British Airways Flight 017 to Seoul


Flying to Seoul I am sitting behind a young Korean couple returning from their honeymoon in London. Science fact 1: Men act stupidly when they are, or think they are, being observed by a woman. Science fact 2: People generally are less intelligent on airplanes because of the difference in air pressure. This is true even in a pressurized cabin. Science fact 3: people in love are ridiculous. The guy in front is unable to overcome the odds which are so heavily stacked against him.

Another science fact (4): the cabin environment changes peoples' tastes. This is reflected in the popularity of tomato juice, which is consumed at a higher rate on airplanes than on the ground. I notice the Korean passengers' meals come with British Airways Kimchee (fermented cabbage), but not everyone is eating it. Could it be that Kimchee is adversely affected by the environment? This is a critical issue for the Korean space program, which has devoted considerable resources to getting Kimchee into space for their astronauts. They wanted to know, for example, if cosmic rays would interfere with the bacteria in the Kimchee and its fermenting processes. But, the important determination may turn out to be whether Korean astronauts even like Kimchee when their environment is altered to that of a space capsule.

It is a bit disconcerting to think that even on an individual level, both our tastes and our capabilities are linked with our external environment in a measurable way. This is not nature versus nurture, but rather an observation that certain immutables turn out to be environmentally contingent.

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