Chapter 8. The Set Jet

If South Dakota’s Badlands is a scene from a devil’s nightmare, Yellowstone’s geyser area must be the kitchen that cooked up whatever gave rise to that weird dream. This enormous steam table has potholes in every direction, seething and boiling over. Occasionally some pressure cooker blows off. A spurt of scalding hot water ejects, hangs in the air and collapses. Here are huge porridge pots that splutter and bubble with erratic eruptions of mud. Over there is a cauldron that no one can clean, deeply encrusted with mineral salts that have been churned up and baked on over centuries. Misshapen mineral ghosts watch over some of the hot-holes—frosty, white cooks in the sweltering steam. I put eggs in some netting on the end of a tent-pole and boiled them in the steaming water of an azure blue pool. Deviled eggs!

We consulted the schedule posted in the park to learn when “Old Faithful” would next erupt. Some ominous belches and gulps out on the geyser field confirmed the schedule. The tourists rushed over with cameras to immortalize this event. But when the famous old fountain climbed for the sky, some of those cameras were not even lifted. Their owners were as transfixed by the mounting eruption as if they had been witnessing the Indian rope trick. Meanwhile many others in the crowd were so busy focusing, setting shutter speeds and advancing the film that they saw very little of the spectacular event. Their sighs of disappointment were mingled with other people’s exclamations of awe and wonderment when the great jet of water subsided once more into its hole. Both of these groups hung around for the next emission. I blew it both times, so we stayed for a third!

Even so, I knew that someday I would be apologizing for my pictures. With projected slides, the suddenness of the spectacle just isn’t there—the shock of surprise and the sheer wonder of it all. The rush and roar of the geyser are missing. My picture shows only a stationary column of crystal silhouetted against a blue and white sky. But a set jet just isn’t Old Faithful! It’s only a memorandum, something to remind me of an uncaptured, swift-streaming spirit.

Still pictures catch only a static slice of the action. They immobilize movement, dead-stopping the stream of changing events to record only a rigid tableau. Nevermore will those clouds in my picture roll across the sky. That bird in the air will never land. Old Faithful’s descending hot water will be forever frozen, suspended on high, never to plosh below on the lime-covered ground. All will remain fixed there, in the place everything was when the film genie laid on its spell.

For those people who travel to gain memorable experiences, memories plus still photographs are much better than memories alone. Sometimes a still photograph is a handy way to stop all of the activities in a complex situation. Then an accurate inventory can be made of what things were present in what relationships. No one picture, however, can tell very much about what was really going on in a certain scene. When the shutter clicked, was that car moving forward or was it backing up? Maybe it was standing still. One frozen shot of a ball on a billiard table won’t tell whether it was stationary or moving, or in which direction it may have been moving.

It’s hard to find a place outdoors to take a picture where something isn’t moving. A snap of anywhere under the sun won’t be quite like a shot from the same place in the same direction an hour afterwards. As the sun moves steadily onwards over the scene, the shadows are always changing—a perpetual frustration for the too-slow and meticulous landscape painter.

When you come right down to it, nothing in this world ever really stands still. Even if every place on the earth weren’t spinning eastward under the stars, the whole earth itself is traveling around the sun. The seasons, they are always a-changing.

Here the six of us were, on a journey away from a home we had left behind us, moving toward a home most of us had not yet seen. In mid-journey, where was our home? In our car? Wherever we drove in tent-pegs for the night? Actually, our old home in Ontario was no longer in the same place we had left it. That house, along with the town and the whole earth, had moved on in the meantime. Even our old home didn’t have a permanent home, any more than we did! Nothing, no one, has a permanent place.

We weren’t the only ones on a journey. By day hundreds of other people in cars, trucks and buses passed us on their way to somewhere. By night in our tent we could often hear vehicles roaring past out there on the highway. How many hundreds of thousands had driven these roads before we came along? How many more would come this way?

