This is the WASTED BLOG. For my main author website, click this link.

Awards: WASTED won the Read it or Else category in the Coventry Award and was runner-up in the North East Book Award. It is longlisted for the Carnegie Medal and shortlisted for the Manchester, Grampian, Angus, and RED Awards.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010


Do you study chemistry at school? Well, I gave up when I was 12. Useless. Didn't understand it at all. Still don't.

In fact, you might like to know what my last science report said, before I gave up physics and chemistry and focused on biology for O-levels. (The old-fashioned version of GCSE  - and yes, I did start O-levels young, in case you think I'm exaggerating. There was a reason, but I won't go into that now.)

My report said, "Nicola has no aptitude for science subjects." Thanks, mate. Obviously, he was wrong, since I went on to write two books about the brain, but sometimes teachers don't know everything.

Anyway, back to chemistry. You know the periodic table? All those odd symbols you have to learn for all the elements? Yes, well, I'm very glad I don't need to know it but I am aware that without understanding it you cannot understand what the world is made of. And what we are made of. That's you on the right, that is - a pretty pattern of symbols.

Anyway, the guy who discovered the periodic table had an easy time of it. What, you thought he had to work it out? No - it all came to him in a dream. Apparently. I have my doubts but I'm an old cynic. On the other hand, I do sometimes work out plot problems for my novels in my sleep, so maybe he did.

So, grumpy old Dimitri Mendeleyev was working late one night, trying to work out what the world was made of, as you do, and he fell asleep. And he dreamt the periodic table. And thereby changed history. (Obviously, someone else would have got there eventually, by the more normal route of damned hard work, but lucky old DM just dreamt it.)

There's a good book that tells this story - Mendeleyev's Dream: The Quest for the Elements by Paul Strathearn.

Actually, there's an interesting and relevant point to this, which no one has mentioned, so I will. Because I'm so interested in the human brain, I keep up to date with new research. There's fascinating new evidence of how our brains work while we're asleep. It seems that they focus, while we're asleep, on the things we were doing during that day, especially - and here's where I think the whole human brain thing is utter MAGIC - on the things we found difficult.

So, if you focus on the things you find difficult today, chances are your brain will rehearse them when you go to sleep tonight. Isn't that fantastic?

Gah - 've just realised. This means I should spend my day doing maths and chemistry and physics.... Noooooo!

WASTED BLOG TOUR - WHERE AM I TODAY? Over at lovely Iffath's place at lovereadingx - join us there.


catdownunder said...

When I did the equivalent of 4th form physics and chemistry I was taught by people who had never done more than 5th form physics and chemistry themselves. They were nice people but they had no idea about teaching these subjects. I was not terribly interested either...I was "Lucky" that was the year that the big exams we had to do at the end of that year were short answer questions...I took "intelligent" guesses (meaning I knew just enough) and passed. BUT the really interesting thing is that my father tried to experiment by making tapes for me (and my brother) to "listen" to when we were asleep. The only problem was that I always woke up!

Maribeth said...

Fascinating. So Mendeleyev was a real "dreamer." Bet teachers won't share that story often.
I always read test material before going to sleep and now I know why that worked.
Giggles and Guns

Dark Puss said...

I am a physicist but only once can I remember solving a problem in my dream. As a year 1 UG at Edinburgh I remember dreaming the solution to a problem involving Gauss' Law in electrostatics and a hemispherical shell.

If only I could solve more challenging problems in my dreams (or these days when awake).