13 Things That Don't Make Sense: The Most Baffling Scientific Mysteries of Our Time

 
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When we look to the "anomalies" that science can't explain, we often discover where science is about to go. Here are a few of the anomalies that Michael Brooks investigates in 13 Things That Don't Make Sense:
Homeopathic remedies seem to have biological effects that cannot be explained by chemistry

Gases have been detected on Mars that could only have come from carbon-based life forms

Cold fusion, theoretically impossible and discredited in the 1980s, seems to work in some modern laboratory experiments

It's quite likely we have nothing close to free will

Life and non-life may exist along a continuum, which may pave the way for us to create life in the near future

Sexual reproduction doesn't line up with evolutionary theory and, moreover, there's no good scientific explanation for why we must die

Science starts to get interesting when things don't make sense.

Science's best-kept secret is this: even today, there are experimental results and reliable data that the most brilliant scientists can neither explain nor dismiss. In the past, similar "anomalies" have revolutionized our world, like in the sixteenth century, when a set of celestial anomalies led Copernicus to realize that the Earth goes around the sun and not the reverse, and in the 1770s, when two chemists discovered oxygen because of experimental results that defied all the theories of the day. And so, if history is any precedent, we should look to today's inexplicable results to forecast the future of science. In 13 Things That Don't Make Sense, Michael Brooks heads to the scientific frontier to meet thirteen modern-day anomalies and discover tomorrow's breakthroughs.
13 Things opens at the twenty-third Solvay physics conference, where the scientists present are ready to throw up their hands over an anomaly: is it possible that the universe, rather than slowly drifting apart as the physics of the big bang had once predicted, is actually expanding at an ever-faster speed? From Solvay and the mysteries of the universe, Brooks travels to a basement in Turin to subject himself to repeated shocks in a test of the placebo response. No study has ever been able to definitively show how the placebo effect works, so why has it become?a pillar of?medical?science? Moreover, is 96 percent of the universe missing? Is a 1977 signal from outer space a transmission from an alien civilization? Might giant viruses explain how life began? Why are some NASA satellites speeding up as they get farther from the sun-and what does that mean for the laws of physics?
Spanning disciplines from biology to cosmology, chemistry to psychology to physics, Brooks thrillingly captures the excitement, messiness, and controversy of the battle over where science is headed. "In science," he writes, "being stuck can be a sign that you are about to make a great leap forward. The things that don't make sense are, in some ways, the only things that matter."



Product Description
When we look to the "anomalies" that science can*t explain, we often discover where science is about to go. Here are a few of the anomalies that Michael Brooks investigates in 13 Things That Don*t Make Sense:

Homeopathic remedies seem to have biological effects that cannot be explained by chemistry

Gases have been detected on Mars that could only have come from carbon-based life forms

Cold fusion, theoretically impossible and discredited in the 1980s, seems to work in some modern laboratory experiments

It*s quite likely we have nothing close to free will

Life and non-life may exist along a continuum, which may pave the way for us to create life in the near future

Sexual reproduction doesn*t line up with evolutionary theory and, moreover, there*s no good scientific explanation for why we must die

Science starts to get interesting when things don*t make sense.

Science*s best-kept secret is this: even today, there are experimental results and reliable data that the most brilliant scientists can neither explain nor dismiss. In the past, similar "anomalies" have revolutionized our world, like in the sixteenth century, when a set of celestial anomalies led Copernicus to realize that the Earth goes around the sun and not the reverse, and in the 1770s, when two chemists discovered oxygen because of experimental results that defied all the theories of the day. And so, if history is any precedent, we should look to today*s inexplicable results to forecast the future of science. In 13 Things That Don*t Make Sense, Michael Brooks heads to the scientific frontier to meet thirteen modern-day anomalies and discover tomorrow*s breakthroughs.

13 Things opens at the twenty-third Solvay physics conference, where the scientists present are ready to throw up their hands over an anomaly: is it possible that the universe, rather than slowly drifting apart as the physics of the big bang had once predicted, is actually expanding at an ever-faster speed? From Solvay and the mysteries of the universe, Brooks travels to a basement in Turin to subject himself to repeated shocks in a test of the placebo response. No study has ever been able to definitively show how the placebo effect works, so why has it become a pillar of medical science? Moreover, is 96 percent of the universe missing? Is a 1977 signal from outer space a transmission from an alien civilization? Might giant viruses explain how life began? Why are some NASA satellites speeding up as they get farther from the sun〞and what does that mean for the laws of physics?

Spanning disciplines from biology to cosmology, chemistry to psychology to physics, Brooks thrillingly captures the excitement, messiness, and controversy of the battle over where science is headed. "In science," he writes, "being stuck can be a sign that you are about to make a great leap forward. The things that don*t make sense are, in some ways, the only things that matter."

Amazon.com Exclusive: Anahad O'Connor Reviews 13 Things That Don't Make Sense
Anahad O'Connor, The New York Times' Science Times "Really?" columnist and author of Never Shower in a Thunderstorm, reviews 13 Things That Don't Make Sense exclusively for Amazon:

Michael Brooks opens 13 Things That Don't Make Sense with an anecdote about watching three Nobel laureates struggle to figure out a hotel elevator. It's an amusing story that illustrates at least two things. One, three heads are not always better than one. And two, as every science and health reporter learns their first day on the job, even the world's greatest minds cannot always sort through the problems we expect them to conquer.

It is this latter theme that is at the core of Mr. Brooks' fascinating new book 每 except in this case, the problems are 13 stubborn mysteries that have stumped top scientists for decades and, in some cases, centuries. Spun out of a popular article that appeared in New Scientist 每 an article that quickly became one of the most forwarded articles in the magazine's online history 每 Mr. Brooks' book takes its readers on a lively journey through the cosmos, physics, biology and human nature. Along the way he explores questions such as why scientists cannot account for 90 percent of the universe (hint: dark matter has something to do with it), whether we have already been contacted by alien life but paid little mind, why humans rely on a form of sexual reproduction that, from an evolutionary perspective, is extremely inefficient, and why we are routinely deceived by the placebo effect.