That robin which flew across in front of our car had traveled far to the south and back again. Will she tell her nestlings what it’s like to be buffeted by gusting winds, to be chased by a hawk, to lose some tailfeathers by the all-too-close pounce of a lurking cat? She might, but she certainly couldn’t tell her young ones that inside her body, as outside there in the world, everything is on the go. Heart and lungs pumping away, blood and juices circulating, electrochemical impulses traveling her nerves. Within each cell of her every tissue and organ there is, all unknown to her, a maelstrom of activity. Miniscule strands of transparent living stuff are snaking and gliding among globules carried about in streaming currents of protoplasm. In some cells chromosomes are performing a stately dance like puppets on strings. Each of a cell’s inner entities does its own jig to the rhythmical vibrations of its component molecules and atoms. Their electrons are literally in perpetual motion.

Somehow this whole robin-shaped swarm of circling electrons, vibrating atoms, weaving molecules, churning cells and pulsing organs can move together unerringly through the winds from perch to perch. Yet many people who have seen a bird fly from one place to another will state that they have never seen a miracle! I can’t think of a better word than “miracle” for the way in which all that bewildering inner turmoil comes to be coordinated into the swift and beautiful flight of a bird. For that matter, how do the fluid dynamics of my own body combine so that I can see that flight, name it and write about it?

Although plants are not as mobile as birds and animals, they too are always on the move. By time-lapse motion picture photography, plants are seen writhing and gyrating as they grope for sunlight and support. Within their stems, lifestreams are flowing uphill and down, exchanging precious lading all along the way. In slow-motion photography, clouds seem to boil as they roll across the sky. If there had been superslow, long-distance photography of the earth through the geological ages, one frame per thousand years, it would have recorded the rising of seabeds to form mountains and their wasting away by erosion. Projected at fast speed, the crust of the earth would be seen heaving like waves in a storm. (If the films lasted long enough!)

Six of us were on a journey. But so were the rocks, the gravel, the soil, the grass and the trees at the side of the road. The whole world is always in motion.

Motion sickness in logic

Lots of action may lend interest to a story, but action doesn’t mix well with logic. To have nice, clean-cut, distinct ideas, you have to be able to whip a neat slashline across the subject to separate a This sharply from a That. But where do you mark off the beginning or the end of a wave? Where is the edge of a whirlpool in a current? By the time you’ve got a tentative dividing line in place, the whole thing has moved elsewhere. Logic doesn’t work very well with things whose edges are always shifting. It performs best with things that stand still, i.e., that are actually moving, but very slowly or imperceptibly.

If things are forever changing, how can they be permanently sorted out into classes with stable populations? Eroding mountains are hills in the making. Eventually they even become flood plains. How can static names authentically correspond for long with things in the flowing, changeful, actual world? At what point does a frog’s egg become a frog? Is a tadpole an egg-like creature or a frog-like creature? All three forms belong together. What should we call all three considered together?

When a coin standing on edge is rotated, its shape appears to change from a circle to an oval, then to a straight line, before the order of the shapes reverses and the coin once more looks like a circular disk. Each of those several shape-transformations pertains to that single object. Which is the correct description of the disk: the circle, the various ovals or the straight line? Somehow all of them and yet none of them.

My grandfather had a favorite ax. For him, no other ax could take the place of his trusty friend. That ax had had a new head and three new handles, but to him it was the same old ax. How much change may an ax undergo before it should be called a different ax?

My baby pictures don’t look much like me at the moment. Do yours look like you? How we’ve changed! Yet you are still using your original birth certificate and so am I. Although our appearance may change drastically through the years, people will keep calling us by our same old familiar names.

Some of my boyhood acquaintances had certain obnoxious habits and ways. Are those guys still as annoying as ever? Some of them have become highly respected bank managers and government officials. Do they still keep their image of me in the same old pigeonhole, stereotyped and labeled forever? Or would I too now be something of a surprise to them? It’s hard to keep the meaning of names up-to-date since people and things are constantly changing.

Logic fits best with a view of the world which has excluded anything changeable or changing. It pays little or no attention to any particular existing robin. An individual bird is far too active for language to keep up with it. Philosophical biologists therefore cleverly invented a class or “species” called “the robin.” Biology henceforth usually speaks about this abstraction rather than any actual robin. Biology textbooks refer glibly to “the fox,” “the appendix,” or “the cell.” In the actual world, however, we meet only “this fox,” “that fox” or “those foxes.” The doctor operates on “my appendix” and deals with a particular aggregation of cells. “The fox” is a mere concept, a class defined by human minds. It exists only in human minds. “The fox” never ate a chicken, nor did it ever jump over a lazy dog. As a matter of fact, “the fox,” as an idea with a fixed meaning, never did anything whatsoever. “The fox” is somehow immortal and unchanging.

Timeless truths?

Geometry has a great collection of these changeless abstractions minted by the human mind: the point, the straight line, the square, the circle, the pentagon, solid figures, and so on. These have all been constructed according to axioms that are held to be “self-evidently true.” For two thousand years the theorems which follow logically from Euclid’s axioms and postulates were believed to have been proven with absolute certainty. They were eternally true and universally applicable. They seemed to give veritable insight into “the unchanging mind of the Creator” himself.

Euclid’s principles have always worked well enough for all practical purposes—as long as they are applied to smallish flat areas. If, however, his definitions are taken over into the geometry that is appropriate for the surface of a sphere, “truths” develop which contradict some of the common theorems in his elementary geometry.

For instance, apply to the surface of the globe the Euclidean statement that “a straight line is the shortest distance between two given points.” A “straight line” on the surface then turns out to be a segment of what is known as a “great circle”—the line where a plane that passes through the center of a sphere and any two given points on its surface intersects the surface. A segment of a “great circle” is by no means the shortest distance between two points on the earth’s surface! The shortest line would go underground.

If two of Euclid’s straight lines intersect, they can do so but once. But if any two of these “straight” lines in spherical geometry are extended, they will meet, not just once, but twice, just as all the north-south meridians meet at both the North and the South Poles.

By definition, Euclidean “parallel straight lines” never meet. It is obvious that no “parallel straight lines” whatsoever can be drawn upon a spherical surface. So-called parallels of latitude may be considered somehow parallel in that they never meet. They are not Euclidean “straight lines,” however, since they do not mark out the shortest distances between points that lie on them.

Euclid had shown that the sum of the three interior angles of any triangle must be exactly 180 degrees. But take the “triangle” which has a vertex at one of the earth’s poles and a base along any parallel of latitude, the other two sides being any two north-south meridians which meet, of course, in some angle at the pole. The sum of the two angles at the base of such a triangle is 180 degrees, since the meridians are all perpendicular to the parallels. Add on the angle which the meridians make when they intersect at the pole, and it is obvious that the sum of the interior angles of this “triangle” on a spherical surface is much more than 180 degrees. A Euclidean scandal, to be sure!

This triangle between the pole, two meridians and a parallel is doubly a right-angled triangle. Which meridian side is the hypotenuse? Will the square on that side equal the sum of the squares on the other two sides, as Euclid proved? Clearly not, since the two meridian sides are of equal length, and the square on the base has to be added to the square on either one of them. The famous Pythagorean theorem is not true in spherical geometry.

The non-Euclidean geometries of Bolyai, Lobatchewsky and Riemann, developed early in the nineteenth century, are self-consistent and are quite as logical as Euclid’s. Being geometries of a differently conceived space, however, they contain theorems which contradict those of Euclid. Einstein brought all this to public attention when he was developing his theory that space-time is actually curved. When it became known that Euclid had developed only one of the possible geometries that could be set forth if other sets of axioms and postulates were adopted, the notion that mathematics consisted of a finite set of absolute, eternal and universal truths vanished abruptly.

The actual world doesn’t always pay strict attention to mathematical statements. So long as you continue to operate in the mentacosmic realm of imagination, mathematical truths will follow reliably from “the rules of the game.” But if they are applied to specific actual things that interact in special ways with each other or their environment, the simplest mathematical statements may become unacceptable.

It seems self-evident that one thing plus one thing will always make two things. But one quart of alcohol mixed with one quart of water has never made two full quarts of solution. One quart of water plus one quart of water will make more than two quarts of ice, if they are stored in a freezer. One hungry boy and one juicy ripe apple might end up as one slightly larger boy. Given time, one male horse plus one female horse might result in a total of three or more horses.

I can tell the difference between a positive (+1) apple and a positive (+1) peach, but I always have difficulty distinguishing a negative (-1) apple from a negative (-1) peach.

At the beginning of the natural number scale stands the zero. People usually start measuring from zero. But where in the world is zero? I have never found a zero anywhere in the actual world (or any other number, for that matter). The Roman calculators had to get along without it. Zero can be sited anywhere, but is actually to be found nowhere!

If numbers really apply to our finite world of finite things, every number should be clear-cut and exactly definable. But the numerical value of the number pi (π) has never yet been expressed right out to the last decimal place.

Perhaps I should say nothing at all about the square root of -1, which must be a number that is both positive and negative at the same time.

However upsetting it must have been to intellectual people when they realized that mathematics could no longer be considered as a finite collection of absolute truths, they had to accept the fact that once different axioms have been adopted, the new truths that follow from them will collide with some of the old truths.

Statements which are true today may become untrue tomorrow. If today I say, “Tomorrow we shall pass through Spokane, Washington,” it will turn out to have been a true statement if tomorrow we actually do so. But tomorrow evening, having passed through Spokane, with no intention of going back there soon, if I were to repeat my statement, “Tomorrow we shall pass through Spokane,” it would no longer be true. To speak the truth, I would have to make a quite different statement. “Today we passed through Spokane.” But on the day after I had uttered that revised statement, it too would no longer be true and I’d have to adjust it again.

That we did once pass through Spokane will be eternally true, but the dating of that event within various time scales will always raise problems.

Truth and the passing of time don’t mix very well. The Laws of Clear Thinking won’t work if the subject of a statement has already changed or is in the process of changing. Two contradictory statements about some subject may both be true if they refer to it at different times or in different respects. I know a great thinker who is very small in physical size. A crawling caterpillar is quite different from a wide-winged butterfly, yet they are different stages in the development of one and the same creature. What one word applies to both stages? Is it true that a caterpillar flies and that a butterfly crawls about, chomping on green leaves? In a way.

One truth that never changes is that all things in the actual world are ceaselessly changing.

Kinds of change

People seldom think about how many different kinds of change there are. Some changes are very obvious, such as those where observable motion is involved. A thing may begin to move. Its velocity may remain constant, or it may increase or decrease until it comes to a stop. Patterns and arrangements may be shifted around, becoming distorted, skewed or transformed into some entirely different order. Organisms, say, a plant, may develop through a sequence of changes. The first cell divides into two cells, which divide into four and so on, increasing the size of the developing organism. Certain of these cells take on specific roles, differentiating into tissues with diversified functions and complex relationships. Roots, stems, leaves, flowers and fruit develop according to a plant’s characteristic structural pattern. Finally the plant passes into death and decay.

Some actual changes are not quite so obvious, especially to unaided vision from a distance. The contents of every cell are in continual motion. The atomic structures of molecules and crystals are continually vibrating. The spaces between atoms are always flexing under the stresses of electrochemical bonding.

Human beings embody all these kinds of change and more. I may be moved bodily because somebody or something pushes at me from the outside. But I can also move myself by an act of my will from the inside—don’t ask me how I contract or relax my muscles. I can run, kneel, or push a pen along in a certain pattern to write this sentence. When light or sound or other influences from the outside world impinge upon my sensory organs, they touch off electrochemical changes in these organs that affect my whole nervous system. My knowledge of the world around me depends on these changes in my organs of perception. If anything that happens out there in the world makes no difference at all to my means of knowing, I can’t know anything at all about it.

There are other, more subtle, changes that take place in me which are imperceptible to observers not equipped with special instruments. When I dream, these instruments can detect changes in my brain’s electrical potentials (brain waves). No psychic activity can take place in me without some flowing of electrochemical neural energy from somewhere to somewhere within me. Even when I merely pay attention to something, when I think, or make a decision, physical changes take place within me. When I change my mind, something within me also changes. Concentratings or dispersals of energy are changes, as are stressing and relaxation.

Remembering that the word “change” refers to all these kinds of phenomena, let’s ask whether there is anything we know that never changes. I suppose that whatever happened in the past, having actually happened, cannot be changed—although our ideas about what actually happened may change. Our selection of axioms may change and our definitions of classes and species may change. Scientists suspect that the so-called laws of nature may not be as universal and permanent as they were once thought to be. In any case, we have to be careful these days about using the expressions “eternal truth” and “unchanging reality.”

Does eternal mean dead?

If there are any unchanging truths or ideas or beings, they must reside in some world other than the one we see around us. If in that world statements always apply exactly to their referents, there must be no passing of time, no motion and no change either in the statements or their referents. Any eternal truth that may reside there would have to express completely “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”—something no court on earth has ever heard. But unfortunately such a truth could not be uttered, using sounds or any other means of communication that we presently know about. Could a detailed description of the configuration of the whole universe at a single moment be contained in one unsounding sound? Sounds are patterned changes produced by the activity of vibrators. Sounds take time to produce. A series of sounds—a sentence—takes more time. Light also consists of electromagnetic vibrations—very rapid changes. Eternal truth must be deadly quiet, unexpressed and entirely invisible.

Popular preachers have identified the changeless realm of eternity with “heaven,” as envisioned in the Bible. People who have worked hard all their lives no doubt look forward to the prospect of “having a good long rest in heaven.” Maybe if they questioned their preacher a little about heaven’s “changelessness,” it wouldn’t seem so attractive. Speaking personally, I don’t think I would be happy for very long in a place where I couldn’t move either myself or anything else, where there was nothing to be done and no possibility of traveling to some other locale, even if I did have wings. In a changeless realm, could anything live (as we know living), let alone think or plan or even wish to do anything? Such a fixed-forever destiny, in my opinion, wouldn’t be much of an improvement on being simply dead. Fortunately heaven, insofar as it is described in the Bible, is a much more lively place. But then, is it eternal in the sense of “unchanging”?

All orthodox statements of Christian faith claim that God is unchanging and unchangeable in every way. These statements aim to maintain our confidence in a God whose purposes, promises and policies don’t change like the weather. We seem to need an ultimate stable basis to which to refer if our choices are to have a purposeful direction, our lives a sense of security, and the events that take place any sensible meaningfulness.

But surely these desirable conditions can be affirmed and undergirded without averring literally and intentionally that God is utterly “unchanging.” To say that and mean it, is to say that God never thinks, plans or creates. He never knows anything about what is happening in his world, nor can he approve or disapprove it. Remember that changes in states of mind are also actual changes. If God’s mind is, as alleged, eternally the same, he must have no mind at all, or a dead mind—whatever that might be.

In the Bible many passages ascribe change to God. These must not be lightly dismissed as mere anthropomorphic figures of speech. They are essential, if God is to be seen as relevant to this changeful world. My impression is that God as described in the scriptures is always in action. He reveals and hides himself. He repents, changes his plans, and alters his attitude towards people if they repent and believe and obey. He rests, but he creates. He speaks and remains silent. In some sense, therefore, it seems right to ascribe to God the freedom to be God, doing what he wishes to do, changing where and when change is appropriate. Who dares to say what God must do or not do? Why worship or serve a God who can never take the slightest notice of anything or anybody? If God is entirely indifferent to the world, why should we be good? Who will ask for forgiveness if God never pays attention to what we do?

Judging by the world that God has made, the Creator has committed himself to a universal policy of incessant change. He doesn’t appear to have a preeminent direct interest in permanence, stability or stagnation. Some human beings are intensely interested in such things, but the only lasting equilibrium we can imagine would be thermodynamic death—when at last all energy has been evenly dispersed throughout space, and all motion has ceased.

Fallen or falling?

Some theologians, anxious to maintain our faith in the unchangeable perfection of God, claim that this present world in which we live is a “fallen” world. The world, originally created perfect, somehow came under the dominion of “the devil.” He it is who is responsible for the world’s treacherous shiftiness, the flesh’s inconstancy, and humanity’s tendency to sin unto death. Where the devil and his untrammeled freedom came from, the theologians never make clear.

Since I am a “fallen” man with a “fallen” mind, they tell me that I can imagine neither an unfallen world, nor its heavenly restoration. I’m not sure how they, with their fallen minds, can be so confident about the nature and characteristics of an alleged unfallen world, or know for certain that a “fall” actually took place.

If everything in the world as originally created and as yet unfallen, had been absolutely changeless, complete in every way and entirely perfect, what was the point in making it? What further could be done with such an ultimate, finely tuned, utterly finished world? If it had been created in an actual state of perfection, without any “bugs” in it, it could never be changed without changing it for the worse. It should therefore have remained forever as it was, unfailing and unfading. If God knew how to make a world that was perfectly perfect, and wanted such a world, why wouldn’t he keep it that way in the first place? It would be simple enough to eliminate any Satans or sinners at once.

Furthermore, if God knew from the beginning how to make a perfect world, why has the world been sent on this long detour around through so much suffering and woe? A perfect world should have had failure-proof safeguards built into it. One or two weak human beings should never have been allowed to pull a perfect world down about their ears. It’s hard to see how even the whole human race could muster enough energy to throw absolutely everything into turmoil to the ends of this vast universe. Could a bite or two from any fruit wreak such havoc? How frail and fragile, how vulnerable to corrupting change, a perfect creation must be! If the ponderous mass of the whole universe were ever to fall, surely it would take the might of God to push it over. But then, an unchanging God couldn’t push anything over.

Reading these last pages, some people will think my words are facetious, while others will take them very seriously. They are both right. Theologians always say that no human words can describe God properly. Then why do they talk so much about God, and with such dogmatic assurance? They say their words are only analogies, figures of speech, approximations to the truth about God. If this is the case, they should try to seek out the very best analogies and the least misleading words. If when they use the words “unchanging and unchangeable,” applying them to God, they probably don’t mean that God is utterly immobile or utterly dead. But if that isn’t what they mean, they shouldn’t use such words that way. If “perfect” doesn’t mean “perfectly and ultimately perfect,” they shouldn’t imply that it does. Theological expressions like “an eternal act” or “eternally proceeding” would appear to be meaningless contradictions if the words are used as conventional English uses them.

When God said that everything he had created was “good,” he didn’t say that it had been completed or that it was already perfect. “Perfect” is probably one of the most ill-defined and sneaky words in the English language.

Logic and time

Our logical minds simply cannot handle our experience of change, motion and time. We can follow one item when it moves. If two items are moving at once we can follow both, but with more difficulty. If three of them move with respect to each other, our following capacities are taxed to the limit. With more than three going at once, we’re likely to give up tracking them. Mathematical physicists have trouble with the “many body” problem. We live in a world where vast numbers of things are moving at a variety of rates in different directions at the same time. No wonder we’re confused about what’s going on.

If we examine something before it begins to move, we can often describe in detail the number, position and orientation of many of its parts. After it has moved we can once more describe the layout of its parts in their new positions. Then we claim that we know something about its motion. In fact, all we know is what the situation was before the motion began and after it had ceased. Motion, however, is something more than those two “before” and “after” states. Motion is what was happening in between those two states. Although we can often trace the path taken by a moving thing, the record of the directions it took when moving is not the actual movement.

We’d like to be able to divide up the total motion into component motions which are as small as possible, just as we can divide up a length on a measuring tape. We feel that if we could divide up the total motion into small-enough segments, we would be able to catch an irreducible minimotion in the act. But when we get down to the smallest possible teensy-weensy momentary movement, we can’t see anything whatsoever that is moving. We have been dividing only the space and not the motion at all.

Our logical minds cannot conceive motion. Motion has an inseparable component of time. If there are minimal units of time they are utterly beyond our perception. The very eyes with which we try to observe time also participate in the process of time. We, the observers and dividers, are ourselves entirely and always in motion. No one has yet been able to discuss the subject of motion with unquestionable success.

Logic, therefore, has never really grasped either the nature of the world about which logical statements purport to be framed, or the nature of the logicians themselves. The oracle at Delphi set an impossible task for its visitors. Its world-famous prescription was “Know thyself.” But who can do that? We are always changing. Not even Socrates knew himself! A caterpillar which succeeded in knowing itself and which determined to be true to itself would probably never turn into a butterfly.

Moving westward, I could hardly avoid thinking about change, for I was seeing it everywhere and always. As we drove past each mountain, the shape of its outline was changing continually. How could the all-around shape of that mountain be described accurately from every conceivable point of view? An unending task! Especially if that mountain happened to contain the contorted Lewis and Clark caverns down deep inside.

We passed the headwaters of the Missouri River. What a journey some venturesome fish might take—all the way from Three Forks, Montana, to the Gulf of Mexico! The water, at any rate, was heading that way, fish or no fish. At Butte, Montana, we crossed the Continental Divide. That high watershed settles the directional destiny of every drop of water that falls and flows on its slopes: to the Pacific Ocean or to the Atlantic.

It occurred to me that each moment of our journey was a quite different kind of “watershed.” It didn’t entirely settle our future destiny, but it did settle forever what our past had been. Having driven over a certain portion of highway for the first time, we could never again drive over it for the first time. By choosing to travel that road at that time we had had a certain set of experiences. If we had traveled the same road at a different time, or had taken a different road altogether, we would have had other quite different experiences. Those experiences that we never had were possibilities that never got realized. What we chose to do at any point on the trip turned some of these possibilities into solid actuality and made the others forever impossible. It was sad to think of all the other interesting possible events and sights we had missed.

It was awesome, however, to think of what our choices had actually done. Our decisions had made something of this ever-changing world stand still. They had fixed forever our past as being what it had been. The world which is always moving on in space is moving on as well in time. When the openness of the possible future suddenly turns into the actual present situation, and just as quickly becomes the unchanging, unchangeable past, my mind can’t catch or comprehend what has happened. By changing, all things become unchangeable. Try that paradox on your logic machine!

And where now is all of our unchanging past? Gone to be part of some world which is no longer present and changing? Yet what I did today will still be helping to shape what I can do tomorrow and on after that. How can these things be?


We took a short side trip to see Grand Coulee Dam. The size of that project impressed us. When the kids learned that much of the water in the lake behind the dam had come down from British Columbia, they claimed they could tell it was Canadian water. That day the lake was gloriously blue. That water would soon be flowing on out into the Pacific Ocean. The western edge of the continent was at hand. An exciting realization! The end of our journey was not far away, and we were glad.

At Grand Coulee Dam there is a powerhouse. The high-level water from the lake behind the dam rushes down through penstocks and turbines into the canyon below the dam. In so moving, much of its kinetic energy is changed into electrical energy which moves out in many directions through high-tension wires. The route of the electrical flow can be directed by the placing of wires and by the closing and opening of switches. It is easier to channel the transmission of electricity than it is to reroute the flow of great volumes of water. Electricity will flow uphill, and a wire is much smaller than a water channel. How convenient it is, therefore, to be able to transform the energy of moving water into electrical energy which will travel wherever you want it to go.

Turbines fall within the general class of “transducers.” These are devices which change energy from one form to another. The living leaf of a plant is a kind of transducer, since it changes solar energy into chemical energy, which may be locked up in vegetable starches and sugars. A cow is a transducer, turning grass into milk and beef. Our car engine is a transducer, changing energy derived from fossil fuels into the kinetic energy with which we sped along the road. I am a transducer, changing sugars, proteins, fats (and memories from our trip) into a book.