Time does not heal all wounds

The last few posts and comments on them have been intense and serious.  Time for something lighter.  Yggdrasil noted that he’d sent me a link to an article  relevant to my last post.  I did have it printed out and took it up to band camp in August, but one of the coaches was writing a paper on the mathematical structure of scales using group representation theory as one tool.  I’d happened to take up a book on the subject since representation theory of groups is said to be important for chemical quantum mechanics, so I never got to Y’s link. Then I lost the paper. 

But I did find it, and a brief look showed that it appears to be full of statistical mechanics.  The reader is probably thinking at this point — this is something lighter?  

But the statistical mechanics took me back to a course I audited in grad school taught by none other than E. Bright Wilson (the Wilson of Pauling and Wilson).  He was an incredible lecturer.  He never used a note, and started each lecture at the very basics of SM, moved quickly to where he’d stopped the previous lecture and took off from there. I’d never seen anyone with such an incredible command of his subject (even including John Wheeler, Woodward rarely lectured — the seminars were pretty informal).

I do keep up with a few old friends from grad school, and somehow this year the talk got around to Wilson and his course.  My friend (now 45 years away from grad school and chair of a chemistry department) turned dark, muttering that Wilson gave him the only C he’d gotten in his whole life.

4 years ago I went to my 50 year high school reunion.  About 48 years ago it was absorbed into a regional high school.  It was such a small school (212 students in 4 grades) that anyone who’d ever gone there was invited.  We were too small to even play 6 man football but we did have a basketball team. Since we were the smallest high school in the state, we played schools 4 and 5 times our size and regularly got clobbered.  I was a fair player, good enough to start my senior year, but nothing like two guys the year ahead, who both made all county. 

So I show up at the reunion wearing my basketball warmup shirt (which I could actually fit into) and looked for other high school jocks.  One of the two stars was there. He’d gone into coaching, and we started talking about the old days. I made some polite noises about how good the two of them were. Star #1 reminisced about the night he’d scored 30 points (this was high school ball with 8 minute quarters), but he turned dark and said “that son of a bitch (star #2) scored 45 points that night”.

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  • Blue  On October 26, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    With all do respect, after reading through your post I notice that you like to drop a lot of names, play up your rather immature organic chemistry knowledge, and never actually respond to (or maybe understand) the rather detailed posts that clearly show you “calculations” to be meaningless. I’ve been reading your posts since the guest blogging days over at the old Chem Bark and have rather enjoyed some (mostly the medicine based posts). I’m at a loss to understand your blatant disregard for the faults in your logic. Are you now just trying to lure undergrads taking o chem to your site and convince them to believe in God? It all seems rather disingenuous to me. If you want to be taken seriously, respond in a way that displays your understanding of the rebuttal and counter.

  • luysii  On October 26, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    No, I’m far from a proselytizer. These are things I don’t understand and won’t accept until I do. See “Where I’m coming from” a few posts back for why.

    My organic knowledge is that of 50 years ago, and what I’ve picked up reading Clayden (about 2/3 through), so it is immature.

    But ask yourself — would I have the smarts at age 22 to come up with a project of my own that Woodward would let me work on for a PhD? I did, and my friends still in chemistry tell me that the idea was correct.

    I do plan to respond to the excellent and critical comments I’ve received. See the next few posts.

  • Blue  On October 26, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    I did not intend to offend you. I rarely comment on blogs but I wanted you to understand the impression that you are giving. Who you worked for does not impress me. Link to your publications and your science may, but analysis of elementary organic chemistry (ie Claieden) demonstrates that you fundamental understanding is at a level of a (current) first year grad student at best. That is not meant to offend. What is odd is someone that claims to be a scientist ignores the arguments and keeps regurgitating an obviously flawed outlook. If I tried and publish such obviously incorrect logic without hard data or at least sound theoretical arguments I would not be a scientist for long. When you disregard the facts you sound like an evangelist. Again, I am not saying this to offend you, but to let you know your scientific credentials are not based on who you know but what YOU do. Make a convincing argument (that demonstrates you actually understand what a number of people have tried to explain) and I am willing to listen.

  • Wavefunction  On October 27, 2010 at 9:27 am

    I don’t want to add to the arguments here or appear as an apologist, but let me say this. I have been reading Retread’s musings for a long time too. I disagree with things that he says and have even strongly disagreed with his arguments about protein evolution, but one thing I can say is that most of his blog posts are thought-provoking. I have found few such blogs around. He asks fundamental questions which often force us “professional” scientists to take a hard look at basic concepts. At the very least they affirm our understanding which cannot be a bad thing. I don’t think Retread ever claimed to be a professional working scientist himself. I appreciate your sentiments, but I think it’s far more useful to criticize the science than the style. If you think the arguments are flawed, it would be much more helpful if you commented on and criticized the science itself in the comments section of the relevant posts. Plus, I don’t think it’s necessary at all for a scientist to be right all the time. I am a big fan of Freeman Dyson’s statement- “It”s better to be wrong than to be vague”.

    As for the stories, they are just entertaining and sometimes instructive stories and should be accepted as such; I don’t think they are supposed to constitute name-dropping. I for one enjoy reading about characters from the history of science. Others may not. I think that’s just a personal preference. Anyway, end of rant!

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