Links and Thoughts (Jan '23)
1. The term Pfeilstorch (German for 'arrow stork') is given to storks injured by an arrow while wintering in Africa, before returning to Europe with the arrow stuck in their bodies. As of 2003, around 25 Pfeilstörche have been documented in Germany.
The first and most famous Pfeilstorch was a white stork found in 1822 near the German village of Klütz, in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. It was carrying a 75-centimetre (30 in) spear from central Africa in its neck. The specimen was stuffed and can be seen today in the zoological collection of the University of Rostock. It is therefore referred to as the Rostocker Pfeilstorch.
This Pfeilstorch was crucial in understanding the migration of European birds. Before migration was understood, people struggled to explain the sudden annual disappearance of birds like the white stork and barn swallow. Besides migration, some theories of the time held that they turned into other kinds of birds, mice, or hibernated underwater during the winter, and such theories were even propagated by zoologists of the time. The Rostocker Pfeilstorch in particular proved that birds migrate long distances to wintering grounds.
2. Taken in Congaree National Park, South Carolina:
A cypress knee is a distinctive structure forming above the roots of a cypress tree of any of various species of the subfamily Taxodioideae, such as the bald cypress. Their function is unknown, but they are generally seen on trees growing in swamps. Some current hypotheses state that they might help to aerate the tree's roots, create a barrier to catch sediment and reduce erosion, assist in anchoring the tree in the soft and muddy soil, or any combination thereof.
3. From Crime and Punishment:
“Ghosts are, as it were, shreds and fragments of other worlds, the beginning of them. A man in health has, of course, no reason to see them, because he is above all a man of this earth and is bound for the sake of completeness and order to live only in this life. But as soon as one is ill, as soon as the normal earthly order of the organism is broken, one begins to realise the possibility of another world; and the more seriously ill one is, the closer becomes one's contact with that other world, so that as soon as the man dies he steps straight into that world. I thought of that long ago. If you believe in a future life, you could believe in that, too.”
“I don't believe in a future life,” said Raskolnikov.
Svidrigailov sat lost in thought.
“And what if there are only spiders there, or something of that sort,” he said suddenly.
“He is a madman,” thought Raskolnikov.
“We always imagine eternity as something beyond our conception, something vast, vast! But why must it be vast? Instead of all that, what if it's one little room, like a bath house in the country, black and grimy and spiders in every corner, and that's all eternity is? I sometimes fancy it like that.”
4. Seeds of Science has launched a new feed on its Substack: "The Best of Science Blogging" (a curated selection of the best science writing from across the internet). Here are links to the articles we have featured so far; feel free to reach out if you have anything that you think we might be interested in publishing!
Energetic Aliens (on individuals exhibiting extraordinary cognitive stamina) by Stephen Malina
The Mystery of the Miracle Year (on the stunningly productive annus mirabilis of some scientists) by Dwarkesh Patel
The Difference Between Science and the Humanities Is Reading the Classics and Making Nature: The History of a Scientific Journal by Étienne Fortier-Dubois
Drug Addicts and Deceptively Aligned Agents - a Comparative Analysis by Jan Hendrik Kirchner and Nadia Montazeri
Young Blood, Old Monsters and Rejuvenated Rodents by Patrick Wilson
5. I’m always trying to learn about more “1 of 1” people; here’s one I learned about recently:
Thomas H. “Boston” Corbett (January 29, 1832 – presumed dead c. September 1, 1894) was an American Union Army soldier who shot and killed U.S. president Abraham Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth. Corbett was initially arrested for disobeying orders, but was later released on the orders of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who referred to Corbett as "the patriot" upon dismissing him. He was largely considered a hero by the media and the public.
Known for his devout religious beliefs and eccentric behavior, Corbett drifted around the United States before disappearing circa 1888.
As a young man, Corbett began apprenticing as a milliner (also called a "hatter"), a profession that he would hold intermittently throughout his life. As a milliner, Corbett was regularly exposed to the fumes of mercury(II) nitrate, then used in the treatment of fur to produce felt used on hats. Excessive exposure to the compound can lead to hallucinations, psychosis and twitching (known as the "hatter's shakes"). Historians have theorized that the mental issues Corbett exhibited before and after the Civil War were caused by this exposure.
After working as a milliner in Troy, Corbett returned to New York City. He later married, but his wife and child died in childbirth. Following their deaths, he moved to Boston. Corbett became despondent over the loss of his wife and began drinking heavily. He was unable to hold a job and eventually became homeless. After a night of heavy drinking, he was confronted by a street preacher whose message persuaded him to join the Methodist Episcopal Church. Corbett immediately stopped drinking and became devoutly religious. After being baptized, he subsequently changed his name to Boston, the name of the city where he was converted. In an attempt to imitate Jesus, Corbett began to wear his hair very long (he was forced to cut it upon enlisting in the Union Army).
