Review by PAUL KRUGMAN, The New York Times
Published: May 7, 2006

ECONOMIC ideas play a large role in shaping the world. “Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences,” John Maynard Keynes said, “are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.” So it’s odd how few popular books have been written describing the social and personal matrix from which economic ideas actually emerge. There have been no economics equivalents of, say, James Watson’s book “The Double Helix,” or James Gleick’s biography of Richard Feynman.

David Warsh has now made a major effort to fill that gap. “Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations” is the story of an intellectual revolution, largely invisible to the general public, that swept through the economics profession between the late 1970’s and the late 1980’s. I’ll come back to the question of how important that revolution really was. But whatever one thinks of the destination, Warsh, a former columnist for The Boston Globe who writes the online newsletter Economic Principals, takes us on a fascinating journey through the world of economic thought — and the lives of economists — from Adam Smith to the present day.

I should mention here that I was a prominent player in some of the events Warsh describes. My closeness to it all makes me aware of, and perhaps oversensitive to, the things Warsh doesn’t get quite right. But let me focus on the book’s virtues before I talk about its minor flaws.

Warsh tells the tale of a great contradiction that has lain at the heart of economic theory ever since 1776, the year in which Adam Smith published “The Wealth of Nations.” Warsh calls it the struggle between the Pin Factory and the Invisible Hand. On one side, Smith emphasized the huge increases in productivity that could be achieved through the division of labor, as illustrated by his famous example of a pin factory whose employees, by specializing on narrow tasks, produce far more than they could if each worked independently. On the other side, he was the first to recognize how a market economy can harness self-interest to the common good, leading each individual as though “by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.”

What may not be obvious is the way these two concepts stand in opposition to each other. The parable of the pin factory says that there are increasing returns to scale — the bigger the pin factory, the more specialized its workers can be, and therefore the more pins the factory can produce per worker. But increasing returns create a natural tendency toward monopoly, because a large business can achieve larger scale and hence lower costs than a small business. So in a world of increasing returns, bigger firms tend to drive smaller firms out of business, until each industry is dominated by just a few players.

But for the invisible hand to work properly, there must be many competitors in each industry, so that nobody is in a position to exert monopoly power. Therefore, the idea that free markets always get it right depends on the assumption that returns to scale are diminishing, not increasing.

For almost two centuries, economic thinking was dominated by the assumption of diminishing returns, with the Pin Factory pushed into the background. Why? As Warsh explains, it wasn’t about ideology; it was about following the line of least mathematical resistance. Economics has always been a discipline with scientific aspirations; economists have always sought the rigor and clarity that comes from using numbers and equations to represent their ideas. And the economics of diminishing returns lend themselves readily to elegant formalism, while those of increasing returns — the Pin Factory — are notoriously hard to represent in the form of a mathematical model.

Yet the fact of increasing returns was always a conspicuous part of reality, and became more so as the decades went by. Railroads, for example, were obviously characterized by increasing returns. And so economists tried, again and again, to bring the Pin Factory into the mainstream of economic thought. Yet again and again they failed, defeated by their inability to state their ideas with sufficient rigor. Warsh quotes Kenneth Arrow, who received a Nobel in economic science for work that is firmly in the Invisible Hand tradition: increasing returns were an “underground river” in economic thought, always there, yet rarely seeing the light of day.

The first half of “Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations” is a history of economic thought from the vantage point of that underground river. It describes how great economists chose to exclude increasing returns from their analyses, even though many of them understood quite well that they were leaving out an important part of the story. It also tells the tale of economists, most notably Joseph Schumpeter, who decided that if increasing returns couldn’t be modeled rigorously, so much the worse for rigor — and who found their literary, nonmathematical versions of economics simply ignored. (Schumpeter was a sad figure in his later years; his canonization as a patron saint of economic growth — based largely on his famous phrase, “creative destruction” — came long after his death.) The second half of the book describes how the underground river finally fountained to the surface.

I’ve never seen anyone write as well as Warsh about the social world of economic research, a world of brilliant, often eccentric people who bear no resemblance to the dreary suits you see discussing the economy on CNBC. It’s a world of informal manners yet intense status competition, in which a single seminar presentation can suddenly transform a young man or woman into an academic star.

For about a decade, starting in the late 1970’s, many of those star turns involved increasing returns. Economists had finally found ways to talk about the Pin Factory with the rigor needed to make it respectable. One after another, fields from industrial organization to international trade to economic development and urban economics were transformed.

