Forskning, klima, energi, økonomi, politikk
The sad story of G.G.
According to generally accepted wisdom Rattus Norvegcius gained the hegemony of the forests and savannahs after the giant dinosaurs perished. It is not so clear, however, how and why we ended up in the sewer. Evolutionary we are basically the same as in the past, although equipped with a greater arsenal of survival skills, and stripped of a few illusions.
This idea had developed into something close to an obsession when I, Gumberto Gumberti, a hot day in the early spring crawled off a cargo ship in Zanzibar and continued on a truck heading east towards Lake Tanganyika. After a few weeks on dirt roads through the bush, the open plains lay ahead of me and I needed to revitalise old instincts to protect myself against predators. I soon learned, however, that the lions, cheetahs, panthers and other big animals were not really interested in tiny creatures like me. What I had to watch out for were the vultures circling above waiting for cadaver to consume, with a little rat for desert.
After a week in this new exciting world my attention was drawn towards the prey of the big majestic predators, whose behaviour I studied with great interest. In spite of my unchallenged speed through the sewers of Europe, I realised that I could not compete with the cheetahs on the dry plains of Africa, but still I was fascinated by the huge herds of a variety of species populating these open spaces. Fighting my natural agrophibia I found pleasure in climbing up to the lowest branch in a particular tree close to a water hole at sunset and watch the graceful antelopes entering the pit for an evening drink. It was one of those evenings I noticed this ravishing beauty, a Thompson gazelle, finishing her drink in small sips interrupted by careful watch for predators hiding in the bushes.
“Ah”, I thought, “this is a real survivor, but of a different kind, long-legged and with a long, beautifully curved neck. Absolutely nothing for the sewers, but alas - so adapted for life on the savannah, for life under the Milky Way, for life connected to cosmos…" In that moment, lying on my back on my particular branch buried in lusty and philosophical thoughts, I suddenly found myself meeting the soft, fawny eyes of this heavenly creature as she came up to me.
“Hey, you perverted little fellow, what are you staring at?” the deity said in a surprisingly blunt tone.
“Eh”, I murmured, “basically at nothing, just watching life in your main street. Do you come here often?”
“Silly idiot”, she laughed, “we all come here every night in the dry season, but you are new here I can see.'”
“Yeah”, I said, feeling a little confident now. “I am a morphologist, travelling on business, just passing through.”
“A morfo… what?”, she exclaimed -- her oval eyes turning round and big.
“A morphologist -- an expert on shapes and forms in Nature, a hunter for beauty.”
“And Mister… “ she said, I could see that she blushed. “Do you find any beauty around?”
“Gumberti,” I said, “Gumberto Gumberti.”
“Aha”, she cried joyfully. “Italian! I LOVE Italians! But you don't look Italian, they are dark and hairy and sexy and you...”
“I'm an immigrant from the north”, I interrupted, before she got too involved in the praise of those black, well-combed casanovas. “But I have adopted some Italian manners”, I said, rolling the last “rrrr” in “manners” and lifting my right eyebrow.
“And what manners? If I may ask.”
“Well,” I said, “let me put it this way. I know how to treat an intelligent lady.”
“And -- how do you do that?” she asked with a teasing twinkle in her eyes.
“A lady should see and experience the world,” I replied. “This is a fundamental female instinct. We males are usually considered to be the ones that travel and explore new territories, but I know that you females dream about that too, you just need some experienced guidance -- from an experienced expert…”
“…on morphology and beauty,'' she laughed.
“Exactly,” I replied, knowing that in this moment she was conquered.
“And what would you show that intelligent, beautiful, morphological lady, Mr. hairbrush Gumberti?”
