Web edition: June 20, 2008
Get the real life In the article “Scientists get a second life” (SN: 5/24/08, p. 20), I take exception to Joanna Scott’s statement that “Second Life is real life.” In fairness, one could debate what she means by “life,” but the statement is just too strong to ignore. As technical director at a major theater, I spend part of each day making certain that the crews, performers and audiences are safe from the real-life, negative consequences of physics. To do this I use the senses of sight, hearing, touch and smell. (Taste isn’t often involved. Who wants to lick a hundred years of dust and grease?) Second Life engages very limited versions of two senses, sight and hearing. One only sees the images and hears the sounds that the designers have created. As a perfect example, look at the image of Terra Questi on the moon. (Great name, by the way.) The surface of the moon, the lander and the footsteps are far more detailed in reality than portrayed in the image. An unseen rock can pitch a person arse over teacup on the real moon, just as it can on our daily terra firma. Scott may be correct that Second Life is creating an exciting, enabling and encompassing medium for communication. But please don’t claim that it’s “real life.” GREG ANDERSON, BOSTON, MASS. Asking the right questions Thank you for the quotes from the late John Wheeler (“Quantum theory poses reality’s deepest mystery,” SN: 5/24/08, p. 32). A more famous but fictional Dane may have put the Danish physicist Niels Bohr’s “To be” phrase quite differently: “To be? To be? That is not the question!” JEFFRY D. MUELLER, ELDERSBURG, MD. Weak interaction with Earth There may be another way of proving the existence of WIMPs (“Battle over WIMPs goes another round” SN: 5/10/08, p. 12). Is it possible that Earth’s interaction with this wind of particles could slow Earth down, however slightly? If this is so, would the effect be more pronounced in the summer, when Earth’s rotation takes it through a stronger wind of these particles, than in the winter? Could this difference be measured? THEODORE J. BLINDER, WALLINGFORD, PA. According to Juan Collar, a physicist at the University of Chicago, any effect on Earth’s motion would be pretty noticeable to astronomers. Also, the “weakly interacting” part of “WIMP” does not allow for enough “friction.” —Ron Cowen Wrong place to ponder being Your new format is very pleasant to read. Thanks. However, the segment “Scientific Observations” (SN: 5/10/08 p. 4) was a great disappointment. Douglas Hofstadter’s constructivist view of reality is unfounded. Indeed, if it were true then his own contention would be no more than a construction as distinct from a possible true state of affairs. As to whether the “I” amounts to some “invented reality,” one can only puzzle over what the author of the idea takes himself to be, some “we” or “they”? This kind of speculation belongs not in Science News but in a philosophy journal. TIBOR R. MACHAN, SILVERADO, CALIF. Young scientists I see that the top three finalists at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (SN: 6/7/08, p. 13) were girls, and girls won two other top prizes. Who was the erstwhile Harvard president who said women just don’t have the smarts men have, science-wise? PHYLLIS T. JOHNSON, FRIDAY HARBOR, WASH. Headless animals easier to eat In the article “Insects: The original white meat,” (SN: 6/7/08, p. 16), some researchers wonder why people find the idea of eating bugs so revolting when we freely consume other arthropods such as shrimp and lobster. When I eat the flesh of shrimp or lobster, the portion that I eat bears no more resemblance to the living animal than a steak does to a cow. The first (and last) time I had a whole lobster, I found the experience rather disturbing, and the only reason I could eat any of it at all was that I did NOT have to eat the head. Bugs are generally eaten whole — head, legs, wings, internal organs and all. MICHAEL ZACHARY, PHOENIX, ARIZ. Thoughts on the new Science News: The new magazine is Slicker and Thicker — but no longer Quicker — than the morning commute!! A tremendous loss of its finest feature. NORMAN MACRITCHIE, HONOLULU, HAWAII I’ve been a subscriber for about 20 years, give or take a few. When I read that you were contemplating major changes, I got very nervous about what you might do to my cherished magazine. I’ve seen what new and improved can look like, and it hasn’t been pretty or useful. But my fears were unfounded. I am one of those readers who would amass several issues and then catch up when I had some time, usually when I traveled. I am enjoying the alternate week schedule now. The format is an improvement. I like the way you’ve collected related news articles under their relevant headings and how feature articles run longer. And I especially appreciate the opportunity to pursue some of the pieces in greater depth on your website. Congratulations for dancing into the 21st century in such fine form. DEBORAH FELLER, NEW YORK, N.Y.