October 15, 2014
For those with an interest in the sciences, we live in an intriguing age. Neurologists claim that we are close to reversing the ageing process. Not stopping it. But turning it around and sending us all back to being twenty-five again. For me, going back a few years wouldn't be that big a deal, but for a lot of people, it would be a mindbender. And I'm not sure what it would do to the human race if people stop dying. And I'm not even thinking here about the potential (!) for a population problem.
Where would American society be if all the people who were born at the beginning of the twentieth century were alive again? These would be the same people who disapproved of anyone who'd been so thoughtless as to be born with a different skin color. Or who subscribed to the wrong religion. Or, for that matter, who simply came out of a different culture. In my old neighborhood, we disapproved of everybody who wasn't Irish. We have people today who are convinced that Adam lived with dinosaurs, and who will never concede that there's a climate change problem. Evidence doesn't matter. We're not good at changing our minds once they're made up. Hence Max Planck's famous comment that the human race advances one funeral at a time.
Do away with the funerals and where does that leave us?
Meanwhile the Mars One project, headquartered in the Netherlands, announced that 200,000 people have volunteered for its plan to send a team on a one-way trip to Mars. I don't know any of them personally, and I will admit that my initial reaction is to wonder what they're thinking. We're not talking here, after all, about Ray Bradbury's Mars, with its pleasant small towns and Ohio-style houses with green lawns and wide hedges, where you can walk around and hear someone on the piano playing "Beautiful Dreamer." There was a time when I'd have signed on to go there in a minute. But I can still remember seeing the first images of Mars coming back in –I think—the early 1970's. The place was flat and sterile and gray. We'd known by then –or at least been reasonably sure—that we weren't going to get any surprises. But seeing those first images come in constituted one of the major disappointments of my life. And if that suggests maybe I should get one, I won't argue the point.
The October Scientific American reports, in its cover story, that the discovery of gravitational waves from the early days of the universe might give us a handle on the Theory of Everything, uncover the connection between gravity and quantum mechanics, and maybe even determine whether other universes exist. It's one of those stories that gets into talking about a billionth of a billionth of a second after the Big Bang. That sort of thing usually loses me pretty quickly. But the author of this one, Lawrence M. Krauss, has managed to get the account into clear English.
Other universes? Holy cats.
I'm sorry to report that Hattie's Book Store in Brunswick has closed. In future, anyone requesting signed copies of books should simply contact us directly.
I went down a few days ago to say goodbye, and picked up a book that would be of interest to readers who enjoy alternate history fiction. It's What Ifs? Of American History. A group of historians look at various turning points and speculate what might have happened had things gone differently. For example, had William Pitt, who led Britain to victory in the French and Indian War, still been in a position to lend guidance, the American Revolution would probably not have happened. Or Robert E. Lee's "Lost Order " gotten to its intended recipients instead of General McClellan, Antietam might have run a completely different course.
Years ago, there was a radio program, "Stroke of Fate," that delved into counterfactual history. They did one in which Lee sides with the Union instead of the Confederacy. The war is shorter and far less deadly. And ultimately he becomes a U.S. president.