Mr. Brooks expertly works his way through these and other hotly debated quandaries in a smooth, engaging writing style reminiscent of Carl Sagan or Stephen Jay Gould. At times, as I was deeply engrossed in parts of this book, I found myself as captivated and wide-eyed as I was decades ago when I picked up my first science books and found my calling. Mr. Brooks has the ability to make his readers forget their surroundings 每 in my case a hectic newsroom 每 and train their minds' eyes on images as foreign as a vast Martian landscape or as distant as a roiling, infant universe. Every mystery is brought to life in vivid detail, and wit and humor are sprinkled throughout.

To be sure, some of the chapters are more entertaining than others. A section on cold fusion, for example, while understandably necessary in a book on scientific mysteries, may not turn out to be quite as captivating for some readers as the chapters that precede and follow it. That may have something to do with the notion that cold fusion has been unfairly maligned and ridiculed by scientists despite its continuing promise, an argument Mr. Brooks lays out well. But it is ultimately in his chapters on the Big Bang, dark matter, and other issues that relate to the cosmos where Mr. Brooks, who holds a Ph.D. in quantum physics, really works his magic. No surprise then that Mr. Brooks is also co-writing a TV series for the Discovery Channel that explores the universe through the eyes of none other than Stephen Hawking. If 13 Things That Don't Make Sense is any indication, the series will find an enraptured audience.

(Photo ? Lars Klove)

Customer Reviews:

  • A baker's dozen of baffling scientific mysteries
    XXXXX

    "I have investigated just thirteen of today's scientific anomalies [or mysteries]. Some are more anomalous than others but all cry out for explanations and further study. Some have yet to be taken seriously; others are perhaps taken too seriously...Occasionally, the anomalies point us toward acutely uncomfortable facts that no one wants to face...For all their diversity, their thrilling or disturbing natures, each and every case presents a wonderful opportunity for exploration and discovery. They will also...lead us to uncover anomalies as yet unseen; as [a late, great dramatist and critic] once pointed out, science never solves a problem without creating ten more."

    The above is found in the epilogue of this fascinating book by Michael Brooks, Ph.D., formerly senior editor at, and now a consultant, for the publication "New Scientist." This book is based on his article that originally appeared in a March 2005 issue of that publication.

    Each mystery that is examined has one chapter devoted to it. Below I will give the general category or discipline that these mysteries are associated with and indicate the number of chapters devoted to each discipline:

    Cosmology (the scientific study of the universe): 2 chapters
    Physics: 1
    Chemistry: 1
    Biology: 4
    Extraterrestrial Life: 2
    Psychology: 1
    Medicine: 1
    Alternative Medicine: 1

    Brooks presents in impressive detail the history of each anomaly and the science behind each anomaly. He defines technical terms in his well-written narrative so the reader is never lost. (However, some readers may want to have a basic science dictionary handy for basic terms that are undefined.) Brooks also presents possible solutions for each anomaly.

    The cover of this book (displayed above by Amazon) is interesting. It is an optical illusion.

    Finally, it is my opinion that this book would be the perfect gift for your favourite "know it all."

    In conclusion, this book guides the reader through a magical, scientific mystery tour. I leave you with the final words in the book's prologue:

    "In science, being stuck [by an anomaly or mystery] can be a sign that you are about to make a great leap forward. The things that don't make sense are, in some ways, the only things that matter."

    (first published 2008; prologue; 13 chapters; epilogue; main narrative 210 pages; acknowledgements; notes and sources; index)

    <>

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    ...more info
  • A written symphony for interhemispheric stimulation
    13 Things That Don't Make Sense ... By Michael Brooks

    13 Things for me was ... let me shamelessly and pompously wax on about it like this:
    Now that I've finished this engaging seamless weave of effortless transitions between chapters; and now that I'm at the end of the last chapter where for me the irresistible impulse to keep on reading this mesmerizing book finally ended, I am now compelled to write this personal contribution to this Customer Review board. My hope is that I'll take away someone's illusion of free will (Chapter 11) and compel them to buy it and enjoy it as much as I did.
    What a deeply stimulating provocative exploration of science, history and plain deep analysis of wide-ranging but interconnected ideas from the likes of which maybe most of us aspiring scientists would take sweet delight. What a unique work of art and accessible easy-to-follow cutting-edge science this book provides. And what a great Jester's way to end the book and leave the reader laughing a good belly laugh:

    "Finally, during (and for years before) the writing of this book, I have gained enormous insight and clarity from discussions with my New Scientist colleagues: the collective brain of that magazine is an awesome organism. Jeremy Webb, Valerie Jamieson, Graham Lawton, Kate Douglas, and Claire Wilson were particularly helpful. Any mistakes in the book are their fault."

    Buy this book. You will be delighted. You will be Googling its "mysteries" as you read to learn even more about the book's tantalizing topics. You will be amazed and infused with imagination and child-like wonderment.
    Maybe this book lifts the average person to imagine like a lay Einstein may be able to.
    I know that as I read the book, and even now that I have finished it, I feel like I was lifted to do just that ... still am.
    Excellent work, Mr. Brooks! Both hemispheres of my humble 3-pound universe were set afire!
    Thank you for the deep inspiration and enjoyable symphony.
    ...more info
  • Engaging and Entertaining
    Science fact is sometimes stranger than science fiction. Dr. Michael Brooks has explored this theme before in "13 Things That Don't Make Sense: The Most Baffling Scientific Mysteries of Our Time," a 2005 cover story in New Scientist. The piece spread like wildfire on the Internet, becoming the sixth most circulated article that year. Perhaps spurred by its success or, just as likely, spurred by the depth of the topics itself, Brooks digs deeper in the book-length version of 13 Things That Don't Make Sense.

    From dark energy and the apparent suspension of the laws of physics across space to the more terrestrial matters of sex and the placebo effect, Brooks' command of the material is impeccable. Each subject and theory is presented alongside corroborating and contradicting evidence. The progression of subjects as well as their relation to each other is intriguing and rushes the reader through a whirlwind of theories. Voice is given to proponents and opponents, although each subject's inclusion in the book portends the final verdict: that there are no answers (at least not yet).

