Every few seconds my iPhone lights up with new posts on a WhatsApp group linking doctors in the Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta to journalists in the outside world. News of Russian and Syrian government bombardment comes more or less in real time: “Before three hours in Ghouta, Russian plane tracked ambulances and hit both ambulances and hospitals.” “Dr Hamza: I have treated twenty-nine cases so far, the majority are children.” Visuals are captioned in Arabic and English: “Photos of shelters that local residents dug under their homes.” The journalists, who include correspondents from The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other international newspapers, use the group to clarify the numbers of casualties and check locations of attacks, while broadcast media request Skype interviews from inside the war zone.
A meticulous sifting of testimony, videos, and photographs conveyed by social media, to be cross-checked with government propaganda, satellite imagery, and whatever other sources are available, is a crucial part of twenty-first-century conflict reporting. It feels very far from William Howard Russell, usually considered the first modern war correspondent, who famously covered the Charge of the Light Brigade, describing the British cavalry in Crimea as “glittering in the morning sun in all the pride and splendour of war.”
Pauli’s views persist among many scientists today. It’s a basic principle of scientific practice that a new theory shouldn’t invoke the undetectable. Rather, a good explanation should be falsifiable – which means it ought to rely on some hypothetical data that could, in principle, prove the theory wrong. These interlocking standards of falsifiability and observability have proud pedigrees: falsifiability goes back to the mid-20th-century philosopher of science Karl Popper, and observability goes further back than that. Today they’re patrolled by self-appointed guardians, who relish dismissing some of the more fanciful notions in physics, cosmology and quantum mechanics as just so many castles in the sky. The cost of allowing such ideas into science, say the gatekeepers, would be to clear the path for all manner of manifestly unscientific nonsense.
But for a theoretical physicist, designing sky-castles is just part of the job. Spinning new ideas about how the world could be – or in some cases, how the world definitely isn’t – is central to their work. Some structures might be built up with great care over many years, and end up with peculiar names such as inflationary multiverse or superstring theory. Others are fabricated and dismissed casually over the course of a single afternoon, found and lost again by a lone adventurer in the troposphere of thought.
When I was younger, I used to ask my friends how they thought. Words? Images? Scenes? No one could answer in enough detail to satisfy, and I quickly learned to lay off. But the question never left me. How do other people think? In The Chandelier, just translated from the Portuguese for the first time, I've finally found a response.
Adams approaches her topic as an animal-rights advocate as well as a feminist. She reminds us what the "everyday object" of a hamburger really is: "The burger — minced, macerated, ground — is the renamed, reshaped food product furthest away from the animal."