Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
13 Things That Don't Make Sense: The Most Baffling Scientific Mysteries of Our Time Hardcover – August 12, 2008
|New from||Used from|
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
Customers who bought this item also bought
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.
Advance Praise for 13 Things That Don’t Make Sense
“WOW! is one of the things that Michael Brooks includes here—it is the signal from space that may have come from an alien civilization—but it’s also the way I feel about this book’s magical mystery tour. 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. Strap yourself in and prepare for a WOW! of an experience.” —Richard Ellis, author of The Empty Ocean and Tuna: A Love Story
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
The book is a greatly expanded version of an article that the author wrote for New Scientist magazine. Brooks considers a wide range of issues, including what dark matter and dark energy might be, if they are anything at all; why the Pioneer spacecraft is apparently violating the rules of physics as it leaves the solar system; why scientists decided that the Viking landers on Mars didn't detect life, despite consistent evidence that they did; whether an alien civilization has already contacted us but we weren't listening carefully enough to notice; why death and sex exist, despite their nearly complete lack of evolutionary advantage; how experiments continue to show that cold fusion may be a real phenomenon, despite abundant proof that it can't exist; why the placebo effect works, despite evidence that it doesn't actually exist; and more.
All of this is tied together by a theme: The world's best experts can't always figure things, out, even when large numbers of them agree; indeed, sometimes those experts prevent things from being properly examined, let alone figured out.
The general tone and style of the book reminded me of Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay Gould, and John McPhee. There is a LOT to chew on here, but the bites are correctly sized and very tender. The author has a PhD in quantum physics, but he's also a good magazine feature writer. The balance of real science and entertainment is perfect.
I enjoyed this book very much, and I think it will easily repay any reader for the time and money invested in it.
I'll discuss a few topics that I found more interesting than the rest.
As I get older I think more often about my own mortality and wonder if there will ever be a breakthrough that can extend life indefinitely (if that were even desirable). There exists some animals that seem to defy the effects of aging and the author asks the question why do we age and die. In other words why do cells decay over time and would it be possible to somehow duplicate the age defying effects that a handful of animals seem to possess. Although the average human life span has continued to increase, there seems to be an impenetrable wall at the upper limit. The answer that the author seems to lean towards is that genetically altering human's to halt aging would be exceedingly difficult if not impossible. I'll leave it to Mr. Brooks to explain the scientific reasoning behind this conclusion.
Another fascinating topic was on the subject of free will. This isn't the first time I've heard that our brain begins preparing for bodily motions about a half second before we become consciously aware of it. In other words it appears that our bodies move unconsciously and we only delude ourselves into thinking that WE are dictating the movement. The author uses the term `brain-machines' to describe how we operate. These are not involuntary reaction such as touching a hot plate or subconscious movements such as typing on a keyboard but movements we consider fully under our control such as waving a hand. Does this mean that we are merely passengers in our own bodies, slaves to external and internal influences? If every decision we make is an involuntary response to neurons firing in our brain machines how does that relate to long term planning? Is each small step, each tiny decision merely the result of an electro chemical reaction in the brain as involuntary as the beating of our hearts and if this is so does this demand an entire redefinition of what voluntary is? Does voluntary even have any meaning? For me this chapter alone makes the book worth purchasing for the deep and perhaps frightening philosophical implications.
Although it wasn't the point of the book one thing I found interesting was how scientists who lie on the edges of science are frequently ostracized by their peers. One example would be Pons and Fleischmann, the unfortunate scientists involved in the Cold Fusion debacle. Although the two scientists made a serious lapse in judgment they were attempting something which if successful would have revolutionized the world. It's also unfortunate that other prominent scientists ended up getting tarred along with them. The author relates several incidents throughout the book of scientists who get caught on the wrong side of convention and pay a tremendous price. As someone who has read tons if books on cranks and pseudo scientists I can fully understand science attempting to police its own but it can get to the point where creative or divergent thinking, the kind of thinking that would launch a new paradigm, ends up getting muffled by the establishment. Michael Brooks is not the first author who has pointed this out.
Science has not had a true paradigm shift in over half a century but the author has probably marked some pretty good territory as to where the next major shift may occur. The book is both informative and entertaining, a combination which many science books fail to achieve. I'm giving this book high marks as one of the best science books I've read in quite some time.