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Genetic Computer Resources. Iren April 10, The number of college students who suffer from stress-related ailments appears to be on the rise. What's more, survey data from the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors suggests that many large institutions have not attained pre recession budgets.

The cards are stacked against counseling centers that have lower budgets and fewer resources that must help more students than in the past. Occasional stress is an unavoidable part of everyday life. Small amounts of stress can even have a positive effect, allowing us to push ourselves when we encounter a difficult task. However, high levels of stress over a prolonged period of time are linked to increased rates of depression, anxiety, cardiovascular disease, and other potentially life-threatening issues.

This makes it all the more important to learn how to manage your stress before you suffer any adverse effects.

The following guide will introduce you to potential stress risks, stress management techniques, and resources that are available to all college students. According to Psychology Today, there are two different meanings for stress : the abstract psychological perception of pressure and the body's response to stressors.

When your body experiences stress, hormonal signals trigger the body's automatic response system, the fight-or-flight response. This is the body's way of preparing to meet a challenge head-on or to flee from it. The fight-or-flight response floods your body with hormones that increase heart rate and the circulation of blood, designed to allow the body to get a quick burst of energy, focus attention, and more. Unfortunately, the body can also overreact to stressors that are not life-threatening.

The amygdala alerts the hypothalamus, which triggers a rush of epinephrine and cortisol:. When a person is exposed to stressors, or stimuli that provoke stress, we experience an array of physical, emotional, behavioral, and cognitive reactions. Two people might experience stress in very different ways. Here are just some of the symptoms that can occur when you experience stress:.

The body reacts to stressful situations with a unique type of sweat. You are likely familiar with the watery sweat produced by the eccrine glands, which occurs during exercise and warm weather. Your body also has apocrine sweat glands that immediately respond to stressors and produce a sweat that is full of proteins and lipids. The result is a more pungent sweat that is believed to have developed to alert others of danger and increase alertness. When your brain releases epinephrine, your heart rate increases to get your body ready to fight or flee. When you encounter a stressful situation, your body will surge with hormones.

This surge temporarily increases blood pressure by narrowing your blood vessels and causing your heart to beat faster. This a short-term effect and there is currently no evidence that suggests that stress can lead to long-term high blood pressure on its own. Your muscles contract when stress hormones trigger your sympathetic nervous system. This occurs because contracted muscles are more resilient to attack. The muscle tension, dietary changes, and hormonal shifts that occur as a result of chronic stress can lead to abdominal pain.

The fight-or-flight response floods your body with hormones that make you feel temporarily alert. However, this effect eventually fades, causing your body to crash after prolonged periods of stress. Once a stressor triggers your fight-or-flight instincts, you might begin to perceive other stimuli as potential stressors as well. People sometimes lash out with frustration or irritability in order to defend themselves.

Fatigue brought on by prolonged stress can have the same effect. Students exposed to a constant deluge of stressful events, environments, and obligations might feel they can't do anything to remedy the situation. In fact, a significant amount of research has been conducted on the risks of learned helplessness in animals and humans.

Studies have found that animals can become conditioned to take no action even when given the chance to escape from stressful stimuli. Isolation and stress can become a vicious cycle, each feeding on the other. Research published in the British Medical Journal describes how stress and social isolation are tied to increased mortality rates.

Stress hormones can temporarily halt your appetite. However, according to the Harvard Medical School, long term exposure to cortisol can also lead to cravings. This is just one reason why so many students celebrate the end of finals week with chips, pizza, and ice cream. As noted above, cortisol is one of the hormones that is flooded into your system during the fight-or-flight response. Sustained high levels of cortisol can cause a lack of sex drive. Stress can keep you from getting enough sleep and decrease the quality of the sleep you are getting. They would realize that the premise behind astrology was ludicrous, and that the doctor or midwife or taxi driver who helped deliver you exerted a greater gravitational pull on you at your moment of birth than did the sun, moon, or any of the planets.

