Friday Four

Friday, January 10, 2014

1. I suspect that fellow fans of Richard Feynman will enjoy reading this short talk about him by his colleague, Stephen Wolfram. 

One thing about Feynman is that he went to some trouble to arrange his life so that he wasn't particularly busy--and so he could just work on what he felt like. Usually he had a good supply of problems. Though sometimes his long-time assistant would say: "You should go and talk to him. Or he's going to start working on trying to decode Mayan hieroglyphs again."

He always cultivated an air of irresponsibility. Though I would say more towards institutions than people.
There is also an amusing vignette about his suspicion that Wolfram had somehow intuited the solution to a problem he had actually used a computer to brute-force.

2. Via HBL, I learned about a thoughtful and benevolent holiday message from Ricky Gervais, creator of The Office
Why don't I believe in God? No, no no, why do YOU believe in God?
He eventually gets around to relating how he became an atheist, which reminds me a little of my own thought process, although he was much younger than I when he did so.

3. Speaking of active, independent, young minds, a couple of high schoolers  figured out why the wounds of some soldiers in the Civil War glowed in the dark:
Based on the evidence for P. luminescens's presence at Shiloh and the reports of the strange glow, the boys concluded that the bacteria, along with the nematodes, got into the soldiers' wounds from the soil. This not only turned their wounds into night lights, but may have saved their lives. The chemical cocktail that P. luminescens uses to clear out its competition probably helped kill off other pathogens that might have infected the soldiers' wounds. Since neither P. luminescens nor its associated nematode species are very infectious to humans, they would have soon been cleaned out by the immune system themselves (which is not to say you should be self-medicating with bacteria; P. luminescens infections can occur, and can result in some nasty ulcers). The soldiers shouldn't have been thanking the angels so much as the microorganisms.
This work won the lads first place in a national science competition back in 2001.

4. Three cheers for my daughter's curiosity. During our descent on a recent flight, she told me her ear -- singular -- felt funny. We'd had grommets installed in her ear drums almost a year ago after months of ear infections, so I knew one must have fallen out. I made a mental note, which prompted us to have her checked when something that looked like garden-variety "daycare crud" (as her pediatrican calls it) took too long to clear. Sure enough, that ear proved not to have a functional grommet and was infected.

-- CAV


Steve D said...

I don't remember ever believing in God. I do remember at one point when I was really young wanting to believe in God and being disappointed.

‘No, no, no, why do YOU believe in God?’


The main reason I don’t believe in God is because frankly there is no reason TO believe in God. In fact I his QUESTION is not even valid, much less the answer most people give. What more needs to be said?

Gervais is wrong about at least one thing, though. I’m pretty sure Isaac Newton did NOT discover the theory of evolution. Dozens of other important scientific theories perhaps; but evolution eluded him.

Gus Van Horn said...

I guess I was midway between you and Gervais. When I was in high school and it dawned on me that I needed proof, I assumed it was just difficult and that I would get it in college.

When I didn't, I became agnostic. And then, when Rand made the issue of the cognitive non-role of the arbitrary crystal clear to me, I became an atheist.