Thursday, August 31, 2017

Up In The Air

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- Sometimes our conversations soar, other times they stay down to earth.
- And which do you prefer?
- Today I'd like to soar. And since last time I took took the lead it's your turn.
- Not above in the air, but below in the sea, lives the octopus. Each of its 8 arms has an independent nervous system and can respond to the world around it without control from the brain. But the brain can take complete control and make the arms its instrument. Sometimes, when I sit in the botanical garden, in the late afternoon, I watch the hummingbirds feeding on the nectar in the flowers. On more than one occasion I've seen the usually solitary hummingbird dancing in a shaft of light with a butterfly almost its own size.
-Not chasing? Dancing?
-Not chasing: a constant distance is kept between the two. The acrobatics go on for up to half a minute. And do you know what do you make of this?
- Tell me.
- That I live in a world of people who are proud and playful with their independence. I take this as misdirection, octopus like sucking in my loyalty to our society valuing work and not much more. The people act like the sucker covered arms of the octopus which can act independent of the brain, having an independent nervous system, but only when the octopus brain allows, then it's all over for arm independence. Just like our people when the forces of the economy and received opinion take away  deciding all questions of significance for them;
- Such as?
-Why they should believe work is more important than friendship, love or beauty. Why they have to sell themselves by the hour, why property is distributed unfairly, why they are told all truth is relative. Few are even aware they've been tricked by the false independence. I don't think doing things, creatively, in absolute freedom, is worth anything on its own. I'd rather have necessary physical responses to the world be taken out of my hands, be managed by other necessary physical responses, so they alone manage the job and leave me free.
- How?
- I don't think I've ever asked: do you ride a bike?
- As a kid. I know you ride your bike everywhere.
- Have you wondered how a bike keeps its balance?
- It has to do with the gyroscopic stabilizing effect of the turning wheels.
- That's part of it, together with having the turning wheel in front, slightly behind where the front fork of the frame would touch the ground if its line didn't end at the wheel axis but was extended; both factors are inessential.
- What is then?
- Weight distribution, in relation to the wheel that turns to steer. Up for the technical details?
- If you know them.
- Balance on a bike is a two step process. When the upright frame is jarred by the road or a rider's sudden movement the bike leans. When that happens, the wheel turns in the direction of the lean.
- Why?
- Imagine the axis of the wheel is the pivot point of a balance scale with two trays. A bike is designed such that when it moves, the force of weight favors the front: when the bike leans, it pushes down on the front of the leaning wheel, turning it in the direction of the lean. Can you picture this?
- Yes.
- That's the first step. The second is the same weight favoring the front of the bike now turns the wheel in the direction opposite to the lean.
- Why?
- Because though the jar causes the bike to lean and the wheel to turn, the turned wheel of the bike moving forward throws the bike into a lean in the opposition direction.
- The bike moving forward and jarred, leans and causes the pivoting wheel to turn, but the turned wheel, in the continuing forward motion, and I take it the ceasing of the jar, corrects the lean and re-balances the bike.
- Yes. It's an automatic process that requires nothing of the rider, who glides down the road with mind free. It's a sort of horizontal hovering, if you think about the hummingbird's vertical hovering, which is achieved by a similar two step correcting process, or homeostasis. Its wings, beating at a rate between 50 and 200 times a second, move in a figure-eight pattern, with the first downward movement creating positive lift, and as the wing flips over to beat down with its other side, a negative lift. The two beats together effect a constant adjustment of vertical position. Do you see where I'm going with this?
- Not yet.
- One day, not long ago, I was riding fast on my bike by Holmby park. A hummingbird veered ahead of me and into my path, and keeping a distance in front about 20 feet tracked me the entire length of the park. It flew with me like I'd seen it do with butterflies. I wondered if the hummingbird recognized in the movement of my bike a similarity to its own. Beautiful, right?
- Beautiful.
- That's the soaring part of the story. We descend now back down below the sea to the octopus. I'm sure you feel the same way I do. We want to escape mere response to the world. We want to dance in the sunlit air with butterflies, not hide in the dark of the sea. We're pushed to be proud of being able to do our work freely, manipulating the things of the world, but all important choices and experiences in life are left...
- Up in the air.