There are three kinds of people in the world. The first kind believe what they see; these experimentalists will have confronted Salt before Sulfur, completing Quality Assurance before mastering Research and Development. If you belong to this tribe, I congratulate you on your ability to keep in the heat and withstand it. The second kind see what they believe; the theoreticians tend to study and digest before getting their hands dirty. If this is your family, you are in good company. My professional training was as a theoretician and I have spent an inordinate amount of time thinking, dreaming, writing, and rewriting sections of this book before venturing into the laboratory, only to have Nature send me back to the drawing board one more time. The third kind don't believe that seeing is worth the effort. They got so bored or bewildered in Chapter 3 that they gave up, either using the book to play floor hockey or selling it back to the bookstore for ten cents on the dollar. Or both.

A recent chemistry graduate had the habit of compulsively whistling the theme song to the television program, Sanford and Son. The tune would unexpectedly waft down the hall and insinuate itself into my head, momentarily diverting me from other, less pressing activities. Unlike many of my comrades, I resented neither the tune nor its whistler; each was simply doing what comes naturally and any inconvenience I suffered was both fleeting and inconsequential. Short memes such as this one have a distinct advantage over longer, more complicated ones such as stoichiometry or tax law. Their very brevity enhances the fidelity with which they reproduce themselves. Theme songs, slogans, and sound bites are useful for enhancing the fecundity of larger meme-plexes which contain them. I have not been above using them myself from time to time. But more and more our culture has come to view platitudes and bromides as substitutes for the complicated, confusing, and yes, occasionally boring details of modern industrial life. I hope that you will have found something among my scribblings to make these complexities either a little more interesting or a little more understandable. Or both.

No one will have gotten this far in the book without realizing that I am a science geek. Growing up, I had the laboratory in the back yard where I built all manner of weird contraptions. What am I saying? I still have a laboratory in the back yard where I build all manner of weird contraptions. But I didn't write this book for science geeks; I wrote it for the bankers and bakers, the governors and grocers, the lawyers and landscapers, the preachers and pagans, the doctors and dogcatchers, the stockbrokers and stockholders, the home-builders and homemakers. I wrote it for everyone who has a role to play in our unfolding historical drama. I wrote it for you. As you go out onto the stage that is the world, as you undertake your exits and your entrances and play your many parts, I hope that you will allow yourself from time to time to peer out through ancient eyes, to lend fleeting life to I-deas and inspirations which built that stage and drafted its early scripts, to re-meme-ber once again the role of "caveman chemist."


Quince: If that may be then all is well. Come, sit down, every mother's son and rehearse your parts. Pyramus, you begin. When you have spoken your speech, enter into that brake; and so every one according to his cue.

 — William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream, ca. 1596 AD [1]



Reference [24], Act III, Scene 1.


Reference [34], leading causes of death, ages 1-65, years 1999-2000.