Warsh does a superb job of conveying the drama of it all. He also tells us about a number of remarkable people and what they did later in their lives — because many of the once-young men (alas, there are few women in the story) who made that revolution have had very interesting second acts.

There are some flaws. The work of the economists who brought increasing returns to international trade, a group that included yours truly, receives flattering treatment, yet Warsh’s account misrepresents that work in subtle but important ways.

Maybe that slight sloppiness reflects Warsh’s relative lack of interest in applications of increasing returns other than the one he believes to be most crucial: as an explanation of economic growth. He portrays a famous 1990 paper about increasing returns and growth by Paul Romer of Stanford University as a sort of pivot around which the whole way economists see the world changed.

Now “Romer 1990” is a terrific paper — I wish I had written it, which is the highest praise one economist can give to another. Yet I don’t think it can bear the weight Warsh places on it. Nor is it clear that increasing returns really did transform our understanding of economic growth. In fact, Warsh seems to concede as much. “So there is a new economics of knowledge. What has changed as a result? The answer, it seems to me, is not much.”

Never mind. If you like reading stories of high intellectual drama, if you want to know the origin of ideas that, as Keynes said, “are dangerous for good or evil,” this book is for you.

nucifera: 这回关于这报导nucifera并没有转载其文章,而只是当中的两张照片,但这已足矣。中国人说“画意能达万言”,这话后来经翻译后演变至英文的“A picture is worth a thousand words”。至于下来的照片,语意应当超过了万言。

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By ANDREW JACOBS
Published: May 28, 2008

A memorial service for hundreds of students of Juyuan Middle School in Dujiangyan, where a mother held a picture of her son, turned into an angry protest on Tuesday. Some parents said local officials had known for years that the school was unsafe but refused to take action. Others recalled that two hours passed before the rescue workers showed up; even then, they stopped working at 10 p.m. on the night of the earthquake and did not resume their search until 9 a.m. the next day.

Two girls looked at the remains of the Juyuan Middle School. Although there is no official casualty count, parents say only 13 of the school’s 900 students came out alive.

Photo: Shiho Fukada for The New York Times

nucifera: 这是一篇难得的文章,不禁让我想起过去的小小心愿,就如爱因斯坦所说:Opening up yet another fragment of the frontier of beauty(为开拓人类美感再下一城)

感谢我的小妹姝慧把这文章输入电脑。

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Jerome Weidman
二零零八年五月

年少时刚开始闯江湖,我曾应邀到纽约一位慈善家的府上吃饭。饭后女主人领我们到一间宽敞的客厅,其他宾客鱼贯进入,我看到两样让人不安的事情:仆人将镀金小椅子排成整齐的行列;前方倚墙处摆设了几样乐器。看来我是碰上一场室内演奏之夜,逃不掉了。

我这么说,是因为音乐与我犹如对牛弹琴。我根本是个音盲,得费好大力气才能跟上最简单的曲调,严肃的音乐在我听来不过是一堆噪音的组合。因此我的做法就是被困时的一贯反应:就座,当音乐响起之际,做心领神会欣赏状,其实从脑袋里封闭了耳朵,沉浸在完全不相干的思绪里。

过了不久,我意识到周遭的人都在鼓掌,心想打开耳朵应该无妨了。就在此时,我听到右边传来一阵温和而出奇清晰的声音。“你喜欢巴哈?” 那个声音说。

身为作家,我对巴哈的了解跟我对核分裂的认识差不多。但我确实人的这张世界上最有名的脸, 包括那一头众所周知的白色乱法,以及嘴里永远咬着的烟斗。 我竟然坐在爱因斯坦旁边。

“呃…… ”我很不自在的嗫嚅着。人家不过是随口问问, 我只要同样随口答应即可。但看着他那不凡的眼神, 我知道他并不只是敷衍地跟我客气;不论我如何看待这段对话,他那方面显然是很重视的。尤其是我觉得对这个人你不应该说谎,无论是多么微不足道的谎言。

我尴尬的说“我对巴哈一无所知,从未听过他的音乐。”

爱因斯坦表情丰富的脸上露出困惑与惊讶:“你没听过巴哈?”

