Vakkotaur (vakkotaur) wrote,
Vakkotaur
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"An Ordinary Clocklike Mechanism"


Last night I read an article from the New Yorker, Atomic John by David Samuels. It's about a fellow, John Coster-Mullen, who has spent a few years digging into the history and design of Little Boy, and working out that a lot of the published material about it isn't accurate (not entirely surprising) and that it worked backwards from the typical diagram given for the bomb. That's not very hard to believe as disinformation, purposeful or accidental, is likely seen to be a good thing when it comes to even the simplest of nuclear weapon designs.

What struck me in the article was not John Coster-Mullen's work, or that more information than many seem to expect can be gleaned from photos, nor even that some Manhattan Project workers had let slip little bits here and there. What struck me Samuels' remark that "...[John Coster-Mullen] treats the world's most destructive invention as an ordinary clocklike mechanism, made of simple parts that must fit together according to readily discernible laws."

Mechanically it was exactly that. Okkay, "simple" might not describe every part when it comes to the material used or the precise shaping, but the fitting of things together must work "according to readily discernible laws." Something cannot fit into a space larger than its container, for example. Things can only be so big. They have to fit together, and when they do they have to fit together a certain way. This constrains the size of everything.

That line, "...[John Coster-Mullen] treats the world's most destructive invention as an ordinary clocklike mechanism, made of simple parts that must fit together according to readily discernible laws." seems to reveal something about David Samuels. That's that he seems to think a nuclear weapon as some sort of fantastic, magical thing, that would not need to work like other devices - or that he believes that is point of view or belief of typical New Yorker readers. This is perhaps a case of Clark's Third Law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. And since the technology is considered very advanced, many see it as magic. Meanwhile John Coster-Mullen sees it as just another device, or perhaps from David Samuels' point of view, that "any sufficiently analyzed magic is indistinguishable from science." as mentioned earlier.

Tags: belief
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