August 01, 2014

Horse 1726 - Carriage T6576 - Seeing And Not Observing

I was coming back from a solicitors' offices in the city when I got a phone call on the mobile, offering me a lift from North Sydney railway station back to our office. They said that they were on the train from Parramatta and so I asked them two questions:
1. What is the number of the carriage you are in?
2. Are you upstairs or downstairs.
They said that they were upstairs and in carriage T6576. Instantly I knew I could find them pretty easily and met them on the train back to North Sydney.

"Wait? What?!" I don't hear you ask as this is a literary device and at any rate, this is a text-based medium and so I couldn't actually hear you if you'd said it anyway (which you're not going to).
For me to ask to seemingly esoteric questions and then derive meaning from the answer, requires two pieces of learned knowledge.

Firstly, that T6576 is a car in a Waratah train (an A-set).
I know for instance that every Waratah train carries a set number of A-XX. The eight cars in the set are numbered from the No1 end to the No2 end thusly:
63XX, 53XX, 55XX, 65XX, 66XX, 56XX, 54XX and finally 64XX.
T6576 is therefore the fourth or fifth car in the train of set A76, depending on which way it is running.

Secondly, due to the way in which trains run through Central station in Sydney, all trains from Parramatta, will arrive on Platform 16.

Now I'm not by any means a trainspotter (though I perfectly understand the rational behind such a hobby. It's roughly the same sort of idea as coin collecting or shopping for clothes or trinkets that you don't need, at the mall) and I'm not a transport worker, but because I happen to catch as many as a dozen trains a week, I am observant.
I know for instance that the yellow lights which line tunnels, will go out, pretty close to 30 seconds before a train arrives; that's handy to know because if you were down a tunnel for some reason, it'd save you from becoming a big red smear.
I don't think that I'm particularly brilliant either. I just don't care for the same things as the other people in the trains care about. I'm not sitting tapping away on social media, or playing angry birds or watching movies or whatnot.

When you pay attention to the same things day in and day out, instead of just letting them all whizz by at the speed of boredom, you start to notice changes in things.
I imagine that in the days of the ancients (Egypt, China, Greece, Rome) and well before the night sky had been utterly ruined with man made light pollution, that the night sky would have been like a veritable road map with thousands upon thousands of constellations to look at.
What happens for instance if some thing in the night sky moved?

That sounds like a daft thing to say but in the night sky, there are five wanderers visible to the naked eye; we even get our modern word "planet" from the Greek word for a wanderer.
Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn - all of these slowly traverse the heavens and whilst it might sound dumb to us that they might have thought it fitting to name them after their gods, just think how scary it might have been to realise that in the "fixed" crystal vault of the heavens, there were five wanderers who smashed that notion to pieces.
Of course with ever increasingly powerful telescopes, we found even more wanderers and even had to change our definition of what a planet was (we couldn't handle more than 38 of them), and so the question I'm finding myself asking is were the ancients actually more observant of these things?

I think of the tale of Jennifer Owen who from 1972 in a thirty year period, who just in a small suburban garden in Leicester, catalogued and observed the mammals, birds, frogs, lizards, insects and spider which she saw. In 30 years, she found roughly 8000 different species and discovered 4 which had never been previously recorded.
She even wrote a book about it:

It's funny because after re-reading the Sherlock Holmes series, I find this little piece in "A Scandal in Bohemia":
“You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.”
“How often?”
“Well, some hundreds of times.”
“Then how many are there?”
“How many? I don't know.”
“Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.”
- A Scandal in Bohemia, Arthur Conan Doyle (1891)

To be perfectly honest, Sherlock has the advantages of being fictional and therefore having problems which have solutions (because no-one really wants to read a crime novel where the case isn't solved, do they?) and I will admit that there are some stories which are a case of deus ex machina, or pulling a rabbit out of a hat (other euphemisms are available) but the point is that Sherlock Holmes probably wasn't remarkable, he too was just more observant.

Mind you, this sort of criticism that people see but do not observe is not terribly new at all:
When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.
- Matthew 16:2-3

I'm not even sure that as I look around a railway carriage twice daily that people are even aware that the sky is red and overcast. I can hear music blaring away from someone a few seats over as they desperately try to keep the world at bay; trying to not even see or observe. I see are a myriad of screens out and people tapping away furiously like cats at a red dot convention.
What happens for instance if some thing in their night sky moved?

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