Showing posts with label wierd science. Show all posts
Showing posts with label wierd science. Show all posts

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The hidden meaning of fairy tales


The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales
Bruno Bettelheim
Non-fiction 328 pages
Vintage Books, 1989, 1976

If you’ve taken courses on fiction writing or literature, it’s likely that you’ve heard about the hero’s journey. Joseph Campbell introduced this concept in his 1949 work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Campbell, a popularizer of mythology, drew upon themes from Jungian psychology in his structural analysis of hero myths.

Child Psychologist, Bruno Bettelheim, while acknowledging Jung’s contributions, used a more Freudian approach in his analysis of fairy tales. Although there’s some degree of similarity between Bettelheim’s later and Campbell’s earlier work, Bettelheim makes no mention of Campbell.

Bettelheim is careful to point out, however, that fairy tales are not like myths. They serve different audiences and functions. Myths end in tragedy while fairy tales end happily. Fairy tales allow children to integrate id impulses with their developing egos. Myths, instead, are the voices of the superego. They moralize, while fairy tales allow their hearers to form their own conclusions.

Referring to Hercules having to choose between two women, one representing virtue and the other pleasure, Bettelheim says, “The fairy tale never confronts us so directly, or tells us outright how we must choose. Instead, the fairy tale helps children to develop the desire for a higher consciousness through what is implied in the story. The fairy tale convinces through the appeal it makes to our imagination and the attractive outcome of events, which entice us.”

He later elaborates, “Myths project an ideal personality acting on the basis of superego demands, while fairy tales depict an ego integration which allows for appropriate satisfaction of id desires. This difference accounts for the contrast between the pervasive pessimism of myths and the essential optimism of fairy tales.” I don’t agree entirely. Star Wars is often cited as an example of the hero’s journey. That movie ended happily rather than in tragedy. While Oedipus is certainly a tragedy, I’m not convinced that all myths must be pessimistic.

Bettelheim’s approach is primarily Freudian. As such, his interpretations deal with orality, sexuality, sibling rivalry, and the child’s sense of impotence. Campbell’s myth interpretation draws from the Jungian perspective. As such, it minimizes the importance of id, ego, and superego and emphasizes Jungian personality structures such as self, shadow and anima. Since the passing of Freud and Jung, neuroscience has identified many structures in the brain, however none are identical to those structures named by Jung and Freud. Nonetheless, those elusive structures remain useful for understanding both human personality and literature.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Galaxy Jest

Like many Chicagoans of my generation, I grew up watching old science fiction movies after school. Invariably, the character playing a scientist offered up an explanation for whatever tragedy threatened to befall humanity. Usually this came in the form of a ravaging monster, and the explanation generally involved mutation caused by radiation.

Like a child, I always bought the explanation. Of course, at the time I was a child. Recently I encountered a book description in which the hero was the richest man in the galaxy. “Really?” I thought. “There are an estimated 200 billion stars in our galaxy. How could anyone determine who its richest man is? Sounds like bad science to me.”

Putting galaxies to extravagant uses is not unique to this book. Other examples abound. Like the movie, Interstellar, for example. Its story has astronauts taking a wormhole ride to another galaxy in search of a habitable planet.

I can’t understand why. Our galaxy is thought to be 100,000 light-years across. Given so much space there should be a habitable planet right here in the Milky Way. Some speculate that the nearest one could be just 13 light-years away. So why travel so far?

Apparently they decided to go to another galaxy so they could use a wormhole conveniently located near Saturn. But how do they know the wormhole leads to another galaxy? What’s to stop it from leading to a different location in our galaxy, or to another universe altogether? And if they knew they were going to another galaxy, why didn't they name the movie Intergalactic instead of Interstellar?

Like with other science fiction movies, a scientist offered an explanation. The scientist is theoretical physicist, Kip Thorne. He was instrumental in modeling the appearance of the movie’s black hole. Despite his efforts, I don’t buy the premise. To me it’s just plain stupid to go looking for a place to live in another galaxy when there’s plenty of nice real estate closer by. And that’s why I won’t be seeing Interstellar.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Talking Head

Andrew’s Brain
E. L Doctorow
Fiction 200 pages
New York. Random House. 2014

Who is Andrew? In the beginning, the narrator calls him “my friend Andrew, the cognitive scientist.” But it doesn’t take long before the reader realizes that Andrew himself is telling the story. Another man is asking him questions, apparently a psychiatrist. Andrew is baiting him, attempting to catch his attention by telling him he hears voices.

