songs from the book of knowledge: echo

listen to echo

Nearly all ancient peoples had poetic stories about the echo.
According to the Greeks, Echo was a mountain nymph who pined away for the love of the youth Narcissus until there was nothing left of her but her whispering voice, and this she could only use to repeat the last word of others.
When you called out “Hello!”, echo answered softly “Hello.”
And when you cried “Who are you?”, you heard only her mocking answer: “You.”
No one really knew what an echo was until wise men discovered that sound travels in waves, just as water and light travel. If a wave of water is stopped by a cliff, it is thrown back into the sea. So if a sound wave is stopped by a cliff, it is thrown back to our ears. The sound very seldom comes back just as it was made. It is usually broken into an airy shattered echo just as a wave is thrown back in spray. And it really seems as if some mocking sprite calls back from a fairy grotto in the rocks.
Sometimes the echo repeats the sound several times. This is caused by successive rebounds from several different objects, placed at varying distances from the observer. If you stand about a hundred feet from the reflecting surface, you hear only the final syllable of what you call. If you take your stand farther back, more and more syllables can be heard.
Sir Isaac Newton used the echo in a corridor at Trinity College, Cambridge to measure the speed at which sound travels. Standing at one end of the corridor he started a group of sound waves by stamping his foot. These waves were thrown back by the wall at the far end of the corridor. He timed the interval between stamping his foot and hearing the echo, he knew the distance to the wall and back, and from these factors, he calculated a speed for sound which was within a few feet of a second of the speed which modern science has determined.

Note: The words in all Songs from the Book of Knowledge are excerpts taken from a 1939 Compton’s Pictured Encyclopedia and Fact-Index.

songs from the book of knowledge: moon

listen to moon

The mind of man can hardly conceive that life has ever been upon the moon, but as we look at this silent world and see with our own eyes the mighty record of its past, we feel a sense of the boundless mystery of the universe.
We stand on a world of life and look on a world of death.
We see spread out before us, in the full light of the sun, a landscape as vast as the American continent, with not a living thing upon it.
Not a flower blooms, not a tree grows, not an insect creeps, not a sound is heard, not a thing moving; the silence of a thousand ages is unbroken in this solitude that no man knows.
But it was not always thus.
The energies let loose in the world war were like children’s toys compared with the forces that must have once rent and torn the moon.
Unthinkable forces have made her what she is – beautiful to look upon as she rides in majesty with the Earth around the sun, but with a face all scarred and worn with time, and the mark of some great agony written over it.
Who is not moved by that picture of the moon which Professor J.A. Thomson has given us?
We may say of the moon, in his words, that “it was Earth’s only child, and it died.”

Note: The words in all Songs from the Book of Knowledge are excerpts taken from a 1939 Compton’s Pictured Encyclopedia and Fact-Index.

songs from the book of knowledge: water

listen to water

Here is a good game. Let everyone write on a sheet of paper, and it should be a large one, every important fact he can think of about water, including its special properties, the things it does, and what it is used for; the winner to be the one with the largest number of correct items in his list.
All the players will, of course, set down rain, snow, hail, ice, and dew, streams, lakes and oceans, the moisture in the atmosphere and in the soil. They will include also the use of water for drinking, washing, cooking, cooling our refrigerators and gasoline engines, driving our water wheels and turbines, and floating our ships.
Many players will probably recall that our bodies are about 70% water and, indeed, that all active living cells and tissue, vegetable and animal alike, must contain a certain amount of water to stay alive. they may add likewise that water is the greatest of all solvents, most of the liquid chemicals used in science, medicine and industry being water solutions.
Some players will know that countless ‘dry’ solids, particularly crystals like borax and washing soda, contain water; and that countless others, such as plaster, bricks, and concrete require water for their formation.
But how many will realize that if water obeyed the rule, common to most other substances, of contracting when it freezes instead of expanding, life would never have appeared on this earth?
And how many will know that it is another exceptional quality of water, its high specific heat, which largely controls the climate of our temperate zones and makes them habitable?
A thousand other such queries could be made. But one thing is certain about our game; no player will make a perfect score. To sit down and explain all the important facts that are known about water would require several books the size of this one and the author would need to be an expert in virtually every branch of human knowledge.

Note: The words in all Songs from the Book of Knowledge are excerpts taken from a 1939 Compton’s Pictured Encyclopedia and Fact-Index.

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