Frustrating, exhausting, horrifying. One of those classic stories starting out bad and getting progressively worse. Now they've gone I feel a vast release.
"Thank God it's over," Freddy drops a big live mud crab into a pot of boiling water. "The boat is a shambles. Do you think you can fix the transmission?"
"No doubt," I grumble, doubting it very much. A car horn blares from shore and I get up and head for the companionway. "With $25 to our name and no parts, anchored in Marshall Lagoon off the thriving Papuan metropolis of Kupiano, I should be able to whip the transmission off and have it right in something less than 10 years."
"Well, we don't really need a reverse anyway," Freddy glances up and smiles as I climb the ladder to go outside. "You've been doing OK without it."
In the cockpit I look out over the panorama of Kupiano's evening harbor. A local fishing boat heads in from Marshall Lagoon, its hull a cheerful bright blue, the decks a dirty Chinese red, all the paint chipped and peeling. Mangroves crowd down to the water's edge, softly incubating mosquitos. The water is muddy from the river flowing down from the slowly dissolving Papua highlands. On the east side of the harbor the mangroves have been thrashed back and there is a reasonably new wharf with the scattered buildings of the Regional Fisheries Freezer Plant.
On the wharf, a Jeep faces us. It honks its horn again, a long blast. "Freddy, hand me the binocs, please." I reach my hand down into the companionway and wiggle it until she puts the binoculars in it.
I focus them on the wharf. A man is standing next to the Jeep. He looks at Moira and then turns back to the Jeep. The Jeep honks again, longer. "I guess that's Mr. Peter VonMurtens," I murmur to myself, smiling.
"What?" Freddy pokes her head up.
"The character from Earthwatch who is supposed to straighten up this mess." I hand her the binoculars. The Jeep is now flashing its headlights at us: high....low....high...while beeping the horn.
"Screw him," Freddy goes below again, "We'll go get him tomorrow."
"Freddy! The guy flew all the way out here from Boston, drove a hundred miles through the jungle and is being devoured by the millions of mosquitos no doubt infesting the wharf on this lovely evening. Don't you think I should at least take in the dinghy and tell him to piss off?" I smile, watching the man wave his arms through the binoculars.
"No," She was doing something on the stove and not smiling. "If he wants us, he can damn well find a boat to bring him the last 200 meters."
"But what if he has the money Earthwatch owes us?" I'm feeling uncomfortable, barely keeping down the urge to get into the dinghy and zoom ashore.
She puts down a pot, turns and looks at me, "You know better than that! The last time, you had to walk into their office and threaten to punch your friend Brian in the nose to collect. The whole mess has been their fault. They have done nothing but lie to us. They collect the money from the volunteers and then keep it all."
"Freddy, that was a long time ago, when Earthwatch was just getting started. It's different now. They'll pay." Over on the wharf the man, probably VonMurtens, is hopping around, flapping his arms, possibly to keep the droves of mosquitos off. The Jeep is honking continuously, flashing its lights furiously.
"Dinner's ready," Freddy says sweetly from down below.
We eat in silence. Mostly because the mammoth mangrove crab is so delicious. It has claws as big as my hand and all of us have our mouths crammed with crabmeat. All of us including Dr. Walter Cat who nibbles the bits and pieces Freddy passes him.
"Absolutely delectable," I dip the last of the big white chunks of meat into the melted butter when, through the soft strains of the Moody Blues tape, there is a knock on the hull.
"Sounds like he made it," I comment, getting up.
"Don't let him aboard unless he has the money." Freddy wipes her mouth and Walter cat imitates her.
In the pitch black night I see a white oval looking over the lifeline; a face.
"Hello?" says the white oval, "Dr. Chesher?".
I turn on the deck lights and see a thin man with sandy hair and a lean, pleasant face standing in a dug-out canoe with bare feet in the inevitable 2 inches of water in the bottom. The tide is racing out and the boat is trembling. A pitch black Papuan fisherman is holding the whole affair steady with one large hand latched to Moira's gunnel. "You'd better climb out of there carefully," I smile, "and come aboard."
