Tag Archives: Newton

Dark Light

A little hole in the clouds opens up. I see the sun and the moon. I yell: ‘wohoo!’. The eclipse is not complete, and the hole is there for just five seconds, but it’s enough to propel me back to a field in Luxembourg on August 11th, 1999. It’s the vivid darkness of the moon’s shade.

As kid I was very much drawn to the stars. I used to look up at night. Walking, in the car… Still do, in fact. Especially during the end of my teenage years, I knew a lot about the stars and the planets, and how they all align. The universe. Whatever explanation you wield for their existence, there’s something magical about the way they flicker in that eternal, deep darkness. There’s something mesmerizing about the fact that they float in a space that seems so infinitely big. Those bright lights in that vast darkness are just beautiful.

It must have been March that year when I picked up the phone and heard the voice of my uncle. He didn’t ask for my mom, but presented the news to me. Something spectacular was going to happen, and he and his friends would like to come over to our little farmers’ village in Luxembourg to check it out. I was instantly convinced. In the months that followed, I looked for all the information I could find about eclipses. How they occur, how they look and how exceptional they are. In books and papers, we didn’t have internet back then. I looked so much forward to seeing the sun’s corona.

When the day finally came, we drove out to some fields slightly further south, to have a longer view on the dark totality. Cars were parked alongside all farmers’ roads. For the only time history, it was hard to find a spot. But we did, and got out. My uncle yelled ‘follow the leader’ and up we went, a group of ten, fifteen, in the middle of crowded Luxembourgish nowhere.

Though I wouldn’t be able to find it back, the spot is still here in my memory. There were quite some trees on the north side, growing around a long fence, reaching over the fields. We had a good view over some meadow hills to the south.  It wasn’t that special, really, but it would be fun to return there once. The sun was already quite blinded when we arrived, but we had some time to go, in which we looked at each other in expectancy. After some twenty minutes, gloom approached us over the hills. Birds stopped singing, as we saw the moon silently move in front of the sun.

That deep darkness, surrounded by bright light. The quiet. It seemed so tangibly close. Not the surrounding light, but the darkness itself spoke up that day. Spoke out. Speaks out. It was with me when I ‘wohood’ last week.

In the early 19th century, Johan Wolfgang Goethe experimented with light and dark. He is known as a poet, but Goethe himself was of the opinion that his poetry was average. What really counted to him, were his studies of colours, where he disagreed with the already deceased Isaac Newton on some points. In his view, black light and white light were the two basic forces. All colours were a result of the interplay between the two. Yellow, he saw as white light weakened by dark light. He learned this from staring into a flame in a dark room. Blue, on the opposite end, was black light weakened by white, as occurs in the sunlit blue sky, reducing the vast darkness of the universe. His approach largely reflected the dualistic christian worldview of the opposites ‘good’ as light and ‘bad’ as darkness.

The dominating scientific belief of today teaches that Goethe was wrong. Based on earlier ideas by Newton, darkness is the absence of light, and the colours with their wavelengths together compose white light. Goethe’s response to this idea was that perception is an essential aspect of colour which can not be excluded from the equation. Adding a prism to the experiment means interacting with light, and can thus not be seen as an objective experiment. Goethe’s work still has influence in art. His intention was not to provide explanations, in fact he was against them, his intention was to describe his observations. For him, the psychological impact of light, the question how it moves us, how it triggers our imagination, was an important part of the study.

The room where I grew up could be blinded to total darkness. Most of my friends had night lights, I didn’t. I couldn’t sleep with them. I liked it dark. But I do remember feeling presences. Sometimes I turned the lights back on to check if something was lingering under the bed. That act changed the atmosphere entirely. The feeling of a presence was gone as soon as I turned on the light. As I grew older, I learned that it was my imagination playing tricks on me. Since the eclipse of March 20th, I’m suspecting the darkness itself.

Doesn’t the darkness feel closer than light? More intimate? Or inward focussed at least. For me it has always been a presence, not an absence. Closer than my carotid. It compelled me in 1999, and I saw that again last week. The memory of a beam of black light.

I wonder what the world would have looked like, had Goethe´s ideas been followed in the same way as Newton´s. Would children still fear the dark?


Around the horizon

Hyde Park, November 2014

Crossing the globe is a disruptive thing to do. Not only does daytime become nighttime and autumn spring; cars come from the right instead of the left and the buildings have thirty floors instead of three. Some of them even have walls full of plants. Dealing with all of that is not easy when you´ve barely slept for an unknown amount of days.

My ticket here was booked last Wednesday. I left on Friday without much of a plan. The goal: making a video and doing some writing for the Young Peoples Media Coalition on the World Parks Congress that starts in two days. I´d tried to raise funds for this for a few months but the definite ´yes´ came a week ago.

The flight was long but smooth, and I arrived on the central station of Sydney around nine on Saturday evening. Having turned the wrong way, I could not find any hostel, and I decided to take the train somewhere else. Rido, a strong funny army guy with a thick southern accent took me to another station and bought me a cab to a beach with several hostels. All were full. A group of surfers called every hostel in town for me, only to find out that all of them were fully booked. It was two O´clock at night when I had made several new friends and got an offer to sleep on a floor in a hostel room. It was soft. After waking up at six, I followed two roommates to their homeless friend, spent a sunny hour with them on the street, then went to find a proper place to stay and left to check out the city. I got buried by sand on Bondi Beach and arrived at a festival that had just ended in Newtown, but still the day was lots of fun.

For what I´ve witnessed of it, Sydney is a tall western city with spacious parks containing tropical trees and exotic birds. The inner city even has Ravens. Don´t think I ever saw those before. But as John Travolta once said before elaborating on the Royale with Cheese, it´s those little differences that make it interesting.

