I have become so used to getting immediate responses. I bet you have too.
So when I looked at this picture in the moments after I took it earlier this week using “Instagram” and my iPhone, I wanted an instant answer to the shaded column dissecting the middle of the photograph, yet instead the mystery just deepened. While I may yet get a clear and simple answer to what caused it, to date no believable answer has come in from anyone who has seen it (though my nine year old daughter did hypothesize that it was related to an alien space-ship).
Here’s how the mystery became more mysterious: I assumed it was an effect caused by the camera itself, yet when my wife and brother-in-law joined me on balcony to see some of the lightning now moving far out to sea, they both gasped at the same time after a flash in the same area. Both of them reported seeing the same shaded shaft with their naked eyes.
Additionally, when I tried to get another shot of the lightning, I kept seeing the shaft on the screen of my phone (unfortunately I never did get another picture of a lightning strike).
As we looked more closely at the photograph, we noted several other details that confounded us further:
- The shaft comes down from the clouds, not from the top of the photograph. In fact the top border of the shaft is ragged making it appear that it dropped from under the clouds. Given the fact that the shaft goes to the bottom of the picture, it seems strange that it does not go to the top of it.
- The right edge of the shaft has two lines, so there is a sliver of a more lightly shaded area. To me this seems to give it a kind of dimensionality.
I am certain someone will fill me in on this (Please help!), and the answer will definitely be more pedestrian than an alien space-ship. However, seeing it has brought to mind for me how uncomfortable it now feels not to have an immediate answer. The hegemony of Google and assorted search engines gives us access to a universe of answers that would have required phone calls to experts, trips to libraries, or extended stays at institutions of higher education. This blog entry is not a rant against our easy access to information, but rather it is a recognition that we are becoming less and less comfortable with not having every mystery explained in the moments right after we identify it.
As a teacher I sense that we should be doing a better and better job of equipping students to extend investigation and to sustain inquiry. This will require better questions and imaginative uses of class time in order to fend off instincts to provide a quick answers. The real problems of the world demand that we don’t mislead our students into thinking that we can find peace in the middle east or even the explanation of a shaded shaft of shade in a photograph from the first page of a google search.