At Least Know This: Essential Science To Enhance Your Life by Guy P. Harrison (book review)

July 20, 2018 | By | Reply More

When you read Guy P. Harrison’s introduction to ‘At Least Know This: Essential Science To Enhance Your Life’ and the statistics of how 40% or less people world-wide have any knowledge of science, it should send a shiver through your backbone that the world’s population is edging quickly into ignorance. We are living in a period of time when there is the most use of technology and yet the least people with knowledge on the subject. At least, I hope it does as if you’re a Science Fiction fan, you should be amongst the section that understands at least some levels of science and its application. We might play with the concepts, but we do so knowing why and use known science much of the time.

Harrison also points out the six questions journalists use to write their articles is also the prime questions in science, although probably not in the same order. In case you didn’t know: who, what, why, when, where and how. If you’re curious about anything when you’re looking up anything, ensure you answer all of these. He also points out not to be afraid to be ignorant but seek to fill those gaps in your knowledge. I would probably go further and say that also you might think you can get your knowledge off the Internet any time you need it, you still have to know what you are looking for and be able to word the right questions and understand the answers and know which are correct. The Internet is an aid not an end-all.

If I have to be critical of this book from the start then I do think Harrison is relying too heavy on his text. His box captions giving data is more likely to have some pertinence to encapsulating the knowledge you need to pick up. Sometimes. As with the Big Bang, it also shows even scientists have a limit to their knowledge as even they don’t know what happened before then. I do think he needed to put over more on the difference between something proven, like evolution, to a working theory that fits the knowledge we have though. That applies with the likes of the Dark Matter and Dark Energy. We know something is out there in the expanding universe, we just don’t know what it is just yet.

The average human consists of seven billion billion billion atoms or 7 x 1027 if you want to see it in raw numbers. People rather perceive things that small as we’re too used to the physical world as we see it. When you see the list of how these atoms are divided into elements then you will start to realise how complex not only organic life is but everything that is around us. In some respects, I wish Harrison had gone further into compounds but I think that would leave many people behind.

Looking at modern Man in context to other members of the primate family here, you should see that we evolved as much as any other creature on this planet. From the evidence here, it should also make you a little concerned that we are its only survivors when other species still have much diversity. Harrison tots up how poorly we look after ourselves with cardiovascular diseases claiming the most lives each year.

The examination of how humans are in a symbiotic relationship with various microbes should make you think. As microbes can survive in extreme conditions, like space, it’s no wonder NASA is still pondering on whether our basic DNA arrived from space.

One thing Harrison makes a common mistake on while actually wanting to declare evolution isn’t a theory is that he still calls it a theory. I think the only way to change how the population at large thinks about evolution is not use or associate the word ‘theory’ with it. In scientific terms, a theory is putting together the details of a phenomenon or information about the world or cosmos that makes sense until more evidence is discovered that might dispute it. Evolution doesn’t have to be explained that way. We have enough evidence to show that is the way of nature so it isn’t a theory. The real bugbear in all of this is, as Harrison points out, is religion. Some have embraced evolution without destroying their faith but the fact that so many don’t is very worrying in our modern world. Should we discuss some of the unhealthy foods some of you folk eat? All right, you can read a little more in the book but it does have an effect on your mental health.

When Harrison considers the size of the universe and how minute our world, let alone mankind is, in the nature of things. Saying that, I do have to wonder if most people don’t like to dwell on it. Mostly, I suspect, because it’s beyond their imaginations and they can’t affect it.

I suspect the chapter on how the brain works will interest most of you, more so as the conscious mind is only 10% of the actual process that is you. It also spends a lot of time trying to make sense of the world and hence accepts a lot of misconceptions as fact. Although Harrison focuses primarily on that, I do wish he had explored the opposite end of this and how some people can actually carry events true in their heads as well. After all, if that wasn’t possible, we’d all be living in some form of euphoria of make-believe. However, his look at ‘Blind Spot Bias’, where we can’t see our own failing should make you sit up with a start. I do think how Americans obey authority figures so strictly is a more an American thing than a British or probably other parts of the world thing but suspect that there is a gun bias in there somewhere.

The final chapter looks at how mankind could end. Harrison puts a cheerful note on it that it probably won’t happen in our lifetime. Oddly, I wrote last month’s editorial on the dangers of Artificial Intelligence before reading here but he does give a list of prominent people who see AI as potentially dangerous and a need for regulations. Even so, how can this be done world-wide? I doubt if that will stop research. Business has a nasty habit of doing things first and apologise afterwards with government intervention.

Oddly, one way of mass extermination of the human race by a gamma ray burst from an exploding star isn’t something I’d given much thought to other than a cursory glance before. If we were closer to the core of the Milky Way with more stars nearby then I would be worried but we’re out a lot further than that.

About the only thing here not covered is global warming or the effects of another ice age. However, if you need other fodder for writing about the end of the world, there should be plenty of things to keep you busy.

If I have to be critical of this book then in terms of text I’m less convinced that it will catch the non-science reader who wants things explained in easy lessons. If you want to catch such an audience then there should be various levels and even more graphics so they are inclined to read on and get a firmer grasp of scientific concepts. I would probably go as far to say to put it context of what they use in everyday life. If they can see things that way then they’ll have a better appreciation of their dependency on science.

This doesn’t mean this book isn’t useful. On some things, it isn’t going over old ground but you should come away from this book realising that how science enhances your life and that is the important thing.

GF Willmetts

July 2018

(pub: Prometheus Books. 311 page small enlarged paperback. Price: $19.00 (US), $20.00 (CAN), £14.30 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-63388-405-2. EBook: Price: $11.99 (US), $13.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-63388-405-2)

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Category: Books, Science


About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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