Thoreau Said It Wasn’t Indispensable

By John Hertz: (reprinted from No Direction Home 44, dated 24 Dec 19)

Caring what befalls,
Ardently helping, leading,
Reaching what can be,
Oh what fun it is to ride
Love and laughter currently.

It’s the International Year of the Periodic Table, so declared by the United Nations to honor the Table’s being substantially invented in its modern form 150 years ago by Dmitri Mendeleyev (1834-1907).

We had learned there were elements. Other organizations of them had been proposed. His predicted the existence and properties of new elements, which when discovered proved to be so. At the time elements were characterized by their atomic weight; some known elements did not behave according to his theory; he said their atomic weights must have been measured incorrectly; this too proved so.

He is said to have reported, “In a dream I saw a table where all the elements fell into place as required. Awakening, I immediately wrote it down.” Luckily he escaped the Higamus Effect.

* * *

In the 23 Nov 39 Cleveland Plain Dealer, p. 20, the column “Good Morning from Claire MacMurray”, headed “Thanksgiving Nightmare”, recounted:

Mrs. Amos Pinchot…. dreamed one night that she had written a poem so beautiful, so wise, so close to the ultimate truth of life that she was immediately acclaimed by all the peoples on the earth as the greatest poet and philosopher of all the ages. Still half asleep as the dream ended, she stumbled out of bed and scribbled the poem down, realizing that she must take no risk of forgetting such deathless lines. She awoke in the morning with the feeling that something wonderful was about to happen – oh, yes! Her poem.

She clutched the precious paper and, tense with excitement, read the words she had written. Here they are.

Hogamus Higamus
Men are Polygamous
Higamus Hogamus
Women Monogamous

* * *

I sometimes think we may have run into a new element. The most recently recognized is Element 118, oganesson, symbol Og, synthesized in 2002 at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research, near Moscow, by a joint team of Russian and American scientists, and formally named (28 Nov 16) for the physicist Yuri Oganessian (1933- ), who has played a leading role in discovering the heaviest elements in the Periodic Table.

This new element, if it proves to be Element 119, should be an alkali metal, which seems right. It may be essential; certainly characteristic, widespread, and highly radioactive.

We could call it mnisikakía, after the Greek; its symbol could be M (Mn is taken, manganese). I thought of calling it iracundia, after the Latin, but the symbol I is taken (iodine) and so is Ir (iridium). Or we could keep the symbol M and call it by its common name, resentment.

What did Thoreau know?


“Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.” H. Thoreau, Walden ch. 1 (1854)

Discover more from File 770

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.

2 thoughts on “Thoreau Said It Wasn’t Indispensable

  1. I am probably missing something, but don’t find any case where Mendeleev determined that his ordering showed an atomic weight to be incorrect. The table still has a weight-vs-order anomaly: argon precedes potassium but is heavier by ~2%. The Wikipedia article on argon says this is because atomic weights are based on local conditions: most argon is Ar40 from decay of K40, while most of the astronomically detectable argon is Ar36.

    The idea of a widespread, highly-radioactive element is implausible — but the thought of resentment being an alkali metal (which goes off if not kept away from water) is all too plausible.

Comments are closed.