Henry David Thoreau, the legendary American philosopher and self-thinker, once wrote that “the perception of beauty is a moral test.” Perhaps it’s fair to assume that a Family Feud survey style of questioning directed at surfers, when asked to label reasons on why we surf, would reveal our love of being out in nature as a top response. Apart from a wide range of variables associated with our surfing lifestyles, the majority of us share an internal code of structuring, our moral fiber if you will, that ranks the vibrant, living aspect of being a part of the ocean as a principle most important to us.
Whether we recognize it as it’s happening or not, our collective perception is constantly adapting thanks to sci-fi-esque tracking technologies appearing just about everywhere. These devices provide us with new stimulus information from an ambiguous environment, pushing our higher cognitive selves into state-of-the-art realms. Consider the Trace AppSurf App. When installed on your surfboard, it provides a wide range of measurements and data like how much speed you generate while surfing a wave as well as the location and distance of your individual rides. It’s a radical layer of perception providing an eye in the sky view of our aquatic movements.
But what about when we rise even further and move into heights normally reserved for astronauts? When we observe ourselves and our actions from outer space, can it provide us with even greater clarity or transcendence of our migrations far, far below? According to a number of NASA astronauts, like Ron Garan, the answer is a resounding yes.
In his book, The Orbital Perspective, Garan passionately describes that when he “looked down at the Earth-this stunning, fragile oasis, this island that has been given to us, and that has protected all life from the harshness of space – a sadness came over me, and I was hit in the gut with an undeniable, sobering contradiction.” This inconsistency he refers to is the inequity existing on our planet.
Although you might not be able to afford human spaceflight, like that offered by Virgin Galactic, you could tap into a stunning, provocative interactive map funded by the European Climate Foundation and created by the researchers at UCL Energy Institute and digital journalism studio Kiln. While tracking five different ship types on our planet, including the monstrous cargo ships measuring over a quarter of a mile long, they were able to plot 250 million data points of the world’s commercial shipping fleet that, when expressed on an this interactive map, literally lights up the entire ocean surface.
Perception is a personal journey framed by that grey matter between your ears; however, if you choose to step back and attempt to grasp what all those millions of illuminated, ant-size dots represent, keep in strong consideration that they carry a majority of products we consume during our time on land. They transport the raw materials that build our cities, food for our nourishment, and synthetic products that enhance and aid our comfortable, modern lives. While current estimates demonstrate that roughly 80% of pollution to the marine environment comes from land, this map manifests as a practical and dynamic method of viewing and providing evidence, a moral test of our perception, linking the impact of the global, industrial machine between land and sea.