You are the music, while the music lasts.
~ T.S. Eliot
Dr. Oliver Sacks – the New York Times’ “Poet Laureate of Medicine” – has written many books about strange conditions of the human mind/brain in his long and illustrious dual careers as a neurologist and psychiatrist on one hand and a soul-stirring non-fiction writer on the other. While all his books are worth any intelligent reader’s time, one book has always stood out for me: Awakenings. In the preface, Dr. Sacks described writing the book as a struggle of escape from habitual modes of thoughts and expression. Indeed, this book espoused the unfamiliar perpetual darkness of some ill-fated human minds; but it did so only to coax latent seedlings of light out of the tenebrous in a way that enlightens the reader at many levels.
For those of you who haven’t read Awakenings (or, seen its brilliant screen adaptation), here Dr. Sacks profiles lives of patients in a ‘chronic hospital’ (that most medical professionals find ‘uneventful’) and explores deeper meanings of being a human being, especially under the ‘strangest and darkest of circumstances’. His patients – survivors of the great Encephalitis Lethargica epidemic that came and went mysteriously after the first world war and affected about five million people worldwide – had substantial lethargy, somnolence, and were in a sleep like state for decades. They showed no behavior, perhaps they registered none either. As Dr. Sacks puts it, “they would sit motionless and speechless all day… registered what went on about them with active attention, and with profound indifference. They were as insubstantial as ghosts, and as passive as zombies…”. If thoughts crossed these brains, if any at all, it's unlikely they were the usual ones that cross yours and mine every now and then.
From a medical standpoint however, these zombies reminded clinicians of another debilitating brain disorder: Parkinson’s disease, which is caused by loss of dopamine. Yes, the same dopamine that is often labelled these days as the ‘happy’ neurotransmitter due to its role in brain’s reward circuit. In 1967, around the time Dr. Sacks was working with his lethargic patients, western medicine learned that symptoms of Parkinson’s can be attenuated by providing the patient with L-DOPA (a chemical precursor of dopamine), the ‘miracle drug’. Dr. Sacks introduced L-DOPA to his patients experimentally in 1969. What followed was a mix of miracles and adverse effects, but ‘awakening' of most patients from their perpetual sleep. They started expressing themselves, were ‘visibly better in all possible ways’ as they ‘forged a deep and affectionate relationship’ with the doctor and each other.
One small molecule – one gigantic outcome.
With such newfound ability to express themselves, some patients revealed inner churning of their minds while catatonic. Patient Rose R. explained how she thought about 'nothing' the whole time: “It’s dead easy, once you know how”, she said, “One way is to think about the same thing again and again. Like 2=2=2=2; or, I am what I am what I am what I am…”. Other patients expressed how it felt to be cured, and expressed thoughts that may sound uncannily familiar to many. “Hey, Doc!” would say Mr. Ronaldo P., “I’m sick of L-DOPA – what about a real pill from the cupboard the nurses lock up? The ‘euthanazy’ pill or whatever it’s called… I’ve needed that pill since the day I was born”.
I was reminded of Oliver Sack’s Awakenings while processing the above image from the Isaac Hale Beach, Hawai’i. During May-July, 2018, the Big Island experienced an unprecedented series of volcanic eruptions that gained international attention. Rivers of lava flew towards the ocean from 24 fissures burning, vaporizing, and annihilating everything in its path. Skirting the parking lot by meters, lava engulfed most of the Beach park stopping a mere 270 feet from the boat launch. After almost an year, when we visited the park, a brand new black sand beach – the Pohoiki beach – had come into existence from the eroding lava. The sand here was coarse with painful sharp edges (no one was barefoot on the beach), and intermediate rocks that broke off from the main body of lava were rolling back and forth under the surf in their destined journey to being rounded off into finer sand. As waves rolled in, these rocks would churn and collide with a distinct grumble that could be heard easily above the ocean. These psychedelic groans, now that I think of it, were probably the utterance of a newborn land trying to play itself a music of nothing, something like patient R; I am what I am what I am what I am…
Tags: Hawaiʻi Hawaii IsaacHaleBeachPark IsaacHale BlackSandBeach PohoikiBeach PohoikiBlackSandBeach Sunset BigIsland Ramen Saha Lava BlackSand IsaacKepo‘okalaniHaleBeachPark Kilauea
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If you are not a mathematician, you are unlikely to know of a gentleman named August Ferdinand Möbius, who was a professor of Mathematics and Astronomy at the University of Leipzig. Despite being outlandishly talented, the good professor didn’t exactly blaze through academic ranks because he was unable to attract paying students to take his class and would advertise his lectures as ‘free’ to get adequate enrollment. However, the absentminded professor considered mathematics to be poetic, and ended up defining and lending his name to one of the most enigmatic two-dimensional structures: the Möbius band (or, Möbius strip).
