The Set of the Sails (or alternatively titled, The Clock is a Timer)

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Sunday, June 16, 2019


Giavanna Jadick

With the summer flying by faster than I can fathom, I find myself thinking about the many ways we wander through spacetime. We walk, we drive, we fly. We cram onto the Metro’s 7000-series trains, squeezing between besuited teenagers and befuddled tourists to the cheerful chime of “Please stand clear of the closing doors.” We make choices, and we grow older. But in the midst of all this motion, I don’t really feel like I’m moving. I stand up and sit down and move my limbs in different ways, but through it all, it’s as if I remain still and the whole world moves about me. The clock ticks away. Is it a stopwatch or a timer?

I love working on Capitol Hill. Being an intern in the Science Committee essentially means my job is to learn—one of my favorite activities! We had two more hearings this week, on “Exploring NASA’s Science Mission” and “Combating Sexual Harassment in Science.” The NASA hearing was awesome—normally I am assigned a specific task to do, like taking pictures or handling the representatives’ nameplates, but this time the other interns handled those things. I got to focus specifically on listening and absorbing all of the information on the newest space exploration missions and what their implications will be for policymakers. This was the most technical hearing I have been to yet, and it was pretty sweet to watch politicians learn more science right in front of my eyes!

I also took notes for staffers on a plethora of science and engineering events, including two hearings from other Congressional Committees. My favorite was by the House Intelligence Committee on the growing use of deepfakes and artificial intelligence. My interest was particularly piqued by one of the witnesses, a law professor who gave engaging testimony regarding the legal implications of using manipulated media as a form of malicious speech. I was struck by how clearly she was able to outline her proposal for a specific policy initiative to help with the problem and how strongly she stood her ground when pressed by one of the representatives during his questioning. Working on the Hill, I frequently see people doing cool things like this, whether it be in policy or in physics, but every time I do, I feel their gravity pulling my life plans in a new direction. Not only is summer flying by, so is the coming school year, and graduation is right around the corner. Tick tock, says the clock.

An aside on motion: people are like bosons, and cars are like fermions. We move about freely, darting through bustling crowds and ambitiously squeezing into overloaded Metro cars (see here). But, automobiles are slaves to their narrowly-defined grids, unable to pass any obstacle without a clearly defined alternative path. Birds and airplanes take this problem and solve it by adding motion in a third dimension. Where your typical automobile might get stuck, the plane may zip above the others competing for the same space. I can’t stop thinking about flying. This week, the SPS interns embarked on a dinner cruise along the beautiful Potomac River, but my eyes were glued to the sky, watching planes taxi and birds soar. How can I glide? I’ve been reading David McCullough’s biography of the Wright brothers, and I came across this nicely topical poem between the chapters:

The Winds of Fate

“One ship drives east and another drives west 
With the self-same winds that blow; 
   'Tis the set of the sails 
   And not the gales 
That tells them the way to go.”

Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Spacetime flies around me, and I face a familiar intersection at Policy Street and Science Avenue. But this view is sadly two dimensional—why be forced to choose between x and y when z is a perfectly valid choice, too? I may be stationary as the timer ticks away, one week at a time, but that doesn’t mean I’m not moving. I stand on the rising escalator in the hidden tunnels beneath the Capitol, and the white walls warp away behind me and I ascend into a new space. I listen to a speaker at some event; air particles drum against the tympanic membrane of my ear, electrical impulses dash through my brain, and my vocal chords ring with the first words of a question. I adjust my sails and take in the wind.

Until next week,

Giavanna Jadick