Saturday, November 17, 2012

Some Curious Facts about the Origin of the Lakes

I have written again and again about the lakes, and I return to them because I keep discovering new things to enjoy and to learn about them. Every summer I find new paths, new hills, new places to enjoy, even new villages which I bring within my range by starting earlier and riding harder.

And then there are the eternal spots on the banks, where the water is at its best, high points on the hills, from which the views are at their most spectacular, the people-less woods filled with croaking frogs, or squirrels jumping from tree to tree, the quiet places that seem to breathe slowly and calmly as though the world did yoga there.

There is always more to discover, and more to learn. And recently I’ve been trying to find out a little more about the geology of the area, because people ask, and I like to have answers.

The whole region is formed from limestone rocks. An awful lot of geology seems to be about calcium, water and carbon dioxide*, in fact:

The geological formations of Ruidera are, chemically speaking, based on the process of precipitation and dissolving of the carbonates (essentialloy calcite). The conditions for precipitating and dissolving of CaCO3 depend on the relatively high level of Calcium Ca2+ and (H2CO3) ions, or of the carbonate (HCO3-) respectively in the water. The dissolution of a calcareous sediment or of limestone in water with a given level of CO2 can be described by the following reactions:
·        Ca2+ + HCO3-  --> CaCO3 + H+.                
·        H2O + CO2 --> H2CO3  y CaCO3 + H2CO3 --> Ca2+ + 2HCO3- 
The chemical process of dissolution or precipitation of CaCO3 depends, among other things, on the following factors:    
·       The carbon dioxide (CO2) content. 
·       The pH of the water: A low pH value favours the dissolving of  CaCO3, and vice versa.  
·       Temperature: The dissolution of  CaCO3 in pure water decreases with an increase of temperature. 

It turns out- I finally got round to looking up the history of the area- that the current lakes are only about 10,000 years old. Our ancestors knew only the river, and earlier there were similar formations at higher levels, the remains of which can still be seen rising above the banks in some places. The Cave of Montesinos, which Cervantes riffed on brilliantly in the Quijote, and the Grieta del Toro, were once part of that system, but are now 100m above it.

The most curious thing, it seems to me, is that, while the banks of the lakes are being eroded away by the water**, they are also being created by it. The karstic formations which form the banks and the divisions between the lakes in much of the system are deposited directly by precipitation of the calcium compounds from the water, which is very rich in them, presumably from having come down from the mountains to the east which are made of them. So while the gentle flow is widening and deepening its own channels and basins, it is also building them up around it. Which will win, over time, will, I imagine, depend on the rate of flow and the exact concentrations of minerals and carbonates in the water. History suggests erosion will win.

*My previous experience of geology, derived from walking in the hills with a friend at University who was studying the subject, suggested it was mostly about drinking beer and whacking things with a hammer before laughing maniacally and jotting strange figures on maps. I now realize there is more to it than that.

**Although they are described as lakes, they are part of the river system, and there is a continuous, though usually very gentle, flow throughout the system, enough to coause erosion over time. And karstic rocks are very soft.

Monday, November 12, 2012

In Which My Phone Forces me into Philosophy

Not the Answer, but a Nice Try

I found a note in my Google calendar this morning. It popped up as a reminder on the phone with today’s date and the words ‘Find Meaning of Life’. Between ‘Buy new socks’, and ‘Phone insurance about drain’, I had remotely prompted myself to resolve the mystery of our presence in the universe.

I was rather surprised by this. I have no memory of placing this reminder in the calendar, nor any idea why I should have chosen, presumably some time ago, this particular Monday morning to begin the search for purpose.

I am not nagged by the sense that my life is without meaning. In the end, it probably is, but I’m perfectly happy with it. So far the only sign of mid-life crisis I have observed in myself is the increasingly urgent desire for a microlight aircraft, which is likely to remain unfulfilled, because apart from the price of them, Mrs Hickory would have to take a bottle of Valium every time I went up in it.

My life is not empty, I barely have time to analyse the things I’m not doing because of everything I am doing, and I have no idea what the message refers to. Perhaps it was a book, or the Monty Python film, that I wanted to hunt up, or a reference to something I half-remembered reading or writing long ago. Or maybe Cupertino intervened. I shall probably never know.

