Thursday, May 10, 2012

First Great Mysteries Of Science

There are plenty of things you whippersnappers take for granted that were nothing but dreams and mysteries to those of us who were responsible for digging up so many of the earliest answers. We had to get to the bottom of all manner of monkey business, and  to say that we had limited resources at our command would be the sort of understatement that was pretty much our stock in trade in those days. We didn't dare to overstate.

Some of our discoveries were pure products of curiosity or confusion, but there were also speculations and  necessary innovations that were literally life-and-death matters. We had people dropping like flies who'd barely learned to walk yet, and had to learn to feed and clothe ourselves in a hurry.

Those were dark, cold, brutal days. The Dark Ages were a period of positive enlightenment in comparison. We had no idea how our bodies worked or what our business was on this unforgiving planet. God? God? We weren't nearly that crafty yet. You could say we were savages, and you wouldn't be missing the mark by much.

The nose and the mysteries of its purpose and productions was one challenge, a relatively minor piece of the puzzle, granted, but important all the same. The responsibility for this undertaking of discovery fell to me by virtue of my natural scientific inclinations, although we certainly weren't yet equipped to think of it in quite that way. Everything I say in this regard is thus hindsight, and a literal case of 'relatively speaking.'

Truth was, I didn't know my ass from a hole in the ground, but compared to most of the others I was an advanced  specimen. When I first got started on my researches I didn't --or we didn't-- even have any sort of basic understanding of the sense of smell, and we certainly didn't connect it in any way with the nose. For all we then knew, what we now think of as odors may well have been perceived through our mouths or eyes, or even our skin.

I spent years on these labors. I probed and mulled and hypothesized. I like to think I made some progress. I was, I'll admit, entirely flummoxed by congestion. We didn't have microscopes, of course; we didn't even have the most rudimentary sort of magnifying devices. I smeared more snot on rocks than I care to remember, and sat in the dirt studying it, moving it around with a stick and trying to make sense of the damn mess. Was it, I wondered, some sort of delivery or storage mechanism for odors? Or perhaps, I hypothesized early on, it was dead matter being sloughed by the brain and evacuated through the nostrils (by this time we'd dabbled a bit in rudimentary forensics, and had cracked open more than a few skulls and studied their contents).

I never reached any satisfactory conclusions, I'm afraid, but I'm proud  to say that when I officially retired they appointed five men --a damned committee-- to carry on my researches, and that pack of sub-literate baboons never got anywhere either. It wasn’t until they put a couple women on the project that they started zeroing in on some genuine answers, but this, of course, was widely resented by the masculine louts, and proved a disastrous setback for both the enterprising women among us and our pursuit of ultimate knowledge.


  1. Each paragraph studded with intriguing phrases like raisins in a bun. Just words, but so well combined.

  2. "I smeared more snot on rocks than I care to remember, and sat in the dirt studying it, moving it around with a stick and trying to make sense of the damn mess."

    Never knew you were a State Legislator.

  3. I've many times tried to get my wife to study snot, but usually she grunts and walks away, sort of like a pig when you offer him a bucket of beer.