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Listomania

October 3, 2011

One of my favorite things about Wikipedia, aside from applying scientific rigor to the verification and sourcing of all of the world’s knowledge, is its facility for list-making. Lists, as Umberto Eco has described, reveal something about our human attempts to grasp more abstract, elegant, ethereal concepts.  Lists are like the data points through which a line can be drawn, but, unlike a line by itself, the data points also reveal how real life tends to deviate from that line.

One wonderful list is the list of inventors killed by their own inventions, which might have been called Darwin Awards recipients were it not for the fact that some of the recipients produced incredibly valuable inventions. E.g.,

Marie Curie (1867–1934) invented the process to isolate radium after co-discovering the radioactive elements radium and polonium. She died of aplastic anemia as a result of prolonged exposure to ionizing radiation emanating from her research materials.

Even better, maybe, is the list of common misconceptions.

Albert Einstein did not fail mathematics in school, as is commonly believed. Upon being shown a column claiming this fact, Einstein said “I never failed in mathematics… Before I was fifteen I had mastered differential and integral calculus.

Entrapment law in the United States does not require police officers to identify themselves as police in the case of a sting or other undercover work.

According to the California Academy of Sciences, only 59% of U.S. adults know humans and dinosaurs did not coexist.

Etc.  There are more wonderful lists, including the list of colors, the list of paradoxes, and, for one close to my heart (or liver anyway), the list of cocktails.

Fittingly enough, the fact that this very blog entry is a list is not enough to out-list Wikipedia’s listing. See, e.g., Wikipedia’s taxonomy of lists, the definition of list, and of course the List of Lists. And these data points may validate the original hypothesis (as tautological and unscientific as it may be) that human lists and list-making are really attempts at definition and comprehension of more abstract forms and definitions. All of this raises yet another question that the very structure of Wikipedia cannot answer: do humans possess an innate proclivity or facility for an empiricism of lists. Of course, from here it’s turtles all the way down.

..Entrapment law in the United Statesdoes not require police officers to identify themselves as police in the case of a sting or other undercover work

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Shelbsthomcat permalink
    October 5, 2011 3:48 pm

    “According to the California Academy of Sciences, only 59% of U.S. adults know humans and dinosaurs did not coexist.”

    Awesome.

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