The Scientific Indian

Looking Through The Glass

Read an article about Glass at NY Times. It seems to have coalesced some scattered thoughts between my ears (the word coagulated probably fits too, you decide).


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Some weeks back I was looking through the window at the sky. An airplane was gliding slowly across my field of vision from right to left. When it reached the edge, it vanished. Although one part of my mind anticipated it, in another part, at a quiet dark corner, a little spark flashed. Why! If the window was not made of glass, I’d be staring at a blank wall and there would be no airplane! Or, if the whole room was made of glass I’d see the airplane till it turns into a speck and I could see it no more!

Glass! What makes it so special that it lets light through, while the wall made of bricks and mortar turns us blind? Light seems to enter glass like Lewis Carroll’s Alice who goes through the looking glass; when light emerges back into the world, nothing seems to have happened. But, like Alice, light carries a magical experience that Science is yet to fathom fully. What frumious Bandersnatches and slithy toves does light meet while inside glass, we wonder! [?]

When we think of it, we do realize why glass is special (and hence, why it’s not). It is special to us because evolution has endowed us with a pair of eyes that catch photons of certain colors – the visible ones. And, glass let’s light through. If one considers how many times eyes have evolved in different species at different times over the course of life’s history, eyes – and hence glass – may not be as special as we might think. For an electrolocating eel, water is special; for an echolocating bat, air is special. Moreover, just like glass, a wall made of bricks and mortar does let light through; it just doesn’t let photons of the visible spectrum pass through, that’s all. Radios and mobile phones work because electromagnetic waves (the visible part of it is what we call light) pass through walls. We are indeed the puddle of water that Douglas Adams spoke about. [?]

Still, mammals with eyes that we are, our sense of the world, for better or worse, is tied to the visible spectrum. We are literally and metaphorically lost when we are in the dark. Darkness is the sinister reality where our body and mind huddle together in fear and await light. Anything that lets light through is special to us. If light is Life then glass is its unwitting arbitrator.