Albert Einstein said that the “most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.” He was right to be astonished. Human brains evolved to be adaptable, but our underlying neural architecture has barely changed since our ancestors roamed the savannah and coped with the challenges that life on it presented. It’s surely remarkable that these brains have allowed us to make sense of the quantum and the cosmos, notions far removed from the “commonsense,” everyday world in which we evolved.
But I think science will hit the buffers at some point. There are two reasons why this might happen. The optimistic one is that we clean up and codify certain areas (such as atomic physics) to the point that there’s no more to say. A second, more worrying possibility is that we’ll reach the limits of what our brains can grasp. There might be concepts, crucial to a full understanding of physical reality, that we aren’t aware of, any more than a monkey comprehends Darwinism or meteorology. Some insights might have to await a post-human intelligence.
The storage unit’s corrugated metal door slid upward, revealing 100 square feet of mostly empty space. Not very promising, thought Joe Alosi, a businessman who bid on units, sight unseen, when tenants stopped paying the rent. Several plastic bins sat in the middle of the floor, and dust billowed as Alosi peeled off the first lid.
Inside, tightly packed, were rows of envelopes. Alosi opened one, and then another, and then another. The Marine Corps veteran felt a slight chill.
The mostly handwritten letters, on tissue-thin paper, dated to World War II and were penned mostly by the members of a single family — the Eydes of Rockford, Ill. Three brothers were in the military: one in the Marine Corps, one in the Army and one in the Army Air Forces.
During my childhood in Ukraine, my family had only one way of making borscht. Place oxtail in a heavy pot with cold water and aromatics. Simmer for hours until the meat is tender and the stock rich and viscous. Add the skimmed fat to a frying pan to soften the smazhennia, a Ukrainian sofrito of diced onions and finely julienned carrots, until the natural sugars are drawn out. Then comes the acidity: juicy tomatoes in the summer; fizzy, funky fermented tomato purée in the winter; and, always, some julienned beetroot—not too much, and only the light-colored borshevoy buriak, which grow in the sandy soils of southern Ukraine. (“How can one use this ghastly red beetroot—it dies the potatoes red, everything red!” my late grandmother Lusia would say with deadly seriousness.) Boil large chunks of potato and red kidney beans in the broth until soft, but cook shredded cabbage only briskly, to retain a slight crunch. Season with dense homemade sour cream, salt-cured pork pounded with garlic and salt, or, if you’re old-school, umami-rich powders made from pulverized sun-dried tomatoes and gobies, a bull-faced fish found in the Sea of Azov. The soup must be thick, so the spoon stands up straight. Garnish with handfuls of dill, fermented in winter. Rye sourdough or garlic pampushky bread, and often whole spring onions and hot red chilies in the summer, are to be bitten into between each spoonful.