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by Ben (walkerevans), @ 2006-10-30

Noah's Arc

Noah's Arc: How Geometry Saved the World

The first thing that you, the loyal reader, should know is that history tends to repeat itself. I refer you now to the entire history of Europe. Sooner or later, someone always thinks that it's a good idea to invade Russia in the spring because surely they will complete the conquest before winter. First of all, Russia is really, really big. Bigger than any other country you care to name. That includes you, Canada. If you want to invade Russia, my advice is to bring a coat. But most of that isn't really important to the story. This is the story of a man and his boat.

There's an old joke, so old that your great grandpa thought it was old, with which most of you are already familiar. There was a time when mankind became so wicked that God found it necessary to drown the whole lot of them and start over. A few men (and, so I'm led to believe, women) and one pair of every animal, were placed in a giant boat, an ark if you will, and allowed to survive. Obviously this joke has its flaws. For one, it isn't very funny. For another, it's not really a joke. It's more of a humorous anecdote without the humor, if you catch my drift.

And this is the point in the story when we meet a Noah, a man of historically confirmed faith and goodness. But please bear in mind who it is that writes history. (Hint: nobody who drowned later wrote a significant historical document.) Also bear in mind that you must show respect to your elders and honor your ancestors. After all, every one of us is, according to the story, is a direct line descendant of Noah.

Here are some things you should know about Noah: 1) He did not like boats. He had never built a boat and prior to his ark building, had only ridden on a boat once. One time only. It made him feel terribly ill and he did not enjoy the experience. 2) Noah did not like animals. In fact, most animals terrified him. Having to round up a mating pair for every animal in the world was something like his idea of Hell on Earth. 3) Noah spent the months on his ark in a foul temper. Between the waves and the animal odors and sounds, it was not a pleasant experience for him. 4) Noah was a genius. That rare brand of genius that only comes along once in a generation. He was possibly the most brilliant engineer ever to live. Some would consider this a fortunate coincidence while others would cynically point out the Almighty clearly has a pragmatic streak. Like many geniuses, Noah would occasionally appear absent-minded to those on the outside. This should suffice for background, let us proceed to the narrative.

One day Noah was in his backyard building a doghouse. I know that I said Noah hated animals, but no man can hate his dog. That is his wife's job. The doghouse was the cause of much envy from his neighbors because it was significantly sturdier and better outfitted than most of their houses. This is what happens when a brilliant engineer builds his dog a house. Noah did not particularly want to build his dog a house, but he (the dog) kept tracking mud into the house (not the dog's) and his (Noah's) wife wanted him (the dog (well, Noah too)) out of the house (again, not the dog's). Which is how an afternoon project turned into a tri-level house with three bedrooms, one and a half baths, a modern kitchen, and a primitive form of air conditioning (the DeLonghi Pinguino PAC-290).

Keep in mind that this was all a very, very long time ago and that most people would have killed for the secret behind air conditioning. This is not because it was hot and unpleasant (though it often was) and that people were uncomfortable (though they often were), but because people were wicked. They would lie, blaspheme, cheat, steal, kill, and tip poorly. And all of this before (at least by the end of) breakfast. Fortunately God had a plan to turn humanity into the virtuous people they are today. This was actually but one in a long line of plans God had to turn people into virtuous, blameless creatures. As near as anyone can tell, most of these plans ended in failure. When one is omnipotent, execution is not usually a problem, but the planning phase tends to give Him fits. Being omniscient is great, but interpreting the knowledge of everything seems to be rather harder than mere humans would expect. I personally am willing to cut Him some slack on this matter. For example, the initial plan was keep humanity in a state of innocence. Tragically, he did not have the foresight to: 1) keep the tree of knowledge away from the innocents and 2) prevent snakes, who are not trustworthy, from talking. At the very least, if it had been Noah and Eve instead of Adam and Eve, Noah would not have believed anything coming from the mouth of a snake.

Anyhoo, the construction of the unusually fabulous doghouse caught the eye of the Almighty and He suddenly had one of His big ideas. It would take a little bit of groundwork, but nothing that He couldn't handle. A big boat, a little rain, and BAM! No more wicked humans. He cleared His throat. Down in Noah's yard a clap of thunder presaged a strong gust of wind, a gust that took off a substantial portion of the dog's roof and nearly took Noah with it.

