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understanding
28 entries
First: Jan 3, 2021
1 contributor
Draft 1

***

On 20 July 1969, 652 million people - or about 1/5th of everyone on earth at the time - watched the first humans land on the moon.

Eight years later, in 1997, 2 billion people around the world watched Princess Diana's funeral.
And in 2012, 3.6 billion people watched the Olympic Games in London.

Technology, for better or worse, has dramatically increased the ability for collective human experience.

It's made it so that the population of the world can all witness, or mourn, or marvel at the same thing at the same time.

But there's one thing that we don't have figures for that I bet smashes all these records. And instead of being a once in a lifetime event, it's something that happens, without fail, at the end of every day.
There are so few things that are really universally enjoyed. But no matter where you go in the world, when the day ends, and what's left of the sun's light explodes across the sky, you'll find people (who otherwise have nothing in common) gathered together to marvel at the setting sun.

The magnetism of a sunset is one of those unexplainable quirks of the human experience. It's so impossible to not like sunsets that admitting that you do borders on the same level of non-statement as saying that you like to travel. But exponentially more so.

I've often wondered why we watch sunsets. If there is some sort of evolutionary reason. Like maybe it makes sense that we would take the time to collectively make note of the end of the day. Because darkness has always historically meant danger. And that to watch the sun dip below the horizon is to know you're safe for the last time until tomorrow.

At more sentimental times, I've thought that maybe it's a celebration. A kind of gratitude at having made it through the end of another day on earth.

Or maybe, most likely, it's because we know that, when we see a sun set, we're witnessing something special. Something magical. That, like all of the most beautiful and magical parts of being a human, we don't entirely understand.

But despite all that, a sunset isn't a reliable and repeatable miracle. It's entirely understandable and explainable result of the structure of our solar system.

So what are we seeing when we're looking at a sunset?

Let's begin at the beginning.

On 20 July 1969, 652 million people - or about 1/5th of the world's population at the time - watched the Apollo 11 Moon landing.

In 1997, 2 billion people watched Princess Diana's funeral.

And in 2012, 3.6 billion people watched the Olympic Games in London.

Technology, for better or worse, has dramatically increased the ability for collective human experience. It's made it so that the population of the world can all, at one time, witness, or mourn, or marvel at the same thing at the same time.

But there's one thing that we don't have figures for that I bet smashes all these records. And instead of being a once in a lifetime event, it's something that happens, without fail, at the end of every day.

[who are you,little i

(five or six years old)
peering from some high

window;at the gold

of november sunset

(and feeling: that if day
has to become night

this is a beautiful way)]

The human experience is so unique that there are so few things that are universally enjoyed. But no matter where you go in the world, when the day ends, and what's left of the sun's light explodes across the sky, you'll find people who've stopped what they're doing to gather together and marvel at the setting sun.

The magnetism of a sunset is one of those unexplainable quirks of the human experience.

But regardless of why we do it, when we watch a sunset, we know that we're seeing /something/ special.

But what exactly is it that we're /seeing/?

I think vibes are super important. I want this to be a beautiful thing to listen to. So maybe I'll take some time to set vibes first. When I think about watching a sunset I'm usually thinking about being on a beach. Or watching it from the viewpoint here in Graça. But the quintessential image, the most universal one, is being on a beach watching the image of the sun stretch towards us through the waves.

INTRO:
- The universal beauty of sunsets

(maybe comparing it to other things that get a lot of universal viewers. the superbowl. the soccer world cup final. things that so many people are all watching at the same time. but there's something that I'd bet beats all those things. and it happens every day.)

[e.e. cummings poem]

- That there are so few things that everyone enjoys, but that nobody can resist the beauty of a sunset

(I don't know what it is. But it's magnetic. No matter where you go, when the sun does its final salute, people gather to watch it. Maybe it's something evolutionary. That we're acknowledging the coming night. That we're savouring the last light of the day. That we're watching one miracle to give thanks for another - that we've survived through another day.)

- That it's easier to think of a as a poetic, rather than a scientific thing

(I think it's natural to think of the sunset as a kind of metaphor. As a poetic thing rather than a scientific one. Regardless of why we do it, when we watch a sunset we know that we're seeing something special.

But what is it exactly that we're /seeing/?)

- Contemplating a sunset. That often, when we're looking at a sunset, we're thinking about everything except for what we're seeing.
- So what are we seeing?

