SELF EDUCATED SAVANT

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Leonardo da Vinci

By: Walter Isaacson

Narrated by Alfred Molina

Walter Isaacson (Author, Biographer, Former Chair of Broadcasting Board of Governors)

This is the storied life of a self-educated savant.  Walter Isaacson scrupulously details a genius’s life and notes how curiosity and focus inform his intellect. Leonardo da Vinci is an illegitimate child raised by an extended family that includes his educated wayward father and unlettered mother.  Born in Florence, da Vinci grows to manhood and follows a path festooned with powerful Italian and French rulers.

Self portraits of Leonardo belie Isaacson’s characterization of him as handsome. However, Isaacson’s supposition is drawn from other people’s perception of him rather than Leonardo’s perception of himself.

Leonardo da Vinci self portrait as an old man

Parenthetically, Isaacson notes that Leonardo is gay and finds the idea of heterosexual acts as volitionally repugnant.

Isaacson suggests every person can reach higher levels of understanding by being acutely observant and curious.  He suggests these two characteristics have a yin and yang, a good and bad consequence. 

The good comes from a restless desire to understand what one sees.  The bad comes from distraction that causes a brilliant mind to wander and fail to complete an idea or finish a project.

Isaacson infers Leonardo’s innate intelligence magnifies his ability to pattern what he observes into insights that are hundreds of years ahead of future discoveries.  From observations of nature, the human body, and expressed human emotion da Vinci refines the art of painting. 

However, Isaacson notes Leonardo is so much more than an artist.  Leonardo is a polymath.  Leonardo acquires understanding of cosmic phenomena, the dynamics of water and air movement, the physical expression of human emotion, and the general science of earth’s structure, and substance. 

At the same time, Isaacson notes that Leonardo often fails to publish, or diseminate his findings.  Leonardo becomes distracted by new observations that lead to incomplete works of art, science, and engineering.  Isaacson explains that some of the incompleteness is a consequence of finding a new discovery that causes Leonardo to rethink how a painting or project is to be completed.

Isaacson notes many paintings were carried with him to his death.  Some were never finished.  Leonardo continually refines his paintings with new understanding of light and shadow, muscle and bone. 

In some cases, painting’ modifications were made years after their initiation because of a muscle, tendon, or ligament discovery from Leonardo’s many human dissections.

Leonardo revised “Saint Jerome in the Wilderness” years after he started it because of research on neck muscles from his numerous dissections of the human body.

Leonardo lived in a time of powerful Italian and French leaders.  He serves men of power like Cesare Borgia, Francis I, and Pope Leo X (the son of Lorenzo de’ Medici). 

Leonardo serves Cesare Borgia for 8 years as an engineer and artist. He creates the model for a massive horse (a larger mold than had ever been created would be required). It is to be a tribute to Cesare Borgia but it is never cast because of the circumstance of war.

By historical account, Cesare Borgia is ambitious and arrogant.  Cesare is alleged to have murdered his brother to assume control of a Papal State.  He is alleged to have been responsible for several political assassinations.  Leonardo seems to have had no compunction for serving Borgia and appears to have been a confident of the brutal dictator.

Two interesting reveals by Isaacson is Leonardo’s willingness to serve whoever would sponsor his work regardless of their good or bad actions, and his role as a scene creator for theatrical productions.  Isaacson’s explanation of Leonardo’s scene creations for plays is revelatory because of the many mechanical inventions drawn by this master of innovation. 

One can imagine how thrilled an audience would be at a theatre production that showed Leonardo’s skill as an animator of mechanical wonders.  It seems a perfect venue for Leonardo’s inventive mind.

Leonardo becomes friends with luminaries like Niccolo Machiavelli and Luca Pacioli (an Italian mathematician).

Niccolo Machiavelli, 1469-1527, died at age 58. Cesare Borgia is said to have been the model for “The Prince”.

Most, but not all, of Leonardo’s patrons and customers were men or women of great power and wealth. Some, like Borgia had little or no moral conscience.  Some with great wealth who requested commissions were ignored by Leonardo.

A younger contemporary of Leonardo is Michelangelo Buonarroti. 

Michelangelo is a competitor for Art commissions who disdains Leonardo.

 Detail of Michelanglo’s “Doubting Thomas”.

Isaacson notes that Leonardo is no less disdainful of Michelangelo but much less confrontational when asked for opinions about his competitor’s work.

Isaacson wrote a biography of Stephen Jobs and often refers to Jobs’ driven personality. 

His biography of Leonardo shows a commonality between these two geniuses.  They both looked for perfection in their work.

From a painting of the Last Supper, to the image of Saint Jerome in the Wilderness, to the Mona Lisa, Isaacson shows Leonardo to be among the most creative artist of all time.  Leonardo’s understanding of light and shadow, human vision, physiology, and facial expression contribute to art what E=MC squared contributed to physics. 

(Sadly, Isaacson notes much of “The Last Supper” shows little of Leonardo’s original work because of cleanings and restorations over the centuries.)

Isaacson shows Leonardo is much more than an artist.  From the idea of creating power from water movement to the planning of cities for Kings, Leonardo da Vinci is shown to be an insightful civil engineer. In sum, Isaacson implies Leonardo’s insights rival all the savants of history.  Leonardo da Vinci is an artist and scientist ahead of his time.

