Owen Gingerich, author of The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus, is a professor of Astronomy and the History of Science at Harvard University, as well as a senior astronomer emeritus at the Smithsonian Astronomical Observatory.
Our upcoming issue of The American Scholar will offer an assessment of how long it could take for us to reverse the billion-year-long natural process of Earth’s becoming habitable from the esteemed astronomer. Look out for “Our Imperiled World.”
In the summer of 2011, Gingerich wrote a story for us on the detective work behind the recent discovery of Copernicus’ remains in Poland and their ensuing reburial. Check out “In the Orbit of Copernicus” from The American Scholar.
From Spinoza to Quantum Theory: Things to Talk About in the Middle of the Night
“As I read this surprisingly upbeat exploration of current philosophical and scientific thought on the age-old mystery of existence itself—why, quite simply, there is something rather than nothing—a depressing question kept occurring to me. Do college students, I wondered, still sit around their dorm rooms arguing such questions into the wee hours of the morning?”
Check out Questions of Being — What if our minds are the ultimate reality? for a review by Jay Tolson of Jim Holt’s Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story.
Our idea of the self becomes a consumerist one, which means a passive and diminished one. I’m all for jellied eels, but the pleasures of the body are as nothing to the joys of the soul.
The stinkbug is a true bug. So are the squash bug, the toad bug, the red bug, the seed bug, the box elder bug, and the assassin bug. Assassin bugs capture their insect prey with sticky front legs and stab them with their little beaks. There are ambush bugs. Ambush bugs sit like statues on flower petals, waiting, waiting … Waterbugs are true bugs. The bedbug is a bug. Ugh.
Priscilla Long talks about what bugs her. Read.
(Above, Ambush bug nymph © 2011 Keegan Morrison)
Who could fail to admire the weeds? Especially weeds impervious to weeding, weeds we make war on, weeds that persist no matter how many times they get pulled up by the roots and pitched. Outside my house there’s a parking strip, a city-owned expanse of dirt between sidewalk and curb, that I have endeavored to grace with a garden. Ha ha. I am a sporadic and inattentive gardener, and the weeds know it.
Blue colors our moods and our music. A blue mood is a low mood, a mood wherein we might sing the blues. The word blue is low on the vowel scale (upon which sigh is high). But blue also means royal, pure, heaven. The blue I most marvel at is that deep blue-black polish of a clear night sky right before dawn.
Priscilla Long muses on Blue. Read.
Photo via D.L. Ennis
There are other life cycles, including yours and mine. We begin. We develop, are born, develop some more. We come into reproductive age, we reproduce or do not reproduce. We grow old.
In the end we will, each and every one of us, disperse our molecules to other uses. This is annoying. After all, we are individuals—unique, brilliant, sensitive, irreplaceable.
Priscilla Long muses on sex, mitosis, and life cycles. Read.
Stars have lifespans, and our star is half over. Five billion of our sun’s allotted 10 billion years have passed. We have five billion to go. But long before that, we’ll be toast. In a debated one-to-four-billion years the sun will expand and lap the shores of Earth. Tetélestai.
Priscilla Long describes fusion, the Sun, and the possibility of life elsewhere in the Universe. Read.
(Photo via Boston. TRACE Project, Stanford-Lockheed Institute for Space Research, NASA)
Use sleep to your advantage. Everyone has to sleep, so we might as well sleep productively. A number of researchers have found that when testing participants on previously learned skills or information, test performance was considerably better after a night’s sleep than after an equivalent number of hours of wakefulness.