Consider the pedestrian lights. You always wait for at least a bit. You hear a peew like from a children´s lightgun which means it turned green. It makes me laugh all the time. But there´s no time for that, because after the peew, there are about five seconds, literally, before it starts blinking red, then another five before it stops blinking, and the cars can drive again. You see people run all the time. I wonder how the elderly people do it. The fact that cars come from the right is confusing, but it gets really mindboggling once you hit a bifurcation or a crossroads. Nowadays, I just keep looking in all possible directions at once to avoid being hit by a car. This left/right issue expresses itself also when walking on the street. People want to cross you at the same place where you want to cross them. It took me a while of causing irritation to realise that. Then, when I was doing it right, I noticed that I´m not the only one doing it wrong, and you can easily pick out the foreigners by looking at their street side tendency. I started to suspect the Aussies from deliberately forcing us to walk on our own side of the road as a way of education, possibly with a slight nationalistic flavour.

Another difference with what I know of Europe, is peoples condition. Most persons I see here, but especially the men, are in extremely good shape. All walk with their broad shoulders pulled backwards. As if it´s a nation of rugby players. I´ve been wondering how come this difference is so visible. My so far untested theories are: 1) they work out, 2) there are more people in the army, or doing other physically challenging work, 3) it´s genetic, but I doubt that because it´s a multicultural thing and 4) hormones in meat 5) they aren´t actual muscles, but it´s a held back pose and 6) they´re all wearing body armour. And not only do the people look good, they also behave far more nicely when you speak to them on the street.

Another thing that strikes me – I´ve been taking pictures of them – are the road signs here in Aussiland. Many of them are written in large friendly letters, and they do not just say what you cannot do, they always try to give it a positive twist to the message. Commonly, they do that by giving a good reason for the rule. For example: “ please do not park here, because the fire truck needs to be able to pass 24/7.” or “please hug the trees but do not climb them”. Awesome communication.

There are colonial buildings among the skyscrapers, but none of them seem more than 200 years old. The difference is visible in the low amount of detail in the ornaments. By the space that surrounds these buildings, you can see that they are well respected parts of the urban landscape. All statues have a written note on when they were “erected”. It especially suits the obelisk on Hyde park with an anti-aids-campaign condom on it. 1875.

Trees are bigger, people are stronger and happier, buildings are greater. There is an air of simple consciousness around. In a way, it feels as if everything more advanced here. But Sydney also has a young Disney vibe which makes me wonder: how deep are these trees´ roots, how strong the skyscrapers´ foundations? What is the motivation for these people´s good shape and happy smile? Maybe I should admit that the Aussies are simply more ahead than Europeans in many things. Perhaps intricate little European details and differences have made us lag behind on the big developers. Or perhaps it´s just my initial enthusiasm, and will I soon discover darker parts. Anyway, it´s not important, for now I´ll just enjoy the Aussi flow.

Graffiti and the Gravity of Gravity

By biking slowly you open up to the surroundings in a different way than when you’re quick. I am holding my steer loosely and at ease. Me at my finest. Or that’s what I believe.

The speed bump near my house does not come unforseen. Passing it every day, I know it very well. I wouldn’t say I appreciate the bump. It is a nasty one, to which I have to anticipate quite a little each time I go with speed. Tonight, I am going slowly, so there is little danger. Or that’s what I believe.

So it happens that my mind drifts where my body was an hour ago. Mr. La Luz gave us an inspiring talk on how he avoided sudden bankruptcy of his catering company by selling 50.000 obligations of 1 euro within 3 days, helped by social media.

I get called back by a shock. It was the bump. I see two tourists come from under the graffiti ornamented bridge to the right. They are about to become spectators of a struggle between my physical appearance, my bike and what Newton once framed as the attraction between two bodies.

The steer shoots to the right. That’s where the sidewalk starts. It’s stuck. I am quite surprised that I managed to lose control at this idle pace. I am an individual who commends himself for heaving escaped perilous situations. I have regained control during slip events and even when I had tyres stuck in a tramway. Indeed, when I moved to the Netherlands ten years ago, my quest was to master the bike better than the Dutch. I have learned to make sharp curves without holding my steering wheel. My traffic radar – a basic Dutch city biker’s skill – works without a flaw. I have lifted the daily need of transportation to an art. That’s how I am able to afford this looseness in the first place. Tonight, the bricks of the city of my ancestors disagree.

As I grab the steer and try to pull it back, the bike bends. The pedals capture my feet while my back wheel pushes the entire cascade forwards. Did I brake? I cannot tell, but something changed. My front wheel makes a sudden shift to the left. Up till now, the situation seemed out of control. Now it is. The saddle catapults my body, while the bike takes off below me, only to find its way back to the ground in a swift parabolic motion. I follow a similar curve, and reach out to the ground with my left hand.

One of the great things you can buy in the Netherlands, is a basket for the front of your bicycle. You wouldn’t imagine how handy they are. Gloves too hot? In the basket. Crate of beer? In the basket. Just bought a nice plant? Into the basket it goes! The basket – my friend, my friend – the basket. Or so it has me believe.

While my hands stroke the floor, my ribs discover the solid character of my precious basket in a wholly new way. The air rushes out of my lungs and some limbs fly by. It doesn’t take long until I’m safely back on the ground, knowing that I’m not sleeping on my side tonight.

In the ideal scenario, the two tourists who just witnessed my life flash by continue their pace pretending that nothing happened. I know before I look up, however, that this is not that scenario. It is perhaps for that reason that I make my groan sound as manly as possible. When I look up, I see them coming to my aid.

“Are you ok?” . “Well, I’m still able to breathe, so I think so.” and in a different tone “I have no clue how that happened!”.

“Don’t worry, man” says the guy, “it happens to everyone…”. He deserves this gaze of death.