fbpx

Margaret Wertheim

article placeholder

David Leavitt’s The Indian Clerk

From what source does mathematics arise? Is it divine inspiration, secular intellectual labor, or the pure play of human imagination? For the Indian mathematical genius Srinivasa Ramanujan, the answer lay definitively with the divine. Ramanujan believed that the extraordinary equations and formulas he produced throughout his life were “written on......
Illustration by Brooks Salzwedel

Mr. Magneto

In the fall of 2003, David Wilson stood behind a podium at the Santa Monica Museum of Art and began what must surely be one of the more curiously riveting lectures in that institution’s history by presenting to the art-savvy audience a cardboard tube wrapped in wire. Admirers of Wilson’s......

8 Reasons Why Going Back to the Moon Is Loony

In January 2004, President Bush committed the U.S. to returning to the moon by 2020. No human has set foot on our celestial satellite for 30 years, but many space enthusiasts believe the moon should be our staging post for journeys to Mars, a destination Bush has also made a......
A worker termite (Zootermopsis nevadensis) and another specimen's gut tract

Gut Reactions

One of the talents OF GREAT ARTISTS is knowing when to stop, recognizing the moment when a work has reached its maximum potential and having the self-control to put down tools and leave well enough alone. Termites would have brilliant careers, and gallery representation, if only they could acquire this......
Spider TV: Portia attacks virtual prey.  Courtesy Dr. Duane Harland

The Itsy-Bitsy Spider

In the current version of King Kong, the mighty ape does battle with a giant spider, a recasting of a legendary scene that was cut from the original at the last moment. Unlike apes — for whom, amid the carnage, we can still feel sympathy — spiders have always been......

8 Reasons Why Going Back to the Moon Is Loony

In January 2004, President Bush committed the U.S. to returning to the moon by 2020. No human has set foot on our celestial satellite for 30 years, but many space enthusiasts believe the moon should be our staging post for journeys to Mars, a destination Bush has also made a......

Think Globally, Act Santa Monically

Photo by Elizabeth PerrinAs recreationeers mill around licking ice creams and waiting their turn, the giant Ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier turns against a perfect sky. Overhead, seagulls squawk belligerently, demanding crumbs, while beneath us, the sea splashes indolently against the pylons. It’s a scene that could be......

Battlefield Earth

Illustration by Ronald KurniawanOrganisms are not the only things subject to evolutionary change. In the ecology of ideas, scientific theories also undergo metamorphosis, evolving from one form into another and gradually altering their shape and outline over time. Probably no theory has been through more of an evolutionary process than......

The Imageers

If the history of art from the Renaissance on may be characterized as a movement from literal pictographic representation to increasingly arcane abstraction, the history of science has more or less followed the opposite trajectory. In the 18th century, the great French mathematician Joseph Louis Lagrange boasted that his monumental......

I Think, Therefore I Am — Sorta

Illustration by Travis ChathamDateline: An unnamed Iraqi village. Locale: Hospital reception room. Décor: Tattered, rundown, rudimentary. The captain’s mission: To obtain information about the local medical facilities. On the computer screen in front of me, an animated Army captain is attempting to speak with an Iraqi hospital receptionist. This is......