"That was unexpected," Noah said in a somewhat nasal and decidedly unheroic voice. The lack of blasphemy in a situation that undoubtedly called for it was duly noted.
"Noah, I have a task for you," spake a very deep, very powerful voice indeed. The voice seemed to come from every direction at once and somewhere in the back of Noah's mind, designs for the first surround sound system sprang into existence.
"For me?" Noah squeaked.
"For you," the heavenly voice confirmed.
"A job?"
"A very important job. I believe you will be quite satisfied with the contract I am prepared to offer."
"Who's offering?"
"Who's 'Me?'" Noah asked. This may seem like a stupid question, but like most people, Noah was not in the habit of speaking directly with God. I am reasonably certain that in the same situation any one of us would have a similar response.
"The One True God, God of Abraha- Moses- Israe- what millennium is it? Right. The One True God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth and all the creatures thereof." Noah, as would be expected, had nothing to say in response. Also as would be expected from any non-biblical source, he did not throw himself upon the ground because he was too scared to move. After several seconds of awkward silence, Noah managed to speak.
"Ack…" he said quietly. God, accustomed to this kind of response, merely waited for his poor, overawed creation to regain control. "Er… should I kneel?"
"That shouldn't be necessary."
"Er… yes. What kind of Task have you chosen me for?" Noah asked.
"Man is a wicked and vile creature, thoroughly without virtue. I have failed to properly imbue him with a sense of right. I intend to correct this. You, Noah, will herald the dawn of a new age, an age of morality and virtue where man will grow spiritually and gain wisdom in the workings of the universe. I need you to help me to this end."
"How can I possibly help with something like that?!" Noah wailed.
"You can build Me a boat," God said. "A great ark that will hold all of the life of this Earth."
"All of it?"
"Except man, yes."
"Oh," Noah said, and then after it had sunk in, "Oh! Oh no!"
"I may have misspoken. Or you may have misremembered my speaking. Yes, that must be it. You and your family can board the ark as well."
"Only… it's not that," Noah said.
"You will not obey me?" God thundered.
"I will," Noah said weakly. "But I hate traveling by boat. Perhaps I could fashion some kind of underwater habitat instead?"
"No! It must be My ark! Besides, how long would it take to test an entirely new technology? I don't wish to wait, I don't have all eternity up here."
"But-" Noah, wisely, stopped short. "It will be done. I don't suppose you have blueprints?" he asked hopefully.
"The ark will be 300 cubits long and contain one mating pair of every animal on the planet, along with you and your family. After this ark is completed I will flood the Earth, killing everyone and everything not on board."
"300 cubits? Doesn't that seem kind of arbitrary?" Noah asked, performing arithmetic in his head.
"You don't believe I have thought this through?" boomed the Almighty.
"What about plants?"
"PLANTS!" the Almighty thundered.
"I'm sorry, I didn't know it was as sore spot."
"Yes, yes, take whatever you need to care for the animals."

Noah accepted the design specifications without further debate. It was only later than he realized the size of the task he had accepted.

Careful research (okay, Wikipedia) will show that the largest wooden ship ever built in what might loosely be referred to as "the period of historically (vaguely) accurate records" was the Wyoming. She was launched in 1909 and at 350 feet in length was at least 100 feet shorter than the ark. Wyoming was only able to be made seaworthy through the use of iron bracing and a steam powered pump to deal with a severe leakage problem. Noah, of course, had no awareness of this project. It becomes clear at this juncture in time that the builders of the Wyoming had likewise never discovered Noah.

The ark was magnificent. It was as flawless a construction as one could ever hope to see, let alone produce. However, there were some rough moments during construction. Noah designed his ark so that the various animals would not have to interact with other animals that might do them harm. As he drew his blueprint with the various compartments he soon realized that there would not be nearly enough space for every animal. Was God actually trusting him with biological triage?

Noah began by rethinking certain aspects of the design. The herbivores were all lumped in together, but the predators had to remain separated. The plant seeds could be bagged and thrown into a single hold, though organizing them would be something of a nightmare. A comment from his son led to him rather sheepishly remove the aquariums and replace them with a series of much smaller holding cells for insects. He debated whether he could get away with leaving some of the larger animals behind, but decided that it would be too obvious. This was obviously going to require a creative solution.

Remember, Noah is one of the major geniuses in human history, the fact has just always managed to evade us. We, not being geniuses, waste our time on debating how the ark could be seaworthy and how the ark could possibly hold every species of animal plus their food for a period of roughly one year. Noah looked past these minor logistical issues and right at the major issue: the issue of creating space. It took a few days, but he was able to rethink geometry a little bit and start adding pens, cells, and stables on bit by bit.