Andrew tells his psychiatrist a good deal more as well, occasionally reprimanding the doctor’s ignorance and naiveté. Apparently, Andrew is well educated, and perhaps a good bit older than the psychiatrist. Yet Andrew is flawed. As a child, he caused a fatal accident. As an adult, he fatally over-medicates his baby. Although his second wife’s death is not his fault, he seems to accept the blame for the event.

Like other books by E. L. Doctorow, “Andrew’s Brain” is a historical novel. Its history is contemporary, and its historical figures are implied rather than named. Andrew is a scientific man in a world governed by archaic ideas and values. When he delivers his message to authority, it is ill received.

His message is to stop pretending to be what we are not. We have minds, but not souls and we are less important than we think we are.

Andrew defends his pessimism through the cognitive science he teaches, “If consciousness exists without the world, it is nothing, and if it needs the world to exist, it is still nothing.” But when he falls in love, Andrew’s pessimism is replaced with joy. Andrew isn't merely a scientist who views brains as machines; he’s also a romantic idealist. Doctorow gives us a full picture of Andrew, complex and self-contradicting.
The book is witty, well-written, and delivers a few surprises. One of Doctorow’s best. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Strange Bedfellows


Bedbugs (Can you see them?)
L. A. Taylor
Fiction 214 pages
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012

The Kindle version of this book is free from Amazon today and I downloaded it. Generally, I don’t read horror genre books, not even if they’re also science fiction. And, this book is truly horrendous. A mere two percent of the way in, Tommy gets eaten alive by a swarm of alien insects while lying paralyzed in bed. After Tommy watches the entire gruesome event through his six-year-old eyes, the author informs us that Tommy “died instantly.”

It takes his father somewhat longer to discover that his son is dead. Rather than taking a good look, he mucks about puzzling over why his son’s eyes are open and he doesn’t move. Then he picks up a bit of gore and shows it to his wife. At this point, I stopped reading. However if you wish to know more about the book, the description on Amazon pretty much spills the beans.

Although I won’t finish reading it, I know my favorite part—the cover. Dean Cook did a splendid job with his retro pulp cover illustration.

As mentioned, I don’t read horror, so why did I download this book? I couldn’t help myself. Who can resist the idea of killer bedbugs? And, how could I not think up a bunch of rude innuendos about such strange bedfellows? For example …

Also, anyone who knows anything about bedbugs knows what horrors the little beasties are. Often the only evidence that you have them are huge allergic rashes on your limbs. Try to find them with a flashlight, or a black light (they fluoresce), and you seek in vain. In fact, you won’t see any evidence of the things until they’re a major infestation. At that point, the only way to be rid of them is to burn down your house. And, their sexual habits? Disgusting. Did you know that the male impregnates the female by sticking his bloodsucker in her belly and injecting her with love juice? Yes, it’s true. Look it up.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Is science fiction a dead genre, or is it merely un-dead?


As a science fiction fan, I follow several sites that post about eBooks. Of late, I see many new titles about werewolves, vampires and zombies. Such creatures are fine when they keep to their proper genre, but when they masquerade as science fiction I get irritated.

I like the end of the world as well as anyone, but does it always have to be the same zombie stuffed, vampire ridden post-apocalyptic world? Why can’t you authors write stories like those in Jack Vance’s “Dying Earth”? Vance mixes crumbling technology and magic without resorting to un-dead or dog-eared characters. Why can’t you guys?

Occasionally one of you gets a vampire right, but werewolves? Come on. And, zombies—plah-eze—they are so implausible. I mean, can a walking sack of rotting flesh get readers to suspend disbelief? Let’s try something new, something with at least a trace of science in it, not another werewolf story. Is the world going to the dogs, or what? 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Is all the talk about climate change just a lot of hot air?


Some will say that Hurricane Sandy turning Manhattan into a swimming pool is further proof of global warming and climate change. Others are doubtful. Mainstream thinking is that climate varies from decade to decade and true change occurs over centuries. Critics are correct to assume that no single storm—not even a superstorm—proves climate change. However, a cluster of extreme weather events occurring in a short period time, does suggest a pattern.

According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), climate change accelerated during the last ten years, and extreme weather events, including drought, floods, heat waves and dangerous storms, greatly increased during the decade spanning 2001 to 2010—a decade that was the warmest since measurement began in 1850 (See article).

