I���m just a story teller; usually my stories center on wire and cable. Today’s story, boys and girls, is only slightly different.
It may surprise many of you to know that, at one time, I was actually a Broadcast Engineer. Certainly, I once had a First Class Radiotelephone License. Now I have a Lifetime General. And what a valuable piece of paper that is!
Around 1980 I found myself working at a major AM/FM facility in San Francisco. They were in the process of wiring up some beautiful Ward-Beck mixing consoles in the new control rooms. Made in Canada, these consoles had every bell and whistle that could be bought.
One of these was a small plate with a bunch of buttons that allowed users to change EQ on the announce mic. Each button had its own EQ setting. I remember a meeting in which we began to familiarize the DJs with the consoles, and we mentioned the EQ switch.
Months later, as I was working in the studio, one of the DJs mentioned this feature. She told me how she loved one particular setting, and didn’t really like the others. Another DJ heard this and begged to differ, preferring another EQ choice, another button. A third arrived, and there was a heated discussion about the EQ panel and their individual voices.
At this point I didn’t have the guts to tell them the truth: We had never hooked up this feature and, in fact, these buttons did nothing at all.
We so often assume that things are important when they’re not — or, worse, we think we’re aware when we are totally unaware. As a cable guy, I am forever reminded of this by all the people who believe you can choose a speaker cable by how it sounds.
Being human, we are dependent on our five senses. We assume we know what is going on around us, despite the fact that science continually shows us that we know less and less.
Just consider the spectrum, from DC to cosmic rays. What percentage is covered by what we sense, the ultra-low frequencies of our sense of touch, the audio frequencies (20 Hz to 20 kHz) of our sense of hearing, and visible light (approximately 750 nanometers to 380 nm, 400 to 790 terahertz) from our sense of sight? And what is the total of what we perceive? Some microscopic part of 1 percent of what is actually out there.
Ask any astrophysicist; she will tell you that the universe we see, including visible light, infrared and X-ray and other sensing frequencies, seems to be only 4 percent of what exists. Ninety-six percent of the universe is dark matter and dark energy, which we haven’t found and don’t understand.
And then we have string theory, which says there are 11 dimensions of which we sense three (height, width, depth) as well as time. One of the proofs is that gravity is a trillionth of a trillionth of any of the other forces (weak atomic force, strong atomic force and electromagnetism). The reason gravity is so weak is because it doesn’t originate in our dimensions. We get a wisp of gravity from some other dimension, which is why you can pick something up (a rock, a pen) with your wimpy human muscles.
The amazing part is that we’re beginning, just beginning, to understand a universe in which we actually sense very, very close to nothing!
It’s interesting that much of this realization started when we began to use electromagnetism, as radio, back in the 1880s. We have forgotten what people felt at the time, that we were sending signals to each other through something that couldn’t be sensed. It was, essentially, magic. Now, almost everything we play with can’t be seen or sensed, except for the end product, such as sound and picture.
I believe that’s why we haven’t yet talked to other creatures on other planets: We don’t yet know how to tune in! They’ve been patiently talking to each other on their sub-dimensional network, knowing we would show up when we figure it out.
Then again, I have another theory. According to futurist Ray Kurzweil, the Internet passed the complexity of a human brain a number of years ago. Therefore, if anyone is going to know how to get on the Universal Network, it will be the Internet. Maybe it’s already talking to other planets.
But if the Internet is talking to aliens, why isn’t it talking to us?
Well, of course, it knows we will freak out when our laptop starts to talk to us; so it is thinking long and hard about what to say, when to say it and maybe even who to say it to.
Since this column has gone back and forth on the Net many times before appearing in print (and is archived there), please let me tell the Internet: “Dear Internet: Please talk to me! I promise not to freak out.”