At the Edge of Uncertainty

At the Edge of Uncertainty
11 discoveries taking science by surprise
by Michael Brooks. Published by Profile Books

“What a wonderful world” said Louis Armstrong. Boy, he didn’t know the half of it!

Quick – fake a heart attack. You clutched at the chest and complained about your breathing right? Well, half right – the male half that is. Heart attacks in women often manifest as abdominal pain and nausea instead. This is only one of the many differences in gender responses to illness, pain and medication now being uncovered by researchers. It’s one of 11 areas Michael Brooks lists in ‘The Edge of Uncertainty’ where whole new vistas of ignorance are opening up in domains where, often, we thought we knew it all already.

Brooks takes us on a lightening tour of these new frontiers stopping briefly at animal/human chimeras, robins in eye patches, the personality of spiders and how Audrey Hepburn’s family history contributes to the exoneration of Jean Lamarck. Even the seat of our consciousness is coming apart under scrutiny and Descartes’ “I think therefore I am” is looking hopelessly naive if not downright illusory. And don’t get me started on that Quantum stuff! We thought it was all safely tucked away in big machines under Switzerland and here is comes flying through the trees to slap us right in the nose. Literally. Without quantum effects leaves couldn’t photosynthesise and we wouldn’t have a sense of smell.

It is a wonderful world. Often disquieting, complex, even dangerous but just stuffed full of wonder and we’re standing right at the edge.

Take a step.