Tuesday, November 21, 2006

 

My brain hurts.

I am really enjoying Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything. The book starts out with the Big Bang and appears to be working it's way down (or up) the timeline. It's so much more than a science-oriented history book, though. It's presented more in the manner of, "How do these scientists figure this stuff out?" He not only presents the science that has been discovered over the centuries, but also how that science was done. It's all quite fascinating and presented in a manner that is easy to understand.

Or at least, most of it is easy to understand. As Bryson presents right at the beginning of the book, we can never truly understand some things. It will give you a headache to really contemplate the size of the universe, say, or the age of the Earth, or the distance between galaxies. We just can't grasp things of this scale.

We also can't comprehend the micro end of the scale. The tininess of the particles in everything. Bryson does try to help us, though. One of my favorite analogies that he presents is when he is trying to describe Avagadro's number. As you may remember from Chemistry (I certainly didn't), Avagadro's number is the number of molecules in approximately 2 grams of hydrogen gas. You'd imagine this to be a big number, right? After all, molecules are really tiny. But would you expect it to be roughly the number of popcorn kernels it would take to cover the United States to a depth of nine miles?

I love this book. But I think I need some Tylenol.

Comments:
Would that be popped or un-popped popcorn kernels? Cause, ya know there's a big difference between the two, and I want those fun analogies to be as vivid as possible.
 
That would be un-popped. Did your brain just explode?
 
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