Scientific American Magazine
Cover; December 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Staff Editor; 1 Page(s)
Table of Contents; December 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Staff Editor; 2 Page(s)
From the Editors, including Masthead; December 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Rennie; 1 Page(s)
Letters to the Editors; December 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Staff Editor; 1 Page(s)
50, 100 and 150 Years Ago; December 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Staff Editor; 1 Page(s)
DECEMBER 1946 The first fruits of atomic ¿peacefare¿ are already being harvested. Using the same techniques that produced the bomb, laboratories at Oak Ridge are now turning out radioactive isotopes. Much has been written about the use of radio- active materials to trace vitamins, amino acids and other fuels for the human machinery through the system, but benefits to industry have been overlooked. Many chemical products are formed by processes which are relatively mysterious. The isotopes, because they are atom-sized ¿observers,¿ can help clear up the mysteries.
DECEMBER 1896 Dr. Shibasaburo Kitasato has collected from reliable sources information about 26,521 cases of diphtheria in Japan previous to the introduction of serotherapy, 14,996 of whom died (56 per cent). Of 353 cases treated after serotherapy was introduced in Japan, from November, 1894, to November, 1895, only 31 died (8.78 per cent). There is reason to believe that mortality can be lowered if treatment could be commenced early in the course of the disease. Thus in 110 cases in which injections were made within forty-eight hours after the invasion, all ended in recovery. On the other hand, of 33 cases treated after the eighth day of the disease (including some patients in a moribund condition), 11 were lost.
In Focus: Deadly Enigma; December 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Beardsley; 2 Page(s)
It is, in the words of one group of researchers, "a true quandary." How can an abnormal form of a protein present in all mammals cause some 15 different lethal brain diseases that affect animals as diverse as hamsters, sheep, cattle, cats and humans? Yet the dominant theory about the group of illnesses that includes scrapie in sheep, mad cow disease in cattle and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans holds just that. What is certain is that some mysterious agent that resists standard chemical disinfection as well as high temperatures can transmit these diseases between individuals and, less often, between species. What is unknown is how the agent spreads under natural conditions and how it destroys brain tissue. Because of the characteristic spongelike appearance of brain tissue from stricken animals, the diseases are called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs).
Finding the answers is a matter of urgency. In Britain, mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, has turned into a national calamity. A worldwide ban is on British beef and livestock imports. The government is slaughtering all cattle older than 30 months--some 30,000 a week--to allay fears that the disease, which causes animals to become nervous and develop an unsteady gait, will spread to people. So far British medical researchers have identified 14 unusual cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in young people that they suspect were a human manifestation of mad cow disease. New studies of the victims¿ brains appear to strengthen that conclusion. The biochemical properties of the suspected disease- causing protein in the brains of the victims are distinctly different from those usually found in Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, supporting the notion that the disease came from a novel source.
Down the Drain; December 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Zorpette; 2 Page(s)
Russian officials are still injecting liquid nuclear waste directly into the earth, two years after the extremely controversial cold war practice was first disclosed in the U.S. press. Moreover, the injections are taking place--with no end in sight--despite the fact that the U.S. is now aiding the decaying weapons complex of the former Soviet Union to the tune of half a billion dollars a year. None of the U.S. money is being used to attempt to halt the massive dumping of high-level nuclear waste.
"They are still injecting at Tomsk and Krasnoyarsk," says Nils Bohmer, a nuclear scientist at the Bellona Foundation, a research institute in Oslo, Norway, that specializes in environmental and nuclear issues. Tomsk-7 and Krasnoyarsk- 26 were key sites in the sprawling former Soviet weapons complex. During the cold war, both places were secret cities where plutonium and other materials for nuclear weapons were produced in special reactors and industrial plants. The plutonium produced at the sites is now as much a by-product as the liquid, high-level waste, because the Russians are no longer using this plutonium to make new nuclear weapons or reactor fuel. They continue to run the reactors because they provide heat and electricity for nearby towns.
Field Notes: Jungle Medicine; December 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Gibbs; 1 Page(s)
Deep in the Impenetrable Forest inside Uganda¿s Bwindi National Park, an enclave of 13 mountain gorillas has suffered years of interminable eavesdropping by primatologists trying to learn about the animals: how they fight, mate, play. Recently fresh eyes peering through the underbrush have focused instead on what humans can learn from the great apes--specifically, what they know about medicine.
