Tag Archives: science

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, by Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Astrophysics

What It’s About

Exactly what it says on the tin.

Why I Think You’d Like It

Let’s face it. The universe is astoundingly beautiful and the physics that explain it no less so, but too many of us got force fed dry formulas in math and science class; the kind that gave massive headaches and no lasting understanding, and make us avoid revisiting the subject on our own time for fear of feeling stupid. I think most of us hunger for something that will give us adult information in ways that inspire, rather than kill, a childlike sense of wonder.

If you’ve ever heard Neil DeGrasse Tyson speak, you know he’s the master of that. He transitions smoothly between playful humor and glorious philosophy, all without sounding like he thinks he’s brighter than you, or resulting to big words to beat you over the head with his intelligence. He avoids jargon if he can, and when he can’t he explains it well. At no point does he dumb it down. He respects his audience too much for that. He knows we don’t need simplifications, just words we understand.

Even as a homeschooler, (or perhaps especially because of it) I too got the shitty pass-the-test focused education. Great science educators like Tyson reawakened my fascination and got me to a place of finally understanding concepts that had been poorly explained all my life. If you’re like me, and have already been obsessed with Tyson and others like him, this book will still be worth it. There will still be things you don’t know, and the things you do will be put so well you won’t mind hearing them again. If you’re more someone who has wanted to dip into this topic for a while, this book is the perfect place to start.

Content Warnings

You’re good

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How Emotions Are Made, by Lisa Feldman Barrett

How Emotions Are Made.jpg

What It’s About

A new look at the structure of the brain, the constructs of society, and how those two combine to create the experiences we call “emotion.”

Why I Think You’d Like It

Every page got my mental wheels spinning. I thought her merger of social constructionism and neurology had interesting potential, but I had so many questions about what exactly she meant and how she dealt with some of the research that contradicted her. She dealt with them, in ways that not only answered my questions, but opened up new, exciting implications.

One of the theories she contradicts is Paul Ekman’s famous categorization of emotions and facial expressions. That’s the one that has gotten a lot of attention from the show Lie to Me and the Pixar film Inside Out. She not only provides solid counterevidence, but repeats the experiments he used to develop his theory, and lays out the flaws in his methodology. For people who aren’t already massive geeks on the topic; he claimed to demonstrate that even humans in highly isolated cultures divide cultures into variations on happiness, sadness, anger, disgust and surprise. He also said that people from any culture can readily identify the corresponding expressions. What Lisa Feldman Barrett discovered, in repeating these experiments, was that the researchers framed the studies in such a way that they were teaching their subjects Westernized categories of emotion as the experiments were performed.

That chapter alone is worth reading, because of how well it educates people about not only the interplay of emotions and culture, but the scientific method and the importance of critical thinking. I think that is especially important right now, when so many people are willing to cherry pick the studies they want. When experiments contradict, and they often do on the borders of our understanding, you do sometimes need to choose which ones to believe. But you can’t do that effectively without understanding why scientific studies often disagree, and how to compare methods to see which result is more likely to be correct.

The book also talks about social constructions not as illusions, but as realities. So often, social construct is treated as synonymous with “fake” or “insignificant,” but in truth social constructs are a natural part of how our brains work. They have implications for our lives and our ability to understand the world around us. She discusses them in a way that I think is productive and enlightening, that allows for both criticism and appreciation of how cultures affect our understanding of even our own minds.

All that content is impressive, and what’s more impressive is how Lisa Feldman Barrett fits it all in while still giving us a fun read. She has a tone that is intelligent but warm conversational, and relies more on practical examples than technical jargon. When she has to include more scientific language, she explains it in a way that is highly accessible, without making you feel like you’re being talked down to.

I went ahead and bought a copy because I knew I’d want multiple readings to process all the good stuff that’s in here. I don’t know if she has cracked the puzzle or not, but I know she gave me great ideas to mull over, and important questions to ask. When it comes to these kinds of topics, that’s the best you could possibly ask for.

