Showing 91 - 100 of 145 annotations tagged with the keyword "History of Science"

Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The Bacteriologist has a visitor to his laboratory, a pale stranger who arrives with a letter of introduction from a good friend of the scientist. The scientist shows his visitor the cholera bacillus under a microscope and they talk about the disease. The visitor is particularly interested in a vial containing living bacteria, and the scientist describes the power of cholera, saying what a terrible epidemic could be caused if a tube such as the one he holds were to be opened into the water supply.

The scientist's wife calls him away for a moment; when the scientist returns, the visitor is ready to leave. As soon as the visitor has gone, however, the scientist realizes the vial of bacteria is missing, that the visitor must have stolen it. He runs out in a panic, sees the visitor's cab leaving, and hails another cab to give chase. The scientist's wife, horrified by his inappropriate dress and hurry, follows in a third cab, with her husband's shoes and coat and hat.

We shift to the point of view of the visitor in his cab. He has indeed stolen the vial. He is an Anarchist who plans to release the bacteria into London's water supply. His motivation is fame: he feels he has been neglected by the world, and now he will reveal his power and importance. In the speeding cab, however, he accidentally breaks the glass vial.

He decides to become a human vector. He swallows what is left in the vial, and stops the cab, realizing that he no longer needs to flee. When the scientist catches up and confronts him, the Anarchist gleefully announces what he has done. The scientist allows him to walk away, and tells his wife that the man has ingested the stolen bacteria.

There is a twist: the vial, it turns out, did not contain cholera, but a strange new microbe the Bacteriologist had been studying, the only known effect of which is to make the skin of the animals exposed to it turn bright blue. The Bacteriologist reluctantly puts on his coat and returns home with his wife, complaining that he will now have to culture the bacillus all over again.

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Summary:

The aim of this collage of anecdotes from medical history is largely to entertain, though it is pointedly instructive in its focus on reasons for and results of medical mistakes, misapprehensions, and serendipitous breakthroughs. Gordon's dryly humorous skepticism and general irreverence is balanced by an obvious delight in the intellectual play that characterizes the history of science.

The stories he tells range from Hippocrates to the present with a heavy focus on the 18th and 19th centuries. The book includes a good representative collection of visual art and photography documenting moments in medical history upon which Gordon casts a cold but twinkling eye. Chapter titles such as "Discoveries in the Dark," "Sex and its Snags," "Odd Practices," and "Freud, the English Governess and the Smell of Burnt Pudding" give a bit of the book's flavor.

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Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novella

Summary:

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions is a delightful experimental novella, a fictional exploration of dimensions and perspectives beginning in a two-dimensional world, Flatland, populated by two-dimensional geometrical shapes. The novella is narrated by one of Flatland's residents, A. Square (when the novella was first published in 1884, it was published under the pseudonym, "A. Square").

The first half of the novella is a description of this two-dimensional world, such as how it looks and how the figures move, spiced up with a clever dissection of Flatland's social hierarchy, which is dictated by the number of sides one has. Square's subsequent explorations lead him to Lineland (a one-dimensional world), Pointland (no dimensions), and then to Spaceland with its three dimensions.

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The Devil's Dictionary

Bierce, Ambrose

Last Updated: Aug-11-2005
Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Dictionary

Summary:

A scathing parodic dictionary, wherein how words are normatively and conventionally defined is replaced by what they often actually do mean. One of the many classic examples is Bierce's definition of "Bigot" as 'One who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion that you do not entertain.'

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Summary:

This is the meticulously researched and beautifully constructed catalogue for a 1999 exhibition at the Duke University Museum of Art. Over one hundred items originally produced to serve the science of medicine were culled from the history of medicine collections in four North Carolina institutions: Duke, East Carolina University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Wake Forest.

Covering a wide range of time periods, media, and nationalities, the exhibit was coordinated by Suzanne Porter, librarian and curator of the History of Medicine Collections at Duke University Library, and Julie Hansen, an art historian. Martin Kemp, Professor of Art at the University of Oxford, supplies a foreword to the catalogue.

The rich and unusual yield of materials is grouped thematically rather than chronologically in five sections: "Art and Anatomy," "The Surgical Arts," "The Doctor's Practice," "Obstetrics and Gynecology," and "Non-Western Medicine." All images and objects are accompanied by historical information, biographical detail, thoughtful analysis, and precise description.

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Great Apes

Self, Will

Last Updated: May-09-2005
Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Simon Dykes is a successful artist about to open another big show of his work in London. A week before the opening, he goes out to a bar with his colleagues, indulges in drugs, has sex with his girlfriend, and falls into an uncomfortable sleep with bizarre dreams. He wakes up in a world where every person is a chimpanzee and where humans are kept in zoos or are experimented on in labs, and the few humans surviving in the wild are close to extinction.