"We call it ¿zoopharmacognosy,¿ " says John P. Berry, a 24- year-old plant biochemist at Cornell University who has spent months in Bwindi studying mountain gorillas. "Anthropologist Richard W. Wrangham and my adviser, Eloy Rodriguez, came up with that term after several beers in an African disco" to describe their novel approach to drug hunting: analyze the plants that other animals eat when they feel ill. Chimpanzees, for example, have been seen swallowing whole leaves or chewing the spongy pith from more than a dozen bitter-tasting plants that they normally avoid. Testing the plants, researchers discovered biologically active compounds in about half. Some kill parasites and bacteria; others dispatch fungi or insects. Whether the chimps eat what they do out of acquired knowledge or sheer instinct remains an open question.
In Brief; December 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Leutwyler; 3 Page(s)
Extreme Doubt The thrill is gone over findings that a form of DRD4--a gene coding for dopamine receptors in the brain-- leads to noveltyseeking behavior. Scientists at the National Institutes of Health compared the genes of Finnish alcoholics, clear novelty-seekers according to standard psychological tests, and more stoical control subjects. The suspect DRD4 form, they found, appeared equally in both groups. What is more, alcoholics carrying the novelty-seeking gene were
Combinatorial Support Researchers at Merck Laboratories have simplified combinatorial chemistry--a cut-and-paste process that churns out thousands of potentially valuable compounds all at once. Chemists have always tagged these products for testing with tiny inert spheres. But dendrimers, too, can be used as labels. These large molecules are quick to assemble and dissolve more readily than the spheres do--making it easier to analyze the reaction products.
Beyond the Test Ban; December 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Horgan; 2 Page(s)
On September 24, President Bill Clinton signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, a long-sought pact prohibiting nuclear weapons testing. Less than one week later, Clinton signed a bill authorizing a huge increase in funds for, well, nuclear weapons testing.
More specifically, the legislation provides $191 million for fiscal year 1997--up from only $18 million this year--for construction of a gigantic laser complex capable of generating miniature thermonuclear explosions. The stadium-size facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is expected to take six years to construct at a total cost of $1.1 billion. Various environmental and arms-control groups oppose the project, arguing that it is a relic of cold war thinking that should be abandoned. "It¿s not evil," says Tom Zamora Collina of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, D.C. "It¿s just a waste of money."
Sex and the Spinal Cord; December 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by DeKoker; 3 Page(s)
The sexiest part of the human body may never be ogled on the pages of Playboy. New research suggests that this distinction goes to the rather unphotogenic vagus nerve. Known to orchestrate such mundane tasks as breathing, swallowing and vomiting, this nerve wends its way through all the major organs, bypassing the spinal column and hooking directly into the base of the brain.
It is precisely because the vagus nerve does not touch the spinal column that its role in sex was recently discovered. Barry R. Komisaruk and Beverly Whipple of Rutgers University were investigating reports of orgasm in women who had spinal cord injury above the ninth thoracic vertebra. Although these women were not receiving stimuli from the nerves known to be responsible for orgasm-- the pudendal, pelvic or hypogastric nerves--the two researchers documented the hallmarks of orgasm: increases in their subjects¿ blood pressure, heart rate, pain threshold and pupil dilation. "It was a complete surprise," Komisaruk says. "We knew there had to be another pathway at work."
By the Numbers: Deaths Caused by Alcohol; December 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Doyle; 2 Page(s)
Excessive alcohol consumption leads to more than 100,000 deaths annually in the U.S. Accidents, mostly from drunken driving, made up a quarter of this number in 1992; alcohol- related homicide and suicide accounted for 11 and 8 percent, respectively. Cancers that are partly attributable to alcohol, such as those of the esophagus and larynx, contributed an additional 17 percent. About 9 percent resulted from alcohol-related stroke. Another major contributor is a group of 12 ailments wholly caused by alcohol (see map below), of which alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver and alcohol dependence syndrome are the most important. These 12 ailments represented 18 percent of all alcohol-related deaths in 1992.
The most reliable data are for the 12 alcohol-induced conditions. Mortality from these conditions rises steeply into late middle age and then declines markedly, with those age 85 or older being at less than one sixth the risk of 55- to 64-year-olds. Men are at three times the risk of women; blacks are at two and half times the risk of whites.