Content Warnings

You’re good.

Am I Still an Atheist?

I’ve been going through some reflections on my religious beliefs/lack thereof, and for a while now I’ve been wanting to update you all. This past week I’ve been battling a nasty chest bug. Then my cassette player wasn’t working, so I got an even later start on writing the episode. I was really dissatisfied with where it was, but I wanted to post something interesting and religion related, so hopefully this is an adequate substitute. My sincerest apologies for the change.

So, when I was in my late teens and early twenties, I had an issue with the religion I had been raised with. That problem was an excess of bullshit. And to be clear, I’m not talking about all Christianity. I’m talking about the specific subculture of conservative, evangelical Christianity, which is anti-intellectual, anti-education, anti-feminist and anti-civil rights, except the really popular ones, which may be supported in a milquetoast-y way that doesn’t challenge the traditional supremacy of old white men. You know. The bullshit Christianity.

But I hadn’t yet lost faith in the existence of some kind of higher being or afterlife or greater plan for the world. I just had no conception of what that all might look like. So I did some research, on Islam and Buddhism and Baha’i and non-bullshit Christianity, and everything else. I discovered two things.

First, every religion in existence has at least one bullshit version and at least one non-bullshit version. That is to say, there is at least one version where people believe in things that science has conclusively disproved, and also look down on at least one type of person who is, you know, not actually evil. And then there’s at least one version that doesn’t so much do that. I definitely knew that I wanted to follow a non-bullshit religion.

Second, none of the non-bullshit religions claimed to offer conclusive proof that their variation was correct. This was unsettling to me. I was used to claims of logical consistency, objective truth, and absolute confidence in being right. Sure, those claims turned out to be completely unfounded, but at least those claims meant I could eventually be certain of something. I was eventually certain that they were wrong. There’s something to be said for that.

I took to praying that God, the real God, wherever he/she/it was and whatever name he/she/it went by, would divinely offer me some kind of proof. Or, failing that, at least strong personal conviction.

No guidance came, so eventually I became an atheist.

If you’re reading this hoping for a decry of how foolish that was, I’m sorry to say you’ll be at least partially disappointed. I think it was exactly where I needed to be. After twenty years steeping in highly toxic religion, I needed a detox. I needed to see what life was like without passionate, fundamentalist belief, and I needed to know it would be okay.

And, you know, I was fine. I met some atheists who were real self-righteous dicks, and I met some who weren’t. Turns out atheism too has a bullshit and non-bullshit version. The non-bullshit version is people going, “I don’t believe in any God, and I’m fine with that. I find meaning enough without religion.” The bullshit one adds, “and that makes me an inherently better person than any non-atheists.” The bullshit atheists don’t come with any specific sub-denomination, so you have to just get to know people and see which one they are.

So all that was fine. I got some remedial science education in, started a cool blog series, and figured out how to be cool with the idea that my consciousness would probably end along with my body. Good stuff.

But over the last year or so, I’ve started to feel a little tug inside towards something more spiritual.

“Huh,” I went. “That’s weird and does not fit with my current conception of the world. It is probably nothing, and will go away on it’s own.”

It didn’t.

So, back into the thinking and the researching I dove. One of the things I realized was that the thing we call “religion” has multiple functions. One is to explain the world around us. One is to provide moral guidelines. One is to provide supportive communities for personal growth. There may be others, but those are the big ones. Or the ones I am most interested in.

The trouble with the explanation aspect is that eventually science starts catching up and measuring things that were once based on faith. This upsets religion, quite a lot. Religion does not like being told that it’s random guess was wrong, and has been wrong for generations. Unfortunately, in these arguments, science usually has the receipts. Personally, I think religion should officially retire from this function, and delegate it to science.

