Beautiful and Abundant

Publisher Bryan Welch on philosophy, farming and building the world we want.

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The decreasing-circumference curve

6/30/2008 4:48:15 PM

Tags: climate change, creative visualization, global awareness, motorcycles, global warming

Steven on the Beemer

 
In July of 2007 I nearly killed myself. I didn’t do it intentionally, but I almost died from a terminal case of poor visualization.

That’s right, poor visualization almost ended my life.

The motorcycle is a beautiful machine. In motion it is graceful, yet it defies the physical senses. When a motorcycle carves through a corner it solves a ridiculously complex equation involving speed, the rider, the road, the tires and a thousand other elements that allow the motorcyclist and motorcycle to lean into the corner at an angle that appears — in video or photographs — perfectly impossible. Until the rider gets used to it, it doesn’t feel any more plausible than it looks.

The decreasing-circumference curve is the bane of the inexperienced rider. In the mountains, curves are not always symmetrical. If you enter a turn with a gentle arc and that arc gradually becomes smaller, then you are in a decreasing-circumference curve. This presents a serious problem when you enter the corner too fast and then discover it closing down on you. It’s your classic rookie error, and I made it.

There’s only one way out and slowing down is not an option. To brake a motorcycle in a high-speed corner is disastrous. You’ll lose traction and lay the machine down on its side. So the experienced rider leans deeper into the irrational angle and holds his intent. He visualizes a successful outcome. He experiences the exhilaration of successfully testing his own courage and skill against the laws of nature.

I, on the other hand, lost my nerve. Rather than visualizing myself – and the motorcycle – carving our way out of our predicament I became trapped in a tentative state of mind in the middle of the turn. I let fear take over. Even though I was following two other riders who had successfully negotiated the corner, even though logic dictated that I could follow those other riders, I lost my confidence. I just couldn’t see myself completing that turn at that speed. I couldn’t visualize it and, for lack of a clear mental picture, I became trapped in the curve. Instinctively, I tried to slow the motorcycle down. In an automobile that would have been precisely the right answer. On the motorcycle it was a bad decision and could have been disastrous. The motorcycle and I went sideways, bounced off a fortuitous guardrail and I went down in the middle of the road at about 45 miles per hour.

I walked away after ruining a good helmet and about $1,000 worth of excellent protective clothing. Well, “walked” might be inaccurate. I hobbled away. It was about a year before I healed up completely.

Naturally I did a lot of reflecting about how the accident could have been avoided.

The most obvious answer to that question is, of course, “Don’t ride motorcycles.” My wife and a number of friends have brought this simple solution to my attention repeatedly. Duly noted.

But as I considered the lessons I took from the experience – while massaging the deep bruises on my legs, arms and torso – it dawned on me that our species is, in a manner of speaking, right in the middle of a decreasing-circumference curve. Global climate change has created a worldwide sense that if we don’t do something soon we may have messed up our environment for the long term. We’re moving fast toward some form of environmental reckoning.  The path we are on necessitates a change in attitude.

At the moment we have our attention trained on conservation, effectively the middle of the curve. Instinctively, we want to slow down our personal consumption.

A wreck is imminent if we just follow our instincts.  Voices around the globe are calling for us to, “Slow down!” But we’re in the middle of a bunch of phenomena we don’t know how to interrupt. We are focusing our attentions in the wrong place. Motorcyclists, mountain-bikers, skiers and steeplechasers all learn the same lesson: When you have a lot of forward momentum you have to train your attention beyond the short-term challenges. You need to be thinking ahead. You need to form a picture of yourself successfully negotiating the coming obstacles. You have to visualize the successful outcome. Your reflexes and, hopefully, some previous visualization are taking care of the ruts under the tires of your bicycle. Your attention should be trained on the area where you will arrive in the next few seconds. Your mind visualizes the best route and your body begins making adjustments in your approach.

If you focus on the intermediate obstacle, you’re likely to hit that obstacle.

It’s recently occurred to me that I don’t hear anyone describing the world in which we want to live 20 years from now. Almost no one, it seems, is visualizing the successful outcome. We’re too busy arguing about where to drill for oil.

As far as we know, there is only one species in the universe capable of conceptualizing its own impact on its habitat. That’s us.

If we are defined by our capacity for objective thought, then we are now living in one of the definitive moments in human history. Our ability to conceptualize our own role in nature defines us as human beings. Our capacity for creating solutions to complex problems is the primary factor in our success as a species. In the Judeo-Christian Bible we defined ourselves as human beings when we ate the fruit of the “Tree of Knowledge” and spontaneously realized we were naked. In a phrase, we became self-aware.

