Saturday, May 21, 2011

Navigating by Heart

Driving from Boston to the CL Fraternity Exercises in New Jersey yesterday afternoon, I was an accident waiting to happen. Cruising west along I-84 through central Connecticut with my i-Phone in my lap and ear-buds in my ears, I alternately listened to Pandora Radio and re-heard the audiobook of Tattoos on the Heart—all the while filing Facebook posts, Tweeting, checking e-mail, and monitoring my progress toward Jersey with the i-Phone’s GPS.

Somewhere around Waterbury, I began thinking about GPS and how quickly the mapping program on the i-Phone functions. Change the intended destination and the route recomputes in three or four seconds! How is this possible? How can a machine give direction so quickly and effortlessly? I realized that it’s all a matter of computing speed. Given a massive database of highway info and the instant self-location provided by satellites triangulating, all you need is enough computational muscle to crunch the numbers instantly—like a giant gobbling up a truckload of Doritos in a single enormous bite.

In our everyday lives we usually believe that speed like this, if fast enough, will solve any problem, answer any question, point us invariably in the right direction. The near-mystical game of chess has been “solved” by such speed. Not even the world champion can beat the fastest chess computer any longer. Gary Kasparov was the last to try.

I motored along toward Danbury, preparing to turn south on I-684 once I was over the New York border. My direction was completely given over to GPS, and I could already see myself crossing the George, as New Yorkers call the George Washington Bridge in these abbreviated times. Then, out of nowhere, a new source of direction offered itself. My heart stirred as I thought of my mother in southwestern Connecticut. The impulse was present before it could be rationalized, but if I had to explain it in retrospect, it would look something like this—Mom’s alone tonight—I don’t need to be in NJ til 9—Call her for dinner.

I did so, and we spent a happy 90 minutes together over Italian food at an eatery near her house. I had taken a detour, ambushed my mother with delight, and still arrived at my Jersey hotel with 10 minutes to spare.

What moves the heart? Not computational power, not navigational satellites. The heart is not equipped with GPS, but its sense of direction, when we listen, is infallible and instantaneous.

1 comment:

  1. I had similar thoughts when our odometer broke...


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