Elizabeth Bear: March 2013 Archives

You probably think you know what a nuclear explosion sounds like.

You're probably wrong.

The first footage released of hydrogen bomb tests was silent. A foley was dubbed in, using a standard explosion or cannon sound effect repeated to form the familiar continuous, ominous rumble. (If you think about this, it's pretty obvious that the footage most of us are used to is dubbed, because audio and visual are simultaneous--and these films are shot from miles away from the blast site.)

Here's what it really sounds like.

(Blast begins at 2:20, sound arrives at 2:54)

...a gigantic slam. And then a rumble, but a lighter one than we're used to hearing.

Now, I don't think was done to fool anyone. I think it was done because, as film makers from Roddenberry to Lucas have discovered, a silent explosion lacks a certain visceral punch for most people.

To fix that, they used what they had to hand.

The point here, inasmuch as I have one, is that the media we consume produces our map of the world. We process our understanding of reality through those filters: the human brain deals with a world of unrelenting complexity by finding patterns and filtering out input deemed to be irrelevant. Our bodies are optimized for this process, in fact: thus, as opportunistic omnivores, we readily taste salt, sugar, protein, acid, possibly fat--and certain classes of toxins!--but cats and chickens cannot taste sugar. (Some cats may have a limited ability to do so.) Cats, however, appear to be able to taste adenosine triphosphate: they're obligate carnivores, and that is the taste of meat.

Dogs are better at tasting and digesting starches than their wild wolf ancestors: they have adapted to a life on humanity's midden heaps. Bees sense magnetic fields and the ultraviolet colors on a flower petal that seems plain white or blue to human eyes.

Alien perceptions, in other words, necessarily produce an alien map of the world. And manipulated perceptions produce a manipulated map of the world.

And to further complicate the matter, one's acculturation strongly affects how one processes--filters--information, and what patterns one finds there.

All our maps are of necessity flawed. We can't see through our friends, as a dolphin--a living echogram machine--can. We can't smell incipient cancer or a seizure about to happen, but our family dog can. And we can't correct for every bit of spin--intentional, careless, or just necessitated by human limitations--that creeps into our information flow.

We can, however, be aware of a truism coined by a subject of one of the world's great police states, where spin and message control was a way of life--and for many, of death: that there are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies.



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This page is an archive of recent entries written by Elizabeth Bear in March 2013.

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