To fully comprehend the height of his achievement, try to once again look past the obvious. This is not a brainteaser: "How does one partition a space into 17 compartments with only three lines?" This is a matter of folding and curving space until every available bit is usable. Simply looking at the blueprint without losing the edge of your sanity would require a knowledge of mathematics that most of us will never even approach. In fact, many modern mathematicians would tell you that this ultimately efficient use of space is impossible. They are wrong. Physicists would also tell you that it's impossible because it fails to take gravity into account. They are also wrong. Keep in mind that physicists know as much about gravity as your dog knows about driving your car.

Noah's problem had much more to do with the List. That is to say, the List of every animal (and we assume, plant) on the planet. The gathering of the animals was not going well.

"What the Hell is an aardvark?!" Noah was heard to shout. This truly was a problem because the list was alphabetical. It took a very long time to collect all of the animals. But that was okay, because back then people lived much longer lifespans, well into the hundreds of years. Today we think we have it good because a couple generations ago everyone was dead by fifty. In Noah's time, a mere hundred year old man was but an adolescent. Most of the blame for today's lower standard of living can be placed on modern medicine. But that's a story for another time.

The last example is not exactly fair to Noah. He had, after all, researched the living conditions every animal needed before beginning construction on his ark. But you can't remember every single detail all of the time. And we're talking about a man, though genius he may be, built an aquarium into the early version of his boat. Aardvark turned out to be on the list again under "anteater" anyway. These kinds of redundancies did not amuse our humble builder of boats.

The Almighty wasn't terribly pleased either. As you may recall, He is the impatient sort of God, the sort of God who runs off and smites a good sized city for relatively minor transgressions of Holy Writ. And the whole time that Noah, and eventually, his sons, collected these plants and animals, people got wickeder. Their wickedness already warranted drowning and by the time Noah was realizing his search for Yeti was fruitless, the Almighty was seriously considering fire instead. He rejected this plan at the last moment as it wasn't as elegant a solution.

The other fly in the ointment was that some of the wicked people were beginning to catch on that something was amiss. Noah's neighbors were the first to notice. Already green with envy over the doghouse, they were truly displeased with the 450 foot long boat. It started innocently enough, with a short conversation about property values. Noah was convinced that it was his property and that he could do with it as he pleased. He was both right and wrong. The end result of the failed conversation was the formation of the first Homeowner's Association. It was a wonder that God did not drown the lot of them right then and there.

Eventually, Noah, God, and the Homeowner's Association reached a compromise where the neighborhood folks wouldn't harass Noah about his boat and God wouldn't smite their homes with lightning bolts. This benefited everybody because Noah could finish his task, his neighbors had a roof over their heads, and God did not have to hurl lightning, a task that takes quite a bit more out of Him than most of you probably realize. For the average deity it is far easier to perform a feat of brute strength (i.e. creating the world, flooding the world, creating a stone so heavy not even He could lift it) than a feat of ultimate precision (i.e. guiding a lightning bolt to a specific point on Earth all the way from up in Heaven) which is why most interactions between God and man lack subtlety.

When the big day came at last, it was done without fanfare. Noah guided his family into the ark and sealed the gap in the bottom of the hull behind them. (This had proved much simpler than building a hundred foot tall tower of scaffolding.) This may have been Noah's biggest mistake of the entire affair. The living quarters were all on the top deck and it had slipped Noah's mind that perhaps he and his family should really have brought a map. There were blueprints in the office, but again, they were on the top deck.

It is commonly believed that the great flood was the result of God causing it to rain for forty days without a break. This is simply not true. First of all, there was a slight, but barely noticeable increase in the ocean's volume that was not due to rain, but due to the spontaneous generation of extra water on the ocean floor. This portion of the plan was abandoned after a week because it took more effort than simply letting nature run its heavily modified course. Also, it rained for forty-seven days. It took Noah and his family a week to wander up to the top deck through all of the folding and curves of the ark's interior, and by the time they emerged, recording the previous week was not at the top of the priority list. The roughest moment involved a minor design flaw where one of the corridors nullified gravity. First Noah's family had to calm him down, then they had to figure out how to move without traction, then they had to restrain each other from killing the man most likely to get them to the top deck.

At the end of what was known, briefly, as The Very Long Week (now commonly referred to as "family vacation"), Noah and his very tired and irritable family reached their living quarters. And now that they were free from the nearly physics free zone of curved space, Noah noticed that they were again subject to certain laws of motion. Notably, the motions that caused Noah to be miserable anytime he was on a boat. It takes a severe case of seasickness to spring up on a 450 foot long boat, but that's what Noah had to deal with. A more astute negotiator would have requested nullification of the seasickness in his contract with the Almighty. But Noah was not known for his skills as a negotiator.