HEALTH CRISES

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Body, A Guide to Occupants

By: Bill Bryson

Narrated by Bill Bryson

BILL BRYSON (American-English Author)

Bill Bryson’s skill as a researcher and writer pleases the mind but as John Milton noted, “the mind…can make a heaven of Hell, a hell of Heaven”. 

Bryson published “The Body” in 2019, months before Covid19 became known to the world.  Bryson’s greatest fear, gleaned from his research, is the potential of a world-wide infection from a flu-like virus.  Bryson’s comment about the body’s greatest 21st century risk is prescient.  Bryson suggests the United States, and most nations, have not prepared well for national medical crises.

National and international medical crises reach back to antiquity.  Among many of Bill Bryson’s insights in “The Body” is his history of medical crises in the world.

Bryson recalls the Bubonic plague, smallpox, typhus, yellow fever, influenza, Polio, and Ebola and other outbreaks as examples of national unpreparedness.  With failure to prepare, nation-state’ responses have ranged from careful, reasonable, and effective, to careless, illogical, and ineffective. 

America’s response to Covid19 shows America’s lack of preparation.  America’s national response speaks for itself.

This is only a small part of Bryson’s enlightening research on “The Body”.  He recounts many incredible medical discoveries made by science.  As with all disciplines, some discoveries are made by chance; some by the exigency of illness or medical emergency, others by curiosity, and yes, some by diligent scientific research and experiment.

Alexander Fleming (1881-1955, credited for discovering penicillin.)

A green mold forms on a mistakenly, un-discarded petri dish used to study bacteria.

In 1928, Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin by chance while growing bacteria for research. One of many petri dishes had been accidently contaminated. When Fleming returns to his lab, a mold appears to be killing the bacteria on the dish.  Bryson explains the serendipity of the discovery while reflecting on lesser known information about Fleming’s life.

Bryson gives a similar description of the discovery of blood transfusion by Dr. James Blundell in 1818. The first transfusion is a success. However, the success is as much from luck as misfortune because the importance of blood typing was unknown in 1818. The first transfusion was luckily from a donor (Dr. Blundell himself) and patient with type 0 blood.

Karl Lansteiner (1968-1943, Austrian biologist, physician, and immunologist, discovers and names blood types in 1900.

Bryson recounts Samuel Pepys diary and his harrowing experience in having a gall stone removed from his bladder in 1658.  With no anesthetic, a gall stone the size of a tennis ball was removed.  Pepys keeps the gall stone in a glass jar to show others while telling his story.  He describes the hellish pain as the scalpel pierces his abdomen.

Not until 1882 does Carl Langenbuch remove the first gall bladder. Langenbuch studied 17th century records of dogs that exhibited gall bladder problems. Langnbush’s experiment on a human body comes from that research. His medical judgment leads to a pragmatically successful surgical treatment.

Mukherjee offers a grim history on the evolution of cancer treatments.  Mukherjee details, and Bryson confirms, many errors made by physicians who presume more surgery, more chemotherapy, or more radiation will cure, rather than kill, the patient.  Experience shows that presumption incorrect. 

William Lane (1856-1943, British surgeon and physician killed many patients with what was called colonic innertia by removing large sections of intestine in the early 1900s.)

With improved knowledge, intestine removal became limited with better recovery statistics for patients.

Bryson notes many medical experiments offered no cure and killed patients in the process.  Physicians sometimes ignored their failures and skewed results to reinforce their poor medical decisions.  Some patients who did not die, were irreparably harmed by medical practitioners who believed they were right.  Practitioners ignored failures and continued to treat patients with medications and treatments that offered no cure but death or disfigurement.

One of many insights Bryson notes is that approximately 50 percent of the cause for premature death in humans is self-inflicted.  Poor diet, tobacco use, and lack of exercise are principle causes. 

Other chapters cover longevity, predictions of life span, medical symptoms of old age, and the story of telomeres’ role in cell death. Bryson notes some scientists believe scientific research will lead to extended life well beyond current life spans.

One of the most disconcerting observations made by Bryson is that Americans, who pay most in the world for medical service, fall (at best) into the middle of industrialized countries for general public health. 

Bryson infers sociological difference between the United States and other industrialized countries affect the health and longevity of America’s population.  The specific of sociological differences are left unwritten.  Having a national health system in those countries with better health care statistics is undoubtedly one of the sociological reasons.

Bryson’s book is an enlightening journey into the mysteries of “The Body”.  Bryson gives a good account of the methodologies and myths of the body’s history and its discoveries.  There are many discoveries yet to be made that will tell us more about physical existence and our body’s possible future.

God and Science

Audio-book Review 
By Chet Yarbrough 

(Blog:awalkingdelight) 
Website: chetyarbrough.blog 

The Big Picture 

BySean Carroll 

Narrated by Sean Carroll 

Sean Carroll (Author, theoretical physicist in quantum mechanics, gravity, and cosmology.)

Being a fan, Sean Carroll is usually a good source for understanding science but “The Big Picture” is not his best work. Traveling through centuries of discovery and science’ revisions is too broad a picture for a layman’s understanding.  Many attempts at clear communication about current physics fail to enlighten “The Big Picture”. 

Carroll does clarify the difference between “is” and “ought” that explains why science is important.  God may be the origin of life on earth but proof relying on faith is an “ought” without an “is”.  Science reduces knowledge to facts based on repeatable experiments and predictable results.  If experiments are conducted by different experimenters with the same results, what “is” becomes predictable and more likely correct. Carroll explains science deals with the world as it “is”; not how the world “ought” to be.   

