Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science. – Edwin Powell Hubble
Winter is definitely here, and so we have come to that time of year where having a good stash of books is crucial. With all those long winter nights ahead, what better time to re-ignite (or continue to fan) the flame of wonder, to kick back and take a closer look at the world around you, from your cosy armchair or the forest path.
A good science writer can take us on a journey to some pretty amazing places — from the smallest gene to the farthest reaches of the universe, in a way which is both accessible and inspiring. Ever wondered to what extent Artificial Intelligence (AI) will shape humanity, for good or bad (Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence)? Or which emerging technologies will ‘improve and/or ruin everything’ (Soonish)? Or how sand has transformed civilisation (The World in a Grain)? Grab one of these science reads and prepare to be amazed!
This Idea Is Brilliant: Lost, Overlooked, and Underappreciated Scientific Concepts Everyone Should Know by John Brockman
What scientific term or concept ought to be more widely known? That is the question John Brockman, publisher of the acclaimed science salon Edge.org, presented to 205 of the world’s most influential thinkers from across the intellectual spectrum — award-winning physicists, economists, psychologists, philosophers, novelists, artists, and more. From the origins of the universe to the order of everyday life, This Idea Is Brilliant takes readers on a tour of the bold, exciting, and underappreciated scientific concepts that will enrich every mind.
How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by Michael Pollan
Driving around the city a few weeks ago on one of those days of endless errands, I was lucky enough to hear Michael Pollan being interviewed on the CBC about his new book, How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. I found it to be an engaging and interesting interview. In the book Pollan not only goes into the history of how psychedelics have been used throughout history, but also into his own personal ‘journey’ into the world of psychedelic use. He looks at how psychedelics are being used presently to provide relief for people with conditions ranging from terminal cancer to depression and addiction. How to Change Your Mind is both an informative and very personal read. One interesting point Pollan made was how psychedelics could punch a tiny hole, a little window, into people’s materially grounded everyday lives, and give them a glimpse of what more might be out there.
The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How It Transformed Civilization by Vince Beiser
Sand isn’t something I had thought much of before, or rather, thought of as one of those absolutely necessary things. I hadn’t really acknowledged that as I walk through my day I am walking on sand (concrete), looking at sand (computer monitor), answering calls with the help of sand (iPhone), and the list goes on. The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How it Transformed Civilisation, is the compelling true story of the hugely important and diminishing natural resource that grows more essential every day, and of the people who mine it, sell it, build with it — and sometimes, even kill for it. It’s also a provocative examination of the serious human and environmental costs incurred by our dependence on sand, which has received little public attention. Award-winning journalist Vince Beiser delves deep into this world, taking readers on a journey across the globe, from the United States to remote corners of India, China, and Dubai to explain why sand is so crucial to modern life. Along the way, readers encounter world-changing innovators, island-building entrepreneurs, desert fighters, and murderous sand pirates. The result is an entertaining and eye-opening work, one that is both unexpected and involving, rippling with fascinating detail and filled with surprising characters.
She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity by Carl Zimmer
With the increasing availability of genetic testing, paired with some important recent strides in genetic research, it seems like we can all figure out where we came from, where our little quirks, and possibly our larger health issues, arise from. In part this is true, but as Carl Zimmer points out in She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity, “Each of us carries an amalgam of fragments of DNA, stitched together from some of our many ancestors. Each piece has its own ancestry, traveling a different path back through human history. A particular fragment may sometimes be cause for worry, but most of our DNA influences who we are — our appearance, our height, our penchants — in inconceivably subtle ways.” Heredity isn’t just about genes that pass from parent to child. Heredity continues within our own bodies, as a single cell gives rise to trillions of cells that make up our bodies. We say we inherit genes from our ancestors — using a word that once referred to kingdoms and estates — but we inherit other things that matter as much or more to our lives, from microbes to technologies we use to make life more comfortable. We need a new definition of what heredity is and, through Carl Zimmer’s lucid exposition and storytelling, this resounding tour de force delivers it.
The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli
Why do we remember the past and not the future? What does it mean for time to “flow”? Do we exist in time or does time exist in us? In lyric, accessible prose, Carlo Rovelli invites us to consider questions about the nature of time that continue to puzzle physicists and philosophers alike. For most readers this is unfamiliar terrain. We all experience time, but the more scientists learn about it, the more mysterious it remains. We think of it as uniform and universal, moving steadily from past to future, measured by clocks. Rovelli tears down these assumptions one by one, revealing a strange universe where at the most fundamental level time disappears. He explains how the theory of quantum gravity attempts to understand and give meaning to the resulting extreme landscape of this timeless world. Weaving together ideas from philosophy, science and literature, he suggests that our perception of the flow of time depends on our perspective, better understood starting from the structure of our brain and emotions than from the physical universe.
Soonish by Kelly and Zach Weinersmith
What will the world of tomorrow be like? How does progress happen? And why do we not have a lunar colony already? What is the hold-up?
In this smart and funny book, celebrated cartoonist Zach Weinersmith and noted researcher Dr. Kelly Weinersmith give us a snapshot of what’s coming next — from robot swarms to nuclear fusion powered-toasters. By weaving their own research, interviews with the scientists who are making these advances happen, and Zach’s trademark comics, the Weinersmiths investigate why these technologies are needed, how they would work, and what is standing in their way.