As the head of the household, Noah was expected to keep the peace and hold the family together through this time of trial. Anyone who has had the experience will know that spending nearly a year on a boat with your entire family is not a recipe for peace. Noah spent much of the year cowering in his office and inventing elaborate mechanical devices to nullify the ship's motion, or at least the effects of the ship's motion on him. None of them were practical and at least one of them is now a major attraction (formerly "ride") at a well known theme park. The rest of his family did not fare nearly as well until Noah's wife threatened to send them all to bed without dessert. (Remember: ancient times, very traditional family where the mother still makes dinner and occasionally threatens to withhold dessert.)

And because it does not figure heavily into the history of the account, we will not examine the day to day life of the family, nor will we examine the various squabbles and arguments they had. It is worth noting that one of Noah's sons accidentally caused the extinction of three species of bird: the great auk, the dodo, and the passenger pigeon, but due to the vagaries of folded space, they did not actually disappear until years later. Geometry generally has a much greater impact on reality than modern man is prepared to credit it for.

After roughly eight months, or a million years, depending on whether you go by Noah's meticulously kept calendar or the much more subjective diary of his son, Ham, the ark came to rest on Mount Ararat. We think. The truth is that the ark may or may not actually have come to rest anywhere. A loose plank could have caused folded space to come unfolded and have caused the ark to spontaneously extend the hull by several hundred feet, lifting the ark above the flooded landscape. In fact, I have good reason to believe the ark actually set down in the modern day city of Las Vegas, but the evidence is inconclusive. Noah decided that he would send out a raven to search for dry land. I hold that this is not because he came to rest on a mountain and it was the logical next step, but that he was sick and tired of being on the boat and hoped for some luck. His choice of the raven was simple: the raven was a tremendous smartass and Noah wanted it off of his boat. Less well known is that the raven was equally sick of Noah, who the raven found to be humorless and irritable (he was, but only because of his motion sickness). Here is a perfectly reasonable reenactment of the release of the raven.

"Raven, I need you to find dry land," Noah said weakly.
"Dry land, dry land, dry land" the raven repeated, as ravens tend to do.
"Please return with a sign. But feel free to take your time," Noah said with what his seasick mind no doubt thought was cunning.
"A sign, a sign, a sign."
"And when you return, I would appreciate a reduction in mockery."
"I'm not mocking you, I'm a raven, not a mockingbird."
"Just go."
"Just go. Just go. Just go."
"So… see you later then?" Noah asked, making shooing motions. The raven took one last parting shot as it flew off of the deck.

Of course the raven never came back, but too much is made of this. The raven was not an uncaring fellow and had fully intended to return. But after setting down on a tropical island was trapped in a meeting about purchasing timeshare condos before he could grab a souvenir and leave. This left plan B, the dove. The dove is creature that is commonly associated with soap (and for some people, peace, but they're really out there), though exactly how that came about it rather difficult to explain. If I'm remembering my Norse mythology correctly, I believe it involves a dove (who is rather out of his way to have ended up in Scandinavia) and a large barrel of lye. This encounter did not end well for the dove because lye, though effective as soap, is not very kind to the skin or eyes. Dove soap has nothing to do with lye, so another layer of complexity is added. But I digress.

The dove is highly overrated. The dove did indeed fly out over the waters and did return empty handed. On board the ship, the dove had a mate who was more or less happy to be with him (the alternative being species extinction) and a steady supply of food, bland though it was, it was at least steady. There is no proof to indicate that the dove did not want to find land, but it seems like a possibility.

One week after the dove's first unsuccessful attempt, Noah released the dove a second time, and this time, he returned with an olive branch. Noah and his family spotted land less than a week later, so perhaps the dove knew he had better be pretty darn convincing if he was to come back empty handed again. So of course the waters finished receding and Noah began the task of repopulating the planet.

This was not as simple as it seems for he had to go through another list of animal locations before his task was complete. This usually gets left out of the history. But if he had merely opened the ark and let all the animals out immediately, we would likely not see the species variation from location to location that we see today. And since evolution is too farfetched an explanation, we are left with this simple one. It took several years for Noah, who was still skittish around animals and very tired of travel by boat, to spread them out around the globe in the manner God intended.

When Noah finally completed his task, he was so tired of travel by sea, he dismantled the ark and used it to begin building a new city. (Possibly Las Vegas, as I mentioned earlier.) Mankind spread back out across the world and never again attained a level of wickedness sufficient to require their destruction. And thus we all live today in peace and harmony without the slightest bit of strife. If you feel that there are any inaccuracies in this tale, I suggest that you do the research for yourself. You will find that I am rarely, if ever, wrong.