Articles about science

Explaining the world.

Are Universes Thicker Than Blackberries? — Martin Gardner

Martin Gardner is absolutely brilliant on puzzles and mathematical topics, but when he moves to other topics as he does in this collection, he writes as just a smart, opinionated and slightly old-fashioned commentator. The title essay is about the multiple-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. He thinks it’s tosh, which I tend to agree with. But somehow these pieces do not read like balanced and insightful discussions; rather, they sound like slightly irascible kvetching.

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Hello World — Hannah Fry

“Algorithms” will save the world, or possibly destroy it. This book is a good survey of how computerised algorithms are used and misused, and how they can be harnessed so their power can be used for good rather than evil.

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The Ant and the Ferrari — Kerry Spackman

The Ant and the FerrariThis is a readable, impassioned book about the big questions in life. Spackman explains the big bang and evolution in a very accessible way, probably the best such explanations I have ever seen. He explains how science conflicts with religion on these and other topics, but he does so in a much nicer way than the likes of Richard Dawkins or especially Christopher Hitchens. I could imagine that a religious fundamentalist could read this book and actually understand why so many people are convinced that Genesis is all just made up. It’s hard to imagine any such person getting much out of, say, Hitchens’s God Is Not Great other than the impulse to burn it. Spackman meditates thoughtfully on the meaning of life before offering a few suggestions on improving our individual lives, and society in general. I really like his ideas — they could plant the seeds for big changes for the better. I could imagine some of them being implemented by enlightened governments in a few decades. The chances of these kinds of policy change may seem remote, but books like this will definitely help. It’s clear and easy to understand, and if enough people read it it could change the world.
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How to tie your shoelaces

For years I have tied my shoelaces using a special knot that is easy to tie, but never comes undone accidentally. I can’t remember where I learned this — maybe I invented it myself — but I always planned to pass this knowledge on to my children (when I have them) as a valuable piece of family wisdom.

I recently discovered the excellent Ian’s Shoelace Site (“Fun, fashion & science in this quirky site about shoelaces”) as I was looking for more information on shoelace knots. He lists my knot, which is actually called the Better Bow. He seems to find it difficult to tie. Even when I first started using it, I found it as easy as an ordinary knot; that’s why I like it so much. In contrast, his own secure knot, Ian’s Secure Shoelace Knot, is more symmetrical than the Better Bow but quite fiddly to tie, especially if your laces are a bit short.

Ian’s main contribution to the world of shoelace-tying is the astonishing Ian Knot. It’s actually just the standard shoelace knot, but he has invented a much quicker way of tying it. One split-second flourish and it’s done. Demonstrate it to your friends, and be prepared for surprised looks and cries of “how did you do that?” (Or perhaps not, depending on how interested they are in shoelaces.)

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Amazing checker shadow illusion

The Checker Shadow Illusion is the most mysterious optical illusion I have ever seen. No matter how long I stare at it, I can’t convince my eyes to believe it.

Checker shadow illusion

The two areas marked A and B are the same shade of grey in the picture. Print it out and fold the two parts together if you don’t believe it!

The illusion was created by Edward H. Adelson, Professor of Vision Science at MIT. His website has some more interesting illusions as well as a lot of theory to explain them.

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