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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

How The Rainbow Illuminates The Enduring Mystery Of Physics, by Jon Butterworth, Aeon

Scientists must avoid falling into the trap of defending all aspects of current thought because we feel the underlying truth needs protecting. Details of theory, or even broader aspects, can often be improved. Doing so strengthens the core of the theory – that is, if it is fundamentally correct. If it isn’t, then we need a better theory as soon as possible. The most effective way to find a deeper description of nature is to seek more observations and to push the existing conception to breaking point. All of those thoughts were hovering along with the rainbow over the Helford River.

Our understanding of rainbows is very robust now, but not complete. There are undoubtedly details that can still be improved. That walk home along the river, however, was definitely perfect.

The Voices In Our Heads, by Jerome Groopman, New Yorker

“Talking to your yogurt again,” my wife, Pam, said. “And what does the yogurt say?”

She had caught me silently talking to myself as we ate breakfast. A conversation was playing in my mind, with a research colleague who questioned whether we had sufficient data to go ahead and publish. Did the experiments in the second graph need to be repeated? The results were already solid, I answered. But then, on reflection, I agreed that repetition could make the statistics more compelling.

The Right Book At The Right Time, by Rosa Lyster, The Millions

Some books you know you will love straight away, and other books you need to sit on for a while. You need to coexist with the book for some time, resenting it, maybe, assuring yourself that it is not for you. Rolling your eyes when it comes up in conversation etc. Saying oh PLEASE when it’s mentioned. Talking about it at dinner parties in a way that is actually a bit strange. Are you sure you’re not in love with the book? You are certainly talking about it a lot, for someone who says that they hate it and they wished no one had ever read it. Are you sure you don’t, at least, have a bit of a crush on the book? Hmm? You and the book, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G. Admit it. You secretly love the book and you know it.

Dirty Words, by Kevin Currie-Knight, Reason

My parents raised me not to use "bad" language, but late in elementary school my friends and I learned both how to curse and how to turn off our cursing when grown-ups were around. Just as I wasn't supposed to curse around adults, I was, in some sense, expected to curse around my friends.

Such experiences are explained in Michael Adams' In Praise of Profanity. The book's argument is not that we should use more profanity. It's that profanity evolved within the spontaneous order we call language to perform certain functions. Eliminate profanity and you'll eliminate those functions, making language less powerful.

More Reasonable New Year’s Resolutions For 2017, by Susanna Wolff, New Yorker

2016: Start exercising and eating right. Lose some weight.
2017: Stop standing in front of your open refrigerator eating cheese. Maybe put it on a plate and shut the door.