Editor John Brockman’s compilation, This Explains Everything (ISBN 978-0-06-223017-1, Harper Collins, 2013) has tackled what would seem an impossibility – explaining the inexplicable! He proposes discussion on “What is your favorite, deep, elegant or beautiful explanation,” and has 48 different scholars put forward their views.
The illuminati include Aubrey De Gray (chief science officer SENS Foundation) who writes on “The Overdue Demise of Monogamy”; Susan Blackmore (psychologist) discussing “Evolution by Means of Natural Selection”; Joel Gold (clinical associate professor of Psychiatry NYU) on “The Dark Matter of the Mind”; James J O’Donnell (classicist, Provost Georgetown University) discussing “Ptolemy’s Universe” and another 44 minds ready to explore the deep.
Whilst you may think that these are going to be 48 “deep” essays that will send you to sleep by half way through, this is not the case. In fact, some, like John McWhorter (linguist and Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute for Policy Research) in his piece called, “How do you get from a lobster to a cat?” shows he has an innate sense of humor as well as the enquiring mind. He discusses the development of shrimps and our bodies being “…the legacy of some worm swimming the wrong way up in a Precambrian ocean more than 550 million years ago. It has always struck me as rather gorgeous.”
By giving these 48 deep thinkers the explanation only, allows them to postulate what the favorite, deep, elegant or beautiful explanation refers to, and here there is almost no overlap in the thinking between the 48, other than Charles Darwin who is still influencing human thought. Other subjects include God, the reasons why computers break down, global warming, particulate matter, evil, empathy and cruelty.
The varied subject matter is quite fascinating, take for example, fetal testosterone which has much importance as to whether the unborn will have masculine or feminine physical traits. And if you want something ‘elegant’, take the measurement of the relative lengths of your second and fourth fingers which gives an indication of your fetal testosterone levels all those years ago. Perhaps there is a scientific opportunity to look at the hands of katoeys, males and females for basic differences.
Alvy Ray Smith (co-founder Pixar) also tells you just how motion is shown by Wile E. Coyote, when the movement that is wished to be portrayed cannot be done with 24 frames a second, but is alluded to with speed lines and a poof of dust to mark his rapid decent off a mesa.
Interested in cooking? Albert-Laszlo Barabasi (complex network scientist and Distinguished Professor) looks at the reasons some ingredients work well together, and others do not. For example, chocolate and blue cheese share 73 flavor compounds, and try white chocolate with caviar!
At B. 523, this is an exceptional book for anyone with an interest in the esoteric and a mind ready to debate the other side of the coin. The only downside to this book is the dreadful paper stock used by the publisher. I was worried when re-reading a page, that the letters might have fallen off. It will be lucky to last 2 weeks!