George Positioning Satellite

The great thing about reaching middle age in our current society is that one does so, more or less, healthy. Until very recently in the history of civilizations, middle age did not exist for most people.

Of course, health includes mental health – the most important of all. In my case I am lucky to be able to review my past life, as most of my age do, and “inherit”, while still alive the knowledge I have learned. Due to our civilization’s excellent nutrition and medicine, masses of us can do this now. Should be interesting and it certainly makes life a very satisfying experience.

I mention this because, recently while I was cleaning out a closet, I picked up an old copy of a magazine which had an interview with Buckminster Fuller. At one point he was a cultural hero. The 1960s was his great moment. He was, and remains, a remarkable visionary. He makes today’s so-called futurists seem mediocre and trite.

In the interview he speculates that the ancient Polynesians, who were prodigious navigators on one hand and, by virtue of that, absolute geniuses at astronomical observation on the other hand, knew the stars like we know sports and television personalities. It is a sickening thought but there it is.

This cultural feature wasn’t religious or mythological, but purely scientific. They were, in a sense, astronauts. Even today a simple fisherman in a wooden sailboat from the South Pacific Islands can find his way back to his tiny island home after being blown off-course a hundred miles. Happens all the time. Our brains are too small to even imagine such an ability.

Fuller wondered about what had made the ancient Polynesians so unique. He wondered further what made everyone else so much less unique. He had trouble explaining to himself how it was that the Polynesians, who never went anywhere farther than 10 or 20 miles from home, could know astronomy so well. Better than the Egyptians, Phoenicians, Vikings, and Chinese — the lot. But soon they all caught up with the Polynesians.

Might this Polynesian star knowledge have been shared? He guessed that bands of Polynesians sailed the world in a systematic manner. Somehow they determined that they had learned things that all others on earth had not. Since the ancient Polynesians knew “the earth” by an advanced and almost perfect understanding of the position of the night-time stars, they simply traveled the earth and told everyone who would listen. Fuller thought also that they may have been compensated in some way. Intriguing!

But it gets better: the primary reason the Polynesians knew the night skies so well is because, in effect, they never moved. They didn’t travel far or often for very long periods of time like others did. They studied the stars in minute detail, since small changes meant life or death in their island-hopping culture. They had islands like the skies had stars. Trade, war, treaties: all depended on making small voyages, not long ones. “Better get the angles right.” Then, when they accumulated a database of how the stars moved, they became accidental savants, so to speak. Fuller said no one came even remotely close to the Polynesians in celestial navigation, on the basis of his studies. They made a quantum leap.

A quantum leap in a collection of magazines in one of my mother’s old storage boxes. She liked to amass magazines. She’d read them all at once in marathons. Or not. I was in boarding school. What a great gift to me!

I did not so much reach late middle age as washed up on its shore. Honestly, I do not know sometimes why I am here. I like to tell people every once in a while that I have never lived before. It is, of course, literally true. But it is a kind of pun or play on words that never fails to startle people. Very enjoyable. I get to explain it. And explaining something is always amusing.

President Obama cribbed an old Hopi sacred proverb when he famously stated, “We are the people we have been waiting for.” Or words to that effect. It was more impressive as a political image than, “It takes a village to raise a child”, which I believe First Lady Hilary Clinton cribbed from a West African proverb. Plus, it does not hurt that President Obama has a great voice. But why can’t they come up with their own proverbs?

Personally, I think the Hopis were referring to the happiness and satisfaction of middle age. All that walking up and down ridges and river basins and up on to a mesa every once in a while. Keeps you fit. Many members of Native American tribes—so long as they stay on the reservations—live a very long and physically active time. Walking and swimming are the healthiest activities.

I am walking to Arizona someday! Or I shall swim to Polynesia. Rather like the young athletes do, with a boat behind them.

“This is the shore we have been swimming to.”