Preachers preach a gospel based on what is not experimentally proven and only anecdotally predictable.  Anecdotes are not necessarily true or reliable because they are based on personal accounts rather than facts or research.  Numerous studies have shown that human cognition relies on brain patterning which influences, matches, or melds information stored in the brain. 

The consequence of patterning distorts reality.  Eye-witness accounts of events are notoriously misleading because of human patterning.   

“The Big Picture” recounts the history of physics and how human understanding has evolved over the centuries.  Carroll explains how past discoveries based on science have evolved.  Newton lived in the same world as Einstein.  Both discovered fundamental truths about “The Big Picture”. 

Newton’s laws apply to earth’s realm.  Einstein’s laws apply to the universe.  Both are correct within their spheres.  Carroll notes neither Newton nor Einstein contradict the laws of physics, but their laws are confined by the earth or universe in which they are proven. 

Carroll believes all essential particles of the atom have been discovered.  This reminds one of the scientists in the late 19th century who said, “in this field, almost everything is already discovered, and all that remains is to fill a few unimportant holes”. 

It is difficult not to enjoy Carroll’s way with words but with the unexplained essence of gravity, dark matter, and dark energy, it seems premature to suggest no new particle discoveries will change our view of the world and their impact on reality. 

CARROLL AND FEYNMAN

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Something Deeply Hidden (Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime

By: Sean Carroll

Narrated by Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a theoretical physicist.  He explains the science of physics to the general public with unusual clarity for non-scientists.  “Something Deeply Hidden” explains a theory that has the potential for explaining everything about everything.

Carroll touches on the theoretical history of Quantum Mechanics.  He notes the fundamental objection to Quantum Mechanics raised by Einstein and his followers.

Einstein insists that Quantum Mechanics is an incomplete theory of space, time, and motion.  Einstein’s famous quote is “God does not play dice with the universe.”  Carroll agrees. 

Neither Einstein or Carroll are talking about belief in God but belief that there is a deeply hidden secret in Quantum Mechanics that may explain everything about everything.

Carroll recalls the history of the 1927 Fifth Solvay International Conference where quantum theory was discussed by the world’s most notable physicists. 

The confrontation between Niels Bohr and Einstein results in agreement on the truth of Quantum Mechanics as a construct for calculation of space, time, and motion in the sub-atomic world.  The disagreement comes with Bohr’s opinions about Quantum Mechanics.  Einstein suggests Quantum Mechanics is an incomplete description of subatomic unpredictability. 

Carroll explains that Quantum Mechanics has been reinforced as true by every experiment tried since its discovery.  It fulfills Karl Popper’s dictum that a theory of anything must be falsifiable to be called science. 

The many experiments on Quantum Mechanics have proven its validity as a theory of time, space, and motion in the sub-atomic world. 

However, Quantum Mechanics remain a subject that Richard Feynman said no one can clearly explain or understand. 

Carroll accepts Feynman’s and Einstein’s views.  The theory of Quantum Mechanics is not explainable and (as Einstein suggested) it may simply be an incomplete theory.

Carroll suggests Quantum Mechanics remains unexplainable because of human inability to observe its truth from what is called a superposition.  We cannot look at Quantum Mechanics outside the realm of personal cognition.

His answer is to acknowledge its truth by adhering to the Schrodinger equation which insists that a cat in a box is both dead and alive.  Carroll argues that scientists waste their time challenging Schrodinger’s equation.  Carroll suggests the cat in the box is both dead (actually Carroll prefers asleep) and alive.

Carroll argues that probability is an essential ingredient of Quantum Mechanics but he explains it is not the “probability” often understood by the public.  Carroll’s view of probability is in knowing our human limitation of not being able to look at nature outside of what we understand as nature.

Humans cannot be in a superposition to see the effect of Quantum Mechanics because humans are trapped in their own sense of space, time, and motion.  Probability, rather than certainty, is a function of a personal observation trap.

What Carroll suggests is other worlds are created because of the nature of Quantum Fields that are the essence of everything that exists in the universe.

Carroll explains particle physics were once considered the holy grail of understanding nature.  Now, there is wide recognition that fields; not particles, are the building blocks of nature.  Every particle vibrates like a string and emits a wave that permeates all space; including a vacuum where no particles exist. 

Empty space is simply a low state of energy with no extant particles within its emptiness (aka a vacuum).  It is not to suggest particles are not important.  They are the source of the waves that permeate space. 

Finding the Higgs-bosun is confirmation of the importance of particles in showing that it is undiscovered glue that holds atoms together.

Carroll’s books are excellent physics primers for non-scientists because they reduce science complexity to understandable examples; at least most of the time.  (Space-time remains a mystery to me; even with Carroll’s valiant effort to explain it.) He may not be right about everything he explains, and a listener/readers’ interpretation of his writing may be wrong, but Carroll’s explanations are fascinating. 

Feynman is said to have had the ability to explain the complexity of physics to the non-scientist. Carroll is today’s Feynman.  

CHEMISTRY OF LIFE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Great Courses Lecture Series

Chemistry and Our Universe

Presented by Ron B. Davis Jr., Ph.D. Associate Teaching Professor of Chemistry Georgetown University

Ron B. Davis Jr. ( Associate Teaching Professor of Chemistry Georgetown University)

Professor Davis’s lectures successfully interest a layman in the field of chemistry.  However, this is not a simple introduction to chemistry.