    While Brooks holds a Ph.D. in quantum physics, he takes nothing for granted, explaining each concept in patient detail. His descriptions are colorful, ranging from mundane comparisons to appeals to pop culture. An example of the former: "The uncertainty principle, when applied to field theory produces natural fluctuations in the properties of certain regions of the universe. It is rather like having a balloon that is peppered with weak spots; as the universe inflates, these fluctuations can grow, producing a new region of space and time." An example of the latter: "[Viruses] are evolutionary aberrations whose existence necessitates destruction, rather like the cruelly amoral machines in the movie The Terminator."

    Much like Lewis Thomas' contributions to poetic, science-themed prose, Brooks pushes the dynamics of scientific, literary non-fiction. He uses history as the setting, charting the lifeline of ideas much like the rise and fall of family lines in Victorian novels. Brooks is particularly sensitive to social constructs, including the stigma attached to challenging ideas. In this sense, he is a social commentator, ostracizing those whom ostracize, who have slowed progress by blackballing scientists who challenge the status quo.

    The cover of the book is noteworthy in its uncanny presentation of the book's subject matter. A cursory glance reveals a problematic optical illusion akin to an image of a M?bius Strip or an M.C. Escher painting. Upon further examination there is another explanation--the image is a series of three shaded, interlocking sevens. In the end, the solutions to the problems Douglas raises in 13 Things That Don't Make Sense necessitate a change of perspective.

    While the ideas contained in the volume are revolutionary in scope, Brooks is ultimately conservative about the impending season of their fruition. Citing Kuhn and Darwin, he states "It will be the people who are now young and rising who will find life on the planets and moons of our solar system, maybe even answering a call from beyond those boundaries. It is they who will perhaps create life or rewrite Einstein's relativity to take account of dark matter and put the Pioneer probes to rest. Perhaps some genius still currently in preschool will use her mathematical skills to solve the riddle of dark energy." The last sentence is particularly telling, for the story of science is much the story of individuals. They are embedded within society, both influenced by and influencing its course....more info
  • Fascinating Mysteries in Modern Science
    This book bursts with enthusiasm - that with which the author wrote it. And that enthusiasm can be very contagious for any of its readers. In 13 spellbinding chapters the author presents concise overviews of 13 topics in modern-day science that seem to defy scientific explanation. These topics include dark matter/energy in the universe, varying constants, cold fusion (still alive in some laboratories), the placebo effect and homeopathy to name just a few. In each case, scientists specializing in the field in question have been interviewed and their work discussed in sufficient detail for the reader to get a good grasp of what is involved. This book contains very good examples of the scientific method at work. The writing style is animated, clear, friendly and quite engaging. Although the book is also quite accessible to anyone, it will likely appeal the most to science buffs. ...more info
  • Searching For The Next Paradigm Shift
    It's been quite awhile since science has had what Thomas Kuhn referred to as a paradigm shift; a major earth shaking change that alters our perception of the universe. Michael Brooks takes a look at 13 of the biggest unexplained mysteries in science that may lead to that next big paradigm shift. Topics range from the mystery of dark matter to the usefulness of SETI and the question of why evolution developed sex as a means of procreation. Cold Fusion even manages to get a chapter.

    I'll discuss a few topics that I found more interesting than the rest.

    As I get older I think more often about my own mortality and wonder if there will ever be a breakthrough that can extend life indefinitely (if that were even desirable). There exists some animals that seem to defy the effects of aging and the author asks the question why do we age and die. In other words why do cells decay over time and would it be possible to somehow duplicate the age defying effects that a handful of animals seem to possess. Although the average human life span has continued to increase, there seems to be an impenetrable wall at the upper limit. The answer that the author seems to lean towards is that genetically altering human's to halt aging would be exceedingly difficult if not impossible. I'll leave it to Mr. Brooks to explain the scientific reasoning behind this conclusion.

    Another fascinating topic was on the subject of free will. This isn't the first time I've heard that our brain begins preparing for bodily motions about a half second before we become consciously aware of it. In other words it appears that our bodies move unconsciously and we only delude ourselves into thinking that WE are dictating the movement. The author uses the term `brain-machines' to describe how we operate. These are not involuntary reaction such as touching a hot plate or subconscious movements such as typing on a keyboard but movements we consider fully under our control such as waving a hand. Does this mean that we are merely passengers in our own bodies, slaves to external and internal influences? If every decision we make is an involuntary response to neurons firing in our brain machines how does that relate to long term planning? Is each small step, each tiny decision merely the result of an electro chemical reaction in the brain as involuntary as the beating of our hearts and if this is so does this demand an entire redefinition of what voluntary is? Does voluntary even have any meaning? For me this chapter alone makes the book worth purchasing for the deep and perhaps frightening philosophical implications.

    Although it wasn't the point of the book one thing I found interesting was how scientists who lie on the edges of science are frequently ostracized by their peers. One example would be Pons and Fleischmann, the unfortunate scientists involved in the Cold Fusion debacle. Although the two scientists made a serious lapse in judgment they were attempting something which if successful would have revolutionized the world. It's also unfortunate that other prominent scientists ended up getting tarred along with them. The author relates several incidents throughout the book of scientists who get caught on the wrong side of convention and pay a tremendous price. As someone who has read tons if books on cranks and pseudo scientists I can fully understand science attempting to police its own but it can get to the point where creative or divergent thinking, the kind of thinking that would launch a new paradigm, ends up getting muffled by the establishment. Michael Brooks is not the first author who has pointed this out.

