10 Questions Science Can’t Answer (Yet) by Michael Hanlon (book review).

November 14, 2013 | By | Reply More

It’s often thought that science has the solution for everything. As we play with science in the genre, we know that isn’t true because we often see the limitations that it imposes on what we can do. With this book, author Michael Hanlon, addresses the ‘10 Questions Science Can’t Answer (Yet)’.


The titles of each chapter are a little ubiquitous and written lower case to say the least. If anything, I would have preferred a more definitive question like the title than having to decipher what it’s about. I mean, ‘is fido a zombie’ has nothing to do with the walking dead but more to do with how intelligent each species is and the problems of testing it. From the looks of things, considering tool-use is regarded as being quite common in the animal kingdom once we paid more attention to what animals did, it is language, finger dexterity and adaptability that separates us from the rest of them. One wry moment in the book about gorillas have a sense of humour does make me wonder when we’re going to see the first gorilla stand-up comedian talking about those three humans who…

Understanding how time works is still tough. We can measure its passing and the rate of decay but there’s not really a lot we can do with or about it. The pointers on how time seems to slow down under stressful moments does tend to indicate that we’re not always making the best use of the life-time we’re given to do with it.

Which neatly builds towards how long a life we get. If you’re small and edible, your life-span is always going to be short or you won’t get your breeding cycle in for a future generation. Be large and a predator or at least something a predator won’t tackle and you can have a longer life-time. Well, unless a bigger predator has you for lunch. I suspect both options were a result of natural selection and survival of the fitness or we wouldn’t have so many exceptions to the rule. I liked Hanlon’s approach to how poisonous oxygen really is for us and it’s really the mix with nitrogen that keeps that danger down to useful levels.

I’m glad Hanlon raises some doubt about whether organic life derived from meteorites made from Martian rocks. He points out that the same material exists in asteroids so I tend to think it’s quite likely that we’re seeing Mars’ own meteorite damage. It does make me wonder how formed the planet that became the asteroid belt was before breaking up.

Before you ask, Hanlon does broach on subjects that would have been still regarded as only Science Fiction a few years back, looking at alien life, teleportation and ESP. Although not totally dismissive, he addresses some of the problems we’re already familiar with. One area which I wished he’d looked at would be synergy or co-incidence. Granted we remember the times it happens more than the times it doesn’t but the odds of it happening at all appear to be greater than average.

I liked his examination of how we put on weight and compared how the man who ate fast food for several weeks and got fat to repeat experiments with other people taking on the same thing and didn’t. Well, not all of them. This clearly indicates the differences between us all and probably how some people don’t get cancer from smoking or over-indulging with alcohol. All the draw of the genetic dice, although I wouldn’t bet on being immune to everything. No doubt someday soon, the gene markers for this will be recognised and it’ll be a simple test to show what you should avoid for a longer life.

Hanlon’s examination of disbelief in something can be equally as strong as a belief in something warrants further examination in my opinion because it looks like different sides of the same statistical curve where people refuse to budge. Hopefully, somewhere in the middle is the open-mindedness, especially as he reveals over 55% of scientists think that there might be something in telepathy to do some proper testing now. It is only the psychologists who don’t think it’s possible and they are in a quasi-field of guesswork in their own profession. At least it shows our kind of subjects isn’t being given quite the brush-off it used to receive. It’s either that or scientists are looking for new frontiers to explore without being slighted for doing so.

All in all, there’s quite a lot of information packed into such a small book as this and I came away with one decent idea for a story out of it. Much of this book is written in layman’s language so most of you shouldn’t have any problems grasping what Hanlon has to say. Saying that, just once, I’d love to see a book of scientific answers that scientists are trying to put questions to, if only to put the ‘Why’ there as a question. In the meantime, enjoy books like this for their informed assessment.

GF Willmetts

November 2013

(pub: Macmillan. Science 192 page indexed hardback. Price: £26.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-230-51758-5)

check out website: www.panmacmillanscience.com

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Category: Books, Science


About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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