Anti Gravity: The Victors Go Despoiled; December 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Mirsky; 1 Page(s)
Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me," Star Trek¿s Mr. Scott once wisely noted. Unfortunately, Scotty never revealed who should carry the shame for foolings greater than two. Considering that the Ig Nobel Prizes were awarded in October for the sixth year in a row, one can only assume there is plenty of shame to go around.
Harvard University¿s Sanders Theater accommodated this year¿s Ig Nobels, a good-natured spoofing of those other awards that scientists, writers and peaceable folks get. The Igs go to "individuals whose achievements cannot or should not be reproduced," according to the official program.
Hard to Melt; December 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Mukerjee; 2 Page(s)
Ice melts when removed from its subzero confines, right? Not certain kinds. Researchers have found that ordinary ice can remain solid at five degrees Celsius and, possibly, up to 18 degrees C.
Laura A. Stern and Stephen H. Kirby of the U.S. Geological Survey, along with William B. Durham of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, made the serendipitous discovery. They were trying to study a substance found on moons of the outer solar system and in cold ocean-floor sediments--methane clathrate, to be specific. This material has a cagelike structure of water molecules that traps methane within its cavities. To make a rock of clathrate, the scientists ground ice into a powder, mixed it with methane in a cylinder, then gently warmed it.
Fear and Fecundity; December 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Beardsley; 1 Page(s)
Knights in days of yore would embark on dangerous adventures simply to impress their intended ladies, and it¿s a fair bet that much modern machismo still stems from the same motivation. The idea that male animals perform risky stunts or evolve encumbering decorations simply to show off their cool has divided biologists. A recent study of what turns on females suggests, however, that the notion may be more than a theoretical possibility, at least for a small fish.
Jean-Guy J. Godin of Mount Allison University in New Brunswick and Lee Alan Dugatkin of the University of Louisville studied first how male Trinidadian guppies that vary in the amount of orange coloration on their bellies respond to a predator fish, both when possible mates were present and when they were absent. The researchers then looked at what kind of male behavior tempted the females to get acquainted later. The results, reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, leave some room for biologists to debate their interpretation but have an uncomfortably familiar ring to anyone who has gone through puberty.
Cyber View; December 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Gibbs; 2 Page(s)
The Internet, warn some ¿minences grises, is staggering chaotically toward massive outages, perhaps even a total collapse. Nonsense, retort others: the future has never looked brighter for the global network. Both sides are correct. True, the explosive growth of the World Wide Web is pushing Internet standards and switches near their breaking points, while floods of information regularly back up the network plumbing. But for more than a decade, congestion has hung over the Net like the sword over Damocles, poised to sever its connections. Last-minute additions of more and bigger pipes have always averted crisis. This time, however, the problems run deeper, and although technical solutions are in hand, they will exact a price--and not just in the figurative sense. The resulting economic tremors may well topple some of the Web¿s shakier business plans, but they should also reshape the Internet into a more effi- cient and reliable medium.
The source of doomsayers¿ angst is the Net¿s geometric growth: by most measurements, it doubles in size every nine months or so. Such rapid expansion creates three major threats to the system. The first jeopardizes its ability to connect any two computers on the network. The Internet does so in much the same way as an automated postal system: computers wrap data into packages, stamp the packets with addresses and hand them to automated postal clerks (called routers) to deliver.
The Sale of a New Machine; December 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Zorpette; 2 Page(s)
Ascant four years ago the supercomputing market seemed poised to move beyond its government and academic roots and make a grand entrance into the much larger worlds of commerce and industry. In the U.S. alone, more than a dozen companies planned for this shift by marketing or developing ultrahighperformance computers. But the big move into the mainstream never occurred to the extent that many analysts had predicted.
Instead the organizations that were designing or promoting these machines withered or folded altogether (some even before they managed to complete their machines). Today only two viable domestic producers of high-end supercomputers remain in the U.S.: Cray Research--which was recently bought by Silicon Graphics-- and IBM.
Where the Wind Blows; December 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Gibbs; 1 Page(s)
Ancient mariners cursed the capricious wind for the ships it stranded and sunk. Gyroscopic stabilizers and diesel engines now pacify tempests and plow through calms, but a shift in the trade winds can still add days, and dollars, to a sea crossing. And for much of the world, oceanic winds drive the weather. The climate models scientists have built inside computers to predict the path and fury of storms, to speculate on the effects of a rise in global sea temperatures and to understand exactly what causes weather-disrupting El Ni¿o conditions are only as good as the knowledge they contain of where, and how strongly, the wind blows over the water.
Such data have been at best a patchwork of infrequent and sometimes inaccurate readings assembled from buoy and ship reports. Forecasters and sea captains should thus have been heartened in late September to see the first measurements sent back from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration¿s scatterometer, a NASA instrument launched on Japan¿s Advanced Earth Observing Satellite. Every two days the device passes over at least 90 percent of Earth¿s ice-free oceans and returns data that, when churned through computers on the ground, yield a detailed wind map.
Welding with a Match; December 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Garcia; 1 Page(s)
Lugging around a torch and tanks of oxygen and fuel for welding is hardly convenient for a soldier on the battlefield, a diver off an oil rig or an astronaut on a spacewalk. Under such extreme circumstances, the welder¿s trademark tools may soon give way to hair-thin foils that can fuse two pieces of metal together without oxygen.
The ability to engineer these multilayer foils was patented by Troy Barbee, Jr., of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Timothy Weihs, now at Johns Hopkins University. When exposed to a match flame or a spark from a battery, the foil releases a momentary wave of energy and heat suf- ficient to melt the filler metal used to form a welded joint.
Plastic Power; December 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Leutwyler; 2 Page(s)
For nearly 20 years, scientists have expected great things from semiconducting polymers--chimerical chemicals that can be as pliable as plastic wrap and as conductive as copper wiring. Indeed, these organic compounds have conjured dreams of novel optoelectronic devices, ranging from transparent transistors to flexible lightemitting diodes. Few of these ideas have made it out of the laboratory. But in the past year, researchers have added two promising candidates to the wish list: solar cells and solid-state lasers.
The lasting appeal of these materials-- also called synthetic metals--is that they are more durable and less expensive than their inorganic doubles. Furthermore, they are easy to make. Like all plastics, they are long, carbon-based chains strung from simple repeating units called monomers. To make them conductive, they need only be doped with atoms that donate negative or positive charges to each unit. These charges clear a path through the chain for traveling currents.
Recently Netted...; December 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Eisenberg; 1 Page(s)
Easy Electronic Charging. By spring, virtual-credit-card-swiping machines are going to become as ubiquitous as the real ones that now sit on checkout counters. The dominant player in Internet credit-card authorization will most likely be VeriFone (http://www.verifone.com/), the company that owns about three quarters of the domestic market for swipe terminals. VeriFone is now offering software that is SET-compliant (from "secure electronic transactions," the protocol worked out by MasterCard, Visa, IBM, Microsoft and others). The program sends the buyer¿s encrypted, digitally signed payment via the Internet to the financial institution, which then sends the approval codes back to the merchant.
Because the software also verifies the digital signature and safeguards against tampering, it is the equivalent of the magnetic strip on a real credit card. The system should reduce the expense of electronic transactions (credit-card purchases by telephone cost the merchants more, to cover the possibility of fraud). According to Fred Kost of VeriFone, Wells Fargo Bank will offer the company¿s point-of-sale software to its merchant customers by year¿s end. The cost will be about $1,500, which is $700 more than the outlay for a physical processor, but banks are expected to discount the devices as they seek to galvanize electronic commerce.
Profile: Manuel Elkin Patarroyo; December 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Holloway; 2 Page(s)
The turn-of-the-century stone building is rotting inside, floorboards dusty and dilapidated, pigeons roosting in the eaves. There are no windows in the moldy sills, and weeds are thriving--even this structure in the middle of Bogot¿, Colombia, suggests the jungle is not so very far away. "This is how my buildings always come," says Manuel Elkin Patarroyo, proud of the efforts that have transformed other nearby structures into a charming enclave, complete with gardens, that recall the Pasteur Institute in Paris--a similarity that delights Patarroyo, because he says that it irritates his rivals there.
Once restored, this addition to the Institute of Immunology at the San Juan de Dios Hospital will permit Patarroyo to expand his research empire and to begin mass-producing the source of his fame and his controversy: the malaria vaccine Spf66. But the immunologist does not want to dally in the ruined building and talk about whether the world is going to want such vast quantities of the compound. The day is slipping away, it¿s already 10 o¿clock in the morning, and there are labs to dash through and years of work to review.