他那语气仿佛我说的是从来没洗过澡。

我赶紧说“并非我不欣赏巴哈,但我是音盲,或几近音盲。 我从来没有把任何音乐真正听进去。

老人脸上出现关切的表情, 突然说:“请跟我来好吗?

他站起来,拉着我的手臂,他径自引领我上楼,看起来熟门熟路。他打开一扇门,拉着我进入堆满书籍的书房,关上门。

“好,”他歉然一笑 ,“请告诉我,你对音乐有这种感觉有多久了?”

“一直都是这样。”我心里很不好受,“爱因斯坦博士,请下楼去欣赏音乐吧,我听不听得懂其实无关紧要。”

他摇摇头皱起眉头,仿佛我说了什么毫不相干的事。

“请告诉我,有任何音乐是你喜欢的吗?”

“唔,我喜欢有歌词的歌,可以跟着唱的那种。”

他微笑点头,显然很高兴,“或许你可以举个例子?”

我放大胆子说:“平.克劳斯贝的歌我几乎都喜欢。”

他再度点头,神情轻松:“那好。”

他走到书房一角,打开留声机,拿出一张又一张唱片。我不安的看着。终于,他笑道:“有了!”

他将唱片放上,顷刻间,克劳斯贝轻快的歌声充满整间书房,歌名是《蓝夜将逝》。爱因斯坦笑着看我,一边用烟斗柄打拍子。听了三、四句后,他将留声机关掉。“现在,能不能告诉我,刚刚听到什么?”

最简单的回答方式似乎就是唱出来。我唱了,很吃力地不要走音或破音,他脸上的表情像日出一样灿烂。

我唱完,他开心地叫道:“瞧,其实你懂!”

我喃喃地说这是我最喜欢的歌,听过几百次了,根本当不得真。

“胡说,当然可以!你还记得在学校第一次上算术课吗? 假想你第一次接触数字 ,老师要你做很艰难的题目,譬如长除法火分数,你会做吗?”

“一定不会。”

“可不是!”爱因斯坦得意地用烟斗柄挥了一下,“你一定不会做,而且满心慌乱,从此排斥长除法与分数的趣味。“他又举起烟斗柄挥舞了。“当然,你第一天上课,没有一个老师会那么笨,他会从最基本的教起。等你学会了简单的问题,才进展到长除法与分数。”

“音乐也是如此。“爱因斯坦拿起克劳斯贝的唱片,“这首简单好听的歌就像简单的加减法,你已经会了。接下来可以进展到跟复杂的东西。”

他找到另一张唱片放上去,《喇叭手》回荡在整个书房,是约翰.麦柯马克的金嗓子,听了几句,爱因斯坦将它关掉。

“好!你可以照着唱给我听吗?”

我唱了,很不自在,但没想到竟能唱得相当准确。爱因斯坦凝视我的神情,我这辈子只在另一次场合看过:我在高中毕业典礼代表致词时,父亲脸上的表情。

我一唱完,爱因斯坦说:“太好了,了不起!再听听这个。”

他说的“这个”,是知名男高音卡罗素演唱独幕歌剧《乡间骑士》的一段,我哪知道他唱些什么,但还是勉强模仿他的唱腔唱了一段。爱因斯坦微笑着表示嘉许。

听过卡罗素,我们至少又听了十来种音乐。我心中萦绕着一种惊奇感,这位了不起的科学家和我只是偶然相遇,却如此全然投入眼前这件事,仿佛我是他唯一在乎的人。

最后进行到没有歌词的音乐唱片,他要我哼出曲调。唱到高音处,爱因斯坦的嘴微张,头向后仰,就像要帮我登上看似达不到的境界。显然我的表现差强人意,因为他突然关掉留声机。

他勾着我的手臂说:“小伙子,我们可以去听巴哈了!”

我们回到客厅就座,演奏者刚上去调音准备演出新曲目。爱因斯坦微微一笑,意带鼓励地在我膝上拍了一下。

他低声说:“放轻松去听就好了,很简单。”

当然不简单。若不是他刚刚为一个素不相识的人投入那么多心力,我绝不可能听到巴哈的《羔羊安然放牧》。那一夜是我生平第一次听进去,其后我又听了无数次,而且几乎百听不厌,因为感觉上并不是独自聆听,我身旁坐着一个矮小微胖的老人,一头蓬乱的白发,嘴里咬着已熄掉的烟斗,眼中奇异的温暖透露出对世界的热情与好奇。

音乐会结束时,我真心诚意和大家一起鼓掌。

这是女主人走过来,冷冷地瞪了我一眼:“爱因斯坦博士,很遗憾您错过了大半段。”

我和爱因斯坦急急站起来,他说:“很不好意思,但我和这位年轻朋友一起做了一件人类最了不起的活动。”她困惑地问“是吗?什么事?”

