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“A smorgasbord of ideas.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Offers a rare chance to discover big ideas before they hit the mainstream.” (New York Times Book Review)

“Fun and inspirational. … This engaging collection can be read from cover to cover or browsed as interest dictates, but all inquisitive readers will enjoy it. Highly recommended…” (Library Journal)

“Characteristically thought-provoking and reliably cross-disciplinary, This Explains Everything is a must-read in its entirety.” (Brain Pickings)

“A collection of essays by big thinkers answering big questions [should be] deeply satisfying. And This Explains Everything delivers.” (New Scientist)

“The most stimulating English-language reading to be had from anywhere in the world.” (The Canberra Times)

“Delivers an intellectual mélange you can dip into and savor. ... The reader gets something new at each turn of the page.” (New York Journal of Books)

“A collection that reads like the best TED talks ever. It’s an absolute pleasure to read.” (FAREED ZAKARIA)

“Rich in mental fodder. ... An indispensable way to sample thinking from many corners of the intellectual spectrum.” (Pop Matters)

Présentation de l'éditeur

In This Explains Everything, John Brockman, founder and publisher of, asked experts in numerous fields and disciplines to come up with their favorite explanations for everyday occurrences. Why do we recognize patterns? Is there such a thing as positive stress? Are we genetically programmed to be in conflict with each other? Those are just some of the 150 questions that the world's best scientific minds answer with elegant simplicity.

With contributions from Jared Diamond, Richard Dawkins, Nassim Taleb, Brian Eno, Steven Pinker, and more, everything is explained in fun, uncomplicated terms that make the most complex concepts easy to comprehend.

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Détails sur le produit

  • Broché: 432 pages
  • Editeur : Harper Perennial (22 janvier 2013)
  • Collection : Edge Question Series
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ISBN-10: 0062230174
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062230171
  • Dimensions du produit: 13,5 x 2,5 x 20,3 cm
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Par enoque neves le 21 septembre 2013
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
Its fun and funny.

The reader gets something new at the turn of every page. It’s an absolute pleasure to read.

this book is a must-read in its entirety.

I highly recommend it.
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265 internautes sur 276 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Essays of Beautiful Explanations of how the World Works 26 janvier 2013
Par Book Shark - Publié sur
Format: Broché
This Explains Everything: Deep, Beautiful, and Elegant Theories of How the World Works Edited by John Brockman

"This Explains Everything" is a wonderful book of essays from the Edge that addresses a question that inspires unpredictable answers. The Edge is an organization that presents original ideas by today's leading thinkers from a wide spectrum of scientific fields. The 2012 Edge question is, "What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?" This interesting 432-page book contains 148 short essays that addresses the question. The quality of the essays range from the 3-word absurdity of "Keep It Simple" to the elegant and profound essay that addresses why the sky is blue through a brief history of converging sciences.

For my sake, I created a spreadsheet of all the essays and graded them from zero to five stars based on quality. Five star essays are those that provide a great description of the author's favorite explanation. On the other hand, those receiving a one or even a zero represent essays that were not worthy of this book. Of course, this is just one reviewer's personal opinion.

1. The book starts with a great premise, "What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?"
2. A great range of scientific topics. Thought-provoking ideas.
3. Generally well written, well organized essays. High quality value.
4. You don't have to read the essays in orders, you can just jump to your favorite authors or topics.
5. The theory of evolution shines brightest amongst the stars; regardless of the field of expertise these authors have a great admiration for indeed one of the most beautiful, elegant explanations in all of science.
6. There were eleven outstanding essays deserving of five stars for me. In order of essay, the first by Gerd Gigerenzer, "Unconscious Inferences". It discusses the nature of perception. Excellent illustration to bring it all together.
7. V.S. Ramachandran's "Genes, Claustrum, and Consciousness". He argues that the same strategy used to crack the genetic code might prove successful in cracking the "neural" code. And that's why I read books of this ilk...
8. David M. Eagleman's "Overlapping Solutions" explains beautifully the overlapping ways the brain deals with the world.
9. Andrew Lih's "Information is the Resolution of Uncertainty" introduces us to Claude Shannon the man behind the elegant theory of information.
10. Helen Fisher's "Epigenetics- The Missing Link" provides the reader with the dare I say it emerging field of epigenetics in which the environmental forces can affect gene behavior.
11. John Tooby's "Falling into Place: Entropy and the Desperate Ingenuity of Life" provides a trio of elegant scientific ideas: entropy, natural selection, and frames of refernce.
12. Eric R. Kandel's "Placing Psychotherapy on a Scientific Basis: Five Easy Lessons" discusses the very topical need of treating mental illnesses. Great essay!
13. Randolph Nesse's excellent "Natural Selection is Simple but the Systems it shapes are Unimaginably Complex" makes it very clear that there is a distinction between machines and organisms.
14. My favorite essay belongs to Nicholas A. Christakis, "Out of the Mouth of Babes". It starts with a very simple question from childhood. Why is the sky blue? A question so simple a child can ask but takes many of the greatest minds over time to converge to a satisfactory answer. Philosophy and science as one, now that's beautiful!
15. Alison Gopnik's timely and fascinating "Developmental Timing Explains the Woes of Adolescence.
16. The great Jared Diamond completes the great eleven with the "Origins of Biological Electricity". Interesting, quirky interspersed with some great tidbits.
17. Great authors consistently provide great essays, you can always count on: Dawkins, Pinker, Steinhardt, Carroll, Zimmer, PZ Myers, Atkins, Krauss, and Shermer. They all provided excellent essays.
18. Alan Turing, Galileo, and of course Einstein deserve a special mention. Turing's life is fascinating and I highly recommend reading his biography. The great Darwin goes without saying.
19. Excellent editing.