Davis’s lectures are well done.  Davis provides a lot of information with a summary of what has been said at the end of each lecture.  His lectures offer interesting facts about chemistry, the world’s origin; its survival, and hopeful continuation.  Where it loses some of its utility for a non-chemist is in calculations for chemical reaction, equilibration, and energy expenditure.  Not that these calculations are not important, but they become too detailed for the merely curious.

At best, Davis’s lectures will spark a dilettante’s interest; at worst, they will lead a non-chemist to look elsewhere for easier understanding of the subject.

In his first 6 lectures, Davis breaks the science of chemistry into its most elementary particles. 

The role of atoms in chemistry is explained at the sub-atomic level of neutrons, protons, and energy producing electrons.

On the 7th lecture, Davis notes the fascinating history and utility of the periodic table.  As of 2002, the known elements on the periodic table come to 118. Over 90 of those elements are naturally occurring.  They are organized in the periodic table by number of protons (atomic number) in each nucleus with hydrogen being first (no. 1) and oganesson (a synthetic chemical) being the last (no. 118).

Davis explains the importance of the periodic table by their grouping.  The groups are vertically and horizontally organized with each family of atoms beginning in a line from left to right and in columns from top to bottom.

The horizontal line reflects one of seven periods. Each atom in these periods has the same number of electron shells (aka orbitals) constituting the same energy level.  To a degree, the horizontal rows share the same chemical characteristics. 

The vertical rows begin with hydrogen and are generally classified as groups.  The first group is classified as Alkali metals.  The far right which is row 18 are called noble gasses; beginning with hydrogen. 

Elements in the same family (the vertical row) have the same electron configuration in their outer shell.  A shell is what is called a valence shell, an orbiting electron around a nucleus.  Elements in the same family tend to have a shared chemistry. 

Davis notes that the vertical orientation of the periodic table indicates electrons get farther from the nucleus as you go down the table.  The effect is to lower ionization energy as you go down the group; making electrons more easily released to other atoms.  However, Davis notes this is not an iron clad rule; i.e. there are exceptions. 

The next several lectures deal with chemical reactions, formations, and randomness and how they can be calculated.  You enter the realm of chemistry mathematics.  This is where listening for some of us meets ignorance, and understanding escapes.

Energy generation reawakens a listener’s interest.  Davis explores the history of nuclear fission and fusion. 

He explains the great promise and threat of Einstein’s insight to the equivalence of energy and mass.  Fission leads to the destructive force of atomic bombs during WWII. 

Nagasaki and Hiroshima show what uncontrolled fission can do in time of war.

Fukushima shows what uncontrolled fission can do in time of peace.

Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima were uncontrolled fission events that destroyed buildings and contaminated the environment. To date, fission has been found to be a viable source of energy but admittedly dangerous, and in disasters, highly polluting.

The principle of nuclear fusion may be the solution for a non-polluting, less dangerous, supply of energy.

However, fusion has not been achieved because of the high energy demand (heat) required to compel atoms to fuse.  Only the heat of the sun has successfully produced fusion. The hope is that a method of cold fusion will be discovered.  The fundamental point made by Davis is that the production of nuclear energy is all chemistry.

In the next lectures, Davis addresses polymers, medicinal chemistry, poisons, chemical weapons, fuels, and explosives. 

Davis explains why trees grow to be over a hundred feet tall while not being overturned by weather.  It is largely due to cellulose which is one of the longest polymers in nature.

Davis notes DNA is one of the most complex of the natural polymers in chemistry. DNA contains all of the characteristics of carbon-based life forms.

He also notes chemistry is used to directly attack or fool human cancers that invade human DNA.  These compounds have the potential for curing cancer.

Poisons are next.  Davis notes that poisons have been around since the beginning of recorded history.  He explains there are three classifications for this category of chemicals; e.g. poisons, toxins, and venoms.

Poisons are substances that cause death, injury, or harm at a molecular level.  The key to their effect is dosage.  Toxins are substances produced within living cells that are contracted by touching or ingesting plants, or by contact with animals carrying microorganisms that cause disease. Davis explains venoms are secretions produced by animal’ or insect’ predators for defense or predation.

Fuels are lightly touched on by Davis with an examination of the discovery of fire; beginning with wood and progressing through other carbon-based materials. 

Davis notes the evolution of coal, oil, and plant-based derivatives that produce fuel for industry and automobiles.  He delves into the consequence of pollution in using these fuels, and their threat to humanity.  He touches on global warming and its ecological consequence.

War is noted as impetus for the weaponization of chemicals, and explosives.  A listener is introduced to Fritz Haber, a Jewish German genius that introduced chlorine gas (phosgene) to WWI.  Haber became known as the father of chemical warfare. 

Chemical warfare in Syria

Alfred Nobel, a Swedish chemist invented and patented dynamite. However, Davis notes high explosives were first discovered by Christian Schonbein in 1846. Schonbein’s discovery, like many chemical discoveries noted by Davis, is accidentally found when Schonbein spills hydrochloric acid in his lab and wipes it up with cloth apron.  He puts the apron next to a stove to dry it out and it bursts into flame.

Alfred Nobel (Swedish chemist who invented dynamite and plastic explosives.)