Now, unlike many skeptical materialists, I don’t pretend science is perfect at this function. Science is a slow and complicated process. For example, we haven’t properly disproven an afterlife, or a soul. It’s just that neither of those are things that fit well into everything else we know about death and the human brain. But also there’s a lot we generally don’t know about those things, so, the honest scientific answer to “is there such a thing as an afterlife?” is “I dunno. It’s really hard to research that.”

Now, people don’t like “I don’t know yet” as an answer, especially to questions with such existentially profound implications. So people seize on either the few tests that confirm their pre-existing biases, or just dress up those biases with words that sound very sciencey. People on both sides of these kinds of questions do that. But I think, even with this caveat, science is better than religion at figuring out facts. We just need to get better at accepting incomplete answers.

I could write a whole post on that. On to the next function.

Religion, I think, does help communities form moral philosophies. It’s very hard to make moral arguments from purely scientific standpoints, because science doesn’t make value judgments. Value is something that comes from a human perspective. Religion is good at giving that subjective perspective equally subjective language, and then we can use that language to compare notes, and create an effective intersubjective framework.

But that said, the truly universal morals don’t need religion to get there. People arrive independently at them using very different contexts, and people of no religion are just as likely to be good people as those who are deeply religious. But I do think religion can be a useful tool, both for individuals and societies. It just becomes a problem when religious people create echo chambers, instead of working to broaden the reach of their religious framework, and create a generous, diverse moral community.

Again, I could write for ages on this. Let’s wrap up the final function; communities.

Religious communities can be great. You can also be a happy, complete and sociable person whose communities happen to all be non-religious. So long as you’re surrounding yourself with good, supportive people who work to make the world a better place, you do whatever works for you. I don’t think anybody should feel forced to join a religious community.

But that said, I want to join a religious community. I dunno, I guess it’s just that things that religious communities are into happen to really appeal to me? And frankly, even at the height of my atheism, I never felt good around atheist communities. I never clicked with them. Not even the communities that were pretty solidly non-bullshit. This isn’t a judgment, it’s just that I never got that, “yes, these are my people! I have no trouble being myself here!”

You know who is giving me that feeling right now? Wiccans and neopagans. I went to an event and did a lot of lurky reading, and it felt really awesome.

That doesn’t mean I’m an official warlock now. I’m exploring. After a bit more, I might find I’m out of place after all, and some other religious community suits me. Or that I am just destined to spend my life a nomad of various faith communities. I am cool with all of these options.

(and, not to get too deep into it, yes, wiccans and neopagans also come in bullshit and non-bullshit varieties. It’s almost like they are humans or something)

As I am still very much an ex-Christian, and specifically an ex-evangelical, I do still want to do my reviews of Adventures in Odyssey, as well as some more works of C. S. Lewis and a smattering of other bits of Christian pop culture. I have been thinking of a good title to replace “Reviews as an Atheist,” and I have settled on “Reviews as a Godless Heathen.” I like that phrase for myself. It sounds funny and self-depricating, but it’s also a pretty accurate description of where I am. I’m not a Christian and God isn’t really a part of my religious makeup, but other than that, I could be anything. I don’t really know, and I fully expect it will change over the years.

I’ll be updating the titles and tags accordingly, and I’ll post the next AIO review two weeks from now. Thanks as always for coming along on the journey, and take good care of yourself! You are awesome.

Nexus, by Ramez Naam

Nexus

What It’s About

In the near future, humans have found myriad ways to augment themselves. These new developments are both feared and anticipated, used and abused. A fragile balance of power lies between those who would explore the limits of transhumanist technologies and those who would limit and regulate it. When a new street drug gives people the ability to connect empathically and telepathically, however, the two forces are forced to come to a head.

Why I Think You’d Like It

As far as my personal tastes go, this is the gold standard for hard sci-fi. As much as I enjoy SF elements justified with “because it’s cool,” there is something special about intensely researched, maximally plausible science fiction. The only reason I don’t read more of it is that, too often, the characters aren’t people. For me personally, that’s an absolute dealbreaker.

