Tuesday, May 6, 2008
When I received my PhD all those years ago, all the new doctorates in the country were revealed in some academic journal, I canâ€™t remember which. Anyway, it was engrossing to discover what parallel brains had been working on during the four years I had slaved (with, I admit, mixed results). I have long felt that there are only two areas of genuine freedom in education for the student. These are the nursery classroom and doctoral study. In the first there is space and time to play with physical matter and in the second to play with grey matter. A key ingredient of a PhD should be originality and for the tiny child, almost everything seems original. Anyway, the title that eventually caught my eye in the not very long list of thesesâ€™ titles, was â€˜Slippage in Meringuesâ€™. Iâ€™m not sure how long the author struggled with the central complexity of the meringue and I never requested a micro-fiche copy from the British Library but it was a lesson that in this life people pursue the most idiosyncratic of intellectual quarries.
A recent New Scientist issue contains a story about womenâ€™s voices. Apparently they shift in some previously unknown scale as the woman progresses through the menstrual cycle. When they are at their most fertile the timbre becomes liminal, bridging the gap between them and men:
â€¦scientists have suggested that very subtle changes caused by the rise and fall of different sex hormones can be detected by men, who then perhaps find a woman more attractive without necessarily even realising why.
One can imagine the laboratory with rows of speakers whispering huskily their siren-like recordings, drawing ignorant males from all over the research campus to stand, in chest-puffed queues, scratching their heads outside the code-locked doors and not having the faintest clue what has brought them there.
In this respect there is a lot in common between meringues and men. Gooey centres.