Fossilized Compassion

This made me happy.  Excerpted from A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, ©2003:

Also found at Lake Turkana by (Kamoya) Kimeu was KNM-ER 1808, a female 1.7 million years old, which gave scientists their first clue that Homo erectus was more interesting and complex than previously thought.  The woman’s bones were deformed and covered in coarse growths, the result of an agonizing condition called hypervitaminosis A, which can come only from eating the liver of a carnivore.  This told us first of all that Homo erectus was eating meat.  Even more surprising was that the amount of growth showed that she had lived weeks or even months with the disease.  Someone had looked after her.  It was the first sign of tenderness in hominid evolution.


Another excerpt from A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, ©2003:

For all his success, (Ernest) Rutherford was not an especially brilliant man and was actually pretty terrible at mathematics. Often during lectures he would get so lost in his own equations that he would give up halfway through and tell the students to work it out for themselves. According to his longtime colleague James Chadwick, discover of the neutron, he wasn’t even particularly clever at experimentation. He was simply tenacious and open minded. For brilliance he substituted shrewdness and a kind of daring. His mind, in the words of one biographer, was “always operating out towards the frontiers, as far as he could see, and that was a great deal further than most other men.” Confronted with an intractable problems, he was prepared to work at it harder and longer than most people and to be more receptive to unorthodox explanations. His greatest breakthrough came because he was prepared to spend immensely tedious hours sitting at a screen counting alpha particle scintillations, as they were known – the sort of work that would normally have been farmed out. He was one of the first to see – possibly the very first – that the power inherent in the atom could, if harnessed, make bombs powerful enough to “make this old world vanish in smoke.”

This is the sort of person kids should be reading about in school. Tenacity and open-mindedness are skills we can all cultivate.

We are stardust…

Excerpted from A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, ©2003:

Because they are so long-lived, atoms really get around. Every atom you possess has almost certainly passed through several stars and been part of millions of organisms on its way to becoming you. We are each so atomically numerous and so vigorously recycled at death that a significant number of our atoms– up to a billion for each of us, it has been suggested– probably once belonged to Shakespeare. A billion more each came from Buddha and Genghis Khan and Beethoven, and any other historical figure you care to name. (The personages have to be historical, apparently, as it takes the atoms some decades to become thoroughly redistributed; however much you may wish it, you are not yet one with Elvis Presley.)

And how could I read that and not think of this? ↓



“Incidentally, disturbance from cosmic background radiation is something we have all experienced.  Tune your (analog) television to any channel it doesn’t receive, and about 1 percent of the dancing static you see is accounted for by this ancient remnant of the Big Bang.  The next time you complain that there is nothing on, remember that you can always watch the birth of the universe.”  ~Bill Bryson, in A Short History of Nearly Everything ©2003

And just like that, static becomes fascinating.

Not Actually a Thing

In this excerpt from Mostly Harmless ©1992, Douglas Adams explains the concept of Parallel Universes:

The first thing to realize about parallel universes… is that they are not parallel.

It is also important to realize that they are not, strictly speaking, universes either, but it is easiest if you don’t try to realize that until a little later, after you’ve realized that everything you’ve realized up to that moment is not true.

The reason they are not universes is that any given universe is not actually a thing as such, but is just a way of looking at what is technically known as the WSOGMM, or Whole Sort of General Mish Mash.  The Whole Sort of General Mish Mash doesn’t actually exist either, but is just the sum total of all the different ways there would be of looking at it if it did.

The reason they are not parallel is the same reason that the sea is not parallel.  It doesn’t mean anything.  You can slice the Whle Sort of General Mish Mash any way you like and you will generally come up with something that someone will call home.

There’s something about this that does ring true.


In this excerpt from So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish by Douglas Adams ©1985, John Watson, also known as “Wonko the Sane,” discusses the scientific method:

I’m not trying to prove anything, by the way. I’m a scientist and I know what constitutes proof. But the reason I call myself by my childhood name is to remind myself that a scientist must also be absolutely like a child. If he sees a thing, he must say that he sees it, whether it was what he thought he was going to see or not. See first, think later, then test. But always see first. Otherwise you will only see what you were expecting. Most scientists forget that… So, the other reason I call myself Wonko the Sane is so that people will think I am a fool. That allows me to say what I see when I see it. You can’t possibly be a scientist if you mind people thinking that you’re a fool.

It reminded me of this quote by Leo Buscaglia:

I don’t mind it when people call me “Kooky Buscaglia.”  I find it gives me a lot of leeway with my behavior.

(That was an aside.)