Saturday, July 16, 2016

Immediacy or Temporal Myopia




Much of how we view our world is filtered – by time, by previous experiences, by others’ reactions. This is one reason why scientists keep careful records of their observations and experiments. Otherwise, we would be subjected to the most strongly held, no-basis-in-scientific-fact opinions of those around us. Sort of like the Internet.

Q: There seems to be alot of Earthquake and Volcano activity going on lately within the pacific ring of fire. Is there more earthquakes and active volcanos this year then there has been in a while? Seems rather worrying :(     Thank you!
- Jessica M

A: Not to worry - it has always been this way - there is nothing particularly unusual going on. Please understand that earthquakes and volcanic eruptions do NOT occur in a steady rhythm*. If you average over a 10-year cycle it evens out and looks similar from cycle to cycle. From a much larger window of time - something research seismologists can see because they have decades-long databases to work with - you can see the synoptic view. The larger picture shows these apparent surges in events are just the Earth system puttering along as usual. 

* There is a tendency among human beings that for lack of a better expression I call temporal myopia. We tend to remember only the most recent attention-grabbing events, and focus on them. We also tend NOT to remember as well older similar events, nor the periods of quiescence between them. Immediacy might be another word for this tendency.

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