爱因斯坦笑了,伸手环住我的肩膀,说出一句话——对一个永远感谢他的人而言,很可以作为他的墓志铭:“为开拓人类美感再下一城。”

爱因斯坦生于一八七九年三月十四日,酷爱音乐,曾说:“如果我不从事物理,很可能成为音乐家。”本文作者是美国小说家。

这篇故事最早刊登于一九五五年《读者文摘》。

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When I was a very young man , just beginning to make my way, I was invited to dine at the home of a distinguished New York philanthropist. After dinner our hostess le us to an enormous drawing room. Other guests were pouring in , and my eyes beheld two unnerving sights : servants were arranging small gilt chairs in long, neat rows; and up front, leaning against the wall, were musical instruments . Apparently I was in for an evening of chamber music.

I use the phrase “in for ” because music meant nothing to me. I am almost tone deaf –only with great effort can I carry the simplest tune, and serious music was to me no more than an arragement of noises. So I did what I always did when trapped: I sat down and when the music started I fixed my face in what I hoped was an expression of intelligent appreciation, closed my ears from the inside and submerged myself in my own completely irrelevant thougths.

After a while, becoming aware that the people around me werer applauding, I concluded it was safe to unplug my ears.At once I heard a gentle but surprisingly penetrating voice on my right. “ You are fond of Bach?”the voice said .

As a writer, I knew as much about Bach as I know about nuclear fission. But I did know one of the most famous faces in the world, with the renowned shock of untidy white hair and the ever-present pipe between the teeth.I was sitting next to Albert Einstein.

“Well ,” I said uncomfortably, and hesitated. I had been asked a casual question. All I had to do was be equally casual in my reply. But I could see from the look in my neighbour’s extraordinary eyes that their owner was not merely going through the perfunctory duties of elementary politeness. Regardless of what value I placed on my part in the verbal exchange , to this man his part in it mattered very much . Above all, I could feel that this was a man to whom you did not tell a lie, however small.

“I don’t know anything about Bach,” I said awkwardly. “I’ve never heard any of his music.”

A look of perpleded astonishment washed across Einstein’s mobile face.

“You have never heard Bach?”

He made it sound as though I had said I’d never taken a bath.

“It isn’ t that I don’t want to like Bach ,” I replied hastily. “It’s just that I’m tone deaf, or almost tone deaf, and I’ve never really heard anybody’s music.”

A look of concern came into the old man’s face. “ Please ,”he said abruptly. “you will come with me?”

He stood up and took my arm. I stood up. Resolutely he led me upstairs. He obviously knew the house well. On the floor above he opened the door into a book-lined study, drew me in and shut the door.

“Now ,” he said with a samll, troubled smile. “You will tell mle, please how long you have felt this way about music?”

“All my life,” I said , feeling awful. “I wish you would go back downstairs and listen, Dr Einstein. The fact that I don’t enjoy it doesn’t matter.”

He shook his head and scowled, as though I had introduce an irrelvance.

“Tell me , please, ” he said. “ Is there andy kind of music that you do like ?”

“Well ,” I answered , “I like songs that have words, and the kind of music where I can follow the tune.”

He smiled and nodded, obviously pleased. “You can give me an example, perhaps?”

“Well , ”I ventured , “almost anything by Bing Crosby.”

He went to a corner of the room , opened a phonograph and started pulling out records. I watched him uneasily. At last he beamed. “Ah!” he said.

He put the record on and in a moment the study was filled with the relaxe, lilting strains of Bing Crosby ’s “When the Blue of the Night Meets the Gold of the Day”.Einstein beamed at me and kept time with the stem of his pipe. After three or four phrases he stooped the phonograph. “Now ,”he said . “Will you tell me, please, what have just heard?”

The simplest answer seemed to be to sing the lines. I did just that, try desperately to stay in tune and keep my voice from cracking . The expression Einstein’s face was likle the sunrise.

“You see!” he cried with delight when I finished . “You do have an ear!”

