poly: A web contest & a past polymath

From: d.brin <brin@cts.com>
Date: Sat Jan 08 2000 - 16:52:35 PST

Very interesting musings on economic implications of nanoassembly.

A couple of new items below:
(1) an announcement of a contest that may interest some of you, and
(2) a short musing on an interesting past polymath.

Announcing a new contest -- with a $1000 first prize -- for the best
educational website that uses science fiction to help classroom educators
teach difficult subjects.

New York, NY, January 7, 2000 -- Webs of Wonder (www.analogsf.com/wow), a
web contest sponsored by Analog Science Fiction and Fact magazine and
New York Times best-selling author David Brin is aimed at generating
resources that will help teachers and students use science fiction to
complement subjects faced in today's classroom.

The Webs of Wonder Contest will hand out a $1,000 cash first prize -- plus
runner-up awards -- for excellent new sites on the World Wide Web that
unite a love of learning with a passion for good stories

For years, educators have given their students famous and obscure
science fiction tales to help enliven difficult topics. A chemistry
teacher might illustrate part of her curriculum with a classic Hal
Clement novel, while a social studies class would argue the ethical
questions raised by Tom Godwin's famous story "The Cold Equations."

These efforts have mostly been isolated. Great teachers had no simple
way to share their study guides, illustrations, provocative question
sets . . . or the story itself. Until recently, that is. Today's
technology can help teachers and web-designers create vivid materials to
brighten any subject, then let them share their creativity with
colleagues all over the country and around the world. Moreover, this
offers one more way to get compelling literature into the hands of young
people who might otherwise never be intrigued by some of science
fiction's greatest stories.

For details about rules and available supporting materials, see our web
site at http://www.analogsf.com/wow.

2) I see on my calendar that January 8 is the 400th anniversary of the
death (on an execution pyre) of Giordano Bruno. One of the great geniuses
of the late renaissance.

I had meant to write a publishable article, commemorating the date. But
the millennial + Y2K stuff seems to have pushed it aside. Like Aldous
Huxley, who arranged to die on November 22, 1963, Bruno passed away at a
date singularly suited to ensure its subsequent obscurity. Which is
ironic, given his colorful personality.

Bruno was a complex man, and it's easy to get carried away with awe over
his prophetic statements -- e.g. that there must be a myriad planets
circling the stars in the sky, and/or that humans may someday acquire
godlike powers by understanding lightning and other heavenly mysteries. His
call for freedom, tolerance and open enquiry was epochal. Yet, he mixed
these with some statements that were downright silly, or deliberately

So? Bruno looked around a crude, superstitious age with eyes that could
only be called modern. Even his pushy egotism would have fit in well,
today. Like Benjamin Franklin, if he got teleported into our time he would
adjust with relish. In a month, he would be on talk shows. In a year, he
would have his own.

 What a fascinating guy! I hope some future, time travelling age snatches
him out of the pyre at the last moment, to repair and then enjoy a man who
surged so far ahead of his own era, screaming at his stupified, grunting
contemporaries to wake up!

Not all geniuses are saintly or perfect. Some are offensive, in-your-face,
delightful, and profound in both their prescience and their dazzling
mistakes. They are also joyfully _alive. So alive that they testify for
the rest of us. They justify us. They show that humanity must have a
reason, far beyond natural selection, for being.

David Brin
Received on Sat Jan 8 16:55:11 2000

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