Gunpowder cotton is discovered with Schonbein’s accident.  The problem is that gunpowder cotton was too volatile.  It is left to Nobel to come up with a stabilizing compound for gunpowder cotton to create sticks of dynamite.  Nobel invents an igniter fuse to start the explosive potential of dynamite. Further discovery by Nobel leads to nitroglycerin and plastic explosives in the late 19th century.

Davis ends his lectures with the chemistry of earth.  He notes how life may have begun with chemical building blocks introduced to earth from fragments of meteorites.  Meteorites are created from exploding stars.    Where water exists, he argues organic life is possible. Davis concludes–human exploration of the Universe holds hope for the future.

Davis speculates that there could very well be a habitable planet that has the same characteristics as early earth.  He suggests, with the building blocks of life coming from meteorites, only water needs to be added to create and sustain life.

Earth’s Rock and Roll

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

How the Earth Works

By: Professor Michael E. Wysession

Narrated by Professor Wysession

Michael Wysession (Lecturer, Professor of Earth and Plaentary Science at Washington University in St. Louis).

Professor Michael Wysession believes the origin of earth began with the “The Big Bang”.  He explains how earth is in constant motion. Wysession implies “The Big Bang” reverberates today as evidence of its truth.

Most know some of the story of earth’s creation, destruction, and re-creation, but few know everything Wysession reveals.  Yes, the world was once one large land mass amid a body of water that covered the earth.  This land mass broke apart to become seven continents.  What is surprising to some is that this singular land mass called Pangaea is only one of several land masses in earth’s history.

A precursor to Pangaea is Rodinia which is believed to have formed 1.3 to 1.23 billion years ago. Another singular land mass is Pannotia assembled 600 million years ago.

Rodinia (A super-continent long before Pangaea).

There were several super-continents before Pangaea.  Each iteration of a singular land mass evolved over millions of years based on moving plate combinations and re-combinations. Wysession goes on to explain the theory of Plate Tectonics.   

Contrary to the myth of “Journey to the Center of the Earth” there is no space at earth’s center.  The center of earth is solid iron; surrounded by a molten nickel-iron alloy.  Though the center of the earth is solid, it has movement but not like that experienced in the lithosphere. 

Despite the great heat at earth’s center, its center is iron that is not liquefied.  The geometric pressure of Earth’s interior overcomes lead’s liquefaction at its core 

Wysession explains that geologists have found several (more than seven and less than twenty-four) plates that float within a layer of earth called the lithosphere.  The lithosphere consists of the crust and upper mantle of earth.  This crust and upper mantle cover a solid core made of iron that is super-heated by radioactivity. 

Wysession notes the core of earth moves with pressures exerted by changes in the lithosphere.  Plate Tectonics affect earth’s molten nickel-iron alloy and its solid core.  Earth is always in a state of motion; often imperceptible to the eye but always moving.

Wysession explains how everything on earth moves but at different speeds.  Even the hardest and largest rocks move over time.

Wind can be a tornado or a breeze.  Water can be a gentle rain or a tsunami.  Rocks erode over centuries of wind and rain, but instantly break in avalanches.  Humans may think they are standing still, but the earth constantly moves in a circle and hurdles deeper into the universe as a small part of a galaxy.  Nothing on earth is at rest.

Wysession notes how apocryphal stories in the bible may be founded on the truth of earth’s history.  The threat of subduction in a tectonic plate could explain the legend of Atlantis or the parting of the “Red Sea” in the time of Moses. 

Wysession notes there are three types of faults that cause earthquakes.  There is a divergent fault, a convergent fault, and a transform fault.  The first is one that has two plates the move away from each other with molten rock plugging the gap.  The second is when two plates collide but one rushes beneath another, or if equal in size, create a mountain at the collision point.  The third is like the San Adreas Fault in California where tectonic plates rub against each other.

Wysession notes any plate movement can be disastrous and kill many people, but a transform fault shakes the earth while a convergent fault makes land disappear (subduct) or rise like a mountain.

A frightening observation by Wysession is the difference between the tectonic faults in the La-San Francisco corridor and Seattle, Washington. 

Both are at risk of earthquakes, but Seattle’s plate tectonics are convergent faults while San Franciso/LA’s are transform faults. 

Wysession’s observation on the difference in these faults suggests the geological change in Seattle from an earthquake will be much greater than in the LA-San Francisco area. Deaths will be equally catastrophic but the change in topography will be geometrically greater in Seattle.

Wysession continues with a detailed lecture on volcanic eruptions.

Anyone who lived in Washington when Mt. St. Helens erupted will confirm Wysession’s explanation of volcanic events.  Living in eastern Washington when that eruption occurred makes one fully appreciate Wysession’s lecture. Over 200 miles from the eruption, a beautiful summer day turns into night. (It was like a biblical event.)

You cannot see a hand in front of your face in a few hours after St. Helen’s eruption.  Cars are covered in fine flakes of ash.  Everyone with any sense stays indoors because unfiltered air is unbreathable.

There seems a surprise in every Wysession’ lecture. Things we did not know or fully appreciate are pointed out. There is the incredible power in earth’s weakest force, better known as gravity, that creates and destroys the universe.

We see the deterioration of monuments of granite from centuries of weathering and the force of gravity. Rocks fall down, the face of the earth changes, deserts are formed, and jungles evolve. But, we fail to comprehend the eternal change of our world because of geological time frames, and our short lived lives.

