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At the Edge of Uncertainty: 11 Discoveries Taking Science by Surprise Paperback – 26 Jun 2014

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books (26 Jun. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1781251274
  • ISBN-13: 978-1781251270
  • Product Dimensions: 13.7 x 2.5 x 21.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 265,727 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Michael Brooks is the canniest science writer around. He writes, above all, with attitude (Independent)

Brooks reawakens us to the astonishing fact of our mere existence, the strangeness of the world around us, and the astonishing amount that science has yet to discover (Sunday Times)

Book Description

From the author of 13 Things That Don't Make Sense, the radical new discoveries that will transform how we see the world.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Rmg De La Bedoyere on 3 July 2014
Format: Paperback
It's certainly a quick read since I bought it yesterday afternoon and had finished it by this morning. Brooks starts with the metaphor of the conjurer who uses distraction to fool the audience into accepting the impossible. That is also the technique he uses throughout the book to fool the reader into momentarily accepting the impossible. Thus we are led to believe that the universe might be a hologram, that time is meaningless except that is for sentient beings. That the paradox of Turing's hypercomputer can be solved by employing an ontological argument - if you can conceive it, it can be possible, one day, when we've invented more stuff.
For a scientist Brooks has an alarming tendency to rely on argument by analogy, upon assertions that can't be disproved, or just straightfoward, brazen assertion. Being selective with the evidence is routine, sometimes by simply citing the most contentious hypotheses published about an already disputed subject to support yet another of his supposed mysteries. The history of science does not suggest we should give the benefit of the doubt to the most crackpot ideas. For every Galileo there were thousands of scholars who spent their lives exploring the dead ends of alchemy, table-tapping, the aether, magic numbers, homunculi and the rest. the Galileo's and Newton's are the exception that proves the rule - that most bizarre theories that neither fit with known science and which can't be proved or disproved are almost invariably rubbish.
Brook's insights into the nature of consciousness and time are distinctly sub A-level standard. A Penguin primer on Kant and Hume might help him out. His main agenda appears to be to solve metaphysical problems through a discourse on his pet topic of quantum physics.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Brian Clegg TOP 500 REVIEWER on 28 Jun. 2014
Format: Paperback
One of my favourite popular science books is Marcus Chown’s The Universe Next Door, where he explores scientific theories just the other side of the dividing line between sanity and madness. Here Michael Brooks, who started his ‘amazing things in science’ run with the excellent 13 Things That Don’t Make Sense, now gives us ’11 discoveries taking science by surprise’ – science that can still shock us, but is just on the sane side of the dividing line.

The topics range from consciousness and chimeras to hyper computers (which go beyond the limits of Turing’s Universal Computer) and time. Where the chapters work, they work very well. I thought the chapter on the big bang and inflation, where Brooks pulls apart the fragile, held-together-by-duct-tape nature of the current theory with surgical precision was brilliant, starting from a little pen portrait of Alan Guth and then showing both how the current picture is strung together and also how various discoveries have chipped away at the solidity of the current picture. (Sadly the book was written too soon to include the BICEP2 collapse.) On the whole, the physics-based chapters worked better than the biology chapters, which seemed a little more staid and less exciting, though there was a lot to find interesting in the chimeras chapter and all had plenty of joyful nuggets of discovery.

What I was less certain about was the delivery. The cover quote says ‘He writes, above all, with attitude.’ This is true, but that attitude sometimes got in the way of accuracy, making the approach inconsistent. In the big bang chapter Brooks makes it clear that things are anything but certain, as is the nature of science.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Timothy W. Dumble on 13 Oct. 2014
Format: Paperback
Among the surprises in this thought provoking collection is an unexpected reprieve for Lamarckism, a new take on anthropomorphism and a rethink about time and the origin of the universe.

Brooks amusingly opens his discussion about animal personality by linking a rock group with whales and discussing spiders and animal grief before considering the implications for pharmaceutical research.

Through epigenetics the notion that environmental impacts upon the genotype can be transmitted through generations comes as a jolt to those imbued in Darwinist reasoning. This notion is skilfully developed and evidenced with reference to war starvation, birth weight and slavery and explained by methylated genes.

Not surprisingly, given his academic background, Brooks is at his best when examining the role of quantum mechanics in shedding novel light on previously thought to be well understood ideas. His proposal of a quantum theory of the sense of smell and photosynthesis is compelling. He also uses it to question the nature of time. The role of quantum physics in potentially reshaping our understanding of reality and the universe is also convincing. Most exciting however is the potential that quantum superposition and entanglement offer to computing.

Having read previously about the holographic universe and struggled with the concept, I left the ‘Reality Machine’ chapter with a much improved understanding. The author’s explanation of black holes and the conservation of information is enlightening.

Once read the reader is left with an uncomfortable feeling that perhaps we are not unique or special and that we understand much less than we thought about ourselves, animals and the universe.
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