By Dr. Jim Ferguson

Dr. Ferguson is on sabbatical after nearly eight years with the Focus. If you like this essay, there are more in his book, “Well…What Did the Doctor Say?” available online at Amazon as well as Barnes & Noble – a great Christmas gift


Ethnicity has little to do with rhythm because my grandson Noah has it.   We don’t know where he got it because my son-in-law doesn’t dance.  Perhaps it’s some recessive or ancestral gene that courses through Noah’s blood and allows him to move like no white man I’ve ever seen.

Sitting on the beach watching and hearing the ocean’s waves makes me think about the rhythms of life.  Our bodies operate with a daily (diurnal) rhythm defined by the sun. Light rays stimulate not only our retinas, but also the pineal gland which produces melatonin that influences our sleep cycle.   When we travel across multiple time zones our bodies have trouble adjusting, producing “jet-lag” because our pineal gland’s melatonin production is out of synch.

“Where do waves come from?” I asked Mr. Google, as I sat watching and listening to the crashing Atlantic surf.  Lots of things interest me, and the same inquisitive perspective led the ancient Greeks to a scientific study of the world around them.  They called this desire to know things “gnosis”, the root word for our word knowledge.  I believe if you ever lose your inquisitiveness you will rapidly become obsolete.  I tell patients to beware of the doctor who implies that he’s always right, because it often means he’s closed his mind to further learning and will soon be dangerous, if he isn’t already.

Waves are largely created by the wind.  When the sun heats the air it rises, and cooler air blows in to fill the relative void.  As the air moves across the water it causes a dragging force along the surface pulling the water upward.  The result is a rolling tsunami-like swell.  Stronger winds over greater distances produce bigger waves which ultimately encounter the beach.  The water at the bottom of a wave is slowed by the rising shore causing the wave to topple over in a crash of surf.

We live in a world of sound which we take for granted until it dissipates or is lost.  Many of my patients become increasingly isolated as they lose their hearing and can mistakenly appear dull.  The sound of surf occurs when ocean wave energy is changed into sound waves that move through the air and are channeled into the ear canal.  At the end of the canal is the ear drum which is moved backwards and forwards by sound waves.  This movement, in turn, causes the three conductive bones of the middle ear to function like a piston and pump another drum-like apparatus on the cochlea.  It is the resulting movement of fluid waves in this hearing organ that stimulates nerve signals which race to the brain where they are interpreted as crashing surf.

A philosopher named George Berkeley once said that a tree falling in the forest makes no sound if no one is there to hear the falling tree.  What he meant was that sound is interpretive.  There may be sound energy produced when a tree crashes to the forest floor, but if no one is there to hear the crash, there’s no sound. Hmm, I’ll leave that to your reflection and return to practicality.