    Science has not had a true paradigm shift in over half a century but the author has probably marked some pretty good territory as to where the next major shift may occur. The book is both informative and entertaining, a combination which many science books fail to achieve. I'm giving this book high marks as one of the best science books I've read in quite some time....more info
  • Box of Chocolates
    This book is a lot like Forrest Gump's comment, `Life is like a box of chocolates'--a little bit of very thing to satisfy the various scientific interests/tastes of many people. This book gives a very well written, snappy but brief introduction to 13 delicious topics in different areas and fields of science which need better explanations due to unexpected results and observations that fail to meet accepted theory and facts. These topics include:

    1) dark energy/dark matter
    2) gravity
    3) loss of absolute units of measure
    4) cold fusion
    5) origins of life
    6) life on other planets--exobiology
    7) intelligent alien life
    8) mega virus, and how to define and classify life itself
    9) death--programmed or avoidable
    10) evolution of sex
    11) free will vs. organic determination
    12) placebo effect
    13) homeopathy and its place in health care

    A good spattering of key names of scientists, concepts and ideas used to describe the above 13 topics could be an intellectual catalyst for deeper studies, especially for those young and talented enough with the proper motivation. Just one topic from the above list could enthrall some for a lifetime of study and discovery. For us older Forrest Gump types, we can set back and enjoy the flavor and texture of these `intellectual chocolates,' and maybe enjoy sharing our `science chocolates' with others.
    ...more info
  • Quantifying Ignorance...the fractal nature of knowledge
    "I believe that knowledge is fractal in nature. No matter how much we learn, what remains how seemingly small is infinitely complex."
    Isaac Asimov

    In detailing 13 mysteries at the edge of modern science Michael Brooks expertly lays bare fertile domains for scientific progress. But much more than that, referencing history and historical shifts in perspective that accompanied scientific advance (as for example, when the church attempted to suppress the writings of Galileo and was ultimately unsuccessful in doing so) Brooks also suggests that shifts in perspective may be necessary for us to gain the advance we seek.

    But enough about generalities...let's take glimpse at the mysteries surveyed by Brooks:

    1) The search for the missing mass in the universe: Today's physicists believe they can only fully explain four percent of what constitutes the universe. The remaining 96 percent has been supposedly divided into dark matter and dark energy owing to qualities about some of it that seem to behave more like matter and others that seem to behave more like energy. However, another proposal is that our understanding of gravity itself is at fault and just as Einstein had to tweek Isaac Newton's concepts of gravity in relation to light we may also have to tweek them in relation to supposedly empty space...which relates to the next mystery:

    2) The Pioneer anomaly: In the early 1970s the US sent out two Pioneer probes that are now both past Pluto. Yet amazingly both of them are off course and by the same degree than would be predicted under traditional notions of gravitational pull. Have our probes journeyed far enough to make contact with that missing universe aluded to in the first mystery? The answer to that question is related to our next mystery:

    3) Varying Constants: The set strength of the various fundamental forces of nature may not be constant. For those whose appetite is whetted by this chapter, please read Oxford University Prof. John Barrow's book entitled simply "Constants of the Universe." In a rough way, this mystery relates to the next one:

    4) Whether cold fusion is possible: Thanks to Einstein's famous E = MC2 huge amounts of energy can be produced by either nuclear fission (the division of nuclear particles) or alternatively fusion (the unification of certain nuclear particles). For those familiar with US A bomb and H bomb testing videos and Godzilla movies, this process is usually a very dramatic one. If cold fusion were possible it would bode significantly against global energy concerns. And while we still don't know for sure if it can be done, we do know that the US Navy is convinced enough to massively fund research in this area. From this mystery, we leap to our next one:

    5) How did life originate: Wisely Brooks peppers this part of his book heavily with quotations from both Erwin Schroedinger whose 1944 essay of the same name is still in print and also Adelaide U prof Paul Davies fantastic book The Fifth Miracle. While personally, I believe life will ultimately be found to a fairly common emergent property on certain types of planets and moons, it's still interesting reading to see just how far current research has NOT come. This brings us to our next mystery:

    6) Did Viking find evidence of life on Mars: On July 20 1976 the Viking lander did just that on Mars. In four then cutting edge tests (the fifth one failed to work properly) Viking's magic eight ball said: Probably not. But was that the final word? Itself probably not. Which brings us to the next mystery: did we alredy recieve an extra terrestrial signal?

    As can be seen, the issues (and the ones listed were just a sampling are fascinating reading for both the questions they answer and the others they beckon us...their inheritors...to answer....more info
  • Error in his logic in 'Free Will' Chapter
    OK, I've only read 1 chapter so far - the chapter on 'Free Will' but I'm so annoyed I just have to write this review right now. (I'll update it later after I read the rest of the book, to be fair.)

    The entire chapter ended with the conclusion that 'free will' doesn't exist at all. Why? Because neurosurgeons are able to move parts of another person's body by stimulating their brain.

    Say what?

    What exactly does this prove?

    The author would have you think that this proves you have no free will.

    Tell that to a paralyzed person, who cannot move his/her body at will. Does that mean s/he has no capacity to think, to choose?

    Of course not!

    It just means that the person's free will cannot be utilized to control their BODY.

    Evidently the author thinks we are nothing more than bodies...machines.

    Which, even IF true, still would not prove his point! In the case of computers, there is both hardware and software. If anything, the neurosurgeons' experiments are more suggestive that the hardware can be controlled...SOMETHING is controlling that hardware, whether it is the neurosurgeons' probe or...SOFTWARE.

    Even the author admitted that he felt disconcerted that someone was able to move his finger without his consent. He said he felt like a puppet.

    So just what was 'it' that felt disconcerted...that felt anything at all?

    Did 'it' (the author's, er, consciousness) CHOOSE to feel those feelings?

    THAT is what they should be testing...not whether he can physically move his body or not. A man with a broken leg might CHOOSE to walk across the room but cannot exercise his intention. That does NOT prove he had no intention at all!

    Speaking of machines...where are the chapters on astral projection, remote viewing, psychic surgery, telekinesis, memories of reincarnation, etc.? No, don't say that evidence doesn't exist. None of those things have been conclusively PROVEN, to be sure, but evidence for all of the above most certainly does exist, in abundance!

    How about the construction of the Great Pyramid? Only lame, feeble attempts to explain that have made.

    And, the most dramatic unsolved mystery of our time, CROP CIRCLES.

    No, don't insult my intelligence by saying that 2 men with planks did it. That was disproven long ago. Many crop circles are impossible to duplicate in ANY amount of time, and yet were documented as being formed in as little as 15 MINUTES in the dark, right next to a busy highway.

