Friday, February 04, 2011

Life travels the world like a wave?

I was intrigued by the title and sub-title of this article: "A human life travels the world like a wave: Philosopher looked at impermanence", by Geoff Olson in Wednesday's Vancouver Courier. I can not quite fathom immediately what the article was really about.

He started the article rather poetically:

"Within a few hours of hearing the news, I was sitting by a creek, watching the waters churn past boulders."

We, as reader, naturally are interested in what the news he was hearing, but the answer is not forthcoming -- not until the very end of the article. The author next quotes Greek philosopher Heraclitus:“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man,” which we can all agree with the impermanence in general . He then alluded to Walter Munk's 1957 finding, without mentioning Munk by name, that swells "reaching Guadalupe Island, off the west coast of Mexico, had originated in storms 9,000 miles away in the Indian Ocean." And "Even the 30-metre 'rogue waves' capable of turning over passenger ships eventually lose their fearsome appearance and attenuate into mere ripples . . ." the second part is clearly his speculation since no one really knows how freaque waves disperse yet. But now we get a sense that he is probably talking about life.

Now he return to the news:

Just before I got the news, I was halfway through an intriguing little book, The Wave Watcher’s Companion, by the marvellously monikered Gavin Pretor-Pinney. He reminds readers that waves travel through water molecules, which are jostled about but are left behind as the energy moves on."

The human body is comparable to a wave, he writes: “Apparently, once you reach old age, your body can contain none of the molecules it did when you were a newborn. As you grow by incorporating what you consume, every ingredient of your infant body can eventually be replaced: all the particular oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen atoms, and the other elements that were your nascent body, will have been replaced. You might say that we borrow the air, water and food we consume in the very way that an ocean wave borrows the water it passes through.”

Our sense of solidity is illusory. From a distant perspective a human body is like a wave travelling across through years of groceries and beverages. And on closer inspection the human body-mind is the sum of periodic rhythms, from the heart’s beat to the brain’s electromagnetic cycles. These biological waves are embedded in cultural waves: the nine-to-five work world, the raising of family, the “business cycle,” and the rise and fall of civilizations. Our life and the lives of others come down to the same thing—“disturbances propagating through a medium.” Waves, from stormy to tranquil.

“How can we see ourselves as waves?” a wise musician friend wrote a few months back. “Parts of our bodies replace faster than others—Fourier analysis shows that any wave contains waves of smaller frequencies, so your hair follows a high overtone and your bones are close to the fundamental. As we age, we waves move more slowly through less volume of material, so like a struck drum skin, our frequency and amplitude decrease over time.”

I have not heard of the book, "The Wave Watcher's Companion", I guess ocean wave studies havem not been to the level of water molecules yet. I have never heard of connecting human body with Fourier analysis like this before either.

I hope the Vancouver Courier will keep this article and its URL on their web system for good: <>.

The next part of the article that starts with

And the news I received? Well, . . .

I choose not to reveal it now. I encourage everyone go to the original article. I like his way of approaching his main object of the article. It's something personal I experienced a few years ago. I admire Mr. Olson's way of expressing his emotion.


I forget to include one paragraph, the paragraph before "Just before I got the news . . ." which is this:

Energy can never be destroyed, only transformed. Breakers crashing against the shore don’t die outright; they transform most of their energy into acoustic energy, which we hear as crackling surf and feel as a rumble in the ground.

That's actually the most important part in my mind that got me interested in this article in the first place. I don't think the author was intended for a scientific statement per se. But the notion that the crushing waves transformed "their energy into acoustic energy" is something scientists have not yet but should be paying attention to. I think the sound of waves have everything to do with the physics of waves by all means. Acoustic effects have been used in some ocean wave measuring equipments. But the sound of waves should really be part of wave physics that need to be studied!

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