/

- Like most beautiful things. It's complicated.
[Sagan Quote: If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.]
- So let's begin at the beginning.

[START W/ BIG BANG]

I suffer from the same thing that a lot of creative people I know do - the need for preamble. The need to explain a thing before showing it. To try explain why we made a thing. What's important about it. Before we actually do the thing.

It's an opportunity we take because it's so infrequently offered to us. We almost never get to explain ourselves. And when given the platform, we do it. Which I think is a mistake.

I'm writing this preamble so that I don't write one in the actual piece. I'm working out a way into the story. But in reality, a sunset is a universal enough thing that I don't need to explain why I was wondering about them.

At the beginning of this journal I explain why I'm doing what I'm doing - I was flying over some mountains in South Africa and, trying to go through everything I knew about them in my head, I realized that my understanding of /most/ things is super flimsy.

I think there's a huge gap between the audience for understanding and the audience that's interested in a thing like sunsets. The audience for sunsets is every human alive. And the audience for explainers about them is people who are willing to spend a couple days watching science content on youtube and reading wikipedia.

I'm going to output these pieces as audio essays. Because that's the way that my mind thinks of explaining things. Sound is the way I "draw" pictures in my mind. I could explain any concept better using sound than I can using words or video or any other medium.

So anyway. That's the preamble. Now into the real thing. Or at least, into a draft that's getting closer to the real thing.

Is there a way to predict how beautiful a sunset will be?

The more stuff there is for the light to shine on, the better and more dramatic a sunset is going to look. A clear day with clouds is going to have a better sunset than a clear day without clouds.

Clouds give the light something to bounce off and get caught in. The more particles (water) in the atmosphere, the more of the light is going to be visible to us.

At noon, in the middle of the day, the sun is directly above the earth. And so the light that's shining down is travelling down directly through the atmosphere. In order to reach the earth, it just has to travel /directly/ through 60 miles of atmosphere.

But as the earth rotates, and the angle of the sun becomes more oblique, the light has to travel /sideways/ through the atmosphere in order to get to us on earth.

And so, as the angle changes, so does the /amount/ of atmosphere that the light has to travel through. More travelling through the atmosphere means more opportunity for the light to bump into and bounce off of more particles, and because of that /more/ of those weak blue waves are bounced off into the atmosphere.

So the sky becomes /more/ blue, and the light reaching earth becomes /less/ blue. That's why we get golden hour. By the time the sun is setting, all the blue wavelengths have been taken out of the white light, leaving only the waves that are pink, red, and yellow.

The sunlight is still white, but now only the /red/ parts of that light actually make it to earth. Because those waves are the only ones with enough energy to make it through the the atmosphere and to our eyes.

It's not that these waves aren't bouncing around in the sky during the day, it's just that they're so dramatically outnumbered by blue waves that we can only seem them once all the blue waves are gone.

What we're seeing, each sunset, is the last fingers of the sun's light spreading through the atmosphere, before the angle of the earth eclipses the sun entirely and none of it reaches our eyes anymore.

I'm so sorry…
first draft con't:

Light leaving the sun contains /all/ the colours that we can see. And it contains them in equal intensity. So if you were to look at sunlight directly (please don't do this) it'd be white.

And it would stay white too, if it weren't for the earth's atmosphere.

Just like gravity keeps us from floating off the earth, gravity keeps gasses from floating off into space. And these gasses - things like oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen - make a blanket over the earth that we call the atmosphere. The atmosphere is mostly gas. But it also has little bits of things from earth, tiny, microscopic particles of rocks, sand, dust, water and other space junk.

If we could see these gases and space junk, the atmosphere would look like a big cloud that stretches over the entire earth. But we can't. Because they're too small.

But you know what else is really small?

Light waves.

In fact, some of these light waves - the low frequency ones like purple and blue - are so skinny that they're smaller than the size of the particles floating around in the atmosphere.

So when the white light from the sun makes its way into the earth's atmosphere, a lot of these skinny waves of light can't actually make it past the atmosphere. They're blocked by and bounce off these tiny particles, and scatter back out into the atmosphere before actually hitting the surface of the earth.

The skinniest waves of light - the blue and purple ones - are the least likely to make it all the way to earth. And so they mostly bounce around in the atmosphere without ever reaching earth.

If you look up, you can actually see these light waves stuck up there in the atmosphere. They're why the sky looks blue.

But, of course, the sky isn't /always/ blue…

fuck first drafts are so embarrassing but here's where I'm at so far.