“Oh, let me think,” I said, rolling over on my tummy and scratching my left ear. “First I have to guide you through the ancient, very interesting sewers of Venice and Padova, where modern science was born. Then I have to show you the town of Prague where Johannes Kepler and Tycho Brahe did their pioneering discoveries, and Berlin where Albert Einstein developed the theory of gravity, And Paris and London and…”
“All right!,” she shouted, “I've got it, you want to introduce me to the sewers of the world. You know what Mr. Gumberti? Your offer interests me. Come to the pit tomorrow and tell me more.”
“Ah, with pleasure!” I stuttered, “Miss…?”
“Lo,” she smiled, “or Lola really. My father calls me Lolita.1 Beloved baby has got many names.''
And she was gone. I was again alone under the Milky Way.
The next day at sunset, after a sleepless night, and enduring the burning midday heat lingering in my rat hole, I again met Lola in the shade of a tall tree by the water. And I told her my story.
“An egg-shaped head pressed through layer upon layer of breaking fasciae as I, Gumberto Gumberti, saw the light at the end of the tunnel for the first time. An elliptic oval of blinding electromagnetic vacuum, a white hole which inflated my dark and pulsating existence of no shapes and geometry -- this universe of rythms, of pulsating blood and rolling walks. The rythmics of digestion and passionate lovemaking. This world of motion and sound was once and for all pushed back to the caves of the forgotten past this day, when I, G. G., dived through the ellipsis of light onto the sleeping savannah -- still veiled in the morning mist and populated by jumping gazelles and hunting lions.
At this point I have to add that the rumors say that G.G. is a result of a late abortus provocatus, and that this assault against my warm archaic existence in the womb allegedly was motivated to save the life of my mother. As a consequence, my first days and nights on the savannah were spent between warming pads that were more often cold than warm. My unimpressive appearance and obvious tendency not to perish in spite of all sorts of maltreatment, soon gave me the nickname “the little rat” – the survivor.
Did you know that some time in the distant past on clear nights rats used to get out of their dark holes, roll over on their backs, watch the heavens and discuss Ptolemaio, Aristotle and Plato versus Pytagoras, Copernicus and Kepler? I, Gumberto Gumberti, preferred the role as referee in these dicussions. My untimely and rough first encounter with the savannah and the heavens had given me the required clarity of mind to administer this important task. My early exposure to the pure geometric forms, my unfinished brain's struggle with the axioms whose undisputed validity were shaken by my untimely loss of the the archaic rythm, all this made me exceptionally well qualified to fill the position as president for the academy of rats – Rector Academiae Rattus Norvegicus.
In our debates in the rat academy we rejected at an early stage the Ptolemaic “harmony of spheres,” but more deep considerations were given to Kepler, the dreamer, and his elliptic shapes. Reluctantly we accepted that our evolutionary predecessors, but shamelessly adaptive rivals, score very high on the list of perfect geometric forms. I speak, of course, about roach species like Blatta orientalis and Periplaneta americana, and even the more innocent Blatta lapponica, all omnipresent competitors to our Academy in the struggle for survival.
Nevertheless, in spite of the undisputable robustness of the ellipsis in evolutionary dynamics, our distinguished Academy has engaged in a historic struggle with the cockroachial dogmas, and defeated their inquisitory attacks on the emerging rattistic natural philosophy. Admittedly, a few hundred millions of years in well adapted bliss is a good argument for the perfection of the elliptic roachial shape, but this should not be accepted as salient truth without the confirmation of a solid, controlled experiment. This historic experiment was conducted under the strict supervision of his academic excellency Gumberto Gumberti whereby the mobility properties of the two geometric forms, ellipsis cockroachis and complexus fluidodynamicus rattus could be put to an ultimate test. The experiment was performed in the classical cosmic canal of Florence, that is, in the florentine sewage system.
