Category Archives: Follies of the Human Condition

Sunday Science Poem: Straining Minds versus Nature’s Single Gesture

William Carlos Williams’ “Labrador” (1948)

Coast_of_Labrador_1874It’s National Poetry Month, and we’re continuing our focus on the poems of William Carlos Williams.

As much as we might wish to have a unified understanding of nature, we have no choice but to break it into tractable chunks. Richard Feynman put it eloquently in his Lectures on Physics:

If we look at a glass of wine closely enough we see the entire universe. There are the things of physics: the twisting liquid which evaporates depending on the wind and weather, the reflections in the glass, and our imagination adds the atoms. The glass is a distillation of the earth’s rocks, and in its composition we see the secrets of the universe’s age, and the evolution of the stars. What strange array of chemicals are in the wine? How did they come to be? There are the ferments, the enzymes, the substrates, and the products. There in wine is found the great generalization: all life is fermentation. Nobody can discover the chemistry of wine without discovering, as did Louis Pasteur, the cause of much disease. How vivid is the claret, pressing its existence into the consciousness that watches it! If our small minds, for some convenience, divide this glass of wine, this universe, into parts – physics, biology, geology, astronomy, psychology, and so on – remember that nature does not know it! So let us put it all back together, not forgetting ultimately what it is for. Let it give us one more final pleasure: drink it and forget it all!

Continue reading

Reach out and grab some cash

512px-Left_Hand_-_Kolkata_2011-04-20_2350I use twitter primarily to keep up with what’s new and newsworthy in science and science communication. It’s a great tool to quickly catch up on new discoveries or  controversies. It also can expose opportunities you had no idea existed. The other day I saw a tweet about small grants to fund science outreach projects. So cool! I didn’t realize these small scale funding mechanisms existed to help encourage scientific outreach.

Continue reading

Sunday Science Poem: The Stark Dignity of Self-Organization

William Carlos Williams’ “Spring and All” (1923)

After an unintentionally long hiatus, our Sunday Science Poem is back. April is National Poetry Month, and this month we’ll read the poetry of the American physician-poet William Carlos Williams (1883-1963).

“In physics, irreversibility and dissipation were interpreted as degradation, while among natural scientists biological evolution, which is obviously an irreversible* process, was associated with increasing complexity… Today scientists realize that dissipative systems constitute a very large and important class of natural systems.” (Grégoire Nicolis and Ilya Prigogine, Exploring Complexity (1989), p. 50-51

Nicolis and Prigogine argue that we should no longer take the simple, regular, and stable motions of classical mechanics as the essence of our macroscopic physical world. Rather, we live in “a world of instabilities and fluctuations, which are ultimately responsible for the amazing variety and richness of the forms and structure we see in nature around us.” Nature is characterized by spontaneously organizing structures. Continue reading

Hedy Freaking Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr may be the greatest movie bombshell of all time, because of what was above her shoulders. Her entry in Wikipedia begins, “Hedy Lamarr was an Austrian actress and inventor.”

Frequency Hopping with Hedwig Keisler, aka Hedy Lamarr by Ele Willoughby (All Rights Reserved; Used with Permission)

The post featuring the art above celebrates her most famous, life saving invention; and is headlined with “Hedy Lamarr, Inventor of Frequency Hopping”. As I said on Twitter, if that headline does not immediately compel you to drop what you are doing and read, we can no longer be friends.

Falling Upwards

sftp-fullsize-redbg
This week on Science for The People the conversation is about the science and history of lighter-than-air flight. The hour is spent with biographer and science writer Richard Holmes, to talk about his newest book, “Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air.” Learn about the technology of 19th century ballooning, and the pioneering men and women who took to the skies and changed our view of the world.

Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air by Richard Holmes (Pantheon, 2013)