Yes, all of us have seen a Möbius band: the recycling sign on plastic or the infinity sign are great examples of Möbius band. To make a Möbius strip of your own, find yourself a rectangular strip of paper and glue the two ends of the strip together after half-twisting the paper (by 180 degrees). Many things are extremely remarkable about this structure. Most uniquely, this two-dimensional structure has one surface. Don’t believe? Find yourself a ink pen and mark your initials anywhere on the surface. Now, with your finger tip, travel away from your initials along the central line of the strip surface. Keep going without lifting your finger from the paper. When you will have traveled the whole strip twice, you will find your fingers back on your initials –– convinced, that’s only one surface?
This 'one surface' property leads to another unintuitive – almost tantalizing – nature of this unique structure where the laterally inverted (mirror image) form of any physical point exists on the same surface! In a regular piece of paper, your initials and its mirror image (bleed-through the paper) would be on two different surfaces; To travel between them, you will have to switch surfaces. But in your personal paper Möbius strip, it is now possible to start from your initials, and without altering surfaces, reach their bleed-through mirror image, which is apparently on the other side of the surface from your initials! Also, one could keep walking on the only surface of the strip forever without ever needing to turn around – if you didn’t already, now you know why the infinity sign looks as it does!
Finally, the most unintuitive signature of Mobius structures is that they are unorientable. What’s that, right? Points on orientable things, like a ball or a bat, can be ‘inward’ and ‘outward’ or ‘upward’ and ‘downward’. No matter how you rotate the ball, an ‘outward’ point will always remain outward. But on a Möbius band, a point can slide from an ‘outward’ to an ‘inward’ orientation by rotating the strip. Simply put, the Möbius band has no ‘sidedness’. Here, every point and its mirror-image have collapsed on the same surface. It is as if, all dichotomies have disappeared and dimensions have warped-up somewhere!
Do Möbius bands exist in nature? Yes, they do. Despite the illusory visual of being so, the famous namesake arch in Alabama hills, CA is geometrically not a Möbius band. But, non-fictitious Möbius bands exist in nature elsewhere. Crystals of certain chemical compounds (e.g., niobium and selenium, NbSe3) display Möbius structures. In quantum physics, waveforms for fermions (not bosons) curiously reminds one of the Möbius pattern. Now, imagine how nice would it be if we had Möbius roller coasters or freeways in our perceivable world? We could then hop in them to simultaneously be ourselves and our mirror image – our alter ago – thereby drawing a closure to all our dichotomies. Wouldn’t it be nice if that happened?
Let me close with a crazy thought. What if, Möbius bands come into existence somewhere in those ten dimensions (M-theory) around us somewhen during magical times of the day, but due to limitations of our perceptual faculties, we are unable to acknowledge their presence?
Tags: Möbius BartlettCove GlacierBay GlacierBayNationalPark Bay SunsetReflections Sunset Clouds HalibutPoint Alaska Ramen Saha Water Reflection
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“Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.”
From what I’ve tasted of hate
(O Yes, I’ve; I’ll be straight)
it’s not Frost’s ice
thats apocalypse’s device.
Blazing guns of fools’ ire,
the world is ending in fire
Perishing not once or twice
but a little every day,
Dante’s fire is melting paradise.
Columbine, Sandy Hook, El Paso
seeds of death flew like a lasso
Innocents 're piled in pois'nous fire
Vegas, Orlando gasped to respire.
Glaciers of tears are now ice
hope is brittle, the king is gneiss.
Aurora weeps under starry quire
Play an anthem in ice and fire
O poet, inspire!
Left: Gilman glacier, Alaska. You may see surroundings of this glacier here. Shot with Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and f/4.5-5.6L IS USM at ISO 800, 1/800, ƒ/11.0, and 220mm focal length.
Right: Kamoali’i cinder cone, Hawai’i. You may see surroundings of this volcanic cone here. Those tiny white button-like punctuations are the endemic Haleakala Silversword plants (Ahinahina). Shot with Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and f/4.5-5.6L IS USM at ISO 400, 1/125, ƒ/9.0, and 265mm focal length.
