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Change, Water, & The Man Who Love Giving Scientific Birthday Presents (Reading Notes 7.10.18)

Resource: 58 years ago


The world looks radically different today than it did in the 1960’s. Our options for entertainment, healthy eating, professional opportunities, relating to one another, and so much more have improved in major ways. And these improvements are the result of people being willing to initiate change.

The world will change even if we don’t want it to. We can’t change the fact of change, but we can change the direction in which it moves.


“There is no normal. Simply the relentless cycle of change.”

“There is no normal, but we can always work to make things better.”

Resource: The Mystery and Might of Water


Water is powerful force and profound mystery that imposes and intrigues simply by being itself.

The sound created by the movement of water at different paces and across different surfaces expresses itself with a musical quality.

I don’t want to take too many notes on this piece or else I’ll simply absorb it into my self-help context vortex. As with many of Popova’s writings, I want to let her sharings and offerings marinate.


“This is the river. Water, that strong white stuff, one of the four elemental mysteries, can here be seen at its origins. Like all profound mysteries, it is so simple that it frightens me. It wells from the rock, and flows away. For unnumbered years it has welled from the rock, and flowed away. It does nothing, absolutely nothing, but be itself.”

“The sound of all this moving water is as integral to the mountain as pollen to the flower. One hears it without listening as one breathes without thinking. But to a listening ear the sound disintegrates into many different notes — the slow slap of a loch, the high clear trill of a rivulet, the roar of spate. On one short stretch of burn the ear may distinguish a dozen different notes at once.”

“The most appalling quality of water is its strength. I love its flash and gleam, its music, its pliancy and grace, its slap against my body; but I fear its strength. I fear it as my ancestors must have feared the natural forces that they worshipped. All the mysteries are in its movement. It slips out of holes in the earth like the ancient snake. I have seen its birth; and the more I gaze at that sure and unremitting surge of water at the very top of the mountain, the more I am baffled. We make it all so easy, any child in school can understand it — water rises in the hills, it flows and finds its own level, and man can’t live without it. But I don’t understand it. I cannot fathom its power.”

Resource: Stephen Jay Gould’s Charming Poem for Oliver Sacks’s Birthday, Read by Bill Hayes


On Oliver Sacks’s eccentric affinity for chemistry and brithdays:

“For decades, he celebrated his dual love of chemistry and birthdays by acquiring a physical form of the chemical element with the periodic table number corresponding to the age he was turning that year.”

“On Sacks’s gadolinium birthday in 1997, the great science writer Stephen Jay Gould composed a very bad, very lovely poem celebrating his friend’s scientific loves and lovable eccentricities. This playful cascade of allusions to Sacks’s influential books and the singular enchantments of his personhood appears in On the Move (public library) — Sacks’s sublime memoir of a life fully lived, in which he recounts Gould’s warm generosity in hosting birthday parties, writing birthday poems, and always baking a birthday cake using his mother’s recipe.”

by Stephen Jay Gould

This man, who’s in love with a cycad
But once could have starred in a bike ad
King of multidiversity
Hip! Happy birth-i-day
You exceed what old Freud, past head psych, had.
One legg’d, migrained, color blinded
Awak’ning on Mars, and hat-minded
Oliver Sacks
Still lives life to the max
While his swimming leaves dolphins behinded.


Intrigued by Oliver Sacks and his practice of giving a representation of the chemical element of your age as a birthday gift. I love his passion and eccentricity. Very intrigued by his memoir. He seems to have been a very passionate and intelligent man who lived a full life. Will read the Brainpickings article about his On the Move book tomorrow as a preview.

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