13 things that don’t make sense, Michael Brooks

In Book reviews on May 27, 2011 at 3:05 am

I picked this up on a whim in the airport on the way to Bulgaria in 2010, and tore through it. Brooks looks at the least-explicable (and potentially, therefore, the most revelatory if solved) problems in science. For all our mastery of the physical universe, we don’t know where, or what, most of it is. After the dark matter/energy chapters, he moves onto some truly bizarre phenomena – two space probes exhibiting an uncanny drift, with no indentifiable cause in the realms of known physics; the discovery that the universal ‘constants’ (figures observable and fundamental to the way the universe works) aren’t so ‘constant’, and may have varied in the past; a signal exhibiting everything expected of alien life-forms, from a point in space where there isn’t anything. The list goes on. Brooks’ prose is spritely and fun, he doesn’t wade through figures and theorems, but gives you enough of an insight to feel you’ve learnt something. Later chapters deal with the more esoteric – free will (don’t worry, but it looks like we don’t have it, he says) and the nature of death and aging. How Brooks manages to understand both the intimate details of particle physics and, at the same time, the frontiers of biology, cosmology and chemistry is beyond me, but it makes for an excellent primer in the edges of human knowledge.
Fun fact: physicists don’t know where more than 90% of the universe is


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