Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein - Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe



We All Make Mistakes Nobody S Perfect Not Even Some Of The Greatest Geniuses In History, As Mario Livio Tells Us In This Marvelous Story Of Scientific Error And Breakthrough Charles Darwin, William Thomson Lord Kelvin , Linus Pauling, Fred Hoyle, And Albert Einstein Were All Brilliant Scientists Each Made Groundbreaking Contributions To His Field But Each Also Stumbled Badly Darwin S Theory Of Natural Selection Shouldn T Have Worked, According To The Prevailing Beliefs Of His Time Not Until Gregor Mendel S Work Was Known Would There Be A Mechanism To Explain Natural Selection How Could Darwin Be Both Wrong And Right Lord Kelvin, Britain S Leading Scientific Intellect At The Time, Gravely Miscalculated The Age Of The Earth Linus Pauling, The World S Premier Chemist Who Would Win The Nobel Prize In Chemistry Constructed An Erroneous Model For DNA In His Haste To Beat The Competition To Publication Astrophysicist Fred Hoyle Dismissed The Idea Of A Big Bang Origin To The Universe Ironically, The Caustic Name He Gave To This Event Endured Long After His Erroneous Objections Were Disproven And Albert Einstein, Whose Name Is Synonymous With Genius, Speculated Incorrectly About The Forces That Hold The Universe In Equilibrium And That Speculation Opened The Door To Brilliant Conceptual Leaps These Five Scientists Expanded Our Knowledge Of Life On Earth, The Evolution Of The Earth Itself, And The Evolution Of The Universe, Despite And Because Of Their Errors As Mario Livio Luminously Explains, The Scientific Process Advances Through Error Mistakes Are Essential To Progress Brilliant Blunders Is A Singular Tour Through The World Of Science And Scientific Achievement And A Wonderfully Insightful Examination Of The Psychology Of Five Fascinating ScientistsBrilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein - Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe

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  • Audio CD
  • Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein - Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe
  • Mario Livio
  • English
  • 15 January 2018
  • 1469286041

10 thoughts on “Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein - Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe

  1. says:

