Friday, March 18, 2016

LOTS of food for thought

When my daughter started school and when she went to college, there was always just one thing I was watching out for: was her curiosity still intact? Was she still finding the world interesting and was that interest still motivating?

I ask the same of myself, but especially now in my Third Third. The idea of stagnation is anathema to me, and now it’s compounded by believing that curiosity fights off cognitive decline (and seeing my mother in New York leaves me especially worried about that).

Mostly, I’ve always been curious. My brain is like a garbage disposal that can’t turn off. With no food in it, it just whirls and grinds away relentlessly but pointlessly. But with food – and New York City provides SO MUCH food – it’s useful and productive. It processes.

Here are some of the things I’m wondering about now. I haven’t been able to sleep until I Google some of them, but I’ll probably need to check some books out of the library.
  • In the Hayden Planetarium show “Dark Universe,” Neil deGrasse Tyson (one of my heroes), said that when things move away from us, their light waves “redshift,” that from our position in the universe, everything is moving away from us. He distinctly said that from ANY point in the universe, everything is moving away from it. How can that be? Something has to be in front of something. In fact, one of the panels mentioned the galaxy “in the foreground,” so wouldn’t it be chased by the galaxies in the background? This bothers me.

  • During World War II, book publishers turned out 123 MILLION Armed Services Editions of little, skinny (but complete) versions of titles so soldiers could fit them in their pockets. The author of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn received 10,000 letters from grateful GIs (according to the New York Public Library program by the author of When Books Went to War). I want to find a skinny book!
  • From the American Museum of Natural History “The Secret World Inside You,” I discovered that a baby’s passage through the mother’s birth canal is crucially important to bathe it in valuable bacteria. Doctors are now looking at swabbing babies born through Caesarean section with the bacteria to prevent things like asthma and food allergies. I am SO GLAD I gave my daughter bacteria!

  • In the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, I saw Jenny E. Sabin’s gorgeous, knitted pavilion. She made it of solar active yarns so it lights itself up at night. It is truly spectacular and my drawing wouldn’t do it justice so you can click through for more photos here. Just imagine being under it.
  • I learned about Voronoi polygons at the Museum of Mathematics on Pi Day (3/14/16). If you have a few points and you divide them up so a region (shaped like a polygon) is closest to one point than any neighboring one, they’re Voronoi polygons. A bazillion kids on a field trip danced on a floor that changed shapes and colors every time a kid moved. John Snow, who identified the water pump that spread cholera in London (another hero of mine), used these to find the pump. He must have plotted all the deaths and saw they were closest to that one pump.
  • A Jewish man in Georgia, Leo Frank, was sentenced to death for murdering a young girl. When evidence showed it couldn’t be him, the governor commuted the sentence, but a group kidnapped him from prison and lynched him. The group included the former governor, mayors, and state legislators. They were never punished, and they subsequently revived the KKK. I learned this at the Museum of Jewish Heritage.
I realize this is all pretty boring, listed out like this. I learned from brilliantly designed exhibits, with things you could touch and see, bright graphics and clear visuals. My New York experience is mostly real life and real culture, and I pick up most of what I learn through osmosis (although I manage to forget that the D train is an express and I keep ending up on my way to the Bronx with no way to get off).

But these museums, these programs, these institutions are smoldering hubs for curiosity. I am really, really good at unearthing every program, talk, exhibit, tour, or event I can; the table is littered with flyers, newspapers, programs, and handouts.
I am a glutton and curiosity hog, New York is a never empty banquet, and I only have a month to feast.


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