1. Some essays were not worthy of this book. It's not my intent to denigrate any of these great minds so I'm not going to mention them by name. Thankfully just a few received zero stars.
2. I'm disappointed that no one mentioned Henrietta Swan Leavitt the astronomer who discovered how to calculate the distance from the stars. Or Barbara McClintock's genetic transposition. And of course one can never go wrong with Marie Curie. You know where I'm going with this...just an observation.

In summary, this is an interesting and fun book of essays for inquisitive minds. Philosophy is about asking the right questions and good science is about answering them. A perfect balance of elegance is attained when the right question is responded in turn with a sound, succinct scientific response. This book contains a wide range of responses from my favorite eleven to some not worthy of the book, but overall a fun and enjoyable read. I recommend it!

Further suggestions: "A Universe From Nothing" by Lawrence Krauss, "The Greatest Show on Earth" by Richard Dawkins, "The Disappearing Spoon And Other True Tales of Madness BYKean" by Sam Kean, "The Tell-Tale Brain" by V.S. Ramachandran, "The Believing Brain" by Michael Shermer, "How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed" by Ray Kurzwell, "The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature" by Steven Pinker, "Guns, Germs and Steel" by Jared Diamond, "Why Evolution Is True" by Jerry A. Coyne, and "Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior" by Leonard Mlodinow.
28 internautes sur 28 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Stimulating potpourri 13 mai 2013
Par Tintin - Publié sur
Format: Broché
Anyone who reads this book will probably find their own highlights, insights, confirmations, and things to disagree with. This is more than a review, it's the better part of a blog entry, see everythingequalseverything dot blogspot dot com, if you want to see even more. May 2013. Sorry in advance for the length of this!


This Explains Everything, edited by John Brockman, is a string of short answers to a question posed to the Reality Club, originally New York City intellectuals and now online at the Edge Foundation. According to its website, the Foundation tries "to arrive at the edge of the world's knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves."

The question 148 people answered was this: What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful
explanation? I liked it enough to go back through a second time and extract tidbits and gems, so this has become more of a book report for myself than a book review, I'm afraid.

There were, as you can imagine, all sorts of answers. Why the sky is blue (not as simple as I had remembered), the origin of money, Bayesian probability, empiricism, organic electricity, the importance of individuals, germ theory, sexual selection. Why Greeks painted red figures on black pots, The scientific method. How languages change. A haiku poem. Some were sweet and obvious. One just wrote "keep it simple" and then crossed it out..

I found amongst them a lot of nice little take-aways: To learn how something works, first figure out how it got that way. Information is the resolution of uncertainty. To have a good idea, stop having a bad one. The brain's job is not to store or process information, it's to drive and control the actions of its large appendage, the body. When it's clear that change is needed, it is often expensive, difficult, and time consuming; and when change is easy, the need for it is difficult to foresee. Intervention in any complicated system usually causes unintended effects. Epigenetics may be the "missing link" in the nature/nurture debate. We can't perceive our environment accurately, or process it rationally. Sometimes limiting one's own choices can be a good idea. Our skill at metarepresentations, like "Mary thinks John thinks it's going to rain," may be what distinguishes us as human.

Evolution figured in strongly, as I expected. Gender ratio was used to explain the Evolutionarily Stable Strategy (S. Abbas Raza). Samuel Arbesman explained how natural camouflage occurs; if you mix specific chemicals they result in unique patterns depending on the size and shape of the canvas. The same mix that makes spots on the cheetah body will form stripes on his tail. Make a giraffe the size and shape of a cow and the spots change to Heifer.

Dawkins explained how sight in animals saves bandwidth by mainly detecting edges of moving objects with "strangeness neurons." The brain assumes everything else has remained the same. David Eagleman called the brain an "inelegant device" with enough redundancy to solve the problem many different ways.

Jennifer Jacquet explained why tit for tat is a simple solution to the iterative Prisoner's Dilemma, and Robert Sapolsky showed how simple algorithms applied in quantity, as with ants, can lead to "swarm intelligence" of groups.

The ratio between the second and fourth finger length shows how much testosterone one received in the womb, which directly affects one's personality and interests.

Memes got support, of sorts, from Clay Shirky. Dan Dennett argued that when someone derides an evolutionary explanation as a "just so" story they usually have a political motive. They aren't presenting evidence that the story is false, he said -- plenty end up true. It only means perhaps the hypothesis hasn't been adequately tested. And they are incredulous.

I liked these two a lot: "Natural selection is the only known counterweight to the tendency of physical systems to lose rather than grow functional organization - the only natural physical process that pushes populations of organisms uphill (sometimes) into higher degrees of functional order" (John Tooby). And Peter Atkins added that evolution is a device, like a water turbine, which harnesses entropy, and "thus, dispersal results in a local structure, even though, overall, the world has sunk a little more into disorder." Regardless of how it may seem, everything is always getting worse!

Alison Gopniks explained that puberty comes much earlier now than in our evolutionary past, probably because of better nutrition. What's more, common sense kicks in later than before, due to a more protective environment today: "It's truer to say that our experience of controlling our impulses makes the prefrontal cortex develop than it is to say that prefrontal development makes us better at controlling our impulses." Result: a long period in adolescence where the engines are revved but neither steering nor brakes are ready. Hence violence, accidents, teen pregnancy, drug abuse, etc.

Another nice if simple one, by Brian Eno - yes, that Brian Eno. He pointed out the nature of intuition. "[It] is not a quasi-mystical voice from outside ourselves speaking through us but a sort of quick-and-dirty processing of our prior experience."
Barry Smith was one of several who focused on metaphor. We're full of "cross-modal correspondences," such that happy is high, sad is low, music is sharp or flat, lemons are fast and mangos are slow ... and this is useful in communication and quite likely influences our aesthetic sense.

People who make more money feel more pressed for time. Hence, someone suggested, by volunteering ones time, time itself is worth less, and so you feel you have more of it! And that was Elizabeth Dunn; I think I once read something similar by Douglas Adams, in praise of misery.

I loved this one: Recursive abstraction by Douglas Rushkoff: "Land becomes territory; territory then becomes property that is owned. Property itself can be represented by a deed, and the deed can be mortgaged. The mortgage is itself an investment that can be bet against with a derivative, which can be secured with a credit default swap." There's value, the representations of value, and eventually a disconnection from what has value. The tragedy comes at the moment when we forget what the abstractions represent, and then we become vulnerable to fantasy, illusion, and abuse. "Because once we're living in a world of created symbols and simulations, whoever has control of the map has control of our reality."

Recipes worldwide are based on 300 ingredients, according to Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, and the ingredients vary in several dimensions (sweet, sour, bitter, etc.). By categorizing ingredients and studying recipes researchers found that meals in the West are mostly coordinated (creamy with creamy, etc.) while easterners combine polar opposites.

Videos consist of sequential frames, so how do we perceive motion? First, an object must move not too fast and not too far between frames. Then, there is a persistence of vision itself which fills the short gap between them. Finally, movement creates a blur in each frame, which indicates what is moving, in what direction, and how fast. Pixar makes animations that look so real by adding the little blur.

Time Perspective Theory was pretty interesting: some people are oriented toward the past, present, or future and each of these has negative or positive spin. So there are six "time zones" to choose from. For example, past-oriented folks may be driven by regret, failure, abuse, or trauma - or by gratitude, success, or nostalgia. Apparently past-negative is related to anxiety, depression, and anger "with correlations as robust as .75," and others are correlated with particular afflictions too.

One extraordinary claim was that a normal brain shows activity about a third of a second before the person is aware of the sensation or phenomenon. I've heard this before. And Gerald Smallberg said we simply erase confusing bits from our stream of consciousness to make our experiences more understandable -- it's these gaps that are exploited by card sharks, hustlers, and magicians. Eric Topol reported that researchers in Berkeley have used a brain image to reconstruct the youtube video the person was watching at the time. I looked it up on youtube and wow. It's uncanny.

A handful came across to me as misguided, mistaken, or wrong. The process of natural selection was completely misrepresented, like here: "Nature, unlike risk engineers, prepares for what has not happened before, assuming worst harm is possible. If humans fight the last war, nature fights the next war." Someone else argued the opposite, also wrong: The Generalized Peter Principle: "in evolution, systems tend to develop up to the limit of their adaptive competence." Someone made an argument on raw incredulity that consciousness can't have evolved. One claimed that the Inverse Power Law is ubiquitous in natural systems, so that the thousandth largest stone on a beach is a thousandth the size of the largest one, and so on , and the same for everything else. It is "inevitable as entropy or the law of gravity." I know some bell curves which would disagree. And here's another: someone actually claimed déjà vu experiences happen every six months, like clockwork. Every year, "Not one. Not three. Two." And there was a blank slate claim that people discover who they are by observing their own behavior, and therefore personalities can be shaped by manipulating experiences. Someone liked the Gaia Hypothesis.

But anything having to do with deep physics, I could not judge. There were many, and they just went right over my head. Higgs Boson. Holographic pigeonhole, infinite universes, spiners. Fermi levels at a junction ... words, just words.
49 internautes sur 53 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Lots to think about, some of it new. 27 janvier 2013
Par Allan H. Clark - Publié sur
Format: Broché
There is a lot to interest, amuse, and enlighten the reader in this volume, but, as you would expect, the quality of the essays varies greatly. Some authors take the question seriously and give answers worth reading. Others, like today's experienced politicians, replace it with one they prefer, and in at least one case, one the author invented himself. Since these essays are brief, they often glide over details and omit counter arguments, but may lead the reader to further inquiry. The best--those by Dawkins, Diamond, and Freeman Dyson--are terrific.

One howler stands out. Stanislas Dehaene begins his essay on The Universal Algorithm for Human Decision Making with the sentence: "The ultimate goal of science, as the French physicist, Jean Perrin once stated, should be "to substitute visible complexity for an invisible simplicity." In fact Perrin said exactly the opposite-- and Dehaene himself actually means the opposite of what he wrote since he argues that behind the observable complexity of human decision making one finds the mathematical simplicity of Bayes' Law,
34 internautes sur 38 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
How and why "deep, beautiful, and elegant theories of how the world works" can nourish and enlighten our lives 1 février 2013
Par Robert Morris - Publié sur
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
Many of those who purchase and then begin to read this book will learn, for the first time, about, a website offering an abundance of resources. John Brockman is the Editor of This Will Make You Smarter (2012) and This Explains Everything (2013). He is also the Editor and Publisher of Edge. As he explains, its purpose is to "arrive at the edge of the world's knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves."

He goes on to suggest, "Edge is a Conversation: Edge is different from the Algonquin Roundtable or Bloomsbury Group, but it offers the same quality of intellectual adventure. Closer resemblances are the early seventeenth-century Invisible College, a precursor to the Royal Society. Its members consisted of scientists such as Robert Boyle, John Wallis, and Robert Hooke. The Society's common theme was to acquire knowledge through experimental investigation. Another inspiration is The Lunar Society of Birmingham, an informal club of the leading cultural figures of the new industrial age -- James Watt, Erasmus Darwin, Josiah Wedgewood, Joseph Priestly, and Benjamin Franklin."

Last year, those involved with Edge were asked to respond to a question also proposed by Steven Pinker: 'What scientific concept would improve everyone's cognitive toolkit?" Here's The Edge Question 2012: "WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE DEEP, ELEGANT, OR BEAUTIFUL EXPLANATION?"

There were more than 200 online responses that were then reviewed before Brockman produced an edited selection. "In the spirit of Edge, the contributions presented here [in This Explains Everything] embrace scientific thinking in the broadest sense: as the most reliable way of gaining knowledge about anything -- including such fields of inquiry as philosophy, mathematics, economics, history, language, and human behavior." Brockman then adds, "The common thread is that a simple and nonobvious idea is proposed as the explanation for a diverse and complicated set of phenomena."

