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August 2, 2000.
The Ship's Compass: Part II
Real Audio

There is another motion of this compass which reflects another splice between humanity and nature. The pitch and roll of the ship beneath me is absolutely fluid (totally "analog" as the modern parlance has it)-it is not stepped, nor intermittent, not digital. However, the motion of the gimbal which holds the compass is stick-slip. The gimbal mechanism interprets the roll of the ship in small steps; by tilting and holding, then tilting and holding again-a kind of analog-to-digital converter. But inside the compass, the motion of the compass card goes back to smooth again, i.e. it has returned to a continuous analog gyrations. The fluid suspending the card smooths out the digitized version of the ship's motion that the stuttering gimbals report to it, and renders the motion into analog again. The fluid motions of the sea and of the compass although interconnected by the stammering gimbal always remain true to their analog nature.

Are not we with our theories and hypotheses but a stick/slip interruption between the smooth and analog truths of this world? Although awkward, we have a positive side, of course, and sometimes harness things that are apparently unrelated and put them in service of each other-like tying the steadfastness of the fluttering compass card to the wildly careening motion of the apparently solid ship, and, after straightening out the paradox, making it useful by putting it in service to a most practical cause-finding one's way across the sea.

And is not the fluttering compass card which points so steadfastly a model for the deep underlying truths of the natural world which (if only we would place our trust in them) would re-stabilize and smooth out our stick/slip lives?

...Dawn just came up and surprised be. I sit here on watch in the wheel house, looking for the tiny lights of distant ships, or watching for the smallest blip on the radar. And writing in between looking up every five minutes to check the instruments. But meanwhile, the sun has slipped up from beneath the horizon-silently and without fanfare-and is lighting the entire ocean world encompassing our ship.

2000 - Roger Payne

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