AstrophysicistMario Livio worked on the Hubble Space Telescope for almost 25 years, until 2015. Throughout his scientific career, he has not only written hundreds of scientific articles and books on subjects ranging from theGolden Ratio to brilliant scientists’big blunders—he’s also extended his creative reach to musical collaborations, including in his role as Science Advisor to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
Livio’s latest book, Why?: What Makes Us Curious, is, by his own admission, the farthest afield from his usual subjects of study. But it’s no surprise that someone with as wide a scope of interests as Livio would want to know more about the nature of curiosity itself. We spoke by phone one Thursday morning in early June about what we know thus far about how curiosity works, the purpose it serves, and how to nurture curiosity in children. Livio also answered, with the patience and enthusiasm of an excellent teacher, my rudimentary questions about telescopes and astrophysics, and calmed the terror I feel when I think about how our universe is expanding into nothingness.
I thought we could start with you defining what curiosity is and the way you came to understand it through researching this book.
It’s funny that you should ask this question because one of the things that I concluded in the book, and this was only after I did all the research and everything, is that when we talk about curiosity, it turns out that there are several mechanisms involved. There is a curiosity that we feel when we see something that surprises us or when there is something ambiguous and we want to understand that. But it’s a relatively transitory-type feeling. There is a curiosity that we feel when we cannot remember the name of the actor who played in this or that film. That is another type of curiosity. And then there is the curiosity that drives, for example, all basic scientific research, and that’s our love for knowledge.
So while you will see various types of definitions, like a state for acquiring information and things like that, those never quite capture everything that is involved. Had we known as much we know now about curiosity, we might have invented different words for these different mechanisms. Read more…
In 1989, Daniel Clowes started a comic-book series called Eightball. Instead of lauded superheroes following traditional plotlines, his comics often featured oddballs, meandering or dreamlike sequences, and an acerbic wit.At the time, it felt like he was writing into the abyss.
Since then, Clowes has become one of the most famous cartoonists in the world. Eightball was the original home to what became the standalone graphic novels The Death-Ray, Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron, and Ghost World, among others. Ghost World was adapted into a feature film in 2001 (Clowes collaborated on the screenplay); his graphic novel Wilson will have the same fate. Eightball itself was republished in a slipcase edition last year. This is a wildly abridged history, and I haven’t even mentioned the awards.
Clowes’s new work is his most ambitious to date: the graphic novel Patience, a huge gorgeous slab of a book with drawings so sumptuous and vibrant I wanted to plaster them all over my walls. The book opens on Jack and his wife Patience learning they’re going to have a kid, shortly after which a wrenching turn sends Jack on a tumultuous trip back and forth in time. We spoke by phone about Patience, dreams, teen-speak, and when Clowes gets his best ideas: when he’s really bored.Read more…
The first battery, a pile of copper and zinc discs, was invented more than 200 years ago, ushering in the electric age. Subsequent versions led to portable electronics, mobile computing, and our current love affair with smartphones (1,000 of which are shipped every 22 seconds). Now batteries are powering electric cars and storing electricity produced by solar cells and windmills, but they don’t last long enough and are too expensive for either use to really go mainstream. To cut the cost, Tesla plans to double the world’s production capacity of the popular lithium-ion battery with its forthcoming $5 billion battery manufacturing plant in the Nevada desert. Tesla’s idea is to use economies of scale to lower prices. Meanwhile, other companies and many industrialized countries, including China and the U.S., are racing to develop batteries that are more advanced than Tesla’s. They’re betting billions that breakthrough battery technologies will help create new industries, juice existing ones, and wean us off fossil fuels because we’ll be able to use the sun and wind in their place. Here is a book, a documentary, and five stories on our battery-powered future.Read more…
“Long before ‘Real Housewives of New Jersey’ castmember (and Danbury Federal Correctional Institution Inmate) Teresa Giudice infamously stated, ‘I don’t want to live in somebody else’s house. That’s gross,’ the late Argentinian writer Silvina Ocampo wrote “The House Made of Sugar,” a story about a woman named Cristina who is too superstitious to live in a house that had been previously occupied. Her husband deceives her and when they move into their dream home based upon his lie, strange and worrisome things start to happen that suggest Cristina’s fears were warranted. Newly translated into English by Daniel Balderston, with a preface by Borges, Ocampo’s stories are unsettling and off-kilter, revelatory and readable. Novelist Helen Oyeyemi writes in the collection’s introduction, ‘Love is as fearsome in an Ocampo story as it is in Wuthering Heights; emotion has a way of sealing us into a charmed circle that makes us incomprehensible to everyone who stands outside it.'”