Today we have to face the challenge of solving the definitive human riddle. We are aware that we have an impact on the environment. We are aware that our population has been growing exponentially. We are aware that no species can expand infinitely on this finite planet. With this awareness comes responsibility. We are capable of moderating our impact on the planet. We are capable of conceptualizing a sustainable human habitat and executing a plan to create that habitat. Yes, we face complex problems. But we’ve solved complex problems before. Perhaps the more vexing puzzle is how to defeat our biological programming — the programming that, in the words of the Judeo-Christian Bible, tells us to “go forth and multiply.”

It’s a good thing we enjoy solving puzzles.



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Post a comment below.

 

Bryan
8/3/2008 3:31:03 PM
Thank you all for an extraordinarily interesting and well informed group of comments. This sort of dialogue makes me feel grateful for the web! A special thanks to Villette, a good friend who introduced her true identity to me at a party last night.

Gene_2
7/22/2008 1:08:38 PM
I'm sorry, but this analogy assumes we are in the middle of the curve, a mistake most researchers are beginning to acknowledge. We are simply past the point of no return due to a thousand reasons, none of which are complimentary to the species. And we don't have a couple of riders up ahead of us to confirm for us that the curve is negotiable. A "wreck is imminent if we follow our instincts"? We are already in a wreck! Instincts or intellect notwithstanding, we are already on our side sliding toward the guardrail. Nerve won't have a thing to do with the outcome. We have released billions of years worth of co2 stored beneath the earth's crust. We CANNOT undo that now. Our continued hope that we can somehow stop the juggernaut is but a distraction from what we are facing. Its time now to prepare for that sudden confrontation with the "guard rail" and hope that like the author we survive. Unfortunately we will be ruining more than just protective clothing. And, btw, our self awareness didn't start by eating a forbidden fruit but by the evolutionary forces that shaped our intellect through the survival of the fittest mechanism. Our continued survival will also be subject to these forces and those whose superior intellectual development prepares them for the upcoming climate change, will be passing on a more refined genetic code. This is just another cataclysmic moment in our specie's development, much like the ice ages.

Bill_2
7/21/2008 3:14:19 PM
The population of the world is only increasing in some countries. In fact, the US is approaching a part of the curve where our population will begin to decrease. The last statistic I saw indicates 3.8 births per couple just to maintain the current population. (We don't have anywhere near that). The point that the US had a new record of births this year should be tied to the previous record in 1957. Yeah. 50 years ago. That sounds like a real population explosion in the US. Other countries like Russia are actually paying couples Cash to have more than 1 child. Abortions are the main contributor to the lack of children born it Russia. Some attribute the drop in abortions in the US on the increase in the birth rate last year. I am curious what stance Mother Earth would take on the manipulation of population by that method. The fact that the greater the largess of a nation is tied to a drop in birth rate is a phenomona that has been well documented. Remember Socialogy 101 in College? The Bible mentioned in the article certainly gives us the responsibility to take care of our home. Not visualizing what lies at the end of the curve takes a paralized mind as the article spells out so well. We certainly need to be doing our part to follow through to a sucessful finish in the "curve" of our world.

Mar
7/21/2008 2:26:34 PM
Humanity is speeding towards our destiny...fast and until now perhaps almost unconsciously. Those who are awaken from their sleep-walking can be paralyzed by fear and panic. What to do? How to live? We are not alone...thank God for that whether you believe it or not. Read Allies of Humanity for the wisdom we need (www.alliesofhumanity.org) or read (www.newmessage.org) for the inner strength we didn't know we have.

Villette
7/17/2008 2:32:48 PM
Okay so I'm old. I remember the first earth day in 1970 (this also tells you how little progress on the environment we have made in 38 years--that first earth day was full of hope and promise that has not been fulfilled). Anyway, the focus then was so much more than it is now on "the population explosion" and concern about population growth straining the planet's resources. I was in high school then, and when I married, I dutifully had just two children. Honestly, I did it because of that--well and more than two children are a lot to be responsible for :-). Anyway, your excellent column reminds us all that this part of the equation has been left behind. In fact, I believe I read a headline today as I passed by the news stand that the US had a record birth rate last year--a new "baby boom" (talk about "momentum"!). This is one element of the energy demand curve that few have paid attention to in recent years, and we need to add it back into our thinking. Thank you.

Salix
7/9/2008 4:10:49 PM
Bravo Mr. Welch -- Your bike accident sounds positively painful; your thoughtful words resonate profoundly. When do you suppose we will ever be able to discuss human population, as it relates to environment, in any rational way? I applaud your grit for raising the question here and I hope you will write more on the subject in the future.







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