Ramez Naam was a computer programmer and posthumanist philosopher long before he started writing fiction. He knows his stuff. But what I love most is how alive his characters are. He has an enormous cast to juggle; not quite to the George R. R. Martin level, but to the level of someone who has his picture on their vision board. Despite that, every one has their own distinct voice. He shows you who looks for the exits first when they enter a room, and who wanders over to the paintings on the wall, who defines themselves in relation to their past and who obsessively imagines the future, who spends most of their time admiring others and who calculates the best way to use others, and who barely thinks of other people at all. All of that happens so naturally that it took me a while to realize just why I had such an easy time keeping track of whose head I was in. This book gave me revelations on how to write characters.

I also love that, although he has his own thoughts on whether or not transhumanist evolution would be a good thing, he avoids simply dividing his cast into heroes and villains. There are characters who horrifically abuse technology that he clearly loves, and there are characters who have painfully sympathetic reasons for opposing it. While he successfully brings you around to his side, he does so without resorting to strawmen or other cheap narrative tricks. Or at least, he did with me; I think even if you’re not totally convinced, you’ll still enjoy the book, which is a testament to how well he explores the idea.

He also does representation exactly the way I think all authors should. The women all have goals that don’t revolve around men and relationships, and Bechdel’s Test is passed every few pages, with the natural ease that should be normal. Some people are randomly queer because the real world has random queer people. It starts out on the West Coast, and the characters come from an accurate variety of backgrounds. When they travel to Thailand, most of the new characters are Thai. That shouldn’t be remarkable, but you know what you mean. We’ve all seen the story set in a foreign country yet no important person is actually from there. I don’t know how accurate, say, the Thai culture is, but I can say that everybody was a person first, with gender/sexuality/ethnicity being just one among many pieces making up who they are.

All of this plays beautifully into the plot. He is telling a story about a fundamental reshaping of humanity, and to tell that story right, capturing humanity itself is essential. He absolutely nails it.

Content Warnings

It is a fairly intense book. Many factions are violent, and there are plenty of character deaths. Even when there is no actual fight scene, the threat of violence usually present.

He also explores the emotional and psychological abuses of this technology. This includes personality rewriting and taking over other people’s body. There are references to the technology being used for sexual abuses. It’s one case where I actually thought it was justified by the story. I hate it when rape is just treated as a requirement to make a story Gritty And Realistic(TM). But when violations of bodily autonomy and consent are an issue intregal your story, not acknowledging sexual violence would be a problematic oversight. One thing I appreciated was that these uses mostly happen offscreen. It mentioned as a reality and recalled as part of a few character’s backstories, but he never sucks you into a graphic scene.

There are also explicit sex scenes, but the only thing that’s portrayed as sexy is enthusiastic consent. There is one scene that might be triggering; a man is trying to hook up with a woman, and he has used a behavior modifying program to get over his awkwardness in flirting. A bug in the program causes him to lose control of his body. This is not portrayed as sexy, but equal parts scary and embarrassing. Neither of them suffer any long term harm, and if you want you can skip to the next line break without missing anything important.

Also there’s swearing, drugs and alcohol. Yeah, it’s definitely a grown-up book.

The Gene: An Intimate History, by Siddhartha Mukherjee

The Gene An Intimate History

What It’s About

A history of the discovery of the gene, the decoding of DNA, and all the difficult social and ethical questions that come with the science of genetics.

Why I Think You’d Like It

In general, I love the style of teaching science through it’s history. It’s a reminder that science is not a result, but a quest, and scientists not as austere demigods of knowledge, but fumbling discoverers who make no shortage of mistakes along the way.

In this book, it is an especially appropriate approach. Every scientific story has included the potential for abuse, but the science of genetics has been misused in some of the most horrific ways yet. Even the nuclear bomb can’t compete with the deaths and tortures we have justified with some misappropriated genetic jargon. By telling the history of genetic studies side by side with the cultural implications, Siddhartha Mukherjee brings home the importance of thinking hard about how we use and abuse genetics today.

He also tears apart the cultural abuses of science brilliantly. He starts with the justifications themselves; what people said in order to make segregation, forced sterilization and genocide sound not just socially acceptable, but enlightened. He puts you in the place of an ignorant citizen, easily impressed by anybody who sounds like they can tell a mitochondria from a protein. This is paired with reminders of the culture at the time, and the way certain lines of reasoning sound appealing as they justify pre-existing beliefs. Then, just as you’re beginning to worry about whose side he’s really on, he attacks. He lays out the lies, the misconceptions, the assumptions and outright biases. He exposes the reality of the lives affected by the various racist and toxic policies, and the actual moral questions we are left with. As he moves forward through history, you see the gaps close between antiquated notions and ideas we can find in any modern grocery store magazine stand. You see the common lineage of modern ableism, sexism and racism share with the eugenics movements of the past. He points out the flaws in saying, “well, they didn’t know better back then” by showing the questions that scientists could have asked, even with their resources at the time, but didn’t, and the dissenting voices that were ignored until it was too late.

But don’t think this is a downer book. It’s also full of the miracles and wonders of real science and true discover. The prose is fantastic as well. Siddhartha Mukherjee has a good sense of narrative rhythm, and hits a beautiful balance between thought provoking and fun to read. This history is fascinating and cool, but it’s not an abstract curiosity for any of us. He does a fantastic job reminding us of this.

This is an awesome book for anyone into science, history, politics, social justice, human rights, culture, or just learning for the sake of being a more informed person. It is fascinating and cool, but genetics not an abstract curiosity for any of us. It is inextricably linked to who we are, and how we view it will determine how we operate as a society.

Content Warnings

Nothing in a MPAA sense, but as you probably gathered, a good deal of the book covers arguments for oppression, and the real world consequences. Unless any of that would trigger actual PTSD symptoms, I’d encourage you to give this book a read. He is blunt, but not graphic, and the payoff is exponentially worthwhile.

