Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Physicists love fairy tales, too

Our art editor sent me a Live Science editorial this morning - by Chris Gorski of the American Institute of Physics. It is the same type of fun-loving, insightful, if decidedly nerdy editorial one usually sees from renowned physicists - much like the often-forwarded description of what would happen to Santa Claus were he sleigh-riding around the globe while bound by the laws of physics. Some bookworms may worry that sitting around a table chatting about what it would take to actually make a flying carpet fly might deprive the tale of its magic, but those bookworms are not me. Having grown up with an engineer for a brother, I can recognize the wild imagination of that kind of mind. So when a physicist tells you that "scientists have figured out a way to bend sound waves around an object and, can even prevent the escape of all sounds created inside a given area (important for keeping a transformed, singing mermaid from being heard)," don't just dismiss it as a scientist's need to ground everything in a bedrock of reality. Instead, celebrate the tinkering inventiveness and creativity of a man or woman who just cannot listen to a telling of The Little Mermaid without trying to find a way to make the story actually happen. That isn't scientific dryness, that's play - of the most exciting kind. Some years ago my brother and I watched The Fellowship of the Ring in the theater. I had grown up on the book and was aswim with ideas of how to make a Middle-Earth - that is, how to tell the story of a beautiful imaginary or "secondary" world, but one better and deeper and more exciting than Tolkien's. (Not that there's all that much chance of that.) My brother, on the other hand, was inspired to try to figure out how one could actually go about genetically engineering Orcs, and how they would feed and breed, and what it would take to give them bat wings, and such. Were our responses substantively any different?

An interesting article, anyway!

By the way, the book pictured in this post is a Rumpelstiltskin illustrated by Paul Zelinsky. I picked up a copy recently and I love it - the paintings let all the wild and quirky magic of this fairy tale shine through. Find a copy!

No comments: