Sea-King Optical Answers
Illusions, Disillusions and Delusions
The following was an actual problem. - Can you solve it? If you think you have a simple and inexpensive answer, submit it below in the comment box at the end of this blog post. Hint: the rest of this blog may carry clues to the solution.
The landlord of a brand new 20-story up-scale apartment building in New York City started receiving complaints from his new tenants in the very first few weeks of occupancy. The problem appeared to be the building's elevator which seemed a lumbering and snail-paced conveyance. The residents were becoming increasingly impatient and frustrated waiting for it. In their minds, it was simply too slow, too small and too crowded for the occupants.
Let's say, you are the landlord, what did you change to appease your residents? It was a simple, yet creative solution that satisfied all concerned. My guess is most responders will be mislead by the situation.
The sea poses questions almost as frequently as it answers them. The problem often seems, to me, that many. including myself, don't always see the questions...and fewer still come up with practical answers. When humans don't see clearly, they often make mistakes in judgement. Inaccurate judgments based on blurred vision and / or distorted thinking usually lead to PROBLEMs. When people view their problems outside themselves, they often misread them.
Let's take the sea, for example and pose some questions with it in mind...
Does the sea obscure our view?
Are our sea sightings truly seen?
Is our view askew?
Can we adjust our seeing?
Can we trust our vision?
Is seeing believing?
Does believing see?
Does believing deceive?
Our view of our life is usually based on how we experience it. For some of us, life is wonderful, exciting, maybe safe, secure and comfortable. In the 17th century Thomas Hobbes became famous for describing life as "brutish, nasty and short". And there are, undoubtedly those who view life as a series of monotonous, ho-hum doldrums. For some, it is hopeful, fulfilling and even miraculous. For those less upbeat, it may be depressing, fearful even scary. In other words, human perspective either lightens, brightens, enlightens or darkens our days.
Mirrors (especially rearview ones) and cameras distort our actual view. So too can the sea.
While our differences explain so many of our diverse and divergent views and actions, some burning questions still remain: Why do humans misconceive, misinterpret, misjudge, miscalculate and mistaken so much at sea? Could there be other reasons at play besides human error? Could it be that nature leads mankind astray? Could it be that humans have to clarify their perceptions before they see clearly?
No matter what one's perspective, life, for the most part, is how we see it or how we don't. Glasses as half full or half empty. Days as partly sunny or partly cloudy. In short, life is often how we see it through our personal prism - our point of view.
Figments of our Imagination:
Sometimes when our eyes deceive us, we don't realize what we see isn't real. It could be our imagination getting in the way. While our perception could be partially true, it might not be enough to be certain. And then sometimes the imaginary seems real.
This post explores some of the sea's most unusual distorters, distractors and delusions...at least in our eyes. Maybe examining them may help us see better how our world affects or obstructs our views.
Since our perceptions are frequently tested by global phenomenon, we humanoids develop creature habits to adapt to our environment. Sailors, for example, often become familiar with the sea sensations of floatation, wave action, drift, wind velocity and direction, light, distance, boat speed, rate of current and refraction. I know they have become almost second nature to me.
An object seen in the water will usually appear to be at a different depth than it actually is, due to the refraction of light rays as they travel from the water into the air.
Refraction: objects appear 25% larger underwater; consequently they also appear closer.
Humans, like all creatures, have to adapt to survive. Sight is, for most of us, one of our primary survival and development senses. Most of us learn to feel, think, speak, question, behave, share, cooperate, love, cope, trust through our sense of sight. We even often learn virtues and vices as well as ideas, concepts, principles, laws, etc through what we see. BUT because we rely on what we see without understanding, we often don't see clearly, especially at sea. We occasionally see what we want to see. Examples:
We sometimes see with or without feeling. For instance, for some people a dark cloud might carry an association of an impending storm with a fear of winds and rain. For others it is nothing to worry about. A past traumatic experience could trigger an exaggerated present response. An association! We sometimes prejudge without all the information. Humans might not feel or trust any danger or access our instincts or intuition when they could prove helpful. Sometimes a feeling, an emotion or a gut response can suggest something significant. Sometimes we use our other senses and they either override or confuse our experience like loud thunder or the crack of lightning. Low visibility or poor eyesight, hearing, smelling even could affect incoming data. These and more all can by themselves and in combination cause distorted views.
Mirages / Fata Morgana:
When I hear the word mirage, I envision a poor thirsty, tongue-wagging soul crawling across a dry, sandy desert, beginning to hallucinate and envision palm trees, a cooling watering hole filled with bathing, bikinied babes mysteriously appearing in the distance. Pure fantasy. Pure heat stroke induced illusions. But mirages occur at sea as well.
We know boats float; but this craft either looks like it's defying gravity or flying high!
A Fata Morgana is an unusual and complex form of superior mirage that is seen in a narrow band right above the horizon. It is an Italian phrase derived from the vulgar Latin for "fairy" and the Arthurian sorceress Morgan le Fay, from a belief that these mirages, often seen in the Strait of Messina, were fairy castles in the air or false land created by her witchcraft to lure sailors to their death. Although the term Fata Morgana is sometimes applied to other, more common kinds of mirages, the true Fata Morgana is not the same as an ordinary superior mirage, nor is it the same as an inferior mirage.
Heat helps this ship appear above the sea.