He's quite nimble and comes over the lifeline easily, puts out his hand and smiles a really charming smile, "Hi, I'm Peter VonMurtens."
I'm impressed. The man has stamina. "Freddy, Mr. VonMurtens is here".
"Is he clean?" she comes out of the companionway to look him over. It is not a very welcoming look.
To his credit, VonMurtens laughs, "I've just bathed and was really a mess before I did, so I appreciate your question."
"Did you bring the payment for the field expenses?" She asks, dryly.
"Yes, I did," he says.
"Come have some coffee and desert," I gesture below and Freddy retreats down the ladder.
He climbs down, turns, looks over the interior of the Moira. His eyes rest for a few moments on the picture of the full Earth hanging on the bulkhead behind the dinette. He reminds me a bit of Peter O'Toole with a sort of easy and natural friendliness. Most people who come aboard do not really look around - fixated as most humans are on the social scene. This man is both nice and aware.
Freddy seats him at the dinette and serves coffee and chilled papayas. Even before he begins to eat he pulls out a wad of travellers checks and Freddy and I watch as he signs them over to the Foundation. He is about half through when Walter Cat comes flying through the companionway and lands on the deck. "Wow!" Peter starts, "That's some huge cat!" The atmosphere between Freddy and Peter immediately thaws.
"First, let me explain what happened from our end of it," says Peter as he passes over the checks, "Then you can tell me what happened out here and maybe we can get the show back on the road."
"Earthwatch agreed to find volunteers for a project to survey the coral reefs of the Milne Bay area to determine if a proposed fish processing station would be a realistic and worthwhile addition to the society or if it would be unable to get enough product and turn out to be a serious liability and social disaster," Peter smiles, "Right from the project description you wrote."
"You were to begin in Tagula, near the place where the ice plant would be built. The Fisheries Department was to greet the participants in Port Moresby and provide a support vessel to get them to Tagula where you would meet them." he sipped some of Freddy's fresh ground PNG coffee.
"The first team arrived and about a week later we began to get alarming reports. One of the participants called to say he and three others were outraged and were going to quit and go on vacation in the Highlands. He said you were nowhere to be found and Fisheries claimed to know nothing about the whole affair. We phoned the Chief Fisheries Officer and he said the Director of Fisheries, a Peter Wilson, had made some arrangement with you but only Mr. Wilson knew what it was and he had gone on leave for four months. They would, however, try to do something with the teams of volunteers."
"The second team was ready for departure when we got word you had been located and were going to work with the second team not in Tagula, but here, in Marshall Lagoon. So the team left and came here. Then Brian got your phone call. You apparently got rather upset with him and told him to cancel the remaining expeditions. He told me to fly out here and try to patch things up. We have many people who have not only signed up to help but have bought non-refundable air tickets to come out here. Team III has already been canceled." He finished his coffee and looked down at Walter who was staring at his feet. Walter is still aggressive at times, though not as bad as before I denutted him.
"Things looked a bit different from this end," I begin, "But essentially you've got it right. We had just finished two surveys on deep water pearl oysters. The first, in Tagula, enabled us to scope out the area to be surveyed by the Earthwatch teams and talk to the local people. Then we surveyed the Trobriand Islands at the request of the Provincial government. Finally, we went to Tagula to begin the reef survey with the first Earthwatch group.
"On December 3rd I talked with Peter Wilson, the Fisheries Director, and he said, "No Problems, Rick. The Tagula" - their support vessel - "is getting ready to meet you in Tagula and all arrangements have been made to meet the first team at the airport and get them aboard."
"So we sailed from Samarai to Tagula. We were low on fuel, low on cooking gas, almost out of food, and nearly out of PNG money. In theory the fisheries vessel would arrive with our research team from Earthwatch and the needed supplies. Then we would begin the survey to determine if there was enough fisheries resources to sustain the $650,000 Kina Misima fish freezing plant.
