I rode my bike to Jacob Riis Park last weekend. As I walked the beach, I had two thoughts that where worth writing down:
- Optics. How do lasers work?
- Riis: Why two “i’s”?
Optics is a catch-all term for me. It represents ideas ranging from the evolution of our eyes to the myriad of ways we augment them so that we can not only see the very small and the very far,
but also use the rest of the electromagnetic spectrum to communicate with one another
and to explore fundamental questions about who we are and what the universe is.
It is about time that I start pursuing the many thoughts I have about “optics.”
So, in that spirit, I start:
My top 5 themes of what Optics means to me:
- There are many types of eyes and they have evolved a number of different times on our planet. For example, our eyes and the eyes of Cephalopods evolved independently from each other, and, amazingly, function basically the same way: cornea, iris, lens, retina, optic nerve. It is called a camera eye, but doesn’t take faithful “photographs” because the brain interprets and is not a tabula rasa. Arthropods, such as insects, have compound eyes that operate very differently than our own.
- The eye can be viewed from multiple vantage points: the eye is an isolated organ, converting light as data to the brain, faithfully reporting the environment to the recipient, and influences how brain develops and grows; or, the eye is actually part of our brain that has pushed out to the edge of our bodies, trying to touch a very particular part of the universe – a specific wave length of electromagnetic energy, what we call visible light, a tiny, tiny sliver of the total electromagnetic spectrum; or, the eye does not see at all, the brain does the seeing – brain interprets the data, completely unconsciously, and builds a view of the surroundings according to its neural architecture.
- We augment our eyes in all sorts of ways. Starting in the 16th century, microscopes and telescopes have been allowing us to see smaller and smaller, and farther and farther.
- Other technologies harness a broader range of the electromagnetic spectrum to allow us to see and understand more. I think of the Large Hadron Collider, for example.
- Optics is a rich field of physics. I plan on brushing up on my college physics, if for no other reason than to learn how to embrace the distortions in my digital images … I need a better digital camera, I’m afraid … more to come.
As I walked the beach, my gaze wandered from the ocean’s horizon line upward and I thought about what Curiosity was doing on Mars
and how it has a special laser to zap rocks from about 20 feet away
and read the subsequent vapor
using the principles of spectroscopy.
Upon this though, I wrote,
“how do lasers work?”
Curiosity is really one big, roving extension of our eyes that utilizes all sorts of optics.
Its mission is to see if Mars ever had
conditions to support life.
I can’t wait.
How lasers actually work is going to be another post.
Onward to my second thought …
As I was leaving Jacob Riis Park, I saw the highway sign and thought:
what kind of name is “Riis?”
what language is that?
how do you pronounce it?
And, why are there two “i’s”?
So, the short answer is that Riis is a Danish name and is pronounced like “Reese.” Which may be good enough, but doesn’t really answer why Danish has this double “i” construction. So, there is going to be a longer answer as another post, and it will deal with linguistics and the evolution of language, specifically the formation of Indo-European languages and phonetics.
I write down thoughts that I want to remember as they occur so that I can follow up at an appropriate time,
instead of having them churn around in my mind needlessly,
or to be forgotten altogether.
One of the benefits of wandering, like I did at Jacob Riis Park, is to allow such thoughts to percolate.