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Sponge Brains

“They say that time is money. It is not. TIME IS LIFE!

 

Skimming over an endless series of soothing open-ocean swells, slicing effortlessly through their surface wavelets from the steady push of the tireless trade winds of the South Pacific, Kalea confidently made her way to Rarotonga, the most populous island of the Cook Islands, as her final port of call of the cruise. Bob and I stayed busy attending to the needs of our passengers and the operation of the vessel, while Lua produced a steady stream of delicious and nutritious delights from the galley during our days at sea.

 

The cast of Kiss Me on Kalea was a bit more relaxed now that Tucker was no longer in the group. Julie and Paul were spending many hours with Lua in the galley, laughing and engaging in lively conversations over some tea-like concoctions. The jealousy and competitive tension between Jan and Clara subsided with Tucker’s departure, and they began spending more time together talking about their careers and cataloging an endless array of defects of former husbands and boyfriends.

 

Jack would spend many of his waking hours fiddling with the sails and rigging and scanning the waters around the boat for any signs of marine life. At night, he would lie face down in a prone position on the rear trampoline netting and spend hours gazing down into the deep-sea blackness, mesmerized by the scattered bluish glow of thousands of tiny bioluminescent phytoplankton scintillating like stars in a night sky around Kalea’s dual wakes.

 

One clear night during the final hours of our week-long island hopping adventure aboard Kalea, I took a short break from my watch duties to lie face down on the rear trampoline netting alongside Jack and observe the brilliant luminous display of tiny organisms disturbed by the passing of Kalea’s twin hulls. Turning over to look up on that cloudless night revealed a sky bursting with stars. We were both silent, lost in the beauty and wonder of the glorious lights above and the plethora of glowing life below.

 

It's very sad, I thought to myself. In our economically advanced societies today, we have tragically lost connection with many natural sources of wonder and awe. We don’t have the same sensory experiences as our ancestors only two generations back. City lights wash out the view of the star-saturated night sky. Traffic noise drowns out the songs of birds and the soothing sounds of wind-blown trees. Few people ever get the opportunity to peer down into the dark ocean depths at night from a small boat to witness the dazzling array of life that is ever present there. ‘The sea, once it casts its spell, can hold one in its net of wonder forever,’ Jacques Cousteau famously said about the mystery and wonder offered to those souls fortunate enough to have had a close relationship with the ocean world.

 

I felt a sudden urge to break the mesmerizing trance we were both under,

“Hey Jack, I have a question.”

 

“Shoot!”

 

“If sponges grow in the ocean, and they absorb water so well, wouldn’t the oceans overflow if all the sponges died?”

 

I couldn’t resist floating the silly question to ‘de science mon’ to hear his response. Jack fired back,

 

“Sure, Rico. And when sea-level rise from global-warming-induced melting of land ice and from thermal seawater expansion becomes a really big problem, we could just 3D-print a few trillion sponges and chuck them into the oceans to absorb all that excess seawater — problem solved.”

 

I deserved that one.

 

It's all in the design. A sponge is uniquely effective at soaking up water because of its peculiar features. It is composed of loose fibers that form an object that is more empty space than anything else. It is because of all this empty space that the sponge can work so well. The spaces between the fibers soak up the water. But the water also causes the fibrous material itself to swell at the same time. This is what prevents the water from sloshing around inside the sponge, like baffles in a fuel tank, or from flowing right back out again. Instead, the water is trapped inside until the sponge is squeezed. If you were to remove all of the empty space in a sponge, you would see that the actual matter that makes up the sponge, the fibers, would take up less than one-third of the sponge’s actual size.

The next morning, I mentioned my conversation with Jack to Lua, figuring she’d be amused by my ingenious spongy geo-engineering solution to the problem of sea-level rise. She couldn’t resist the temptation to absorb my silly idea and counter with a spongy simile to express her concerns about a trend that troubled her:

 

“You know, Mister Rico, our brains are like sponges that are naturally good at absorbing vast amounts of information. But we are now living in a time of exponential information growth, making it necessary to differentiate between what is important and useful and what is trivial. A brain, like a sponge, can only soak up so much before it gets saturated. And along with this information overload, there are now so many demands on our time as well. They say that time is money. It is not. TIME IS LIFE! I think many people do not understand that the actual cost of a thing is the amount of life — in time and energy — which is required to be exchanged for it. Whether it involves physical or mental effort, time is being exchanged to satisfy some desire. And as soon as one desire is satisfied, another takes its place. Perhaps we should slow down a bit, no?”

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​© 2020 Rich 'Rico' Leon