“How bitterly will burst these straps in the first howling gale, when thou art driven, straps, buttons, and all, down the throat of the tempest (...)” Herman Melville wrote, in Moby-Dick (1851), towards the last years of the Age of Exploration. Almost every undiscovered nook on the world’s map had been filled, and the ink of history was turning back on itself.
Since the great Lighthouse of Alexandria (280 BC), notes Bruce Watson: “(...) until the 18th century, the lights that warned ships that they were approaching land improved hardly at all. Some burned coal. Others stuck with wood. Oil lamps backed by mirrors eventually offered a bit more candlepower. Still, every coastline in the world remained littered with the ribs of broken ships whose captains didn’t see the lighthouse until it was too late.” The lens invented by Augustin Jean Fresnel in 1822 changed all of this.
The hyper-radiant compound lens of the Fresnel type installed at Galley Head Lighthouse (Ireland) in 1879, with over 1 million candlepower, was “the most powerful light in the world” of its time. Watson also mentions the similarity of this crystalline lens with a beehive: “(...) not one lens really, but numerous tiers of prisms. Lenses like this one turned simple flames into beams upon which sea captains could take their bearings.” It is no small coincidence that the wax used in lighthouse candles for centuries came from beekeeping cultures.
In fact, Fresnel’s new lightbeam could now be used to communicate information by flashing (such as a number, in Morse Code), enabling sailors to distinguish one lighthouse from another. The idea above was proposed by Charles Babbage to a newspaper in 1855, and endorsed later by Lord Kelvin. In modern micro-electromechanical systems, optical switches are like those very lighthouses, but achieving data transmission speeds in the range of gigabytes.
Exoplanets that circumambulate distant suns cause cryptic fluctuations in the light of the parent star by eclipsing it, which gives our astronomers information about the mass and composition of such worlds. Pulsating neutron stars (pulsars) perform a function similar to lighthouses in space, emitting a periodic electromagnetic beam that can be seen only when it is pointing at the observer.
Before the dawn of the Internet, there were other entities (and still are) that had the capability to connect consciousness on a planetary scale, that were the internet of the pre-industrial, pre-telegraphic, pre-electric age. Astronomical routers that stand before our very eyes, omnipresent and accessible yet remote, serving the same image to the wretched masses of humanity thrown across the globe like pollen in the wind. These astrosocial nodes — the Sun and the Moon, the ghostly constellations — provide the common ground that geographically separated populations used to accumulate their knowledge about the world, a layer of knowledge that is both timeless and urgent.
The evening of Empires, the homecoming of conquerors — the inward implosion that was the 19th century would produce two Worlds Wars, and culminate in the atomic bombing of Japan. Like the stark, void interior of an atom (the void that makes matter) — through this nuclear wormhole, history entered a phase where matter did not matter — everything was now about Information.
In a deeper sense, because information was being carried along metallic veins by electricity, processed by computer chips and semiconductors, we entered a reprisal of the three great prehistoric ages of metal: Iron, Copper and Bronze. Everything that was once made of metal — weapons, currency, and tools — were now flowing through metal. Just as the gravity of the Moon produces ocean tides, the rhythm of day and night produces tidal waves and thunderstorms of information.
Apart from tides in the water, the Moon forces “earth tides” in the crust of our planet itself. These slow contractions and expansions are as old as the earth, like a continuous hum going through all geological processes. All subterranean chemistry is perpetually bathed in this inaudible sound, and it accompanies the slow formation of every mineral and rock. GPS signals and particle physics experiments need to account for the errors introduced by this wave.
In Hindu mythology, nada-brahma is an acoustic emanation from the four mouths of the god Brahma, facing the four cardinal directions. This vibration is meant to have given form to the entire universe, much like the geometric patterns produced by sound on metallic plates sprinkled with salt (cymatics) — a discovery first published by the physicist Ernst Chladni in 1787.
Bees have often been deemed as mathematical insects, and across millennia their hexagonal hives have been thought to optimise the volumes of minimum wax required to store the maximum honey. Little thought has been invested in how the queen bee controls and communicates with her dancing horde. Indeed, could the beehive be an acoustic resonator, that radiates like Brahma — the cosmic hum of the queen bee?
Rohit Guptaexplores the history of science as Compasswallah;@fadesingh