Today we worry about destruction of forests in Brazil because of the loss of carbon dioxide eating trees. We fail to realize the largest desert in the world is Antarctica, and jungles of the rain forest do not have enough organic material in their soil to grow food to sustain life. We underestimate the critical impact of a dwindling potable water supply.

The last chapters of Wysession’s lectures deal with climate change and the impact of geological change on the history of humankind.

Like many science specialists, Wysession’s claim that a principle cause of revolutions and other world events is closely related to geological events. It is a somewhat plausible argument but it fails to recognize the political will of those who are discontented with the status quo

Wysession assesses the worlds use of energy and concludes alternative energy sources will replace carbon based pollutants. He suggests harnessing the geological sources of natural energy like the sun, wind, and ocean currents. They offer plausible replacements for the earth’s dwindling supplies of coal, oil, and gas. However, Wysession thinks in geological time and believes humans have the capacity to innovate their way out of a sixth extinction. One hopes Wysession is right, but what if he is not?

One tends to be skeptical when leaders can arbitrarily change the momentum of environmental change.

There is a great deal more in this 24 hour and 31-minute lecture series.  On the one hand it is revelatory; on the other, it reinforces a belief that human life’s continuation is a chance as much as a choice.

MAD SCIENCE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Island of Dr. Moreau

By H.G.Wells

Narrated by: Simon Prebble

H. G. Wells (English Author, 1866-1946)

The Island of Dr. Moreau is an apocryphal story; i.e. it raises many human’ issues—like morality, ethics, meaning of life, and the boundaries of civilization. 

The original story is mired in 1896’ science but the story remains relevant for 21st century cloning and genetic manipulation.  Wells envisions a brilliant physiologist who finds a way to meld the physiological characteristics of man with beast.  This extraordinary feat is not technically revealed which diminishes the sense of suspended belief but the idea opens a Pandora’s Box of evil that is only mitigated by hope.

Dr. Moreau’s demented intent is to civilize the animal kingdom by creating “humanimals” that offer opportunity for animals to talk and resist thoughtless instinctive actions.  The idea is crazy on many levels–not the least of which is the evil that lurks in human’ minds that compel equally animalistic instinctive actions; but, Wells tells an apocryphal and believable story about science run amok.

In the 21st century, science advances to the point of cloning and creating an identical living animal.  “Dolly”, the sheep is cloned in 1996.  Science is on the edge of creating new life forms, if not human copies.  The only obstacle appears to be politics; political resistance to the idea of creating life in a test tube. 

Dolly (Born in 1996, dies in 2003 from lung disease and severe arthritis. Her 6 year life span compares unfavorably with the 10 to 12 years of most sheep.)

Political resistance to cloning is weakening as evidenced by the first clone of a man’s leg cell and a cow egg in 1998.  The embryo is destroyed after 12 days but a level of viability is proven.  (Coincidentally, Wells includes a bovine human in The Island of Dr. Moreau.)

In 2008, a biotechnology company created five mature human embryos from the nucleus of skin cells planted into a human egg.  The embryos are allowed to mature to a viable inner cell mass called a blastocyst which is an early structure of mammals.  They were destroyed at that stage but the experiment shows viability at a later stage of human cloning than in 1998.  In 2013, scientists successfully cloned adult human cells.

It is possible to create duplicates of living animals, and human’ cells; add to that the potential of modifying genetic material–a feat achieved, but politically reviled by most scientists and the general public.  For science, “humanimals” seem a viable and potential human creation.

“Humanimals” is a mad-scientist idea.  The seductive interest in this science is that cloning and genetic modification offer opportunities for regeneration of damaged nerve cells, medical cures, organ and limb replacements; etc.  Fear accompanies this avenue of research because the “thrill of discovery” seduces scientists’ into pursuit of knowledge without philosophical, moral, or ethical consideration of consequence. 

Chinese scientist, He Jiankui, uses CRSPR to modify the human genome in 2018. On December 30, 2019 He is sentenced to 3 years in prison for “illegal medical practice”.

A host of moral and philosophical conflicts are raised as science advances toward the creation of life.  When does life become life and what right does a living human being have to end or create life?  One might answer–society already has laws which allow life to end life; so why not create laws that allow creation of life.  There lays the restraining influence of politics; i.e. not all agree with life taking life, right to choose life, right to choose death; so on and so on. 

Politics mitigate the consequence of mad science. However, money, power, and prestige motivate the good and bad of humankind.

Growth of skin cells save a 7 year-old’s life by replacing 60 percent of skin loss from disease in 2015.

Doctor De Luca cultures skin cells from a portion of the boy’s body that is not diseased.

Ray Kurzweil suggests the future of human beings will involve a merger of human’ DNA and micro-technology.   The Island of Dr. Moreau may be re-titled “The Island of Dr. Anonymous” with island earth populated by “humanimals” and “humotics”. 

Like Well’s hero, Edward Prendick, surviving humans may have to leave island earth if they want to remain “only” human.  The fable of Pandora explains that “hope” is the politics of the possible. It may be all that is left at the bottom of the box.

UNNATURAL CAUSES

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Unnatural Causes

By Dr. Richard Shepard

Narrated by Dr. Richard Shepard

Dr. Richard Shepard (Author, UK Pathologist who investigated many celebrity deaths including Princess Diana.)

