I dream of Alpha

This museum’s rooms are empty, waiting to be filled with answers to visitors’ questions.


In my search for nutrition, have I overlooked some fruit that I might find convenient and delicious? I start by trying to find out what’s popular throughout the world.

What fruits are liked by the most people? Human thoughts are not my forte.

What fruits are eaten the most? I get an answer, but not in the chart form I expected.

A row of fruit appears on the floor. The larger ones are shown both whole and sliced. Does the five-second rule apply to food that suddenly appeared on the floor, or only to food that has been dropped? Am I looking at holograms?

A bigger problem is that the list is dominated by small fruits like berries. I don’t like berries.

What fruits are eaten the most, by weight? Insufficient data.

I probe, using simpler questions, to figure out what it knows. What’s the weight of an apple? 180 grams. What’s the total weight of apples eaten in a year? Insufficient data.

I guess I have to be explicit if I want it to combine its weight and consumption data.

For each fruit for which you have sufficient data, chart the number eaten in a year, the average weight, and the product of the two.

I don’t get an answer right away. Is it just taking a while? Did I mangle the question, causing it to make a chart that is invisible because it has no entries? Did I confuse it with the phrase “the product of the two”?


Two women are debating the merits of bananas. In this place, they aren’t limited to speculation. Can you chart fruit by potassium per Calorie? Vitamin B6 per dollar? It helpfully highlights the “banana” row in each chart.

They explore the supply side as well. Show me maps of where bananas are grown. Can you add a yearly animation with harvests shown as glowing dots? Draw a chart with axes for temperature and latitude, colored to show how well bananas grow in each condition.

I start thinking of my own questions, but I don’t expect it to be able to answer them. How do most people open bananas? How many bananas are used in recipes rather than eaten directly?

How many bananas are used as sex toys? Oops, did I ask that out loud?

It doesn’t even acknowledge my question, but one of the women retorts with a question of her own.

What percent of the time are men thinking about sex? Human thoughts are not my forte.


When I wake up, it’s still dark outside.

Today, the closest thing to the museum of my dream is a web site called Wolfram Alpha. It can chart many things. But it requires us to phrase questions carefully, and sometimes it simply misinterprets queries.

As for fruit? Wolfram Alpha has consumption data for some fruit. But some fruit is missing, and some fruit confuses it.

I start writing this post while eating the last two apples from my fridge.

I go back to bed, hoping for additional pleasant dreams.

Comments are closed.