I mumbled something about this being one of my favourite songs , something I had heard hundreds of times, so that it didn’t really prove anything.

“Nonsense !”said Einstein. “It proves everything!Do you remember your first arithmetic lesson in school? Suppose , at your very first contact with numbers, your teacher had ordered you to work out a problem in say , long division or fractions. Could You have done so?”

“No, of course not.”

“Precisely!”Einstein made a triumphant wave with his pipe stem. “It would have been impossible and you would have reacted in panic. You would have closed your mind to long division and fractions. As a result, because of that one small mistake by your teacher , it is possible your whole life you would be denied the beauty of long division and fractions.”The pipe stem went up and out in another wave. “But on your first day no teacher would be so foolish. He would start you with elementary things-then, when you had acquired skill with the simplest problems , he would lead you up to longd division and to fractions.

“So it is with music.” Einstein picked up the Bing Crosby record . “This simple, charming little song is like simple addition or subtraction. You have mastered it. Now we go on to something more complicated.”

He found another record and set it going. The oglden voice of John McCormack singing “The Trumpeter” filled the room . After a few lines Einstein stooped the record.

“So!”he said. “You will sing that back to me , please ?”

I did-with a good deal of self-consciousness but with, for me , a surprising degree of accuracy . Einstein stared at me with a look on his face that I had seen only once before in my life : on the face of my father as he listened to me deliver the valedictory address at my high school passing –out ceremony.

“Excellent!”Einstein remarked when I finished . “Wonderful! Now this!”

“This ” proved to be Caruso in what was to me a completely unrecognizable fragement from “Cavalleria Rusticana ,”a one-act opera. Nevertheless, I managed to reproduce an approximation of the sound the famous tenor had made. Einstein beamed his approval.

Caruso was followed by at least a dozen others. I could not shake my feeling of awe over the way this great man,into whose company I had been thrown by chance, was completely preoccupied by what we were doing , as though I were his sole concen.

We came at last to recordings of music without words, which I was instucted to reproduce by humming. When I reached for high note, Einstein’s mouth opened and his head went back as if to help me attain what seemed unattainable. Evidently I came close enough, for he suddenly turned off the phonograph.

“Now , young man ,” he said , putting his arm through mine. “We are ready for Bach!”

As we returned to our seats in the drawing room , the players were tuning up for a new selection. Einstein smiled and gave me a reassuring pat on the knee.

“Just allow yourself to listen ,” he whispered “That is all.”

It wasn’t really all, of course . Without the effort he had just poured out for a total stranger I would never have heard , as I did that night for the first time in my life, Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze ”I have heard it many time sice. I don’t think I shall ever tire of it . Because I never listen to it alone . I am sitting beside a small, round man with a shock of untidy white hair , a dead pipe clamped between this teeth, and eyes that contain in their extraodinary warmth all the wonder of the world .

When the concert was finished I added my genuine apphause to that of the others.

Suddenly our hostess confronted us. “ I’m sorry,Dr Einstein ,” she said with an icy glare at me , “that you missed so much of the perfomance .”

Einstein and I came hastily to our feet. “I am sorry, too”, he said. “My young friend here and I, however, were engaged in the greatest activity of which man is capable.” She looke puzzled . “ Really ?”she said . “And what is that?”

Einstein smiled and put his arm across my shoulders. And he uttered ten words that –for at least one person who is in his endless debt –are his epitaph:

“Opening up yet another fragment of the frontier of beauty.”

Albert Einstein , whose birthday falls on March 14th , was passionately fond of music. He once said:”If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician.”Jerome Weidman was an American novelist.

This story first appeared in a 1955 Reader’s Digest

By SARA REISTAD-LONG
Published: May 20, 2008

When older people can no longer remember names at a cocktail party, they tend to think that their brainpower is declining. But a growing number of studies suggest that this assumption is often wrong.

Instead, the research finds, the aging brain is simply taking in more data and trying to sift through a clutter of information, often to its long-term benefit.

The studies are analyzed in a new edition of a neurology book, “Progress in Brain Research.”

Some brains do deteriorate with age. Alzheimer’s disease, for example, strikes 13 percent of Americans 65 and older. But for most aging adults, the authors say, much of what occurs is a gradually widening focus of attention that makes it more difficult to latch onto just one fact, like a name or a telephone number. Although that can be frustrating, it is often useful.