    (Before the attempts at rebuttal start flying, I can provide plenty of documentation upon request.)

    Michael, your enthusiasm is to be commended. But you are young. Open your eyes. There are far more interesting unsolved mysteries out there than those you covered (and attempted to debunk) in your book.

    PS. I'll add more stars if the other chapters turn out better.

    Update: OK I read the rest of the book, and sorry, but it's totally bogus. The author is completely biased towards anything alternative or wholistic. And he calls himself a scientist??? It's rather trendy right now for mainstream scientists to ridicule anything outside the mainstream as 'fringe' but they neglect to realize a very important point: a TRUE scientist would be NEUTRAL, not bigoted, towards that which he doesn't understand. A TRUE scientist would not allow his prejudices to cloud his judgment. A TRUE scientist would simply say "Science does not yet explain why such-and-such happens, but perhaps one day we will" rather than smirk and scoff at those who dare to be the pioneers of new thought. Remember, tomorrow's geniuses are often considered today's lunatics!

    I have ZERO respect for anyone claiming to be a scientist while ridiculing anyone who thinks outside the box, NOT because of logical, reasonable, well-explained disagreements, but SIMPLY FOR THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX. This author ridiculed other scientists simply because they were exploring certain topics NOT YET EXPLAINED by conventional science. ??? Helllllllloooooo, how will science ever explain these things if some brave souls weren't willing to go out on a limb and actually research them? (Didn't think of that, now did you?)

    Then there's his chapter on Homeopathy. In all fairness, he does make a feeble attempt to allow for the possibility that the meta-studies can't prove its efficacy because it includes multiple remedies, so some remedies might be effective while others aren't, and by mixing the studies, the good ones fall thru the cracks by getting statistically homogenized. OK, fair enough. BUT, that's not even the point! And that explanation clearly demonstrates his lack of understanding of the basic principles of homeopathy! You see, 10 people with the same symptoms - say, for example, a cough - might actually need 10 different remedies! It's NOT about some remedies working and others not - it's about choosing the RIGHT remedy for THAT particular person! It's not as simple as allopathic medicine, in which the same drug is given to everyone. No, in homeopathy, different people have different constitutions and mental states, and thus require different remedies! Until this basic principle of homeopathic prescribing is taken into account in the studies, studies won't even be able to prove homeopathy's efficacy! A totally different type of study is required for homeopathy. So it is entirely false to claim that it's not effective just because double-blind meta-studies have failed to do so. They cannot prove anything because they are not deigned to accommodate homeopathy's basic principles.

    So, the author did make an attempt to sound open-minded about homeopathy, but his audacity in writing a book about a topic that he is obviously so ignorant about, gets him nothing but disdain from me. And then, for him to mock researchers who dare to explore that which science cannot yet explain, but their experience tells them WORKS, is just plain arrogant and bigoted.

    The rest of the chapters are similarly arrogant and bigoted.

    I'd knock down the stars if it let me. This book was a major disappointment.
    ...more info
  • Searching For The Next Paradigm Shift
    It's been quite awhile since science has had what Thomas Kuhn referred to as a paradigm shift; a major earth shaking change that alters our perception of the universe. Michael Brooks takes a look at 13 of the biggest unexplained mysteries in science that may lead to that next big paradigm shift. Topics range from the mystery of dark matter to the usefulness of SETI and the question of why evolution developed sex as a means of procreation. Cold Fusion even manages to get a chapter.

    I'll discuss a few topics that I found more interesting than the rest.

    As I get older I think more often about my own mortality and wonder if there will ever be a breakthrough that can extend life indefinitely (if that were even desirable). There exists some animals that seem to defy the effects of aging and the author asks the question why do we age and die. In other words why do cells decay over time and would it be possible to somehow duplicate the age defying effects that a handful of animals seem to possess. Although the average human life span has continued to increase, there seems to be an impenetrable wall at the upper limit. The answer that the author seems to lean towards is that genetically altering human's to halt aging would be exceedingly difficult if not impossible. I'll leave it to Mr. Brooks to explain the scientific reasoning behind this conclusion.

    Another fascinating topic was on the subject of free will. This isn't the first time I've heard that our brain begins preparing for bodily motions about a half second before we become consciously aware of it. In other words it appears that our bodies move unconsciously and we only delude ourselves into thinking that WE are dictating the movement. The author uses the term `brain-machines' to describe how we operate. These are not involuntary reaction such as touching a hot plate or subconscious movements such as typing on a keyboard but movements we consider fully under our control such as waving a hand. Does this mean that we are merely passengers in our own bodies, slaves to external and internal influences? If every decision we make is an involuntary response to neurons firing in our brain machines how does that relate to long term planning? Is each small step, each tiny decision merely the result of an electro chemical reaction in the brain as involuntary as the beating of our hearts and if this is so does this demand an entire redefinition of what voluntary is? Does voluntary even have any meaning? For me this chapter alone makes the book worth purchasing for the deep and perhaps frightening philosophical implications.

    Although it wasn't the point of the book one thing I found interesting was how scientists who lie on the edges of science are frequently ostracized by their peers. One example would be Pons and Fleischmann, the unfortunate scientists involved in the Cold Fusion debacle. Although the two scientists made a serious lapse in judgment they were attempting something which if successful would have revolutionized the world. It's also unfortunate that other prominent scientists ended up getting tarred along with them. The author relates several incidents throughout the book of scientists who get caught on the wrong side of convention and pay a tremendous price. As someone who has read tons if books on cranks and pseudo scientists I can fully understand science attempting to police its own but it can get to the point where creative or divergent thinking, the kind of thinking that would launch a new paradigm, ends up getting muffled by the establishment. Michael Brooks is not the first author who has pointed this out.

    Science has not had a true paradigm shift in over half a century but the author has probably marked some pretty good territory as to where the next major shift may occur. The book is both informative and entertaining, a combination which many science books fail to achieve. I'm giving this book high marks as one of the best science books I've read in quite some time....more info
  • EXCELLENT
    Interesting and compelling. Well written. Good narration/speaker. "Strange science" at its "makes one think"-best....more info
  • Not so baffling things
    I was very disappointed. The first chapter on dark matter and dark energy was indeed a baffling mystery of science. However, many of the 13 things were not so baffling or in a couple of cases not even serious phenomenon.