The Specter of Biological Weapons; December 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Cole; 6 Page(s)
In 1995, on a whim, I asked a friend: Which would worry you more, being attacked with a biological weapon or a chemical weapon? He looked quizzical. "Frankly, I¿m afraid of Alzheimer¿s," he replied, and we shared a laugh. He had elegantly dismissed my question as an irrelevancy. In civilized society, people do not think about such things.
The next day, on March 20, the nerve agent sarin was unleashed in the Tokyo subway system, killing 12 people and injuring 5,500. In Japan, no less, one of the safest countries in the world. I called my friend, and we lingered over the coincidental timing of my question. A seemingly frivolous speculation one day, a deadly serious matter the next.
Primordial Deuterium and the Big Bang; December 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Hogan; 6 Page(s)
The big bang model of the early universe is extraordinarily simple: it has no structure of any kind on scales larger than individual elementary particles. Even though the behavior it predicts is governed only by general relativity, the Standard Model of elementary particle physics and the energy distribution rules of basic thermodynamics, it appears to describe the primordial fireball almost perfectly.
Atomic nuclei that formed during the first seconds and minutes of the universe provide additional clues to events in the early universe and to its composition and structure today. The big bang produced a universe made almost entirely of hydrogen and helium. Deuterium, the heavy isotope of hydrogen, was made only at the beginning of the universe; thus, it serves as a particularly important marker. The ratio of deuterium to ordinary hydrogen atoms depends strongly on both the uniformity of matter and the total amount of matter formed in the big bang. During the past few years, astronomers have for the first time begun to make reliable, direct measurements of deuterium in ancient gas clouds. Their results promise to provide a precise test of the big bang cosmogony.
Creating Nanophase Materials; December 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Siegel; 6 Page(s)
In September 1989 a silver-haired gentleman with money to invest walked into my office at Argonne National Laboratory, prepared to start a company. My visitor, Steven Lazarus of ARCH Development Corporation, his colleague Keith Crandall and I had long discussed the possibility of forming a company to manufacture a new breed of materials. Now, after nine months of careful consideration, Lazarus was convinced of the potential commercial value.
My colleagues and I had been studying these substances since 1985, when, in need of a title for a research proposal late one evening, I dubbed them "nanophase materials." The name reflected the essential way in which they differed from ordinary materials. Nanophase metals, ceramics and other solids are made of the same atoms as their more common forms, but the atoms are arranged in nanometer-size clusters, which become the constituent grains, or building blocks, of these new materials. And whereas the grains in conventional materials range from microns to millimeters in diameter and contain several billion atoms, those in nanophase materials are less than 100 nanometers in diameter and contain fewer than tens of thousands of atoms. To put these sizes in perspective, a three-nanometer-diameter cluster contains about 900 atoms and is almost one million times smaller than the period at the end of this sentence--or about as small as a 40-foot sailboat is compared with the size of the earth.
Cell Suicide in Health and Disease; December 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Duke, Ojcius, Young; 8 Page(s)
As you read this article, millions of your cells are dying. Relax. Most are sacrificing themselves to ensure your survival. Burgeoning research indicates that the health of all multicellular organisms, including humans, depends not only on the body¿s ability to produce new cells but on the ability of individual cells to self-destruct when they become superfluous or disordered. This critical process, today called apoptosis, or programmed cell death, was overlooked for decades. But biologists have recently made rapid strides in understanding how cellular suicide is enacted and controlled.
Many investigators are motivated both by scientific curiosity and by a desire to combat some of the world¿s most frightening diseases. It turns out that aberrant regulation of apoptosis--leading to too much or too little cell suicide-- probably contributes to such varied disorders as cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer¿s disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
Atmospheric Dust and Acid Rain; December 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Hedin, Likens; 5 Page(s)
For the past several decades, scientists have been studying acid rain and how it affects the environment. As the harmful consequences of acidic air pollutants became increasingly clear, governments in North America and Europe began to regulate emissions of these compounds. Countries in the European Union enacted a variety of laws to control the release of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides; the Clean Air Act imposed similar regulations in the U.S. Policymakers expected these reductions to rejuvenate forests, lakes and streams in many regions. In some respects, the issue seemed wrapped up.