But I have, as a result, spent the day distracted by the responsibility I had accidentally given myself. Until I finish the task, I can’t tap the screen to illuminate the green tick which decrees it done, and it will keep appearing, day after day. Tomorrow I shall try again. The answer must lie somewhere. If there is one, that is. I hope so. I have a green box to tick.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Lit Crit as the New Jazz

I have written before about a group of people who infest the world of literary and cultural appreciation. In University arts departments around the richer and freer world, there are parasites on the world of real understanding and discovery.

People like Gayatri Chakravorti Spivak, Susan Gubar, Sandra Gilbert, Homi Bhabha, Edward Said, K.K. Ruthven, Henry Louis Gates, Judith Butler, and many more, and the ones who started it all- Barthes, Lacan, Foucault, Derrida… et al., as well as other, minor figures, some of whom I know personally because they have them in our University here, too.

This is not a phallus
I also know, personally and through their writings, many people whose knowledge and study of literature and other arts genuinely illuminate the works they discuss, clarify the background and context, and seek the deeper meanings and motivations of the writer/artist, adding to our understanding and enjoyment of them. I’m not knocking the arts or those who study them, but those who disseminate their own nasty, ignorant opinions by prostituting the object of study, and ignoring truth entirely.

These academics and soi-disant intellectuals who make their living, and who largely craft their own identity, by producing tendentious, prejudiced, under- or un-researched, barely coherent tracts about literature criticism, post-colonialism, anti-racism, equality theory, feminism or whatever happens to be their gig (any ground sufficiently fertile to allow them to be applauded by their brethren for calling other people names), make the mistake of comparing themselves with scientific researchers, and their opinions with rational truth. Others make the mistake of taking them seriously, which is what they want, of course.*

The people who produce this kind of rubbish have no conception of the gulf that separates them from real thinking, real analysis, real reasoning, real logic, real thought, real results, real truth. They genuinely believe that what they do is comparable to real academic work, and think that the contempt they receive from people who know how to think is due to ignorance or prejudice. They cannot understand the truth, and they could not accept it if they did understand it.

They themselves would not accept what I am about to say, because it detracts from their importance, but it is probably a better way of interpreting the stuff they produce:

It is not truth, in the sense of being a representation of reality. It is an expression of how they perceive something at a particular time, and words, distributed in accordance with the way they feel their idea must be expressed, are their medium. To search for truth or reason in the result is to misunderstand the work.

We do not expect a painted portrait to tell us anything much about human facial anatomy or even precisely what the subject looked like unless we are fairly certain that the painter had both the intention to produce a near-perfect likeness and the technical competence to carry out the intention. Very frequently neither of these things is true, and so we interpret the painting in accordance with other criteria, and are happy to do so. It makes sense to do so. But when we see what looks superficially like a reasoned argument, and is presented as one, supposedly containing premises, facts and logic and arriving at conclusions that may be thus identified in some way as true, we treat it on these terms, and are baffled by the fact that patent nonsense, lacking any form of reason or analysis, is treated as truth. We dismiss it.

We do not see this as a kind of riff on the writer’s feelings, which is what it is. Even so it may well have little or no value, but at least we could understand why it exists. But those who produce this stuff lie to themselves and to us about what it is, because they want to be taken seriously. And so no one knows what’s going on.

Picasso and Lucien Freud, for example, would not insist, in the face of the most manifest evidence, that what you are looking at would be useful to the police in their search if the subject went missing. But that is what lit critters do.

Their disconnected witterings are art. Good art, bad art, every man his own critic, of course. They are a form of self-expression, no more, no less. They satisfy the artist’s urge to say something in a particular manner. They are not a search for truth.

*Anyone who thinks I exaggerate should Google some of those names. Unless you've had to deal with them, as I have, you would not believe such rantings could exist in serious universities. Because these are among the star names, they are not selected outliers. Their business, as you will see, is not truth but indoctrination, the very opposite of what higher education is supposed to be for,