    There is a Nobel Prize waiting for the person who figures out cold fusion, but until someone can actually reproduce the experiments there is no "thing" to be baffled by. Occam's razor does not suggest an alien transmission is the best explanation for SETI's "Wow" signal. The "Wow" signal was a onetime event. It is scientific frustration that we don't have more data from the event, but it isn't one of the most baffling mysteries in science.

    The situation gets even worse when the author moves on to free will and homeopathy. I was hoping for a book about the frontiers of science. This was not it. Failing to prove negatives does not constitute scientific mystery....more info
  • absolutely fascinating, and you get more out of it with multiple readings
    I found this book to be absolutely fascinating. I got it in audible format, and have listened to it more than once. Every time I listen to it, I get more out of it, and hear things that I missed the first time. I find it to be information-dense, and therefore it gets better with time....more info
  • No answers, but a deeper understanding of things
    The book is excellent in showing some major things we kind of take for granted, but really shouldn't, because to come up with dramatic advances in science or in understanding, we have a better chance when pondering these challenges.

    There are some things I will never think in quite the same way after reading this book, like:

    1. The universe is expanding, but doing so at an ever faster rate. Therefore, we should be ready to alter current science, like our understanding of gravity. The author presents the concepts of dark energy (causing the ever faster expansion) and dark matter (affecting the shape, size and spin of galaxies). Plus, that can lead us to question whether scientific constants, are actually constant or might vary somewhat over millions or billions of years. Then, there is cold fusion and we still can't say it isn't possible.

    2. As for 'Life', we still don't know how it began. NASA once claimed they had found life on Mars, through the Viking exploration, but then not sure. In 1977, we received a radio signal from space, and still not sure if it was or wasn't some alien communication. The best hope for some signal would likely be some fundamental mathematical code or a laser beam.
    Maybe a virus was the first form of life. There are some indications that this is possible.

    3. As for 'Aging' and 'Death', some fish, amphibians and reptiles don't seem to age. Some organisms don't appear to die. There is some thought that death was only introduced to protect against damaged DNA being passed on, so maybe by tinkering with our DNA we can extend life and the vibrancy of life.

    4. Why 'Sex', since many living things reproduce assexually? Maybe to purge deleterious mutations or evolve to get rid of parasites and parasites evolve to always be able to find a home. Plus, since female animals don't always select the strongest or most dominant male, maybe something else at work, like what is in the best interest of the whole group. Mathematical Game Theory does seem to indicate that the best solution is when most, in a group, are optimally happy. So, is the reason for sex mathematically based? Interesting.

    5. As for 'Free Will', do we really have it? There are some scientific studies which show our actual actions can precede the mind's actual awareness of wanting to start the action. It is noted that most psychological disorders involve people who try to exert maybe too much control over their life. Maybe a better road to sanity is acknowledging we aren't in control. Anyway, it does seem likely we have a lot less free will than we think we have.

    6. The 'Placebo Effect' does seem to work, like the drug, Valium, doesn't seem to work unless the patient knows he/she is taking it. But, why the placebo affect works, we still don't know.

    7. Homeopathy does seem to work beyond what might be attributed to the placebo effect. But, why? We don't know.

    Anyway, this book is really great at making a reader just think a little deeper about some pretty important things....more info
  • Baffling Mysteries but not always Intriguing
    While the book was interesting and thought-provoking for the most part, the scientific mysteries weren't always very intriguing. For example, the one-time radio signal from outer space may or may not have been from extraterrestrial origin, but why waste a whole chapter wondering whether or not ET has called? Wouldn't it make more sense to rigorously investigate reported encounters with aliens that may have happened right here, instead of pondering a single signal lasting less than a second, from light-years away?

    The chapter on cold fusion was interesting, mostly for the description of science politics, as in, once you fall from grace, you can never be taken seriously again. As for the author's thoughts on free will, well, he doesn't seem to know what he's talking about. The most interesting part in the section on placebos isn't whether the effect is real or not,it was the discussion on how apparently, some medicines do not work at all unless you know you are taking them (the opposite of a placebo effect).

    Book was not very readable (too wordy), and was biased against anything that couldn't be explained by science. Might appeal to very rational, science-minded people, but the book's tone seemed to dismiss anything even remotely metaphysical. ...more info
  • All I can say is WOW!
    I just couldn't put this book down! In fact, I will happily confess that the subject matter is not one I would normally gravitate towards but I just cannot say enough good things about this book.

    My boyfriend bought this book last night at random and I picked it up in the wee hours of the early morning in an attempt to lull my self to sleep. I had no intention of finishing it.... honestly, none whatsoever... I just wanted to tire my eyes out enough to fall asleep! But needless to say, that was about 5 hours ago... currently it is 8:30am and I have never found physics more appealing! The author is just wonderful and writes in a refreshing, clear, and engaging way. I loved the narrative he applies when describing each anomaly and how it has puzzled, aggravated, confused- even infuriated many of the most brilliant minds of the past century.

    Actually, this book reminded me a bit of Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time, in that it made the subject matter accessible to everyday folks who are not familiar with the nuances of physics and chemistry; ordinary people who do not regularly peruse through academic peer reviewed journals at leisure. I can understand why those who are experts on these subjects may find the subject matter a bit dull and unoriginal (kudos to you); this book probably would not hold your attention. BUT for those who are not familiar with the mysteries posited in the book, I cannot recommend it highly enough. If you have ever wondered about the universe and any of the scholarly subject matters that had always seemed too dense, complicated, and out of reach- PLEASE pick up this book and gain a better appreciation for the amazing discoveries, puzzles, and questions that are still left to be answered. I PROMISE it is a very, very entertaining read!...more info
  • fascinating
    I found this book to be a very intesting story of scientific questions that appear to have no answers as far as the scientific community is concerned. I work in applied science and I injoyed the drama and mysteries described in this book - scinece is not that cut and dry....more info
  • Thought-provoking and very readable
    This is an outstanding book. It's a thought-provoking examination of thirteen problems in science that have puzzled-- and sometimes embarrassed and angered-- scientists for years. Though it is scientifically rigorous, it is at the same time very readable.

