Friday frivolity and musing


(Aficionado’s of Amundsen will enjoy the joke… he said “Obstacles are merely things we overcome.”)

Beware – rambling ahead :)

Here at SANAE IV, there are none of the usual clues to the passing of time found in ‘normal’ society. The mornings are free of traffic jams, work schedules are not governed by the clock, and for months at a time we have little separation between ‘day’ and ‘night’: light and dark are not subject to our conventions. Perhap unsurprisingly, we build routines into our lives here to prevent an overwhelming sense of timelessness. Mondays are dedicated to cleaning the base following a roster; an evening meal is prepared every day; and most of the team rise in the morning, make some effort at productivity throughout the day, and relax in the evening. Friday afternoons have become identifiable by the gradual accumulation of team members in the base’s bar – not necessarily to imbibe, but simply to chat and unwind. Weekends are marked by avoidance of labour, if possible (a trend I haven’t discouraged), and the desire to undertake some form of outdoor pursuits, if the weather permits.

I will be most interested to see if these patterns remain through the months of total darkness during the winter, or if we disintegrate into following our own internal rhythms. Studies of humans isolated from the diurnal cycle have shown that most gradually adapt to a much longer sleep/wake cycle, with ‘days’ lasting around 40-50 hours. Similarly isolated communities such as ours (many at other Antarctic research bases) have shown interesting results in psychological studies – poor memory functions, decreased concentration, slowed mental tasks – often linked to depression or “SAD” – the so-called seasonal affective disorder. I’ve been musing on the subject of alacrity, or pure speed of thought, and how it can be judged or measured subjectively. Most curious is the concept of judging my own thought… any cognition on the subject rapidly becomes circular and convinces me that I am not cut out for philosophy, but before that idea is complete my ‘scientific’ rationalism immediately counters with the principle of objective measurement in the form of psychometric testing. It is true that many IQ (and similar) tests rely on a time limitation as part of the graduation of the test; thus, final score is partially and directly related to speed of thought. However, testing myself along these lines breaks down rapidly – undertaking the same (or same type) of test would result in a learning effect, thus biasing the score upwards. I’d also have to undertake the tests several times to eliminate as much random error, worsening the learning effect. Taking different types of test would introduce another variable – and different tests of intelligence are greatly affected by cultural factors. Round and round we go… perhaps I need someone with a background in psychology to give me some insight. Wait, did I just recommend that I see a shrink? This ‘thought’ is dangerous stuff 😉

As the picture below suggests, writing a blog can begin to feel narcissistic quite swiftly. It is with great gratitude, therefore, that I have received your emails of support, and with pleasure that I have answered the questions that accompany them. Besides being an outlet for my thoughts, the core aim of this blog is to raise awareness about Antarctica, scientific research, wilderness and remote medicine, and the role of South Africa in these pursuits. The increasing readership (ranging from 10 to 60 unique hits a day) from a broadening base (SA, UK, USA, Australia, Greece, Oman, Norway… the list continues) is very gratifying. Please keep adding comments and mailing in… and let me know what you’d like to hear. Oh, and the t-shirt below is available for – let’s hope the free advertising prevents them from suing me for stealing the photo 😉 Now, where is that bar?

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