Is it merely a coincidence that this century’s first decade is the warmest on record? There’s good reason to think so, and many do. After all, we’ve only been keeping records since 1850. Yet, the WMO, an agency of the United Nations, which represents 183 countries, believes otherwise. WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud claims, “… climate change is happening now and is not some distant future threat.” A more conventional view is that climate change occurs over centuries and our recent warmer weather is merely coincidental. Rather than get excited about a warm decade that could be a statistical fluke, why not wait another 50 or 100 years until there’s more proof?

Why not? Because if we wait it may be too late. But, if we act now, we have nothing to lose. Am I saying we should invest millions of dollars in technology that may be unnecessary? That’s exactly what I’m saying. Eventually oil based energy will either run out or become so expensive that few can afford it. So, why not invest in renewable energy and cleaner burning fuels? Even if you think vehicle exhaust fumes aren’t a health hazard, you still don’t stand around traffic islands during rush hour if you can help it. So, why not promote technologies that will create cleaner air?

Some resist making expensive investments in unproven technologies without the certainty that we’re addressing a real problem. But, the investment is worthwhile even if the problem is imaginary. We no longer have a significant presence in space, yet the space program gave rise to important technologies that wouldn’t exist otherwise. Similarly, any investment aimed at developing clean burning, renewable energy is money well spent. Having air and water that are cleaner is worthwhile if only for the sake of our comfort, if not for the sake of our health.

Investments in new technology will pay dividends even if their aim is to solve imaginary problems. If we do not build those technologies, someone else will. Critics argue the administration wasted stimulus money on green energy companies like Solyndra, that failed to become commercially viable. They fail to acknowledge that Solyndra wasn’t competitive because the Chinese government subsidized its manufacturers. The facts don’t prove that green energy isn’t useful. They only prove that the Chinese are more interested in green energy than we are. If we don’t get interested soon, Chinese investments will reap economic advantages while our economy declines due to our failure to advance our technology.

Finally, if there is some truth to the argument, even a little truth, and we take action to reverse climate change, we can prevent human suffering by reducing the frequency, or severity, of forest fires, floods, tornadoes, and glacial and polar melting caused by climate change.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Rise of Magic. Death of Science.

Fast Company devotes two pages of its February issue to Charles Darwin, who will turn 200 on the twelfth of that month. Francis Collins, whose comment is one of nine, remarks that when Darwin published, On the Origen of Species, 150 years ago, many accepted his theory as an explanation for how God carried out creation.

Today many people accept evolution, or at least aspects of it, as compatible with their religious beliefs. But some do not. Evolution requires a much longer time frame than the Bible’s mere seven days of creation. Some religious people argue that we can’t know the length of God’s day. It might span the eons needed to make evolution work. These are people who view Biblical truth as figurative, rather than as literal truth.

There are others who believe that the Bible means exactly what it says. There’s no wiggle room for scenarios spanning millions and billions of years. Everything came into being during the last ten thousand years or less. If the time since creation is so short, evolution is false and so are geology and physics.

My watch synchronizes its time with the atomic clock in Boulder, Colorado. The atomic clock is based on the dependability of radioactive decay. But the whole idea of radioactive decay is based on a timeline that far exceeds the time accounted for by a literal interpretation of Biblical creation. Those who accept this timeline must necessarily reject much of modern physics.

I believe that religious truth is compatible on some level with scientific knowledge. This belief is based on faith. Far more scientific knowledge exists than I can comprehend in depth; therefore, my belief in science must be faith based. Though most of us are taught science in school, few of us are taught the history of detailed reasoning and observation that led to establishing what is now considered scientific fact.

Those who interpret the Bible literally, must reject as false, much of what science teaches, if they are to be consistent in their beliefs. Few realize the implications of their rejection of science. They are protected from having to face the contradictions they create by rejecting science by their superficial understanding of science. Arthur C. Clark postulates that if technology is sufficiently advanced, than it can’t be distinguished from magic. I think we’ve achieved that level of technological advancement.

Science was far more comprehensible in Darwin’s day than it is today. Some churchmen readily incorporated evolution into their religious thinking during Darwin’s time, just as some do today. However, if Clark is correct, advancing technology must be accompanied by a decreasing comprehension of how things work. When everything exists as magic, than dependence on reason and observation must decline. The tools of reason and observation have well served mankind. Once they are lost, only magic will remain.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Don’t miss our year end blowout.

