Saturday, June 09, 2007


X Stand for Unknown by Isaac Asimov

Saturday, April 21, 2007

"X" Title

^^^Those of you who know me well, know that reading a book about scientific theories and discoveries is a huge stretch. But I needed an "X" title, and, besides a bunch of X-Men books, this is what I found at the local library. The book was published in 1984 and contains a collection of essays written by Asimov in the early eighties. The title was taken from the fourth essay in the Physics section. There is a total of seventeen essays and I managed to read five. Please don't take this as an insult to Asimov's writing. I truly enjoyed most of what I read which was the four essays about physics and his final essay called "The Armies of the Night." Each essay began with an amusing anecdote and then a discussion of the people and circumstances which led to different discoveries. So I learned more than I had ever known about the spectrum of color, octaves, frequency, radiation, alpha rays, beta rays and gamma rays. I found much of it fascinating but hard to follow because of my lack of scientific training. I usually fell asleep toward the end of the essay as it became more technical. I was torn whether to try and finish, and the huge TBR list won. Anyone interested in science (there are sections dealing with physics, chemistry, astronomy, mathematics and "The Fringe.") should definitely read this book. Asimov writes in a clear, consise and often humourous manner. Because I liked his writing style, I am going to add one of his science fictions or his memoirs to my list. Although he refutes the existence of deity, I found myself agreeing with his views on discovery and the need for technical and scientific education.
^^^"The process of science may never be finished. There may never be a time when all mysteries are resolved, when nothing remains to be done within the field that the scientific process is competent to deal with. Consequently, at any fixed moment--say, now--there are unsolved problems, and this proves nothing with respect to God, one way or the other.
^^^Nor should this eternal perpetuation of mystery be a source of disappointment, it seems to me. It should, rather, be a source of overwhelming relief. If all questions were answered, all riddles solved, every fold unfolded, every wrinkle in the fabric of the Universe smoothed--the greatest and noblest game in the Universe would be ended, and there would be nothing left for the mind to do but console itself with trivia. Unbearable."
From the essay "X Stands for Unknown, discussing Roentgen's experiements with the penetrating power of radiation:
^^^"On December 28, 1895, he finally published his first report on the subject. He knew what the radiation did, but he didn't know what it was. Mindful to the fact that in mathematics, x is usually used to signify an unknown quantitiy, he called the radiation "X rays."
^^^"X rays also made an impact on the general public. Panicky members of the New Jersey legislature tried to push through a law preventing the use of X rays in opera glasses in order to protect maidenly modesty--which is about par for the scientific literacy of elected officials."
His essay "The Armies of the Night" describes those people who fall for studies that have no basis in reasoning and who do not support the funding of scientific education.
^^^"I suspect that it is precisely as easy for a person with a high IQ to be foolish as it is for anyone else."
^^^It is precisely because it is fashionable for Americans to know no science, even though they may be well educated otherwise, that they so easily fall prey to nonsense. They thus become part of the armies of the night, the purveyors of nitwittery, the retailers of intellectual junk food, the feeders on mental cardboard, for their ignorance keeps them from distinguishing nectar from sewage."
This last quote made me think as I do enjoy many things Asimov might consider intellectual junkfood. The key is to know what is real and base your choices on that. And we should never stop learning and discovering.
"May X always be with us to afford us pleasure."
Rating: 4
Posted by Framed at 7:31 AM

Alyson said...
Wow! This sounds like a tough book to even attempt. I think you did well with 5 essays. It sounds like it's interesting, but I don't know that I could just sit down and read a bunch of essays (unless it's required for school). I would probably have to read one essay, take a break, read the next essay, take a break, etc...
12:19 PM
kookiejar said...
I think we all can enjoy some intellectual junk food once in a while and still be educated people. I have a strong background in the sciences and yet I read my share of fluff. I'm no worse for wear. In this one instance Isaac was slightly off base.
2:40 PM
booklogged said...
I have always meant to read some of Asimov's fiction - why haven't I? Seventeen essays sounds a bit much tho.
2:41 PM
Tristi Pinkston said...
You made it a lot farther than I would have, Framed. Good job!
4:21 PM
Framed said...
Alyson, it took me five days to read five essays. And part of me wanted to keep going. It was very interesting, yet boring. Kookiejar, I agree. I need relaxation. Asimov probably gets relaxed while finding the furthest edge of the Universe. I didn't make it clear that he was referring to people who use pseudo-sciences like astrology to make all their life decisions. But what about intuition??
5:08 PM
twiga92 said...
Hi there! Saw your comment on the Medical Mystery challenge. Couldn't find an email address for you so am commenting here. As far as the picture for the challenge, the best thing to do is to right click on the picture and save it to your computer. Then you can upload it via blogger or photobucket to your post. Thanks for joining!

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