Here in Dallas near the downtown area, there is a Farmer's Market at which a few merchants offer slices of fresh fruit as samples. In that spirit, I now offer a few brief excerpts from contributions to The Edge Question 2012:

o Matt Ridley after realizing that DNA is a code: "Never has a mystery seemed more baffling in the morning and an explanation more obvious in the afternoon." (Page 4)

o Richard Dawkins: "Natural selection is an averaging computer, detecting redundancies - repeat patterns - in successive worlds (successive through millions of generations) in which the species has survived (averaged over all members of the sexually reproducing species." (8)

o Aubrey de Grey: "Reflective equilibrium gets my vote for the most elegant and beautiful explanation, because of its immense breadth of applicability and also its lack of dependence on other controversial positions. Most important, it rises above the question of cognitivism, the debate over whether there is anything such as objective morality." (15+16)

o Joel Gold: "The dark matter of the mind, the unconscious, has the greatest psychic gravity. Ignore the dark matter of the universe and anomalies appear. Ignore the dark matter of the mind and our irrationality is inexplicable." (23)

o Paul Steinhardt: "More recently, colleagues and I have found evidence that quasi crystals may have been among the first minerals to have formed in the solar system...Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned: While elegance and simplicity are often useful criteria for judging theories, they can sometimes mislead us into thinking we are right when we are actually infinitely wrong." (33)

0 Keith Devlin: "And why is self-organization so beautiful to my aesthetic self? Because if complex adaptive systems don't require a blueprint, they don't require a Blueprint Maker. If they require lightning bolts, they don't require some hurtling lightning bolts." (98)

o Howard Gardner on the importance of individuals: "In a planet occupied now by nearly 7 billion inhabitants, I am amazed by the difference one human being can make. Think of classical music without Mozart or Stravinsky; of painting without Caravaggio, Picasso, or Pollock; of drama without Shakespeare or Beckett." (137)

o Christine Finn: "I admire this explanation of cultural relativity [`dirt is a matter of place'], by the anthropologist Mary Douglas, for its clean lines and tidiness. I like its beautiful simplicity, the way it illuminates dark corners of misreading, how it highlights the counterconventional. Poking about in the dirt is exciting, and irreverent. It's about taking what is out if bounds and making it relevant. Douglas's explanation of `dirt' makes us question the very boundaries we're pushing." (168)

o Lisa Randall: "The beauty of science - in the long run -is its lack of subjectivity. So answering the question `What is your favorite, deep, or beautiful explanation' can be disturbing to a scientist, since the only objective words in the question are `what,' `is,' `or,' and in an ideal world) `explanation." (212)

o Michael I. Norton: "Randomized experiments are by no means a perfect tool for explanation. Some important questions simply do not lend themselves to randomized experiments, and the method in the wrong hands can cause harm...But their increasingly widespread application speaks to their flexibility in informing us how things work and why they work that way." (333)

These are but a few of hundreds of observations that caught my eye. I realize that no brief commentary such as mine can possibly do full justice to the scope of material that is provided in this volume but I hope that I have at least suggested why I think so highly of it. I also highly recommend the aforementioned This Will Make You Smarter and, especially, checking out the ever-increasing wealth of resources at Thank you, John Brockman, for the thought leadership you and your Edge colleagues continue to provide. Bravo!
65 internautes sur 83 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
This explains hardly anything comprehensible 21 juillet 2013
Par Brian Kodi - Publié sur
Format: Broché
Since Darwin's simple and elegant theory of Evolution and Natural Selection explains so much with so little, including how the horses the essayists rode in on evolved, any idea or theory proposed other than was not a genuine response to the question of "What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation". Most of the essays do not gain any traction with the reader, and many are incomprehensible to most lay people or even academics with a different area of expertise as the topic written about. Take the following as an example: "Unfortunately for physics, mathematicians had dropped the ball and not sufficiently developed the geometry of infinite-dimensional systems (such as the Standard model), which would have been analogous to the four-dimensional Riemannian geometry appropriated from mathematics by Einstein." Who was this sentence written for, or more importantly, who was the intended target audience of this book? I find the statements on the book cover and the resulting expectations set as borderline misleading.

This book will not "Revolutionize your understanding of the world." It's more intellectual grand standing than anything else. One cannot compress and convey deep ideas in short essay format.
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