Science Feed

Total Eclipse

Re-read the Annie Dillard essay "Total Eclipse" this morning. Worth the read.

Here are the final lines:

One turns at last even from glory itself with a sigh of relief. From the depths of mystery, and even from the heights of splendor, we bounce back and hurry for the latitudes of home.


It Was Glorious

And then it was total and the small crowd gathered on the village green exclaimed in wonder and our son looked up and pointed and squealed and said "The moon."

Plan A was hatched long ago--to go to Kearney for the weekend and visit our friend Tarae.  But this spring we finally got around to booking, there were no open hotel rooms.

Plan B was to head south from Omaha with friends to one of the small towns.  Weeks ago I had researched and presented a variety of options.  Then the weather forecasts got worse and worse for southeastern Nebraska.

We met for brunch on Saturday and made our plans.  We'd head west from Wahoo on highway 92 in order to get past the clouds.  We'd stay north, hoping to avoid much of the traffic.  St. Paul would be our planned destination, though we might stop elsewhere or keep traveling depending on the conditions.  We'd pack a picnic and just drive.

On Saturday we learned that Michael's dad was driving up from Oklahoma City and might try to meet us somewhere, though he ended up watching it in a small town in Missouri.  My sister and her family were coming from Shawnee with plans for St. Joseph, Missouri.  On Sunday, when they were halfway to St. Joe they decided the weather forecast there was too risky and made a last minute change of plans for Grand Island, where they somehow found a hotel room.  The turned northwest and spent the entire day driving.  Yesterday we were only thirty miles apart but never saw one another.

"Let's leave early," John said.  "We'll be over at 7 a.m."  So we awoke at six and finished the packing we had begun the night before.  We ended up running late and didn't depart till shortly after 8.  The traffic heading west from Omaha was constant, but not too bad.  There was a long line of cars on 92 but all going the speed limit or faster.  At every major highway a few would turn south.

As we drove we enjoyed mostly clear skies, but could see the massive cloud cover to the south over the path of totality.  Toward the north was crisp and clear.  Every time we stopped for a potty break the convenience stores were packed with other eclipse travelers, including people from all over.

When we got to St. Paul Sebastian played on the playground at the city park while we discussed whether to stop there or continue south west.  I wanted to stay because it was a good, big park where Sebastian could enjoy himself. But I was outvoted.  We continued on to Dannebrog, Nebraska's Danish capital.

Eclipse

On the small village green we spread our picnic blanket beside the gazebo.  About forty people were gathered there, mostly locals but a handful of folks from across the country.  The Danish Bakery across the street was open.  The firehouse had opened their restrooms to the public.  Children played and dogs sniffed each other and photographers set up tripods.

Most folks were quiet, eating lunch, chatting with family and friends, and occasionally stepping out of the shade of the trees to look up at the sun and moon with their eclipse glasses.  Eventually the crescents formed through the shade of the trees and everyone began to marvel.

The temperature began to drop, the light was similar to dusk, the cicadas began to make their evening noise.  Someone exclaimed they could see Mercury, and we all looked in that direction.  Everyone began to quiet down and get in their perfect spot.  Sebastian sat in my lap.

Then, totality, and the small crowd exclaimed their wonder.  Sebastian looked up and pointed and squealed and said "The moon."

What glory.  The solar flares and the corona.  What glory.

Then our puppy pooped and before some girls who were running around stepped in it, I grabbed a poop bag and collected it.  Humble action in the midst of glory.

And then the moment passed.  And we eventually returned to our picnic chairs.  There was a hushed awe and joy to the crowd. Eventually groups began to pack up and leave, and we waited till the moon had completed its journey over the son, resting in the wonder before beginning our return trip.

Everyone else in my car napped as we drove home.  At Osceola the traffic was bumper-to-bumper.  I worried that we'd be hours getting home if it stayed like this, but it opened up again after Shelby.  At every highway intersection some headed north and others from the south joined our line. 

It bottled up again at Wahoo because of an accident.  Then at Yutan it took us 30 minutes to go 5 miles, so I decided to try a detour and headed north on dirt roads to the next highway, which was fortunately completely free of traffic.  We crossed the Platte at Valley and got home around six p.m.

What a joyful, beautiful day.


Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness

Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of ConsciousnessOther Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I did not enjoy this book as much as I had anticipated. It does lend support to the view of the mind I already hold. I think it was too analytical and not poetic enough. I had expected more of the latter I guess.

View all my reviews

Great Plains Geology

Great Plains Geology (Discover the Great Plains)Great Plains Geology by R.F. Diffendal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up this enjoyable book in the bookstore at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument in the panhandle of Nebraska while on our recent vacation. That night during my insomnia I began it and have been snatching bits and pieces since.

After helpful introductory chapters, the bulk of the book is a series of descriptions of prominent sites throughout the plains. This makes it a good travel guide as well. A handful of those sites we had seen on our trip.

The three most interesting things I learned reading the book--

1) The Black Hills was a single dome uplifted at the time of the Rocky Mountains uplift and then weathered down to create the peaks and valleys.

2) At Scottsbluff National Monument is not an uplift. The "original" floor of the plains was the top of the bluff. The plain lying far below is in fact erosion from the Platte River. The author said to stand atop the bluff and realize the unimaginable amount of sediment that has been washed down river and ultimately to the Gulf. Maybe Louisiana was made from Nebraska?

3) The Guadalupe Mountains in New Mexico and Texas are ancient coral reefs. Carlsbad Caverns is the remnant of those reefs.

View all my reviews

Neutrinos

One reason I reject reductivist materialism is because it seems to be an empirically bad description of physical reality. Physical reality (as Whitehead noted long ago) is more complex than the reductivists claim. As this view about neutrinos demonstrates.

 


Panpsychism

When I was writing my dissertation almost twenty years ago and defending a panexperientialist physicalism, I was considered to be on the wild fringes.  Now it seems that an even more radical idea, panpsychism, is en vogue, according to this post by Marcelo Gleiser.

Is this coherence an accident or the product of something deeper, perhaps some kind of proto-consciousness that permeates the universe and gives it purpose? This is the question many physicists, cognitive scientists and philosophers have been asking lately, leading to a sort of reawakening of panpsychism.


11 Dimensions in the Brain!

Well, this is cool news. Scientists have discovered that the brain works by creating multi-dimensional structures. Read the article in Newsweek here (though I puzzled by a few places where their nouns and verbs don't agree.  Come on Newsweek). I loved this description--"The progression of activity through the brain resembles a multi-dimensional sandcastle that materializes out of the sand and then disintegrates."