Giving History the Finger

The middle finger of Galileo’s right hand is a satisfying sight. Not because the resemblance to an obscene gesture is unmistakable (though that’s pretty amusing). And not because such a gesture might suggest that in the end a scientist who suffered persecution for the sin of being correct had gotten the last word—well, two words (though that would be amusing, […]

The Ghosts in the Machines

Early one evening a couple of weeks ago I was sitting on a bed in a hotel room in Aspen, laptop in lap, when I started hearing voices. I raised my head, listening closely. At first I assumed the voices were coming from the street, but then I saw that the windows were closed. I got up and […]

Repeat After Us

I was reading the end-of-semester student essays in the Science as Narrative course I teach when one phrase stopped me. Stopped me as in, I didn’t go on: “Darwin was happy to be tasked with telling a fire by its ashes.” Was it an actual thing, I wondered, this “telling a fire by its ashes”? I […]

I Dream of Wrigley

I dream of Wrigley. All the time. More and more often. I grew up in Chicago and went to games at Wrigley Field all season long, season after season, and even though I left Chicago 30 years ago, Wrigley Field has never left me. The one-hundredth anniversary of the opening of Wrigley Field last month got me wondering […]

TGIPF: Look! International Symbol!

“Look!” our guide said, and he pointed to a frieze at the top of a nearby building. We looked. The figures were inscrutable at first, but then the guide explained: The building had been a shop belonging to a wine merchant. We ahhh’d, not so much at the fact that the shop had belonged to a […]

Kepler on the Moon, Part (Who Knew?) 3

Kepler strikes again! A couple of weeks ago, in a two-part essay, I wrote about a 1608 book by the German astronomer Johannes Kepler that scholars consider the first work of science fiction: Somnium—Latin for The Dream. This past week, I got to thinking about Kepler’s book again, after the discovery of dwarf planet 2012 VP113 (which the discoverers have nicknamed […]

Kepler on the Moon, Part 2

(Part 2 of 2; Part 1 appeared yesterday.) Harry’s utterance “Damn damn Kepler on the Moon damn damn” immediately entered the lexicon of our little messenger world. I then introduced it to my non-work friends, who likewise adopted it as an absurdist catch-all. For years afterward my only knowledge of Kepler was as a punch […]