"We were feeling great and ready to go when, the day before the vessel was scheduled to show up, Father Joe paddled out in a canoe and handed us a message from Fisheries, "American Survey Team Not Coming. Return with Yacht to Port Moresby Immediately."
"If you have ever looked at a map of this place, you know Tagula is a hell of a long way from Port Moresby by sailboat. So we tried to sort out what happened by radio, knowing the Earthwatch team must be pretty unhappy. I spent hours on the radio but I never did get all the details. Wilson did go on a 4 month leave. Fisheries knew all about the project but said there had been an objection to the survey from the Milne Bay Provincial Government. This was not true as I talked to Virgil Polisbo, the Premier. I got him to send a telegram saying, "No Objection to Survey Team. I would like to see survey done at earliest time."
"I found out someone in Port Moresby, maybe Sir John Guise, maybe someone in fisheries, had told someone in the Milne Bay Provincial Government to object to the survey. They said we were a dive team trying to rip off all their shellfish. Or else we were spies for the Japanese."
"Spies for the Japanese?" Peter raises his eyebrows in surprise.
"Yeah. Another story. We'll probably never find out for sure what the reason was, but I have a sneaking suspicion key people don't want the survey because they know we will probably demonstrate the Fisheries Freezing Plant at Misima will be an economic and social disaster."
"If it would be a disaster, why would the government want to build it?" Peter asks.
"Because some people stand to get a lot of money - several million bucks in FAO aid funds - to do the actual construction. My guess is, key government people have seen to it the estimated cost of building the 64 proposed freezer plants is substantially more than the actual amount they will spend: the difference going into their personal accounts in one form or another. Suppose we prove to FAO there should only be one fisheries plant in the Milne Bay District instead of two. The whole project would fold because there is already a freezer plant in Samarai.
"In addition, there are factions of the provincial government opposing the plants because they would be setting up a national fisheries system in the same area as the existing provincial one. Top it off with our plans to survey the Manus area as well and we represent a multi-million dollar threat to those who want the fish freezing stations built."
"Why not explain this to FAO? Doesn't Wilson work for them? Didn't he authorize the survey?" Peter asks.
"Explanations without actual survey data are meaningless. Everybody wants to believe the area is teeming with fish and the local fishermen can catch tons per day. In addition, don't forget Peter Wilson also wants the project to go ahead. He's put years of work in on it and FAO has already spent heaps of money on it. To admit the project was poorly thought out and done without proper data on available resources would be an admission of incompetence on the part of the FAO planner.
"Wilson and I go back a long time and although he knows a survey should be done he's also a bit worried about what we might find. In fact, he'd be really worried if he knew what we've found right here in Kupiano." I pause and grab Walter the Cat who is about to attack Peter's feet.
"Anyway, I discovered our support ship, the Tagula, was on the slipway with half her bottom removed. She will not be available for any part of our expeditions.
"There is another fisheries boat, the Durriang. The Undersecretary of the Department of Primary Industries, Paul Sai took the Durriang to Tagula for a good will tour over Christmas. He agreed to take the participants with him and drop them off in Tagula but then, when the Milne Bay Government objected to the survey, he left them stranded in Port Moresby." I stop for a moment to pour another cup of coffee.
"There is another possible reason why the deal with Fisheries fell through," I look up at VonMurtens. "It's one of the reasons I was so pissed at Brian. The fisheries people were expecting a team of American divers. Only half of the Earthwatch team who got off the plane could even swim and only two people had diving certificates. Three of the team were a trio from Texas in their late sixties. The head of the trio was a retired dentist who was into psychic surgery. He wanted to do some laying on of hands for Sue Rainer, the fisheries officer who met them at the airport and was in charge of coordinating the deal."
"Well," Peter shifts position, "I - uh - understand there was some mix-up there, yes. Don't worry, the rest of the participants will be certified SCUBA divers."
