Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Perpetual Quest for Perpetual Motion

Before the discovery of the laws of thermodynamics, there was no particular reason to doubt that a physical process could continue forever - no reason, that is, save the fact that it has never been observed.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Teaching Handball

Last week I had the opportunity to teach conjecturally-medieval handball to eight eager students and get them playing the game. Here are my current thoughts on how to get it going successfully.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The folkloric roots of science fiction

There are a lot of claimants to the title of inventor of science fiction - Hugo Gernsback, Mary Shelley, and more. But although it hasn't always been seen as a distinct, special sort of fiction, telling stories that incorporate an element of presently-impossible technological achievement and imagining speculative worlds has been part of human civilization forever. Many of the early stories, however, are folklore rather than speculation, and so we don't usually consider them when we discuss the emergence of the genre.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Bestiaries as Moral Philosophy

Today the term "Bestiary" conjures up the notion of a listing of monsters, perhaps as suggestions for devious Dungeon Masters. But in fact, the surviving historical bestiaries are a product of monastic scribes, and most of what they contain has some surprises. Many of the more exotic and legendary beasts are even stranger than you probably expected - but much of the content is descriptions of utterly mundane animals, from the goose to the bear. They are works of natural science from an era before science existed in a form we would recognize, written by clergymen and so infused with medieval Christian moral philosophy.