(OPE-L) nautical digression

From: Gerald A. Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Mon Mar 29 2004 - 17:28:50 EST

Ahoy Michael W!

(Those who are not interested in references to matters nautical should
delete this message now.)

> It is not any part of my (not I am pretty sure, Geert's) position to deny
> the heuristic usefulness of concrete history. The point is only that it is
> the moments of the system as it is at any point that are the necessary
> determinants of that systems current dynamics. In a CJE article I once
>  used a metaphor that might appeal to Cap'n Jerry: History is like
> dead-reckoning in ocean navigation: jolly useful in telling you how you
> got to where you THINK you are. But to grasp where you are going it
> is necessary to get a fix on where you are by reference to geographical
> or heavenly features: the 'fixed point of the system just so it still is
> THE system. Then we dead-reckon again as we are buffeted by the
> storms of contingency.  ("Events  dear boy, events", as conservative
> PM Harold Macmillan - I think - was alleged to have said in response
> to aquestion about why the conservative government's policy wasn't
> where they thought it was.)

A grand metaphor, matey, but one that might be misleading (quite literally).
To begin with, a good sailor never trusts completely in their dead
reckoning.  As you say, dead reckoning tells you where you think you
are but a miscalculation of  tide, current, leeway, speed made good, etc.
can all mislead a trusting sailor.  This is why -- especially in the fog
(oh, the yarns I could tell of  a 'bit'  of  fog off the coast of Maine!) --
a sailor is only reassured by a positive "fix."  Even then, buoys may
have moved, light and/or sound characteristics of lighthouses may have
changed,  shoreside distinguishing features may have changed  or
might be confused with other similar-looking points on land, etc. In
any event, whether dead reckoning or celestial navigation is used, the
sailor relies on a chart. Alas, we have no accurate charts nor compass
to help guide us away from the reefs of political economy and into the
snug harbor of an egalitarian society.

As for ocean navigation, note that there is more margin for
error than while coasting.  Contrary to the belief of lubbers, good
sailors know that there are far more dangers near the land: the
motto should be 'respect the sea but *fear* the land!', laddie.  As for
celestial navigation:  while a knowledgeable sailor using an accurate
sextant and chronometer and nautical almanac (including 'reduction
tables' -- aye -- thar's a 'reduction problem' that we haven't yarned
about) and chart can determine her or his position (conditions
permitting) with reasonable accuracy any place on the ocean, the
entire system is built on a fallacy: i.e. celestial navigation assumes that
the sun, the other planets, and the stars revolve around the Earth!
It thus begins with a false premise yet nonetheless can be used to arrive
at accurate results.  I wonder if that's like beginning with transcendental
idealism ....

> Must run...

Hasty departures, often due to the demands of work or family,
are the cause of many a shipwreck.

In solidarity, Cap'n Jerry

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