"If there are any more teams," I mutter and continue, "Fisheries put the first team of participants to "work" in a mangrove swamp called Bootless Bay near Port Moresby. Since it took me a week to sail up from Tagula, I missed the whole first team. I got Fisheries to agree to truck the second team here to Kupiano where I would meet them with the Moira. Kupiano was the first place one of the Fisheries Freezer Plants had been built and at least we would be getting data pertinent to the project."
"On December 23rd, an 8-ton open bed truck came rolling up to the wharf with 9 sunburned and dusty Earthwatchers aboard. They were not happy about anything. Three of them could not swim and wanted to know, right away, what they would be doing. They were lead by an angry lady with thick glasses who seemed overjoyed to finally nail the person responsible for her discomfort. We had a pair from Louisville, Kentucky who introduced themselves with "well we're ready to go back now."
There was a geologist and his wife, an architect and his daughter who both had some sort of nervous disorder and shook and stuttered uncontrollably.
They all had their camping gear but there were no supplies, no food, no small boat, no tanks, no compressor, no nothing from Fisheries, and no money from Earthwatch." I look meaningfully at Peter who smiles back at me nervously.
"We took the team out to Coutance Island, a small sand island on the reef protecting Marshall Lagoon and set up camp. I called Fisheries on the radio and they said the support vessel, with all the gear, would be coming right away. We managed to feed everyone on the dregs of Moira's stores. The next morning, Christmas Eve, Fisheries told me on the radio they were going to truck the supplies down because the support vessel could not make it until the next day.
"Three of the people said they wanted to drop out of the expedition so, leaving everyone else on the little island, we took them and sailed back to Kupiano. The truck arrived with 8 SCUBA tanks, two of them labeled "BAD" with a big felt-tipped pen. There was a small SCUBA compressor. It didn't work. There was about 5 kilos of frozen beef, 3 loaves of bread and that was that."
"I was desperate. We had no fuel for the outboard, no cooking gas, no pots and pans, nothing to make a decent meal out of, and no money. I walked into the small village and looked around the one trade store. Not much. I asked about cooking gas or outboard fuel and learned there was nothing available, especially late on Christmas Eve. I walked up the road in the dusk, headed for the District Commissioner's house.
"The European compound was on a small hill. All the houses were lit up and I heard loud Christmas Carols coming from two of them. I walked up to Bob Bamford's door and knocked. The door opened and Bob tottered there, fairly well into his Christmas Spirits. Bob's attractive Papuan wife, Vagi, asked "Who is it?" and Bob answered, "The American Bloke, Richard. Come in, Richard, Merry Christmas." "How-ya-goin-MATE!" Said Bob's friend Andy, "Have a Beer!"
"Over a beer I explained the sad story of the Earthwatch adventurers stranded out there on the little island on Christmas Eve with no food, no cooking gas and no outboard fuel.
"No bloody problem," said Andy who was weaving slightly at the table. "I know where there's a whole drum of petrol."
"And I know where we can get some cooking gas if you've got a bottle," said Bob. We gathered up a couple of six packs of beer and off we went into the blackness of the tropical Christmas Eve in Bob's truck. We stopped at the wharf and I got my empty gas bottle and a drum for fuel. Then we went weaving back into the village, drove into an official looking compound and parked behind a building. I presumed, since Andy worked for the Public Works Ministry, it was some sort of a fuel depot. Bob walked up to a window at the rear of the building, slid it open and climbed in, falling inside with a loud thump and giggles. I took the empty fuel drum and climbed in through the window, figuring they simply didn't want to bother to go get the keys.
"The District Officer asked the Public Works Director for a beer and while I siphoned the fuel from a large drum in the middle of the room, Andy sat in the window frame, guzzling, while Bob sat on a sturdy wood desk guzzling. "What is this place," I asked.
"They both started to roar laughing. "This, my friend, is the Police Station," snortled the District Officer.
