January 30, 2014

Pondering by starlight

The Disease Called Cruising

6. Mid-Ocean Philosophy

HE THAT WILL learn to pray, let him go to sea, said George Herbert. He was right. I’ve done my fair share of praying in bad weather.

And on a gentle starlit night like this, when the trade wind blows warm and soft over a friendly sea, you can’t help wondering who made the Earth and the universe; and why; and where are we going?

Being at sea in a small boat makes you think quite a lot about how all this got started.

It seems to me that human knowledge is back-to-front. I mean, we know how to do incredibly difficult things such as splitting the atom and photographing the back of the Moon and keeping up strapless dresses, but we are no nearer to answering the very simplest questions: We don’t know as much about who or what created the universe as a tomcat knows about making gingerbread.

Ask yourself: Is it possible to create something from nothing?  Maybe it is, but not in my experience. So even if God did do it, something must have existed before. How was THAT created, then? If we all started from a Big Bang, what was it that went bang so bigly? Nothing doesn’t go bang. Nothing can’t go bang, if you see what I mean. Nothing is nothing.

It’s obvious that the human brain is not yet advanced enough to tackle the really simple questions like who we are and why we are and where we’re going. At this early stage of our evolution, human brains are able only to answer to tough questions, like what is the composition of Venus’s surface and what is the speed of light at 0 degrees Celsius in a vacuum?

You look at the stars on a night like this and you’ve got to wonder if mankind will ever know the answers to the simple questions before it is wiped out for ever. Scientists aren’t helping much. Oh sure, they’re making noises about progress. Of course they are. They have to justify their work and their lack of results. They need salaries, too.

Maybe, as I said, humans will disappear from the face of the Earth, as the dinosaurs did, before the simple questions get answered. Maybe it’s the destiny of the dolphin, or the whale (or, as some maintain, the indestructible cockroach) eventually to understand how the Earth and the universe were formed.

If that’s so, what point is there in our wondering about it now? If we’re never going to find out, why do we spend so much money trying to do so? Those billions could buy a lot of new anchors and genoa jibs for the deserving sailing class. The Hubble telescope alone could probably have provisioned every cruising yacht in the world for 10 years. Doesn’t that make more sense?

What’s more, we’re exploring the vast outer reaches of space before we’ve explored the oceans right here on Earth. There are big things lurking down there that I would like to know about. Big ships often disappear at sea without trace, even in this age of instant communication. Yachts disappear, too. Wouldn’t it make more sense to find out why, rather than spend money trying to figure out who we are and where we came from?

Perhaps the people in charge of spending our money should be forced to spend some time at sea in the cockpit of a small boat at sea, like this one, and let the sight of all those beautiful stars get them thinking about the really important things that affect us, as I do.

Hmmm . . . I see it’s getting light over there in the east. Enough of the brain strain. I wonder what June’s going to dish up for breakfast?

Today’s Thought
To understand the place of humans in the universe is to solve a complex problem. Therefore I find it impossible to believe that an understanding based entirely on science or one based entirely on religion can be correct.
— Wilton Robert Abbott, aerospace engineer

“Well, hello . . . and where have you two been all afternoon?”
“Hi, Mom. Daddy took me to the library.”
“Did you enjoy it?”
“Yes, it was exciting.”
“Yes, one of the librarians had a full house and made Daddy pay $50 over the table.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

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