Tag Archives | Science Fact

From Pico to Nano

In my latest Agoric Café video, I chat with biologist James T. Bradley about the future of, and ethical issues surrounding, biotechnology and nanotechnology; global and civic responsibilities of scientists and of laypeople; intimations of immortality from William Godwin to Ray Kurzweil; the importance of interdisciplinary education, and of instruction in evolutionary biology; the 15th-century (trans)humanism of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, and the perils of invoking the Pope; Bradley’s three-week plan for solving a pandemic; the potential parallels between central planning for sociopolitical systems and central planning for ecosystems; the cosmological theories of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young; that time the National Science Foundation awarded Bradley and myself a $200,000 grant (but we had to spend it all on, like, course stuff); how the universe uses stardust to become self-conscious; and the waning allure of cricket ovaries:


The Way We Live Now

“‘[T]his machine … has access to the Congressional Library St. Louis Annex, does it not?’ …
‘Certainly. Hooked into the Interlibrary Net, rather, though you can restrict a query to one library.’”

— Robert Heinlein, I Will Fear No Evil (1970)

“[H]is screen came alight with the assembled faces of his Council, each face in its own little square. Broey conducted the conference quickly ….”

— Frank Herbert, The Dosadi Experiment (1977)


Southern Comfort

Recommended quasi-lockdown viewing: an excellent pair of docudrama miniseries about early Antarctic exploration – The Last Place on Earth (about the competing Scott and Amundsen expeditions) and Shackleton (about, duh, the Shackleton expedition – though Shackleton also features briefly in the former series). They’re not just exciting dramas but also useful case studies in virtue ethics.

When The Last Place on Earth first appeared it was vigorously attacked by the right-wing press in the u.k. for casting aspersions on the great British national hero, Robert Scott, by suggesting that the failure of his expedition owed more to his defects of character than to bad luck. But from the reading I’ve done I conclude that the miniseries is pretty much accurate.

It was my mother who got me interested in the history of Antarctic exploration. Her interest dated from coming across, in her youth, the remains of Amundsen’s boat (at that time preserved, kind of, in a neglected corner of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park as a monument; it’s since been relocated to Norway). Although this was not the boat he used for his Antarctic expedition, the plaque named him as the first to reach the South Pole, leading her to wonder why she’d never heard of him and had only heard of Scott. She subsequently became a great admirer of both Amundsen and Shackleton, though not so much Scott.

The Last Place on Earth is out of print on DVD, and so is available at only astronomical prices in that format, but subscribers to Amazon Prime can stream it for free.

I couldn’t find Shackleton streaming anywhere (places advertising it turn out to have conflated it with a documentary recreating Shackleton’s voyage), but the DVD is only ten bucks.


Aristotle’s Table of Elements

I made this! You can buy it! You should totally buy it in ridiculously large quantities!

Modern periodic tables of elements are so cumbersome and messy – get back to the simplicity of the original, with Aristotle’s four terrestrial elements (Earth, Water, Air, and Fire) and one celestial element (Æther).

Want to get this image on a mug, poster, t-shirt, button, etc.? Check out my new Zazzle store.

And please consider sharing this post and/or link with your Aristotelean (or otherwise susceptible) friends.


SciFi SongFest, Songs 277-279


Three songs comparing love with space travel:

277. Duke Ellington, “Moon Maiden” (1969):

Written to coincide with the actual moon landing, this song features some clever lyrics with an astronaut’s journey to the moon serving as a metaphor for courtship, and/or vice versa (“I’m just a fly-by-night guy … I made my approach and then revolved”)

You can hear the lyrics more clearly in this version, where he switches from singing them to speaking them:

278. Police, “Walking on the Moon” (1979):

279. Justin Timberlake, “Spaceship Coupe” (2013):


SciFi SongFest, Songs 32-33

What these two songs have in common is … well, I’ll give you a hint:

David Bowie, “Fashion” (1980):

Leslie Fish, “Surprise” (1983):


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