Saturday, July 7, 2007

The Infinite Napali Coast

In James Gleick's, Chaos, there is a segment relating fractals to coastlines. When we look at a coastline on a map, we see a line, purely imaginary - for as we go out and stand on that shore, we realize that the line expands exponentially, infinitely, the closer we look. It is 11 miles to hike the Kalalau trail on Kauai, but if we actually measured each cove and inlet, the trail would be much longer, and if we measured the irregularities on each rock along the coast, it would be even longer. If we keep going to a molecular level, and then some more, we end up with an infinite coastline. Whether from a satellite image from space, a blimp, a six foot person, or a microscope, the coastline repeats itself in similar detail, just on differing scales - similar to how a fractal behaves. As we physically walk the coast, we lose touch with this degree of scale, while in the mind's eye, we can endlessly explore new inlets and points. Imagine if Google Earth could zoom down to a micron scale.

Travel becomes like this as we explore further. As we see more unfamiliar lands and cultures, we lose our sense of familiar scale, and life experiences begin to expand.
What we do in a month or week at home, we do in a day or hour on the road. When we look from a different perspective, everything seems different. There are endless experiences to be had, depending on the scale in which we live and explore. That's why when you get back from a trip, and ask people what has been happening, it seems like you were gone for a month when it was only a week. We can do this from home, travel just facilitates the experience, because we are no longer where we think we know, and when we think we know, we are looking from a different scale - looking through a different lens. If I am trying not to slide 1000 feet into the Pacific off of a narrow trail of volcanic soil, while Humpback whales are breaching in the distance, I am using a different scale than walking to the corner store for a coffee.

Enjoy those coastlines!

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