In 1857, Corbett began working at a hat manufacturer's shop on Washington Street in downtown Boston. He was reported to be a proficient milliner, but was known to proselytize frequently and stop work to pray and sing for co-workers who used profanity in his presence. On July 16, 1858, Corbett was propositioned by two prostitutes while walking home from a church meeting. He was deeply disturbed by the encounter. Upon returning to his room at a boardinghouse, Corbett began reading chapters 18 and 19 in the Gospel of Matthew (“And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee....and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake”). In order to avoid sexual temptation and remain holy, he castrated himself with a pair of scissors. He then ate a meal and went to a prayer meeting before seeking medical treatment.
6. I’m the one of the left.
7. Colin Wilson discussing Van Gogh in The Outsider:
In approaching the work of such a man as Van Gogh, an attitude of completely uncritical acceptance (such as most of us feel towards the dogmas of higher mathematics) may be more rewarding than the intellectual-critical approach. What we are most aware of in Van Gogh is that the "thought-riddled nature' has been very decisively kicked-out, and the result achieved is Lawrence's "immediacy of sense perception'. The Pro and Contra have disappeared; with the senses awakened, it becomes nonsense to talk about human misery. Certainly there is misery, but it doesn't matter. Nothing matters that any human being ever thought; only this.
8. The art of Lee Griggs:
9. Love this—from “What Can We Learn from Barnes & Noble's Surprising Turnaround?”:
By 2018 the company was in total collapse. Barnes & Noble lost $18 million that year, and fired 1,800 full time employees—in essence shifting almost all store operations to part time staff. Around that same time, the company fired its CEO due to sexual harassment claims…Could anybody fix these problems?
In the case of Barnes & Noble, the new boss was named James Daunt. And he had already turned around Waterstones, a struggling book retailing chain in Britain…
For a start, he refused to discount his books, despite intense price competition in the market. If you asked him why, he had a simple answer: “I don’t think books are overpriced.”
But the most amazing thing Daunt did at Waterstones was this: He refused to take any promotional money from publishers.
Publishers do this in order to force-feed a book on to the bestseller list, using the brute force of marketing money to drive sales. If you flog that bad boy ruthlessly enough, it might compensate for the inferiority of the book itself.
Daunt refused to play this game. He wanted to put the best books in the window. He wanted to display the most exciting books by the front door. Even more amazing, he let the people working in the stores make these decisions.
This is James Daunt’s super power: He loves books.
“Staff are now in control of their own shops,” he explained. “Hopefully they’re enjoying their work more. They’re creating something very different in each store.”
Daunt also refused to dumb-down the store offerings. The key challenge, he claimed was to “create an environment that’s intellectually satisfying—and not in a snobbish way, but in the sense of feeding your mind.”
The turnaround has delivered remarkable results. Barnes & Noble opened 16 new bookstores in 2022, and now will double that pace of openings in 2023. In a year of collapsing digital platforms, this 136-year-old purveyor of print media is enjoying boom times.
10. More Lee Griggs:
“Yesterday an oppressive storm hung over the sky, and I hurried to a neighbouring hill called Leutch...At the top I found a hut, where a man was killing two kids while his son watched him. The storm broke with a tremendous crash, discharging thunder and hail, and I had an indescribable sense of well-being and zest...Lightning and tempest are different worlds, free powers, without morality. Pure Will, without the confusions of intellect—how happy, how free.”
(unclear whether “kids” is referring to baby goats or human children…I’d like to imagine it was the latter.)
12. lol wut
13. William James (father of American psychology, all-around philosophical genius) describing an anonymous person’s experience in the Varieties of Religious Experiences (he would later admit that it was his own):
“Whilst in a state of philosophic pessimism, and general depression of spirits about my prospects, I went one evening into a dressing-room in the twilight…when suddenly there came upon me, without any warning, just as if it called out of the darkness, a horrible fear of my own existence. simultaneously, there arose in my mind the image of an epileptic patient I had seen in the asylum, a black-haired youth with greenish skin, entirely idiotic, who used to sit all day moving nothing but his black eyes, and looking absolutely non-human. This image and my fear entered into a species of combination with each other. That shape am I, I felt, potentially. Nothing I possess can defend me from that fate if the hour should strike for me as it struck for him. There was such a horror of him, and such a perception of my own merely momentary discrepancy from him, that it was as if something hitherto solid in my breast gave way, and I became a mass of quivering fear. After this, the universe was changed for me altogether. I awoke morning after morning with a horrible dread at the pit of my stomach, and with a sense of the insecurity of life that I never knew before.”
14. Enjoying the Paperback Paradise twitter account: