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See Inside Scientific American Volume 310, Issue 4

50 Years Ago: Dyson on Detecting Alien Life

Innovation and discovery as chronicled in past issues of Scientific American
MECHANICAL HELP


MECHANICAL HELP: Horse-powered harvesting machine, 1864
Credit: SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, VOL. X, NO. 14; APRIL 2, 1864

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April 1964

LSD and Psilocybin

“The hallucinogens are currently a subject of intense debate and concern in medical and psychological circles. At issue is the degree of danger they present to the psychological health of the person who uses them. This has become an important question because of a rapidly increasing interest in the drugs among laymen. The recent controversy at Harvard University, stemming at first from methodological disagreements among investigators but subsequently involving the issue of protection of the mental health of the student body, indicated the scope of popular interest in taking the drugs and the consequent public concern over their possible misuse.”

Dyson Review

“James R. Newman's review of Interstellar Communication in your February issue is written with his usual mixture of wit and wisdom. All of us who think seriously about the detection of extraterrestrial intelligence know that we suffer from one basic limitation. Our imagined detectors detect technology rather than intelligence. And we have no idea whether or not a truly intelligent society would retain over millions of years an interest in or a need for advanced technology. Under these circumstances it is best to admit frankly that we are searching for evidence of technology rather than of intelligence. —Freeman J. Dyson”


April 1914

Age of the Sun, Revisited

“Adopting the well-known hypothesis of [Hermann von] Helmholtz, which attributes the production of the heat emitted by the sun to its contraction, an idea can be formed of the sun's duration. If one gives to the sun a coefficient of expansion intermediate between that of mercury and that of gas, one arrives at the conclusion that it has taken one to three millions of years for the sun to contract to its present radius. Finally, the sun will take 200 millions of years to contract from its present radius to half that radius, and even then its temperature at the surface will be 3,000 degrees.”

Reading Is Obsolete

“The schools have been remiss in that they have not with sufficient alacrity adapted themselves to the changing conditions of social and economic life. Nearly three fourths of the children who leave school when the law allows, do so not because of direct economic pressure in the home, but because the school has lost its grip upon the children. This is to be explained by the fact that the schools continue to give to all the children just that particular pabulum which was satisfactory a generation or two ago to a small fraction—a selected fraction—of the children. But the mass of the children are different from that selected fraction in just this, that they are thing-minded, motor-minded, not word- or symbol-minded, like their teachers.”


April 1864

Mechanical Muscle

“The labor of loading hay in the field is very fatiguing on a hot summer's day, and on large farms, where heavy crops are grown, the labor is very severe. It is desirable that this work should be done by machinery, not only to exempt the farmer from hard work, but to facilitate the operation, and thus greatly lessen the cost of production. By the use of the self-loading arrangement, herewith illustrated, the farmer or his assistants can ride from one end of the field to the other, as the machine is operated by the progress of the team.”

Vultures Everywhere

“One of the most alarming signs of the times in which we live is the extraordinary and villainous speculations now rife in Wall street, in the shape of gold and other mining operations. Bogus companies are forming every day, whose foundations are as the ‘baseless fabric of a vision.’ We warn the people to beware of these swindlers—they should shun them as they would the gambling-hells of the city. These vile schemes are incubated and hatched in the region of the Stock Exchange, and are designed to entrap the innocent and unwary. Every one of them ought to be indicted by the Grand Jury, and the guilty swindlers sent to Sing Sing.”

This article was originally published with the title "50, 100 & 150 Years Ago."

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