Anchored at Clipper Cove, off Treasure Island

Island in the sun

Lessons learned in 3D applied to a life lived in 4D

From the 16th through the 18th century, Europeans thought that California is an island. George Vancouver and other explorers sailed south past British Columbia, went into and amongst the islands of the Inside Passage and into the opening that is Puget Sound, and drew a map of a large inward sea’s northern entrance. Others came from the south, sailed up the Sea of Cortez, spotted the shores of Baja California to their west, and mapped a large inward sea’s southern entrance. Putting clues together back at home, cartographers concluded that California must be an island. And voila - all the maps of the time showed a little Japan off the (imaginary) coast of umm, Nevada?

Island in the Sun. If you’re familiar with the geography of the West Coast, you’ll be able to spot the sharp southern tip of Baja California and the blunt wide coast of the Olympic Peninsula in the north. That whole connecting sea passage is totally made up.

I once heard that there’s even a museum in Nevada where you can go see Spanish boats presumably brought in by some unknown explorers. They must have come up the Sea of Cortez, thinking they’ll just keep going all the way north till they hit modern-day Seattle as they sail out of Puget Sound. They must’ve been disappointed when they hit a dead end. No matter, they said, as they put boats up on their shoulders or had them pulled by horses, and headed north from Tijuana, deep into the Nevada desert. They probably thought it was just a short portage over some narrow sand bank. And then they ended up running out of food and water and perishing in the Nevada desert, lost and confused and dreaming of that inland sea that never was to be found anywhere but on their map.

We laugh at all this now, because we have fancy satellite equipment that gives us very exact coordinates. We carry devices that map the world for us in map or satellite photo, portrait or landscape, as a topographic map or even the creepy Google Street View type. We know our world in 2D and 3D really well.

Life happens in 4D. We have no satellite map for the 4D world. We don’t know what will happen in the future. We can draw maps and plan out our life and pretend like we know what will happen, but we’re just pretending. When we hit a sand bank in time we have a choice to make. We can either listen to what life tells us, turn around and try something else, or we can put the boats up on our shoulders and head into the desert. You can pretend to be the first (a sane person) or the second (an insane person, or as often referred to in Silicon Valley, a visionary) but in both cases, until we get the truly creepy Google Time View in addition to Street View, you’re just pretending. You have no clue. There’s no certainty, there’s only people who pretend to be certain.

So don’t waste your life on planning out your life. Just live it. Little by little, one goes far.

And don’t forget to hug the shore.


PS. Stanford is digitizing a whole collection of maps showing California as an island. Perhaps despite Stanford’s best wishes, though, California stubbornly remains attached to the rest of the US. Learn more here:

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Dimitri’s story.