Useful instructional materials

The wave/particle duality of light is always tricky to explain to my students. If only I’d known that the Dogon priests had already figured it all out — all I have to do is put up a picture of Nummo the Fish, and wisdom shall follow.


I’m listening to Laird Scranton exercising his remarkable pattern-matching abilities, finding correspondences in glyphs and pictures drawn by the Dogon, Chinese, and Egyptians to modern scientific concepts. Did you know the Dogon have had string theory all figured out? I didn’t.


  1. blf says

    According to his website, this nutter is a Velikovsky proponent (I thought they were all extinct by now), as well as a Dogon “secret” knowledge (and apparent ancient astronauts) kook.

  2. says

    The Babel fish is small, yellow, leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the universe. It feeds on brain wave energy, absorbing all unconscious frequencies and then excreting telepathically a matrix formed from the conscious frequencies and nerve signals picked up from the speech centres of the brain, the practical upshot of which is that if you stick one in your ear, you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language: the speech you hear decodes the brain wave matrix.

    For some reason it seemed appropriate…

  3. blf says

    I don’t recall ever hearing of Nummo the Fish before.

    Apparently, the Dogon do have some sort of a belief in something fish-like called(? translated-as?) “Nummo”. Ok, fine.

    But that has been appropriated and almost certainly misrepresented by the likes of David Icke as an(? the?) aliens from Sirius blah blah bahhumbug…

    For instance, a quick search finds on icky’s site claiming Dogon’s beliefs are “is the base religion from which all other world mythologies including Christianity have emanated”, and “the spiritual Nummo were identified with the serpent in the Bible”. And loads of other giggles.

  4. Sastra says

    They love the “aha!” moment of discovery which comes when you figure out that two things apparently unrelated things are actually connected. They also love the role of Brave Maverick unafraid to think outside the box or buckle under criticism.

    This is an unfortunate connection.

    It’s also following the usual script of religious conversion.

  5. dukeofomnium says

    “Well I’ll be Dogon, if I know about them strings, baby!
    And I’ll be Dogon, if you tell about them things, baby!
    But if you ever break my favorite wish,
    And spill the beans about my sweet Nummo fish,
    Then I wouldn’t be Dogon anymore, I’d be long gone”
    (with apologies to Marvin Gaye)

  6. Trebuchet says

    I’m sure I’m not the only who is thanking you, PZ, for taking one for the team. I’d never have been able to sit through all this without my head exploding.

    The level of kookery exhibited here is about on a par with some of the teaparty/Xian wingnuts, but with the Obama-hatin’. I’d have to guess, if asked, that most of these new-agey types are probably politically liberal. I’m not at all sure what my point is in saying that, however, if I even had one.

  7. says

    All the ancients were so advanced! If only they didn’t die so young, succumb to so many diseases, fight so many wars, spend so much time with idols and incantations. We would’ve discovered how advanced they really were!

  8. Sastra says

    Amateur Hour #11 wrote:

    All the ancients were so advanced! If only they didn’t die so young, succumb to so many diseases, fight so many wars, spend so much time with idols and incantations.

    No; all that bad stuff only came in with agriculture, cities, and religion (which is bad, as opposed to Spirituality which is totally different and good.) Noble savages were noble.

    In addition to PZ, Steven Pinker would bring in a needed ‘alternative’ view.

    Now that’s almost as fun to contemplate as PZ being there.

  9. says


    Noble savages were noble.

    Except for those of us noble savages who are still around. We’re supposed to shut up and pretend we were all exterminated and stop giving white peoples hassle about stuff, like sports team names and mascots.

  10. boskerbonzer says

    Well sure, but is it to scale? Ask and see if they take the bait. The explanation should go swimmingly. If not, exchange a few barbs with them.

  11. davem says

    I’ve been to visit the Dogon, They know about string, and may have some theories about how it ties goats up. Not usre about the priests, though. There are animist, Catholic and Protestant ones. Which did you have in mind?

  12. Randomfactor says

    Trouble is, they wrote out their discoveries in verse and no one survived peer review.

    Oh, wait, you said Dogon, not Vogon…

  13. brucej says

    To be serious, go dig up a copy of Julian Schwininger’s book ‘Einstein’s Legacy’, and crib from that. It is the clearest, most succinct explanation of relativity (including the dual nature of the photon) I’ve ever read, and it employs no math beyond some very basic algebra. Perfect for bio majors 8-P

    (sez the guy with a microbiology degree who took comp sci courses to fulfill math requirements :-)

    Much more informative than Vogons

  14. WhiteHatLurker says

    Nummo, the truly forgotten Marx brother … I rather like the drawing.

    Why is a biologist teaching wave/particle duality?

  15. brucej says


    Do you think that a species that would celebrate the ghastly genocidal nature of Krikkit wouldn’t manage to include a mis-spelling of Vogon in their foundational religious works?

  16. Happiestsadist, opener of the Crack of Doom says

    I’m always amazed that the Ancient Aliens people don’t see how amazingly racist they’re being. With the “contacted” people always being a bit less…hmm… pale than the Ancient Alien enthusiasts, and apparently incapable of the historically-demonstrated technical abilities, unless aliens taught them.

  17. tororosoba says

    All this is a misunderstanding.

    Dogon priests = doggone priests
    Nummo = Nemo

    Finally it makes sense.

  18. robb says

    quantum field theory shows particles and photons are the local excitations of quantized fields. there is no wave/particle paradox outside the confines of teaching non-relativistic quantum mechanics.

  19. Ariaflame, BSc, BF, PhD says

    I enjoyed the use of the Nommo myth in Niven’s Dream Park: Voodoo game.