The Sonoran Desert can both feed and challenge the human spirit. By day it is a place of beauty with lush growth. By night it is freezing cold. My wife and I spent a night there, and not by choice. We got a late start on a hike, took a wrong turn, and by the time we realized our mistake knew we’d be spending the night. Fortunately, she was well prepared, and we had food and matches and an emergency reflective blanket that would be spaghetti by morning. Around 5 AM I lit a match to a few small branches and twigs I was able to gather the night before. The warmth of the fire relieved our nearly hypothermic shivers.
There is also a visual image that both of us cherish: as the sun rose, before us sang a bright red cardinal atop a saguaro cactus.
I feel as if I am in a desert now. I’ve been advised that prior to current times,
[I] used to write posts on the benefits of social insurance and the reasons why Social Security won’t go bankrupt. Real policy issues that have real implications for real people. And people LIKED that.
Real implications, real people. Gotcha. America is indeed a desert.
This is from Science Daily:
Dennis Shaffer, assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University’s Mansfield campus, led [a] study, which appeared in the Journal [of] Perception & Psychophysics.
Shaffer and his colleagues tested more than 400 college students in three experiments. When asked to guess the length of the lines [painted on our highways] from memory, most answered two feet. Even when the students were standing some distance away from actual 10-foot lines or riding by them in a car, they judged the size to be the same: two feet.
“We were surprised, first, that people’s estimates were so far off, and second, that there was so little variability,” Shaffer said.
The finding holds implications for traffic safety. Each dashed line measures 10 feet, and the empty spaces in-between measure 30 feet. So every time a car passes a new dashed line, the car has traveled 40 feet. But in this study, people consistently judged the lines and the empty spaces to be the same size, claiming that both were two feet.
There is a reason for those lines being so long and far apart. Humans are not evolved for rapid travel. If the lines were indeed two feet, they would pass by our eyes so quickly that we would become disoriented, even nauseous. The lines serve to alter our perceptions, to make it a appear that we are traveling much slower. (In the same vein, get out of your car some time and walk up to a speed limit sign. Did you imagine they were that big?)
This is interesting part: I have always known those lines and gaps were very long. My perceptions have never been fooled. I sit in wonder at my failure to grasp the depth of delusion in others. Sorry to say that, but it is true.
Hans Christian Andersen addressed this matter by beautifully artistic means, a short fable called The Emperor’s New Clothes. We all know it.
The Emperor presently sent another trustworthy official to see how the work progressed and how soon it would be ready. The same thing happened to him that had happened to the minister. He looked and he looked, but as there was nothing to see in the looms he couldn’t see anything.
“Isn’t it a beautiful piece of goods?” the swindlers asked him, as they displayed and described their imaginary pattern.
“I know I’m not stupid,” the man thought, “so it must be that I’m unworthy of my good office. That’s strange. I mustn’t let anyone find it out, though.” So he praised the material he did not see. He declared he was delighted with the beautiful colors and the exquisite pattern. To the Emperor he said, “It held me spellbound.”
It took a child to describe what all of the learned people of the kingdom could not see. A child – and the swindlers – could see what was hidden in plain sight.
Now, should I go back to writing about Social Security, and start being useful again? I know that all of the reasonable people of the kingdom are puzzled, and those who care about me are concerned. We’ll see – I move as the spirit moves me. I might ask that all of you go to your nearest interstate, and try not to get run over, and go out there and measure those lines.
In the meantime, the desert is both beautiful and challenging. It can fulfill the needs of the human spirit even as it destroys the body.