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Huge ice cliffs in Hudson Bay

June 22

Perception is not reality.

That ice cliff on the horizon isn’t really there.

One of my last duties before leaving for this summer sabbatical was to speak at our Honors Convocation as part of commencement weekend.  The title I chose for my talk was Ensuring Perception is Not Reality.  I reminded our graduates that as graduates of Augustana they have the critical thinking tools to recognize that perception is not always reality.  I challenged them to use their education to question assumptions, to ask difficult questions and to be informed skeptics of conventional thinking.

I experienced a graphic reminder that perception is not reality while watching seals and looking for whales on Hudson Bay.  I took at the top of this blog on a rare warm, sunny day overlooking a fort on the ice-covered bay.  Do you see the huge ice cliff behind the fort on the horizon?  It isn’t really there.  It’s an arctic mirage.

An arctic mirage occurs on a warm day when cold air rising from the ice into sun-warmed air just above causes the light rays traveling across the ice to bend, because light travels slightly faster through warm air than cold air.  It tricks the eye, as well as my Canon Rebel camera!  There is no ice cliff.  It is simply a distant, flat sheet of ice that has been magnified to look like an ice cliff.  On some occasion the bending of light rays can actually enable you to see over the horizon.   This is known as the Novaya Zemlya effect.  So when my colleagues at Augustana roll their eyes when I again challenge them to look over the horizon, know that it is possible–at least in the Arctic!

And know that perception is definitely not always reality.

See also Jane Bahls’ Arctic Adventures blog.

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