They would accept that the fortune in their cookie at the Chinese restaurant was written either by a. They would calculate their odds of winning the lottery, see how ridiculously tiny they were, and decide to stop buying lottery tickets, at which point the education budgets of at least thirty of our fifty states would collapse. Lucy Jones, a seismologist at the California Institute of Technology, knows too well how resistant people can be to reason, and how readily they dive down a rabbit hole in search of axioms, conspiracy theories, the rabbit's fabled foot.

A hearty, fiftyish woman with short, peach-colored hair and a rat-a-tat cadence, Jones serves as the United States Geological Survey's "scientist-in-charge" for all of Southern California, in which capacity she promotes the cause of earthquake preparedness. She has also been a designated USGS punching bag, officiating at media squalls and confronting public panic whenever the continental plate on which Southern California is perched gives a nasty shake. Like seismologists everywhere, she is trying to improve geologists' ability to predict major earthquakes, to spot the early warning signs in time to evacuate cities or otherwise take steps to protect people, their domiciles, that treasured set of highball glasses from the World's Fair.

Jones has heard enough earthquake myths to shake a trident at: that fish in China can sense when a temblor is coming, for instance, or that earthquakes strike only early in the morning. Or they will redefine 'early morning' to mean anything from midnight until lunchtime. And, by gosh, it's true: many earthquakes that occur, occur between twelve A. Uncle Milton was right! People would rather believe the authorities were lying to them than to accept the uncertainty of the science.

Many scientists also argue that members of the laity should have a better understanding of science so they appreciate how important the scientific enterprise is to our nation's economic, cultural, medical, and military future. Our world is fast becoming a technical Amazonia, they say, a pitiless panhemispheric habitat in which being on a first-name basis with scientific and technical principles may soon prove essential to one's socioeconomic survival.

Science and engineering have given us the integrated circuit, the Internet, protease inhibitors, statins, spray-on Pam it works for squeaky hinges, too! Yet the future of our scientific eminence depends not so much on any cleverness in applied science as on a willingness to support basic research, the pi-in-the-sky investigations that may take decades to yield publishable results, marketable goodies, employable graduate students.

Scientists and their boosters propose that if the public were more versed in the subtleties of science, it would gladly support generous annual increases in the federal science budget; long-term, open-ended research grants; and sufficient investment in infrastructure, especially better laboratory snack machines. They would recognize that the basic researchers of today help generate the prosperity of tomorrow, not to mention elucidating the mysteries of life and the universe, and that you. Yes, let's cosset the scientists of today and let's home-grow the dreamers of tomorrow, the next generation of scientists.

For by fostering a more science-friendly atmosphere, surely we would encourage more young people to pursue science careers, and keep us in fighting trim against the ambitious and far more populous upstarts India and China. We need more scientists! We need more engineers! Yet with each passing year, fewer and fewer American students opt to study science. As a National Science Board advisory panel warned Congress in , "We have observed a troubling decline in the number of U. At this point, a third or more of the advanced science and engineering degrees earned each year in the United States are awarded to foreign students, as are more than half of the postdoctoral slots.

And while there is nothing wrong with the international complexion that prevails in any scientific institution, foreign students often opt to take their expertise and credentials back to their grateful nation of origin. David Baltimore, a Nobel laureate and the former president of Caltech, who spent much of his early career at MIT, observed that the classic bakery for an upper-crust life, Phillips Academy prep school in Andover, Massachusetts, where his daughter was a student, has an excellent science program, one of the best.

There are damned few patrician scientists. Science advocates insist that if science were seen as more glamorous, racier, and more avantgarde than it is today, it might attract more participants, more brilliant young minds and nimble young fingers willing to click pipettes for twenty hours at a stretch. They thought it was important. They thought it was exciting. They thought it was cool. Somehow we must reinvigorate that. The culture of discovery drives our country forward, and we can't afford to lose it. I'd love to see more young Americans become scientists, especially the girl who serves as the vessel of my DNA and as a deduction on my tax return.

I'd also be happy to see voters make smarter and more educated choices in Novembers to come than they have in the past. And yet. As Steven Weinberg, a Nobel laureate and professor of physics at the University of Texas, points out, many issues of a supposedly scientific slant cannot be decided by science at all. All science can tell you about that blastocyst is, yep, it's human. It has human DNA in it. Science cannot tell you how much gravitas that blastocyst should be accorded.

