Monday Miscellany

If your life is anything like mine, you’re swamped right about now with holiday preparations and festivities. This week’s installment of Monday Miscellany, therefore, will be mercifully short.

An Introduction to Psych You Up. Literally.

Maria Konnikova is a woman after my own heart. At Scientific American she has just introduced her new column, Literally Psyched, a “journey of interdisciplinary exploration”:

Here, I propose to use literature and creative inspiration to explore concepts in the psychology of the mind and human thought. To create a place that will blend the world of fiction and non-fiction, that of the literary and the psychological, of artistic inspiration and scientific exploration. To use whatever inspires me—a book, a character, a line, a moment—as a window of insight into the human mind. For who are creative writers but individuals who have dedicated their life and art to observing and chronicling humans as a whole: their interactions, their dreams, their hopes, their disappointments, the full complexity of their internal life?

And, as if her interdisciplinary approach to the areas in which literature (and other creative endeavors) and psychology intersect weren’t enough, she begins this introductory post with a personal story, a narrative anecdote from her own life that illustrates how she has become the person she is.

Literature, psychology, and life narrative all wrapped up together! This is good stuff. I think she’d probably be interested in Literature & Psychology.

Not Exactly Everyday Engineering: a Q&A with Brian Clegg

Publishers Weekly interviews Brian Clegg:

In his new book How to Build a Time Machine, Brian Clegg takes a “pop science” look at time travel, explaining quantum entanglement and superluminal speeds in terms that even a technophobe could understand. We asked Clegg about his book, some of his favorite time travel stories, and the most important scientific discovery of his lifetime.

I’ve always been fascinated by the literary potential of time travel. Devising a means of time travel is a challenge to a writer’s creative ingenuity: a blow to the head, a drug, a complex machine, a dream, a wormhole in the space-time continuum, a genetic disease, a ghostly netherworld. But the means of time travel is only a gimmick. What’s really important are the philosophical, psychological, scientific, and moral questions that would arise if, like Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim, we were to come unstuck in time: What happens if a time traveler changes history? Can time travelers meet their older or younger selves in a different time period? If I could go back to an earlier time in my life knowing what I know now, would I change anything, and, if so, what might the results be? What advice would I offer my younger self? Would I listen to anything my older self had to tell me? Would I want to know how and when I was going to die?

Asked about his favorite fiction involving time travel, Brian Clegg, who has a degree in physics from Cambridge, replied:

One of my all time favorites is a short story by Robert Heinlein called “All You Zombies.” Heinlein sets up a wonderful time paradox, where the main character, who has had a sex change, goes back in time to impregnate his younger, female self. The resultant child is then moved back through time to become the mother. The character has literally come from nowhere. Perhaps my favorite novel with a time travel theme is Joe Haldeman’s Forever War, originally envisaged as a counter to Heinlein’s gung-ho Starship Troopers. Because the protagonists in Forever War are always taking long journeys at near the speed of light, they travel far into the future. By the time they return home everyone they once knew is dead, the world is not the one they remember – so there is nothing for it but to sign up for another tour.

See, its the implications of the time travelers’ actions, not the time travel itself, that’s fascinating.

Clegg believes that our ability to construct the technology necessary for time travel is thousands of years away. “But for me the amazing thing is that it’s only a matter of getting the technology right. There’s nothing in physics that prevents time travel.”

Give the holiday gift with the most staying power

For Walter Rodgers, writing in The Christian Science Monitor, that gift is books:

Even the best Christmas gifts lose their luster within a few months. Books have a staying power few gifts can match. I have nothing left from Christmases long past except my childhood books, each still prized. This season, give books. They are our bulwarks against time, ignorance, and barbarity.

 

Finally, here’s a photo for the season:

 

wreath