Tags: GilmanGlacier Kamoali’i CinderCone GlacierBayNationalPark HaleakalaNationalPark Haleakala GlacierBay Glacier Ice Alaska Hawaiʻi Silversword Ahinahina NationalPark Ramen Saha
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John Muir believed that his beloved Yosemite valley was formed by glaciers of the past. This theory met with stiff opposition from his peers and contemporaries. But unlike his distractors, Muir spent hours and days lying on valley rocks with ‘patient brooding’ to ask questions, whose answers could be his riposte: ‘Where did all that ice come from and where did it go?’ To find answers, Muir invested many summers in Alaska, where he visited and ‘discovered’ the Glacier Bay in ‘the end of October, 1879’.
“If my son comes not back, on you will be his blood.” ~ Mother of Kadechan, a Muir expedition crew-member
To discover the glaciers of Glacier Bay, Muir had an outdated chart (created by the HMS Discovery captain Vancouver in 1794), a crew of four that included an evangelist and three Sitka Indians, and a canoe that had room for very little after seating these five men. Local Indians didn’t approve of this trip. With winter right around the corner and limited provisions available to the party further up the bay, this trip sure seemed destined for the doom. Crew members’ mothers and wives didn’t held their angst back. It took the evangelist’s assurance for people to calm down and the journey to begin.
“Muir must be a witch to seek knowledge in such a place as this, and in such miserable weather” ~Toyatte, the expedition captain (by virtue of being the canoe-owner).
Within a few days, the tour faced substantial challenges that discouraged Indian crew members severely. They were shocked by Muir’s adventurous spirit that ventured out into icy mountains and waters even when thunders rolled over. Dreading the ‘treeless, forlorn appearance' of the area, they considered heading back. With every passing storm, the dissent grew. Then, Muir made a speech to his crew that was laced with deep Muir-ish sentiments that we all have come to admire today. That speech, which called for trusting the ‘heaven’ and putting fear away, galvanized the crew and made them sentimental. They decided not to care even if the 'canoe were to get crushed by icebergs' because on their way to the next world they would have excellent companions. Thus reinvigorated, the crew moved further north towards mighty glaciers that no human eyes from the developed world had ever seen before.
“It presents… many shades of blue, from pale, shimmering, limpid tones in the crevasses and hollows, to the most startling, chilling, almost shrieking vitriol blue on the plain mural spaces from where bergs had just been discharged.” ~John Muir (The discovery of Glacier Bay)
The party reached the head of the bay, where mighty glaciers blocked their view and path forward. While others set up camp, the ecstatic Mr. Muir ran out to climb a mountain in the sleety rain to get a ‘broader outlook’ of that icy empire. From his vantage point, he saw and sketched ‘ineffably chaste and spiritual heights’ of the Fairweather Range, and several great glaciers that flow from those mountains. That night, the happy crew sat by a large fire celebrating their success amidst ‘thunder of the icebergs, rolling, swelling, reverberating through solemn stillness’. They were tired, but too happy to sleep.
PS: Glacier Bay, as we know it today, didn’t exist when Vancouver charted the area in 1794. A century later, Muir found glacier-lines had receded by 18-25 miles from lines in Vancouver’s chart and called Glacier bay ‘undoubtedly young’. Today, most glaciers in the bay have receded and rest behind Vancouver's lines by scores of miles. If not impaired by global warming, these glaciers may return because it is their nature to cyclically recede and burgeon in geological time. Above, you may see two glaciers: Johns Hopkins–the wide one, and Gilman–the petite glacier underneath Mt. Abbe. Muir didn't see them; these are 30-40 miles north of the glacier line during Muir’s expedition. Exceptionally, the handsome Johns Hopkins glacier – whose mile-long face you see above but can’t see it wearing many stripes of medial moraines like a fashion conscious urbanite – is currently advancing every year. While there, I was absolutely enthralled by those thunderous claps of glaciers calving, but was saddened at not being able to witness Muir’s ‘crowds of bergs packed against the ice-wall’. Today, due to much warmer water temperature in this area, icebergs have disappeared. What was once an icy and spiky outer curtain wall of several thousand icebergs that defended the snow-white Fairweather Range, is today a dilapidated garden of growlers (smaller fragments of ice).
Tags: Glacier GlacierBay GlacierBayNationalPark NationalPark JohnMuir JohnsHopkinsGlacier GilmanGlacier JohnsHopkinsInlet MtAbbe MtOrville Alaska Ramen Saha Fjord Water Growler StitchedPanorama
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Alpine lakes are nature’s dimples — a whimsical depression in its flesh that invariably spark adoration in the viewer’s heart. When nature put on her fleeting smile after a gloomy afternoon the other day, the viewer — enthralled by the dimple’s beauty — was compelled to smile back in return.
Tags: BlueLake NorthCascades NorthCascadesNationalPark #314 Okanogan-WenatcheeNationalForest Ramen Saha Washington AlpineLake Lake Water Mountain Moraine
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