Saturday, September 1, 2012

Mad About Science

This week, I'm going to talk to you about science. Now I know what you're thinking: "Are you kidding? This is an election year. The Republican National Convention just ended. The Democratic National Convention is next week. Why on earth aren't you discussing politics?" I have two very good reasons. First, in my opinion, science is a much more interesting topic than politics. Second, it's definitely a safer topic. These days, if you take a position on anything even remotely political, you can be sure that at least half the country will jump down your throat. Besides, I'm pretty sure that there are at least twice as many blogs about politics as there are people who read them.

So let's talk about science.

Science has accomplished some pretty amazing things. Only a month ago, it gently and precisely landed a vehicle the size of a minivan on the surface of Mars. But, as amazing as that is, it's still only rocket science. And rocket science, when you get right down to it, is just everyday, humdrum, run-of-the-mill science. And I'm not talking about everyday, humdrum, run-of-the-mill science.

I'm talking about mad science.

When I was a kid, my grandparents gave me an old microscope that had belonged to my father. I used to love looking at stuff through that microscope: bugs, leaves, pond water. It wasn't a very good microscope. In fact, the only thing I could ever see was the reflection of my own eye in the lens. But that didn't matter. When I looked through that microscope, I imagined myself to be a scientist—and no everyday, humdrum, run-of-the-mill scientist, either.

A mad scientist.

I never saw myself as Dr. Frankenstein. Even in my imagination, I never had the hubris to believe that I could create life. I would have been perfectly happy to be one of those minor mad scientists who accidentally grows a giant lizard in his laboratory. Then, when the citizenry came to me for help because "Stompy" was devouring the city, I would tell them why he was so big (radiation), and how to stop him (flamethrowers, a large dose of electricity, and lots of explosives).

I have tried to ignore all of the political brouhaha this week. Instead, I have been reliving the happy, mad scientist dreams of my childhood, while catching up on episodes of Dark Matters. A friend recently turned me on to this trippy, Ripleyesque program on the Science Channel, and now I'm hooked. In each episode, John Noble (who brilliantly portrays one of the greatest mad scientists of all time on Fringe) presents three "Twisted But True" reenactments of real-life mads gleefully going about the business of building death rays, transplanting monkey brains, reanimating corpses, and otherwise "tampering in God's domain" (as Ed Wood so eloquently put it).

If, like me, you're tired of politics, check out Dark Matters. It's more entertaining and more educational than any political speech—not to mention more factual.

Now if you'll excuse me, I must get back to my laboratory. "Stompy" is getting hungry.

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