This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 28th, 2011 at 9:40 am and is filed under Original Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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10 Responses to “George Positioning Satellite”

  1. Ginny said:

    The Polynesian people had a much better life and were far better than we are today. We rely on GPS, Maps, or cell phones to navigate us around the world. If dumped into the middle of Nowhere, we would absolutely be lost forever, never knowing how to navigate the way the Polynesian people did and still do. Our High End Technology with all the “toys we must have” is making us, Stupid, and actually unable to do anything but make more “Toys”.
    This was a great Post to wake us up to reality. Thanks

    • George said:

      Thank you for your kind and thoughtful compliment, Ginny. Indeed, we need more “Outward Bound-type” programs for youngsters. At 13 I was in a similar “survival course” for 24 hours once, was terrified out of my wits for awhile, and certainly discovered my limits. Children are not left alone enough these days. I realized what kind of person I was by spending many hours playing and exploring the woods and surrounding towns in DuPage County, Illinois, by myself. Or with, at most, one or two others, from time to time. And most of our games and activities were unsupervised. Our parents didn’t even know where we were. Only in midget and minor league baseball were we “watched” and that lasted only 6 weeks or so. I became bored by having adults around. I quit and returned to the woods and rambling, etc. This, to me, is not unlike discovering inner strengths later in adolescence. At a very early age, it is even somewhat like being in a “foreign country”, even though everyone (except the old Chinese folks in the town center) spoke English.

      Thanks again for your interesting comments. Post anytime, please.

  2. Lloyd Stoner said:

    My father was born in 1892 in Whitley County Indiana and I am now almost two years older than he was when he died. I learned to read Sci-Fi from him as a young boy. Your exposition of the Polynesians made me think of him and the knowledge he gained in a lifetime of work, reading and observation. It is a joyful thought that he could do what he did. Kind of sad too, wondering if I can ever approach his record.

    • George said:

      Thank you very much, Mr. Stoner, for your response. I am touched that my unrelated blog causes you to recall the love and strength you shared with your father. Just the other day I spoke with an old friend who learned to read only by being attracted to science-fiction (Burroughs’ stories about Mars). Otherwise, he said he had not learned to read and he was 7 or 8 years old already. His mother bought him the books. It’s the “small things”, as they say. She sensed his struggles in the midst of a large and busy family. Another reason I tell you this is they were from Indiana, near Indianapolis, or in its borders today. Do you live in Indiana now?

      Happy New Year and thanks again.

  3. This is beautiful. Makes me feel better about middle age! (When does middle age start by the way)? My son’s girlfriend described the difference between her parents and me (we’re the same age). She said, “My parents are planning their retirement and waiting to die. Your mom is launching a new business.” As hard as launching a new business is, and it is… that stark contrast made me feel so proud. Thanks for sharing.

    • George said:

      Thanks for posting your gracious compliment, Cynthia. I think middle age starts for most people at around 45-50. It tends to have a length of a generation, or about 20 years. This why many people view retirement as beginning at 65 or, more recently, 60. However, some say that one should keep working longer, especially if the work provides the satisfaction of talents, a sense of community or family, or simply interest and pleasure. I have known, and also worked with, many folks who worked well into their 80s and one who worked into his 90s. People do vary somewhat in ability or aptitude. But they can vary greatly in their attitude or outlook. I think it is a matter of balance or compensation. And, of course, family life has a lot to do with these decisions of one going way or another, or a middle ground, etc. All sorts of thought are needed sometimes.
      Sounds like you are having a great time. Good luck! Thanks again and please return to our little bloggie.

  4. dianedigsplants said:

    Gotta love this post. We, who usually only navigate (sans GPS,) from home to store, to Grandma’s house, should admire such explorers. As a kid, I learned the constellation, Orion, and the big and little dippers. That some ancient ancestor’s mind put two-and-two together, plotted a course with the stars, and taught others how to do so is truly admirable. It leaves me to wonder, why can’t a current multitude of smart minds solve more of the world’s problems?

    • George said:

      Thanks for the compliment. There was a late 19th century female anthropologist—Alice, I think, was her first name—who studied the Pawnee and their star-based religion. It was surprisingly sophisticated. I’m sure you can find stuff about it online. They were from the area of Nebraska and then were moved to Northeastern Oklahoma. They arranged the positions of their villages to reflect certain stars, and they’d rotate the rituals to be carried out from village to village within the tribe. It was timed to crop cycles, especially spring sowing and planting. Remarkable. You would enjoy it.

  5. Danna Dugan said:

    I must be honest, I have never really had the time or inclination to read Mr. Ball’s comment sections.
    The month, however, having some extra time on my hands for a change,and took the opportunity to read, tomato story, which, I must say, was nothing I had really considered before. The article on ‘the stars’ actually made me stop and think. Believe me, being ‘post middle age’, it diffently gave me “food for thought” Thank you. Danna Dugan

    • George said:

      Thank you for your thoughtful response. The GPS post was flip—I do that rarely, but am very happy you enjoyed it. I’m glad you have time to read and I hope you have a good garden. Please post again soon.

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