Dr. Richard Shepard is an English forensic pathologist.  In a cathartic examination of his profession, Shepard reveals how obsessiveness is a boon and bane in life.  From youth to late middle age, Shepard reflects on his life.

In “Unnatural Causes”, Shepard examines the causes of others’ death. With ever-present foreshadowing, a listener recognizes a man who is going to experience a mid-life crisis. 

In Shepard’s dissection of life, many male listeners will see their own narcissistic lives.  The expense of self-absorption is delusion, and often divorce.  For a male obsessed with a career, the cost of delusion is a crisis of personal identity. 

The cost of divorce is different for men than for women.  The biggest cost of divorce is paid by a wife.  She not only loses a part of her identity; she loses the security of family, friends, and income.

Shepard does not overtly acknowledge the inequity of divorce, but one senses his feeling of guilt.

The personal part of Shepard’s story is a sad commentary on relationship between men and women in the modern world.  It is a picture of many men who grow old with their first wife and abandon them when youth has been spent. 

The primary purpose of Shepard’s book is not to explain men’s narcissism but to explore the profession of forensic science.

There is no question that Shepard’s experience qualifies him as an expert in the field.  From terrorist events in England and 9/11 in the U.S. to the death of Princess Diana, Shepard practices his profession as a revered and respected pathologist.  He explains his obsession for “cause for death” from childhood. 

Having lost his mother at an early age, her absence motivates Shepard to understand what causes death. Though unsure of himself when he first encounters dissection of a human being, Shepard notes how curiosity shuts out any discomforting feelings in cutting and examining internal organs of a human corpse.  His focus is on finding the true cause of death.

In the course of Shepard’s career, his search for “cause of death” is found to be difficult, but not because of death’s pathology. 


Shepard explains how political pressure from the public, the police, and the judicial system influences diagnosis of death. The public may want to know the “cause of death” because of preconceived notions.  The police may want to know the “cause of death: because of their perception of someone’s guilt or innocence.  The judicial system may want “cause of death” based on witnesses for the defense or prosecution.  To Shepard, what someone wants is not relevant.  Only the truth is relevant.

Shepard’s conviction that truth is all that matters leads to a professional crisis. 

A less than reputable couple lose their child to what Shepard concludes is SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).  Based on Shepard’s diagnosis, the couple is set free.  Years later, the couple has another child.  Both parents are alcoholics according to reports given in Shepard’s account of the case.  Years after Shepard’s SIDS determination, a second pathologists reviews the record and finds what he believes to have been child abuse.  The court agrees with the new pathologist and the child is taken from the parents.  Shepard is brought before a board of inquiry to determine whether he should keep his license.

Shepard’s book is worthy of a listener’s time to find out what the board of inquiry decides.  Both the personal and public crises Shepard faces will resonate with anyone who has obsessively pursued a career and had his/her personal integrity challenged.

There is the added benefit of hearing how “inequality of the sexes” is a deeply rooted social phenomena.

FAUSTIAN BARGAIN

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe

By George Dyson

 Narrated by Arthur Morey

George Dyson (American author, historian of technology.)

The beginning of one of many Faustian bargains between government and science is revealed in George Dyson’s book, “Turing’s Cathedral”.  Dyson reveals the genius of Alan Turing and other contributors to the computer age.

Alan Turing (Mathematician, computer scientist, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher, and theoretical biologist.)

John von Neumann (1903-1957) A Hungarian-American mathematician, physicist, computer scientist, and polymath, joins the American military/industrial complex before it became known as the “complex”.

Calculations for ordinance trajectory and explosive impact became increasingly important during WWII.


George Dyson’s book recounts the confluence of military might and computer invention. The military wants more accurate estimates of ordinance trajectory and damage to improve murder rate. Manual calculation was too slow and prone to error.

With government backing, von Neumann is midwife to the birth of the computer generation.  Presuming von Neumann knew of Alan Turing’s 1936 paper on mathematical logic, he wrote a paper about a universal computing machine. Hired by the government to improve the accuracy of military ordinance, von Neumann works with Oswald Veblen at the Moore School of Engineering in Philadelphia. Von Neumann, and Veblen expand a math and engineering department that changes the world.

To the right is the Moore School of Engineering in Philadelphia–The fruit of the new department’s labor is a vacuum-tube, wire bound, contraption called ENIAC.

Before Eniac, human calculations could not efficiently or effectively determine the course of a flying howitzer shell, or the measured impact of a flying-fortress’ bomb.  What the military needed was a better calculating tool than the single human brain.

John Mauchly (left) J. Presper Eckert (right)–Mauchly and Eckert were the inventors of the first universal computing machine at the Moore School of Engineering. 

(There is a controversy over who created the architecture for this machine because von Neumann came to the Moore School of Engineering after Mauchly and Eckert had already begun work on ENIAC.)

Though this is an historical account of the invention and consequence of computer manufacture, listening to “Turing’s Cathedral” seduces one into seeing war and the military as a primary source of technological advance. Science is shown to advance from growth of the military/industrial complex and the destruction of war.

Rocket science grows from Hitler’s pummeling of London during WWII. Nuclear science grows from Truman’s bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Space exploration grows from a moon shot heavily subsidized by the Kennedy administration. In the foreseeable future, government’ satellite and cyber research grows from late twentieth century advances in software development.

What strikes one’s imagination is how critical government expenditure, particularly the military, is to R and D (research and development) in science. 

