Thinking big

Peter Campbell

  • Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition by Ed Regis
    Viking, 308 pp, £16.99, September 1991, ISBN 0 670 83855 1

Great ideas share skulls with foolish thoughts. Nonsense runs with greatness, like vermin in a zoo, and no intellectual pesticide can guarantee to kill it and leave truth alive. Common sense has a particularly bad track record as a check on what is possible. So Newton, who dabbled in alchemy, would understand the characters in Ed Regis’s history of fin-de-siècle scientific hubris – subtitled ‘Science Slightly over the Edge’, it tells stories, mainly from the Seventies and Eighties, of some of the wilder projects of scientists, engineers and DIY enthusiasts. Once you start thinking on a really big scale there is no simple way of of separating the reasonable from the silly. Today’s impossibilities (immortality, travelling to the ends of the galaxy, mining the Sun, building living organisms from scratch) seem only a step or two away from a project like getting a man on the Moon. And that, only yesterday, was said by Astronomers Royal and leader writers on the New York Times to be, demonstrably, not on. Why should one be talked down from one’s tree by the kind of people who made that booboo?

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