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Honey, I Melted Australia!
How do you map a half-discovered country? You make up the other half!
This is what happens when you put your Australia too close to the heater — it melts. No, I'm not buying you a new one!
On this map, Australia's western half is fairly recognisable, but the other half is almost literally dripping off the page. What did it do to deserve such treatment?
We're all familiar with what Australia should look like, or course — that strangely animalistic shape: half dog's head, half cat's head. But this map dates from the time when the island-continent was still only half-discovered. The dog's head half, to be precise.
By the mid-18th century, Dutch explorers had charted Australia's western coastline, naming the unexplored hinterland "New Holland." They named a smaller island, further to the east, "New Zealand," after another part of their distant homeland. In between, they landed on a piece of real estate they called Van Diemen's Land, known to us as Tasmania.
With much else in between and around still unknown, what was the point of making a map of the region? The point, in short, was about the itch to make a profit as least as much as about the urge to discover.
Europe's maritime empires — the world powers of the day — were engaged in a race for discovery of, dominion over, and ultimately profit from as-yet-unknown lands. The Spice Islands, to the north of New Holland, (and now known as the Moluccas) had been a source of fabulous wealth since the 16th century. Who knew what riches these strange new lands might hold?
So spare a thought for Jacques-Nicolas Bellin, the French cartographer who made this map in 1753, with innumerable merchant-adventurers looking over his shoulder. With very little to go on, he filled in the blanks on the map as well as he could. All things considered, he could have done a lot worse than this melted Australia.
Bellin had a few certainties from which to start. Some places were well-attested and located. A few survive to this day. For example, Terre de Leuvin, named after the Dutch ship Leeuwin. There's still a Cape Leeuwin in the area. Further east, Terre de Nuits does not refer to a "land of nights," but is named after Pieter Nuyts, who visited the area in 1627 on his way from the Netherlands to Formosa (now Taiwan). A local nature reserve is still called Nuytsland. In the north, Terre d'Arnhem, Australia's western hump, is still referred to as Arnhem Land today.
Other names have fallen in disuse. Terre de Wit, named after Gerrit Frederikszoon de Witt, captain of the Vianen, who sighted this land in early 1628. Bellin literally translates the captain's surname, naming the land Terre Blanche, "White Land," or, perhaps more appropriately, "Blank Land."
Even blanker was the land east of Terre de Nuits. Along the coast, Bellin has inserted the legend, Ceci est conjecturale: "This is conjectural." It almost sounds like a foreshadowing of René Magritte's famous slogan, under that painted pipe: Ceci n'est pas une pipe.
Appropriately featureless, the Conjectural Coast, dotted to indicate its hypotheticality, bends south to connect with Terre Van Diemen, discovered in 1642 by Abel Tasman, and decked out with a bit more detail.
We now know that Van Diemen's Land, aka Tasmania, is an island, but Bellin did not. He meekly added another caveat to New Holland's undiscovered eastern coast: Je suppose que la Terre de Diemen peut venir se joindre avec la Terre du S. Esprit, mais sans preuves: "I suppose Van Diemen's Land could be joined with the Land of the Holy Ghost (Cape York), but I don't have any proof."
Bellin even seems to have entertained the possibility that Cape York was connected to New Guinea, but the map hedges its bets: Both land masses are coloured differently, even though a dotted line seems to link them to each other.
New Zealand is another combination of full, detailed lines and dotted, smooth lines. The legend reads: "This coast was discovered by Abel Tasmand (sic) in 1642, and named by him New Zealand; it could be a part of a great antipodean continent, on the opposite side of the world to Europe."
At that time, people still assumed that the world's continents were somehow in balance, and that the European land mass required an opposite land mass in the corresponding place in the southern hemisphere (see also #104).
Stupid, right? But just imagine: Which half of what you know to be true will be proved wrong in 263 years' time?
Strange Maps #764
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The idea of 'absolute time' is an illusion. Physics and subjective experience reveal why.
- Since Einstein posited his theory of general relativity, we've understood that gravity has the power to warp space and time.
- This "time dilation" effect occurs even at small levels.
- Outside of physics, we experience distortions in how we perceive time — sometimes to a startling extent.