Interestingly, the requested budget for R and D in 2019 is reduced to $131 billion.

(President Trump is intent on building a wall between Mexico and the U.S.; i.e. not unlike Hadrian’s wall, a first century method of defense. Not what one would call a technological advance.)

One wonders if the computer would ever have been invented without the advance of a horrendously destructive war.  At the very least, war accelerated the invention of the computer generation.

The innate brilliance of Philadelphia’s Moore School mathematicians creates more efficient and effective methods of mass murder. One might argue that the Moore School opened a Pandora’s box. Turing’s, von Neumann’s, Mauchly’s, and Eckert’s theories and inventions open a door to artificial intelligence; i.e. an intelligence beyond human understanding that may improve or destroy humanity. 

The first hydrogen bomb explodes in 1952. According to Dyson, one person is killed while monitoring the explosion. He is the first victim of the hydrogen bomb that is 50 times more destructive than the bombs that fell on Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

One wonders, without government, without the military, and sadly, without war, would humankind have reached into the universe in the 1960s?

This is an important book, somewhat difficult to track because of its non-linear presentation, but a valuable insight to a giant step in the history of science.  

A monumental gap in George Dyson’s presentation of “Touring’s Cathedral” is the effect of the internet and its ability to disseminate information throughout the world with a click.

Instant communication changes the dynamics of society. The computer age and internet offer a platform to rally the best and worst of society.

One cannot help but be troubled by the source of mankind’s twentieth century leaps in scientific discovery. So many scientific advances seem closely tied to perfection and invention of potential weapons of mass destruction. Dyson inadvertently makes a case for war and the military’s efficacy as an engine of science.

“Turing’s Cathedral” opens a door to artificial intelligence, a two edged sword that can defend or destroy humanity. With the internet, the sword is sharpened.

Parallel Worlds

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Parallel Worlds
By Michio Kaku
Narrated by Marc Vietor

Michio Kaku (American physicist, author, professor)

Michio Kaku valiantly tilts Don Quixote’s lance at physics in writing “Parallel Worlds”. The fictional Quixote quests for knowledge as a knight errant. Michao Kaku pursues knowledge as a renowned physicist. Time will tell if Kaku is a errant physicist or a clarion of knowledge.

This is a book about Physics, the baffling science of mathematics, and those who wish to understand why Newton, Einstein, Bohr, Planck, Michael Green, and Ed Schwarz et al are important to all of us who are confused.

In spite of the abstruse subject, Kaku reveals some understandable break through discoveries in cosmology, and mankind’s pursuit of the Holy Grail. The Holy Grail is a unified field theory that explains everything there is to know about matter and energy in one combinatoric theory.

Physicists continue to search for a theory that will explain how electromagnetic, gravitational, weak, and strong forces follow one fundamental rule of existence.

Einstein’s theory of special relativity, implies predictability. Quantum mechanics exclusively relies on probability. How can these two fundamentally different rules be made into one theory?

Contrary to Einstein’s belief that “God does not play with dice”, God lives in Las Vegas.

On a subatomic level, repeatable experiments show that it is impossible to predict the exact position of an electron. With measurement of either position or energy of an electron, its location or power is changed. Electron movement is unpredictable by any known criteria of measurement.

Experimental proof of a theory demands measurement; without measurement, there is no proof. For example, one reason “string theory” is unproven is that the dimension of strings is too minuscule. Technology has not advanced enough for experimental proof. It does not make the theory wrong. It’s simply not experimentally provable.

The God question inevitably raises its head in sciences’ pursuit of a unified field theory.  However, putting philosophical discussion aside, Kaku tells the story of Einstein’s unsuccessful pursuit of a unified field theory. 

Einstein refuted some of Newton’s laws.  Bohr refuted some of Einstein’s speculation.  Their research leads to discoveries that only a science fiction writer could conceive.  Bohr introduces quantum mechanics to Einstein’s discovery of the interchangeability of energy and mass.

With science pursuing the universe’s origin and its component makeup, only telescopes like Hubble and CERN’s Hadron collider in Europe have made any progress in identifying dark matter or energy.

Smaller and smaller elements of matter and energy are discovered by scientists, but an estimated 75% of the known components of the world are unknown.  Dark matter and dark energy make up that 75%. (Discovery of Higgs-bosun in 2012 is the most recent addition to component knowledge.)

Another hope of discovering a UFT in theoretical physics is Ed Schwarz’s and Michael Green’s string theory postulation.

Schwarz’s and Green’s theory provides a more inclusive categorization of the basic elements of the world. Kaku describes string theory in terms of a stringed instrument that changes the character of matter by shortening or lengthening strings.

Just as Einstein’s theory of the curvature of space-time is not proven until Stanley Eddington’s measurement of an eclipse in 1919,
Swartz and Green wait for technology to catch up. String theory waits for another Eddington.

When the strings are plucked they resonate at different frequencies. That change in vibration changes the elemental nature of the particle even though the string is fundamentally the same.

String theory, if it proves correct, opens many doors in the sub-microscopic world. It opens to the speculation of possible parallel worlds.  Kaku overwhelms listeners with the potential of a scientifically verifiable unified field theory.  He suggests the possibility of time travel and space exploration through black holes and white holes. 

“Parallel Worlds” ends its exploration of physics with notes of caution and optimism about our world’s progress.  The book is semi-understandable (possibly, horribly misleading) but worth reading.