Speaking of Science

The Scienticity Blog


Rainbows of his Mind

Posted by jns on 24 December 2010

My interest is captivated by this item from Mike Tidmus [source ; his post has the links]:

San Diego’s least meteorologically-inclined Christian, James Hartline, claims an airplane was struck by lightning because it flew through a rainbow — the universal symbol of gay and lesbian rights. That offense, apparently, pissed off Hartline’s god. Tweets San Diego’s Most Oppressed Christian™: “Video captures plane being struck by lightning as it flew through rainbow during catastrophic storm in San Diego. http://bit.ly/ewQxO6.”

It’s fascinating because rainbows, while they have an objective physical existence, are not tangible objects. They are optical phenomena created by sunlight refracting through a mist of water droplets and creating the image of a rainbow in the eye of observers located in the right spot to see it. The rainbow is a personal thing, created for everyone who sees it, although it indeed has an objective existence that can be measured by instruments and photographed by cameras. Nevertheless, there is no physical rainbow that one can locate in space, there is no physical rainbow that one can touch, there is no physical rainbow at the end of which one will ever find a pot of gold–but it makes a fine metaphor for the futility of such a financial quest.

In particular, there is no physical rainbow that an airplane can fly through even if it were miraculously ordained by Mr. Hartline’s invisible friend. It is of course possible that a video camera might see an airplane appear to fly through a rainbow and be struck by lightning, but it would be a very personal revelation for that videographer since someone standing nearby could watch the airplane fly comfortably past the rainbow.

Still other observers standing elsewhere would be in the wrong place to see the rainbow but they could still observe the airplane, perhaps seeing it struck by lightning as it flew over Mr. Hartline’s head. What a revelation a change in perspective can bring!

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