It’s called Exploring The World of Chemistry: From Ancient Metals to High Speed Computers, by John Hudson Tiner. It tells the story of chemistry’s development. And it’s written with the level of simplicity I need in order to (sorta) understand such complex subjects as alpha particles and spectroscopes and just why it is that inert elements have a valance of zero.
Like I ever cared before, right?
But my favorite seventy-year-old friend says that that she is on a quest to learn everything there is to learn before she dies. A senseless but stimulating goal, yes? “Dementia prevention,” is a phrase she taught me. Also the very sensible answer of “why not?” when I ask her WHY she wants to know something.
Maybe I had her in mind when I pulled a chemistry book off my mom’s bookstore shelf while I waited boredly (lovely adverb that) for some customers to finish their shopping and come to the counter to pay.
Or maybe I was thinking of what I call “connectors”: the miniature black air that connects one spider-fingered neuron in my brain to the next. (The official term for them is synapses, I found when I looked it up just now.) When I learn something new, I imagine a brand new intricate pathway being forged across the synapses of my brain. As a writer, the richer and more intricate these connections, the richer and more intricate my writing, and that is a reason to learn even more sensible than “why not?”
Chemistry, I thought, when I saw that chemistry book on the shelf, is near the top of my most-boring-subject list. It is also a subject I know almost nothing about. “Why not?” So, while I waited on Mom’s customers, I opened up the chemistry book and read.
I found myself instantly fascinated, by the very first story on the very first page. Did you know that meteorites were once considered a myth by scientists? They thought them just ignorant legends of falling stones. Did you know that while ancient peoples put the iron of the falling stones to good use in tools and knives, a much more civilized 18th century scientist said, “The fall of stones from the sky is physically impossible”? And that Thomas Jefferson said, “I find it easier to believe that a Yankee professor would lie than that stones would fall from heaven”?
I know those things, now. (Makes a person want to give a bit more credence to all those UFO stories, doesn’t it?) And all the interesting information I am gaining makes me want to try learning something outside my field of expertise more often.
I challenge you to try it, too. Just maybe that off-the-wall, completely-unlike-you subject will become your new favorite hobby; a tried and true recipe; valuable debate material; a life-saving, robber-chasing technique. Certainly it will aid in dementia prevention.