Monday 23 May 2016

Nothing, ed. Jeremy Webb

Nothing is a compilation of works by New Scientist writers on far reaching topics, with the one thing in common being that they all relate to nothing in some way. Whether this be the placebo effect, the number zero itself, black holes, or boredom. The articles are not arranged by topic so if you read from cover to cover you jump around a lot, which I enjoyed, but for the more conventional thinkers among us they have handy pointers as to where to turn to in order to continue a thought.

The writing is accessible even for those sadly ignorant of scientific theories such as myself. I’d say, however, that even if your knowledge is sharper you’d still find something here to fascinate as the topics are so broad. This book had me thinking in new ways, and considering ideas it had never occurred to me to think about. The presence of the number zero now seems obvious, necessary, permanent, but in fact it has only existed for around half the time we have evidence of counting. The mental struggle for our ancestors to come round to such an idea was surprising, and yet once thought about more deeply, entirely understandable. The strength of the placebo effect, although not a new idea to me, never ceases to amaze. Not, however, as much as the power of the belief in being on death’s door. It is quite terrifying to think how susceptible our minds are to suggestion, how our lives can be extinguished by the mere belief that the end is nigh.

Nothing makes for an excellent read that will make you question the way doctors talk to you about medicine, fear lack of exercise, and ponder the lives of sloths. Rarely do you find a book that covers so much in such little space. They are but mere tasters of much broader topics but if you want a book to guide you toward your next topic of investigation or are merely after a few scientific factoids to impress your friends, this book could well be what you’re looking for. Who knew nothing could in fact encompass so much!

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