From the December 16 & 23, 1933, issues

STRENGTH OF CRATES TESTED BY TOSSING

An important phase of the work of the timber mechanics department of the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory at Madison, Wis., has been to perfect the designing and nailing of these boxes so that their durability is greater. Chemically treated nails and reinforcement by diagonal braces have given more rigidity to a crate than the use of a high-grade wood could.

“The mechanical baggage man” of the Forest Products Laboratory has given the technicians this information. This mechanical man is none other than a 14-foot hexagonal drum that revolves vertically. Inside, sharp edges of wood and metal project, so that with every revolution of the wheel, the box receives six meter-recorded bumps. In 10 minutes, the container receives all the hard knocks of a 1,000-mile journey by freight or express. Because of the effectiveness of the “baggage man,” thirty-five industries have duplicated him.

MATHEMATICIANS ABANDON ARISTOTLES LOGIC

The persistence of mathematicians in sticking to the Aristotelian laws of logic is an example of the “unscratchable stupidity of the human race,” in the opinion of Dr. E.T. Bell, mathematician of the California Institute of Technology at Pasadena.

Mathematicians had been getting into trouble on account of following logic for thousands of years and they did not know what to do about it, Dr. Bell told a meeting of Sigma Xi. A hundred years ago, an exactly analogous difficulty had been overcome in the field of geometry when Lobatchevsky, a Pole, first showed that a non-Euclidean geometry could be worked with complete satisfaction. Since then, infinitely many non-Euclidean geometries have been developed ignoring the famous “parallel postulate.” Mathematicians all know about this, yet it was only 3 years ago that Lucasiewicz and Tarski, also Poles, had the sense and audacity likewise to ignore Aristotle.

Every intelligent and conscientious person has had difficulty answering the question: “Is this statement true or false?” The first improvement of the old logic was to show that one could allow, besides the answers “yes” and “no”,; the third answer “possibly”,; and still work out a complete system of inference. In this sense, truth could be three-valued and still be logical. Then it was found by other workers that there could be any number of gradations of truth, even infinitely many.

These logics of “many-valued truths” are really closer to scientific matters than the true-false logic of Aristotle. In fact, the branch of mathematics that is most important in science, namely, the theory of probability, has only now been put on a satisfactory basis by two Germans, von Mises and Reichenbach. There had been 300 years of practically sterile discussions of this subject on the basis of the older logic, and meanwhile scientific workers could only hope that the imperfect theory of probability would not lead them astray. Of course, Dr. Bell said, it often did, but this will be less excusable in the future.

TREES BEARING GIFTS

Christmas trees are always decked with tinsel frost and cotton snow, even in the South where children rarely see such wonders. Snow is inseparable from the idea of a Christmas tree; indeed, in the pre-Christian days in northern Europe the green of the tree, mysteriously defiant of the white winding-sheet of snow that carried all other leaves down in death, stood as a symbol of the hopes of the returning sun.

Medieval Christianity willingly adopted and adapted for its own uses this kindliest of the old pagan observances, with very little change in the symbolism. Modern science, however, goes a step beyond, and finds in the white snow that lies beneath the trees and nestles among their branches not an image of death but the very material that will be most needed and used by the abundant life that will teem in the forests and over the wide fields beneath, when spring returns again. Snow, the best gift showered down by the gray winter heavens, is kept for us through guardianship of the trees.

They hold out their arms and prevent the wind from blowing it away. They stand against the climbing sun of early spring and keep him from melting it away too soon. The interlaced fingers of their roots hold the soil against the terrible eroding power of racing free water, even in the smallest streams. The litter of dead leaves and the spongy ground beneath soak up the water that trickles down and release it gradually through long thirsty weeks in summer, when bare rock has long since become a skeleton and even the prairie grasses are beggars under the hot scorn of the drought.

In this great service, little trees as well as great are effective guardians of the great gift of snow. Even the humble, too-often-despised proletariat bushes do their part of the work; for recent research in forestry has shown that brushland is almost as good as mature forest when it comes to holding snow and water, and in preventing erosion.

SCIENCE MARCHES ON

Science progressed steadily on all of its frontiers during 1933, despite the chaotic economic state of the world, hampering reductions in the support of scientific research and severe interference with science in some national areas.

Outstanding groups of science achievements were:

  1. Experimental evidence for the conversion of energy into matter, confirmation of the positive electron (positron), continued exploration of cosmic rays, continued development of high-voltage electricity, and attacks upon the atom.
  2. Determination of the properties of heavy or mass two hydrogen isotope (deuterium) and heavy water containing it, new processes for making available sulfur, phosphoric acid, and other chemical substances.
  3. Demonstration of multiple hormones of the pituitary influencing bodily activity, discovery of an antidote to bichloride of mercury, the development of surgical technique for complete removal of a lung.
  4. More evidence that modern man is as ancient as some of the more primitive extinct human races, unearthing of ruins of the Athenian Senates royal palace at Persepolis.
  5. Stratosphere flights in U.S. and U.S.S.R., a record round-the-world solo flight, a number of long-distance flights.
  6. Renewed explorations of the polar regions, disastrous floods in China, the conclusion of meteorological research in the International Polar Year, the record of 20 tropical storms in U.S.
  7. The beginning of a planned U.S. Agriculture, warfare against Dutch elm disease and grasshoppers.
  8. Demonstration that the newborn can see objects and differentiate between degrees of illumination, development of a new physiological index to personality, discovery that apes are capable of the use of symbols.

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