Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Philip Morrison, 89, died April 22

New York Times Obituary

His book reviews in Scientific American, written with his wife Phylis, used to be one of the highlights of the month. Every holiday season they had a children's book column, which was a wonderful source of gift ideas.
I attended one of his Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence lectures in 10-250 at MIT. On the one hand, the whole idea was to find bug-eyed monsters in outer space, on the other hand, he was full of practical nuts-and-bolts communication and engineering details. Here's article of his on the PBS web site: Hunt for Alien Worlds.
He and his wife regularly attended the ART theater in Cambridge. I was there with a friend who excitedly pointed them out at the front of the theater (he was in a wheelchair). I was very surprised that she had even heard of this particular MIT physics professor much less be able to pick him out of a crowd. It turned out his PBS series was currently showing, he had become a TV star!

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams

In case you're dead and didn't know, the book has been made into a major motion picture with a very fancy official website.
I re-read the book today, it had been awhile so I wanted to be sure I could say, with confidence, "but the book was much better".
While I remembered the book quite fondly, this time it started out as rather a disappointment, but about 2/3's of the way through I finally started snickering appreciatively.
My favorite passage from the book is so good, I quoted it for years having forgotten where I'd first seen it. Here's a mild paraphrase.
"The history of civilization passes through three distinct phases: those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication; otherwise known as the How, Why and Where phases.
The first phase is characterized by the question: How can we eat? the second by the question Why do we eat? and the third by the question Where shall we have lunch?