    The book is a greatly expanded version of an article that the author wrote for New Scientist magazine. Brooks considers a wide range of issues, including what dark matter and dark energy might be, if they are anything at all; why the Pioneer spacecraft is apparently violating the rules of physics as it leaves the solar system; why scientists decided that the Viking landers on Mars didn't detect life, despite consistent evidence that they did; whether an alien civilization has already contacted us but we weren't listening carefully enough to notice; why death and sex exist, despite their nearly complete lack of evolutionary advantage; how experiments continue to show that cold fusion may be a real phenomenon, despite abundant proof that it can't exist; why the placebo effect works, despite evidence that it doesn't actually exist; and more.

    All of this is tied together by a theme: The world's best experts can't always figure things, out, even when large numbers of them agree; indeed, sometimes those experts prevent things from being properly examined, let alone figured out.

    The general tone and style of the book reminded me of Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay Gould, and John McPhee. There is a LOT to chew on here, but the bites are correctly sized and very tender. The author has a PhD in quantum physics, but he's also a good magazine feature writer. The balance of real science and entertainment is perfect.

    I enjoyed this book very much, and I think it will easily repay any reader for the time and money invested in it....more info
  • 13 Things That Don't Make Sense: The Most Baffling Scientific Mysteries of Our Time
    The unknowns and how we look at them in science will always be found intriguing....more info
  • The Wonder of What We Don't Yet Understand
    As a science teacher for many years, one of the challenges I face is communicating to students (and, indeed, to many of my adult friends) the ways of thinking that make science such a powerful method for examining the world. One of the reasons this can be difficult is that books on science, whether they be textbooks or "popular" books, often come across as little more than another type of holy writ, put down by acolytes who require of their readers what amounts to little more than a different kind of faith. But Dr. Brooks' book is different. Finally, perfect science has been knocked off its pedestal.

    Don't get me wrong, Brooks obviously has a great knowledge of and respect for science, as I do. However, he is comfortable with the fact that there are still some very important questions science can't answer and, most importantly, he is perfectly willing to consider both sides of a question, even when one side takes us far from mainstream science. This balance and simple recognition of unknowns does more to make science a human endeavor than all of the histories and pat explanations of classic theories out there. Certainly, it is a welcome change to the stream of elitist books that have been published recently, treating people as fools if they remain unconvinced and uncomfortable with some scientific explanations of the world.

    The topics Brooks covers have varying degrees of controversiality. The search for the "missing mass" in the universe, the issue of universal constants, and the search for evidence for life on Mars mainly just point out gaps in our knowledge. Important, yes, but not something most people worry about on a regular basis. His admissions on certain gaps in evolutionary theory and the studies on free will, however, touch deeper nerves without denigrating the important things science has contributed to our understanding of these things and the universe as a whole.

    Not surprisingly, Brooks always comes down on the side of mainstream science. But he is rarely heavy-handed with his point of view. (The only time I rebelled against where he seemed to be going was in the chapter on free will.) Even with subjects that most mainstream scientists wouldn't even give the time of day, like cold fusion and homeopathy, Brooks gives everyone a fair shake.

    All in all, this book is an absolute pleasure. It is the things we don't understand that keep science an inviting, vibrant field. By placing some of these unknowns before the public in such a balanced way, Dr. Brooks has given everyone a taste of what makes science so interesting for those of us involved in it. He is inviting people in, without losing any of what it means to do science effectively. This is exactly what I try to do for my students. It is wonderful to have a brilliant aid like this book....more info
  • Great Book
    This book is well researched and very interesting. It points out the things we still don't understand in this world and offers insights on how they may be solved in the future. It evokes thoughts about the unknown and knowledge about our scientific past. Great read....more info
  • Engaging and Entertaining
    Science fact is sometimes stranger than science fiction. Dr. Michael Brooks has explored this theme before in "13 Things That Don't Make Sense: The Most Baffling Scientific Mysteries of Our Time," a 2005 cover story in New Scientist. The piece spread like wildfire on the Internet, becoming the sixth most circulated article that year. Perhaps spurred by its success or, just as likely, spurred by the depth of the topics itself, Brooks digs deeper in the book-length version of 13 Things That Don't Make Sense.

    From dark energy and the apparent suspension of the laws of physics across space to the more terrestrial matters of sex and the placebo effect, Brooks' command of the material is impeccable. Each subject and theory is presented alongside corroborating and contradicting evidence. The progression of subjects as well as their relation to each other is intriguing and rushes the reader through a whirlwind of theories. Voice is given to proponents and opponents, although each subject's inclusion in the book portends the final verdict: that there are no answers (at least not yet).

    While Brooks holds a Ph.D. in quantum physics, he takes nothing for granted, explaining each concept in patient detail. His descriptions are colorful, ranging from mundane comparisons to appeals to pop culture. An example of the former: "The uncertainty principle, when applied to field theory produces natural fluctuations in the properties of certain regions of the universe. It is rather like having a balloon that is peppered with weak spots; as the universe inflates, these fluctuations can grow, producing a new region of space and time." An example of the latter: "[Viruses] are evolutionary aberrations whose existence necessitates destruction, rather like the cruelly amoral machines in the movie The Terminator."

    Much like Lewis Thomas' contributions to poetic, science-themed prose, Brooks pushes the dynamics of scientific, literary non-fiction. He uses history as the setting, charting the lifeline of ideas much like the rise and fall of family lines in Victorian novels. Brooks is particularly sensitive to social constructs, including the stigma attached to challenging ideas. In this sense, he is a social commentator, ostracizing those whom ostracize, who have slowed progress by blackballing scientists who challenge the status quo.

