Permanence is an illusion.


Carlos Nicanor

Art blogger Krisi Metzen recently shared her discovery of an impressive artist named Carlos Nicanor. His art explores the interplay of the temporal and the permanent. He makes solid things appear liquid. It got me thinking.

I work in an auto shop. I was changing oil recently and as I watched the glistening amber liquid pouring into the reservoir, I thought about the way the oil took that certain spout shape for the brief time it was pouring. We consider a river to be a specific thing, but like that oil spout, a river is only a shape that a substance assumes for a time.

In fact, everything is.

Once I was reading outside and I paused to think, looking up. I realized that if I was patient, I could tell that those high, wispy cirrus clouds that usually don’t seem to be moving were drifting and changing shape before my eyes. You know that all clouds are always moving, but it’s something different to actually see the motion of something that you normally perceive as stationary.

One morning I watched a sunrise. There were some telephone lines hanging high above and in front of me, and I moved to just the right spot and sat very still. I watched the planet Venus get closer and closer to one thin wire, briefly pass behind it, and emerge from the other side. It’s awesome to realize you can perceive the spinning of the globe you’re sitting on.

Everything we normally think of as permanent, like the shape of the continents or appearance of species, is only a snapshot of an ongoing process of change.

The way we normally perceive time isn’t the only way to perceive it. Like I said before: Your pet, and most other animals, perceive time very differently than you do.


We’re living in slow-motion


Dogs don’t watch much TV.

The first televisions sold refreshed the image on the screen about 60 times per second. The way humans perceive time, that looks like a continuously moving image. To a dog and most other animals, that looks like a flickering series of still images. Predator and prey animals process information faster than we do;  that’s why they have such good reflexes. (Newer TVs have much faster refresh rates, so they can look realistic to animals).

From The Economist:

It is called the critical flicker-fusion frequency, or CFF, and it is the lowest frequency at which a flickering light appears to be a constant source of illumination. It measures, in other words, how fast an animal’s eyes can refresh an image and thus process information.

For people, the average CFF is 60 hertz (ie, 60 times a second). This is why the refresh-rate on a television screen is usually set at that value. Dogs have a CFF of 80Hz, which is probably why they do not seem to like watching television. To a dog a TV programme looks like a series of rapidly changing stills.

You may think you’re smarter than your dog, and maybe you are, but your dog processes information much faster.

It’s relativity of a different sort. Consciousness is a weird thing, and it’s even weirder when you consider what consciousness is like for other living things. You are to a deer as a turtle is to you.

Every time you blow out a candle, you create a rainbow.

The Link: In fact, you create a whole series of rainbows.

The Story:

Dazzling photographer Grover Schrayer captured something I never knew: A candle always goes out in a small blaze of glory.  For a fraction of a second, the vaporized wax particles are carried along the puff of smoke and refract light to create a rainbow pattern.

Like with most of the rest of the universe, I don’t really understand it.


Image by Grover Schrayer

It passes by so fast, you don’t even notice it.  Life is always like that.

I’m reminded of something Krisi Metzen shared, the work of another photographer who captures the beauty of the fleeting moment.  There is beauty in such things because they reveal underlying patterns–the mathematical structures of nature.  These beautiful patterns are everywhere.

What’s Einstein doing under your nose?

Public Domain art from NASA

There’s more than 2 dozen of these machines zipping around the Earth like a giant diagram of an atom, moving so fast it bends space and time.  (image source)

The link: Every day, people rely on Einstein’s time-warp equations without even thinking about it.

The story:

I’m Jay Knitig.  (It’s pronounced “Kinetic.”)  I’m a student at Wichita State University.

What I’m doing here is exploring the awesomeness of everyday life.  Our world is full of amazing things we usually don’t think about or even notice.

The wonders of science are right under your nose.  For example: Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity is abstract and hard to understand, but without realizing it you probably use it in everyday life.  It says that time and space aren’t the same for everyone: Time passes slower the faster you go, and things get smaller.

They don’t just seem smaller and slower, they actually are smaller and slower in your frame of reference.  It’s true for you but something else is true for them.  If one person is traveling at nearly light-speed and another isn’t, they could disagree about which of two events happened first, and both be right.  That’s relativity.

If you have a smartphone, it probably has GPS.  Even if you don’t, a lot of the trucks that deliver stuff to the stores you shop at use it.  GPS relies on a “constellation” of satellites that constantly zoom around the Earth at about two and a half miles per second triangulating with other satellites and your device on the ground.  At that speed (still a tiny fraction of light speed), time has actually slowed down a little for the satellites.

The GPS system people use every day employs Einstein’s time-bending equations to make up the difference.  Without Einstein’s equations, GPS couldn’t work.

Everyday life is full of awesome mind-boggling things just like that.  There are crazy, wonderful things all around us.

You have Einstein right under your nose.