Mondays with Mike: Gravitation waves and Flipper

February 15, 2016 • Posted in Mike Knezovich, Mondays with Mike, Uncategorized by

Sometimes, it’s good to feel miniscule and in total awe of a much larger world. It’s liberating. It’s enthralling. So that news last week about physicists detecting gravitational waves was good for the soul and the imagination.

Shine on you crazy dolphins.

Shine on you crazy dolphins.

Sure, it’s healthy to be reminded of our importance, of our power and responsibility to make a difference for other people in our day to day lives. But it’s just as important to be reminded that we and our problems and our elections and our strident righteousness don’t amount to a hill of beans. That we are a pimple on an elephant’s … well, you know what I mean.

In the old days I described myself as a periodical reader. I’m not sure what label to apply now. I do read voraciously. But it’s news, essays, political analysis, economic stuff and baseball. And mostly online.

I enjoy reading print books, but they’ve always been second fiddle. Inspired by the gravitational wave discovery and needing a break from my own habits, I cracked open a Christmas gift from Beth, “Voices in the Ocean.” It’s about dolphins. I have a dolphin thing, owed largely to our time on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. A singular, profound pleasure was sitting with coffee, watching the rhythmic coordination of pods of dolphins moving along the shore. If there’s a higher power, I’m certain these creatures are one of the best manifestations of it.

And I’m of that certain age who was watching TV when Flipper was popular.

I’m only a quarter or so into the book but loving it—and I’ve learned that the popularity of Flipper was not an accident, entirely. An enigmatic guy named John Lilly, who seems to have been a sort of blend of Hunter S. Thompson and scientist, became entranced with how dolphins navigate the world, communicate with each other, and the prospect that dolphins and humans could possibly learn to communicate with one another.

Lilly pursued some good science, but also perhaps ingested too many psychedelic drugs. In fact, he was the basis for a 1980 Ken Russell film, (written by Paddy Chayefsky), starring William Hurt, called “Altered States.”

But Lilly was onto something, and the scientific community and the U.S. Navy, among others—became interested in dolphins in the 1950s and 1960s. And dolphins rightly became a thing; hence Flipper. Research continues, and the more we learn, the more intriguing those dolphins become. The more we know, the less we know.

Einstein was right, again.

Einstein was right, again. This video is a nice bit of “Gravitational Waves for Dummies.”

Which brings me back full circle—and how it’s important to also be reminded that it’s worth our tiny slogs in this giant universe. An acquaintance had this to say upon the announcement of the detection of gravitational waves:

Hey gang: If you work in a big bureaucracy and ever wonder whether your work will add up in the long run, take heart from this. When my dad was at NSF in the 90s, he fought hard to sponsor and protect the project (called LIGO) that just achieved this huge breakthrough.

We are small and inconsequential. We are important.




Robert Ringwald On February 16, 2016 at 12:36 am

Hi Mike,

Here is a fact you might be interested in. Or perhaps you know enough about dolphins to be able to explain the reason why…

I have a friend who has been sailing around the world for 50 years. He’s seen just about everything.

He said that it doesn’t cost a whole lot because they seldom use the motor. They of course, use the sails mostly.

He said that they don’t spend a lot on food because they always trail a hook.

He also said that they often have dolphins around his boat. In fact they had to tie up his dog because the dog always wanted to jump into the ocean to play with the dolphins.

But the interesting thing . . . . I asked him what he would do if he hooked a dolphin. He said that in 50 years of sailing all over the world, he has never had a dolphin take the hook.

I asked him, “Why do you suppose?”

He said, “I don’t know. Perhaps they are just too smart.”

On one of the Jazz cruises that I play, I met a professor at some college in Hawaii. He was an expert on Oceanography. He said, maybe they had some sense which could tell them that the density of the chunk of meat on the hook was different.

What do you think?

-Bob Ringwald

Mike On February 18, 2016 at 11:14 am

Hi Bob–not done with the book but there are a bunch of stories about dolphins and fisherman. Unfortunately, they don’t all avoid the hook, or propellers–but they do have some sort of crazy sonar that I would imagine does aid in identifying things.

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