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The challenges of being a father in the scientific age

The challenges of being a father in the scientific age

One of my children asked me whether ham came from hamsters. "Of course," I said. "Just like jelly comes from jellyfish." I added that our family's favourite dessert, Nutella mousse, was a gland secretion from "a brown elk from Canada called the chocolate moose".

Kids expect dads to be the font of all knowledge, and it's easy to rise to the challenge if you have a good imagination and a plausible manner.

But then came a harder question from the offspring: "If junk food is bad for kids, why do dads eat it all the time?

The real reason, of course, is that the main activity of fathers is telling off children for sins that we still do ourselves, right?

But instead I put on my Scientific Thinker persona and explained that foods have different effects on different people. Luckily there was a perfect example in the latest New Scientist magazine. Tribes who live in the Atacama Desert in Chile have evolved the ability to consume the deadly arsenic poison without harm, it said. "Kids there probably go to fast food shops and order poison and french fries," I explained. "Bit like everywhere else."

Seeking further examples of bizarre tribes eating weird things, I googled "Do Singaporeans really eat turtles?". Instead, I found a turtle-related newsflash from Science Alert: "Researchers in Korea are developing a technology that will allow humans to control turtles through thought alone." A human wears a helmet that beams brainwaves to an apparatus worn by the turtle.

Just imagine what unscrupulous Singaporeans could do with this. "Hello, turtles, we bought you some cute hats!" Later: "You are under my control. Lightly season yourselves with soy sauce and come to me."

What puzzles me is why the South Koreans have not made remote brain control devices for children. Or for wives to use on husbands. "You are under my control. Put down that beer, lightly season yourself with soy sauce and come to me."

The report said that the Turtle Brain Control System could "give the user a sense of oneness with the controlled animal". Who wants a feeling of oneness with a turtle? Be better to achieve oneness with the Buddha. Or maybe Scarlett Johansson.

But the most worrying recent report on the science page was the news that Facebook has a team of 60 people working on a device that reads your brainwaves and types out the words. When this gets launched, all males are going to be in deep trouble.

A colleague told me that academics from the University of Zurich have proposed the creation of a Mental Privacy law that makes it illegal to read someone's mind. It sounds good in theory, but a) we won't be able to tell, and b) who's going to confess? "Oops, sorry, I read your mind, you're one sick dude, arrest me now."

Incidentally, I do realise that one day my child will come home from school saying: "Dad, my teacher says ham does not come from hamsters. It comes from pigs." I have my response prepared: "Yes, I've heard that theory too, but fathers who are Scientific Thinkers always keep an open mind."

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