Friday, November 16, 2007

Spearmint and Caraway

Years ago i read a book by Martin Gardner called the Ambidextrous Universe. At the time, i was studying organic chemistry in the early years of med school- and trying to learn about "chirality" and stereo-isomers/enantiomers. These are chemicals made of the same 'stuff' but put together in a differrent 3-D way- they resemble each other as a left hand resembles a right hand.

Interestingly, the odour (carvone) of spearmint and that of caraway are related in this way. Other pairings include:

lemon vs orange smell
nasty thalidomide (teratogenic) vs good thalidomide (anti-emetic)

Around the same time i discovered one of my favourite books ever "The 4th Dimesion and How to Get There" by Rudy Rucker. One way to tell if you have been flipped 90 degrees to reality (i.e. through a 4th dimesion) while you were sleeping is to chew your Wrigley's spearmint gum- if it tastes like spicy rye bread then you know. Obviously, there would be other clues- all writing would look reversed. Your heart would still be on your left side- it's just that the rest of the world would disagree with your definition of "left". Given that all your gut enzymes are designed to digest "Left handed" protein, and "Right handed" carbohydrate- you'd probably develop a bad case of malabsorption.

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