June 30th, 2012

the last of the curiosi

Image: Leif Parsons.

Justin Smith speaks of the loss of a bygone approach to science — a philosophical, curiosity-bound sort — leaving philosophy out in the cold as a separate and constrained entity in contemporary society.

Now surely it is a good thing that today there are, say, helminthologists, who can devote all their time to the study of worms without having to worry about how these creatures fit into the cosmic order, or into God’s design, as you wish. But if helminthology has cleared away the cosmological dross that weighed it down back when it was part of natural philosophy, philosophy meanwhile may have lost something that once helped to fuel it: a curiosity about the world in all its detail, a desire to know everything encyclopedically, rather than to bound its pure activity off from the impure world of worms and so on, a world philosophy might approach through that succinct preposition, of — as in “philosophy of physics,” “philosophy of law” — which permits philosophy to stand apart, and implicitly above, the mundane objects of its attention.

Read The Flight of Curiosity (2011) at NYTimes Opinionator.

June 30th, 2012

the ritual of restaurant wine tasting

Having worked as a waiter in a restaurant, I sometimes wondered what was the point of allowing the host to taste the wine before drinking even when the wine came from a bottle with a rubber cork or a screwtop (therefore making it impossible for the wine to be ‘corked’).

Alex at Museum of Hoaxes points out that there is of course more to the tasting than the tasting itself. It is a ritual by which the experience of drinking wine is given more importance and meaning, and the host is honoured by being given the first taste. Alex refers the Encyclopedia of Esoteric Man:

‘Tasting’ used to be the common preliminary rite in ancient times. Generally the first drink was taken by the chief of a tribe because he had to be served first as the representative of the god. It also symbolically lifted the taboo that prohibited drinking on ordinary occasions, and neutralized the mana that inheres in sacramental drinks. It was also an assurance to guests that the drink was not poisoned.

Even today in western society the man ordering a bottle of wine for his companions, or offering wine to guests, often has the first sip from his glass and then has the other glasses filled. This is a survival of the old ‘tasting’ custom, by which the host ‘approved’ the drink, and ensured that it was free from poison. In Moslem countries the ruler had an official taster, and only after he had tried the sultan’s food and drink in his presence without ill effects, did the latter partake of them himself.

Encyclopedia of Esoteric Man

June 29th, 2012

tea caddy

Ornate tea chest for storing loose leaves. Image by Hans Grobbe via wikipedia.

June 28th, 2012

would you like to come up and see my etchings?

Steven Pinker explains the phenomenon whereby we speak indirectly at one level of conversation as a means of insurance protecting the status of the relationship in question while we are negotiating on another level.

June 12th, 2012

monkey orchid

Nature doesn’t need an audience. These wonderful orchids come from the south-eastern Ecuadorian and Peruvian cloud forests from elevations of 1000 to 2000 meters and as such not many people throughout history got to see them. However, thanks to intrepid collectors we do get to see this wonderful Monkey Orchid. Someone didn’t need much imagination to name it though, let’s face it.

This is one of the most incredible adaptations I’ve seen.. More about the Monkey Orchid at kuriositas.

June 9th, 2012

automatically aligning the mushrooms

(via kottke)

June 7th, 2012

bacteria born boots

English designer Suzanne Lee is working with a biodegradable leather-like material she grows herself in a bathtub, using bacteria, yeast and green tea. BBC Video.

See her website biocouture.co.uk

June 3rd, 2012

what am I looking at?

I don’t really know how Shikhei Goh achieves such quality in his macro photography. I’ve never seen anything like it. But judge for yourself here. Above is a close-up of a dragonfly. (via boingboing)






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