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13 Things that Don't Make Sense: The Most Baffling Scientific Mysteries of Our Time Paperback – August 11, 2009
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When we look to the "anomalies" that science cant explain, we often discover where science is about to go. Here are a few of the anomalies that Michael Brooks investigates in 13 Things That Dont Make Sense:
Homeopathic remedies seem to have biological effects that cannot be explained by chemistry
Gases have been detected on Mars that could only have come from carbon-based life forms
Cold fusion, theoretically impossible and discredited in the 1980s, seems to work in some modern laboratory experiments
Its quite likely we have nothing close to free will
Life and non-life may exist along a continuum, which may pave the way for us to create life in the near future
Sexual reproduction doesnt line up with evolutionary theory and, moreover, theres no good scientific explanation for why we must die
Science starts to get interesting when things dont make sense.
Sciences best-kept secret is this: even today, there are experimental results and reliable data that the most brilliant scientists can neither explain nor dismiss. In the past, similar "anomalies" have revolutionized our world, like in the sixteenth century, when a set of celestial anomalies led Copernicus to realize that the Earth goes around the sun and not the reverse, and in the 1770s, when two chemists discovered oxygen because of experimental results that defied all the theories of the day. And so, if history is any precedent, we should look to todays inexplicable results to forecast the future of science. In 13 Things That Dont Make Sense, Michael Brooks heads to the scientific frontier to meet thirteen modern-day anomalies and discover tomorrows breakthroughs.
13 Things opens at the twenty-third Solvay physics conference, where the scientists present are ready to throw up their hands over an anomaly: is it possible that the universe, rather than slowly drifting apart as the physics of the big bang had once predicted, is actually expanding at an ever-faster speed? From Solvay and the mysteries of the universe, Brooks travels to a basement in Turin to subject himself to repeated shocks in a test of the placebo response. No study has ever been able to definitively show how the placebo effect works, so why has it become a pillar of medical science? Moreover, is 96 percent of the universe missing? Is a 1977 signal from outer space a transmission from an alien civilization? Might giant viruses explain how life began? Why are some NASA satellites speeding up as they get farther from the sunand what does that mean for the laws of physics?
Spanning disciplines from biology to cosmology, chemistry to psychology to physics, Brooks thrillingly captures the excitement, messiness, and controversy of the battle over where science is headed. "In science," he writes, "being stuck can be a sign that you are about to make a great leap forward. The things that dont make sense are, in some ways, the only things that matter."
Amazon.com Exclusive: Anahad O'Connor Reviews 13 Things That Don't Make Sense
Anahad O'Connor, The New York Times' Science Times "Really?" columnist and author of Never Shower in a Thunderstorm, reviews 13 Things That Don't Make Sense exclusively for Amazon:
Michael Brooks opens 13 Things That Don't Make Sense with an anecdote about watching three Nobel laureates struggle to figure out a hotel elevator. It's an amusing story that illustrates at least two things. One, three heads are not always better than one. And two, as every science and health reporter learns their first day on the job, even the world's greatest minds cannot always sort through the problems we expect them to conquer.
It is this latter theme that is at the core of Mr. Brooks' fascinating new book except in this case, the problems are 13 stubborn mysteries that have stumped top scientists for decades and, in some cases, centuries. Spun out of a popular article that appeared in New Scientist an article that quickly became one of the most forwarded articles in the magazine's online history Mr. Brooks' book takes its readers on a lively journey through the cosmos, physics, biology and human nature. Along the way he explores questions such as why scientists cannot account for 90 percent of the universe (hint: dark matter has something to do with it), whether we have already been contacted by alien life but paid little mind, why humans rely on a form of sexual reproduction that, from an evolutionary perspective, is extremely inefficient, and why we are routinely deceived by the placebo effect.
Mr. Brooks expertly works his way through these and other hotly debated quandaries in a smooth, engaging writing style reminiscent of Carl Sagan or Stephen Jay Gould. At times, as I was deeply engrossed in parts of this book, I found myself as captivated and wide-eyed as I was decades ago when I picked up my first science books and found my calling. Mr. Brooks has the ability to make his readers forget their surroundings in my case a hectic newsroom and train their minds' eyes on images as foreign as a vast Martian landscape or as distant as a roiling, infant universe. Every mystery is brought to life in vivid detail, and wit and humor are sprinkled throughout.
To be sure, some of the chapters are more entertaining than others. A section on cold fusion, for example, while understandably necessary in a book on scientific mysteries, may not turn out to be quite as captivating for some readers as the chapters that precede and follow it. That may have something to do with the notion that cold fusion has been unfairly maligned and ridiculed by scientists despite its continuing promise, an argument Mr. Brooks lays out well. But it is ultimately in his chapters on the Big Bang, dark matter, and other issues that relate to the cosmos where Mr. Brooks, who holds a Ph.D. in quantum physics, really works his magic. No surprise then that Mr. Brooks is also co-writing a TV series for the Discovery Channel that explores the universe through the eyes of none other than Stephen Hawking. If 13 Things That Don't Make Sense is any indication, the series will find an enraptured audience.
