Tuesday, September 05, 2006

"Weapons: A Pictorial History" by Edwin Tunis. Nice pen and ink drawing make me able to see the march of cleverness. On the back of the book is a drawing of a Roman phalanx, men with swords and shields in formation more or less facing a tank. Hasn't it been an adventure to get from one to the other? It's involved a lot of intelligence, I guess.

I used to have a drawn postcard that said it was from Planet Earth and included a drawing of animals, labeled "intelligent life" and a drawing a humans labeled "intelligent stupidity."

Maybe also there could be nice pen and ink drawings of the wounds made by weapons through the ages. An advantage would be that drawings might be more something people could look at, that I for example could stand to look at. Another advantage would be--hey, this is what they are for.

It's surreal to read about Los Alamos at the time that the United States government was gathering the best available minds to make a weapon, the atomic bomb because ot was partly big fun.

The phyicists got to meet the other good and great ones in their field. They were doing a good thing, stopping Hitler (except that he was stopped without their help.) They were led by a great administrator, Robert Oppenheimer. Those who had been quite smart alone or in twos or threes got to see what a community of the brilliant to unbelievable was like.

One of the physicists who stopped by Los Alamos but didn't work there said that an amazing thing about Oppenheimer was that he never made a big breakthrough discovery, which was surprising since in he very smart in a field, nuclear physics, at a time when there were many discoveries to make.

The man suggested that the thing about Oppenheimer is that he could profoundly understand 95 percent of anything in his constantly changing field very quickly. But that last 5 percent, never. And discovery is finding the next 5 or 10 or 20 percent after the last 5 percent.

His ability to understand 95 percent off all parts of the field is part of what made him a great administrator. He could talk with understanding to all of the people there. He could explain them to each other.

Something about the non-weapons equivalent of Los Alamos, where the best are gathered, there is focus, there is lots of money for the project, though not particularly for salaries.

And the best in a group discover. . . .What?

I don't even know what the best would be best at. I think many would be known locally to be quite good at knowing what was going on and maybe kind? at reacting to what was going on. Finding these people would be harder than finding the best young and old nuclear physicists.

Just getting smart enough to find them might be half the project.

And of course--gathering lots of people, lots of money--all that big project thinking might be part of the problem not part of the solution.

The Weapons picture book doesn't picture the atomic bomb. Or any bombs at all. High above them, it blows them away.

And we high above, down below assumptions about the big push to change things, we make weapons much less interesting by challenging our intelligence to really change things.