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The Daybreak Dilemma

Jun 29, 2009

Location: St. Barths
Author: Chris Uyeda
Every evening, before dinner, our crew gathers in the cockpit and participates in a small ceremony known as “the squeeze.” It’s a tradition that, as far as I know, has been around since the beginning of Seamester. In the most basic sense, it’s a time reserved for the skipper of the day to pose a question that the crew answers in turn. But on a deeper level, it’s a rare and beautiful opportunity to reflect, share, think, and learn. Every semester at some point in the voyage I ask the following question, which has plagued me ever since it was born in my mind. Today I’d like to share it with our audience at home. Imagine you have just boarded a small private jet. Inside is every amenity you can imagine and all the comforts and conveniences known to modernity. In other words, the exact opposite of my usual flight experience. You pass your time between the massage parlor, 5-star restaurant, and the kind of entertainment center that my father dreams about. You’re with your closest friends and family and you literally have everything you could want. Except two items: windows and clocks. You pass such a period of time in this airborne paradise that at a certain point you realize you no longer have a reliable concept of your location or the time. And then you feel the plane land. The hatch opens and you deplane. Where you are doesn’t matter, what does matter is that when you exit there are no distinguishing landmarks. So perhaps who find yourself on a minute island of sand surrounded by a vast and unremarkable sea. Or an icy tundra covered with white snow as far as the eye can see. No wildlife, no plants, no terrain of any sort. But what you do see is the sun directly on the horizon. You glance for a moment, letting your body adjust to natural light, you take a deep breathe of fresh air, absorb the moment and then, quite quickly, you are escorted back aboard. The hatches close. And then I appear to ask you the following question: “Was that a sunrise or sunset?” This is where my squeeze question ends and my daybreak dilemma begins. Essentially what I’m interested in is whether humans, without a concept of time or place, could instinctively differentiate between sunrise and sunset. Having seen my fair share of sunrises and sunsets during my time with Seamester it is a question that I return to time and time again with no clear answer. So I share my thoughts as often as I can to collect the insights of others. And when I do most people like to believe they could distinguish. If you are in this camp, then take a look at today’s pictures which include various sunsets and sunrises. See if you can identify which is which. Tomorrow’s blog will reveal the answers but a word of caution: the answers may haunt you.