(Photo © Lars Klove) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“A boundless enthusiasm resounds through this homage to the outstanding problems of science.”
“You will be amazed and astonished you when you learn that science has been unable to come up with a working definition of life, why death should happen at all, why sex is necessary, or whether cold fusion is a hoax or one of the greatest breakthroughs of all time.”
–Richard Ellis, author of The Empty Ocean and Tuna: A Love Story
“Fascinating. . . . Brooks expertly works his way through . . . hotly debated quandaries in a smooth, engaging writing style reminiscent of Carl Sagan or Stephen Jay Gould.”
–Anahad O'Connor, author of Never Shower in a Thunderstorm
Top Customer Reviews
There is a Nobel Prize waiting for the person who figures out cold fusion, but until someone can actually reproduce the experiments there is no "thing" to be baffled by. Occam's razor does not suggest an alien transmission is the best explanation for SETI's "Wow" signal. The "Wow" signal was a onetime event. It is scientific frustration that we don't have more data from the event, but it isn't one of the most baffling mysteries in science.
The situation gets even worse when the author moves on to free will and homeopathy. I was hoping for a book about the frontiers of science. This was not it. Failing to prove negatives does not constitute scientific mystery.
Halfway through the book I identified the formulaic pattern by which nearly every chapter seems to have been manufactured. It goes something like this. 1) Identify some topic which the vast majority of scientists that specialize in it have reached a consensus of their general understanding of how it works. 2) Introduce crank "scientist" that has radical ideas about said topic that challenge the consensus. 3) Gain reader's trust by acknowledging a few of the more obvious arguments against the radical ideas and insincerely admit that the crank scientist might actually be wrong. 4) Spend the rest of the chapter a) promoting the radical ideas and b) ignoring, or merely giving lip service to, the more fundamental arguments that demonstrate how patently absurd the ideas actually are and c) painting the scientific community as a closed-minded dogmatic bunch of good-old-boys who don't like outsiders challenging their beliefs.
I was genuinely surprised that there wasn't a chapter titled "Evolution", as the author's pattern of attacking science seems to come directly from the play book of the Discovery Institute. In fact, it would seem that the author co-opted the "Wedge Strategy" of the DI for his own purposes.
Upon finishing the book, I concluded that the author's overarching agenda was to champion homeopathy.Read more ›
MUCH better is Nine Crazy Ideas in Science: A Few Might Even Be True
No doubt the most famous astronomer of the 20th century was Edwin Hubble. Pretty well any popular science book dealing with astronomy or the universe discusses his discoveries. He was of course an American who lived and did his scientific work in the US; he also spent a few years, in his youth, studying at Oxford. It is puzzling indeed that this author thinks he was an Englishman. One asks the question: if you got that elementary point wrong, what else is wrong? I do not propose to multiply examples of what seemed to me to be serious errors; but his explanation of what won Einstein the Nobel Prize is surely quite misleading.
It is surely not asking much to expect that the publisher hire a competent editor to weed out obvious bloopers. in
I didn't find any particular slant to this other than a desire to challenge the idea that we have the answers to anything let alone everything. I found the history of various scientific theories and hypothesis, as well as the scientific community's reaction to new ideas, fascinating. But by far the most interesting part was the emphasis on real or perceived anomalies in accepted scientific theories.
As Sheldon Cooper points out "Physics is the study of everything". It is unrealistic to expect a relatively short book to give an accurate detailed study of everything in the universe. What this does give is an overview of some different scientific theories and allows the reader to pursue a more in depth look at whatever area they find most interesting.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Answered questions I had. Brought up things I hadn't heard or thought about before. Worth it at twice the price but since I've already re-read it, it's even more of a bargain. Read morePublished 20 days ago by Sailing In The VI
Behold the Socratic paradox. Socrates said I know that I know nothing. Well, allegedly he said that, at least according to Plato's account of Socrates life. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Mia
My brothers hated this book. I don't know why, but I loved it anyway.Published 4 months ago by Caren Carney
A great little intro to some confounding issues to modern science. I liked the length of each chapter, just enough to convey the point, not overwritten. Read morePublished 6 months ago by MarcP
Worth a read, but I cannot agree with all of the author's conclusions, and think he is seriously mistaken about some things. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Darby M'Graw
Review of ‘13 things that don’t make sense‘ by Michael Brooks
CITATION: Brooks, M. (2008). Read more