Friday, September 28, 2012

Cloud Lightning

Driving home last evening, I was treated to a magnificent sky.  The star of the evening was a lightening show contained totally within one very large billowing cloud that seemed to reach from the mountains to the sky.  Most amazing to me was that the cloud was white and puffy – like the clouds you see on a sunshiny day in summer.

I think I knew that could happen, but I’ve never seen it before.  And it was magnificent.

Trying to find out more about what I saw, I went googling this morning and landed on NOAA’s (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) site, which explains what I was seeing.  In the dense article of explanation (while admitting there is much we still do not understand about lightening), this paragraph caught my attention:
Opposite charges attract one another. As the positive and negative areas grow more distinct within the cloud, an electric field is created between the oppositely-charged thunderstorm base and its top. The farther apart these regions are, the stronger the field and the stronger the attraction between the charges. But we cannot forget that the atmosphere is a very good insulator that inhibits electric flow. So, a HUGE amount of charge has to build up before the strength of the electric field overpowers the atmosphere's insulating properties. A current of electricity forces a path through the air until it encounters something that makes a good connection. The current is discharged as a stroke of lightning.  Lightning basics

All kinds of metaphors come to mind, especially in such a time as this when my country is so divided by its politics, among other things.  ‘Positive’ and ‘negative’ areas grow – oh, yes they do.  The conundrum is that which is positive and which is negative depends on where you’re standing in human terms.  But the beauty of lightening is that ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ are not freighted with moral judgment.

Even better, ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ charges are attracted not to their own ‘kind’, but to the other, positive to negative and negative to positive.

I am looking forward to reading Steven Johnson’s new bookFuture Perfect, in which Johnson makes the case for the possibility of progress in a ‘networked age’.  In an interview, Johnson opined that our vast diversity of thoughts and ideas and worldviews is actually a strength rather than a weakness.

While I hold to that view intellectually, emotionally I despair when so few people agree with me and my worldview.  What’s wrong with all of you, I secretly wonder.  Why don’t you see?  Why don’t you get it?

Turns out it’s my intellect rather than my heart that is more right, according to Johnson: the world needs not only Beths but also opposite-of-Beths in order to progress.

Which brings us back to cloud lightening.  Just like the incubated space within the cloud, we live in incubated spaces, largely protected from each other.  We’re ‘free’ to think as we like, so long as we think like each other.  But every now and again, when conditions are just right, your electricity and mine will force a pathway towards each other and the result will be electric!

And that, I think, is a good thing.

1 comment:

  1. "It only takes a spark to get a fire going..."
    and,yes, there are good fires.