Unbelievable Science Stuff That Will Blow Your Mind by Colin Barris (book review).

With a title like ‘Unbelievable Science Stuff That Will Blow Your Mind’, author Colin Barris has a lot to live up to. His bio reveals he has degrees in geology, palaeobiology and science communication plus a PhD in palaeontology so he has the necessary grounding. Oddly, of the eight subject titles, only one appears to be directly related to his degrees. The subjects covered are ‘Space’, ‘Physics’, ‘Technology’, ‘Environment’, ‘Natural World’, ‘Health & Wellbeing’, ‘The Brain & Human Behaviour’ and finally, ‘Humanity’s Past, Present & Future’.

Two things hit me when I started reading that there were a lot of useful photos related to the subjects and clear text on all the 80 subjects. In fact, this is a book pointing out the advances science is currently making and there are already some subjects giving me some ideas for stories or at least directions I can explore in which is always a good idea.

Take for example how to become wealthy from space. It isn’t the precious metals you should be after but finding water up there. It costs a lot more money to get water into space than anything else. Have a ready source up there from asteroids or one of the planets and you would corner the market.

You also see some failures. It was nearly thought that neutrinos and tachyons could travel faster than the speed of light until it was found that there was a glitch in the timing system. When you’re counting in less than nanoseconds, these kinds of things are bound to happen. Oddly, relativity comes more into play later where the lava core of the Earth is actually younger than the crust that we live on.

Odd usual facts turn up as well. Did you know Percy Bridgman has a mineral called Bridgmanite named after him? Me neither. It’s actually a mixture of silicate perovskite and calcium silicate in a particular perpvskite structure which is a bit technical. It’s found in the Earth’s mantle and in meteorites so although abundant, little of it is available. There’s a good learning curve vibe coming from this book and I found myself pausing every whip’s while to take it all in.

There’s also a possibility of resurrecting dinosaurs. Not the Michael Crichton way but from the genetic information carried in our current bird population. Still not sure if that’s wise but does give me thoughts that we are all carriers of the genetic information of life on Earth.

Seeing books encoded into DNA does make me hope publishers never offer me them this way to read them. Likewise, seeing the wildlife returning to the Chernobyl area did make me take a think. My own speculation is that maybe that some of the more successful animals are because they don’t keep any radioactive elements in themselves which would be the real killer.

Birds look like they could make good editors as they also seem to be aware of bad grammar in their own birdsongs when listening to others. It probably also means that not all of them can get it right the first time which should reassure you.

Something I did find fascinating is that medieval remedies might be able to step in where bacteria are now or getting immune to antibiotics. Makes you wonder what the ancients knew or learnt from their own experimentation.

Something that is likely to cause controversy, especially amongst the medical profession, is that belief can kill you. I’m not entirely sure it applies to all illnesses but you do need to keep a positive outlook that you can beat any illness you have than succumb to it. Essentially, if you told you’re going to die shortly, for many, their bodies will agree to do so. Now that is scary but does explain why some people can defy the length of life left given to you of a fatal illness. There’s controversy here as to how much doctors should tell patients and you should be concerned about looking up info on medical conditions on the Internet. If you’re going to buy this book for anything then it is for this reason to read it.

In a similar way, discovering boredom can be fatal, then it’s a good reason to be creative or at least do something with your time so not to be idle. As to the test of what to in an isolation room for 15 minutes, didn’t any of the people involved do Zen breathing? Just because you’re told to press a button to give yourself an electric shock doesn’t mean you have to. From my perspective, it shows people are far more prone to obeying orders than being bloody-minded enough to think a way out of a problem. Always weigh up the options and don’t necessarily go with the options given.

The piece about artist Concetta Antico seeing more colour hues than the average person doesn’t surprise me. A couple years ago, both me and astro-artist Dave Hardy did an Internet test of the colours we actually see and had similar high results. The two main talents any artist has are good hand-to-eye co-ordination and a sense of colour. When I asked a neighbour what colours saw in the sky, he only said blue for sky and white clouds. It was only when I pointed out the different shades that he realised he wasn’t really looking at what he thought was there. That’s something you should be able to test for yourself. Don’t assume anything to be quite what it is or that others see as you see.

By now, you should be getting the picture. This book has a lot to offer. Above all, it should make you think about a variety of subjects in a multitude of scientific subjects. The final one that does worry me is that the human brain is shrinking but the cross-connection to a couple people noted who have chunks of their brain missing but still able to function, I’m not so sure. Oddly, Barras has connections for how a lot of these subjects relate to each other and misses that one.

Definitely add this book to your reading list. It’s worth the effort.

GF Willmetts

December 2017

(pub: Andre Deutsch/Goodman Books. 223 page illustrated indexed medium hardback. Price: £20.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78097-942-7)

check out websites: www.andredeutsch.com and www.goodmanbooks.co.uk

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