Erenlai - Items filtered by date: Friday, 20 March 2009
Friday, 20 March 2009 21:50

Literature, sci-fi, imagination

From literature to science

I developed a passion for science very early on in my teens and saw them as a realm of infinite possibilities.

My brother was the one who helped me realise it. I have to acknowledge it, because I was so unkind to him most of the times. It so happened that he loves to read Sci-Fi novels, and I being the ever-so competitive one, would read them after him… My favourite ones are the oldest, the novels by Jules Verne. Jules Verne’s novels are works of imagination but they are also startlingly accurate anticipations of modern times. I loved reading Paris in the 20th Century : it described air conditioning, auto mobiles, the Internet, television, and other modern conveniences very similar to our real world counterparts. How was he able to imagine all that? Another favourite of mine is From the Earth to the Moon, which is strikingly similar to the real Apollo Program, as three astronauts are launched from the Florida peninsula and recovered through a splash landing. In the book, the spacecraft is launched from "Tampa Town"; approximately 130 miles from NASA’s actual launching site at Cape Canaveral, or so have I read. And in other works, Verne predicted the inventions of helicopters, submarines, projectors, jukeboxes, and other devices. He also predicted the existence of underwater hydrothermal vents that were not discovered until years after.
Jules Verne is indeed. my hero. When I am told I am too dreamy or imaginative I simply shrug my shoulders. If you want to have new ideas where are you going to find them, except in your dreams and imaginations? I am now convinced that humankind owes much more to dreamers than to hopeless realists… I had tried to convince my maths, physics and biology teacher - not an easy lot, I tell you, as they were so hopelessly realistic…

From helicopters to guitars

OK, I might owe a little more to my elder brother than I am willing to admit. In fact, when we were growing up and were both seen as rebellious, sulky teenagers, we felt much closer to each other than ever. He had developed a passion for music, and played in a band, having convinced Dad and Mum to buy him an Ovation guitar. Thanks to him I now know how the guitar was invented and it makes me even more convinced that imagination is the world’ s driving force – only teachers and parents refused to recognise it.
The first Ovation guitar was developed in 1966 by Charles Kaman. Kaman, an amateur guitarist from an early age, then worked on helicopter design as an aerodynamacist and founded his own helicopter design company, Kaman Aircraft, in 1945. His corporation soon diversified, branching off into nuclear weapons testing, commercial helicopter flights, the development and testing of chemicals, and helicopter bearings production. But in the early 1960s, financial problems due to the failure of their commercial flight division forced them to consider expanding into new markets, such as entertainment and leisure. Coincidentally, Charles Kaman, still an avid guitar player, became interested in the making of guitars. Using his background in aviation engineering, Kaman designed a rounded-bowl back, hoping to improve the flow of sound through the guitar, and developed a new top bracing system. Finally, although he kept the idea of using a wood soundboard, the body and sides of the guitar were manufactured of composite. Since that time the company’s main focus has been acoustic and acoustic-electric guitars.
Applying helicopter’s technology to guitar-making... not bad at all.

Imagining discoveries

The history of science is fascinating, and I dreamt of the life of scientists and inventors the way I did of witches and wizards as a little girl.
When you look at the way science has evolved throughout the ages, you realise that when comparing theories to observations, scientists encounter more and more anomalies, which cannot be explained by the theory alone. When enough anomalies have accrued against a theory, science is thrown into a state of crisis – scientists become restless and sleepless, their wives can no longer bear their sudden shifts of moods, coffee no longer tastes the same as before, they rely on chocolate to struggle against anxiety, and so on... During this crisis, new ideas are tried. Eventually a new theory is spelled out, after epic battles. And it is always the ones who see nothing new to be imagined or discovered whom ultimately look like the fools. Take poor Lord Kelvin who, in 1900, stated, "There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement." Five years later, Einstein published his paper on special relativity, which challenged Newtonian mechanics...