But the problem of acid rain has not gone away. Why is the rain falling on parts of Europe and North America still acidic, despite tighter controls on pollution? And why do some natural ecosystems-- in particular, forests--show levels of damage from acid rain greater than scientists originally predicted?
A Cricket Robot; December 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Webb; 6 Page(s)
When we describe a behavior as robotic, it is usually to call attention to its predictability. Whether the subject is a bored supermarket cashier or an acquaintance not known for spontaneity, robotic behavior might be characterized as a series of seemingly automatic reactions in response to interactions or events.
Insect behavior, too, might be considered to be robotic or automatic. Detailed research into the specific actions of some insects, however, has revealed a great deal more variety than this characterization suggests. The female cricket attempting to locate a mate from the male¿s calling song is a good example. In some respects, this activity seems very simple: when she hears the appropriate song, the insect may continue to walk toward it for hours, even if placed on a treadmill.
Daily Life in Ancient Egypt; December 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by McDowell; 6 Page(s)
During the period known as the New Kingdom (1539¿ 1075 B.C.), Egypt¿s southern capital city of Thebes developed into one of the great urban centers of the ancient world. The massive temple complexes of Karnak and Luxor were built during this time, and the two monuments still dominate the east bank of the Nile in the modern city, now called Luxor. The nearby Valley of the Kings, on the west bank of the Nile, contains some 60 tombs, including that of the pharaoh Tutankhamen. Hundreds of private tombs, some of them magnifi- cently painted, also dot the landscape along the base of the cliffs on the Nile¿s west bank.
Although some of the paintings in the private monuments preserve tantalizing pictures of the luxurious life of the nobility, on the whole, the remaining temples and tombs tell us more about religious experience and beliefs concerning the afterworld than about the experiences of the living. Daily life is less well documented because, unlike the stone monuments we see today, the majority of homes, which were made of sun-dried brick, have succumbed to the damp of the floodplain, along with the furnishings and any written material that would have documented the lives of the literate few. On the westernmost edge of the sprawling ancient city, however, the remains of one small community escaped the general disintegration. This is the village now called Deir el-Medina, the home of the craftsmen who cut and decorated the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings.
Why Freud Isn't Dead; December 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Horgan; 6 Page(s)
The anxiety is palpable. Fifty or so psychoanalysts have gathered in a ballroom at New York City¿s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel to discuss what one of them calls "the survival issue," meaning their rapidly declining status in the mental-health field and in the culture at large. One analyst complains that his daughter¿s college catalogue does not list a single course on Sigmund Freud, who founded psychoanalysis a century ago. Another expresses amazement that psychoanalysis "has managed to get so many people so angry and to get itself so marginalized in such a short period of time." "Maybe it¿s time for me to retire," sighs a therapist from southern California having trouble enlisting new patients.
Some paranoiacs, the old joke goes, really do have enemies. Freud¿s ideas have been challenged since their inception, but in the 1990s the criticism has reached a crescendo. Every year yields more books, such as Why Freud Was Wrong and Freudian Fraud. Last year the Library of Congress postponed an exhibit on Freud until at least 1998 after protesters--including Freud¿s own granddaughter--complained that it was too hagiographic.
The Amateur Scientist; December 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Carlson; 3 Page(s)
In the summer of 1893 Arthur Nikisch, then Europe's premiere conductor, popped in on the legendary composer Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky to talk a little shop. According to Nikisch's assistant, Richard Lert, we know only one thing for sure about their get-together: Nikisch didn't like the way Tchaikovsky had scored the finale of his Sixth Symphony (the Path¿tique), and he adamantly wanted the maestro to change it.
The contentious passages were certainly unorthodox. Tchaikovsky alternated the main theme and accompaniment between the first and second violin sections; as a result, each section played every other note of each theme. Nikisch wanted Tchaikovsky, who was preparing the piece for public debut, to rescore the movement so that the first violins would play the main theme alone, and the second violins would play only the accompaniment.
