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April 28th, 2018

Trees throw their roots and branches in all directions to cover their bases.  You just can’t be sure where the water or the sun is going to be.   

This has something in common with lightning.

We naturally think of lightning as something that is instant and certain, but examining the formation of lightning on a microsecond level yields some fascinating stuff.

If you slow down some footage of lightning (and there’s some good youtube video of this with a link on the post at the tinkeredthinking website) you will see that long before the visible lightning occurs, there is a little blast of electricity that scatters out from a cloud.  It looks like many many pieces of lightning that are all branching out simultaneously.  Each arm is reaching, searching, changing direction every instant.  This tangle of lightening grows and grows and grows until.

One of them touches something.  Then.


The one path from the cloud through all of the other possible paths lights up a thousand fold, and that’s the lightning we see.  We don’t see all the other ‘failed’ ones that didn’t touch anything.  It’s the survivor basis of storms.  We only see the path that made it.  We don’t see all the other searching, wandering attempts.

Before the boom, lightning looks very much like a tree, reaching out in as many directions as possible.  But unlike a tree, lightening only needs one touch to work.

Can we learn from something as mundane as a tree and something as spectacular as lightening?

How many directions have each of us wandered?  Truly wandered.

How many ways have we tried it? How many more ways could it have been tried?

How have we covered our bases?

What do trees and lightening have in common? 

They are both a structural analogy for Curiosity.

Check out the Tinkered Thinking   Reading List

Dive in to the Archives

Podcast Ep. 13: Lightning and Trees

Tinkered Thinking

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