This is a matter of conscience, politics, religious conviction, and, when all else fails, name-calling. In sum, I'm not sure that knowing about science will turn you into a better citizen, or win you a more challenging job, or prevent the occasional loss of mental faculties culminating in the unfortunate purchase of a pair of white leather pants. I'm not a pragmatist, and I can't make practical arguments of the broccoli and flossing kind. If you're an adult nonscientist, even the most profound midlife crisis is unlikely to turn you into a practicing scientist; and unless you're a scientist, you don't need to know about science.

You also don't need to go to museums or listen to Bach or read a single slyly honied Shakespeare sonnet. You don't need to visit a foreign country or hike a desert canyon or go out on a cloudless, moonless night and get drunk on star champagne. How many friends do you need? In place of civic need, why not neural greed? Of course you should know about science, as much as you've got the synaptic space tofit. Science is huge, a great ocean of human experience; it's the product and point of having the most deeply corrugated brain of any species this planet has spawned.

If you never learn to swim, you'll surely regret it; and the sea is so big, it won't let you forget it. Of course you should know about science, for the same reason Dr. Seuss counsels his readers to sing with a Ying or play Ring the Gack: These things are fun, and fun is good. There's a reason why science museums are fun, and why kids like science. Science is fun.

Not just gee-whizbang "watch me dip this rose into liquid nitrogen and then shatter it on the floor" fun, although it's that, too. It's fun the way rich ideas are fun, the way seeing beneath the skin of something is fun. Understanding how things work feels good. I wanted to be a scientist. I had made it pretty clear to him that I wasn't going to medical school, and in fact I was already engaged in some really interesting research on DNA. One evening, a buddy of my father's, a general surgeon, cross-examined me about what it was I planned to do.

How could anything be more interesting than human physiology and putting together broken bones? We were both having a little drink, and I explained to him what the structure of DNA meant, and its implications. This was back around i, when the field of molecular biology was just getting started. At the end of our conversation, my father's friend looks up, and says, 'You are the luckiest guy in the world. You are going to get paid to have fun.

We persuaded a large number of people that what they once thought was fascinating, fun, the most natural thing in the world, is alien to their existence. Yet I know plenty of very successful writers who think of themselves, not as the luckiest hey-you-guys in the world, but as cursed, as miserable, as being in their trade because they have no choice, no other marketable skills. I feel like I'm beating my head against a brick wall," he said. But there's something to be said for a boulder in that position: it holds a lot of potential energy, and it's practically begging to be dislodged.

A few wellplaced shoves, a joining of shoulders for a hearty oomph, and the boulder may well be released from its unnatural bondage, to tumble earthward with a Newtonian roar.

This book is my small attempt to lend a deltoid to the cause, of nudging the boulder and unleashing the kinetic beauty of science to wow as it will. Maybe you're one of those people who hasn't clicked with science since that dreadful year of high school when you flunked physics because you showed up for the final exam an hour late, in your pajamas, and carrying an insect collection. Or maybe you fulfilled your college science requirements by taking courses like the Evolutionary Psychology of Internet Dating, and you regret that you still can't tell the difference between a proton, a photon, and a moron.

Or maybe you're just curiouser and curiouser and you don't know where to start.


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You think that the beginning might be a reasonable place, but whose beginning? Not the kiddie beginning, not the contemptuous or embarrassing or didactic digitwagging beginning, but the beginning as an adult. The beginning as a relationship between equals, you and science. And before you raise your. Or when you know that if you don't stir the hollandaise sauce constantly at a hot but not boiling temperature you'll end up with a mass too lumpy to pour over your asparagus.

You do science, you support science, you're baking the cake, you may as well lick the spoon. This beginning is the beginning as scientists see it, or at least as they've agreed to see it because some reporter has shown up at their office door, plunked herself down in a chair, and asked them to consider a few very basic questions.

Scientists have long whinnied about rampant scientific illiteracy and the rareness of critical thinking and the need for a more scientifically sophisticated citizenry. Fair enough. But what would it take to rid people of this dread condition, this pox populi ignoramus, and replace it with the healthy glow of erudition? What would a nonscientist need to know about science to qualify as scientifically seasoned?

