15 August 2006

Nearly Everything

Speaking of stories, I've recently been reading A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. Within the pages of this book, I've finally found an answer to the question people always ask me about my majors (Chemistry and English if you didn't know), namely, how do those work together? Up till now, I usually stick with the tried and true "They don't" or an extended "Well. . . ." Sometimes I just laugh. But really, this book shows that there's not as much difference between the sciences and the humanities as modern education might lead you to believe.

Although the science in the book is a little below my level, I've nonetheless enjoyed the book because of the history it gives behind all of our modern knowledge. When you learn this stuff in science class, they sometimes throw a name at you, but that's about all you get. (Much like what I was talking about yesterday with politics.) But in A Short History, you get the entire wacky personalities of the scientists themselves, including personal quirks, grudges, and mishaps. Seriously, it's a wonder that we ever learned anything between geniuses who solve the mysteries of the universe but tell no one, scientific societies full of social climbers anxious to knock off anyone who actually does serious work, and feuding researchers taking away each other's funding. Plus, it makes fun of the French; what more could you want?

As I read this book, I realize that the majority of scientific discovery is not done in a lab, but in writing. New understanding comes through the stories we tell ourselves to explain our experiments, not through the experiments themselves. Each test gives definite results, but establishing what those results mean is quite another matter. It's a debate over truth almost every bit as subjective as what you might find in lit crit, including some really out-there theories. (Someone once proposed that the craters on the moon were caused by swarming insects.) In fact, this book oddly reminds me of nothing so much as Hesiod's Theogony, in that it's almost a religious text for our scientific non-religion. It is the story of how our modern world--and our beliefs about it--came into existence, including the quirky personalities and the ironic inescapability of fate. I mean, as I read the pages, I wait for all the classic Gods of science to step in--Newton, with his secretiveness and alchemy, Einstein with his brilliant start dwindling into a tragic backwater--along with the lesser gods--the Curies, Planck, Bohr. This is the stuff of myth, not science, of storytelling, not empiricism.

Which is why I'm excited to discover that one of the unfinished scientific stories in the book was finally concluded today. As of today, you may live in a universe of twelve planets, not nine. Finally, a definition of planets that makes sense! Very exciting to see science moving along. :D


Marisa VanSkiver said...

you need to update...i'm used to you posting almost every day...and i'm bored!

Katherine said...

I second that! (Yes, I'm a hypocrite.)

Where are you?!

Liz Muir said...

For anyone who reads the comments:

Yeah, so Blogger released Blogger Beta and I wanted to try some of the new features--tags, CSS-based layout, etc. (Incidentally, I've been feeling really unsatisfied with the look of my blog lately. As I've researched a bit, I've got some good ideas, but I'm too lazy to bring myself up to speed on CSS enough to do what I want. This seemed like a lazy-woman's way out.) In my over-zealousness, I merged my blogger account with my Google account, assuming that my blog would carry over into the new account. So far, it hasn't. I'm desperately trying to get a response from someone at Blogger to fix this and get me control of my blog back. Luckily, I remembered that I enabled email posting, so hopefully this will post. If I can't get it up again in a few days, then I may resort to simply creating a new blog. But I really want to keep the old one because I like the address. Grr. Curse technology.

Meanwhile, it's nice to know that you people are actually reading my blog. Nothing like being gone to find out people miss you. :D So I've been using my blog time the past few days to work on a short story that's been rolling around in my head. Here's two paragraphs from near the middle to keep you entertained.

Excerpt from "Swan Song" by Liz Muir

As the guests mingled, the band slipped through the darkness onto the stage to test their equipment. Under the dimmed floodlights Jane could see the lead singer, a lanky man with hair too greasy and matted to be called flowing but too loose yet for dreadlocks. His eyes stared earnestly at the microphone he was adjusting. He always manages to look so surprised that they actually set up for him, as if he hasn't been doing this for years, she thought, watching as he tilted the mike back and forth on its stand with intense concentration. His wide-eyed expression contrasted with the scruff on his face, lending him the look of one who, having reached past the boundary of adolescence, had run from adulthood, striving to keep from acquiring the knowing expression that experience would mark him with

He held his guitar like a father might hold his newborn son: loving, proud too, but still slightly uncertain how best to position this new extension of himself. Placing the shoulder-strap around his body, he slowly removed his right hand from under the body of the guitar, as though making certain the strap could bear weight. His now free hand reached down to adjust his grey striped running shorts—too short to seem natural on any man over thirty. His skinny legs poked out of them, whiter and hairier than would be considered desirable, but he was a seasoned singer, not a pop icon. Meant to be heard, not looked at.

H said...

Wow. SIster you is crazy but I love you. Why are you so smart and not me?!?! Anyway, I heart your blog and am very much concerned witht he fact that I now might be living in a twelve planet universe. What if I don't want to? WHat if I LIKE nine planets? What then?

I like those two paragraphs from your story. They surprised me because you don't usually seem to do the whole music thing. But it was lovely and awesome and I heart you and I miss you and I like to write run on sentances and not finish them properly because I know that it is probably driving you and everyone else reading it nuts. Sweetness. HUGZ. I gotta get a blog. Call me!

Heather Muir said...

I miss you sister. *snif* I wrote a big message but I erased it again before I posted it because it wasn't intensely cool enough. Never thought I'd say that to you but there you are. Sweetness and peace out. Remind me to tell you about the hippies here. Call me! I have Saturday and Sunday off.

The Weirdo SIster said...

It did post! Ha! Silly me ... tricks are for kids. I heart you honestly!

Marisa VanSkiver said...

Apartment meetings sound good to me...although you know that your dishwasher is coming back in a couple days...lol.