“It may be that distractibility is not, in fact, a bad thing,” said Shelley H. Carson, a psychology researcher at Harvard whose work was cited in the book. “It may increase the amount of information available to the conscious mind.”

For example, in studies where subjects are asked to read passages that are interrupted with unexpected words or phrases, adults 60 and older work much more slowly than college students. Although the students plow through the texts at a consistent speed regardless of what the out-of-place words mean, older people slow down even more when the words are related to the topic at hand. That indicates that they are not just stumbling over the extra information, but are taking it in and processing it.

When both groups were later asked questions for which the out-of-place words might be answers, the older adults responded much better than the students.

“For the young people, it’s as if the distraction never happened,” said an author of the review, Lynn Hasher, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto and a senior scientist at the Rotman Research Institute. “But for older adults, because they’ve retained all this extra data, they’re now suddenly the better problem solvers. They can transfer the information they’ve soaked up from one situation to another.”

Such tendencies can yield big advantages in the real world, where it is not always clear what information is important, or will become important. A seemingly irrelevant point or suggestion in a memo can take on new meaning if the original plan changes. Or extra details that stole your attention, like others’ yawning and fidgeting, may help you assess the speaker’s real impact.

“A broad attention span may enable older adults to ultimately know more about a situation and the indirect message of what’s going on than their younger peers,” Dr. Hasher said. “We believe that this characteristic may play a significant role in why we think of older people as wiser.”

In a 2003 study at Harvard, Dr. Carson and other researchers tested students’ ability to tune out irrelevant information when exposed to a barrage of stimuli. The more creative the students were thought to be, determined by a questionnaire on past achievements, the more trouble they had ignoring the unwanted data. A reduced ability to filter and set priorities, the scientists concluded, could contribute to original thinking.

This phenomenon, Dr. Carson said, is often linked to a decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex. Studies have found that people who suffered an injury or disease that lowered activity in that region became more interested in creative pursuits.

Jacqui Smith, a professor of psychology and research professor at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, who was not involved in the current research, said there was a word for what results when the mind is able to assimilate data and put it in its proper place — wisdom.

“These findings are all very consistent with the context we’re building for what wisdom is,” she said. “If older people are taking in more information from a situation, and they’re then able to combine it with their comparatively greater store of general knowledge, they’re going to have a nice advantage.”

Text by JOHN SCHWARTZ
Published: May 11, 2008

TO JUDGE from the news out of NASA these days, you might think we are witnessing the last gasps of the space age. The agency has announced that it will phase out its aging fleet of space shuttles by the year 2010, and the next iteration of the space program, known as Constellation, isn’t likely to be sending people into orbit before 2015. Back in 2004, President Bush exhorted NASA to return humans to the moon (and then continue on to Mars), but precious little has been heard from the White House on the matter since. The American enthusiasm for space travel that accompanied the first footprints on the lunar surface seems less ardent with each year that separates us from that one small step.

Yet human space flight hardly tells the whole story about launching pads and orbits. In addition to NASA’s current robotic missions — including the Hubble Space Telescope, the Mars landers and the Cassini spacecraft — there is also a large market for sending satellites into space. Between 1998 and 2007, 421 satellites were sent skyward. Government programs, commercial launchings and consumer products tied to satellites make up a $251-billion-a-year industry, according to the Space Foundation, a group that tracks the global space economy. The technologies in orbit serve the needs of television and radio; Internet and telephone service; imaging systems for military and intelligence operations (as well as commercial services like Google Earth); and the global positioning systems that help guide planes, boats and automobiles from Point A to Point B. Last year, according to the consulting firm Futron, about 70 orbital satellites were launched into space: roughly 25 by the United States and 30 by Russia. Of the 41 commercial launchings in 2006, about half belonged to the United States. Periodically, the U.S. military continues to test unarmed missiles that are designed to carry warheads.

The photographer Simon Norfolk has documented a series of military and commercial launchings, as well as the respective launching sites. He observes that rockets are “built on earth and live in the heavens” and in both stages exist largely out of sight (and out of mind). But for 90 seconds, when it is “launched in fire between two worlds,” he says, a rocket becomes a quintessentially observable object, a leaping, shrieking arc of beauty and unnerving fascination — “an explosion,” as he describes it, “that goes in one direction, rather than all directions.” An exhibition of Norfolk’s photos, which have appeared often in these pages in recent years, will take place at the New York Photo Festival, May 14-18.

