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08 January 2009 @ 11:31 pm
Flying down cliffs: What dreams are made of  
We've always dreamed of flight, we humans. Hang gliding was cool, sure; parasailing is cool, base-jumping is very cool. These guys, using wingsuits to skim down cliff faces in Norway, make all of them look as clumsy as kids paddling in water wings.

Humans aren't much as vertebrates go; not big nor strong nor fast nor particularly well-armed by nature. What we mainly are is crafty. Humans imagine things never seen or used before and have the hands to bring them about, and the language to show their dreams to each other. We're the tool-usingest species there ever has been. Our minds reshape themselves to make use of our tools, creating alternate body maps that reach beyond where our flesh and fingers end. Every time a person learns to wield a paintbrush, a scalpel, a hammer, a sword, a computer mouse or the bow of a violin, that object becomes an extension of ourselves as mapped by the motor regions of our brains. We hold many such maps, switching between them at will without a second thought, or even a first thought. The pencil is simply there, part of the hand that holds it. Something similar happens with the tools that move us; the car or canoe or bicycle that we steer as deftly as we walk. It's not just a figure of speech when a driver says "That jerk just cut me off" or "cracked my windshield". The moving vehicle, the animated tool, is a person in a two-thousand-pound skin.

So the wingsuit, a relatively simple construct, combined with a great deal of parachuting and base-jumping experience, enables a handful of humans to learn the skills of frigates. Balancing their bodies on the rush of air to steer and tumble, skimming a few body-lengths from the cliffs. Humans were always able to fly, given the right set of tools.
Current Location: Walking away from Omelas
Current Mood: awed
Current Music: That classical bit from the Blue Angels in To Fly