Log out
My profile and settings
My bookmarks
Comment history
Please complete your account verification. Resend verification email.
today
This verification token has expired.
today
Your email address has been verified. Update my profile.
today
Your account has been deactivated. Sign in to re-activate your account.
today
View all newsletters in the newsletter archive
today
You are now unsubscribed from receiving emails.
today
Sorry, we were unable to unsubscribe you at this time.
today
0
0
Back to profile
Comment Items
You have not left any comments yet.
title
you replied to a comment:
name
description
Saved Posts
You haven’t bookmarked any posts yet.
“Satya has a lot of interesting things to say about the transformation of both Microsoft and the tech industry at large.”
read more
Become a Gates Notes Insider
Sign up
Log out
Personal Information
Title
Mr
Mrs
Ms
Miss
Mx
Dr
Cancel
Save
This email is already registered
Cancel
Save
Please verify email address. Click verification link sent to this email address or resend verification email.
Cancel
Save
Address
Cancel
Save
Email and Notification Settings
Send me updates from Bill Gates
You must provide an email
On
Off
Send me Gates Notes survey emails
On
Off
Send me the weekly Top of Mind newsletter
On
Off
Email me comment notifications
On
Off
On-screen comment notifications
On
Off
Interests
Select interests to personalize your profile and experience on Gates Notes.
Saving Lives
Energy Innovation
Improving Education
Alzheimer's
Philanthropy
Book Reviews
About Bill Gates
Account Deactivation
Click the link below to begin the account deactivation process.
If you would like to permanently delete your Gates Notes account and remove it’s content, please send us a request here.
A Great Refresher
In science, we’re all kids
I loved reading this science book for young adults.
|
0

Have you caught any episodes of Cosmos, featuring the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson? If you haven’t, you should. The show, an update to Carl Sagan’s classic 1980 series, aired a year ago and is available on a variety of streaming services. Recently I’ve been watching the series on DVD.

You don’t have to be a kid to get a lot out of this series. In science, we’re all kids. A good scientist is somebody who has redeveloped from scratch many times the chain of reasoning of how we know what we know, just to see where there are holes. So it can never hurt to revisit great scientific explanations like the ones Tyson shares. They help bolster your confidence in what you understand about how the world works. They help you consolidate your knowledge of how insights from physics, chemistry, and biology all fit together. They help you see science as approachable and not just endlessly complicated.

The Cosmos production team, which includes Sagan’s wife, clearly understands this. They did a great job of bringing the wonders of space and time to people with different levels of knowledge. And Tyson’s lifelong passion for scientific discovery comes through loud and clear.

Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist who held the Chair of Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University endowed by my friend Charles Simonyi, has a similar gift for making science enjoyable. I’ve read many of his books over the years, including The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker. His antagonistic (and, to me, overzealous) view of religion has earned him a lot of angry critics, but I consider him to be one of the great scientific writer/explainers of all time.

I recently had a chance to read his book The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True. The book is as accessible as Cosmos is for younger audiences—and as relevant for older audiences. It’s an engaging, well-illustrated science textbook offering compelling answers to big questions, from how the universe formed to what causes earthquakes. It’s also a plea for readers of all ages to approach mysteries with rigor and curiosity, rather than buying into the supernatural myths at the core of most faith traditions.

Fortunately, Dawkins’s love of scientific exploration comes through more than his antipathy toward religion. He organizes each chapter around a question (e.g., “What is the sun?”) and begins the chapter with a litany of colorful explanatory myths offered by different cultures around the world. Then he shows us the elegant answers science has offered as the power of direct and indirect detection has expanded through the years. “I hope you agree that the truth has a magic of its own,” he writes. “The truth is more magical—in the best and most exciting sense of the word—than any myth or made-up mystery or miracle.”

I have only two disappointments about this book. First, I wish Dawkins had carved out the space to address some of the trickier areas of science like quantum mechanics, which really is fundamental to our understanding of the physical world and is at the core of many of our modern technologies.

Second, it’s too bad that some people may not read this book because of Dawkins’s strong views on religion. Even if Dawkins’s tone here is less contentious than usual, I fear this won’t get too far beyond the choir (to use a metaphor Dawkins might not appreciate). That’s too bad. 

If The Magic of Reality appeals to you, you might also check out the online course Big History (which I helped fund). It’s similar to Dawkins’s book in that they both set out to give you a comprehensive view—a framework for understanding how knowledge fits together—and then you can dive into different areas that interest you. It’s a great way to start or continue your learning journey, no matter how old you are.

Read this next
NEXT