Friday, September 26, 2014

What Is It?

Quick--what's this?

If you grew up in the United States, you'll say the Big Dipper.  I mean, what else could it be? It's got a bowl (those four stars on the right) and a long handle--can't you see it?

Except it could be a wagon. Or a plough. Or a saucepan. Or a salmon net. Or a canoe. Or a parrot.

It all depends on where you grew up and what you were told it was.  Whatever you saw as a result of that cultural training, you'd be just as sure you were right about it, and that everyone else must just be squinting a lot.

I love how even the patterns of the stars are culturally significant.  This one would have been noticed by people all over the world, not only because it's so bright, but because it  points to several other important landmarks, including the one we call the North Star.  And its shape, well, it sure looks like something, doesn't it? That quadrilateral summons up all kinds of possibilities that people saw and talked about thousands of years ago.

Human imagination is a powerful force. And so is culture. Depending on culture, each of us is more or less locked into a different default view on this pattern, and each of us assumes ours to be the "true" and "right" and "best" view. When, of course, none is more valid or invalid.than the rest.  They're just seven stars that appear to us to form a pattern.

I've got Big Dipper on the brain for good unless I make an effort to 1) find out what other cultures see when they look at this pattern and 2) try, at least, to see that saucepan or the parrot.

Pretty sure I can see the saucepan. Still working on the parrot.

Wait. Doesn't it look like a wifi router?

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