Joe - and Alexander Liberman - reminds us that creativity without waste is impossible. And, interestingly, sometimes the waste is more than just an afterproduct - it spawns a whole new idea altogether. The waste, in effect, becomes the creativity.
Burkhard Bilger writes of many of these unhappy happy accidents in the chemistry lab (The New Yorker magazine, May 22, 2006). Shashikant Phadnis, a young Indian chemist at Queen Elizabeth College in London was instructed to test a new compound - but he heard "taste the new compound" and found it achingly sweet. That compound in its pure form is the sucralose, also known as Splenda, that we stir into our coffee, tea and Kool-Aid today.
This was an interesting tidbit from the article:
When Columbus introduced cane to the New World, the anthropologist Sidney Mintz has noted, sugar was an exotic luxury. Most Europeans had never eaten sugar, but they quickly developed a taste for it. By 1700, the Americas had become a vast sugar mill and the English were eating four pounds per person per year. By 1800, they were eating 18 pounds; by 1900, 90 pounds. But nowhere was the rise of sugar as dramatic as in the New World. Last year, the average American consumed about 140 pounds of can sugar, corn syrup and other natural sugars - 50 percent more than the Germans or French and nine times as much as the Chinese.
Saccharin was found over dinner in 1879 by a chemist who was working with coal-tar derivatives and forgot to wash his hands properly. Aspartame was founded in 1965 by a chemist who was testing new drugs for gastric ulcers and licked his fingers before picking up a piece of paper.
I didn't know either that cats can't taste sugar - neither can many dogs, he says. Most other animals can't taste artificial sweeteners.
Lust for sugar seems to be a basically human trait. Newborns are already fixated on sweetness. Sugar seems to trigger the release of opiates in the brain, bringing pleasure and blocking pain.
Americans ate about 24 pounds of sugar substitutes per person last year, nearly double what they did in 1980, yet sugar consumption rose about 25 percent in the same period.
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