Why do we breathe? What is money? How does the brain work? Why did life invent sex? Does time really exist? How does capitalism work – or not, as the case may be? Where do mountains come from? How do computers work? How did humans get to dominate the Earth? Why is there something rather than nothing?
In What a Wonderful World, Marcus Chown, bestselling author of Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You and the Solar System app, uses his vast scientific knowledge and deep understanding of extremely complex processes to answer simple questions about the workings of our everyday lives. Lucid, witty and hugely entertaining, it explains the basics of our essential existence, stopping along the way to show us why the Atlantic is widening by a thumbs’ length each year, how money permits trade to time travel why the crucial advantage humans had over Neanderthals was sewing and why we are all living in a giant hologram.
You are 1/3 mushroom
We share 1/3 of our DNA with fungi (As if my Christmas card list wasn’t long enough…)
You could fit the entire human race in the volume of a sugar cube
That’s because atoms are 99.9999999999999% empty space. So, if you could squeezed out all the empty space from all the atoms in all the people in the world you could indeed fit the human race in the volume of a sugar cube
Slime moulds have 13 sexes
Each can mate with all other sexes (And you think it’s hard finding & keeping a partner!)
You age more slowly on the ground floor of a building
This a consequence of Einstein’s theory of gravity, which says that time flows more slowly in strong gravity (If you want to live long and prosper, move to a bungalow)
Today your body will build about 300 billion cells
That’s more than there are stars in our Milky Way galaxy (No wonder I feel knackered doing nothing)
Babies are powered by rocket-fuel
That’s right – the very same mixture of hydrogen and oxygen that boost the Space Shuttle into space is the source of all our energy
Every one of us spent half an hour as a single cell
I remember it being very boring. I couldn’t wait for some friends to play with
Brains aren’t all they’re cracked up to be
The juvenile sea squirt wanders through the sea looking for a rock to cling to. On finding one, it no longer needs its brain. So it… eats it
The crucial advantage that humans had over Neanderthals was… sewing
No one has ever found a Neanderthal needle. It is thought that the sewing of baby clothes may have given human babies a crucial 1% survival advantage in the ice age winters and this may explain why humans outcompeted Neanderthals
97.5% of the Universe is invisible
68% is invisible “dark energy”, 27% is invisible “dark matter”, and, of the remaining stuff – the atoms that you, me, and the stars are made of – only half has actually been seen by telescopes.