I have been visiting the Airbus site at Filton near Bristol since the mid-1990s. It is where the wings for new designs of aircraft are developed and tested. My involvement has been in the developing of techniques for measuring strain in aircraft structures during static and fatigue tests. At the moment, we are working on methods to integrate fields of measurements with computational predictions of stress and strain [see ‘Jigsaw puzzling without a picture‘ on October 27th, 2021]. I frequently travel by train to Bristol Parkway Station and walk past the church in the photograph without even noticing it despite it being next to the station. To be fair, the view of it from the station entrance is obscured by a billboard. However, last week as I walked back to the station with a half-hour to spare, I noticed a gate leading into a churchyard. I slipped through the gate thinking that perhaps there might be an interesting old church to explore but it was locked and I had to be satisfied with a stroll around the churchyard. I was slightly shocked to realise the church, and the village green beyond it, had been hidden in full view for more than thirty years of walking within a few tens of metres of it perhaps once a month. I had always been too focussed on the research that I was heading to Airbus to discuss, or too tired at the end of a day, to notice the things around me. Our senses flood our brains with information most of which is ignored by our conscious minds that are busy time traveling through past memories or looking into the future [see ‘Time travel and writing history‘ on March 23rd, 2022]. However, there is pleasure to be gained by dwelling in the present and exploring the sensory experience flooding into our brains. As Amy Liptrot commented in her book ‘The Outrun‘, “the more I take the time to look at things, the more rewards and complexity I find”.
I have written in the past about consciousness being an accumulation of sensory experiences [see ‘Is there are real ‘you’ or ‘I’? on March 6th, 2019]. Our memory consists of fragments of images, sounds, smells and feelings from the past that we can re-assemble into a complete experience often triggered by something in the present that resembles a fragment of a past experience. We can time travel in our minds by thinking about the past. It is so ubiquitous that we barely stop to think about it. Yet, we are fascinated by the possibility of time travel into the future. However, our subconscious minds are constantly time traveling into the future [see ‘Predicting the future through holistic awareness’ on January 6th, 2021]. They are constantly making predictions about what will happen next, whether anticipating the path taken by a ball so that your hand can be positioned to catch it or picking up an umbrella as you leave the house so that you do not get soaked when it rains later in the day. The further we attempt travel into the future the less dependable our predictions become and I suspect the same is true for travel backwards in time. The reliability of our recollection of past experiences become less as time and entropy erode the connections between the fragments in our mind so that we struggle to reassemble all of the fragments in the correct order and our personal history is unintentional rewritten.
The title of this post comes from two lines in ‘In Memoriam A.H.H.‘ by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The theory of plate tectonics evolved about fifty years ago so it is very unlikely that Tennyson was thinking about the hills as waves of rock flowing across the landscape. However, we now understand that Earth’s crust is divided into plates that are moving as a result of currents in the liquid magna beneath them. For example, the African plate is moving northwards crashing into the Eurasian plate causing the edges of the plate to buckle and flow forming the Alps and Pyrenees along the edge of the Eurasian plate. At the same time, the Eurasian plate is moving eastwards very slowly at a speed of about 2.5 cm per year, or about 2 metres in an average human lifetime. So, nothing stands still. Everything is a process. It’s just that some processes are quicker than others [see ‘Everything is in flux but it’s not always been recognised‘ on April 28th, 2021].
A week has just raced past and it’s time to write a blog post – the 479th. The first twenty or so posts were published randomly when I thought of something to write. Only the last 457 have been published regularly on Wednesdays. However, given the average life expectancy of a male in Britain is 4225 weeks, that implies I have been writing a weekly post for slightly more than a tenth of my life expectancy. More depressing, considering the speed at which weeks are racing past me, is that I probably only have about 1000 weeks left. A thousand is a big number if you are trying to count sheep to get to sleep but quite a small number when thinking about the life of the universe [see ‘Will it all be over soon?‘ on February 2nd, 2016]. I have mixed feelings about my perception of a thousand weeks of life remaining. It seems short enough to make me pause, think about slowing down so that the weeks do not fly past so quickly and to write about it. But it is probably not short enough to induce me to make dramatic changes to my lifestyle. Perhaps the most likely effect will be to increase my awareness of the need to make time for the important things in work and life. At work that probably means being more focussed on the big picture while in life it suggests focussing on the atelic activities, i.e. those pursued for their own sake, such as our weekly walk up Moel Famau.