Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"Looking Over the Horizon in Tokyo via Darwin"

In reading "A Naturalist's Voyage Round the World" by Charles Darwin, M.A., F.R.S., I came across the following paragraph, didn't quite get it the first time, so went back and read it a second time, and then realized something - but first, have a look at this text from Darwin's 1831-36 voyage on the Beagle, referring to a trip he took in Argentina:

"For many leagues north and south of San Nicolas and Rozario, the country is really level. Scarcely anything which travellers have written about its extreme flatness can be considered as exaggeration. Yet I could never find a spot where, by slowly turning round, objects were not seen at greater distances in some directions than in others; and this manifestly proves inequality in the plain. At sea, a person's eye being six feet above the surface of the water, his horizon is two miles and four-fifths distant. In like manner, the more level the plain, the more nearly does the horizon approach within these narrow limits; and this, in my opinion, entirely destroys that grandeur which one would have imagined that a vast level plain would have possessed."

It took me a minute to conceptualize what he was getting at, but then the horizon dropping out of sight due to the roundness of the earth meaning of what he was saying came into mental focus and I realized that - in Tokyo - you very rarely have an opportunity to see very far into the distance at ground level in the first place. The views can be spectacular from the top of high-rise buildings, but while you're contemplating the view, for some reason the concept of being able to see further over the horizon by virtue of being up high doesn't come to mind. And the mental picture of being on a vast and empty plain is like a vision from another planet from the perspective of living in Tokyo, with it's (greater area) population of 30,000,000!

Another thing that is strongly evident between the lines of that book from the early 1800s, is how there is no thought of humankind having the power to destroy the planet, and travel on land was generally via walking or on horses - there were no noxious-gas-emitting automobiles poisoning the air. I love machines and electronics, but I've come to deeply resent the internal combustion engine - and the tremendous damage its use has cased/is causing to the planet.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

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