Mathematical Recreations; December 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Stewart; 3 Page(s)
Mazes are more common in serious mathematics than you might imagine. Any mathematical investigation, in effect, requires you to find a path through a maze of statements, with the path from each statement to the next being a valid logical deduction. A new kind of maze invented by Robert Abbott of Jupiter, Fla., called Where Are the Cows?, is both geometric and logical. It is taken from his new book Supermazes (Prima Publishing, Rocklin, Calif., 1996). (Some readers might recall Abbott as the inventor of the card game Eleusis, discussed by Martin Gardner in these pages in 1959 and 1977.)
Abbott¿s maze is based on a logical twist, that of self-reference. Self-referential statements cause headaches for logicians and philosophers. One instance is the paradox associated with Epimenides, a Cretan who declared that all Cretans are liars, which reduces to: THIS STATEMENT IS FALSE. Well, is it, or isn¿t it? You¿re in trouble either way.
Reviews; December 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Morrison, Morrison; 6 Page(s)
In Dawn of Art: The Chauvet Cave, the oldest known paintings in the world are well reproduced, and they are stunning. These Cro-Magnon artists painted bison, bear, cow, horse, hyena, ibex, lion, mammoth, rhino and stag. Chauvet Cave murals were already ancient when the famous cave of Lascaux was freshly painted. Nor is the work marked by crude technique or simple style; the paintings here are as sophisticated as any, often making use of the natural bulges of the rock. A few have been securely dated at 31,000 years before the present, by direct detection of the radiocarbon in charcoal pigment from the paintings.
The first book is not for children alone, but rather for everyone. We hope it will make its splendid way into many homes, classrooms and libraries. It makes good reading, too, for most of the brief text among the nearly 100 paintings in full color tells the authors¿ personal story. The three friends had been combing the Ard¿che Valley in southeastern France for more than six years when they found this cave on a "fine and cold winter Sunday" in December 1994. They walked up an old mule path, stopped to enjoy a wide, sunlit view and saw in denser vegetation the narrow opening "to a little cavity" six feet above the ground. They entered to find a small place with a low ceiling. Going on, removing some rocks, ¿liette Deschamps wriggled her way to a chamber whose floor she could make out 30 feet below by her helmet lamp. Shouts found no quick echo; this was a really big room in the darkness. They went back to their van to get a long rope ladder, then returned to climb down to the main level of Chauvet Cave, walking carefully among what were the ancient remains of many bears until they spotted the red ocher drawing of a little mammoth. They had reopened the oldest art gallery in the world.
Commentary: Connections - Sweet Dreams; December 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Burke; 2 Page(s)
One of the less glamorous aspects of my work is having to fly frequent transatlantic red-eyes, and any airline that gives me a sleep-inducing hot chocolate gets my money. So there I was the other night, droning up into the sky, sipping and thinking about Sir Hans Sloane. Sloane helped to establish the place where I do most of my research, when his collection of 2,500 plants, animals and assorted memorabilia became the core of what would end up as the British Museum. And it was Sloane (while spending time in 1688 as personal physician to the governor of Jamaica) who discovered the soothing effects of mixing chocolate and warm milk.
Back in England, in 1715, Sloane treated one of the great beauties and literary wits, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who was suffering from smallpox. (She ended up with no eyelashes and a pitted face.) A year later, when Lady Mary moved to Turkey with her incompetent ambassador husband and saw what the locals were doing for smallpox (inoculation), she carried out Turkish-style treatment on her own son. When she went home, she persuaded various royals to inoculate their kids. Then, with Sloane¿s help, everybody else got vaccinated, too.
Annual Index 1996; December 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Staff Editor; 3 Page(s)
Working Knowledge; December 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Rogers; 1 Page(s)
Engineers interested in the aesthetics of their profession might consider the aluminum or steel pop top, which goes by many names. "Zip," "tap," "snap" and "pop"--as well as the less sonorous "tab" and "ring"--are all adjectives that have preceded the noun "top" at one time or another in the 35-year history of the self-opening can lid.
According to engineering lore, the late Ermal C. Fraze, founder of Dayton Reliable Tool & Manufacturing Company in Ohio, came up with a practical idea for the pop-top lid after attempting with halting success to open a beer can on the bumper of his car. For decades, inventors had been trying to devise a can with a self-contained opener. Their elaborate schemes had proved unworkable because they required complex manufacturing steps for the attachment of the pull tab-- the element that exerts force to open the can top. Fraze succeeded because he conceived of a simple and economical rivet to hold the tab in place. Unlike previous approaches, the rivet was formed from the surface of the can top itself.