The Tell-Tale Brain, by V. S. Ramachandran

The Tell Tale Brain

  • Genre
    • Non-Fiction, Neuroscience, Behavioral Science
  • Summary
    • A world renowned neuroscientist ponders the biological roots of human nature.
  • Information
    • God, what isn’t here? Maybe it will be easier if I just give some of the chapter titles.
    • Phantom Limbs and Plastic Brains
    • Seeing and Knowing
    • The Power of Babble – The Evolution of Language
    • An Ape With a Soul – How Introspection Evolved
    • Loud Colors and Hot Babes – Synesthesia.
    • Yeah, that’s just a sampling. He goes into everything. EVERYTHING.
  • Tone: What’s it Like to Read This Book?
    • The quotes below give a good sense of his prose style. V. S. Ramachandran has a strong sense of the poetic and the philosophical and he weaves them together with practical, empirical data to create some of the most beautiful musings on the nature of humanity.
    • He avoids one of the most common pitfalls of people writing about psychology and neuroscience; he admits that the information is actively evolving. Human behavior brings in a whole new host of variables that are hard to control for, as well as a whole new minefield of experimenter biases. I’ve read too many books and articles that say, “this particular hormone did this in that test and this in that other, therefore it definitely one hundred percent explains why teenage girls talk on the phone all the time.” Yeah, that’s a reference to an actual book I read. Ugh. Anyway, back to the positives. In this book, if he says something is well-established, it’s because it’s actually well established. Other times, he goes into further studies we should do, possible alternative explanations, and the questions we still have. Where others plop down and try to insist that where we are is where the answers are, he gets you excited about the vast unexplored horizon ahead.
    • The above is especially a relief when he starts talking about issues like autism, where so many are proud to announce their theories as if they should be crowned Ultimate Solver of All The Things before they retire to a castle on their own private island. V. S. Ramachandran has theories and presents evidence, but he has the guts to admit there’s a lot of research left to do.
    • He’s also got a wonderful gift for making the technical understandable. Even someone fairly new to the subject material can follow him easily.
  • Other Shiny Stuff
    • His theories on the roots and evolution of aesthetics are absolutely fascinating and have kept me thinking for years.
    • So much psychological and neuroscientific writing ignores the most scientifically fascinating part of humanity; the fact that we can vary in the strangest, most unpredictable, most counterintuitive ways. It creates a reductive look at human behavior and leaves people out. V. S. Ramachandran takes the opposite approach. He actively embraces humanities little varieties and quirks. He covers apotemnophilia, synaesthesia, theories on biological causes for being transgender (I really enjoyed this part) and more. Even where I disagree, or think he’s only got part of the picture, I love that he sees those things as not just part of humanity, but essential to fully understanding it.
    • There’s just too much in this book. It’s fun and fascinating and beautiful and if you like science you should read it.
  • Content Warnings
    • Not applicable
  • Quotes
    • “What do we mean by “knowledge” or “understanding”? And how do billions of neurons achieve them? These are complete mysteries. Admittedly, cognitive neuroscientists are still very vague about the exact meaning of words like “understand,” “think,” and indeed the word “meaning” itself.”
    • “Yet as human beings we have to accept-with humility-that the question of ultimate origins will always remain with us, no matter how deeply we understand the brain and the cosmos that it creates.”
    • “How can a three-pound mass of jelly that you can hold in your palm imagine angels, contemplate the meaning of infinity, and even question its own place in the cosmos? Especially awe inspiring is the fact that any single brain, including yours, is made up of atoms that were forged in the hearts of countless, far-flung stars billions of years ago. These particles drifted for eons and light-years until gravity and change brought them together here, now. These atoms now form a conglomerate- your brain- that can not only ponder the very stars that gave it birth but can also think about its own ability to think and wonder about its own ability to wonder. With the arrival of humans, it has been said, the universe has suddenly become conscious of itself. This, truly, it the greatest mystery of all.”

Hope For Endangered Species And Their World, by Jane Goodall

Hope for Endangered Species

  • Genre
    • Nonfiction, Conservation, Zoology, Ecology
  • Summary
    • Jane Goodall, together with her fellow activists Thane Maynard and Gail Hudson, investigate success stories of animal species brought back from the brink of extinction.
  • Information
    • These stories are more than just warm, fuzzy and inspiring. They reveal crucial information about the real challenges of environmentalism. It’s easy to rail against human greed and destruction. It’s harder to get into the nitty gritty of what animals can adapt to and what they can’t, about the particular behaviors and needs of diverse species, about the specific links in every ecosystem, and the things we are still learning about rare, endangered species. Every chapter will teach you something you didn’t even realize was an issue, and all the creative ways people have found to overcome it. It’s brilliant and fascinating.
  • Tone: What’s it Like to Read This Book?
    • If you’ve read any of Jane Goodall’s writing, you already know exactly what to expect, and don’t need any further convincing. For the rest of you; this book is full of love. You can feel Jane Goodall’s gentle affection for animals in every sentence. It’s also got a clear, almost homespun clarity to it. You feel like you’re a kid sitting down to tea with your coolest aunt; the one with all the stories, who seems to know everything, and who talks to you in a way that makes you feel more grown-up than you are.
  • Other Shiny Stuff
    • I think any activist, whether environmental or not, will find this book not only inspiring, but empowering. We struggle with overwhelming obstacles, whatever we fight for, and there are too few narratives that talk honestly about them. We gloss over the mistakes, the failed experiments and the setbacks. As a result, actual activism becomes far too unappealing, and it becomes easier to talk about doing than actually move. This book will show you how, even when there seems to be no hope, the battle can still be won. It shows you how small actions really can add up to bigger changes. It reminds you that it’s worthwhile to fight.
    • Each chapter is a complete story, which can be read independently of the others. I love that in non-fiction. You can go, “okay, wallabies are adorable and all, but I’m dying to know how the california condors made it! Like, they were down to single digits so how the hell do you come back from that???” And voila, you can skip straight to that part. Maybe that’s just my personal impatience talking, but there you go.
    • Beautiful animal pictures! There are both black and white photos, and glossy color plates, and every one is just stunning.
    • If you go for the audiobook, Jane Goodall reads it herself, and she has the most delightfully soothing voice.
  • Content Warnings
    • N/A
  • Quotes
    • “It was close to midnight when Brent called out: ‘There’s one!’ And I saw the eyes of a small animal shining brilliant emerald green as they reflected his spotlight. As we drove closer, I made out the ferret’s head as she looked at us, listening to the engines. She did not vanish as we cautiously drove closer. And when she did duck down, she could not resist popping up for another look before disappearing. When we eventually went over to peek down the burrow, there was her little face, peeking back at us, not at all afraid.” 