An unusual optical phenomenon may explain why the Titanic struck an iceberg and received no assistance from a nearby ship, according to new research by British historian Tim Maltin. Atmospheric conditions in the area that night were ripe for super refraction, Maltin found. This extraordinary bending of light causes miraging, which, he discovered, was recorded by several ships in the area. He says it also prevented the Titanic’s lookouts from seeing the iceberg in time and the freighter Californian from identifying the ocean liner and communicating with it. A 1992 British government investigation suggested that super refraction may have played a role in the disaster, but that possibility went unexplored until Maltin mined weather records, survivors’ testimony and long-forgotten ships’ logs. His findings—presented in his new book,
The moon looks distorted when it gets near the horizon because the light bends near the horizon. The more atmosphere light has to pass through the closer to the horizon it appears and the more dramatic this bending or refracting of light becomes.
How a green flash appears...
The Mystery of the Ghost Ship Flying Dutchman:
The legend of the Flying Dutchman dates back to the 17th century. The tale is about a ghost ship that sails the deep ocean, full of lost souls who can never make port. According to the story, the Flying Dutchman sank in a terrible storm, and since that day it has drifted aimlessly (because apparently when ships are killed they also become ghosts).
Supposedly, if you sight the Flying Dutchman, it signals a terrible storm is approaching to make ghosts of you and your ship, too.
As implied by the name, the Flying Dutchman actually flies. That's how it appears as a ghost ship and not just some regular ship you've mistaken for one -- it's the one that's hovering above the water. No non-ghost boat can do that. See for yourself...
Phew! At first glance I thought what I just saw was real; it's just a regular rotting ship haunted by the anguished souls of the dead."
The Solution: Sailors who report seeing the Flying Dutchman have kept this legend alive for centuries because, come on, it's a flying boat that predicts storms. How many of them can possibly be out there? Turns out this all makes perfect sense. No, seriously. They're just falling victim to an optical illusion called fata morgana.
It's a form of mirage that plays with light and moisture in a way that can and often will cause faraway ships to appear as all sorts of terrifying apparitions that float well above sea level. The Flying Dutchman is heavily associated with the areas that have conditions ideal for fata morgana mirages, such as the North Sea (the phenomenon is most likely to occur in colder water temperatures).
A 19th-century book illustration, showing enlarged superior mirages. Actual mirages can never be so far above the horizon, and a superior mirage can never increase the length of an object as shown on the right. Apparently, 17th century sailors aren't the most reliable way to assess nautical phenomena objectively.
But what about the storms? How many optical illusions do you know that can control the weather? Actually, it's the other way around. Guess what kind of atmospheric conditions are perfect for creating the fata morgana mirage? If you guessed "those right before a storm hits," you win.
A morning glory cloud is a roll cloud that can be up to 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) long, 1 to 2 kilometres (0.62 to 1.2 mi) high, often only 100 to 200 metres (330 to 660 ft) above the ground and can move at speeds up to 60 kilometres (37 mi) per hour. Sometimes there is only one cloud, sometimes there are up to eight consecutive roll clouds.
Sometimes we don't believe what we see coming. We don't always trust our eyes. We don't always translate what we see to what we need to do. Sometimes we see something upside down or backwards, but we don't know why. Frequently, we trust our eyes too often without using our heads. For instance, many witnessed the approaching 2004 Indian Ocean tsunamis, but didn't realize and react soon enough to the waves' size and speed until it was too late. It wasn't in their reality to believe it could be happening. On the other hand, most land creatures animals and birds did realize what was happening because they could sense earthly vibrations
During our learnings (our life), we discover ourselves through our relationships with our family, friends, homes, experiences and environment. (Sailors frequently learn through their boats.) We all learn from our natures and our nurturings. And the more we observe and understand about our outer environment (weather, temperature, wind, water, tides, currents, gravity, clouds, sun, moon, stars, sun, moon, stars, storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, seasons), the more we discover how they affect our inner beings, our bodies and our boats. As our confidence (not our arrogance) builds, we construct and steer our knowing. But unfortunately, we often think we know all the answers. And then we make mistakes based on our misperceptions and egotism.
Anyone who has lived any significant amount of time knows nature possesses many powerful facets, features, factors and forces. Many we believe we understand. Though here we are in the 21st century and humanity is just beginning to discover and understand these phenomenons. While our world provides us with challenges to understand it, it is not a scapegoat for our distortions. The earth and sea may seem culpable in some absurd way, but they aren't to blame. It is human perspective, understanding and belief that are responsible. As long as the world is our habitat, the more we need to see, believe, know and understand how it functions. If nature rules, mankind's survival depends upon it realizing what is real or imaginary. What is a figment of imagination or a natural occurrence.
And finally, the longer we humans survive, hopefully we will become more enlightened to our sea world and its land surroundings. After all, it is the sea that helps us realize our own limitations while forcing us to see better. As we sailors seek calmer passages, safer havens, sandier shores, most beautiful beaches, prettier paradises, we are also seeking answers to questions we haven't even asked. In many ways we seek to discover more meaning from our journey. In many ways we discover ourselves as we are reminded the sea is king when we sail her. For the sailing spirit, the sea is our kingdom. The sea is our master teacher. We, life sailors, are only onboard as crew, learning life lessons on this spaceship called Earth.