October 15, 2016
A number of years ago, when I was a freshly-appointed instructor, I met, for the first time, a certain eminent historian of science. At the time I could only regard him with tolerant condescension.
I was sorry of the man who, it seemed to me, was forced to hover about the edges of science. He was compelled to shiver endlessly in the outskirts, getting only feeble warmth from the distant sun of science- in-progress; while I, just beginning my research, was bathed in the heady liquid heat up at the very center of the glow.
In a lifetime of being wrong at many a point, I was never more wrong. It was I, not he, who was wandering in the periphery. It was he, not I, who lived in the blaze.
I had fallen victim to the fallacy of the ‘growing edge;’ the belief that only the very frontier of scientific advance counted; that everything that had been left behind by that advance was faded and dead.
But is that true? Because a tree in spring buds and comes greenly into leaf, are those leaves therefore the tree? If the newborn twigs and their leaves were all that existed, they would form a vague halo of green suspended in mid-air, but surely that is not the tree. The leaves, by themselves, are no more than trivial fluttering decoration. It is the trunk and limbs that give the tree its grandeur and the leaves themselves their meaning.
There is not a discovery in science, however revolutionary, however sparkling with insight, that does not arise out of what went before. ‘If I have seen further than other men,’ said Isaac Newton, ‘it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.”
Adding a Dimension: Seventeen Essays on the History of Science
October 13, 2016
October 8, 2016
October 1, 2016
Diary 1st October
A universe of thoughts that should never be thought…!
Life is full of imponderables, isn’t it? Just supposing Spiderman didn’t live in New York city, but resided in Bognor Regis in the UK, instead. What then, eh? Imagine Lee and Ditko creating Peter Parker as a Bognorite. No tall buildings to swing from, just garden shrubs, bushes, and the grey slate roofs of rundown bed and breakfast establishments beside the seaside.
His aunt May and uncle Ben might have run an arcade concession with rows of “What the butler saw” machines? Yeah, and instead of a spider bite, maybe Parker is chomped on by an experimental haddock! And that fish, accidentally absorbing a shitload of radiation, infects Parker with its bite…Instead of Spiderman, Parker becomes Haddockman.
Parker, part helpful vigilante, part wannabe sushi dish, would clear Bognor of wrong doers and bring about a new, golden age for holiday makers and locals –
Or on the other hand, perhaps, some enterprising individual might just dip him in batter, deep fry him and serve him up with a polystyrene carton of chips to a family of holiday makers!?
Oh, well, don’t spare the ketchup.
Yes, yes, I know. The best things in life are free. But the next best things are all so feckin’ expensive!
I think now about water a lot. Since 1998 drought has forced Syrian farmers to uproot their families and relocate to the cities. This simple truth led to the popular uprising against the unpleasant, incumbent regime which in turn resulted in the horrendous civil war which still rages.
It’s recently been reported that 175,000 individuals employed in the farming sector of Morocco have lost their jobs and consequently been forced to move to the cities. What effect this will have on stability in the region is unknown.
However it’s not just the severe drought alone that the people have to contend with. The whole problem has been exacerbated by successive heat waves hitting the middle east – temperature records are continuously being broken, some have registered as high as 120’F / 54’C. In reality this means it’s so hot the workers are unable to leave their homes to work before sundown.
Certainly climate change has had a part to play in what is happening. But, so too have politics in the region. It’s estimated that Turkey’s dam building and hydroelectrical schemes have cut water flow to Iraq by 80% and to Syria by 40% during the first decade of this century. In Israel massive investment goes into desalination plants and 55% of their domestic water consumption is currently supplied from this source. An expensive solution, definitely, both in terms of cash and energy consumption.
NASA recently released a study of past climate based on the comparison of tree-rings. This shows the middle east is undergoing a worse dry period than any other in the past five hundred years (by + 50%).
This, boys and girls, could well be the first installment of end of the world news!
Not that I dislike her, but grandmother has become a wolf. A lifetime vegetarian, her diet changed overnight to one of meat, meat, meat. She took to growling and slobbering , and her big eyes took on the colour of despair. All very unpleasant, of course. But worse were her teeth – so long and sharp, like old ivory knives or painful death…I shall not spend any more nights at her house, regardless of what the family says. The smell of all that dead meat is repugnant to me… And I find the way she watches me more than a little disturbing – as if she’s seeing in me her next meal…
September 25, 2016
Now then, Mrs. Daldry, I would ask you to remove your clothing but you may keep your underthings on. Please remove your corset, if you would. Annie will place a sheet over your lower regions. We will respect your modesty in every particular.
Mrs. Daldry nods.
I shall give you privacy.
He turns his back on them, a gentleman, as Mrs. Daldry undresses with Annie’s help.
Mrs. Givings has re-entered the living room without the baby.
She sees Mr. Daldry.
Hello. They are trying to get rid of me. I am supposed to walk about the grounds.
But is it not raining, Mr—?
I don’t know.
No. If it is raining.
Then you will have to gamble on whether or not to take an umbrella.
Meanwhile, in the operating theatre, Mrs. Daldry disrobes with Annie’s help.
