14 December 2009

Bones and glass

The king who thought he was made of glass (the "mad King" of France, Charles VI (1368-1422) and all the others who shared this popular delusion would have considered insane, today's idea of deliberately mending broken bones with glass.

But such is the case. And not only that. Metallic glass. And not only that, but metal that "dissolves in the body". And it's not just an idea.

Read "Mending Broken Bones Using Metallic Glasses" (in the always worthwhile AZo Journal of Materials) about the bone-mending work of Bruno Zberg, Peter Uggo-witzer and Jörg Löffler, researchers at ETH Zürich (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich, a science and technology university).

As to delusions, the glass delusion is an example of fashions in hysteria. Although it's hard to find a person anywhere in today's world who is unfamiliar with glass, the delusion is so nonexistent as to be a curious note in history. But to those wealthy enough to know glass when it was an indulgence, the hysteria was once as urgent and rampant as their need for jewels and starch and lace.

And the need for those necessities of civilized existence was as normal then and there as these now, in the Christmas buying guide of (Australian) Choice Magazine: "If you want your kids to have the latest and greatest console to make their friends jealous, the Nintendo DSi should do the trick. However, if your kids already have ... Playing Wii games isn't just about twiddling your thumb on a joystick; you can play games by waving your arms about or making a quick flick of the wrist to play tennis and golf. And for $150 you can add the Wii Fit ... It's no substitute for proper fitness equipment or a trained instructor."

Fashions in hysteria deserve greater scrutiny, and perhaps the works of what I'll call this hysterian should be more widely known, though they are the considered judgments of an expert in his field with the credentials to show to the outraged.

It is delightful, however, that the great works and projects that people generally know Dr Colin McEvedy for (and the background that should give added credence to his scholarly though controversial papers noted above), are the works of an amateur historian. As his fascinating obituary says in The Independent, "Why he didn't read History at Oxford, which he never regretted, probably had to do with his suspicion that the work he loved might be constrained by the conformity of the academic world."

From this lack of constraint came great creativity. And the shattering of constraint must have been the music that inspired the thoughts of how to mend broken bones with glass.

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