Last night I learned on Coast to Coast AM that Yellowstone has been having earthquake swarms since December 26. Earthquakes are normal for the Yellowstone region and largely go unnoticed. Although a swarm of more than 250 quakes in several days is unusual, so far no one is panicking. Not that panicking would do any good. If Yellowstone blows, half of the country will be covered in ash three feet deep. Still, it’s something to ponder, 2012 enthusiasts.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Learning Disability Myth

The Learning Disability Myth
Dr. Robin Pauc with Jacqueline Burns
Nonfiction 213 pages
Virgin Books, 2006

In his book, “The Learning Disability Myth,” Dr. Pauc addresses a number of developmental and behavioral disorders and presents the basics of his treatment methods. These disorders include: learning disabilities, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Childhood Turette’s Syndrome, Attention Deficit Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Asperger’s syndrome. Each of these conditions share overlapping symptoms, causes and treatments and should therefore be reclassified as aspects of what he calls, Developmental Delay Syndrome.

The cause of Developmental Delay Syndrome is that spindle cells, which appear in the prefrontal cortex four months after birth, fail to properly integrate with other parts of the brain. The treatment involves proper diet and stimulation of these cells.

Dr. Pauc prescribes removing unhealthy foods and food additives from the diet while adding healthy ones. His book includes a two-week eating plan. He is less specific, however, about his therapies for stimulating wayward spindle cells.

Quoting from the letter of a thirty year old patient, these therapies could include, “listening to Mozart, with a view to gain right-ear dominance, looking through a Syntonizer at different lights for an hour a day for two weeks to open the fields of vision, … walking up the stairs with my eyes shut and holding a tray with a glass of water on it to help stimulate the left cerebellum!”

Has Dr. Pauc made revolutionary discoveries, or are his claims exaggerated? Dr. Pauc readily discusses neurology, but never mentions that he is a Chiropractor, not a Neurologist. If the reader wrongly infers his profession, Dr. Pauc can, at worst, be accused of omission, rather than of deception.

Evidence presented in books written for casual readers tends to be anecdotal rather than statistical. Dr. Pauc’s evidence is also anecdotal. If you want statistics, you’ll need to read elsewhere. Based on the evidence offered, I am unable to form conclusions. I invite your opinions, be they based on personal, or professional, experience.
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Monday, December 01, 2008

Take two aspen and call a tree surgeon.

Colorado conifers have undergone major bark beetle infestation since 1996. Forests show ugly patches where the needles are diseased and red rather than healthy and green. Biologists claim some types of bark beetles are increasing because more can survive warmer winters. Due to climate warming, their range expands into higher altitudes and more northerly latitudes.

If you spend some time in the mountains, you can’t help noticing the degree to which spruce and pine trees are dying off. But you may not know that aspen are suffering, too. An article by Michelle Nijhuis in the December 2008 issue of Smithsonian, addresses the issue.

Foresters began observing aspen die-off in western Colorado in 2004. Although aspen bark beetles, borers, fungi, and diseases have all attacked the aspen, the underlying causes of aspen decline are high temperatures and draught, which stress the trees allowing them to fall victim to secondary causes.

It’s said that you can’t control the weather, but apparently people can, and have, influenced the climate. Global warming has begun, but perhaps it’s not too late to slow its progress. If we don’t, those beautiful mountain vistas may not be.
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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Well known Boston surgeon, Herbert West, disappears.

Suspicions were aroused today when Dr. Herbert West and his long time assistant failed to arrive at their clinic. Dr. West’s servants were alerted and subsequently found his assistant unconscious in the mansion’s sub-cellar laboratory.

Police investigating the scene found blood profusely spattered around the laboratory, but no evidence of a body. The laboratory’s large incinerator contained recent ashes. However, it could not immediately be determined if they were of human or reptilian origin.

Dr. West was murdered by a group of men who entered the laboratory through an ancient tomb, claimed his assistant. However, police consider this doubtful since the plaster shows no sign of disturbance.

Both Dr. West and his assistant were graduates of Miskatonic University Medical School in Arkham. Their careers, though successful, have been accompanied by rumors of unprofessional behavior. Some of these go as far back as their student days. Though some felt Dr. West’s theories regarding restoring the dead to life to be brilliant, others such as, Mishkatonic’s Dean, the late Dr. Allan Halsey, found them unpractical and morbid.

Though Dr. West’s disappearance has not yet been labeled a murder, his assistant is being held for further questioning. Further details regarding “Herbert West—Reanimator,” are divided into six episodes and can be found at dagonbytes.com .

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Shroedinger’s Cat Versus Eternity

Spook : science tackles the afterlife
Mary Roach
Nonfiction 311 pages
W.W. Norton and Co. 2005

Others may be dying to find out if there’s an afterlife, but Mary Roach looks at what science has to say about it. In “Spook: science tackles the afterlife,” Ms. Roach seeks the answer on three continents. She encounters reincarnation research in India, a school mediums in England; and in the U.S.A., she encounters laptop computers viewable only by those who are temporarily discarnate.

Does she find the answer? No, her findings are inconclusive. Some of the afterlife research is badly designed. Some is downright bogus. Regardless, whatever research she analyses, Mary Roach’s writing is always entertaining and witty.

Roach’s most convincing evidence is based on near death experience (NDE) research and is presented toward the end of the book. NDE research may be the most hopeful route toward understanding the afterlife. However, it is not a straightforward route. There are both neurological and practical factors to consider. Since near death is not death itself, permanent and unyielding, to what extent can experiencing it be generalized to experiencing death itself? For that matter, since much of our experience comes through our senses, which require living organs to function, how can there even be a death experience, at least in terms that are understandable by the living?

The near death experience reminds me of the dilemma that Erwin Shroedinger’s cat found itself in. In Shroedinger’s thought experiment, the cat is both live and dead until an observer opens the box that contains it. Only upon observation can the cat be considered dead or living. That’s the thing — is a person dead or living during an NDE? Roach’s book doesn’t provide any solid answers, but it does ask some great questions.
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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Crystal Skull Persuasion

Jane MacLaren Walsh reports in the May, 2008 issue of Archaeology Magazine that purportedly ancient crystal skulls could not have been manufactured by Aztecs using the tools available during their era. Since the majority of crystal skulls were brought to light by one man, and since that man failed to provide details of their excavation, their ancient origin is questionable.
Nonetheless, popular belief in their mystical qualities fuels the current Indiana Jones adventure, “Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls”. Stephen Mehler appeared on Coast to Coast AM on May 22, 2008, that movie's opening day, to discuss the mystical qualities of crystal skulls. Apparently, like computers, they can store information. It makes perfect sense — both computers and crystal skulls contain silicone.
On a similar note, philosopher, Red Green once reasoned that he could build a computer by duct-taping a typewriter to an old television set. Hey, if that works for Red, I figure I can learn the secrets of Atlantis by staring into glass eyeballs.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Charles Fort, father of the supernatural

On May third, Coast to Coast AM host, Ian Punnett spoke with magic and special effects designer, Jim Steinmeyer about his new book. Steinmeyer, credits author, Charles Fort with drawing the public’s attention to ignored phenomena—phenomena damned by science and now considered supernatural.

I took a look at Ford’s book and this is what I found:

The book gets off to a slow start with a long skeptical description of what is, what isn’t and what not. The language is interesting; for example, “The little harlots will caper, and freaks will distract attention, and the clowns will break the rhythm of the whole with their buffooneries—but the solidity of the procession as a whole: the impressiveness of things that pass and pass and pass, and keep on and keep on and keep on coming.” But one wonders, what’s his point? Just where is this guy coming from? He finally tells us, “We are not realists. We are not idealists. We are intermediatists—that nothing is real, but that nothing is unreal: that all phenomena are approximations one way or the other between realness and unrealness.”

Yeah, okay, so where is he taking us? To the land of unexplained things, it seems. He begins by describing effects of the Krakatoa eruption which were observed prior to the event. He then describes all sorts of strange things that fell from the sky, including manna. He describes them for pages upon pages. More interesting than falling frogs or fish are the meteorites examined by Dr. Hahn, who “found fossils in specified meteorites: also he published photographs of them. His book is in the New York Public Library. In the reproductions every feature of some of the little shells is plainly marked. If they're not shells, neither are things under an oyster-counter.”

Other things turn up in places where they shouldn’t, like iron nails embedded in quartz, or metal cubes found in coal lumps.

