Michael Brooks

13 Things That Don't Make Sense

The Most Baffling Scientific Mysteries of Our Time

2008, BeavertonLib 500 BRO

The fewer the data points, the more the hypotheses. One weak data point tests no hypotheses, and certainly doesn't prove them. There are billions of hypotheses that "don't make sense"; we all have a few. What makes most of these hypotheses special is that some scientists blabber and some journalists listen, then encourage other scientists to blabber the same way.

Often, what "don't make sense" is lumping disparate phenomena and behaviors under one label. Are they even the same phenomena, if experienced subjectively by very different people? Free will, placebo effect, homeopathy ... if we had larger brains or more experience or more patience, each could be hundreds of labels, more consistent and explainable in themselves, but only applicable specific individuals.

I was born with brown hair, now it is white; am I a brunette, or a blond? No, I'm me, with genes for brown hair that aren't expressed any more. Oversimplification is for simpletons; we should only categorize if the categories lead to helpful outcomes. Otherwise, there are may better ways to use our precious time.

Free Radicals

The Secret Anarchy of Science

2011, BeavertonLib 500 BRO


p16 Stewart Brand 1965 "Why haven't we seen a photograph of the whole Earth yet?"

p34 Michael Faraday, Sandemanian church

p85 "I dislike arguments of any kind. They are always vulgar, and often convincing." -- Oscar Wilde's Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest, Act 3, page 9. Attributing this attitude to Wilde himself is a stretch.

p121 "The greatest obstacle to knowledge is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge" -- Daniel Boorstin, January 1984 Washington Post interview. antecedent quotes

p248 "Even the fights, the injuries, and the injustices have their purpose. If you want to rise to the top, you and your scientific insight have to be bomb-proof. Any big new idea and its proponent both have to survive so much violence, and unseat such strongly rooted predecessors, that, if they make it through to widespread acceptance, we can be as sure as possible that they are correct. Most of us the unwitting beneficiaries of this gladiatorial process. That is why we unhesitatingly board aeroplanes or take aspirin: science is trustworthy. But few of us are aware of the cost at which that trust is achieved. ..."

That paragraph's last sentence is "The strange thing is that the scientists would rather you remained in the dark." Which is pseudo-mindreading bullshit, marring the rest of the paragraph. One-on-one, most scientists are forthcoming about the competitive process with non-journalists (like me). Brooks is a journalist, and could ruin a scientist's career by widely exposing a particular scientist's professional disputes and gladiatorial strategies.

MichaelBrooks (last edited 2020-06-08 05:58:52 by KeithLofstrom)