If you, Dr. Know, had to name a half-dozen things that you wish everybody understood about your field, the six big, bold, canonical concepts that even today still bowl you over with their beauty, what would they be? Or if you're the type of professor who still on occasion teaches undergraduate courses for those soft-shelled specimens known as "nonmajors," what are the essential ideas that you hope your students distill from the introductory class, and even retain for more than a few femtoseconds after finals?

What does it mean to think scientifically? What would it take for a nonscientist to impress you at a cocktail party, to awaken in you the sensation that hmm, this person is not a buffoon? When confronted with the query "What do you wish people knew about science? To the well-intentioned curriculum revisionists, I gave my emphatic agreement, then pleaded that they take pity on the post-pedagogued.

Surely not even the most feebly educated adult is beyond hope? Let's focus on them: What should nonspecialist nonchildren know about science, and how should they know it, and what is this thing called fun? Realizing that the term "science" is a bit of a bounder, which can be induced via modifiers like "social" or "soft" to embrace anthropology, sociology, psychology, economics, politics, geography, or feng shui, I decided to focus on those sciences generally awarded the preamble "hard.

These are the subjects that people tend to find the most daunting and abstruse, and that have the worst customer service desks. At the same time, they are the fields in which the greatest progress has been made, where the discoveries of the last century have been the grandest and most buoyant, and where a shopworn term like "revolutionary" still rightly applies.

Scientists have probed the Joycean chambers of the atom, read the memoirs of the cosmos virtually back to the moment of crowning, detangled the snarls of our DNA, and mapped the twitchy globe of Silly Putty we call our castle and our home. These are the fairy tales of science, tales, as one scientist put it, "that happen to be true.

In the course of my research, I interviewed and gathered insights from hundreds of scientists, often in person, sometimes by phone and email, at many of the nation's premier universities and institutions. I spoke with Nobel laureates, members of the National Academy of Sciences, university presidents, institute directors, MacArthur geniuses. I also sought out researchers who were known as brilliant teachers, who had won their university's version of the "most adored professor of the year" award, or who were cited on student Web sites for being exceptionally clear, inspirational, entertaining, or, that old reliable, "awesome.

Scientists talked about the need to embrace the world as you find it, not as you wish it to be. They described their favorite molecules. They told jokes, like the one about physicist Werner Heisenberg, whose famed uncertainty principle says that you can know the position of an electron as it orbits the nuclear heart of an atom, or you can know its velocity, but that you can't know both at once. To wit: Heisenberg is scheduled to give a lecture at MIT, but he's running late and speeding through Cambridge in his rental car. A cop pulls him over, and says, "Do you have any idea how fast you were going?

You've likely heard, for example, the purportedly kindergarten description of the atom, that it is composed of three different classes of particles: protons and neutrons sitting sunlike at the center, electrons whizzing in orbits around them. You might also have heard that protons have a "positive charge," electrons a "negative charge," and neutrons "no charge.

But what in the name of Mr. Rogers's last cardigan are we really talking about? What does it mean to say that a particle has "charge," and how does this subatomic "charge" of the light brigade relate to more familiar, real-world displays of electric "charge"? When your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, for example, and you realize, on taking out your cell phone to call for help, that you forgot to re-"charge" the battery, and suddenly it's not a beautiful day in the neighborhood after all? I also sought, as much as possible, to make the invisible visible, the distant neighborly, the ineffable affable.

If a human cell were blown up to the size of something you could display on your coffee table, would you want to? What would it look like? You say that the average cell is a very busy place. Is that busy like Manhattan, or busy like Toronto? It's not that I wanted to take dumbing-down to new heights. In peppering sources with the most pre-basic of questions and tapping away at the Plexiglas shield of "everybody knows" until I was about as welcome as a yellow jacket at a nudist colony, I had several truly honorable aims.

For one thing, I wanted to understand the material myself, in the sort of visceral way that allows one to feel comfortable explaining it to somebody else. For another, I believe that first-pass presumptions and nonexplanatory explanations are a big reason why people shy away from science.