All in all, Ford’s book is an ambitious catalog of unexplainable oddities. Yet his commentary is even odder, “It may be that the Milky Way is a composition of stiff, frozen, finally-static, absolute angels. We shall have data of little Milky Ways, moving swiftly; or data of hosts of angels, not absolute, or still dynamic. I suspect, myself, that the fixed stars are really fixed, and that the minute motions said to have been detected in them are illusions. I think that the fixed stars are absolutes.”

Ford’s, “The Book of the Damned” has been re-printed recently. But it’s also in the public domain and you can download it.
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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

To Bee or Not To Bee

Splendid as it is, the Internet is not necessarily trustworthy. Thus, I am unable to confirm or refute the remark, attributed to Einstein that if honeybees became extinct, mankind would follow within a few years. Still, there’s a general consensus among sources, including the BBC and The New York Times, regarding the strange disappearance of honeybees in 24 of the United States at a loss rate of 30 to 70 percent.
They’re calling it colony collapse disorder (CCD), and they don’t know its cause. Dr. Clarence Collison, who heads Mississippi State University’s Entomology Department, reports that researchers have observed a number of pathogens affecting adult bees. Of these, the majority of pathogens are linked to stress related illnesses. A Penn State scientist has established that these bees have weakened immune systems, Collison adds.
This is not, however, the first time bee populations have dwindled. Populations dwindled during the early nineties and middle seventies. A bee population collapse also occurred in 1896, however Collison rates the current collapse as the worst in his experience.
The magnitude of population collapse is shocking. The Washington Post reported on one beekeeper’s transport of two truckloads of bees for use in pollinating almond trees. When he arrived in California, most of his cargo was dead. Often beekeepers discover their hives have been vacated by all but the queen and the young. Some have speculated that sick bees don’t return to their hive in order to prevent its other members from becoming contaminated. Others have speculated that bees are being blinded by increased UV light due to an enlarged hole in the ozone layer. Another possible explanation is that environmental toxins cause them to become disoriented and unable to find their way home.
Though most reports of CCD have come from the United States, Linda Moulton Howe reports that nine countries in Europe and Canada also now are reporting massive declines in bee populations. Bee pollination is a fundamental necessity on which depends much of the food consumed by animals and men. Even if Einstein didn’t make the remark about extinction, anyone who’s learned about the birds and the bees should be concerned about CCD.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Fun with Heavy Metal

Rachel and I recently took in the Gem and Mineral show at the Jefferson County fairgrounds. She was by awed by the bismuth crystals we saw there. The crystals are multicolored due to the way light refracts off a thin coating of bismuth oxide. The crystalline form is unusual, kind of high-techy like something out of a science-fiction movie. Mildly radioactive, bismuth decays so slowly that it's considered safe. We bought a specimen. When we got it home, Jenny said, "Twenty dollars for a rock?!"

My wife said, "Twenty dollars for a rock?! And not even natural."

It's true; bismuth generally doesn't crystallize like this in nature; only in a lab. Bismuth, with a melting point of 520 degrees fahrenheit melts at a lower temperature than lead, which melts at 621 degrees, but higher than tin which at 450 degrees melts at a temperature lower than paper combusts, according to Ray Bradbury, author of "Fahrenheit 451."

As a child I owned a dangerous toy, used to turn solid lead into toy soldiers. We kids marveled as the hot lead liquefied and somehow we managed to pour it into molds without serious injury. Later in college I bought a torch, tongs, crucible, and scrap silver. Sterling silver melts at 1,640 degrees, far lower than molybdenum, which melts at 4,760 degrees, but still plenty hot. Hot enough, that I was having trouble keeping it liquid while gradually adding metal to the crucible. When I heard the crucible loudly crack I abandoned the effort. Remembering the accident that ruined the young silversmith's hand in the book, "Johnny Tremain," I considered myself lucky. When the crucible cooled, a dull, glassy, flux coated silver lump remained.

Since bismuth can be melted on a kitchen stove, making bismuth crystals would be a cool science project. However, I don't know of any elementary school that would allow kids to try this in a classroom. Ken K. has been making bismuth crystals for over sixteen years using a scientific hotplate. He wears a respirator and safety glasses as a precaution. Hot metal can spatter. Some beautiful examples can be found on Ken's website. Ken has perfected his own techniques which he won't divulge since that would be, "like Willy Wonka giving out his recipe for Everlasting Gobstoppers."

Related Links: Krystals Unlimited, Popular Science Article, Cassady's Kitchen Experiment