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The Universe in a glass box

I guess all I have to say here is, don’t be stupid. I think being stupid often stands in the way of intelligence. Also don’t be dumb, being and acting dumb is stupid. Over the years I’ve come to see many a majour reef tank blunder is a direct result of out right stupidity. This is my and probably only original contribution to reef keeping; I call it The Foundational Laws of Reef keeping.

# 1

Don’t be a dumb ass

Don’t be a smart ass

To me smart ass mistakes are the exact opposite of dumb ass mistakes but equally as stupid. For many people I’m sure there is a voice in your head that speaks to you when you know you about to do something you shouldn’t but you go ahead and do it anyways , this is what I refer to as being smart ass . When you go ahead and do something that you later realize was a dumb move but at the time you thought you were being smart, well that’s being dumb ass. So don’t be dumb, don’t be smart and certainly don’t be stupid.

So what should we be, what’s the solution according to me? To be honest I don’t know, how could I? My days are spent alternating between a series of dumb, smart and stupid actions. But if I were to consider a platform or foundation to base all decisions on I would go with placing my bets on tables where I know for sure the outcome. To know the outcome does not mean you need to have special powers to see the future, it simply means you need to surround yourself by scientific principles. That a scientific principle is, simply a statement that sets up a cause or event and then successfully predicts the outcome or rather knows beforehand the result, is one of the things I hold closets to me. Thinking about it, science then does give you the ability to know and read the future and why would any person of sound mind not want this gift?

When it comes to reef tanks I have little respect for notions like, “it’s the name of the game “, and “you win some you lose some“, especially when these statements are used to explain the loss of livestock. These terms are only thrown around because some dumbass is too afraid to answer,” I don’t know” or “I don’t give a shit “ or perhaps people have not come to realize that everything happens for a reason. Living things never simply stop living, they die for reason. The known universe is held together by laws some of which we know and understand some we know of but don’t understand and then we assume there are many more that still need to be discovered. The idea that we are part of the universe seems to be lost on many people. Believing that we are isolated to only that which we see and experience is limiting as it disengages us from cause and effect. To me that only four forces exist in the known universe was a deeply moving discovery , so simple , weak and strong atomic forces , electromagnetism and gravity and these forces for a brief moment existed as a single super force and that prior, everything existed as a singularity, is mind blowing . If the universal laws of nature are currently governing the entire known universe with its billions of galaxies each with billions of stars each with billions of planets , how foolish then to believe they have no effect over your aquarium and that you better off following your cousins advise because his kept a 245 liter tank for seventeen months ? Laws govern and therefore the outcome is fixed, either you get with the program or battle until you give up and then blame the local dealers, the poor guy who looked after your tank or your spouse for not allowing you the budget you needed for the correct equipment and the most popular line of all “I don’t have enough time for the hobby anymore”. Pal, the hobby gots no time for you and you have been voted out!

So if it’s so simple why then does it continue to appear so complicated? Well knowing the outcome rests on knowing the cause, understanding the governing forces and then realizing why the outcome is fixed. Imagine for a moment that the establishment of a successful aquarium is no more than a tennis ball you need to through up into the air and then catch it as it comes falling down. In this example we know for sure a few things like:

  • The ball will travel up into the air if you throw it hard enough

  • The ball will come falling back down

  • It won’t necessarily move up then down in a straight line


  • Because you are transferring energy into the ball

  • This is an external force acting on it , removing it from its inertial state

  • Gravity will take effect

  • You may have released the ball on an angle other than 90deg to the ground

  • Wind is blowing against the ball adding additional force in a different direction

So we have cause and effect and we were able to predict the outcome and this is true or it’s a fact, because we can repeat the experiment over and over again and each time the result will be the same. If we knew exactly how much energy was released into the ball, the wind velocity, the angle at which the ball was released and if the experiment was conducted at the same gravity value each time, well we could exactly determine where the ball would come to rest. If you knew your height, the speed at which you could travel, your dimensions etc. there would be no reason that you would not be able to catch the ball every time.

I guess from this perspective what could make you a bit anxy in your pansy is that a reef tank is like throwing up forty million balls at one time and then trying to catch them all! But the point remains, if you know what all the forces are, understand the laws that govern them you could make the correct prediction every time. Unlike Sir Isaac Newton’s Laws that have been worked with since 1687 reef tanks have only really been around for hmmm , maybe 30 – 40 years or so and discovering the laws at play , understanding the influencing forces , well its vast. From the effect of water motion on sediments down to its influence on cellular fluid within coral tissue, that all carefully needs to be mapped out and this still needs a very long time .But this is what makes it exciting, this is what allows reef aquarist the world over to make a contribution, surely the gaining of knowledge is one of the greatest human experiences.

I don’t understand the experiment but I can predict the outcome:

We might not always know the why but if we know the what, that helps. I think the danger is when aquarist, myself included, start to offer suggestions or explanations of the why. Often I hear guys giving the most ridiculous of advices, speaking as if what they are saying is golden gospel. The scientific thing would be to say “maybe this is why “or “perhaps it could be so “this is safer as it can allow for an evolving explanation until such time, when sufficient data exist to explain with certainty the reason for the effect. The forty million tennis ball analogy is not far off , possibly a successful reef aquarium is the culmination of more than 40 bar bits of information , consider the genetic coding behind each species of bacteria up , through each coral and up to each fish. Consider the physics behind the light, flow and chemistry of the water, how many years would it take to commit to memory just the data that currently exists on all of the above. What I’m about to say might seem as if I’m missing my own point or as if I’m losing interest in writing this but bear with me. You don’t need to know a lot to have a awesome reef and even though the equations running in the back ground are seemingly infinite, a finite bit of dope is all you need. After all these years I think all I’ve come to learn is that it is vast , super massively vast , vast, vast and some more vastness. But the path to a successful aquarium is simple more simple than simple. Why would it not be? But how do we cross over from mountains of information to valleys of simplicity? I think the vessel for this section of the journey is authenticity and knowledge. I see gathering existing data as accumulating information, today its quick and cheap, almost sleazy. I see practical experience in relation to information gained as insight and finally knowledge as insight that is dynamic and capable of assisting. I truly believe people are capable of maintaining beautiful aquariums without any awareness of the ‘why ‘, when the ‘what’ is the manifestation of the ‘how’. I think aquarist should spend less time worrying about the ‘how’ initially and be more focused on the ‘what’, as “what is it I’m wanting to achieve”. A big issue I suspect is that the ‘what’ is often in a state of change and even more often based on an intention that lacks honesty and truthfulness. I suggest be committed to a vision that resonates with you and avoid one that only exists to impress others. When the ‘what’ is clearly outlined and defined, the’ how’ is not much more than a matter of cause.

Natural coral reefs and everything they contain are magnificent things of beauty. Good light, crystal clear water, a pristine sand bed and even just a piece of live rock that is healthy is enough to captivate you, transform your mood and send you into a happy place. Never lose touch of the idea of trying to create a thing of beauty, don’t get lost in the attempt to gather and collect as much as possible or a list of species that are en vogue for the next while. A successful reef tank need not be more expensive nor time consuming than you will it to be but when executed correctly with love and patience it will always remain more rewarding than you could ever imagine.

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