"Nobody would expect a bunch of thieves to break into the cop shop on Christmas Eve," hee-hawed Andy.
"Jesus Christ," I whispered. The next stop was the house of the headmaster of the local school. He was, Bob explained as I siphoned cooking gas from the big storage bottle under the house, on leave for Christmas and wouldn't mind helping out the Earthwatchers in the slightest. Bob balanced the 100 cubic foot storage tank up on its end while drinking beer with his other hand.
"We stopped by Bob's house again and Vagi had a big sac of food for us, "For Christmas Day," she said."God bless all of you."
"At dawn, Moira sailed back to the little island. The team was prostrate with relief when we dropped anchor off the beach. They had bets going I had abandoned them there. Gives you some idea of their frame of mind.
"Actually, it's a nice little island with a splendid big white sand beach and an impressive reef around its edges," Freddy chimes in.
"On Christmas Day we took our first dive on the reef. There was a deep drop off with twisted channels running through the reef. But the coral was mostly dead; smashed by fishermen, and dying from diseases.
There were very few fish, all of them small, only three or four inches long, no giant clams, no trochus, no lobsters, no beche-de-mer, no black coral in the deeper areas, no nothing for the team to measure or count. We dove quite a few sites. They were all the same; fished out, damaged, barren.
Although it was important data, showing commercial reef fisheries leads to an impoverished reef, it was also very disappointing for all of us. The spirit of Christmas Reefs Past. A bummer."
"I fixed a big Christmas dinner and we all ate aboard Moira," Freddy reminisced.
"Most of the talk centered on whether or not the support vessel would show up as planned the next day bringing the supplies," I say.
"It didn't," Freddy says.
"The next day was the same. We surveyed what were once lovely, well developed reefs. The reefs were beaten, depleted, and dying. About 2 PM, just after we came up from a dive, a Zodiac came roaring up to us. There were three men aboard. They came alongside our inflatable and said, "We're from Fisheries Research, looking for Lobsters. Have you seen any lobsters?"
"I laughed and said, "Not a one. Have you heard anything about the Marakada bringing us supplies?"
"No, We've been out of Moresby for over a week. We're doing a lobster survey and haven't been able to find any. Something drastic seems to be happening to the population along this whole coast."
"We'll let you know if we find any," I said and they were off in a cloud of spray.
"After dinner, I explained to the participants why I thought there were no lobsters along the coast. It was really a bit sad, especially as the Fisheries Research team didn't seem to realize they may have been responsible.
"About three years ago, a prawn trawler in the Gulf of Papua came up with his net filled to the brim with lobsters. He discovered the lobsters were in a long narrow band marching along the bottom towards the Papua Coast. The trawler hauled back and forth along the line, scooping them up. When the boat returned to Port Moresby it was practically sinking with its load of lobsters. "
"Fisheries found out about it and started a big research project, using the prawn trawler as its research ship. They discovered, over the next two years of research, the adult lobsters migrated each year across the Gulf from a small island in the Torres Straits. When the lobsters reached the Papua coast they spawned. The larvae floated back towards Torres Straits and in three years the adults walked the Gulf to spawn and complete the cycle."
"Each year, for three years, the Fisheries research team went out there in the prawn trawler and harvested the narrow file of migrating lobsters as they walked along the Gulf bottom. By their profitable trawling, they demarcated the exact migration route, but they also destroyed the breeding stock of lobsters. After three years, the supply dried up and the only thing left of the fishery was an impressive research project with a big poster on the Fisheries Research Office wall. And then they were perplexed when they could not find any more lobsters along this coast."
"Back to the expedition," says Freddy.
"Well, on the 28th, Fisheries finally sent a truck again, this time with a 13 foot long wooden dinghy with a bad leak, an inoperative 9.5 hp Evenrude outboard, a drum of outboard fuel contaminated with water, a drum of diesel black with bacteria, 3 more SCUBA tanks, all marked BAD, a large galvanized wash tub with some pots and pans, and 100 rolls of toilet paper filled with cockroaches.
"The fisheries guy who delivered this, John, was a thin, nervous character, dressed like a tramp, who elected to stay and come out to the island with us for "a bit of a holiday." I told him we didn't need any uncertified divers and were not on a holiday and did not appreciate the case of toilet paper with the have a nice day smiling face drawn on the side."
"That's when I called Brian and told him we would need to charter a support boat because we could not work with Fisheries. Where was the money? Brian said he had still not sent any of the field funds, so we couldn't get another vessel, let alone any needed supplies. I realized we could never do the proposed expeditions. So I told him to cancel team 3 until we could work things out."
"So where do we go from here?" Peter asks.
"I'd say we have to drive to Port Moresby and have it out with the fisheries people. We have a written agreement with the government. They may decide not to honor it but it's at least worth a try."
"It must have been pretty bad," Peter drives the rented land rover along the 100 mile long broken road from Kupiano to Port Moresby.
"Having a dozen people on a little island with no food or stove or anything on Christmas." He's a good driver, watching the road like a hawk.
"You have no idea," I say. Good driver or not we are going along about 70 kilometers an hour and since I have not gone more than 7 knots in the past three months it seems dangerously fast.
"Too bad we couldn't go back in time and start this all over again," he flashes his Peter O'Toole smile at me and I glance ahead to make sure he stays on the road.
"You can't travel in time," I reply, wondering what, exactly he thinks could have been fixed anyway.
"No, I mean if we could, you know. If we had time machines. Someday I think we will."
"Impossible," I check my seat belt.
"No it isn't, nothing is impossible," he insists.
"Let's see you turn into a peanut," I say, "Right now. Quick time."
"Oh, come on."
"Travel in time is impossible because time only exists as a figment of our imagination. If you want to travel in time, you must travel in thought, in concept. But you can't drive forward or backward in time," I insist.
"What are you talking about?" Peter looks confused but at least he looks confused at the road. There is a truck ahead.
"Time is an imaginary grid mankind places over reality to measure intervals of change." I say, prefering this to Buckminster Fuller's statement, "Minimal consciousness evokes a nonsimultaneous sequence, ergo time. Time is not the forth dimension and should not be so identified. Time is only a relative observation, a set of local sequences of experience after-image formulation lags of the brain. Time is not a function of space. It exists in weightless, metaphysical conceptuality. Instantaneity and eternity are both timeless, they are the same."
But even my simplification is a bit hard for him, he says, "What?"
"Look at your watch, OK? Your watch measures intervals of change. Tick tick tick, like that. But the watch is measuring an agreed upon standard interval. The watch does not MOVE in time. The atoms forming its shape jiggle around, but they are the same atoms doing the same job before and after each tick."
"Uh....OK. Yeah. That's true. But what is the watch measuring if not time?" He speeds up to pass the truck and I clench the window frame of the door.
"It's measuring a standard, agreed upon interval of change," I repeat, figuring he does not listen well. "The second is an international standard. Today, it is based upon the release of a specified number of electrons from an actual bit of radioactive material at a set temperature. Minutes are sixty seconds. Hours are sixty minutes because it was easy to divide a circle - the face of a sun dial or a watch - into sixty parts. There are twenty four hours in a day because the planet takes one thousand, four hundred and forty minutes to spin once on its axis. People started measuring time by the interval required for the shadow of the sun to move radially around a circle..."
"I know about sun dials," Peter injects, "but why can't you travel in time?"
"Because there is only one planet, one set of atoms, and we are measuring its movement, its change in position. If we could move through time and went backwards 24 hours the planet would no longer be there, but it would be the same universe and the same time as when we started less however long it took us to travel. Earth would still be there, about 48 million miles away."
"Well, you'd have to adjust the spacial coordinates, too," Peter says.
"How fast are we going?" I ask.
He glances at the speedometer, "Eighty kilometers an hour."
"First, how about making that seventy? I'm a bit nervous driving this fast." He slows a bit. "Second, the speedometer measures the movement of the car from one location to another. The measurement system it imposes on the system is kilometers and hours. These are both made-up measuring devices. Concepts made out of words to describe the relocation of the car from one actual place to another. There is no such thing as a kilometer. No such thing as an hour. There are only marks on a dial. As the car moves, the painted indicator, geared to the turning wheels, moves, too. Kilometers and hours are a mental grid, imposed by our communal mind on the world around us. We use this grid to guide us but we can't travel within the ideas. Except in imagination."
"What do you mean kilometers are not real?" He sounds really confused now.
"Oh they're very real. Just like words are very real. You can go and buy a meter stick of great accuracy. Your watch, no doubt a very accurate instrument, likewise exists. But the meter stick and the watch are inventions of our language. They are tools, and what they measure are also tools, inventions of our language. There is one car. It keeps on changing its position on one planet. The planet also keeps on changing its position relative to the sun. The sun keeps on changing its position relative to the galaxy... and so on. The X, Y, Z coordinates of space and time are inventions of hominids so we can think about and measure the changes in relative position of things.
"The X, Y, Z coordinate system, using astronomical or metric or English units of measurement, are a grid to assess the position of some focus of activity relative to other focal points. They yield coordinates of points in space, or marks on a surface, or any other focus of our attention. OK?"
"Well, OK. I guess I'd have to agree there. But time....." He dodges an enormous black pig.
"You must talk about measurements of things in terms of space and time - a space time continuum - because the real objects we wish to locate are in motion. The position of the car can only be described in kilometers per unit of time because it is moving. Hell, even when it is stopped relative to the planet's surface, it is still moving due east at 900 knots, relative to the sun, because of the planet's spin."
"OK, but what is TIME?" he sounds frustrated with all this.
"Time is the measurement system for intervals of change. And it's not the same for humans as, for example, for bats."
"What? Whyever not?"
"Because bats perceive intervals of change much faster than we can. When you look at the spinning blades of a fan you see a circular disk. You can't see the individual blades because they change position faster than the human interval of awareness. But a bat can see them and actually fly between the moving blades. When we look at a movie we see a series of still pictures projected on a screen at 24 frames per second. It seems like continuous motion to us. This is the human interval of awareness. This is what we measure. Intervals of awareness. Our time grid is just a convenient way to break down the days - an actual light/dark cycle caused by the rotation of the planet - into functional segments. You can see the second hand of your watch moving. If you watch closely for awhile you might barely perceive the minute hand moving. But you can't see the hour hand move. That's the awareness framework we humans operate in. From more than one 24th of a second to about one minute. This interval of awareness, the rate we observe objects changing position, gives us our sense of time." Peter's face is scrunched up in thought. I add to his confusion a bit.
"Of course, our modern writing system has given us an expanded sense of time. Now we talk about intervals far beyond our moment to moment awareness. Right now scientists regularly think in terms of nanoseconds and cycles of billions of years, well beyond what we can personally observe."
"OK, but it seems to me you're missing something," Peter frowns.
"Yeah, I have left out something."
"What?" He glances at me again.
"Well, there is another, much more complex grid we overlay on reality. Scientists use it all the time but try their best to describe the world without using it. It goes by many names but biologists call it fitness."
"Like in survival of the fittest," I smile. "Fitness measures how objects changing position relate to one another. It measures meaning, goodness of fit, and all sorts of perplexing ramifications."
"Oh, I see where that leads to problems. What is the meaning of meaning?" he gives me a quick chuckle chuckle.
"Actually, this is not such a difficult question. Not if you take it one step further and examine what is really being measured. We always get back to measuring the change in relative position of different beings in space. If two objects are moving parallel at the same interval of change and in the same direction they are at rest relative to one another. If two objects are moving towards one another they will collide. If two objects are moving away from each other they will get farther apart. In each case there is a different meaning relative to what the two objects will or can do to each other; how they might interact.