And more…

The more I progress in my studies, the more I am convinced that imagination is the Empress who reigns over all Sciences.
Did Copernic not need imagination in finding out that the earth turned around the sun rather than the reverse?
Did Pasteur and others not need imagination in deciding that “all life comes from life” rather than relying on the widely accepted theory of spontaneous generation?
Was Einstein not the best artist of the 20th century when he came up with the theory of relativity?
One of my favourites is Lavoisier. He showed that respiration was essentially a slow combustion of organic material using inhaled oxygen. He also showed that, although matter can change its state in a chemical reaction, the quantity of matter is the same at the end as at the beginning of every chemical change. These experiments supported the law of conservation of mass, which Lavoisier was the first to state. It is not for these discoveries that French revolutionaries beheaded him however.
I have yet to speak of Lamarck, Darwin or Mendel… To me, these people are the most imaginative artists that humankind has ever known- the real dreamers.

Image by C.P.

 

Friday, 20 March 2009 21:46

Dreaming Taiwan

I cannot bear how unimaginative Taiwan has become since my stay abroad. All political discourses are repetitive, the media repeats a bunch of lies, nobody seems to be able to articulate a project that would give a sense of direction to this nation.

 
It is linked with our educational system, of course. When I was a child, everything was organized for making us think alike. Thinking outside the box was the supreme sin. There were stock sentences to be repeated. Lessons in literature and language were meant to make us speak and write in a certain way and in a certain style. Memorizing was the supreme virtue. Memorizing is good actually – as long as you are taught to build on it for inventing new things.
 

So, I dream of a Taiwan in which everyone would be encouraged to develop his or her own style, in dressing, writing, and speaking… I dream of a Taiwan in which you would not see the same model of buildings everywhere, in which no house would be like the one next door, a Taiwan where the roads would not go from North to South but from East to West, a Taiwan that would be like a big garden in which each plant is different and unique… I dream of a Taiwan ruled by imagination!

 

Taiwan, in fact, is imaginative in its own way. Look how we went from one economic model to another during the last fifty years. From bananas to flowers, from the toy industry to computer hardware, from computer hardware to software, from software to the most sophisticated electronic chips model… That was spirit of adaptation and survival, and these two nurture imagination. Our form of imagination is not the one that is good at long term planning, it is the imagination of the prisoner who looks for a way to escape his prison. We are good at responding imaginatively to crisis and challenges… Though, I wonder if we are now losing even this skill. Look how clumsy our answer is to the present economic crisis. It seems that we have much more difficulties in going from one economic paradigm to another than was the case ten years before. We are supposed to move from IT to biotechnology for instance, but I do not see it happening. Our faculty of adaptation might be drying under the sun.

The Taiwan I am dreaming of would be able to invent something together. It would decide that it is able to invent a polity, a form of living together that no nation has tried yet, and would thus make politics an art. Actually, shaping a social contract is like creating music. Politics is the art of inventing news ways of living together. I dream to see Taiwan become a world class symphonic orchestra, playing music never heard before…

 

Friday, 20 March 2009 17:37

科學眼光看見的島嶼家鄉(1)

--當海水消退

冰河時期,大量水體被凍結在厚厚的冰層裡,海平面因而下降。地質學家估計,上一次冰河時期最冷的時候,大約是在18000年前。當時,海平面曾比現在低130公尺。不過,那是最極端的情況。如果我們取個中間值,讓海平面比現在低65公尺,臺灣的輪廓會是什麼樣子呢?
一座陸橋,將臺灣與中國連接起來。許多史前人類、動植物,大概沿著這座陸橋遷徙到臺灣。等到冰河時期結束,上升的海水再次淹沒陸橋,臺灣的物種從此與世隔絕,逐漸演化出特有種類。
澎湖水道是臺灣海峽最深的地方,即使當海平面下降65公尺的時候,也不會乾涸。來自南方的黑潮支流進入臺灣海峽後,沿著澎湖水道北上,寬度漸窄、水深漸淺,因而水流湍急。兩、三百年前,許多渡海來臺的漢人移民在澎湖水道發生船難,葬身魚腹。因此,澎湖水道也成為渡臺先民心中的「黑水溝」,彷彿是一道跨越生死的鴻溝。




本文亦見於2009年4月號《人籟論辨月刊》

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