NOTICE: Posting schedule is irregular. I hope to get back to a regular schedule as the day-job allows.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

No one ever asks...

... the scientists.

Oh, I don't mean like "Hey Dr. Johnson!  You've won the Nobel Prize!  What're you going to do next?"  followed by the response "I'm going to Walt Disney World!"

No, I mean in the time travel stories.  No one ever seems to ask the scientists what they would do with a Time Machine.  Sure, the historians want to go back and observe some key moment in history. Politicians talk about changing a key political moment (I'll just satisfy Godwin's Law right here and mention all of the stories that revolve around stopping Hitler).  Ask an English major and they may wish to see an original Shakespeare play, a sport's fan will want to replace that critical last game in the championship.

But no one seems to ask the scientists.

Would a zoologist want to take that ocean voyage on the Beagle with Darwin?  A physicist give Stephen Hawking a vaccine to prevent ALS?  A microbiologist visit von Leeuwenhook as he put the drop of pond water under his microscope?

Or would someone *please* go back and tell Carl von Linne to stop with all the latin-sounding names for his taxonomy system (while you're at it, tell him that he doesn't need a "mineral" kingdom for living organisms - at least not until the computers take over).

For myself, I've been thinking of the eminent neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield, and how I wouldn't mind standing at his elbow with a modern low-noise amplifier, digital oscilloscope and precision stimulator.  So much of what we  now know in neuroscience derived from very crude experiments performed in the process of doing or treating something else.  If Penfield had access to better epilepsy drugs, he would never have performed the experiments that led to identification of function throughout the brain.  Without his initial experiments, 80 years worth of neuroscience would not have resulted in our current body of knowledge.

Modern epilepsy drugs would have saved the famous patient "H.M." from surgical removal of his medial temporal lobes, preventing the anterograde amnesia that plagued the rest of his life.  But perhaps in that case, we would know and understand little about the hippocampus' role in memory.

It is true that in any field, we stand on the backs of giants, but we also stand on accidents, mistakes, and the failures of our own lack of knowledge or development.  Who knows?  Perhaps a healthy Hawking would have been a rock star, and the thwarted Herr Schicklgruber a better painter.  Maybe it's better if we *don't* really know who wrote the plays attributed to William Shakespeare?

We may never know.

Until someone invents a time machine.

1 comment:

  1. "If I pee far, it's because I stand on the shoulders of giants." as misquoted by Kevyn Andreyasn.

    BTW, how about adding the ability to comment with a Facebook login? I have too many blog, forum and other logins already.


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