Today’s entries in the Devil’s Dictionary include botox, synthetic lethality, intelligent design, the Alien Simulation hypothesis, the Jellyfish hypothesis, and the Mars Radio hypothesis.
See the complete Devil’s Dictionary of Scientific Words and Phrases here.
all entries in the Devil’s Dictionary copyright 2018 by Russ Hodge
Botox a toxin naturally produced by bacteria that is potentially a biological weapon of mass destruction. Although its use is strictly prohibited by international treaties, grandmothers everywhere cultivate it in their basements, in food that has been improperly preserved in Bell jars. If the apocalypse suddenly arrives, or if things get really out of hand at a family reunion, they find comfort in having a cheap, effective way of putting an entire clan out of its misery. If the worst-case scenario ever comes, they can slip it unnoticed into a meal, ensuring that everyone will die with a full belly and the taste of pie in their mouths.
Weapons of mass destruction have frequently made their way into medical practice (radiation poisoning, for example, both causes cancer and is used to cure it), and botox has become a tool in the arsenal of cosmetic surgeons. They apply it on a very local scale to eradicate the wrinkles and loose facial skin that occur in middle age. This is the point in life when a person has naturally used up his complete supply of smiles and other grimaces. The face becomes exhausted and relaxes its hold on underlying muscles. Botox tightens everything up again, usually drawing facial features to more or less the position they previously occupied. In the process skin is tightened to the point that it is difficult to smile without pulling on the ears, firmly and simultaneously, in opposing and outward directions.
Synthetic lethality usually refers to an approach used to kill a cancer cell or some other undesirable biological entity such as a spider, or Uncle Bob’s deciduous ear hair. Synthetically lethal therapies combine two things that are harmless to their healthy counterparts but deadly to the offensive object. A spider, for example, can be handled by catching it between the floor and a rolled up newspaper applied firmly, with conviction. Newspapers and floors are normally harmless to humans, but if the spider escapes it may engage in some synthetic lethality of its own, combining teeth with venom – each of which is also fairly ineffective without the other. Overgrown ear hair can be managed with a pair of garden shears and a toilet plunger, providing the host is properly immobilized.
Intelligent design a theory which holds that the relationship between God and living species resembles that of IKEA to furniture; both, for example, are closed on Sundays. There are some differences: God (or whichever diety is currently in vogue) doesn’t put out a new catalogue each year. Some consider the theory’s name a case of false advertising, as in the case of “cheese food,” (which is neither cheese nor food) because species do not come with an Allen wrench or simple instructions for assembly.
The Alien simulation hypothesis a theory of the universe proposed on a message board by a sixth grader. From that point it spread in a viral-like pandemic that mostly infected computer nerds who live in their parents’ basement and subsist on a diet entirely hunted-and-gathered by telephone, with a nutritional value that can only be measured in BitCoins, who generally refuse any activity requiring that they interact with human beings. The movement’s most prominent adherent is Elon Musk, who explains it this way: “Forty years ago we had Pong, and nowadays our computer simulations are virtually indistinguishable from reality.” (Particularly the reality in the basement.) “In the near future they will be totally indistinguishable from reality. Therefore, there is only a one in one billion chance that we are not virtual characters in an alien computer game.” He has not published any calculations behind this figure, nor a definition of what “reality” might mean, since it is a concept invented within the game. Nor has he addressed the issue that the aliens who are playing this game are likely virtual characters in a simulation being played by an even higher-level of civilization, and so on; at that point it’s games all the way down.
The jellyfish hypothesis a theory of the universe which states that in reality, we are all jellyfish, and human life and our view of ourselves and our world is simply what the world looks like when filtered through the nervous system of a jellyfish.
The Mars radio hypothesis a theory held by at least one or two people that our bodies are robots controlled by brains that float in hydroponic tanks deep under the surface of Mars. Martians designed the robots to live on when their planet collapsed through man Martian-made climate change. They weren’t bad people Martians; they simply felt it was their religious obligation to keep reproducing and reproducing. When the planet was stacked nine-deep in Martians, they finally ran out of air. Rich Martians on top of the pile believed they were entitled to their status and fully ignored the eight layers holding them up. The high altitude provided a little more air which enabled them to outsurvive the rest of their species by seven whole minutes.
A few brains were placed in the underground tanks and Elon Musk, a Martian who escaped the catastrophe in his rocket automobile, designed the robots. They had to be fairly autonomous because it took time for transmissions to get to the brains and back. This explains, for example, blackouts that PhD students experience during their thesis defense. Sophisticated software covers the gaps and allows the robots to function when the brains go off-line. There are a few bugs, such as when a robot detects one stair too many or two few and falls flat on his face. Even so, on their own robots manage behavior such as binge shopping, listening to talk radio, and obeying authority figures who have hacked into their processors and convinced them that independent thinking is bad. At that point they do anything an authority figure says, even when it’s insane. After all, they are only robots.