    Errare humanum est This is a research book commenting about blunders by some of the biggest minds of the two last centuriesDarwin and Kelvin 19th Century Einstein, Pauling and Hoyle 20th Century While some of them may be unknown to you, their achievements have been introduced so deep into popular culture that you may be surprised to know that one of them was the responsible to create them.However, they were human and so, not matter how brilliant they were, they were exposed to make Errare humanum est This is a research book commenting about blunders by some of the biggest minds of the two last centuriesDarwin and Kelvin 19th Century Einstein, Pauling and Hoyle 20th Century While some of them may be unknown to you, their achievements have been introduced so deep into popular culture that you may be surprised to know that one of them was the responsible to create them.However, they were human and so, not matter how brilliant they were, they were exposed to make blunders just like any of us I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world Neil GaimanI think that making mistakes isn t the issue here, BUT their attitudes to them And you will realize that each of those great scientists reacted in different ways once realized about the mistakes on their works CHARLES DARWIN It s very likely that everybody knows our good fellow, Charles Darwin, and his famous theory about evolution through natural selection His blunder is highly remissible since when he postulated his theory, there weren t studies about genetics However, when he knew about his mistakes at least the ones already exposed while he was still alive he did his best to do key editing on his famous book On the Origin of Species, one word, here, one sentence, there, and voil He covered fair enough his bases taking in account again that many genetics sciences if not all wasn t developed yet at his time A a cool trivia is that the word evolution isn t anywhere to be found in his famous book, On the Origin of Species.This theory is also quite polemic due the fight of God s hand on creation of man against the evolution from primates or the animal of your natural selection Well, to me is easy I am a religious person and also I am a sciences fan So, isn t too much to ask to find a common ground God s hand helped to the whatever first living organism to go out from the sea andsome million years laterPow Bam Kapow The man rises See Easy The preacher and the scientist shaking hands Everybody happy LORD KELVIN William Thomson, better known as Lord Kelvin, submitted himself to the not little task of calculating the age of the planet Earth Pfff Wasn t there anything harder to calculate His calculation process was quite well done, but there was a mistake However, his blunder wasn t exactly not getting the right number, but he never admitted that he was wrong even when clear evidence was exposed in front of himself And that was a sad reaction to it.I mean, it was like when I knew about some monk in the 4th Century who was assigned to calculate the date of birth of our lord, Jesus Christ Pfff Really Wasn t anything harder that you wanted me to calculate and just picture a single monk, secluded in some remote monastery, in the freaking 4th Century, without access to a computer for not saying even likely not even a dang abacus, and he just failed for mere 4 years Ah That monk was a blasted genius So, returning to our good fellow Kelvin, his real blunder wasn t the result of his calculus but his stubborn attitude never accepting that he was wrong FRED HOYLE Peculiar fellow, our friend Fred Hoyle, since he is famous for coining the term of Big Bang BUT he never supported or believed on that theory Odd, right He had revised the theory of steady state that was initially proposed by Sir James Jeans and no, this guy didn t invent our favorite kind of pants This theory is a poor thing so overwhemlming attacked and refuted since then, that even All Hail Stephen Hawking commented that that theory was pretty much dead in the scientific sense However, Fred Hoyle never admitted it and so, he is another sad case of scientific stubborness LINUS PAULING Now, you have a wonderful fellow here with Linus Pauling Did he do a blunder Of course That s why he is here, you silly He was a two times winner of the Nobel Prize in two totally different categories so when one knows about that he thought that the DNA was a triple helix Pfff Oh, Linus How didn t you never see that was only a double one , in my case I am quite magnanimous Go, Linus, and don t triple helix any Because he totally admitted that he was wrong and even he was totally friendly to the guys who came with the right proposal and taking what could be his third Nobel prize See, Linus Three isn t your number, man So, humility, open mindness and chivalry were the traits that defined Linus Pauling as a wonderful blunder in the good sense ALBERT EINSTEIN Now, if you really never heard about our good fellow, Albert Einstein, well, scientific blunders is the least of your problems, pal Okay, the blunder of Einstein was about the cosmological constant don t worry, I didn t know what the heck was that What His thing wasn t relativity which is the value of the energy density in vacuum space and yes, I remained as clueless with that explanation , anyway, the key part here is that our nice fellow Einstein was such a doll and one adorable cute little thing that he was barely told about his blunder that he ran to correct his papers and totally accepted without a single argument that he was wrong about it Have some balls, Albert I am saying due that many years later when he already passed away years ago, it resulted that his theory had validity after all So, his blunder after all was to accept too quickly that he was wrong That even so, at that time seemed to be the case Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new Albert EinsteinSo a good balance is the best way Not being as stubborn as Kelvin or Hoyle but not being so condescending as the good of Einstein, and always it s wise to cover your bases as Darwin but above all, being a sport as Pauling.Science is a curious thing that time and trials validate or negate its laws and fundaments, even as solid ones and widely spread as thinking that Sun was orbiting around the Earth which was the center of the universe.Be open minded but with a sprinkle of wariness, and the richness of the universe will be revealed to you, and never be afraid of making mistaques oops mistakes I ve missedthan 9,000 shots in my career I ve lost almost 300 games 26 times I ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed I ve failed over and over and over again in my life And that is why I succeed Michael Jordan

  2. says:

    The Unreasonable Search for ReasonMario Livio s book is about opportune mistakes in science They are opportune in the sense that they produced a result which has changed scientific thinking either directly or indirectly Although he doesn t make it a central part of his argument, the cases he documents collectively undermine our illusions about science, illusions which are becoming increasingly obvious during the worldwide Covid 19 crisis Rather than review Livio s book in any detail, therefor The Unreasonable Search for ReasonMario Livio s book is about opportune mistakes in science They are opportune in the sense that they produced a result which has changed scientific thinking either directly or indirectly Although he doesn t make it a central part of his argument, the cases he documents collectively undermine our illusions about science, illusions which are becoming increasingly obvious during the worldwide Covid 19 crisis Rather than review Livio s book in any detail, therefore, I think it simportant to give a sort of appreciation of its import for our current circumstances.Isaac Newton believed in witchcraft, astrology and alchemy He also had a rather influential and effective theory of gravity Pythagoras had an irrational aversion to beans, practised numerology and believed in the transmigration of souls, but also produced a geometrical theorem which is still of tremendous practical use after several millennia Nikolai Tesla had a superstitious obsession with the number three, insisting, for example, on circling his office building three times before entering yet he was the real genius behind most of Thomas Edison s inventions In short, scientists are as neurotic as the rest of us They do things in certain ways because we ll just because Like the prize fighter or the football player performing their good luck ritual before their match, scientists perform routines which they believe enhance the chances of achieving results These routines are influenced by a variety of factors Some of these factors are shared by other scientists some not Those that are not, scientists tend to keep quiet about until these odd, personal, eccentric, routines result in some deviation from what is expected If an unexpected result is designated an error or mistake by a scientist s colleagues, it is generally ignored If it is accepted by the relevant scientific community, however, the result could well be considered a breakthrough, perhaps suggesting a new direction for research Typically the scientific community isn t unanimous in its judgment, at which point politics of the normal sort reigns By normal I mean that there is debate about what criterion of evaluation should be applied to the unexpected result It is this criterion, quite literally one of value, which will establish whether the result is marked a mistake or a breakthrough or perhaps the degree of each.This is normal science in the sense that it is happening continuously without fuss in laboratories, conferences and professional journals The rest of us outside professional circles rarely get a glimpse of what s actually happening and could generally care less about the ongoing debates Only when some significant event occurs like a Covid 19 crisis for example does the debate become public and the various contrary criteria which scientists in the same profession employ about what constitutes good science become apparent At that point they argue, often vehemently, in the popular media as well as among themselves about what constitutes success in the scientific endeavour.The rest of us are justifiably bemused by this debate Isn t science a rational activity ruled by principles of reason If we are led by the science, as politicians keep reminding us, shouldn t the direction we have to take be clear Yet one professional faction calls for lockdown and another for exposure And these are only the medicos Once the economists and sociologists contribute their professional opinions, the range of recommended action is densely populated with alternatives These disagreements are only the tip of a very large intellectual iceberg that has sunkthan a few reputation along ships As Livio points out, the view of what constitutes science held by the great Lord Kelvin was radically different from that held by the great Einstein, which in turn was also radically different than that held by the equally great Heisenberg.That is to say, science, of any sort, doesn t seemrational than any other human institution What needs to be done is not a product of scientific method Pick a criterion herd immunity, overall death rates, maximum capacity for hospital admissions, mortality among distinct groups like the old, ethnic minorities, the poor, infants, or the relative cost of economic slowdown versus the prevalence of illness and the answer to the question of what to do becomes fairly clear And therein lies the issue Rationality breaks down in the debate about the criterion of rationality No one has a routine, a calculus, an algorithm, a method for determining which criterion of value is appropriate to use So a public scientific crisis like Covid 19 demonstrates just how essentially non rational science is Despite its pretensions, scientific thought is influenced and often directed by preferences, judgments, experiences, and beliefs which have no foundation in logic, law, or moral agreements The choice of criterion to be applied to determine whether an individual scientific result or a global scientific programme is a mistake or an effective breakthrough is simply not one of reason Science, whatever one means by that term, is an inadequate guide to action just as claims of divine revelation are equally inadequate.This may be frustrating, but it is not entirely bad news As Mario Livio documents, it is through Brilliant Blunders that we discover the reality of disagreement about what rationality itself means Perhaps the reality of our shared Covid 19 experience will make each of us slightly less certain of our own inherent reasonableness The absolute priority of the search for the criterion of reason is what this viral plague has shown us No one has a privileged position for determining the direction of this search What we are in together is not just the disease but also the question of how we should view it.Postscript Here is a ratherprolix statement of my point here is another voice crying in the wilderness here is another example of the unreasonableness of science

  3. says:

    This is an insightful book about five great scientists, their discoveries and their mistakes Each of these scientists Darwin, Kelvin, Pauling, Hoyle, and Einstein made enormous contributions to science Their discoveries were very influential on biology, chemistry and physics However, each one made some mistakes after all, they were all human but their mistakes were all for different reasons, with different repercussions.Mario Livio makes an excellent investigation into the nature of each This is an insightful book about five great scientists, their discoveries and their mistakes Each of these scientists Darwin, Kelvin, Pauling, Hoyle, and Einstein made enormous contributions to science Their discoveries were very influential on biology, chemistry and physics However, each one made some mistakes after all, they were all human but their mistakes were all for different reasons, with different repercussions.Mario Livio makes an excellent investigation into the nature of each of their mistakes, with some interesting conclusions Livio does not fault any of these scientists for not having scientific understanding that was not yet available For example, Darwin s error was not that he lacked a good understanding of genetics Mendel s recent findings were unavailable to Darwin, as they were published in an obscure foreign journal Instead, Darwin s error was that his theory was contradicted by the faulty state of genetics at the time Well his theory turned out to be correct anyway So, was it a blunder Livio shows that in many cases, a brilliant scientist knows what evidence to believe, and what to ignore Livio mentions the findings of the great psychologists Tversky and Kahneman, in thatpeople tend to relyon their intuitive understanding which is based on their personal experience than on actual dataThis was certainly true for Darwin, Pauling and Einstein.Kelvin s mistake was not that his calculation of the age of the Earth was wrong by a factor of 40 his calculation was flawless, based on the physics that was known at the time His mistake was that he maintained his belief, even as contrary evidence mounted Livio makes a good argument that the root of this problem was the well recognized psychological trait of cognitive dissonanceThecommitted we are to a certain opinion, the less likely we are to relinquish it, even if confronted with massive contradictory evidenceThis was also Fred Hoyle s blunder he stuck to his theory of steady state cosmology, even in the face of lots of evidence for the so called big bang Speaking of the big bang, Fred Hoyle invented the term during one of his BBC radio broadcasts He said,These theories were based on the hypothesis that all the matter in the universe was created in one big bang at a particular time in the remote past It now turns out that in some respect or other all such theories are in conflict with the observational requirementsLivio mentions that contrary to popular belief, Hoyle was not using the big bang term in a derogatory mannerRather, he was simply attempting to create a mental picture for his listenersLivio points out the irony that he coined this term and popularized it, even though he strongly disagreed with the theory Again, Hoyle s mistake was not that he proposed the steady state hypothesis when he did at the time, it was a very clever explanation of the available observations Instead, his mistake was in not admitting his mistake when overwhelming evidence contradicted his ideas.Livio has done some original historical research into the background of some of these so called blunders For example, he shows that Einstein probably never said that his cosmological constant was his biggest blunder This is probably an urban legend, started by a Scientific American article by George Gamow Einstein included the cosmological constant in his early papers, in order to agree with the observational evidence at the time that the known universe was in a steady state neither contracting nor expanding After Hubble announced his discovery that the universe was expanding, Einstein did admit to his mistake, and removed the term from his equations He did this largely for aesthetic reasons, as the term was no longer needed Ironically as it turns out, it was actually the removal of the term that was a mistake, because of the 1998 discovery that the rate of inflation is accelerating.Linus Pauling s attitude toward mistakes is captured in a reminiscence of his colleague Jack DunitzJack, if you think you have a good idea, publish it Don t be afraid to make a mistake Mistakes do no harm in science because there are lots of smart people out there who will immediately spot a mistake and correct it If it happens to be a good idea, however, and you don t publish it, science may suffer a loss Sometimes, a scientist finds himself in the position of a maverick He goes against the established scientific consensus he just knows he is right This was expressed in a book published in 2000 by Fred Hoyle and collaborators, with a picture of a flock of geese The caption read,This is our view of the conformist approach to the standard hot big bang cosmology We have resisted the temptation to name some of the leading geese Mario Livio is a well known astrophysicist As a scientist himself, he brings a considerable amount of insight into the scientific process He brings some original ideas about what constitutes a scientific mistake , and especially the psychological reasons for these mistakes This book is especially recommended for those interested in the history of science, or in the psychology of the greatest scientists Full disclosure I received this book as a review copy from the publisher, Simon Schuster

