Curiosity is a wonderful monograph by British science writer Philip Ball. He chronicles how, many centuries ago, under the influence of religion, curiosity became a shameful characteristic, a twin to arrogance (mostly because being curious signaled you weren’t content to merely gawp in gratitude at God’s creation). Eventually, to humankind’s credit, curiosity morphed into a trait celebrated for its role in scientific progress.
At my request, Ball’s U.S. publisher, the University of Chicago Press, sent me three hardcover copies to give away to readers of this blog.**
Here are, in my highly subjective opinion, the three most entertaining submissions, in no particular order.
Mario Strada: Reading a newspaper underwater
As a kid (and likewise as an adult) I could not pass up a chance to read anything put in front of me. I was a voracious reader and to prove that point, I was once scuba diving with my uncle and my dad. While exploring the depths off the coast I saw a newspaper on the sea bottom and I decided to go down and retrieve it (even back then I hated trash). As I grabbed it, I realized it had an interesting article about something (forgot what) and I started reading it until both my dad and my uncle caught me. It has been part of family lore ever since: reading the paper 40 feet deep.
Joan Opyr: Water and electricity don’t mix
When I was seven, I decided to perform an experiment with my sister’s baby bottle. I filled it with water, put the nipple on, and then dripped water onto a hot light bulb. It took ten drops for the bulb to explode. When my mother discovered the soaking wet socket, I went on to do an ethnographic participant-observer study of corporal punishment. Was it worth it? Yes. I constructed my later experiments more carefully and learned not to reveal too much to outsiders in the early stages.
The final story is not for the squeamish. Consider yourself warned!
Lou Jost: I gave birth to a maggot
I noticed I had an odd mosquito bite on my arm, and it kept getting bigger. One day, I looked closely at it and was shocked to see a tiny breathing tube bobbing in and out of my arm. I instantly knew this is the larva of a human botfly, which lays its eggs on a mosquito’s belly. When the mosquito bites a mammal, the warmth of the victim’s body makes the egg hatch. The little maggot then digs into the mammal’s body and sets up shop.
No one ever sees the fly. I was curious about it, so I decided to raise my maggot to adulthood. It made an egg-sized lump near my shoulder, always with that infernal breathing tube bobbing in and out of the breathing hole. Bits of blood and pus would leak out, but I made a plastic dome over the hole so my shirts wouldn’t get bloody.
One night I gave birth. My maggot wanted to bury itself after it emerged from my arm, so I put it in a cup with soil. Three weeks later the adult fly emerged! Of course I took father-and-son pictures of it on my finger.
***UPDATE, Monday morning*** For what it’s worth, we’ve been informed that a recent episode of the Fox TV series Bones (Season 9, Episode 8) features a character who “gives birth” to a maggot in just the way Lou describes. Here’s Lou’s plausible comment on that.
* We’ve never published any maggot stories, an oversight that is hereby corrected.
** Thanks a bunch to Carrie Adams at the University of Chicago Press.