    The cover of the book is noteworthy in its uncanny presentation of the book's subject matter. A cursory glance reveals a problematic optical illusion akin to an image of a M?bius Strip or an M.C. Escher painting. Upon further examination there is another explanation--the image is a series of three shaded, interlocking sevens. In the end, the solutions to the problems Douglas raises in 13 Things That Don't Make Sense necessitate a change of perspective.

    While the ideas contained in the volume are revolutionary in scope, Brooks is ultimately conservative about the impending season of their fruition. Citing Kuhn and Darwin, he states "It will be the people who are now young and rising who will find life on the planets and moons of our solar system, maybe even answering a call from beyond those boundaries. It is they who will perhaps create life or rewrite Einstein's relativity to take account of dark matter and put the Pioneer probes to rest. Perhaps some genius still currently in preschool will use her mathematical skills to solve the riddle of dark energy." The last sentence is particularly telling, for the story of science is much the story of individuals. They are embedded within society, both influenced by and influencing its course....more info
  • Error in his logic in 'Free Will' Chapter
    OK, I've only read 1 chapter so far - the chapter on 'Free Will' but I'm so annoyed I just have to write this review right now. (I'll update it later after I read the rest of the book, to be fair.)

    The entire chapter ended with the conclusion that 'free will' doesn't exist at all. Why? Because neurosurgeons are able to move parts of another person's body by stimulating their brain.

    Say what?

    What exactly does this prove?

    The author would have you think that this proves you have no free will.

    Tell that to a paralyzed person, who cannot move his/her body at will. Does that mean s/he has no capacity to think, to choose?

    Of course not!

    It just means that the person's free will cannot be utilized to control their BODY.

    Evidently the author thinks we are nothing more than bodies...machines.

    Which, even IF true, still would not prove his point! In the case of computers, there is both hardware and software. If anything, the neurosurgeons' experiments are more suggestive that the hardware can be controlled...SOMETHING is controlling that hardware, whether it is the neurosurgeons' probe or...SOFTWARE.

    Even the author admitted that he felt disconcerted that someone was able to move his finger without his consent. He said he felt like a puppet.

    So just what was 'it' that felt disconcerted...that felt anything at all?

    Did 'it' (the author's, er, consciousness) CHOOSE to feel those feelings?

    THAT is what they should be testing...not whether he can physically move his body or not. A man with a broken leg might CHOOSE to walk across the room but cannot exercise his intention. That does NOT prove he had no intention at all!

    Speaking of machines...where are the chapters on astral projection, remote viewing, psychic surgery, telekinesis, memories of reincarnation, etc.? No, don't say that evidence doesn't exist. None of those things have been conclusively PROVEN, to be sure, but evidence for all of the above most certainly does exist, in abundance!

    How about the construction of the Great Pyramid? Only lame, feeble attempts to explain that have made.

    And, the most dramatic unsolved mystery of our time, CROP CIRCLES.

    No, don't insult my intelligence by saying that 2 men with planks did it. That was disproven long ago. Many crop circles are impossible to duplicate in ANY amount of time, and yet were documented as being formed in as little as 15 MINUTES in the dark, right next to a busy highway.

    (Before the attempts at rebuttal start flying, I can provide plenty of documentation upon request.)

    Michael, your enthusiasm is to be commended. But you are young. Open your eyes. There are far more interesting unsolved mysteries out there than those you covered (and attempted to debunk) in your book.

    PS. I'll add more stars if the other chapters turn out better.
    ...more info
  • consider this a tidy appetizer on the issues
    The book reads much the way a casual magazine article on science would - which may seem overly breezy and colloquial to an educated reader but it does allow the non-scientist at least some access to these perplexing ideas. I personally found the chapter on the mega virus to be the most interesting - but overall the chapters are touch and go, much the way you would approach a buffet table, nibbling on a few things before you get lost or bored or satiated with material that the author readily admits have no hard answers or even good possibilities.

    The biggest surprise, for me, coming from the arts, is that even the most illustrious scientists have been and can be incredibly petty, malicious, intolerant, and eager to shut down anyone's research just because it upsets their own (unproven) theories. I had not expected individuals that almost by unanimous assent, are the "smartest" humans on earth to behave with such smallness of character or intellect. This book, perhaps unintentionally, reveals just how very human they are as well: just as vindictive and back-stabbing, jealous, insecure and paranoid that anyone might find in the performing or visual arts!

    If I could have made just one suggestion to the author it would have been for him to have expanded on many of the most interesting people in his book; for example, I found Adam Riess to be so completely intriguing that I would have liked a chapter just on him, on his work and ideas; even a list of his published articles would have been wonderful. ...more info
  • fascinating
    I found this book to be a very intesting story of scientific questions that appear to have no answers as far as the scientific community is concerned. I work in applied science and I injoyed the drama and mysteries described in this book - scinece is not that cut and dry....more info
  • Whether there is a problem there is a scientific opportunity
    Michael Brooks chooses thirteen mysteries or anomalies, cases in which we know or learn or have evidence of something which does not fit in with our generally accepted scientific understanding. He discusses these questions and does not provide definite answers in any case. He simply reveals to us the problems and gives us some of the answers which have been proposed. Among the questions he asks are those which relate to fundamental questions in Science. One chapter is devoted to understanding how Life may have been created. Another is devoted to the missing ninety- six percent of the Matter of the Universe which Scientists suppose to be Dark Energy or Dark Matter. Another concerns the question of whether there is Life on Mars. Still another deals with the 'Wow' signal received which seemed to be a response proving that extraterrestials had broadcast to us. But it was never repeated, and it came from a place in the Universe which it appears it could not possibly come from. Another chapter deals with the question of our Free- Will and the neuroscience showing our brain-activity prompting the physical action before we make the conscious decision. There are also chapters on the placebo effect, and homeopathy , two it seems to me , less significant questions. There is also a chapter considering whether Death is genetically programmed or comes from accumulated reproductive cellular errors which come with Age.
    Brooks talks in the book about meeting and speaking with John Horgan who has written about 'the End of Science'. Brooks clearly takes the opposite view and considers Science very much alive, especially in those areas where it , as in the cases he studies, does not have clear understanding.
    An excellent work which once again proves the old truth that the more we do know the more we know there is to know that we don't know now. ...more info