Sailing a traditional canoe from Guam to the neighboring island of Rota.
(Photo by Sandra Okada)
Imagine something. Imagine sailing this canoe--this proa--over 500 miles of open ocean and navigating using only the stars and the waves and the sea life and you're exquisit knowledge of the how it all works together.
Get it? No, I don't either.
But there are men capable of doing just that, capable of integrating and synthesizing all the data Mother Nature/the Universe provides and, by some seeming alchemy, figuring out where on the infinite deep blue they are and where they are going.
But never mind the intuitive impossibilities, the beyond-the-pale grasp of things both ephemeral and mystical. There must be some hard science going on here, some bone-deep comprehension of reality that only seems mystical and magical. We know, after all, that there really is no such thing as magic, that mysticism is just simply irrational.
My own take on it goes like this: The type of man who can conjure his position in a limitless sea started developing his skills early--as a young boy. Scientists call this an ontogenetic skill rather than a phylogenetic skill. Ontogenetic skills are skills that don't come naturally--we must learn them. Like playing the piano. Phylogengenetic etic skills are skills every creature in the phylum can do naturally. Like all humans can walk.
Ontogenetic skills must be learned early--in childhood--and that's how great navigators do it. As young children they are exposed to the sea, to the waves, to the stars, to that sense of how it all works together. So what seems impossible to the rest of us, comes "naturally" to them. But it's not magical or mystical. It's all based on real things learned early. Do they understand how they do it? Probably not. Not anymore than the rest of us understand love or beauty or why we crave chocolate ice cream.