While I’ve featured a pretty eclectic assortment of books on this blog, sadly there’s been a shortage of science books. That’s a shame. Well, I’m happy to write that today, I’m featuring not one but TWO science books. Both written by Brits named Michael, I found them very similar and therefore complimented each other rather well. Plus I enjoyed them both.
10 Questions Science Can’t Answer (Yet): A Guide to the Scientific Wilderness by Michael Hanlon, was one of those books I saw sitting on the shelf at my public library that for whatever reason, caught my eye. After picking it up and seeing chapters provocatively titled “Is Fido a Zombie ?” and “What Are We Going to Do With the Stupid ?” I knew I had to grab it. Hanlon, author of The Science of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and a former science writer for a number of British newspapers, has written a light, informative and entertaining investigation into what he feels are some of the unanswered questions currently plaguing the world of science. To no one’s surprise, Hanlon looks at the great mysteries of the universe which despite all our years of scientific hard work, seem to go unsolved: the nature of dark matter and dark energy in the universe, the possibility of life on other worlds and the feasibility of turning off the aging process in order to live forever. While Hanlon does a great job discussing those mysteries, personally what I think I will remember the most about this book was his willingness to ask the off beat kind of questions. For instance, I enjoyed his blunt honesty when discussing the question of how society should deal effectively with individuals with IQ’s too low to function in a knowledge-based economy but too high to live in an institution or assisted living environment. Likewise, his discussion of the debate surrounding animal consciousness left me questioning my traditionally held notions of a wide sentience gap between human and beast. If Fido isn’t a dumb animal, (and not a “zombie”) but not fully conscious like a human, then what IS he ? And on a related note, what exactly IS consciousness, anyway ?
From one book of science mysteries by a Brit named Michael, we come to another. About a year or so ago, I was flipping through the Quality Paperback Book Club catalog when I spotted 13 Things that Don’t Make Sense:The Most Baffling Scientific Mysteries of Our Time by Michael Brooks. It looked interesting so I added it to my “to read” shelf on Goodreads. Well, lo and behold last week while stalking the shelves at the public library I found it sitting there wanting to be read. So, I took it. Just as I enjoyed Hanlon’s book on the mysteries of science, I enjoyed this one too.
Just like Hanlon, Brooks asks a fair number of off beat questions in addition to the ones you would naturally expect in a book like this. I did not expect his critical re-examination of whether or not the Viking landers discovered life on Mars back in 1976; and I enjoyed what he had to say. I also enjoyed his chapter on the riddle of placebos, in addition to his discussion of homeopathy and why many people think it works. And yes, in case you were wondering, he does look at dark matter and dark energy too.
One chapter I found particularly intriguing addressed the question of whether such naturally occurring constants such as the speed of light and the rate of radioactive decay have always been the same since the birth of the universe. Some scientists, after careful investigation, are challenging this bedrock of scientific belief. If they’re right, it could alter the standard paradigm, just as quantum theory and Einstein’s work did earlier in the 20th century.
These are cool books. I found them short, readable and interesting. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys listening to the NPR science programs Radiolab and Science Friday, then I’m confident you will enjoy these two books.