Untitled Poem

There was a home once. It was filled with people, and life, and joy. Once. The people left. Now it is a house.
There was a house once. It kept the world at bay. It was safe, it was secure, it was sound. The windows were broken. Now it is a cave.
There was a cave once. Its walls were made of wood. The wind and rain and bugs and birds wore it down to dust. Now it is no more.

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Thoughts on Mortality

There is an underlying need in the human psychosis to feel needed or important. Unlike the animals we cohabitate this planet with, we as conscious beings need a motivation to exist beyond those provided by base instinct.

Let me take a moment as an aside to address the inevitable criticism of my classifying animals as non-conscious beings. Find me an animal that actually commits suicide, outside of staged Disney nature films, and I will believe that it is possible for animals to be as self aware as humans.

In fact, this driving need to be self important, or at least necessary, is the underlying reason why most suicide exists, or rather when this is lacking in the humans that then subsequently engage in the act. Despair sets in when true perspective as to our respective place and function in the universe is realized. The easiest way to crush a child’s hopes and dreams is to make that child aware of how little in the end those dreams matter and how little hope they have of ever achieving them.

This is the crux upon which all religions exist. These spiritual mythos were specifically invented to give a grander unified dream, and thus motivating force to mankind in this otherwise harsh and meaningless reality. If my actions and life’s work in the end mean nothing in the grand scope of emotionless galactic balls of gas and fire, which even in their fantastical scope are finite and without grander meaning, then why should I embark on any of them? What point does the common man have of conducting his life beyond the satiating of his own baser desires and instincts if his entire being is for not when he dies?

This leads to a quest for immortality, an extension by action or genetic legacy which will impart some manner of grander meaning upon the mediocre occurrence that he is. Even this is attacked by the knowledge that in the future this world, the solar system, and even the universe itself will eventually cease to exist, giving a finality of futility to everything that ever was and ever will be. This particular dose of practicality is a hard one to accept even for the most pragmatic, much less the rest of humanity. Thus it is, when such contemplations overwhelm many, they adopt a nihilistic rather than humanistic viewpoint and rightly deduce that if nothing ever matters then their own selfish death will be one more thing that does not really matter at all.

Personally, I would rather embark on a quixotic quest for actual immortality, or the closest I can achieve, in my own person than abandon this innately interesting life. While I may not succeed in staving off death indefinitely, I will nonetheless attempt just that until I am dragged kicking and screaming into oblivion, or whatever the unknown that is death actually holds.

How Far Can You Fall and Survive…. On Pluto?!

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As we celebrate our newfound imagery (and accompanying scientific data) of Pluto, our quaintly controversial distant solar neighbor, we need to make certain we do not forget to ask the most important of questions. Namely, if you were to fall on Pluto, how high up would you have to be to die on impact?

Sure, Pluto only has 0.063 g (6.3% of the gravity of Earth) to attract you to its surface, but any amount of gravity can accelerate you to an unwanted demise given enough distance on which to act. Without even the aide of an atmosphere of any significance to break your acceleration, it is simply a matter of calculating the velocity of your body when it ‘lands’ on that heavenly body. Well, it is not quite that simple.

You see, the issue at hand is not Pluto, its gravity, or the improbability of your ever being under the influence of the gravity of Pluto. The issue is you. At what height, and thus relative velocity, can you survive a fall here on Earth? There are some astounding records of accidental falls from tremendous heights that some individuals have survived. There are are also plenty of records showing other individuals expiring from incredibly short falls (though mostly these latter are dependent on if they fell on their head or if they are so fragile that any fall of any kind from any height would result in some form of injury).

If we were to go with the more extreme heights possible, you could theoretically fall from very great heights indeed. On Earth. Due to terminal velocity (the atmosphere breaking our fall), our fall from a thousand feet is more or less identical to our fall at ten thousand feet. This does have a limit, however. If you were to fall from Near Earth Orbit, you would accelerate to speeds far in excess of what most people recognize as Terminal Velocity, as the thinner atmosphere at that height would offer far less resistance, and you could then puncture through the thicker gasses at lower elevations like a bullet. This is, of course, irrelevant to the current question, especially since you would likely burn up from the friction of the thicker lower atmosphere long before you hit the earth.

Assuming you are not space jumping, or surfing, into Earth’s gravity well, we can safely state that your maximum velocity upon ‘landing’ would be Terminal Velocity as it is understood in popular culture. Which at 54 m/s (177.165 ft/s or 120.795 mph) is sufficient to render most humans ex-humans, with only the rarest of exceptions. To reach that velocity on low gravity Pluto, you would need to jump from a height of 2500 m (8,202.1 ft or 1.55 miles). That is a long way down. Problem is, it is highly unlikely that you would defy statistics and survive a landing of that velocity, on Earth or Pluto.

Okay then, how do we determine the correct height? We cannot. There are too many factors, such as the softness of the ground, what position your body is in and thus what part of it impacts, if you are relaxed (or unconscious), etc… So I will use this quoted height of 10 m where you will survive with ‘very serious injuries’. At a 10 m drop, your velocity will be 14 m/s (45.95 ft/s or 31 mph). The Plutonian equivalent height you could fall from is 168.1 m (551.5 ft or one tenth of a mile). That is slightly less than the Washington Monument’s height. Or 42 elephants stacked on top of each other, or whatever other silly height equivalent you prefer to measure large numbers in.

So, in conclusion, if you find yourself suddenly ejected into raw space above the surface of Pluto, and assuming you have the basic needs of an enclosed suit with enough air to survive that locality, you had better hope you are only 551.5 feet from the surface, else you are unlikely to live. How you get emergency services to assist you upon your successful, if still likely traumatic, landing is up to you.