Posts filed under “Science & Nature”


Dear Dr. Boli: This bag of Himalayan pink salt I just bought says, in big letters, “100% NATURALLY PURE.” It also says that it “contains up to 84 minerals and trace elements.” My question is this: Huh? —Sincerely, A Confused Dollar-Store Shopper.

Dear Sir or Madam: Obviously, by the usual laws of English denotation, “Pure” means one thing, and “contains up to 84 minerals and trace elements” means something entirely different. The single word in English that best describes “contains up to 84 minerals and trace elements” is contaminated.

Dr. Boli did some research to make sure he was giving you the correct answer here. Bailey’s Dictionary, for example, defines “pure” as “simple, uncompounded.” Dr. Johnson gives us “Unmingled; not altered by mixtures; mere.” Worcester says “Free from mixture with any thing else.”

But we are standing on the frontiers of lexicography here. It is often true that lexicographers, even ones as recent as Worcester (Dr. Boli consulted the 1860 edition), lag behind the common sense of the people in questions of meaning and usage. As with the word “comprise,” the word “pure” may be coming to mean its opposite. This is a development we should encourage in more words. The more ambiguous our language, the less we can definitely be accused of having said any one thing in particular, and the fewer people we shall offend as a result. Eventually we shall reach the happy state of not being able to communicate at all, and wars will cease at last.


Google photos likes to use its awe-inspiring intelligence to identify things in one’s collection and present them in a neat little bundle. For example…


Dr. Boli has been hearing quite a bit lately about how we ought to worry about the continuing advance of artificial intelligence. He has decided to put off worrying for a while.


Dear Dr. Boli: Where does dust come from? I clean everything to a spotless shine. I vacuum three hours a day and change vacuum bags in my special sealed vacuum bag changing room. Yet dust still appears within hours. Where does it come from? —Sincerely, Martha Stewart (name withheld by request).

Dear Madam: Many theories have been advanced to account for the apparently unaccountable appearance of dust on clean surfaces, and especially on wooden surfaces. Some theoretical physicists account for it as a natural by-product of the atomic decay of wood, which produces tiny thread-like particles called “strings.” Some theologians, noting that dust is specifically mentioned in the curses at the end of the Fall narrative (Gen. 3:19), believe that the dust on your furniture is made up of microscopic fragments of Adam, which must remain with all of his descendants until the final resurrection. But the most plausible theory is that dust is planted by enemy agents bent on subverting the clean American way of life. Whenever you have visitors in your house, examine your furniture carefully after they have left to see whether there is any more dust than before. If there is, report those visitors to the Department of Homeland Security, Bureau of Dust Prevention. You will be doing your part to preserve the American way.


When it comes to growing old, Americans seem to be of two minds. Some simply refuse to admit that they are growing old, or ever will grow old. Others freely admit that they are aging, and insist on telling us how horrible it is to grow old.

Dr. Boli, however, thinks aging is a fine thing, and earnestly recommends it to all his friends. As an expert on growing old, he has compiled a little list of the advantages of advanced age, in the hope that others may be inspired not only to continue the aging process, but to celebrate it as one of life’s pleasures:

You hear the young people say “This country is entering the worst crisis in its history,” and you remember the Saturday Night Massacre, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Pearl Harbor, the Great Depression, the Spanish Flu, the Hayes-Tilden election, the Panic of 1873, the Civil War, the Nullification Crisis, and the Whiskey Rebellion.

Your antiperspirant bill is considerably reduced.

You are not automatically suspected of being a shoplifter if you walk out of a store without buying anything.

You can consider with equanimity the possibility that you might have been wrong about something.

You spend much less of your life thinking about pimples.

You may discover that you actually like broccoli; but if you do not, no one forces you to eat it.

When middle-aged cranks complain about the ridiculous fashions young people are wearing these days, you remember zoot suits, lavender smoking jackets, bustles, and crinolines.

You can force a young person out of a seat on the streetcar with only a withering stare, which is the next best thing to having a death ray.

Your diseases tend to have much more impressive names.

Your opinions are accorded a certain amount of respect, even if you are a demonstrable fool.


Dear Dr. Boli: There are so many different health and wellness modalities out there. How do I know which ones are scientifically sound? —Sincerely, Josephine P. Briggs, M.D., Director, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

Dear Madam: Dr. Boli has a single rule that, while it may seem a bit odd at first, may help you distinguish science from pseudoscience. (By all the laws of the Internet, therefore, this article should be headed “Learn to Recognize Bogus Medicine with This One Weird Rule.” Yet, unaccountably, it is not.) This is the rule: Real knowledge does not have a trademark symbol after its name.

So when you are judging the scientific basis of a “health and wellness modality,” ask yourself this question: How much of the knowledge—not the products created from it, obviously, but the knowledge itself—underpinning this discipline is protected by trademark law? “Massage” is not; “Therapeutic Touch®” is. You can see the principle; go and apply it. You might allot a few million dollars to some worthy organization to study the matter. We might suggest, purely at random, the Boli Foundation for Integrative Research, the first research organization openly dedicated to integrating solid statistical research with wishful thinking.


Vibration. All matter is energy, but not all energy matters. Matter is made up of particles like electrons, quarks, baking soda, and dust mites, all vibrating at a specific frequency. We are now awakening to the need to raise our vibrational frequency in order to function at an energetic level that only dogs can hear.

Vibrational Density. The speed of your vibration is called your vibrational density. The denser you are, the better you will understand these spiritual terms.

Energy is the blue glowy stuff usually added in post-production.

Higher Self. Your higher self is that part of you that is vibrating at a higher frequency. Have you ever done that thing where you breathe in some of the helium from a balloon and your voice gets all squeaky? That is because helium is a spiritual element that gives you direct access to your higher self.

Shadow Self. The shadow self is that part of your soul that is vibrating at a lower frequency. It sounds a bit like a foghorn.

Dimension.dimension is like a great big thing with stuff in it.

Multidimensional. Having more than one dimension. If you have only one dimension, it’s like your soul is living in a dorm room. Two dimensions are like a one-bedroom apartment, and so on, up to fifty-dimensional celestial mansions of the soul, which, you know, look great, but getting good help is a nightmare.

Soul. The soul is the part of you that responds to Jelly Roll Morton but not to Guy Lombardo.

Karma. Newton’s Third Law of Special Thermodynamics states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reactionKarma is the application of Newtonian principles in the ethical world, so that if you do something really, really mean, the Universe gets really, really mad and says, “Whoa, not cool, dude.”

Chakra. A Chakra is a center of energy in your body. You can use your chakras to recharge your batteries, so to speak, but not the regular alkaline kind, because they might blow up.

Awakening is the process of coming to understand that you need to pay $1200 for a weekend-long retreat to improve your vibrational density.



A new study by scientists at Duck Hollow University shows a direct correlation between nasal-related inquiries and the alarming rise in business-school graduates in fields like health care and education.

According to the study, which followed three thousand subjects from birth to the age of thirty-two, babies who are repeatedly asked “Where’s your nose?” are 2.6 times more likely to pursue degrees in business administration than children the location of whose noses is never called into question during infancy.

Professor Alexander Hogwhistle, who directed the study, says that the result is “a clear warning” to new parents.

“The most pressing problem facing civilization today is the multiplication of business-school graduates in positions where they are likely to cause grave harm,” he said. “Our study shows that parents are responsible for the damage.”

Prof. Hogwhistle suggested that parents who are tempted to ask their babies “Where’s your nose?” should make an effort to formulate a more interesting question, such as “Where’s Maquoketa, Iowa?”

Prof. Hogwhistle ended with a plea directed specifically to local businesses.

“We have three thousand middle-aged interns looking for work now that the study is completed,” he said. “The experience they gained following our subjects during the study might make them especially suitable for positions as private detectives.”


Second Series.

Inuktitut language. By interviewing more than a thousand Inuktitut speakers, linguist Carloman Dental-Sibilant has determined that the Inuktitut language has 53 words for “snow” and 285 words for “gullible southerner.”