A while back a colleague introduced me to Arts and Letters. This is a wonderful site that collects essays from around the web, most of them free to read, and – in my case – delivers them to my blog feed for idle consumption. There are a lot that come through that I just don’t care much about, but that’s ok; it’s easy enough to swipe them away as read. But sometimes there are some absolute joys in the mix. Some essays and some reviews that I know I would never have come across otherwise.
Tim Flannery’s “They’re taking over!” about jellyfish, for example. I remember reading a while back that Japan was having serious jellyfish issues, to the point where chefs were making serious attempts at turning them into delicacies so that the population could try and eat their way through them… or something… Anyway, this essay is actually a review of Stung! On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean, by Lisa-ann Gershwin – a review that outlines most of Gershwin’s points, interacts with them seriously, adds other observations, and basically makes the book part of an ongoing discussion. Which is of course what it is. It’s a great essay, although it’s a terrifying topic. Having grown up in the tropics of Australia, it took me quite a while to get over my suspicion of the ocean because, as Flannery points out, the box jelly fish is the most venomous creature on earth. Only idiots (aka tourists) go swimming in the ocean in Darwin. Meanwhile, jellyfish are taking over the oceans, and there is nothing humanity can do about it. The things are basically immortal. The apocalypse comes not from zombies but from jellyfish.
Over at Aeon, Andrew Crumey explores the idea of the multiverse through both physics and literature, showing how the former has sometimes followed the latter in positing and explaining the idea of multiple, parallel, divergent universes. Someone who references Borges and Feynman, Baudelaire and Everett in the same 2,600 words was pretty much always going to be writing an interesting essay, and that is indeed the case. The idea of the multiverse is a confronting one for a Christian, but that’s fine; it’s not like I’m not used to that. I enjoyed how Crumey meandered around ancient Greek and Roman philosophy through to 19th century literature, and tied together 20th and 21st century physics. Not being as au fait with the physics as I might like (nor, honestly, the philosophy), I can’t say whether it’s entirely trustworthy in the connections it draws – and I refuse to read the comments, because I just bet they range from ‘multiverse?? You loony!’ through to other unsavoury comments (but hey, at least it wasn’t written by a woman pretending like she understood the science, right?) – but as a keen general reader, it was certainly absorbing and persuasive.