Doug Bruns

Gravity Probe B, the wisdom of dogs, and other notions.

In Dogs, Life, Nature, Philosophy, The Examined Life, The infinity of ideas, Thinkers on January 5, 2013 at 6:00 am

Gravity Probe B

Einstein (1879-1955) was vindicated about seven years ago. That was when Gravity Probe B, one of Nasa’s satellites, confirmed “to a precision of better than 1 per cent the assertion Einstein made 90 years ago – that an object such as the Earth does indeed distort the fabric of space and time.” (NASA) Imagine a tarp stretched tight, suspended with bungee cords; then imagine dropping a basketball on the tarp. The tarp will sag under the ball and eventually it will come to rest in the middle of the tarp. Drop a marble on the tarp and it will speed to the basketball. This is called the Geodetic Effect and is what Einstein predicted happens with space and time. The basketball represents gravity, as a planet might manifest; the sagging tarp the fabric of space-time. Indeed, time and space bend.


Despite the assertion fronted by certain family members (you know who you are), I do not believe (entirely) that the gravity of my existence bends my environmental reality. But…

As my parents warned, life (read: time) appears to be accelerating. Years come and go–flash, bang, and suddenly another day has passed, a year escaped, a decade expired before I can blink my eyes. The pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus (535 – c. 475 BCE) famously said, “No man [or woman, presumably] ever steps in the same river twice.” His work, On Nature, does not survive, and everything we know about him we glean from fragments mentioned by other philosophers, principally Diogenes and Plato (who gives us the “river” metaphor). We must be thankful for that, at least.

The flow of existence feels (to me) to be bending time. The older I get the more the bend. The basketball seems to rest deeper into the tarp. Have you ever stood in a river when upstream water is released from a dam? I have. You don’t realize the water flow is increasing until the rush of it is hard upon you. That is aging–we are clueless until it’s mid-thigh and rising, our feet searching for traction. (I realize I’m mixing metaphors here, but hang with me a moment more.)

How does one broach this rushing tide? I turn to the lessons of my dogs. The best of them, those most seemingly, most excitedly alive, existed nose to the ground, curiosity aroused, a trot along the line, working the margins of the harvest. A dog lives a life without shadow; it is a being fully aware, running in the brilliant high-noon sun. Humans cast a shadow and we call it consciousness. Like biography it cannot be escaped. It is the ransom that cannot be paid.

The gist: It seems that the less I am aware of things, the faster the flow. Contrariwise, my dogs appear aware of most everything and completely and totally ignorant of  the bending basketball-gravity of existence.

Here are the things I’m not talking about: transcendence, enlightenment, spiritualism, mysticism, metaphysics, immortality, and all the other limp and ill-fitting clothes we’ve donned over the ages. And what I am talking about? I’ll let you know as soon as Lucy wakes from her nap. We’ll discuss it on our walk.

  1. Do u refer to Stoicism? Marcus Aurelius, Meditations: Look at the immensity of time behind thee, and to the time which is before thee, another boundless space. In this infinity then what is the difference between him who lives three days and him who lives three generations? Hippocarates cured many diseases and then died of disease himself. Alexander, Pompey, Julius Caesar annihilated whole cites and yet the moment came for them too to depart this life. Small is the moment in which each man lives small too the corner of Earth he inhabits; even the greatest posthumous fame is small, and it too lives upon a succession of short-lived men who will die very soon, who do not even know themselves, let alone one who died long ago.

    • Good call with the quote, Kevin. Thank you for that–enlightening, indeed. And your inkling is correct: If there was a philosophy to which I’d associate it would likely be the Stoics, though more likely an influence of Montaigne than Marcus Aurelius (but of course the history-laced journey of an idea spreads across a wide and far horizon). And if not stoicism than good ‘ol American pragmatism, compliments of William James and CS Pierce. Truth is, I was referring to anyone/thing, just thinking out loud. Obviously, again, biography cannot be escaped. Thanks for reading–and the note. Regards, D

      • Yes, understood, interesting to re-read your post from 8/3/2010, From a letter to a friend. Thank-you for getting these wheels turning on a cold Saturday morning.

      • Wow. Another good call, Kevin (aka A Hemingway Fan). That post, From a letter to a friend, certainly anticipated today’s post and shows me that in the course of over two years the little ground I’ve covered. If nothing else, I prove Zeno’s paradox–again! Thanks for getting these wheels turning too, my friend. D

  2. […] brought to my attention by a close reader of …the house…. After yesterday’s post, Gravity Probe B, the wisdom of dogs, and other notions, this reader–paying extraordinary attention!–suggested I go back and read this piece, […]

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