It takes a while to disrobe as she wears a variety of layers.
In the living room, with Mr. Daldry and Mrs. Givings:
There are three kinds of people. Those who use umbrellas when it is not raining; those who do not use umbrellas even when it is raining; and those who use umbrellas only and precisely while it rains. Which kind are you, Mr. Daldry?
I use an umbrella while it is raining.
That’s too bad. I find people who do not use umbrellas while it is raining horribly romantic. Strolling, no striding, through the rain, with wet hair, looking at a drop of water on a branch.
My wife is one of those.
Oh yes! I could see that.
It’s damned annoying. I always worry she’ll catch cold.
But horribly romantic. My husband opens his umbrella at the merest hint of rain. And even if it does not rain, he will leave it open, stubborn as an ox, and keep walking. My husband is a scientist.
And what sort of person are you, Mrs. Givings?
Why, I don’t know. My husband has always held the umbrella. Isn’t that funny. I don’t know at all what kind of person I am.
In the other room, Mrs. Daldry’s clothes are now off to her under-clothes.
Annie drapes a sheet over her.
I‘ll show you the grounds and we can use this very large umbrella and perhaps I will hold it and we shall see what kind of person I am. I only hope you do not get wet.
It sounds like a madcap adventure.
Mrs. Givings and Mr. Daldry exit.
In the operating theatre:
Are you ready for me?
Yes, Dr. Givings.
Are you warm enough? (Mrs. Daldry nods.)
Mrs. Daldry, we are going to produce in you what is called a paroxysm. The congestion in your womb is causing your hysterical symptoms and if we can release some of that congestion and invite the juices downward your health will be restored. hanks to the dawn of electricity—yes, thank you Mr. Edison, I always tip my hat to Mr. Edison—a great American—I have a new instrument which I will use. It used to be that it would take me or it would take Annie—oh—hours—to produce a paroxysm in our patients and it demanded quite a lot of skill and patience. It was much like a child’s game—trying to pat the head and rub the stomach at the same time—but thanks to this new electrical instrument we shall be done in a matter of minutes.
I—I’m afraid I don’t—
Three minutes, sometimes five at the outer limits. Are you ready Mrs. Daldry?
He takes out a huge vibrator.
He plugs it in.
He turns it on.
I am frightened.
Don’t be frightened.
There is no danger of being electrocuted?
None at all.
He puts his arm under the sheets and
holds the vibrator to her private parts.
I will tell you an amusing story. Dr. Benjamin Franklin once decided to electrocute a bird for his turkey dinner on Christmas eve. But, by mistake, he held onto the chain, completing the circuit, and couldn’t let go. He described violently convulsing until he was able by sheer force of will to let go of the chain. He was perfectly fine! Do you feel calmer?
This will just take a matter of minutes.
Mrs. Daldry moans quietly.
It’s all right, Mrs. Daldry. That’s just fine.
Mrs. Daldry moans quietly.
Annie will hold your hand.
Annie holds her hand.
Oh, God in His heaven!
She has a quiet paroxysm.
Now remember that these are the days
before digital pornography.
There is no cliché of how women are supposed to orgasm,
no idea in their heads of how they are supposed to sound when they climax.
Mrs. Daldry’s first orgasms could be very quiet,
organic, awkward, primal. Or very clinical. Or embarrassingly natural.
But whatever it is, it should not be a cliché, a camp version
of how we expect all women sound when they orgasm.
It is simply clear that she has had some kind of release.
In the Next Room, or the vibrator play
August 29, 2016
While he attends to his rats, Persinger gives me the lowdown on the haunt theory. Why would a certain type of electromagnetic field make one hear things or sense a presence? What’s the mechanism? The answer hinges on the fact that exposure to electromagnetic fields lowers melatonin levels. Melatonin, he explains, is an anti-convulsive; if you have less of it in your system, your brain —in particular, your right temporal lobe— will be more prone to tiny epileptic-esque microseizures and the subtle hallucinations these seizures can cause.
Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife
August 26, 2016
I will tell you sincerely and without exaggeration that the best part of lunch today at the NASA Ames cafeteria is the urine. It is clear and sweet, though not in the way mountain streams are said to be clear and sweet. More in the way of Karo syrup. The urine has been desalinated by osmotic pressure. Basically it swapped molecules with a concentrated sugar solution. Urine is a salty substance (though less so than the NASA Ames chili), and if you were to drink it in an effort to rehydrate yourself, it would have the opposite effect. But once the salt is taken care of and the distasteful organic molecules have been trapped in an activated charcoal filter, urine is a restorative and surprisingly drinkable lunchtime beverage. I was about to use the word unobjectionable, but that’s not accurate. People object. They object a lot.
Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void
August 22, 2016
August 22, 2016
August 21, 2016
Here is the secret to surviving one of these [airplane] crashes: Be male. In a 1970 Civil Aeromedical institute study of three crashes involving emergency evacuations, the most prominent factor influencing survival was gender (followed closely by proximity to exit). Adult males were by far the most likely to get out alive. Why? Presumably because they pushed everyone else out of the way.
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers