Let’s all be geeks together…

There’s something geeky about loving science which I’ve never understood, probably because I love science but I can’t understand why it doesn’t fascinate everybody. You don’t have to like all aspects of science but it’s such an enormous field that there is bound to be something that appeals to everyone. It’s such a fun area where you can question and challenge and experiment for ever. I like to think about the human body. I mean why are we built the way we are? We really are very badly designed. Our nice, strong hard bones are on the inside surrounded by soft vulnerable bits. Ask any crab or lobster or tank designer and they’ll agree that the hard protective case goes on the outside. Then there are our fun bits, situated within millimetres of our waste disposal area. Not the most harmonious of neighbours, just imagine… no, actually, don’t do that, not pleasant. Then there’s our command centre, our brain, the bit that makes us unique and keeps us going. Is it protected, safe and unassailable? No. It swings around like any other appendage; the problem is that whilst we can carry on if a leg of an arm gets chopped off, without our head the show is over. Even worse, the unprotected narrow column that attaches it to our body also houses our main artery and windpipe. Any major damage to the neck that supplies our next two most essential items, the lungs and heart and once again it’s goodnight Vienna. Having the brain behind a skull and lungs and heart behind ribs is not much cop when the neck is left so exposed. Another design oversight.

The best thing about science and the “what if” world is that I can read about it all day long in science fiction. For centuries authors have been finding the novel a perfect arena to test ideas and concepts. Gulliver’s Travels, War of the Worlds, Frankenstein, The Time Machine these are all science novels and of course today there are hundreds of writers in the field; some of my favourites are Iain M Banks, Alastair Reynolds, Charles Stross, Isaac Asimov or for humour I love Pratchett and Fforde. This passage comes from the mouth of a dragon in “The Last Dragonslayer”

“Only seeing the visible spectrum is like listening to a symphony and hearing only the kettle drums. Let me describe what I can see: at the slow end of the spectrum lie the languorous long radio waves that move like cold serpents. Next are the bright blasts of medium and short radio waves that occasionally burst from the sun. I can see the pulse of radar that arrears over the hills like the beam of a lighthouse and I can see the strange point-sources of your mobile phones, like raindrops striking a pond. I can see the buzz of microwaves and the strange thermal images of the low infrared. Beyond this is the visible spectrum that we share; then we are off again, past blue and out beyond violet to the ultraviolet. We go past google rays and manta rays and then shorter still to the curious world of the x-ray, where everything bar the most dense materials are transparent…I can see all this, a beautiful and radiant world quite outside your understanding.”

Isn’t that great? I wonder if we would take better care of our planet if we could see it better? In some parts of the country there’s a club called Café Scientifique where they hold monthly talks in wine bars and coffee house on bits of science. Maybe the Eden Project or Heligan would like to set one up? Would I be the only one there?

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