken a couple pictures of a deer and an elk; that is, when I realized I had forgot to buy film. It would be awhile before I could buy more. I had four shots left. The mountains were very large and beautiful, and the road ran straight down a natural valley with mountains rising high on both sides—a super bicycle ride. Off and on throughout the day, clouds covered the peaks, and a few raindrops fell, but not enough to dampen my spirits. By late afternoon the sky had cleared and the sun was everywhere.

I was up pretty high in the mountains and by nightfall I arrived at a youth hostel. Most of the beds were empty. It was a beautiful spot; more or less perched on the mountain pass. The only problem was that the cold climbed with the elevation. At the youth hostel, I met Peter. He was planning a hike into the backcountry and he asked me if I would accompany him. I didn’t have the equipment for that kind of hiking, but Peter’s energy was contagious. I told him “Sure, lets do it.” We would leave tomorrow and make a two or three-day hike out of it.

Zodiac People Answer Yes When Asked If Their Personality And Sun Sign Match

Mountain Heights, Jasper Park

Conversation In Thin Air Begins

July 8, ‘80

With my sleeping bag and a fully loaded bike pannier tied to opposite ends of the pole that I carried across my shoulders, Peter and I began our hike into the backcountry. I left my bike at the hostel. We were already pretty high up, so we didn’t have the typical climbing day that began most backcountry hikes. Peter was excited. He told me that the mountains were higher than the ones he had climbed back in Germany, where he was from. He turned out to be a good traveling companion with an unshakable positive disposition. Well, it was almost unshakable. But before I get into that story, I want to at least mention the dream I had on the first night out camping. My old girlfriend, Carin, came back into my life in that dream.

The dream was notable because it was a nightmare. My relationship with Carin was made possible because it was only meant to last a moment, a night, or a week. It was not meant to last the almost two years that we were together. Still, it ended as if it never had happened, and that was the nightmare. That level of relationship was nightmarish even in a dream. When I awoke I had a queasy stomach. I haven’t seen Carin in almost a year, and although I have never thought of her in a bad way, I absolutely know for sure I will never again engage in a relationship like that one. That would be insane.

It was on the trail, in late afternoon, on the second day of hiking, when Peter and I met the three sweating backpackers co
ming towards us. They were exhausted. It was, for them, the first day of a ten-day hike, and they had prepared themselves well. That was the problem. On their backs they were carrying 70 or 80 lbs of equipment and supplies. After Peter and I satisfied their concerns about the upcoming trail—a lot of down hill and a beautiful stream to follow (we had just crossed over
Nigel Pass), the three University of Kentucky professors suggested that we all spend the evening together. By that time Peter and I had pretty much eaten all of their pickled bologna. It would have been impolite not to accept their offer. And, besides, these guys wanted to lighten their loads. It was mainly crackers and jelly until we returned to civilization for Peter and I, so there was really no decision to be made.

After finding a good place to make camp, the two of us, along with Tony, the Physics Professor, took off to climb one of the surrounding peaks. We were looking for a good place to watch the sunset and we weren’t disappointed. The sunset turned into an orange and yellow hued mountaintop spectacular, and things only got better after that. Back at camp, after eating our fill of Stan’s delicious stew, Noel, the Philosophy Professor, pulled a fifth of Crown Royal from his backpack. I wasn’t a big whiskey fan, especially straight from the bottle, but on that night, high in the mountains, sitting around a blazing campfire, and exhausted from a hard day of hiking, the whiskey was duly appreciated. In fact, we were all about to fall asleep when Tony pointed out the constellation, Draco. That reinvigorated the group, especially Peter, who, apparently, had an intellectual investment in the workings of the zodiac. When Tony began to treat the whole “zodiac thing” with disrespect, Peter got angry.

“You see,” said Tony, “identifying personality traits with the constellations is just plain stupid. The movement of the earth around the sun, and the movement of our solar system within the plane of the Milky Way galaxy, reconfigured the location of the stars relative to the observer on earth. A Greek born under the sign of Virgo in 300 BCE, today is born under the sign of Leo. Over a period of 2500 years the constellations have retrograded an entire sign. Astrologers do not take into consideration the changing plane of the rotating earth. A Leo is still a Leo to the astrologer, even though the Virgo of yesterday has become the Leo of today, and the Leo of tomorrow will become a Capricorn in the future. Change is pervasive. That’s just the way the universe operates.”

“You’ve got your signs out of order,” said Peter.

“Yeah, I probably do; but you still know what I mean,” responded Tony.

“Well maybe you’re wrong! How do you know that anyway?” said Peter. “If that’s the case, if everything changes anyway, maybe some day the zodiac will find its way back to where its suppose to be, to its original path above the earth.”

“You’re not following what I’m saying, “ replied Tony, “what about the in-between time?”

“Isn’t the first law of physics the one that ties theory to evidence?” Peter shot back. “If that’s the case, then how do you explain the fact that zodiac people almost always answer in the affirmative when they’re asked if their sun sign fits the description of their personality?”