Okay so I think /basically/ what we're talking about with a sunset is this.

The big bang set the universe in motion. Not metaphorically, but quite literally. Every single thing in the universe - every atom and quark and particle - is moving.

How much a thing moves is called energy. And on earth almost /all/ our energy comes from the sun.

Energy /radiates/ out from the sun in waves that we call /light/.

Although /light/ does include everything that we can see with our eyes. It also includes other kinds of waves that we can't. Microwaves - the kind that heats our food and radio waves - the kind that let us listen to music - are all /kinds/ of light. We just can't see them.

You know how there are some animals that can hear things that are either too high or too low for human ears to hear? Well the exact same thing is true when it comes to light.

Humans only see a tiny sliver of all the light that the sun gives off. And we call the light that we /can/ see the 'visible spectrum'. Or in other words, the /range/ of light that is visible with the human eye.

Just like sound, whether or not we can see light depends on its /frequency/. Because light is a wave, the frequency just means how tall and powerful a wave is. How much energy it has.

Remember, frequency is a measurement of energy.

So if you were on a beach looking at waves, which would be high frequency? A strong, tall, fast wave? Or a small, slow, calm one?

Imagine if we decided that we wanted to put all the waves in a beach into categories based on their size and speed, and we named those categories after colours. So big, fast waves would be red, and small, slow waves would be blue.

This is exactly how it works for us. Our eyes interpret each different size of wave as a different colour. The frequency is like a little code between the sun and our eyes to help our brain understand what colour something is.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=669QUJrF4u0&ab_channel=ArvinAsh

The more you learn the more you realize why people used to believe crazy shit about the origins of the world.

Even the things that we know sound a little bit mysterious and made up.

The four fundamental forces that are responsible for everything that happens in the universe are gravity, electromagnetism (sounds legit so far) and then STRONG FORCE and WEAK FORCE.

Come on.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O0PawPSdk28&ab_channel=TED-Ed

Damn this was the most informative video ever. I'm not sure if it just smashed it out of the park or if I feel that way because it filled in all the knowledge gaps I had left.

"The energy of light tells us how it'll interact with matter"
"Our eyes are only sensitive to a very narrow band of energy"

LOL THE UNIVERSE IS LITERALLY /VIBES/
and we can't see any of it!

"Rods measure brightness so we know how much light there is. And Cones measure colour".

Cones are just basically specialized tools that detect certain wavelengths. Because we have 3 kinds (R,G,B) the sum of those measurements can create all the colours that we can see.

God here I am again saying that it helps to understand the semantics of the thing…but honestly it's true. Ideas become much more easy to understand when we understand what the words we're using mean.

a brief dictionary:

[light] is any electromagentic energy. which includes, but is not limited to, /visible light/. xrays, microwaves, radio waves, are all light. it's just that humans can only see a very limited sliver of all light that exists.

[frequency] of a wave is an expression of how much energy there is in a wave. Really, this kind of frequency is the same as the other kind of frequency which means "how often". The /higher/ the frequency, the /more/ waves fit into the same space or amount of time.

// I know this probably doesn't make sense to other people yet, but it makes sense to me and helps me outline the things that are important to explain

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jjy-eqWM38g&ab_channel=CrashCourse

CrashCourse is one of my favourite projects in the universe.

Simple stuff I'm learning here:
- light is energy
- when you heat up matter it gains energy and wants to get rid of it
- since light is energy, emitting light is a way to get rid of energy
- the kind of light an object emits depends on its temp.
- if you look at the light spectrum it makes sense that the short waves (more energy) are the ones we associate with heat and vice versa

by this metric lightbulbs make sense to me now. it's energy.
accidentally learned some really cool shit about taking photos of stars and how we know what distant planets are made of

This I understand the most. Hate that "simple" explanations often omit the most important part. Obviously the thing that I want to know is /what/ properties impact which wavelengths are reflected? Like how do we get paint that looks like different colours to us?

Going to look into reflection and absorption of light today. Tried to sum it up quickly in a sentence here and failed so this'll be fun.

our eyes have evolved receptors that are sensitive to light. which means that we have cells in our bodies that are reactive (or able to absorb) certain kinds of energy. those cells are like a meter that can read these energy waves. so they're a tiny little meter like maybe a tuner for a guitar that causes the cells to vibrate at a certain frequency. it tells you how much energy is in something (a wave).

so it's like a meter that measures an amount of energy and turns that measurement into an electrical signal. it actually changes the amount of electricity in the cell.

photons carry light. and the receptors in our retinas convert photon energy into an electrical signal that our brains can read as colour?