 

Activism, Self-Care and the March for Science

A confession; although I’ve been looking forward to this for months, I nearly did not go. Lately I’ve been low on spoons, and I kept asking myself what I could really contribute. One more body? If I showed up and there was a massive turnout, I would not be necessary. If I showed up and there wasn’t, I would not be enough to fix it. On the other hand, I wanted to be able to tell my kids that I showed up. History is always happening, but these days it is happening at a rather more grueling pace.

Still, couldn’t I make up my absence with more concrete action, some other day?

In the end, what convinced me to get out and brave the rain wasn’t thoughts of what I could do. It was the realization that I needed the march more than the march needed me. In the first hundred days, the liberals have won more battles than they’ve lost. But they have had to fight hard, there have been losses, and there’s still plenty of time for the tide to turn. I want to take a break. I’m scared that if I do, that means everyone else will be too, and we will all be blindsided by the next move. I needed to get out there and see clear evidence that my people are still out there.

So I showed up, meandered, listened to speeches and read people’s signs. I’m an introvert with an anxiety disorder; I don’t much like having to interact with people. But I do like being around them. I’m a passionate crowd watcher. At the march, I was surrounded by xkcd shirts, brain hats, Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes, Lorax references and political math puns (apparently if you’re pro-choice, you vote Banach-Tarski in 2020… I was barely geeky enough to get that). There were buttons proclaiming that trans is beautiful and black lives matter. Some people blew bubbles in the rain, and watching them shimmer against the grey sky was one of the most uplifting things I’ve ever seen.

And so many beautiful, dorky, incredible signs. I jotted down a few of my favorites;

  • “I only seem liberal because I think hurricanes are caused by barometric pressure, not gay marriage.”
  • A wordless portrait of Rosalind Franklin framed with plastic tube double helixes
  • (under a dead on Oregon Trail pixel drawing) “You have not died of dysentery. Thank science.”
  • “Donald, you’ll learn soon that Mar-a-lago is only 10 feet above sea level.”
  • “The earth is enormous and fragile, just like your ego. The difference is we can live without your ego.”

And my personal favorite…

  • “Science matters. Unless it’s energy. Then it equals matter times the speed of light squared.”

When I came home, I felt lighter. I also felt empowered, not least because I signed up for email lists to get more ideas for anti-fascist, pro-science and environmentalist activism. I got a reminder of just how many awesome weirdos are out there to fight ignorance and bigotry with me.

Take care of yourselves guys. Pace yourselves, join a team, sign up for a mailing list, and don’t be afraid to show up without knowing what exactly you’ll do for the cause, or how long you’ll even be able to stay. It’s okay. Just be there, to remind yourself that we aren’t doing this alone.