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  • Writer's picturePangur's Teacup

Science All Around

I do not have a natural affinity to anything science or math related. I avoided it as much as possible in high school and college, yet some of my favorite people and family members have made this field their focus. I now regret the shortsightedness of my youth, the blindness to the interconnections of all disciplines and subjects and am furiously trying to make up for it. Over the last couple of years, I have read a bunch of science related books including Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli and For the Love of Physics by Walter Lewin; Longitude by Dava Sobel and Compass: A Story of Exploration and Innovation by Alan Gurney(history-focused as well as technical explanations); On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks by Simon Garfield (previously reviewed here); Folding Tech: Using Origami and Nature to Revolutionize Technology by Karen Latchana Kenney; The Mystery of Exploding Teeth and other Curiosities from the History of Medicine by Thomas Morris and The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson. The result is I have greater awareness, a trait Eric Sloane thought was dangerously lacking in the modern American (The Spirits of 76). There truly is a greater appreciation for and enjoyment of life, the world, people, history, and the simple pleasures of daily life when you know a little bit more about what makes them work.

I have greater knowledge, but as Charles Kettering said, "Knowing is not understanding. There is a great difference between knowing and understanding: you can know a lot about something and not really understand it.” I am working towards understanding.

Nonfiction: I have two nonfiction books, not mentioned above, that I would like to highlight here. The first is a physics book written in 2016 for the lay person such as me: Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life by Helen Czerski. The title got hooked me right away. As it turns out Dr. Czerski is an avid tea drinker herself. I loved how she explained things in everyday life from the electric tea pot (I love electrons now), sloshed tea, coffee rings, and the action of milk foam when you stir your tea. If you are not a tea drinker, do not worry about it, she went beyond that. I am still mystified by waves, but I am getting closer, and I have a much greater respect for my cell phone.

Galileo once wrote that "Mathematics is the language with which God has written the universe." My little algebra II only and younger geometry hating mind knows this is true. Therefore, the second book, which was a gift from my son who is currently studying mathematics, is The Mystery of the Aleph: Mathematics, the Kabbalah, and the Search for Infinity. Part mathematical explanation, part history of the concept of infinity, and part biography of Georg Cantor, this book is probably the most challenging book I have ever read. My brain is still spinning, and after I read and study mathematics a bit more, I absolutely plan to go back and read this again. What surprised me the most was the inseparable connection between the idea of infinity, God and religion, and the very nature of existence. Like Galileo, "according to Cantor, physical reality does depend on mathematical principles" (228). It is interesting that aleph, which is the symbol that represents infinity in mathematics, is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and has a numerical value of one. The three major monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, believe in the infiniteness of God. Cantor stressed the connection between the concept of infinity and God and thought that the study of infinity would bring a greater understanding of God. Currently, mathematics does not have the language to deal with the concept of infinity. Godel, another mathematician who studied infinity and posed the incompleteness theorem believed "the human mind, existing within a limited universe, cannot perceive an immense entity that extends beyond the confine of the system" (195). One last note is the seemingly paradoxical idea of Cantor's that despite our human limitations in understanding infinity, the "'essence of mathematics lies in its freedom'" (228). I am working towards understanding that freedom.

Children's Book: I am not including a fiction selection today, although I have read many science fiction and science focused novels. I think I will save them for their own blog and go straight to a children's book. There are so many really great books about scientific, mechanical and mathematical concepts out there for every level, and I love them. Their illustrations, simple explanations and enthusiasm are often my gateway into this world in which I still don't feel I belong. However, I am going to present one book which I grabbed for the title and cute illustrations, but over which I ended up being conflicted. The book is entitled Fairy Science by Ashley Spires. Esther is a fairy who likes science. She "prefers facts, data and hard evidence to wishing on stars." When the trees are in danger, all the fairies, except Esther, rely on incantations and mystical charms to right the problem. Instead, Esther uses the scientific method (explained at the end of the book) to discover the problem and solution, resulting in the actual saving of the trees.

I agree with this. I strongly believe in using science to solve the problems our earth faces. However, I couldn't help feeling that the reader might end up applying the conflict that science often has with ignorance and unawareness to more than just superstition. Every science book I have read, including the ones listed above and featured here, marvels at the complexity and awesomeness of the universe and everything in it. They make multiple statements of what science is still not able to answer. Every new discovery leads to more questions, and yet most authors dismiss Intelligent Design out of hand, and no more bitingly (at least so far) than Bill Bryson, who extols the wonders and mysteries of the human body on one hand and the impossibility of God on the other. Even Helen Czerski, who says science is always trying to prove itself wrong, doesn't really allow for the possibility of a Higher Being. I know organized religion throughout history has a lot to answer for this prevailing attitude; just look at the experiences of Galileo. My self-imposed lacking in these subjects leaves me with nothing with which to argue. I must continue to educate myself first. I will just leave you with this quote: "Humans look out at space, and maybe something out there is looking back. Light is still our main connection to everything that isn't our planet and the molecular shifts caused when starlight hits our retina link us to the rest of the universe" (Czerski, 250).

Tea: It has been a hot summer everywhere except maybe Maine, which has rarely seen the temperatures in the 80s until recently. However, what it has lacked in actual heat has been more than made up for in humidity and rain. Either way, summer calls for iced tea, and in keeping with the science theme, I will highlight some mixed tea drinks and new concoctions. In my local town, The Met featured a Tropical Fog in the month of June. It was a really tasty blend of Earl Grey tea and mango with milk. Caffe Kilim, a favorite coffee shop in Portsmouth, offered several new iced tea and coffee drinks this summer. To be honest, however, my favorite wasn't a tea, but a cream soda called Turkish Delight - absolutely delicious.

The Spice Company, also in Portsmouth offers drink mix recipes, and one I tried was a black tea, blueberry lemonade, which I tried making at home. It was really good. The result being I am trying some more of my own pairings like homemade mint syrup to sweeten my tea instead of straight sugar.


Artwork credited to Aurora Draws - contact for more details

All photographs by the author

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