Terrified and dismayed, he is taken to a psychiatric ward where the chimpanzee doctors try to help him overcome his "delusions" that he is actually a human. They eventually turn to Dr. Zack Busner, an alpha male, theoretical renegade and media star, as well as a maverick drug researcher, "anti-psychiatrist," psychoanalyst, and clinical psychologist. Together they try to understand the root of Simon's delusion and return Simon to his sanity and "chimpunity."

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Comfort

Munro, Alice

Last Updated: May-02-2005
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction — Secondary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Margaret returns one afternoon from tennis to discover that Lewis, her husband, has committed suicide by taking an overdose of pain medication. Lewis had been bedridden from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). They had thoroughly discussed his plan to kill himself before he was unable to do so, but Margaret is surprised when it happens because she expected Lewis to leave her a message. There is none.

As Margaret prepares for her husband’s cremation, she recalls the circumstances under which he left his teaching job--not because of the ALS, but because he used to teach human evolution in his high school biology class, without giving "equal weight" to creationism.

Because this upset many of his students’ parents and local clergy, the principal several times suggested that Lewis might at least give a nod to creationism. However, Lewis, an outspoken opponent of religion, was insulted by this proposal and quit his job.

The undertaker encourages Margaret to hold a wake--to comfort her and their many friends--but she insists that Lewis wanted no wake and no service. The next day the undertaker brings her Lewis’ ashes; she goes out into the country at night and disperses them.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

This book contains 29 short essays by physician-scientist Lewis Thomas, originally published in the early 1970s in The New England Journal of Medicine. The essays center on science, and range in focus from the molecular (e.g., DNA) to the subcellular to the organism to social interactions and all the way up to the search for extra-terrestrial life. Some themes reappear in several essays: science as a grand, engaging enterprise worthy of the brightest minds; communication between organisms creating the intricate dance of the social organism; the relationship of man to both nature and the grand scheme of the universe.

Lewis is fascinated by communication not only at the cellular level, but also at the pheremonal and cerebral level: "Language, once it comes alive, behaves like an active, motile organism" (90). The ant and its colony, as an example of a simultaneous individual and integrated social organism, form a link for Thomas between the enclosed unit of a cell and the complex interactions of a society. Indeed, macro-micro comparisons continue throughout the essays, and even conclude the final essay, "The World's Biggest Membrane," which lauds the atmosphere as protector, filter, and provider: "Taken all in all, the sky is a miraculous achievement. It works, and for what it is designed to accomplish it is as infallible as anything in nature. . . it is far and away the grandest product of collaboration in all of nature" (48).

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Among animals only humans have difficulty giving birth. While other primates deliver their babies with little fuss, women experience painful labor and childbirth. The explanation for this discrepancy lies in the size of the human head at birth. As hominids evolved ever larger and larger brains, the fetal head had to increase in size at birth. Eventually the head almost outstripped the female pelvis's ability to expand enough to allow it through the birth canal. This delicate balance between fetus and pelvis accounts for human fetal and maternal morbidity and mortality.

As a response to the growing threat of childbirth, human females evolved away from estrus (i.e. sexual receptivity only when ovulating) to the menstrual cycle and continuous sexual receptivity. The mysterious moon-related cycle led women to formulate the concept of "time" and make the connection between sex and pregnancy. It also allowed them to refuse sex when they were ovulating.

Women then taught time consciousness to men, and men used their growing self-consciousness to begin to establish control over nature (and women). The sense of being-in-time led inevitably to awareness of mortality. This, in turn, stimulated humans to create gods and religion in order to ward off death anxiety.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This selection of Miroslav Holub's poems is organized around five major topics--genealogy, anthropology, semiology, pathology, and tautology--rather than chronologically. The poems, some of which date back to his first collection in 1958, were translated into English by a number of different persons, but mostly by David Young, who has had a long-term collaboration with Holub.

Holub states his major preoccupation in "Bones," the very first poem in this collection: "We seek / a backbone / that will stay / straight." (p. 13) The search reaches its fullest expression in "Interferon," a long poem about messages, messengers, and interference: "Cells infected by a virus / send signals out . . .

And when a poet dies, deep in the night / a long black bird wakes up in the thicket / and sings for all it's worth." (p.159) The first step in the search is to learn to interpret the signals, and to understand the black bird's song. To do that, one has to ask questions. Yet, in the face of enormous "Suffering," we are drawn to passivity: "But I ask no questions, / no one asks any questions, / because it's all quite useless." (p. 147) How to overcome the inertia and proceed, even in the face of likely failure?

Holub reminds us that even "In the Microscope" we find "cells, fighters / who lay down their lives / for a song." (p. 149) In fact, there may be something worth fighting for, although perhaps we can only see it under extreme circumstances, as in "Crush Syndrome," where a concrete mixer snaps up the hand of a man cleaning it: "The finger bones / said a few things you don't hear very often...In that moment / I realized I had a soul." (p. 174). But perhaps what we call the soul is really just our deep yearning to survive, as in "Heart Transplant": "It's like a model of a battlefield / where Life and Spirit / have been fighting / and both have won." (p. 179)

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