You may wonder why this experiment was not conducted in sewers more domestic to Rattus Norvegicus. As is well known the big and brownish, or may I say blonde, R. Norvegicus invaded Northern and Central Europe from the Middle-East around 1750 A.C. and almost extinguished its smaller black cousin, Rattus Rattus. On the other hand, the only roach surviving in the Nordic climate is the tiny, unimpressive B. Lapponica, so a test in this environment could easily be rejected as biased. To avoid this kind of criticism we chose to conduct the experiment in a temperate environment and with the historically most successful races within the two species, that is R. Norvegicus and B. Americana. A large number of sites were considered, like New York, London, Paris, Moscow, Berlin, Cambridge, Oxford, Heidelberg, and an even greater number of excellent sewage systems like Addison Wesley, Wiley, Simon & Schuster, Springer,
McGraw-Hill, Cambridge University Press etc.
However, political constraints also had to be considered in order to achieve optimal experimental conditions. The mentioned locations, many of them metropolitan cities, are already overpopulated by specimens programmed for low performance with respect to targeted mobility. Unfortunately it is a fact that even properly labeled and “clean” specimens applied in the experiments are influenced by politically contaminated surroundings, and one can not be confident that the outcome of the experiments are determined by the pure geometric forms, but rather by this complex political noise which distracts the motion of the pure forms towards their ideal position. So, I guess you understand that our first choice would be the city of Pisa, where substantially more primitive mobility experiments arranged exactly four hundred years ago concluded that the mobility properties of falling bodies are completely independent of weight, shape, colour, odour, taste, sex, race, income, political and religious conviction. Those unsophisticated experiments have given rise to the incorrect notion that the medium is irrelevant for the motion of a body towards its final goal. Imagine, for instance, that specimens of R. Norvegicus and B. Americana were dropped simultaneously from the Leaning Tower. This nonsensical experiment would lead to a broken neck for Norvegicus, while the flying Americana probably would end up in the nearest treetop.
In all their primitive simplicity these test still paved the way for the modern controlled experiments, which were finally conducted in the neighbouring Florence, where the famous stone dropper was born in 1564.2 I will not tire you with detailed descriptions of the experiments in the Florence underground, these are properly published in the prestigious journal “Acta Rattii Romana.” Still, a short resumé can be appropriate.
The ellipse is, in spite of its natural generalisation of the deadly boring circle, and its ability to describe the shape of planetary orbits, a disappointingly imperfect form. The fluid-dynamical properties are relatively good, but measured against the rattistic perfection it is like comparing a VW Beetle to a Porsche. It must be admitted that the elliptic B. Romana possesses the ability of performing acrobatic manoeuvres by means of wings. This trick is of little help, however, when it comes to navigation through the deep canals, but undoubtedly it provides a particular overview of the roofs of Tuscanian buildings and thereby an advantage in debates about architecture, city development, and economic growth. The core issue, however, is the lack of ability on behalf of the elliptical flyers to direct their gaze upwards – towards the sky. Everyone who has studied a specimen of B. Americana lying on its back, understands what I mean. A more helpless and pathetic creature is hard to find. Opposed to the roachian flight, the rattistic grawling provides a unique opportunity to watch the heavens. And in between the golden moments of gazing the depths of cosmos, Rattus takes advantage of his unique streamlined shape to manoeuvre through the slimy and complex labyrinths of the underworld.
Even though I was very impressed by my own lucid monologue, I could not avoid noticing that I was losing Lola's attention. Lying in a rather seductive position under a huge old tree her head was bent backwards as if she was gazing the stars. I stopped talking, lay down on my back using a piece of wood as a pillow. “In spite of all this, Lola, rumors say that some distinguished representatives of the Rattus-community in private conversations have expressed a desire to return to the life on the savannah.”
There was a long time of silence while the sky turned from pink into black and the savannah was flooded by pale moonlight. Then Lola turned her head and looked at me for the first time since I started my monologue. “Mr. Gumberti,” she said. “I don't understand the world you tell me about. The only circles I know is the sun and the moon. Watching the sun hurts my eyes and the moon is round only now and then. My world is full of shapes and forms and connections in layers upon layers. When I watch the night sky I see the beautiful forms of tall grasses and ferns and above that the web of the tree tops.3 I imagine that the universe above that continues in the same way. In my world the motion of the spheres only sets the clock, the cycles of everything, but the the rest is a complex web where we all have a rôle to play.”
“You are very vocal young lady,” I said, unable to respond immediately to these unacademic views. “Let's go down to the lake and have a drink!”
I did not have to ask her twice.
The heat was growing more unbearable as the days progressed, and I spent most of the time in my hole, thinking about the best way to introduce the young Lola to the rattistic philosophy of the perfect geometric forms. A few days later, I felt ready and used my chance in the late afternoon, as thirst had driven everybody to the lake earlier than usual this day.
“Hey, Lo!” I said. “Lets talk practical. Maybe everything is complex and interwoven and connected and all that, but so what! You cannot base policy making on that. Look at us – the rats and roaches – we are the survivors because we adhere to simple fundamental principles. We compete and conduct some cold war now and then, all right, but that's only to stay in shape. Admit it, dear Lola, the way we have organized our ideas, the way we conduct our politics, have enabled us to share the world between us. The rest of you may believe that you are free, but in reality you are under our dominance, because you cannot control your own destiny as we can.”
“Maybe you're right,” she said sadly. We have our political intrigues too, but it does not seem to be doing us much good. It diverts our attention away from the threats from the predators. But still, my dear Gumberto –she used my given name for the first time – I hesitate to accept that your simplistic doctrine is the only way to survive in this world.”
“I Will convince you,” I said. Let us climb a hill I passed before I arrived on these plains. And I will show you something which will change your mind.”
After two days of travel, in the sunset, we arrived at the location I wanted to show her. From this point we had a wonderful view of the plains. In the horizon an enormous conical shape was rising from the mist.
“These are the pyramids,” I said. ”The symbol of the success of the human species erected at a time when humans were still adhering to the simple geometric forms. The triangle is of course not as perfect as the circle and the ellipse, but among he polygons it is alpha and omega. The Egyptian civilization erecting these things persevered for millennia, much longer than any other civilization cultivating more complex geometries. Are you convinced, my young friend?”
Lola stared at me with an expression of disbelief. “You stupid idiot! Did you make me run for two days away from the safety of my herd to watch this? What you see here is not a pyramid, although it may have inspired the Egyptians to build them. This is Kilimanjaro, the mountain of flames. You are just as stupid as the English explorers who came along the same route as you to find the source of the Nile. They found Lake Victoria and in their search for a simple answer they believed that this was it! They did not understand that the Nile has no single source, it is as dispersed and complex and interwoven as anything else in my world. The Egyptian civilization did not persevere because of the pyramids but because they learnt how to live with the unpredictability of the Nile…”
She stopped in the middle of the sentence. Her anger had lowered the instinctive attentiveness and prudence typical for her species. Half a dozen of dark shadows emanated with rocket speed from the surrounding bush and Lo was already on the run. The last I saw of her was her graceful dance with the hyenas while vultures were gathering in the treetops.
Three days later I embarked a river boat heading for Aswan.
1 Lolita: American road story written by the Russian-French-American aristocrat Vladimir Nabokov. Original text in English contributed many new words to the American-English dictionary. The novel describes the perverted mind of the middle-aged Humbert Humbert and his obsession with the pubertal Lolita. A treasure for linguists and humanists. Old pedophiles and and young masturbators should consult a shrink rather than reading this book.
2 Galileo Galilei: Italian opportunist who avoided to be burnt alive by saying that the planets do not really revolve around the sun. Famous for the dilemma: Is burning alive worse than being eaten by worms?
3 The Fractal Geometry of Nature: American road story written by the Polish-French-American jew Benoit Mandelbrot. Original text in English contributed many new words to the American-English dictionary. The book presents a perverted view of form in Nature as a web of similar structures appearing at a huge range of scales. A treasure for linguists and naturalists. Square-head physicists and mathematical purists should go on a safari rather than reading this book.