Saturday, December 10, 2005

Perspectives from 30,000 ft.

As I fly at 30,000 ft, I begin my journey by seeing nothing but white clouds below, with no gaps, as far as the eye can see. This expanse has texture — it is not uniform. But it blocks my view of the ground below, and their view of me. It might as well be impenetrable, and yet we know it is only gossamer.

Next I see two distinct cloud banks at different altitudes. These higher clouds have even more texture, more variation in height. I suppose this reflects the water composition of the atmosphere are these temperature gradients. Indeed, I see a circular rainbow projected onto the clouds from the sun refracted over the plane. In fact, if I look closely, I realize it is a triple rainbow, with a center, an inner and an outer loop of soft colors. Like an eye staring right back at me. Perhaps my mind’s eye.

What’s interesting is that without the clouds (and associated moisture in the air) I could not see this rainbow. And of course those on the ground do not see this rainbow.

Above the clouds, there is a beautiful blue sky, at once uniform but at the same time differentiated by shades of blue, beginning on the horizon with only a hint of color, to sky blue, and up higher to a deep azure.

I can also see how each cloud layer is like a filter that lets through only a portion (or nothing at all) of the reality below it. When a clearing comes into view, we get a glimpse of the world as it is (or as it appears to us). We look forward to those moments when we gain insights and see clearly. But the clouds themselves are beautiful, and reflect their own reality.

When the clouds are gone, I can see clearly the surface of the earth, but still from such a different perspective. Not only from above, but also though a scaling filter. Only what your eyes can resolve at that altitude. It too is quite beautiful, and seems to reflect the fractal characteristic of nature (see the photo).

Once again I am back over clouds, this time above an undifferentiated fog — I’m getting lower in altitude. My rainbow is gone, as is all texture. This is the atmosphere’s “white noise”, denying me any meaningful signal. I could be anywhere, and would not know the difference.

It is nice to get up, above the work-a-day fray, and gain some perspective. I can see why the astronauts so enjoy the view at the edge of space, or further away, seeing earth from outer space. I can appreciate how from that perspective, it is clear how “together” we all are. How in the words of one astronaut:

“When you're finally up on the moon, looking back at the earth, all these differences and nationalistic traits are pretty well going to blend and you're going to get a concept that maybe this is really one world and why the hell can't we learn to live together like decent people." -- Frank Borman, Astronaut

No comments: