Rock And Roll


Portrait of Galileo Galilei by Justus Susterma...
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“And yet, it moves.”

Legend has it that the Italian mathematician, physicist and philosopher Galileo Galilei muttered this phrase after being forced by the Inquisition in 1633, to recant his belief that the Earth moved around the Sun.

In other words, “You can force me to say what you want, but that doesn’t mean that it’s true.”

At this point, for the sake or dramatic narrative, let us contrast Galileo’s stance with the philosophy of perception as  proposed by George Berkeley.

George Berkeley was an Irish philosopher who created and promoted a theory he called “immaterialism” later referred to as “subjective idealism”. His dictum was “Esse est percipi” – “To be is to be perceived”.

If a tree falls in the forest

George, of course, did not have the benefit of the discovery of Quantum Theory, where, in the uncertain, fuzzy world of quantum mechanics, particles do not have fixed properties until they are observed.

Instead, objects that obey quantum rules exist in a “superposition” of all their possible states simultaneously. This would enable him ,as an observer, to perceive something, while at the same time, not perceiving it, choosing what woiuld be the results of his observations (who needs the scientific method?), or going to lie down in a darkened room with a cold compress.

Mildly interesting, then , to speculate what he would have made of Karen.

Karen is, or, more precisely, was one of the larger sailing stones, also known as sliding rocks and moving rocks, which are a geological phenomenon where rocks move in long tracks along a smooth valley floor without human or animal intervention.

They have been recorded and studied in a number of places around Racetrack Playa,Death Valley, where the number and length of travel grooves are notable. The force behind their movement was not observed until recently and has been the subject of on-going research.

Karen -designated as stone J, rather than stone K, for reasons best known to Bob Sharp and Dwight Carey, who researched the stones in 1972, – is a block of dolomite weighing an estimated 320 kg.

Perhaps not surprisingly Karen didn’t move during the monitoring period.

However, Karen disappeared sometime before May 1994, when a fresh bout of scientific monitorings was conducted by Professor John Reid of the University of Massachusetts.

Disappeared, eh?. Well perhaps she learned a trick or two from her Colombian cousins.

The rocks of the highest coastal mountain on earth, Columbia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta have achieved the geological equivalent of Michael Palin’s Around The World In Eighty Days.

In the course of its 170 million year history, the mountain has travelled a total of 2,200 kilometers. In fact, according to a report in the Journal Of South American Earth Sciences, “The mountain travels from Peru to northern Colombia and finally rotates in a clockwise direction .

Rock on, Karen.


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