An unseen treasure in Suffolk

Published 9:26 pm Thursday, September 27, 2012

In classical Greek philosopher Plato’s famous allegory from almost two and a half millennia ago, people living chained inside a cave believe that shadows projected upon a wall, cast by “real” things outside, are reality.

His point was that we only see what our senses and experiences reveal to us, and we take that as reality, oblivious to those other things existing beyond our reach but still very real — perhaps even more real.

The fable has many applications, and Suffolk is one of them. On Wednesday, I attended a modeling and simulation conference held inside an imposing red brick building off the Bridge Road-end of Route 164.

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Before Wednesday, I had driven past the Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center several hundred times without knowing what it was — beyond a nondescript shadow on a cave wall.

But on Wednesday the wall came down — so to speak, and at risk of alluding to East Germany — and I got a look inside to see some of the very futuristic and, at the same time, real-world-useful research that goes on every day in Suffolk, the peanut capital of the universe.

Old Dominion University researchers were finessing simulation tools to train medical clinicians in diagnostic imaging and to cut down on the volume of transfused blood — a costly product, I’m told — required during surgeries.

The latter of those two examples was a category winner in the 2012 Governor’s Technology Awards, in which another project at the North Suffolk center, a simulator to help plan for sea level rise, was a category finalist.

We all live inside our own private caves, no matter how high our consciousness has been raised or how broad our experience has been.

Ever feel a little lacking in knowledge hearing someone else talk about a subject you’re more ignorant of? That person — guaranteed — experiences the same feeling themselves at times, perhaps even while listening to you speak about something alien to them.

America’s highways are one of its best and worst features, in my opinion. You can drive from Norfolk to Nashville — as we did recently — and bypass every community en route, saving all the time it would have taken to idle up and down all those main streets and wait at those traffic lights.

But you trade tree-lined avenues for endlessly unfurling bitumen and cement, decent coffee for gas station slush (though a Starbucks is never far away), and unhurried contemplation for speed and not much worth contemplating (while so much worthy of contemplation is so close at hand).

Route 164 isn’t an interstate, but it unknowingly speeds you past one of Suffolk’s most interesting enterprises, and could do so every day for the rest of your life.