If even the Shlemiel's Guide to the atom begins with a boilerplate trot through concepts that are pitched as elementary and self-evident but that don't, when you think about them, really mean anything, what hope is there for mastering the text in cartoon balloon number two? Moreover, in choosing to ask many little questions about a few big items, I was adopting a philosophy that lately has won fans among sci-. Wonderful, because it meant I could be fairly confident I had a defensible corpus of scientific fundamentals that weren't entirely arbitrary or idiosyncratic.

Terrible, because it meant the time for reporting was over, and the time had arrived for writing, the painful process, as the neuroscientist Susan Hockfield so pointedly put it, of transforming three-dimensional, parallel-processed experience into two-dimensional, linear narrative. He looks athletic. He keeps pictures of his three beaming children on his desk. I am not surprised to learn that he graduated summa cum laude from Brigham Young University. He might be good company at a family picnic, but on this fluorescent-enhanced midweek morning, as we sit around his office coffee table engaged in what he has deemed a form of constructive entertainment, Strobel is about as much fun as an oncologist.

Strobel has taken out his personal kit of Mastermind, a game I had never seen before and knew nothing about. He often plays the game with the graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in his lab. They love it.

So, I later discovered, do my husband and daughter. Now Strobel is teaching me to play Mastermind, but of the many words competing for the tip of my tongue, "love" is not one of them. In Mastermind, he explains, you try to divine your opponent's hidden sequence of four colored pegs by shuffling your own colored pegs among peg holes. If you guess a correct color in the correct position, your opponent inserts a black peg on his side of the board; a correct color in an incorrect position gets you a white peg; and the wrong color for any position earns you no peg at all.

Your goal is to end up with four black pegs on your adversary's end in as few rounds as possible. Without a tornado or the sudden onset of pneumococcal pneumonia to deliver me, I sigh and arrange my pegs in a pleasant police lineup of blue, red, yellow, green. Strobel responds in a pattern of blacks, whites, and blanks. I lunge with a red piece, he parries by plucking off a white peg. Green here? Sorry, dear. I'm trying my best, but I have a wooden ear for the game, and I make bad choices and no progress.

I fight back tears, which fecklessly leap to freedom as sweat. I curse Strobel and all scientists who ever lived, especially the inventor of the pegboard. Finally, Strobel takes pity on me. He sweeps the malignant little pins back into their box, and I lapse into limp remission. Mastermind, he declares, is "a microcosm for how science works. And while the dramady at Strobel's gaming table was not my favorite hour, in its intensity and memorability it reflects the strength with which scientists, whatever their specialty, agree with this truth.

Science is not a body of facts. Science is a state of mind. It is a way of viewing the world, of facing reality square on but taking nothing on its face. It is about attacking a problem with the most manicured of claws and tearing it down into sensible, edible pieces. Even more than the testimonials to the fun of science, I heard the earnest affidavit that science is not a body of facts, it is a way of thinking. I heard these lines so often they began to take on a bodily existence of their own. Not only does this approach whip the joy of doing science right out of most people, but it gives everyone a distorted view of what science is.

Science is not a rigid body of facts. It is a dynamic process of discovery. It is as alive as life itself. I just wish they would approach those problems in a more rational way. When science is offered as a body of facts, science becomes a glassyeyed glossary. You skim through a textbook or an educational Web site, and words in boldface leap out at you. You're tempted to ignore everything but the highlighted hand wavers. You think, if I learn these terms, maybe I won't flunk chemistry.

The conjuring of science as a smarty-pants set of unerring facts that might be buzzed up on a Jeopardy! You can't make up your mind. You can't be trusted. Why should we believe you about anything? As a scientist, you know that any new discovery you're lucky enough to uncover will raise more questions than you started with, and that you must always question what you thought was correct and remind yourself how little you know. Science is a very humble and humbling activity. If science is not a static body of facts, what is it?

What does it mean to think scientifically, to take a scientific whack at a problem? The world is big. The world is messy. The world is a teenager's bedroom: Everything's in there. Now how do you get it to the kitchen sink? How can you possibly begin to make sense of it? One furred fork, one accidental petri dish, one peg hole at a time. You isolate a single variable, and then you see what happens when you change that variable alone, while doing your best to keep every-. You don't need to work at a laboratory bench to follow a scientific game plan.