I wonder how the brain understands the light.

the main source of light (or of visible energy) on earth is the sun.

interesting wiki outtake:
In physics, the term light sometimes refers to electromagnetic radiation of any wavelength, whether visible or not.[5][6] In this sense, gamma rays, X-rays, microwaves and radio waves are also light.

shit got deep really quickly. started looking into light and discovered electromagnetic radiation.

basically everything in the universe is moving. it has energy. we think of radiation (at least I do) in a pretty narrow sense. like xrays, cellphone towers. generally bad stuff. but radiation really just means something that radiates. something that spreads out from a certain point.

electromagnetic radiation is all energy in the universe. so you pretty quickly have to go back to the big bang making a whole lot of sense. because something started all this movement. the point that universe radiates from is the big bang.

anyway electromagnetic radiation is /all/ energy. and it radiates out in waves. waves like the ocean towards the shore. waves like sound. energy is exerted and pushes the waves through space. it's the tide of everything…

we're actually vaguely familiar with most kinds of waves on the electromagnetic spectrum (a spectrum that basically measures the length of waves)

the waves go from gamma and xrays (the shortest) to light waves (medium) to things like microwaves and radio waves. the longest radio waves are 100000 km.

everything in the universe is in constant motion. the capacity for motion - how much something can move, or how much movement it can create - is called energy.

so light is a kind energy. it radiates out from a certain point. and travels in waves.

we know that we can't see all kinds of energy (we can't see radiowaves) but /can/ see other kinds. the kind of electromagnetic energy we can see is called light.

to me, that makes infrared light make sense. it's not that it's colours that we can't see. it's that we can't see /most/ energy. light is unique in that we can. and only because our eyes have evolved to. it's a thing that exists in the universe. but also that exists in our eyes. and within the limits of our perception.

sunsets

okay so I'm going to start with sunsets. It's related to the goal for 2021 to be more aware of the sun and moon. I thought one way to do that might be to watch the sun rise and set every day for a while, or at least as much as I can. I really love sunsets. But I don't understand what they are.

When you wikipedia sunsets they make even less sense.

The tl;dr seems to be something along the lines of:
- sunlight is actually white
- light is waves?
- some of those waves get lost between the sun and our eyes
- at sunset the angle of the sun means that there's more atmosphere to go through (?) for the light to reach our eyes so more waves get lost (?) until there's only short waves left
- the short waves are red and yellow and stuff so that's what we see

The most confusing thing for me to wrap my head around is probably the difference between sunrise and sunset in terms of colours.

From wikipedia:
"Sunset colors are typically more brilliant than sunrise colors, because the evening air contains more particles than morning air."

This seems so made up to me that once I can understand that I think I'll be able to understand the whole thing.

Going to start with understanding light waves. and I guess maybe atmosphere?

I see a lot of people doing intros to journals, which is an idea I'd never really thought about before but want to try out.

The other day, on a flight from Plett to Cape Town, I flew over some mountains and found myself thinking about /what mountains are/. I started to run through everything I knew about them, trying to explain to myself what I was seeing on the ground.

The crust(?) of the earth is broken up into these pieces called plates. And when those two plates meet they push up against each other so hard, and for so long, that they crumple up into a mountain. Like pushing two pieces of paper together on a table.

But why? Uhh… because the earth's crust floats on… lava?

The lava thought was paired with another thought that I felt more confident about - that I have a three year old's understanding of what mountains are. I don't even know whether it's true or not that the crust of the earth floats around on lava.

It made me realize that there is so much that I think I know but don't really understand at all.

This, for me, isn't a new thing. In a way it's the oldest thing that I have. But the desire to understand. To really, really understand /anything/ and then /everything/ is new for me.

My goals for 2021 are to be more earnest, be more honest, and be more aware of the sun and the moon. I don't know what those goals look like in practice. But the last one made me realize that I've probably got a lot of learning to do.

This journal is going to be a place where I explain things exclusively to myself until I really know them at a deep level. That's the whole thing. I'm only doing it as a FL journal because FL is my favourite and least high stakes place to write (somehow even lower stakes than just writing on a piece of paper).

Okay so let's learn.

00:00
marco
marco understanding