Category Archives: Follies of the Human Condition

Apocalypse 1893: The Scientific End of the World

Camille Flammarion’s Omega: The Last Days of the World (1893)

FlammarionAvenueWhether fiction written early in the 19th century qualifies as genuine science fiction is debatable, but when it comes to the futuristic fiction of the end of the century, there can be no doubt. The nascent genre was quickly becoming popular, and in the two decades before World War I, science fiction became truly engaged with science — particularly the radical scientific discoveries that transformed communication, war, public health, and especially, our place in the cosmos.

Edgar Allen Poe and Jules Verne were the trailblazers, writing works inspired by contemporary developments in science, which both of them followed closely. Then came the French astronomer and popular science author, Camille Flammarion, the Carl Sagan of his day. His 1893 End of the World novel Omega: The Last Days of the World is a grand future history, with a mystical but secular cosmology deeply rooted in the science of the day. It’s an almost modern work of science fiction, a bridge between de Grainville’s early Gothic apocalypse and the radically new 20th century apocalyptic science fiction of H.G. Wells. Continue reading

New World Apocalypse 1889: The Last American

John Ames Mitchell’s The Last American (1889)

LastAmericanLibertyImages of a run-down Statue of Liberty against a backdrop of decaying New York are a staple of science fiction. So are visions of a post-apocalyptic Washington D.C. As I’ve noted before, the fascination with ruin porn dates back to at least the late 18th century. But America was a backwater at the time – the New World (or the Western presence there anyway) was too new to ruin in futuristic visions. The very first work of science fiction set against a backdrop of ruined, major U.S. cities, as far as I can find, is the brief 1889 satire, The Last American: A fragment from the journal of KHAN-LI, Prince of Dimph-yoo-chur and Admiral in the Persian Navy, by the original publisher of LIFE magazine, John Ames Mitchell.

The book, as the title indicates, is presented as an excerpt from the journal of a Persian Naval admiral, who with his crew stumbles into New York’s harbor 1000 years after America’s demise in 1990. The Persians, who have mocking names like Nofuhl , Lev-el-Hedyd, and Ad-el-pate, comment on the follies of the lost civilization, while they themselves are portrayed as superstitious primitives who make the ancient “Mehrikans” look good by comparison. The Last American reads like a very mediocre Mark Twain — A Connecticut Yankee, published the same year, leaves Mitchell’s book in the dust. Nevertheless, Mitchell, who was surely influenced by After London, made an important contribution to the genre: satire. Continue reading

5 Very Good Questions

Nature has published a comment by William P. Hanage suggesting ways to inoculate oneself against the hype associated with the burgeoning field of microbiome studies. As Bethany Brookshire (aka, SciCurious) notes, these questions should be applied to any and all research, not just the microbiome.

1. Can experiments distinguish differences that matter?
2. Does the study show causation or just correlation?
3. What is the mechanism?
4. How much do experiments reflect reality?
5. Could anything else explain the results?
-paraphrased from William P. Hanage in Nature

Mythology is Gross

Genealogy of the Olympians in Greek Mythology (Wikipedia)

Genealogy of the Olympians in Greek Mythology (Wikipedia)

The authors of this encyclopedia do a good job of illustrating that myths have many variant versions.

Samuel Arbesman has a fun, if creepy, post over at Wired on calculating how inbred the Greek gods were. Previously, here at The Finch & Pea, we’ve taken on the inevitable inbreeding that must have occurred in Adam and Eve’s family, which provides some additional explanation of what exactly geneticists mean by “inbreeding coefficient” and what the consequences of inbreeding can be.

I’ve thought about taking on the genetics of the Greek gods before on these grounds, but have always gotten overly hung up on the many variants of the origin stories that often exist for each god. For the gods’ sake, Aphrodite has an origin story that has her arising as a female clone from Uranus’ castrated testicles (most likely due to the SRY gene never being expressed during development).

A Network of the People’s Comments on Net Neutrality

The FCC received over one million comments on Net Neutrality. You might remember their website crashing and deadlines being extended. NPR reports the results of an analysis of a subset of the comments by data-analysis firm Quid. Their state by state analysis shows that I’m one of the few people in South Carolina that cares about Net Neutrality.

They have produced an even more interesting visual that maps out the diversity of reasons given to support Net Neutrality and how those reasons were linked in the comments.

gr-neutrality-comments-624

Apparently, the few anti-Net Neutrality comments were from form letters and didn’t register on the map.

Although sites like the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s (EFF) web tool provided a template for letters, those were used to generate only about half of the comments (apparently, 80% is more typical for other regulatory issues).

Templates are not unusual. As we’ve reported previously, when the public is asked to comment on policy, citizens often engage by sending in a templated or form letter that advocates for a certain position help them create. The Quid analysis shows about half the comments received by the FCC were “derived from templates.” That’s actually low compared to analyses of other rule-making — upwards of 80 percent of comments on financial regulation were templates. – Elise Hu at NPR

 

My comment to the FCC, for example, was derived from EFF’s template.

Will this work? Hard to know giving the obstacles faced; but the FCC will clearly be on the record for killing Net Neutrality against the will of the people.

HT: Rob Beschizza at BoingBoing