People behave scientifically all the time, although they may not realize it. What are the possible things that could be wrong here? Is it really the player, or could it be the television set? You come up with a hypothesis, then you start testing it. So you check your DVD's input, output, a couple of wires. You may be able to track down the problem even without really understanding how a DVD player works. Why is my dog upset? I'll feed the hamster less or I'll feed it more, or maybe it doesn't like the noise, so I'll move it away from the stereo system.

Well, let me see how long the drive would be from the office to my daughter's school during rush hour; that could be the killer factor in making a decision. These are all examples of forming hypotheses, doing experiments, coming up with controls. Some people learn these things at an early age. I had to get a Ph.

They understood the nuances of seasons, climate, plant growth, the do-si-do between parasite and host. The scientific curiosity that entitled our nation's Founding Fathers to membership in Club Renaissance, Anyone? Thomas Jefferson experimented with squashes and broccoli imported from Italy, figs from France, peppers from Mexico, beans collected by Lewis and Clark, as he systematically sought to select the "best" species of fruits and vegetables the world had to offer and "to reject all others from the garden.

Much of the reason for its success is founded on another fundamental of the scientific bent. Scientists accept, quite staunchly, that there is a reality capable of being understood, and understood in ways that can be shared with and agreed upon by others. We can call this "objective" reality if we like, as opposed to subjective reality, or opinion, or "whimsical set of predilections. Objective reality is out there, other, impersonal, and "not me," while subjective reality is private, intimate, inimitable, and life as it is truly lived.

Objective reality is cold and abstract; subjective reality is warm and Rockwell. Science is effective because it bypasses such binaries in favor of what might be called empirical universalism, the rigorously outfitted and enormously fruitful premise that the objective reality of the universe comprises the subjective reality of every one of us.

We are of the universe, and by studying the universe we ultimately turn the mirror on ourselves. Ashes to ashes, Stardust to our dust. As I'll describe later in detail, the elements of our bodies, and of the earth, and of. To say that there is an objective reality, and that it exists and can be understood, is one of those plain-truth poems of science that is nearly bottomless in its beauty. It is easy to forget that there is an objective, concrete universe, an outerverse measured in light years, a microverse trading in angstroms, the currency of atoms; we've succeeded so well in shaping daily reality to reflect the very narrow parameters and needs of Homo sapiens.

We the subjects become we the objects, and we forget that the moon shows up each night for the graveyard shift, and we often haven't a clue as to where we might find it in the sky. We are made of Stardust; why not take a few moments to look up at the family album? Go outside a few evenings in any given month, and see what time the moon rises, and what phase it's in, and when it sets, and then see if you can explain why.

It was the summer after he'd graduated from college, and he was biking across Europe and sleeping outside each night. In accordance with his status as young, footloose, and overseas, he wore no wristwatch, so he sought to keep time by the phases of the moon. I suppose I should have been embarrassed not to have noticed it before, but I wasn't. Instead, it was just an amazing feeling. The whole physical world is really out there, and things are really happening. It's so easy to isolate yourself from most of the world, to say nothing of the rest of the universe.

I was so impressed by. Each spring I ask a specific question about what I'm seeing and so feel as though I am lighting a candle in his memory, a small focused flame against the void of self-absorption, the blindness of I. Another fail-safe way to change the way you see the world is to invest in a microscope. Not one of those toy microscopes sold in most Science 'n' Discovery chain stores, which, as Tom Eisner, a professor of chemical ecology at Cornell, has observed, are unwrapped on Christmas morning and in the closet before Boxing Day.

Not the microscopes that magnify specimens up to hundreds of times and make everything look like a satellite image of an Iowa cornfield. Rather, you should buy a dissecting microscope, also known as a stereo microscope. Admittedly, such microscopes are not cheap, running a couple of hundred dollars or so. Yet this is a modest price to pay for revelation, revolution, and — let's push this envelope out of the box while we're at it — personal salvation. Like Professor Brown, I speak from experience. I was accustomed to looking through high-powered microscopes in laboratories and seeing immune cells and cancer cells and frogs' eggs and kidney tissue from fetal mice.

