I want to share some physics with you. It has to do with Mach's Principle
(good science) and how I experienced it in the upper Amazon region after
living there several times for a few weeks. I was right at the Equator, the
same area of the Rio Negro's affluents where Wallace (colleague of Darwin)
collected insects and red cocks' plumage.
You see the houses oriented east-west, you see the sun coming up from the
same region above the trees in the east each day, and coming down, quite
vertically and suddenly (no "clair-obscur") exactly on the other side. It
is vertical at noon, always (the + or - 22 degrees along the year are just
not "felt"). At night the same repetitive simplicity occurs, with the
"constellations" (I put that between inverted comas because my indian
friends arrange the stars into groupings with names that do not correspond
to our groupings), the moon and the errant planets all rise in the east
where the sun rose, passing right overhead during the night and going
straight down in the west. So the local populations have names for east and
west and that path of "important" celestial objects.
No one really cares about north or south; as you know the south pole has no
bright star near it and it and the north pole are exactly on the horizon,
below the tree tops..... One night I saw the Southern Cross on one side and
the Big Dipper on the other but they were kind of low in the sky and would
not stay up for long and probably would not be there at other times of the
year, and were noticeable to me because of my present life at 40 degrees
latitude south and my former life at 40 degrees latitude north. My indian
friends do not show interest in these groupings, often low on the horizon
and washed out by the ambient humidity.
So all these things go around just overhead, day and night. You feel that
you are standing on the rim of a bicycle wheel that goes around slowly. All
the distant stars go around EXACTLY in the same place night after night.
That horizontal broomstick, around which the Earth (the bicycle wheel)
rotates is fixed in space, a space anchored to the distant masses in the
universe. Recognize Mach's language? I felt it, because I saw it, because I
finally had experienced being on the equatorial edge of that great
gyroscope-Earth. Somehow, that is a very different feeling from seeing from
Paris that the sky turns around the North star.
And if you are physically right there on the Equator, you stand in the
plane of symmetry of the Earth's gyroscopic condition, and you will not
make the usual school room model of the Earth's orbit around the sun with
its polar axis inclined 22 degrees or so. Afterall, there are no "seasons"
in terms of the annual changes that Europeans know of. We can see the sun
oscilate very little during the year to the sides of our earthly equatorial
plane; it is that plane which is forcefully fixed in orientation in the
space of distant masses. That is true!
Of course, along the year the designs in the sky at night do precess. It is
only half of them all that one sees on any night. My friends know that the
rivers rise enormously (in May in european terminology)) when one does not
see "yokõatero" (the brillant group Europeans call Pleiades) anymore in the
west after sunset..... So we (teachers) have all we need to help our
colleagues imagine the Earth going around the sun in one year.... as
Galileo did, but from a much less simple "point of observation". He
probaly would have first enunciated Mach's principle if he had lived on the
Hoping this may encourage some to come back to earth.
With love to all simple historical materialists, I dedicate this piece to
Marcio d'Olne Campos who showed me that we should "orient" ourselves to the
orient. He pointed out that, in Brazil, situated in the southern Hemisphere
and colonized by Portuguese from the northern hemisphere, people talk of
"nortear-se" (orient yourself with respect to the North, like in the French
expression "perdre le Nord") as is common in Portugal's language in the
northern hemisphere. He suggested using "sulear-se" for orienting yourself
in Brazil, taking South as the reference direction.
In the Amazon we have to "equatorial" ourselves!
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