On his website McWatt quotes an anecdote about Harry Kroto: "At a 1998 presentation in London for the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Professor Harry Kroto unexpectedly spent his time elucidating the merits of meccano instead of discussing his recent Nobel award winning discovery of Carbon 60. His argument being that students require tactile experience to know when to stop tightening a screw and computer use alone doesn’t teach this. When asked at the end of the lecture, whether he had read Robert Pirsig’s Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZMM), Kroto replied: ‘Yes, and that’s what it’s all about!’ " Because ZAMM is the story of a philosopher recovering from madness who needs to keep his motorcycle in trim during a road-trip with his young son. Kroto was making a plea for less book-l'arning and more hands-on in education. Books will teach you why bridges stay up but you have to build one to see how that miracle of engineering works. Because not all structures work as the specs (from a book of tolerances) suggest they should, often because some other factor hasn't been taken into account: resonance from people walking or the wind blowing; cavitation from flowing water; water [or air] hammer; fatigue in bridges; fatigue in planes and ships; expansion of iron oxide. That's why engineers add 50% to the thickness of every structural thing in case they've left something out of the equation.
1996 Nobel Prize for Chemistry with Robert Curl and Richard Smalley for their work on fullerenes. Carbon60 cited about is a stable spherical structure with 60 vertices and 32 faces - 12 pentagons and 20 hexagons. It's a sort of uber-platonic solid - something like a 12-face dodecahedron and something like 20-face icosahedron. If you think it looks like a modern football, you are exactly on target. Kroto's interest in meta-stable chemical structures created Carbon 60 in the lab and its spectrographical signature was then detected in red giant stars where this enormous molecule forms naturally in the plasma. Kroto named their molecule buckminsterfullerene in honour of Buckminster "Geodesic Dome" Fuller the guru architect and designer.
ZAMM was so important for me growing up because I lived in my head but also
Here's one consequence of Pirsig's death: 3.5 years ago I said that you could buy ZAMM for $0.01, but the cheapest 2nd hand copy today is 300x more expensive, presumably to cash in on the blip in demand. The interest in Pirsig will wane over the next few weeks as the Next Big Thing seizes folks' imagination and booksellers will have a mountain of copies to shift. There are in excess of 5 million copies floating around, you should read it if you haven't it might change your life and so continue to validate Pirsig's assessment:
I really don't mind dying because I figure I haven't wasted this life.
Robert M. Pirsig
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