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Image of an area suffering from salination problems. Image of Shakespeare quote


The purpose of this short treatise is to provoke discussion. I make no claims to expertise as an engineer, a physicist, a mathematician, or a hydrologist. My main lifelong interest has been in biology, in particular the nature of cancer and its relation to the specialisation of cells in the ecosystem which gives rise to a complex organism. This is an odd way to look at medicine and biology. In maturity I have slowly come to realise that not everyone looks at puzzles in the odd way that I do.

The best forms of education always increased the capacity of the educated to seek consistent patterns in observations of the world. To seek truth, which I understand to be a system of knowledge which yields minimum inconsistency in the light of the most comprehensive observations available. In floating the idea that the sea can provide an endless supply of fresh water able to sustain the forms of life which require it, I have been met with a response I did not expect. The response I expected was "well, that's obvious. I guess we need to start doing it. The response I did get varied from surprise, indicating that it was not as obvious as I had thought, to expert comment in which calculations were often quoted to prove that such a proposal is impossible to achieve. It would be too expensive. You would need to pump the water. You would need nuclear power. How will you refrigerate the water vapour to achieve condensation? Have you invented a heat engine? (I have actually, but it is not described here).

I was reminded of my years in cancer research, when I was several times advised by experts that an experiment would not work. When it did work (i.e. produced new information), the experts were nonplussed. On the other hand, people wrote to me with "ideas". One I remember explained that when he spat out his toothpaste the film of water in the basin was repulsed by the toothpaste. "I think you should try it on cancer" he said. I could not think how to do that, but this brings up the question whether non-experts can make a useful contribution outside their field of expertise. I take this question seriously. My answer is that in becoming an "expert" one must be trained, and as any parent knows, a major component of training is learning what is wrong. This was not always so. Scholars of the past were more likely to have learned the tricks of acquiring knowledge and used this ability with a passion .In this way they were often led to learn things that no person had ever known or imagined before.

There is a negative side to training. There is a danger that education can act to replicate dogma, to close the box, to exclude the distraction of unorthodox intellectual exploration. In this way education is made more efficient. Experts are produced more rapidly and at a lower cost. The justification for this little treatise then is merely to fly a kite. To perhaps provoke one or two people more expert than I to use a slightly different network of neurones to re-examine the question of how we get pure clean water and, in particular, whether we must remain dependent on the rain which has sustained us and other land-based life throughout evolution.

Max Whisson MB,BS FRCPath
Unit 5 70 Subiaco Road
Subiaco WA 6008
September 2003