The visual appearance of rain is both scientifically and culturally complex.

In the image above, the sun is seen rising over Point Roadknight through heavy rain. Modern Sciences, like Indigenous Knowledges, tell stories about what is seen and what is. To explain why the image of the sun seems distorted, MS may give one (or more) accounts and IK may offer others. All of these accounts, in context, may have explanatory power, and all may be culturally useful.

One IK story: “The Wandjina control the rains and the pattern of seasons which replenish the resources throughout the Kimberley: This is Wandjina . . . he made Earth and Sea and everything. This is Wandjina - he made people. Wandjina is Wandjina. The Wandjina give rain. The Earth it breathes, and it gives cloud to give rain. Rain gives fruit . . . to feed other things, kangaroos and birds and everything. Should the Wandjinas be offended, they will take their revenge by calling up the rain to flood the land and drown the people, or the cyclone with its gales which devastate the country.” [See Yungha-dhu of the Ngiyaampaa people in the Kimberley region of Western Australia.]

One MS story: Each rain drop “refracts and reflects both scene radiance and environmental illumination towards an observer. As a result, a spatially distributed ensemble of drops moving at high velocities (rain) produces complex spatial and temporal intensity fluctuations in images. To analyze the effects of rain, it is essential to understand the . . . geometric and photometric models for the refraction through, and reflection (both specular and internal) from, a rain drop. Our geometric and photometric models show that each rain drop behaves like a wide-angle lens that redirects light from a large field of view towards the observer. . . . The composite appearance of a rain drop is given by the sum of the radiances due to specular reflection, refraction and internal reflections.” [See Kshitiz Garg and Shree K. Nayar, “Photometric Model of a Rain Drop.”]

A non-scientific observer (native or non-native, in the present or in the past) might not find this scientific story useful or even credible. To be honest, supposing each rain drop to act like a wide-angle lens camera is neither intuitively nor empirically indisputable. Indeed, to many people, the explanation would seem implausible and needlessly convoluted. To bring this point home, here is one factor in the final equation of the Garg and Nayar article: L(ˆn)=(1−k(i, μ))2Le(ˆr)+k(i, μ)Le(ˆs).

Similarly, a scientific observer might find an indigenous account (whether from Australia or elsewhere) that gives agency to an angry sun to be far-fetched and the product of pure superstition.

Stop and reconsider! Both accounts call for a sophisticated understanding of the role of metaphor in explanation. Both accounts are useful and truthful in their context: the one, highly specialized, written for computer graphics professionals and the Office of Naval Research; the other, holistic, sacred, with clear meteorological and ecological relevance, written for educational purposes among the Ngiyaampaa people.

Jo, Laurelyn and Paul said thanks.

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David Wade Chambers

Born in Oklahoma: 30 years in US. 6 years in Canada, 40 years in Australia. Academic field: history and philosophy of science. Currently, teach indigenous studies online at Institute of American Indian Arts (Santa Fe, NM) and Brandon University (Manitoba). Come visit our B&B on Australia's Great Ocean Road. Mate's Rates for Hi community! (

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