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This Explains Everything: Deep, Beautiful, and Elegant Theories of How the World Works

(Edge Question )

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  2,370 ratings  ·  226 reviews

In This Explains Everything, John Brockman, founder and publisher of Edge.org, 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

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Paperback, 411 pages
Published January 22nd 2013 by Harper Perennial
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Sean
Feb 02, 2013 rated it did not like it
This book is so good in concept and very difficult to slog through in delivery. I suspect that the 150 thinkers simply sent in emails of their ideas into the author because the perspectives range from a little over a page to several pages. What's unfortunate is that because of a lack of editing and/or structure to their responses, this book reads as if you're reading through John Brockman's email inbox.

Sadly, there are like a lot of brilliant people in this book who have ideas I would love to h
...more
Marc
Feb 28, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy, science
I’m aware you can give a lot of criticism on this kind of Edge-books (there is too much/too little in it, some contributions are substandard, etc ...) but I have read this with much enjoyment and fascination: not because it is coherent, or gives a complete overview of the current state of science in physics, chemistry, biology, cognitive studies, linguistics and psychology, or gives an answer to our deepest questions. No, on the contrary.

The question put to 150 top scientists (and a few eccentri
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Book
Jan 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 conta
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Tom Quinn
Apr 06, 2019 rated it liked it
A bathroom reader for smarty-pants. A lot of insightful commentary from the contemporary intelligentsia, but things don't go deeply into detail. It's nice to read one or two to get your brain juice flowing, but this is not a book to be read in extended sittings.

3.5 stars out of 5.
Pete Welter
Feb 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
Like the other Edge books, this one poses a single question to broad swath of thinkers. For this year, the question was "What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?"

This is the second Edge collection I've read (there's a new one every year). In some sense, the question really isn't that important. What's these books are great for is getting samples of the thinking on big ideas from thinkers and practitioners from across a swath of disciplines. I use them to get exposed to conc
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David Tendo
May 17, 2013 rated it did not like it
"Deep"? Just another word for Pretentious. "Beautiful"? Try Narcissistic. "Elegant"? Tortuous comes to mind. Contrary to what it purports on the cover - NO, this does not explain everything. In fact it doesn't explain ANYTHING, at all! This book is just a collection of show-off-y crap by some of the world's greatest thinkers today; by "thinkers" I mean - egotistical, narcissistic morons. Oh, hey, is it coincidence that Nassim Nicholas Taleb (refer to my review of The Black Swan) is one of the co ...more
Mikhail
Jan 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
An excellent pack of short essays on scientific and not-very-scientific ideas. Plenty of choice. Here's my favourites:
1. Sensory adaptation (by Richard Dawkins): "The world at time t is not greatly different from the world at time t-1. Therefore it is not necessary for sensory systems continuously to report the state of the world. They need only signal changes, leaving the brain to assume that everything not reported remains the same."
2. Opinion segregation (by David G.Myers): "Group interaction
...more
Chris
Apr 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
An interesting thought collage with a misleading title. The subtitle comes closer to capturing the contents: a collection of essays from a diverse group of thinkers responding to the question, What is your favorite deep, beautiful, or elegant explanation? From the preface:
The contributions presented here 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,
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Susan Beuerlein
Jan 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Accolades to This Explains Everything, which collects short essays on such topics as astronomy, biological electricity, metabolic syndrome, monogamy, decision-making, mediocrity, language, mathematics, sociology, and death.
The contributors—from Alan Alda to esteemed physicists to sociologists to mathematicians—ponder elegant and beautiful explanations of our universe. Readers may be challenged by the science, inspired by the history, and intrigued by Hamlet's notion: "There are more things in he
...more
Charlene
Very similar to Brockman's The Universe (one of my favorites). Once again, Brockman gathers all the greats and puts their ideas into one book. There were ~150 essays. Each answered the question, "What do you consider to be the most beautiful, deep, and elegant theory ?" The book got off to a rough start. Sadly Brockman began with essays from scientists who have become science deniers. For example, epigenetiphobe Dawkins was prominently featured early on and set the tone for the reader. I usually ...more
Tam
Dec 28, 2014 rated it liked it
Recommended to Tam by: Chi Pham
Shelves: non-fic
I read this book because my flight kept getting delayed and the transit time is always super boring.

1. Great writing. I'm impressed. It helps that almost all these contributors are authors themselves, writing books that are directed towards general audience. It shows the romantic/poetic side of their thinking.

2. I was engrossed in the book, however, not by the writing, but instead by the ideas so enthusiastically and lovely presented. Some of them are new to me, some aren't. But again, the book
...more
William Crosby
Apr 07, 2013 rated it did not like it
Mish mash of diversity of various author's mini-essays on theories to explain various aspects of the world.

Lots of duplication. Sometimes an essay did not seem to answer the question (but rather talked about the question) or their favorite theory was not explained adequately.

After about the 20th mini-essay I got annoyed with the book and returned it to the library unfinished.

The idea sounded intriguing and so did the various essay titles: so I checked it out. Maybe 20 longer more developed dive
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Jacob
Apr 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
Not what I thought it was going to be, but I liked it. Apparently this guy who runs "online science salon" Edge.org asked his members in 2012 "What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?" and published many of the resulting short essays as this book. I was looking for several deeper chapters about selected scientific theories, and this turned out to be a collection of dozens of very short, often redundant, surface-level statements about which scientific ideas people think are ...more
Bernie Gourley
May 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: readers of pop science.
A theory that explains a lot with a clear and simple set of ideas is much beloved by scientists and social scientists alike. In this book, about 150 renowned thinkers were asked what theory they thought explained the most with the least. Every year, Edge.org (the online face of an Algonquin Round Table-like group called “The Reality Club”) produces a question to direct toward members, and this book resulted from the 2012 question. The editor, John Brockman, had his work cut out for him given lim ...more
Kazen
Jan 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book of collected essays asks the question, "What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?" Many people, from Richard Dawkins to Brian Eno to professors you've never heard of (but are amazingly cool), contribute their ideas and theories.

