Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Dragons I’ve Eaten: Speculations on the Existence of Human Intelligence

Carl Sagan conjectured that early diurnal mammals feasted on the eggs of nocturnal dinosaurs. He remarked whimsically that a modern breakfast of chicken eggs is among the few relics of our immemorial joust against the dragons. So I think he wouldn’t mind that I spoof his book’s title* for this nonsense column.

When you carve that other relic, the Christmas goose, be sure to ask your physicist guests whether they want light matter or dark matter. Gaah, can you get over the fact that they’ve lost more than 90% of the universe’s mass? (I'll need to lose some mass after holiday eating; maybe they can give me some tips.) “Oh no,” they say, “we’ve just misplaced it.” You reply, simply and politely, “Gravy or cranberry sauce?” (Your subtext being, “Or bullshit?”)

Speaking of cosmology (were we?), the just-out second book by the author of The Time Traveler’s Wife is, according to reviewers, not as good as the first. I wondered what the big deal was anyway. I travel into the future at the rate of about one day per day, and so do you. Some people don’t keep up, of course; the glaze in some of my students’ eyes is a giveaway. Then there are people who don’t twitter. Obviously “behind the times,” time-traveling at maybe 0.9 days per day.

Ah, you say, but what about going back in time? I can do that too, and my wife can verify it. Yesterday I left our house in the morning, headed for the university, but, because she insisted, I went back in time for dinner!

* Carl Sagan, The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence. Random House, 1977,