Physics without time<p>In his book "The Order of Time," Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli suggests that our perception of time — our sense that time is forever flowing forward — could be a highly subjective projection. After all, when you look at reality on the smallest scale (using equations of quantum gravity, at least), time vanishes.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If I observe the microscopic state of things," writes Rovelli, "then the difference between past and future vanishes … in the elementary grammar of things, there is no distinction between 'cause' and 'effect.'"</p><p>So, why do we perceive time as flowing <em>forward</em>? Rovelli notes that, although time disappears on extremely small scales, we still obviously perceive events occur sequentially in reality. In other words, we observe entropy: Order changing into disorder; an egg cracking and getting scrambled.</p><p>Rovelli says key aspects of time are described by the second law of thermodynamics, which states that heat always passes from hot to cold. This is a one-way street. For example, an ice cube melts into a hot cup of tea, never the reverse. Rovelli suggests a similar phenomenon might explain why we're only able to perceive the past and not the future.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Any time the future is definitely distinguishable from the past, there is something like heat involved," Rovelli wrote for the <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/ce6ef7b8-429a-11e8-93cf-67ac3a6482fd" target="_blank"><em>Financial Times</em></a>. "Thermodynamics traces the direction of time to something called the 'low entropy of the past', a still mysterious phenomenon on which discussions rage."</p>
The strange subjectivity of time<p>Time moves differently atop a mountain than it does on a beach. But you don't need to travel any distance at all to experience strange distortions in your perception of time. In moments of life-or-death fear, for example, your brain would release large amounts of adrenaline, which would speed up your internal clock, causing you to perceive the outside world as moving slowly.<br></p><p>Another common distortion occurs when we focus our attention in particular ways.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If you're thinking about how time is <em>currently</em> passing by, the biggest factor influencing your time perception is attention," Aaron Sackett, associate professor of marketing at the University of St. Thomas, told <em><a href="https://gizmodo.com/why-does-time-slow-down-and-speed-up-1840133782" target="_blank">Gizmodo</a></em>.<em> "</em>The more attention you give to the passage of time, the slower it tends to go. As you become distracted from time's passing—perhaps by something interesting happening nearby, or a good daydreaming session—you're more likely to lose track of time, giving you the feeling that it's slipping by more quickly than before. "Time flies when you're having fun," they say, but really, it's more like "time flies when you're thinking about other things." That's why time will also often fly by when you're definitely <em>not</em> having fun—like when you're having a heated argument or are terrified about an upcoming presentation."</p><p>One of the most mysterious ways people experience time-perception distortions is through psychedelic drugs. In an interview with <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/14/carlo-rovelli-exploding-commonsense-notions-order-of-time-interview" target="_blank"><em>The Guardian</em></a>, Rovelli described a time he experimented with LSD.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It was an extraordinarily strong experience that touched me also intellectually," he said. "Among the strange phenomena was the sense of time stopping. Things were happening in my mind but the clock was not going ahead; the flow of time was not passing any more. It was a total subversion of the structure of reality."<br></p><p>It seems few scientists or philosophers believe time is completely an illusion.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"What we call <em>time</em> is a rich, stratified concept; it has many layers," Rovelli told <em><a href="https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.6.4.20190219a/full/" target="_blank">Physics Today</a>.</em> "Some of time's layers apply only at limited scales within limited domains. This does not make them illusions."</p>What <em>is</em> an illusion is the idea that time flows at an absolute rate. The river of time might be flowing forever forward, but it moves at different speeds, between people, and even within your own mind.
The world's 10 most affected countries are spending up to 59% of their GDP on the effects of violence.
- Conflict and violence cost the world more than $14 trillion a year.
- That's the equivalent of $5 a day for every person on the planet.
- Research shows that peace brings prosperity, lower inflation and more jobs.
- Just a 2% reduction in conflict would free up as much money as the global aid budget.
- Report urges governments to improve peacefulness, especially amid COVID-19.
The lush biodiversity of South America's rainforests is rooted in one of the most cataclysmic events that ever struck Earth.
- One especially mysterious thing about the asteroid impact, which killed the dinosaurs, is how it transformed Earth's tropical rainforests.
- A recent study analyzed ancient fossils collected in modern-day Colombia to determine how tropical rainforests changed after the bolide impact.
- The results highlight how nature is able to recover from cataclysmic events, though it may take millions of years.