But it wasn't until my daughter received a dissecting microscope as a gift, and we began using it to examine the decidua of everyday life, that I began yodeling my hallelujahs. A feather from a blue jay, a fiddlehead fern, a scraping from a branch that turned out to be the tightly honeycombed housing for a stinkbug's eggs. How much heft and depth, shadow and thistle, leap out at you when the small is given scope to strut. Yes, the world is out there, over your head and under your nose, and it is real and it is knowable.

To understand something about why a thing is as it is in no way detracts from its beauty and grandeur, nor does it reduce the observed to "just a bunch of" — chemicals, molecules, equations, specimens for a microscope. Scientists get annoyed at the hackneyed notion that their pursuit of knowledge diminishes the mystery or art or "holiness" of life. Let's say you look at a red rose, said Brian Greene, and you understand a bit about the physics behind its lovely blood blush. You know that red is a certain wavelength of light, and that light is made of little particles called photons.

You understand that photons representing all colors of the rainbow stream from the sun and strike the surface of the rose, but that, as a result of the molecular. But I still have the same strong emotional response to a rose as anybody else. It's not as though you become an automaton, dissecting things to death.

A rose is a rose is a rose; but the examined rose is a sonnet. That the universe can be explored and incrementally understood without losing its "magic" does not imply a corollary: that maybe "magic" is true after all, is hidden under accretions of apparent order, and that one of these days reality will kick off on a bucking broomstick toward Hogwarts on the hill.

The universe still brims with mysteries, of course, but, in their conviction that the universe is knowable, scientists doubt that these question marks, once they have been understood well enough to become commas, will prove to be regions of arbitrary lawlessness or paranormality. Sometimes the police will call in a psychic to help solve a crime, and you'll hear a discussion on television for or against.

But this isn't really an open question.

The universe, as we'll discuss later, was born in the celebrated Big Bang about Yet until quite recently scientists thought that the rate of expansion was slowing down. You know how it is: a youthful burst of levity, and then the years start tugging on the back of your shorts. So, too, it was believed, for the universe: the gravitational pull of all its mass was supposed to be slowing down its rate of expansion.

Instead, researchers have seen the opposite. The expansion is speeding up. Galaxies are flying away from one another at an ever increasing pace. Our universe has found a second wind. What is the meaning of this shadowy force, this type A provocateur, this energy so studiously seditious it hides behind dark glasses? Does its existence call into question the entire edifice of astrophysics, of what we've learned about the universe to date? To quote that most cerebral of comics, Steve Martin: "Nah! They are. They want very, very much to understand it.

Nobody I spoke with, however, felt threatened by it. They have some ideas about what dark energy may be. They're open to other, better suggestions.

They're just not about to consult a psychic for help in finding the body. After all, history is replete with "unfathomable" mysteries that have been fathomed into the archives. The cathedrals and churches of Christendom traditionally were built on the highest promontory in town and outfitted with the loftiest steeples parishioners could afford, the better to reach toward heaven and vamp for the neighbors. Unfortunately, those tall, wooden towers attracted more than envy: churches were regularly struck by lightning and burned to varying degrees of a crisp.

He recommended that conducting rods be installed on all spires and rooftops, and the debates over the semiotics of lightning bolts vanished.

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Nowadays, a fire in a church is less likely to be considered an act of God than of a tippling priest who neglected to blow out the candles. Scientists may believe that much, if not all, of the universe will prove comprehensible, yet interestingly, this comprehensibility continues to astound them. Immanuel Kant observed that "the most astonishing thing about the universe is that it can be understood. As the Princeton astrophysicist John Bahcall put it in an interview shortly before he died, we crawled out of the ocean, we are confined to a tiny landmass circling a midsize, middle-aged, pale-faced sun located in one arm of just another pinwheel galaxy among millions of star-spangled galaxies; yet we have come to comprehend the universe on the largest scales and longest time frames, from the subatomic out to the edge of the cosmos.

In other words, we can count our lucky stars that the stars can be counted. Physicists don't just scribble equations when they're posing for cartoonists. They scribble to one another, too.