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Brainpickings: Best science books 2015

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Yes, that time of year again, and Maria Popova’s list at Brainpickings: offers few surprises and some items of at least social interest, including #3, Lisa Randall’s Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs:

Randall starts with a fascinating speculative theory, linking dark matter to the extinction of the dinosaurs — an event that took place in the outermost reaches of the Solar System sixty-six million years ago catalyzed an earthly catastrophe without which we wouldn’t have come to exist. … But the theory itself, original and interesting as it may be, is merely a clever excuse to do two more important things: tell an expansive and exhilarating story of how the universe as we know it came to exist, and invite us to transcend the limits of our temporal imagination and our delusions of omnipotence. How humbling to consider that a tiny twitch caused by an invisible force in the far reaches of the cosmos millions of years ago hurled at our unremarkable piece of rock a meteoroid three times the width of Manhattan, which produced the most massive and destructive earthquake of all time, decimating three quarters of all living creatures on Earth. Had the dinosaurs not died, large mammals may never have come to dominate the planet and humanity wouldn’t be here to contemplate the complexities of the cosmos. And yet in a few billion years, the Sun will retire into the red giant phase of its stellar lifetime and eventually burn out, extinguishing our biosphere and Blake and Bach and every human notion of truth and beauty. Stardust to stardust. More.

This is great baffbaffbaff to keep a conversation going with the people one runs into at this time of year, who think they are original thinkers but don’t in fact believe in the reality of the mind. Keeps things polite.

File:A small cup of coffee.JPG Too bad if there aren’t crib notes.

See also: Cosmology, the skinny

and

Talk to the fossils: Let’s see what they say back

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