John Schwartz is a science reporter for The New York Times.

龙应台
自《龙应台的香港笔记@沙湾径25号》

  经济学家、社会学家、人类学家,可能找得出一百个方式来回答“文化为什么重要”这个问题,但是我可以从一场戏说起。

  有一天台北演出《四郎探母》,我特地带了八十五岁的父亲去听。从小听他唱“我好比笼中鸟,有翅难展;我好比虎离山,受了孤单;我好比浅水龙,困在了沙滩……”老人想必喜欢。

  遥远的十世纪,宋朝汉人和辽国胡人在荒凉的战场上连年交战。杨四郎家人一一壮烈阵亡,自己被敌人俘虏,娶了敌人的公主,在异域苟活十五年。铁镜公主聪慧而善良,异乡对儿女已是故乡,但四郎对母亲的思念无法遏止。悲剧的高潮就在四郎深夜潜回宋营探望老母的片刻。身处在“汉贼不两立”的政治斗争之间,在爱情和亲情无法两全之间,在个人处境和国家利益严重冲突之间,已是中年的四郎跪在地上对母亲失声痛哭:“千拜万拜,赎不过儿的罪来……”

  我突然觉得身边的父亲有点异样,侧头看他,发现他已老泪纵横,泣不成声。

  父亲十六岁那年,在湖南衡山乡下,挑了两个空竹篓到市场去,准备帮母亲买菜。路上碰见国民党政府招兵,这个十六岁的少年放下竹篓就跟着去了。此后在战争的炮火声中辗转流离,在两岸的斗争对峙中仓皇度日,七十年岁月如江水漂月,一生不曾再见到那来不及道别的母亲。

  他的眼泪一直流,一直流。我只好紧握着他的手,不断地递纸巾。

  然后我发现,流泪的不止他。斜出去前一两排,一位白发老人也在拭泪,隔座陪伴的中年儿子递过纸巾后,将一只手环抱着老人瘦弱的肩膀。

  谢幕以后,人们纷纷站起来。我才发现,四周多的是中年儿女陪伴而来的老人家,有的拄着拐杖,有的坐着轮椅,他们不说话,因为眼里还有泪光。

  中年的儿女们彼此不识,但是在眼光接触的时候,沉默中仿佛已经交换了一组密码。是曲终人散的时候,人们正要各奔东西,但是在那个当下,在那一个空间,这些互不相识的人变成了一个关系紧密、温情脉脉的群体。

  在那以后,我陪父亲去听过好几次《四郎探母》,每一次都会遇见父老们和他们中年的子女;每一次都像是一场灵魂的洗涤、感情的疗伤、社区的礼拜。

  从《四郎探母》,我如醍醐灌顶似地发觉,是的,我懂了为什么《俄底浦斯》能在星空下演两千年仍让人震撼,为什么《李尔王》在四百年后仍让人感动。

  文化,或者说,艺术,做了什么呢?它使孤独的个人为自己说不出的痛苦找到了名字和定义。少小离家老大失乡的老兵们,从四郎的命运里认出了自己不可言喻的处境,认出了处境中的残酷和荒谬,而且,四郎的语言──“千拜万拜,赎不过儿的罪来”──为他拔出了深深扎进肉里的自责和痛苦。艺术像一块蘸了药水的纱布,轻轻擦拭他灵魂深处从未愈合的伤口。

  文化艺术使孤立的个人,打开深锁自己的门,走出去,找到同类。他发现,他的经验不是孤立的,而是共同的集体的经验,他的痛苦和喜悦,是一种可以与人分享的痛苦和喜悦。孤立的个人因而产生归属感。

  它使零散的、疏离的各个小撮团体找到连结,转型成精神相通、忧戚与共的社群。“四郎”把本来封锁孤立的经验变成共同的经验,塑成公共的记忆,从而增进了相互的理解,凝聚了社会的文化认同。白发苍苍的老兵,若有所感的中年儿女,或者对这段历史原本漠然的外人,在经验过“四郎”之后,已经变成一个拥有共同情感而彼此体谅的社会。

  人本是散落的珠子,随地乱滚,文化就是那根柔弱而又强韧的细丝,将珠子穿起来成为社会。而公民社会,因为不依赖皇权或神权来坚固它的底座,文化便成为它最重要的黏合剂。