Let's see what happens

July 29, 2010

I'm wondering if my co-workers have noticed that I smell faintly of women's perfume today. Could be embarrassing if they knew the full story. I know my wife is disappointed and saddened.

It turns out that my wife's perfume bottle has a superb atomizer and on a whim I realized that if I spritz a shot of perfume at a aromatherapy candle in our bedroom it makes a most satisfying whoosh-like ball of flame - sort of a mini special effects explosion on our dresser. The perfume is evocative, mysterious, haunting, provocative (their words), and mostly alcohol (my hypothesis - presumably correct). My wife was bemused on so many levels and finally stepped in to point out that my experiments were both dangerous and fairly expensive.

It got me wondering what percentage of mankind's scientific advances were catalyzed by someone just messin' around to see what happens.

I will never forget the expression of total glee on my father's face many years ago when he guessed (correctly) that our brand new family microwave was most likely operating at the same frequency necessary to illuminate a common fluorescent bulb. He immediately disassembled my mom's bathroom vanity mirror, wedged the bulb into our new kitchen appliance, gathered the family and turned the dial. Sparks were ricocheting off the metal bulb bases and the device was making a frightening zapping/sizzling noise but he still fairly danced with delight as the bulb began to glow - a cool spectacle and wireless miracle for us.

YouTube doesn't quite do justice to the sight of a modest mushroom cloud of flame rising over my wife's jewelry box.

Apparently the apple does not fall far from the tree.

The "what-if" gene can have tragic consequences - think of Marie Curie, pioneer in the field of radioactivity and winner of two Nobel prizes who most certainly died of radiation poisoning resulting from her experiments. The damaging effects of ionizing radiation were not then known, and much of her work had been carried out in a shed, without taking any safety measures. She had carried test tubes containing radioactive isotopes in her pocket and stored them in her desk drawer, remarking on the pretty blue-green light that the substances gave off in the dark.

You think Dad would know better.

Of course today, a quick trip to YouTube can scratch your "what-if" gene from behind the safety of your computer monitor. Want to start your BBQ with liquid oxygen? Pepsi and Mentos? Blend your iPhone? Perhaps the cumulative effect of our exposure to everyone else's what-ifs will bring a collective power to the age-old "let's see what happens". I'm not sure. YouTube doesn't quite do justice to the sight of a modest mushroom cloud of flame rising over my wife's jewelry box. You've simply got to see that one first hand.