Welcome to the Monthly Mind Meal, a medley of all the things I’ve learned or discovered lately that I found smart, interesting, or otherwise worth sharing.
Did You Know?
Some things I’ve learned in the last month:
Did you know that, contemporaneously with the American Civil War, France invaded Mexico?
As COVID was kicking off last year, an old Bill Gates quote started doing the rounds, in which he’d said that some form of global pandemic was a matter of “not if, but when”, and humanity needed to prepare. Whoops. Well, here’s another existential threat to add to your list of worries: did you know that the next giant solar flare will fry basically all of the world’s electronics? Such a storm hit the Earth as recently as 1859, and a similar one today could kill millions and do trillions of dollars of infrastructure damage - which makes it even scarier that just such a catastrophe narrowly missed us in 2012. There are things we could do to mitigate the risk, but they’re not being done. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Everyone knows that Europeans took slaves from Africa. But did you know that there were African slaves in China as long ago as the 9th century?
Did you know that black dwarves don’t exist? And I’m not just talking about the ethnic diversity of Lord of the Rings. I vaguely remember learning as a child that a “black dwarf” is the final stage in the evolution of a star, after it’s run out of energy and no longer emits heat or light. Twenty years later I’ve learned that black dwarves are, in fact, only hypothetical - it would take longer than the current age of the universe to create one. Maybe they’ll exist zillions of years from now, by which time I might have a clue about astronomy.
Did you know that the Papacy skipped two Johns? Pope John the “twenty-third” was, strangely, only the 21st pontiff to have that name. (And I still think that Pope John Paul’s successor missed a trick by not taking the name “George Ringo”.)
Did you know that John Tyler, president of the United States from 1841 to 1845, still has a living grandson?
Some articles I’ve enjoyed lately:
Freddie deBoer, who has bipolar disorder, wrote a haunting essay this month about his experience with psychiatric drugs. As deBoer describes it, he’d be lost without these medications - yet to use them is to struggle constantly under the weight of debilitating side effects. Once again, I’m reminded of what a luxury it is to be in good health.
Everyone has at some point asked themselves what would happen if a tiny piece of the Sun was brought to Earth. Or maybe that’s only me. But in any case, thank God for the Internet, because now I have the answer.
I learnt a great new word this month: tsundoku, which is a Japanese term meaning “letting books pile up without reading them”. I have a serious case of it.
400 years ago this month, the Mayflower pilgrims were sitting in their newfound American colony when a native man strolled into town and, to their astonishment, greeted them in English. His name was Samoset, and he’d picked the language up from interacting with sailors and fisherman. A few days later he returned with another English-speaking Indian named Squanto - and the settlers’ stumbling upon possibly the only two English-speaking Indians on the entire American continent ranks among history’s stranger coincidences. This short article about Samoset and Squanto is a good read.
Will you leave a mark on history? One way to do it is to get killed by a flying lawnmower. What a way to go.
Do you miss your dead relatives? Why not resurrect them with the magic of AI? This company lets you animate old photos to bring the subjects to life, Harry Potter style. Creepy.
Speaking of bringing things back to life, this organisation is currently recruiting researchers to try and resurrect the Woolly Mammoth. How cool would that be?
Check This Out
This is the coolest drone footage I’ve ever seen:
The robot apocalypse is looking more likely every day:
And finally, some political humour:
Alright, that’s it for this month.