The Loop: Nobel grilling


Welcome to The Loop, the Magazine's letters column, including the best of your thoughts from Twitter and Facebook.

This week we asked what, if given the chance, would you ask a roomful of Nobel Laureates. As your suggestions came in, it became clear that the task was almost like holding a mirror up to ourselves.

N Kishor, Wellington, New Zealand, made the opening gambit: "Do you believe in life after death?" Kelly Leong from Toronto wondered: "Darwin had a 'thinking path' to walk along... What helps you solve a problem?" Yuka Matsugu of New York mused: "Is intelligence determined by DNA - or does anyone have the potential to be intellectually great?"

Arthur Tyrel of Elgin, Illinois, asks: "Which is more important, intelligence or imagination?" While both Andrew, London and Dean Varley, Bangor, Northern Ireland, posed: "If you were running the world, name one thing you would do to improve it?" Yijiun, Johore, Malaysia, posited: "Are scientific theories true, or just the best explanation so far?"

Colin Butts from Milton, Florida, was a bit more fanciful, with: "If an alien offered you a lift in a spacecraft, would you accept?" While Ellen Hsu, from New York, asked the extremely philosophical: "If you could choose absolute love or absolute knowledge, which would it be?"

So we put some of the questions to Arieh Warshel, one of the three Nobel Laureates in Chemistry, who thought hard and said "Unfortunately I do not" to the matter of life after death, "Persistence and strong intuition to guide" as the thing which helps him solve a problem, and completely dodged the philosophical, saying he would choose both absolute love and absolute knowledge. That's the kind of thinking outside the box which gets you Nobel prizes, friends. Look and learn.

(You can also watch the Nobel Minds Debate between Arieh Warshel and several of this year's other Nobel prize-winners on BBC World News this weekend.)

The mysteries of Bitcoin, the virtual currency which has got many people talking, were explained in Bitcoin: Price v hype, which included an assertion from economic historian Garrick Hileman that Bitcoin is "the most exciting thing since the internet".

Is it just hype though? And if it is, how much? "All of it :)" tweeted Alan Thomas. Au contraire, said Glenn D'Souza, tweeting "BitCoins are here to stay!! whatever people say about them!"

We'll see.

Our new blog BBC Trending told the story of how the Lulu app, with which women rate former boyfriends, has caused a stir in Brazil.

On our Facebook page, Ian Smith wrote: "Old news, old concept. I remember using back in the early 2000's." Andre Blanbecque added "This is how Facebook started. Why is it "ok" for men to rate women and not vice versa? But Anna King writes "It isn't payback, it's hypocrisy."

And so to our piece on the daily perils of Victorian homelife. "Many of the products they bought or inventive technological solutions they came up with were not only health hazards, but deadly domestic assassins", wrote historian Dr Suzannah Lipscomb.

Stephen Watson, digging out some dusty ancestral correspondence, wrote: "In 1906 my great grandfather wrote to his fiancee: 'You do seem to have been having a chapter of accidents. Didn't I tell you when Katie did exactly the same thing and warned you against wearing those cheap and nasty combs?' When I read this letter I couldn't imagine what he meant. So, was it a self-igniting parkesine comb perhaps?"

After our piece on possible alternatives to the union jack in the event of Scottish independence, we were deluged by readers' suggested designs. We published 25 of the most interesting.

One consideration ignored by many of the suggestions is ease of manufacture, wrote Peter Jones of Woodbridge, Surrey. "There are printed flags about and these are cheaper but tend to be much less durable than ones made by sewing fast-dyed cloth together. Although the present flag is fiddly to construct it does involve only straight stitching. Dragons etc would put up the cost considerably."

Finally this week, we shared the festive thoughts of comedian Marcus Brigstocke. Among other things he said:

As New Year 2014 starts

We'll all make pledges from our hearts…

But why? What purpose will it serve?

To promise then what we deserve.

We could (and this is just a thought)

Do now what then we think we ought?

Why wait until the New Year comes?

Richard Lilley was not impressed. "Please take this unfunny man off the Magazine," he said. We'll have to agree to differ, Richard. We rather liked what he had to say.

But last couplet goes to Rod King of Exeter, who replied in some style.

All the latest demographics show that doggerel's in vogue

If you doubt it, watch the adverts on TV -

From Pam Ayres to Lenny Henry, Devon lilt to Scottish brogue

The copy-writers all choose poetry.

But not the wonderful pentameters that Shakespeare's language shares

With the soaring sonnet forms of Keats and Milton;

This is doggerel indeed, and of a type that's hard to bear -

Less like Homer's Paris; more like Paris Hilton.

Do we really think it's clever, advertising stuff in verse?

Using simple couplet forms and childish rhymes?

With depressing repetitions, homophones, and sometimes worse -

Perhaps it's just the fashion of our times?

Either way I'm sick and tired of it; I hope it doesn't last.

I consider that the standard's pretty trite;

When contemporary poetry's compared to what has passed

We can probably agree it's pretty poor.*

*I couldn't think of a rhyme.

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