"But fitness is also what happens when the two objects contact each other or move together in some kind of bond. These interactions cause a change in the state of the two objects, and thus have meaning." I look at Peter but his eyes are glazed over.
"Take it back one step further, now. Our mental grid of spacial coordinates and time are designed to locate a point in space. But you can't really define a point in space. This is, again, a mental game mankind uses to describe the location of an object, a being, as it moves. So let's say the spacial network of measurement really describes the relative location of something we'll call a Being. As in to be.
"'And Time, the interval of awareness of this moving being, is really the change in relative position of the Being. Change.
"And Fitness measures meaning, or the change in change, the directionality of change. We call this change in change many things, including spin, directional flow of time, evolution, or even learning. The change in change.
"To Be, to Change, to have Direction. These are the three basic sisters of reality. They are all the same process, but the language system we use, and the measurement system we've derived in our language, forces us to break the process down into these three different segments for analysis. Reality, unlike our language system, is whole, seamless, one. Our description of it is broken into discrete particles of observation because that is the way our sensory, memory and response system operates.
"To Be, To Change, To have Direction are one interaction, causing the apparent continual manifestation of an observer.
"You can't reverse the change in change. You can't undo evolution. What has changed will never again be the same again." I think about the kaleidoscope. Turn it and it changes. Turn it backwards and it changes again but is never twice the same. But Peter has not seen my kaleidoscopes so I can't use them as an example.
For awhile, he just drives and I just watch the jungle and brush and people and pigs as we draw closer and closer to the capital of Papua New Guinea.
"I still think we can move back in time," He finally says. He's right, but not in the way he thinks.
The expeditions will continue. Peter VonMurtens turned out to be an excellent negotiator and we managed to convince the authorities to let us go ahead with the rest of the expeditions as long as we do not survey the Tagula area (and thus threaten their plans for the Misima station). So we'll survey the major fishing grounds for the Samarai Provincial Fisheries Station. Neil Stanton, the Provincial Fisheries Officer, is willing to help out with the project. National Fisheries will send down a support vessel (ho ho ho) well in advance of the next team.
After we get it all set up, Peter and I retire to Peter Wilson's house and brake out a few beers to celebrate. As we sit down, drinking the beer, he says, "Oh, I almost forgot. I've got the questionnaires from the participants of the next teams."
He gets out a big stack of papers. The questionnaires gave a short description of the people who are coming on the expeditions.
I swig my brew and look through them. As I read them, I recall Peter VonMurtens' comments to the government panel describing "The American Divers who will do the survey work."
The questionnaires, however, tell me 20% of them can't swim. Only half of the people have any experience with SCUBA. Many of them are over 65 and more than 60% of them are women. I toy with my beer, visualizing how Fisheries will respond when these people arrive at the airport. Then I think how the volunteers will respond to being sent on a SCUBA diving expedition in the wilds of PNG when half of them don't dive and one fifth of them don't swim. While VonMurtens snozzles his beer and leafs through a Pacific Island Monthly magazine, I carefully total the number of people who would be: useless to the team, unhappy with the situation, angry with me, and destructive to our reputation.
Then I slowly put down the pencil, walk over and look down at him and scream, "YOU SON OF A BITCH!" and leap on him. We go down in a crash with me on top of him, ready to punch him in the mouth.
"WAIT! WAIT!" He cries, holding out his hands,"what the hell is wrong?"
"Don't hand me that, you know damn well what's wrong," I snarl with my hand cocked in a knuckle sandwich. "All your bullshit about The American Diving Team and you send over a bunch of people who can't even swim."
"NO! No, wait, honest, I never looked at those files. They handed them to me just as I was climbing on the plane. Look, Rick, we can work it out. Don't hit me." He gives me his best Peter O'Toole grin. You can't punch a grin like that.
I let him up and call Earthwatch. Brian gets on the phone and we get him to agree to cull the teams and send only certified SCUBA divers. But he doesn't like it.