Why Do We Love To Stare At the Sea?

Guest Blog by Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, Blue Mind Life- WAHC Sponsor

What is it about the way the ocean moves, reflects, glimmers and glows that mesmerizes and transfixes us?

Earlier this summer I gathered a group of leading neuroscientists, ocean explorers, advocates, communicators and creative people together in a room at the California Academy of Sciences to begin to answer this question and many others. We called the amalgamation of thinkers BLUEMIND and set out to explore the science behind the relationship between the human brain and the ocean.

Among the topics explored were how all the senses relate to the sea, why the ocean is sexy, why we prefer "ocean views" to the tune of trillions of dollars and how addiction can both be a force for ocean destruction and restoration. Providing a glimmer of hope and delivering the closing keynote was Dr. Michael Merzenich, a pioneer in the field of neural plasticity, who described the brain's fantastic capacity for change.

A couple of months have passed since the summit, ample time to reflect and respond. In that time I've been to Indonesia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Guatemala. And my daughter and I took a slow walk along the Pacific, from Pescadero to Año Nuevo, California.

After all this intellectual stimulation and travel, I keep coming back to the special quality of the light that passes through and/or reflects off of the ocean before it passes through my eyes. There's something unique about what it does in there--the impulses and images it sends to my visual cortex are some of my favorites. I really miss them when I don't have them--there's no substitute on land or screen. And I'm already making the next plan to return, even before the expedition at hand is over.

Like many others, I have pointed my cameras at that light over and over again. All over the planet. On top of the ocean, under the ocean and along the ocean. Better photographers and videographers than I have produced visual masterpieces telling important stories about our blue planet when their lenses have been artfully employed to capture the magical light and motion of the sea.

And still, the four by six-foot whale portraits, the million dollar feature ocean films and the latest surf flick are poor substitutes for the real thing. They just don't take us there like the light of the roiling sea does.

Yet, we will always try to capture the light and the motion--try to put the ocean in a box--so we can share those inspiring moments with other minds. As futile as it may be, even with gigapixels, seven-story high-screens and latest underwater housings.

I know I'll keep returning to the ocean with my lights, camera, and wetsuit to make more memories. I'll try again, and fail again, to box that light and bring it home.

About the Author

Dr. Wallace “J.” Nichols is a scientist, wild water advocate, movement-maker, New York Times bestselling author, and dad. His research and expeditions have taken him to coasts and waterways across North, Central and South America, to Asia, Africa, Australia, and Europe. This is what keeps his colleagues and collaborators working hard to understand and restore our blue planet. J. is a Research Associate at California Academy of Sciences and co-founder of Ocean Revolution, an international network of young ocean advocates, SEE the WILD, a conservation travel network, Grupo Tortuguero, an international sea turtle conservation network, and Blue Mind Fund, reconnecting people to water. He has authored and co-authored more than 200 scientific papers, articles and reports and his work has been broadcast on NPR, BBC, PBS, CBS This Morning, Discovery Channel, National Geographic and Animal Planet as well as featured in Time, Newsweek, GQ, Outside Magazine, Fast Company, Scientific American and New Scientist, among others. Follow Dr. Nichols on facebook and twitter



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