The Mummy’s head, Particle Physics and “Knocking on Heaven’s Door”

Picking up the 5000 odd-year-old Mummy’s Head I vaguely wondered if I had brought down an ancient Egyptian curse upon my own.  Since this was some 20 years ago and things have mostly gone OK since, either the curse has a delayed reaction or it passed me by.  In any event, it has given me an interesting story to share over coffee.  Most times, I’m the only one in the room who has held an actual mummy’s head in hand.

But not always.  If I go back to those coffees with Bruce Latimer and his pals at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, well,

mummy head handling was a pretty standard experience.

At the time, Dr. Latimer was the chief anthropologist  at the museum.  In 2008 he retired as Executive Director to pursue his teaching and research into the evolution of human walking.  His pal and mentor Kent State University anthropologist Owen Lovejoy calls Bruce “one of the most knowledgeable people in the country about human evolution.”

That last was the hook for me.  Human Evolution is one of the two areas of science in which I have a keen layman’s interest.  I’m not sure why Dr. Latimer was so generous with his time and patient with my endless questions that must have been simple-minded from his perspective, but he was.  I regret having lost touch with him since moving to New Hampshire.

The other is Particle Physics.  I almost hesitate writing that since it sounds so damn high-falutin’.  At least to a motorcycle-riding, old English major like me.  Nor do I claim anything approaching any real understanding of Quantum Mechanics but, boy-howdy, you couldn’t ask for a cooler topic.

Things at the sub-atomic are so strange, so counter-intuitive, so unlike anything we experience in our daily lives that even Albert Einstein went to his grave thinking “Man, this can’t be right.”  Yet, evidently it is.  It just works.  But don’t expect me to explain it.

Of course that’s my short-coming not that of Physics.  Lisa Randall, however, explains it very well:

Dr. Randall is not only a renouned Theoritical Physicist and Harvard Professor more importantly, at least to me, she is an engaging writer able to take complex concepts and present them in an interesting, understandable fashion.  Who knew a book on Particle Physics could be a page turner?

Want an example of just how engaging?  Check this interview:

Dr. Lisa Randall

Just carrying this book around will make you look smarter.  If you open it up and read a few pages now and again it will actually make you smarter.  It works for me.

I keep a mental list of people I’d like to have a cup of coffee with.  Dr. Randall, if you are listening, you are now at the top of my list.

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  1. femmefrugality says

    I took astronomy rather than physics in high school. On purpose. I’m sure it’s fascinating, but it makes my head hurt when you get up to that level.

    I love learning about human evolution, though. I want to get one of those mitochondrial DNA tests done, even though I’m pretty sure I know what it would say. That’s the exciting thing about them, though. They don’t always come back the way you’d think.

    • jlcollinsnh says

      It’s amazing how closely astronomy and physics intersect. If you can handle the former, I’d highly encourage you to give Dr Randall’s book a read. Or maybe just click on the links and listen to some of her interviews.

      Physics really is mind bending and she makes it more accessible than most.

      good luck with the DNA test! very cool!

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Thanks FB23…

      ..anytime. Make your way to NH and I’ll even buy.

      and thanks for all your recent comments!

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