  4. says:

    Five mistakes by five of the greatest minds in science Charles Darwin, Lord Kelvin, Linus Pauling, Fred Hoyle, and Albert Einstein Each error advanced science, the theme of the book Livio injects original research and a unique point of view into familiar material His style is simple and direct, the concepts accessible and the reading pleasurable Livio expanded my understanding and provided new insights Below are brief recaps of the five.Darwin s blunder was putting forth natural selection Five mistakes by five of the greatest minds in science Charles Darwin, Lord Kelvin, Linus Pauling, Fred Hoyle, and Albert Einstein Each error advanced science, the theme of the book Livio injects original research and a unique point of view into familiar material His style is simple and direct, the concepts accessible and the reading pleasurable Livio expanded my understanding and provided new insights Below are brief recaps of the five.Darwin s blunder was putting forth natural selection without a supporting theory of inheritance The only accepted theory at the time was that inherited traits were blended, which would quickly mitigate any change due to natural selection Only after Mendel would we understand that traits were inherited intact and even if hidden in the next generation would reappear again in subsequent generations While Darwin did not accept the latency of inherited traits believing that the same traits simply reappeared due to the same forces that created them the first time, he did realize that individual traits survived without blending He thought new traits were acquired due to environmental impact on the body Fortunately Darwin s misunderstanding of genetics didn t impede his discovery of natural selection.Lord Kelvin William Thomson , an exceptional mathematician who calculated absolute zero, blundered in his assumptions regarding the uniformity of heat convection in the earth that he used to calculate its age Despite this error that put earth s age at 40 400 million years and Kelvin s obstinacy at being corrected, he did initiate the use of physics to answer geological questions By creating the physics problem he brought on the challenges that led to the eventual solution.Linus Pauling, a brilliant chemist who first identified the structure of the alpha helix, the main feature of many proteins, failed miserably with his model of DNA His structure was not even an acid Perhaps it was due to overconfidence, lack of attention or too many distractions such as being targeted by Joe McCarthy Pauling s effort however was close enough that it spurred James Watson to finish his work and produce along with Francis Crick the correct model In Pauling s defense, he once admonished that researchers should not wait to publish, if wrong, you just injure your pride, but if right you advance science In retrospect, being wrong advanced science as well.Fred Hoyle made one of the most important discoveries of the twentieth century that carbon and heavier elements were made in stars He also coined the term big bang however he was an advocate of the steady state theory of the universe While plausible given the knowledge of the 1940 s, steady state was widely discredited by the 1960 s Hoyle became intransigent, defending his theory into the 21st century when he turned 85 Unfortunately a great mind was lost to science because it could not admit it was wrong.Einstein is often quoted as saying that inserting the cosmological constant into his equations for general relativity constituted his biggest blunder According to Livio s research, Einstein never called it his biggest blunder The only sources for the quote were statements by George Gamow who was given to hyperbole and exaggerated his relationship with Einstein Einstein himself seems to have shown ambivalence, excluding it or including it as seemed appropriate and holding that whatever future facts developed should determine its use With the finding of an accelerating expansion of the universe, the constant became necessary and thus Livio considers the blunder to be having removed the constant However the error pales in significance compared to the genius of Einstein s theory of general relativity Perhaps the stories in this fascinating book are best summed up with a quote Livio shares at the end Max Planck, whose quantum theory revolutionized physics, observed, New scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it

  5. says:

    Description Drawing on the lives of five renowned scientists, Mario Livio shows how even these geniuses made major mistakes and how their errors were an essential part of the process of achieving scientific breakthroughs.We all make mistakes Nobody is perfect And that includes five of the greatest scientists in history Charles Darwin, William Thomson Lord Kelvin , Linus Pauling, Fred Hoyle, and Albert Einstein But the mistakes that these great luminaries made helped advance science Indeed, Description Drawing on the lives of five renowned scientists, Mario Livio shows how even these geniuses made major mistakes and how their errors were an essential part of the process of achieving scientific breakthroughs.We all make mistakes Nobody is perfect And that includes five of the greatest scientists in history Charles Darwin, William Thomson Lord Kelvin , Linus Pauling, Fred Hoyle, and Albert Einstein But the mistakes that these great luminaries made helped advance science Indeed, as Mario Livio explains, science thrives on error, advancing when erroneous ideas are disproven.As a young scientist, Einstein tried to conceive of a way to describe the evolution of the universe at large, based on General Relativity his theory of space, time, and gravity Unfortunately he fell victim to a misguided notion of aesthetic simplicity Fred Hoyle was an eminent astrophysicist who ridiculed an emerging theory about the origin of the universe that he dismissively called The Big Bang The name stuck, but Hoyle was dead wrong in his opposition.They, along with Darwin a blunder in his theory of Natural Selection , Kelvin a blunder in his calculation of the age of the earth , and Pauling a blunder in his model for the structure of the DNA molecule , were brilliant men and fascinating human beings Their blunders were a necessary part of the scientific process Collectively they helped to dramatically further our knowledge of the evolution of life, the Earth, and the universe.This went downhill, for the first third I was willingly going to give this a 3 minimum By the end it had just become an effusive noise.Re Darwin s evolution Relevent news article Analysis Antibiotic apocalypse

  6. says:

    I wouldn t tell anyone _not_ to read this book I think there is great knowledge to be gleaned there it just doesn t correspond to the author s thesis The first problem is the very nature of empirical thinking and the notion of experimentation When an experiment is conducted, it s purpose is to _gain_ knowledge not to confirm one s intellectual superiority over whomever might call one wrong There are always plenty of people to do this If the experiment shows something _other_ than you I wouldn t tell anyone _not_ to read this book I think there is great knowledge to be gleaned there it just doesn t correspond to the author s thesis The first problem is the very nature of empirical thinking and the notion of experimentation When an experiment is conducted, it s purpose is to _gain_ knowledge not to confirm one s intellectual superiority over whomever might call one wrong There are always plenty of people to do this If the experiment shows something _other_ than you expected, you ve still _gained_ knowledge even if it _wasn t_ what you expected All these people were fallible I m silly for just saying that, but then I ve learned to live with my handicap If we look to Einstein because we think he ll never be wrong, then we re looking to Einstein for the wrong reason Werner Heisenberg kicked his patooty, but Werner did his homework, too Also, Einstein just _might_ have spaced it that day People often point to Charles Goodyear because he stumbled and spilled raw latex on a stove First of all, when would this have happened to any of you You d have to be carrying around buckets of raw latex and have a hot stovetop nearby I m lucky nobody called me in the middle of the night to tell me that Goodyear was evil because he didn t subscribe to green practices What I m saying here is that 1 these people followed a passion no matter how crazy they were told it was 2 when a moment of opportunity arrived, they were observant enough to see the good fortune in it and 3 they didn t just _make_ errors, they _learned_ from those errors rather than being discouraged by them I know plenty of people who would have said, This hobby is just too messy in Goodyear s position and they would have found something else to do with their time Who made the mistake, then Maybe this author covered that end of the subject, but in every discussion I ve ever heard of this book, the readers completely misunderstood these points Maybe there ll be another edition maybe people will ignore meoften but hopefully the author and or I will learn from these eventualities As a final note, though, I d like to point out that I started my review by saying that I d not discourage anyone from reading this book I d just suggest that you read my review first and continue to appreciate these important historical figures as people as the persons who they were, persons who overcame their human limitations and were recognized for it

  7. says:

    Once, after my extremely tech savvy engineer husband had struggled to trouble shoot our sound system for about an hour, I wandered over and pointed out an unplugged wire that was the source of the problem The man is a genius with electronics Almost every machine in our house is wirelessly connected and operated through another instrument in ways I only imagined could be done in futuristic sci fi shows.But his vision is sometimes clouded by his focus on his specialty, which means that an uninfo Once, after my extremely tech savvy engineer husband had struggled to trouble shoot our sound system for about an hour, I wandered over and pointed out an unplugged wire that was the source of the problem The man is a genius with electronics Almost every machine in our house is wirelessly connected and operated through another instrument in ways I only imagined could be done in futuristic sci fi shows.But his vision is sometimes clouded by his focus on his specialty, which means that an uninformed mind like mine islikely to catch sight of simple issues that are causing problems This book is about that tunnel vision It profiles a few great minds who were so devoted to their fields and theories that they were unable to see the flaws that marred them For some of them, it was simply because technology hadn t reached where it needed to be for the theory to be proved, whereas for others it was simply starting from a faulty base that kept them from seeing the truth.But this book isn t about knocking the geniuses from their pedestals Their work still forms the basis of much of the science we use today, even if they were not able to see its full potential when they were formulating their theories Instead, in a way, it seems that this book is about giving others the hope that even without proof and confirmation, a great mind can stumble into brilliant knowledge I only wish the author had considered his audienceclearly when writing the book I imagine that for a student of the sciences, the book s explanations would read as too simplistic and watered down, whereas to someoneinterested in history, like me, the explanations of the science seemed to drag on endlessly and rather unnecessarily for my understanding of his thesis

  8. says:

    An author setting out to write a book of this kind can expect to either brilliantly synthesize diverse topics in an unexpected way or produce a grab bag of trivia equal only to the sum of its parts Brilliant Blunders, while interesting enough, fits the latter description It s a book that isn t quite sure what it wants to be Is it a history A pop sci account of five rather disparate theories A pop psy attempt to cut great thinkers down to size by analyzing the sources of what are, in two out An author setting out to write a book of this kind can expect to either brilliantly synthesize diverse topics in an unexpected way or produce a grab bag of trivia equal only to the sum of its parts Brilliant Blunders, while interesting enough, fits the latter description It s a book that isn t quite sure what it wants to be Is it a history A pop sci account of five rather disparate theories A pop psy attempt to cut great thinkers down to size by analyzing the sources of what are, in two out of five cases, not even genuine errors on their part Darwin, Livio argues, blundered by failing to take into account the blending theory of heredity which prevailed prior to the work of Mendel This is essentially the same as arguing that Newton blundered by failing to take into account Descartes s theory of vortices Yes, Darwin did genuinely go awry in promoting pangenesis, but this error is not Livio s focus Moreover, Livio s expectations of the scientific competence of his readers fluctuate wildly he spends pages and chapters explaining what atoms are and how evolution works, while elsewhere assuming nontrivial familiarity with thermodynamics and astronomy This struck me as odd.Overall, though, this was a pleasant read that taught me a few new things The bits about the history of cosmology were particularly interesting to this physics major researcher And I m a fan of any book that does its part in carrying out the thankless, endless task of correcting misconceptions about evolution

  9. says:

    I can t recall what I originally read or heard that made me want to read this book, so by the time I started on it I was going off of the title Brilliant Blunders From Darwin to Einstein Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists that Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe Based on this title I thought that the mistakes were the things that changed our understanding of Life and the Universe a la Goodyear, latex and rubber and the process of vulcanization is born No, that s not I can t recall what I originally read or heard that made me want to read this book, so by the time I started on it I was going off of the title Brilliant Blunders From Darwin to Einstein Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists that Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe Based on this title I thought that the mistakes were the things that changed our understanding of Life and the Universe a la Goodyear, latex and rubber and the process of vulcanization is born No, that s not it at all The word that should be replaced by who The Great Scientists changed our understand, not these mistakes Darwin s Theory of Evolution isn t changed by his blunder , neither is Einstein s theory of special or general relativity Kelvin, Pauling and Hoyle theories were wrong and consequently didn t change our understanding of anything Now I can argue that I could have avoided my annoyance with this detail if I had read the book jacket, except, this is a work of non fiction At the very least shouldn t the title accurately reflect the contents Moving on from that I wonder where was the editor Was there an editor This is the third or fourth book I ve read in the last couple of years that I have wondered about editing Talk about burying the lead On the part on Kelvin I read a 22 page chapter before the mistake was elucidated it was the age of the earth But wait, 5 pages into the next chapter you find out his mistake wasn t the age he calculated but was the assumptions on which he based his calculations Okay, in a mystery novel you don t find what s going on until the end In a non fiction biography revelations can occur anywhere in the book But, in a non fiction science book I don t need any mystery What is it you want to tell me about and then tell me If the author was hoping to create suspense or build interest it totally failed with me I also failed to appreciate the extensive history given How relevant to the subject is the fact that Hoyle s father sold cloth and his mother played the piano for silent films Maybe it s somewhat interesting but is that what the book is about Where s the editor The assumptions made on the background that the reader brings to each subject varies wildly The first paragraph of the part about Pauling ends with Pauling revealing the stick and ball model of the alpha helix, the main structural feature of many proteins Oh really Let me go back and figure out what that is, I m sure I knew at one time but 30 years removed from the classroom and not a biologist maybe a bit of a refresher is in order On the other hand you get pages on the periodic table and the history of matter Seriously, pages on what makes an atom and nothing on the alpha helix Where s the editor I had other issues with the book It often read like how could someone have made this error For example, the author states that Pauling was aware of Chargaff s work which showed the number of adenine molecules equaled the number of thymine molecules and guanine equaled cytosine in the makeup of DNA This information was published in 1950, Pauling s mistake was published in 1953 Nothing is mentioned about Watson and Crick in any way depending upon this information and I was left with the impression that Pauling was an idiot for forgetting it, while apparently Watson and Crick never knew about it It seemed to me a case of 20 20 hindsight where the author notes how obvious and useful this work of Chargaff s was and how could Pauling have ignored it s importance Well in the 3 years between Chargaff s publication and Pauling, no one else recognized it s importance or if they did, they didn t make any startling revelations from it But my biggest complaint about the book is it s tone It left me with the impression that these highly intelligent people should never have made these mistakes in the first place and that they were either stubborn, or simply didn t think things through very carefully And I guess that I feel it doesn t celebrate at all the scientific process where ideas are put forth, discussed, argued over, refined and do it again and again and knowledge advances Maybe that was what the author hoped to achieve, but if so, it didn t come across that way to me

  10. says:

    My not so brilliant blunder this month is reading that book After spending years of referring to myself as a nerd , I actually started believing that I am Artiom, you goddamn idiot You are not And stop referring to yourself in third person it s annoying.That s a common misconception nowadays people wear thick black glasses, even though they have perfect 20 20 vision spend hours dressing to look like they don t care how they look read obscure books and listen to vintage vinyl they t My not so brilliant blunder this month is reading that book After spending years of referring to myself as a nerd , I actually started believing that I am Artiom, you goddamn idiot You are not And stop referring to yourself in third person it s annoying.That s a common misconception nowadays people wear thick black glasses, even though they have perfect 20 20 vision spend hours dressing to look like they don t care how they look read obscure books and listen to vintage vinyl they think that they are nerds, because nerds are the new sexy More often than not, they turn out to be nothingthan pretentious hipsters I m even worse I don t have the fashion sense to dress like a trendy hipster, but I also lack the natural curiosity and intelligence of a real nerd to have enjoyed this scientific detective novel..The book researches in excruciating detail the mistakes made by some of the greatest minds of the past two centuries But the mistakes were not as exciting as one hoped they d be I was looking forward to something along the lines of Professor X.Y believed the Earth to be cubic and Doctor A.B thought that rain was the sky crying Nope It went something like Darwin s theory clashed with genetics because insert my biology teacher screaming at me here and Einstein s sin was the cosmological constant because obviouslySnoar sound ZzzzzZzzzzSo this was some pretty textbook scientific stuff here And it read as dry as a school textbook The pages seemed to stretch into boring infinity I was reading this book like a child acts on a road trip with his parents, going Are we there yet every several pages.To his credit, the author obviously did his best to put everything into as simple terms as he found possible, but even the phrasing that I m sure he considers primitive can shut down my brain In all fairness, if you enjoyed biology, physics and chemistry classes back in high school, you will find this book fascinating Otherwise, you re better off watching paint dry or grass grow

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