The Waterless Sea

“To the layman, cities in ice, horizons suspended as a shimmer above the earth and mountains of spectral beauty may appear complex, but the science is relatively simple. Light bends as it plunges through different air densities or temperatures. Similarly, the water ripples in desert mirages and heat haze shimmer are simply by-products of the volatility of the heat gradient. Such atmospheric optics are, however, the least interesting attributes of the mirage. Pinney’s fascination rests in the complicity at the heart of the mirage. As he points out, ‘the act of beholding involves an erasure of this distantiating knowledge.’ In short, the mirage cannot exist without the visual, cultural and epistemological template of the onlooker, whose interpretations invest magic into pretty, if otherwise meaningless, refractions of light.”

– from my review of The Waterless Sea: A Curious History of Mirages (reprinted)

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