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Showing posts from September 29, 2013

the conquest of scurvy and a lesson for economists

There’s an incident from medical history, recounted by David Wootton in his book, Bad Medicine, that seems to me to tell us a lot about modern economics. In the early 17 th century, Dutch and Portugese seamen discovered that scurvy could be cured or warded off by using lemons or oranges/ They did not know the underlying cause, but they did see the results. Scurvy, according to Wooton, was a major killer. To give an example: “ During the Seven Years War, 184 , 899 sailors served in the British fl eet (many of them press-ganged into service); 133 , 708 died from disease, mostly scurvy; 1 , 512 were killed in action.” The Seven Years war was fought in the 1750s, almost a hundred and fifty years after the Dutch and Portugese discovery. Why, then, was there any scurvy in 1750? Wooton’s story is incredible. Although English sea captains started giving their men fruit, this remedy was countermanded by the medical establishment. They persuaded the captains that fruit couldn’t work

the memory dream

In my experience, memory has two directions. That is, when I remember, the direction memory seems to take is either straight, direct, or lateral. In the former case, I am like a fisherman casting a line – I cast my mind back and hook my object, that thing or event in the past. Or I don’t. When I don’t, it means I have either forgotten it or it didn’t exist. Psychologists have shown that it is a rather simple matter to create fake memories, in which case what was never there is remembered anyway. But regardless of whether the object is absent, non-existant, or forged, the direction of memory, here, is direct. It is analogous to double book accounting, where the column with the object and the column with the memory are on one plane, side by side. Lateral memory, however, is a different thing. It is about connotations and associations. Memory here is something that emerges without, at times, my having made any effort to remember. I will, instead, suddenly remember. This suddenness