The essays are lovingly ordered so that you flow from biology to physics to neuroscience to psychology in a way that never feels forced or jarring. One writer will expound about, say, the Pigeonhole Theory and the next will use it as a jumpi
...more
Sense Of  History
Mar 02, 2018 rated it it was ok
For a historian it is not easy to get a lot out of these kinds of books, that is: at first glance it isn’t. In this book almost all of the 156 contributors are positive scientists, and in the human sciences psychologists, cognitivists and philosophers are in the majority. There are only 2 "labeled" historians, Big History-guru David Christian on cosmology, and archaeologist Timothy Taylor on Greek vases. Do we have to conclude from this that historians have not produced deep, beautiful and elega ...more
Greg Stoll
Mar 09, 2013 rated it it was ok
I bought this book because I love learning about what we used to think about things that we now know are wrong. (see: "carrots help you see well in the dark") This book is not about that. (in my defense, I was in a hurry and needed new books while I was in India) The format of the book was a bit intimidating - essentially 150 short chapters, which made reading the book feel like quite a slog. Some of the essays were definitely interesting, but there was some repetition (for a while there it seem ...more
Nancy Mills
Apr 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
This doesn't explain anything! However, it was very intriguing and served to pique my curiousity about my topics, as well as tweaking my memory about others.
I listened to the audiobook; if I had it to do over, I probably would elect to read the conventional version. I was continually tempted to make notes on what authors and topics I would like to find out more about. This is hard to do while driving.
I found the parts on the hard sciences much more interesting in general than the sections on soc
...more
Georgean Britton
Mar 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Amazing collection of contemporary ideas about almost everything, from evolution, to love, to basic particles, to dna, to art and language. All in short pages that open your mind and entice you to look forward and try to understand it all.

The book shouldn't be viewed as a guide or a treatise, it is merely an index, a starting point for further reading, research and reflexion.

I definitely recommend this book to all my friends.
Pat Pujolas
Apr 05, 2014 rated it did not like it
This explains absolutely nothing. It is instead a series of seemingly truncated responses to the question "What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?" The answers sound like conversation snippets, making you wish you'd heard the full context, set-up, or ensuing replies. I love many of the authors and scientists quoted in this collection, but I hated this book. Don't waste your time.
Charlotte
Jul 23, 2015 rated it did not like it
This is the last time I try one of Brockman's books. I have fallen for two now, and both have been extreme disappointments. Inaccessible, over-lengthy, unfocused, and just plain useless (and this from a person who reads almost exclusively from nonfiction science books). I don't know what editors are telling him these books are good ideas, but they are just as useless.
Chris Friend
Jul 24, 2017 rated it liked it
Gather a bunch of really smart people around a dinner table, provide an infinitely large bottle of wine, and listen.

Editing this text must have been a joy. (The editors did well, too, keeping themes moving throughout so that the endless stream of examples seemed to have a narrative arc behind them.)
Steven
May 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american, science
Occasionally uneven, because of the overall breadth and diversity of contributions, but overall, it's filled with excellent, elegant and erudite theories from some of leading people in their fields and definitely worth reading.
Rui
Feb 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is the best of knowledge, the state of art in science and culture.
AJ
Sep 30, 2014 rated it did not like it
Like reading your inbox after coming back from vacation. A very questionable medium for representing some very interesting and very uninteresting thinkers.
Lisa Butterworth
Oct 26, 2017 rated it liked it
a ton of wide ranging essays, kinda random, but often thought provoking. sometimes it made me a little dizzy, like looking at hundreds of snapshots of smart people's minds with no context.
Víctor Bermúdez

Evolution by means of natural selection / Susan Blackmore —
Life is a digital code / Matt Ridley —
Redundancy reduction and pattern recognition / Richard Dawkins —
The power of absurdity / Scott Atran —
How apparent finality can emerge / Carlo Rovelli --
The overdue demise of monogamy / Aubrey de Grey —
Boltzmann’s explanation of the second law of thermodynamics / Leonard Susskind --
The dark matter of the mind / Joel Gold —
"There are more things in heaven and earth...than are dreamt of in your
...more
Angela Juline
Jun 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
I admit I was pretty lost for most of the book - way too scientific for my humanities brain. But, when I got to the latter third of the book, the essays really started to click.

Some of my favorites:
Metaphors Are in the Mind: "And you can't reverse metaphors. While you can say 'He's clean' to mean he has no criminal record, you can't say 'He's moral' to mean that he bathed recently. Metaphor is unidirectional." (yes, this is a fascinating concept to me!) And that you think metaphorically, i.e. yo
...more
Tanya Spackman
Dec 30, 2017 rated it it was ok
Didn’t finish. I put forth a valiant effort, but life is too short to waste on terrible books. I give it two stars instead of one because a few of the entries are so poorly thought out that the resultant eye rolling offers some entertainment. (They’re mostly just boring since the premise is to throw out partially described ideas with little support or deep thought because the format is too short for that.)
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With a broad career spanning the fields of art, science, books, software and the Internet. In 1960 he established the bases for "intermedia kinetic environments" in art, theatre and commerce, while consulting for clients such as General Electric, Columbia Pictures, The Pentagon, The White House... In 1973 he formed his own literary and software agency. He is founder of the Edge Foundation and edit ...more

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