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Index: Science & Technology

Chernobyl.

Richard Jensen: ‘Valery Legasov spent two years fighting behind the scenes to have some of the more glaring problems with the reactor addressed. When these efforts failed, in frustration and despair, he hung himself in the stairwell of his office building on April 27, 1988. ‘

A Defence of Modern Spiritualism.

Alfred Russel Wallace: ‘The spiritual theory, as a rule, has only been adopted as a last resource, when all other theories have hopelessly broken down; and when fact after fact, phenomenon after phenomenon, has presented itself, giving direct proof that the so called dead are still alive. The spiritual theory is the logical outcome of the whole of the facts. Those who deny it, in every instance with which I am acquainted, either from ignorance or disbelief leave half the facts out of view. ‘

Materializations.

James Gallant; ‘[Jacques] Vallee wrote in Dimensions (1988), that if you were interested in producing a spiritual revolution, you would need to “bypass the intelligentsia and the church, remain undetectable to the military system, leave undisturbed the political and administrative levels of society, and at the same time implant deep within [a] society far-reaching doubts concerning its basic philosophical tenets.” Those effects have been produced by the UFO and aliens, manifestations of the “little people,” and the materializations of the physical mediums.’

Thomas Young’s Bakerian lecture.

Christine Simon: ‘The difficulty of science as exemplified in wave-particle complementarity does not exonerate us from the responsibility of trying to understand it. Science is, after all, an explanation of the way the material world works.’

Constellations.

Alan Wall: ‘So much is represented as fragmented, not because something completed has been broken up, or an achievable whole not completed, but because this mosaic of discrete pieces actually constitutes the perceptual world of modernity. The camera was designed to capture this kaleidoscopic panorama visually; the essay attempts to capture it linguistically and philosophically. The essay is the formal expression of a world of fragments. Fragments can be connected, of course. They do not have to take the form of fossils, being re-assembled into a form they initially exhibited; they can be chips of stone in a mosaic, each effectively complete in itself. Or they can take the form of the facets which, once assembled, compose the figure of Ambroise Vollard in his portrait by Picasso.’

Mars.

Sir Robert Ball: ‘All that the best telescope can possibly do is to exhibit the planet to us as it would be seen by the unaided eye if it were brought into a distance of 35,000 miles. This will demonstrate that even our greatest telescope cannot be expected to enable us to answer the questions that are so often asked about our neighboring globe. What could we learn of Europe if we had only a bird’s-eye view of it from a height of 35,000 miles, that is to say, from a height which was a dozen times as far as from the shores of Europe to America.’

Science and disenchantment.

Alan Wall: We live, it seems, between the shaman’s pole and Galileo’s plank; between our continuing wish to be enchanted and our eagerness to disenchant the world through science (to know it as it really is, not as we would wish it to be). The question is put to us daily: which is it to be? But is it possible that the choice is a false one, like being asked to choose your left mental hemisphere or your right? Are we being told we must choose one side of the paper or the other? Maybe the pole and the plank represent complementary aspects of the human condition. Could they both be the expression of fundamental needs?

The god of Athens.

Thomas Conlon: ‘Christians are panentheists in the very limited sense that they believe that 2000 years ago God became man for a short period. Any wider identification of God with any part of nature weakens the force and radicalness of the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity. Although some of his best friends may be panentheists Cooper, the biblical Christian, is not about to join them.’

A brief note on Nothing.

Thomas Conlon: ‘One of the leading principles of his physics was that it was impossible that a rent could ever be torn in the plenum of substance to expose an underlying nothingness. According to him, everything that happens in the physical world was a consequence of the interaction of substances and nothing, indeed, could ever come of nothing.’

A Martian calendar.

Rev George Lardas: ‘I do not purpose to use this calendar to the exclusion of all others, but rather we offer this as a reasonable and practical proposal for timekeeping on Mars for astronomical and astronau­tical use. I believe that the regularity of construction, the uninterrupted sequence of weekdays, the use of the same calendar for every month of a year, the use of familiar and easy to remember names for time divisions, the maintenance of the vernal equinox on the same calendar day for a long span of years, the year count starting with a universally accepted astronomical reference point, and the result that it encompasses all observations of Mars both historical and current, all constitute virtues that strongly commend this proposal.’

Newton’s prisms.

Alan Wall: “The ‘truth’ of any fact is its demonstrability within a system of representations. No fact is ever singular, or discrete; it is relational. ‘There are no things,’ said the painter Georges Braque, ‘only relations between things.’ Nothing is inherently true or false. It appears in a field of relations out of which truth or falsehood is generated. To stand outside any representational world and describe it is to designate it either as myth, ideology or bad science.”

E.O. Wilson is in. Wow, the butterflies are out.

From The Atlantic: ‘Generation after generation of students have suffered trying to “puzzle out” what great thinkers like Socrates, Plato, and Descartes had to say on the great questions of man’s nature, Wilson said, but this was of little use, because philosophy has been based on “failed models of the brain.”’

The view from the ‘Cultural Observatory’: Trillions of needles, billions of haystacks.

Erez Lieberman Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel, who jointly lead a group at Harvard called the Cultural Observatory, will soon inaugurate a browser that searches a large online repository of scientific papers known as arXiv (pronounced like “archive”).

Skirmishes in the battle of Whence.

Science, symbolism, and ideology are getting lumped together in the discourse of the new atheism.

Meet Coco de Mer, potency enhancer.

These days, the hope in Berlin is that the palm tree merely survives. After all, it is a very special plant. During a visit to the Seychelles in the late 19th century, British Gen. Charles Gordon, the former governor-general of the Sudan, stumbled upon the following notion: He was convinced that the Coco de Mer was undoubtedly the forbidden fruit of the biblical Tree of Knowledge.