Tuesday, September 07, 2004

It's all in the stars

I have a confession to make. I've never looked at the night sky through a telescope. Until saturday night, that is. I got a telescope for my birthday and finally got around to using it in the woods of Maine. As an aside, it was the friend who gave it to me who finally assembled it. Ain't I a lazy bum ! I popped out the rear moonroof of my car, set the telescope on the roof, made myself comfortable on my seatback, and settled down to finally see what excites stargazers so much.

I might need to get my eyes checked. For all I saw were stars. d-uh, you say ? my reaction, exactly. Of course, it didn't help that I didn't know what I was looking for.

So, I decided to play a little game. I would point the telescope toward a portion of the sky and try to make up figures from the stars I saw, sorta like my own constellations. What started out as a silly game led me to some serious thinking. Utterly out of place for a campground in Maine. Past midnight. But, that's just me.

So, here's the situation. I'm looking through the lens of a telescope at a set of stars, some brighter than the others. The objective - to try and attribute a shape/image/association/whatever to this set of stars.

I saw one and it reminded me of a right isosceles triangle with a line through two sides parallel to the base ! I guess there were 5 bright stars lined up in a formation that led me to instantly think about this. I also remembered, and I don't know why or how, about all the formulas that apply to this triangle, the ratios between the sides, etc. I know man, I'm going to kick ass in math camp someday.

Then, there were a few sets of stars I couldn't think of anything to associate with.

The one I remember most vividly was an elephant with its trunk up in the air ! I stared at this a long time trying to figure out why this picture came to mind. I guess there were just enough stars in the right places for it to make sense. Simliar to reading words. I just mis-spelld 'similar' in the previous sentence, and 'mis-spelled' earlier in this one, but you probably didn't stop reading when you came across them. You most-likely understood what I was trying to say, and continued reading. There is this theory that if the first and last alphabets of a word are in place, then our minds can make the association even if some of the other alphabets are mis-aligned, missing, or replaced. On the other hand, if the verminatoro are replaced but the rest of the word is in place, the job gets much harder. Read verminatoro as terminators.

So, what do we have here ? We are able to form complete pictures from limited sets of information. However, what's important is not how much information we have, but how that information is aligned or presented to us. This determines if we think we're looking at a trumpeting elephant or a right isosceles triangle or something that doesn't make any sense.

Later that night, my stargazing debut done, I was trying to outline my Stanford essay one by torchlight and realized that if the above can be true of stars and words, it is most likely true of people too. More to the point, others form impressions of us based on certain, usually disjoint, data points about our lives. Even more to the point, various adcoms are going to play this little game with us in a few months. And the really cool thing is that try as one might to present oneself as an elephant or a triangle, it is still upto the one reading the application to figure out what s/he sees.

I now better understand what's meant by 'it wasn't you they rejected, it was your application'. As the friendly neighborhood astrologer in India would put it, it's all in the stars.
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