Adventures in Learning – You Are Here

21 Aug

After my obsession with a certain end-of-the world what-if book, I’ve had sort of a thing for science. Not an intimate, knowledgeable thing, mind you, but a bit of a crush.

And this crush led me straight into the arms of You Are Here: A Portable History of the Universe by fellow non-scientist Christopher Potter. The book begins with the basics – stuff we all may or may not remember from high school science classes, but somehow winds up exploring quasars and and quarks and quantum mechanics. I admit at the beginning, during all the basics, I fancied myself above what this book had to offer – not just because of the simple facts at the start (which didn’t last long), but because of the noticeably plain language. However, as the book zoomed on towards concepts that I can only begin to understand, I grew to appreciate Potter’s straightforward approach. It’s a remarkably concise, patient guidebook through some of science’s (and philosophy’s, and even religion’s) most abstract ideas. Wildly abstract to me, anyway – I found myself at times opening my eyes wider while reading some of the more mind-bending passages, as if that might allow a little more understanding to seep in. So in the end, it was perfect that a journalist would take on the task of making a wide variety of scientific information somewhat palatable and relateable for the average reader.

As with my previous learning adventures, I’ll be throwing some fun facts at you for the next little while. And here’s the first one that made me go, “really?” As promised, it’s a little basic compared to what eventually follows, but it’s an example of how most of us actually don’t know the answers to these classic curious child “why-phase” questions:

You know the whole digging into (or right through) the centre of the earth thing? My childhood hole-to-China endeavour wasn’t a terribly determined effort – I may have just grazed the bottom of my sandbox. But it’s somewhat gratifying to know that even grown-up attempts have been less than successful: The furthest we’ve been able to go into the earth is a meagre 12.262 kilometres, before drill bits start melting at 300 degrees Celsius. 12 k! Some people run 12 k before their first bowl of fruit loops. Not me, but you know, some people.

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4 Responses to “Adventures in Learning – You Are Here”

  1. Nymeth August 25, 2010 at 8:42 pm #

    This sounds a bit similar to Natalie Angier’s The Canon, which I’m reading right now. I’ve been in the mood for popular science, so I’ll keep this one in mind.

    • Lija August 26, 2010 at 3:48 pm #

      Thanks, Nymeth. I’ll have to look into that too. I feel it will take a few repeat reads of these “basic” theories to even get a bit of a handle on them, anyway.

  2. Racquel Valencia August 27, 2010 at 3:34 am #

    Lately math and I have been hanging out quite a bit. Just arithmetic, but you know, it’s something. I blame “Good Will Hunting”.

    Also, I still maintain that the only reason people should ever run is because they’re either chasing something or being chased themselves.

    • Lija August 29, 2010 at 9:03 pm #

      Being a math-phobe has been a bit of an obstacle in even reading this science stuff, actually. I should probably watch Good Will Hunting.

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