We Have No Idea: A Guide to the Unknown Universe

by Jorge Cham

Hardcover, 2017




Riverhead Books, (2017)

User reviews

LibraryThing member ajlewis2
I read 15%. The humor was a little crazy for my taste. The subject matter seemed good, but it didn't hold my interest.
LibraryThing member jefware
Totally explains every aspect of the Universe— not! We understand less than 3%, and that only partially. We are not even sure if the Universe is totally comprehensive.
LibraryThing member booktsunami
I can't speak too highly of this book. I've been a student of science for many years and have always been puzzled by the apparent certainty about scientific knowledge. Except when one keeps asking the question ...."Well what's that made of? or where does that come from?"....one starts to come up against barriers.......like "Well, we just don't know that yet". This book puts our knowledge into some perspective. All the knowledge we have about the things in the universe...stars, planets, living things, atoms, quarks, light, electricity, is knowledge about 5% of the universe. Scientists have slowly come to the realisation that some 27% of the universe is matter of some sort but we have no idea what sort of matter it is. There are some guesses but so far no real understanding. So it's being called "dark matter". That leaves the other 68% of the universe. Now I must admit that I'm still not totally clear on how the scientists have been able to pin this 68% to dark energy ....... that is, as opposed to the 32% that is matter (5% we know about and 27% is "dark" matter). That is, how are they relating mass and energy.......maybe via Einstein's equation....though does it still hold with Dark energy? But this big picture of our understanding sets the background for a lot more of the questions I have always wondered about such as: What is space?, What is time? The mysteries of mass....and so on. Rather alarming to find (although greatly illuminating also) that we actually have no idea about many of these fundamental questions.
I loved the book. It's illustrated with cartoons throughout. Some are maybe a bit annoying and trite but generally they are quite helpful in visualising the various issues raised. So a really helpful partnership between artist Jorge Cham and CERN particle physicist Daniel Whiteson. Strongly recommend it...in fact, I gave the book as a present to a couple of relatives who, I thought, would benefit from reading.
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LibraryThing member N7DR
I struggled to get through this. It was hard to find any redeeming features: the cartoons seem inane and certainly distracting (and frequently incomprehensible to me), and the text is all-too-frequently simply wrong. The only good thing about the book that I could think of was that it at lest points to /some/ of the problems with our current theories. But it ignores many others that are arguably more fundamental (measurement, for example), and its discussions of the ones that it does cover are misleadingly superficial. The whole thing reminded me of some of the old "Horizon" programmes that used to be on the BBC: apparently designed to leave the viewers (or in this case, the readers) with the impression that they understand an issue when in fact all the important (and interesting) complexities have been elided. Perhaps someone else will take this idea and implement it more thoroughly -- although then the book would be considerably thicker; but also vastly more interesting, useful and satisfying.… (more)
LibraryThing member andycyca
Wonderful pop-science book. While it might be dismissed as not being technical enough, books like The Universe: Leading Scientists Explore the Origin, Mysteries, and Future of the Cosmos are sometimes so technical (and badly formatted) that all the scientific rigor gets in the way of actually conveying information for the reader.

In «We have no Idea», Daniel Whiteson and Jorge Cham go a bit against conventional wisdom and talk about the things we don't know about. But, how can you even know that? Long story short: what we know is a big help in defining the unknown, similar to how negative space is defined in design.

The book accomplishes what many other pop-sci writers try, which is to establish more questions than it answers. Heck, that's what good science does. While guiding us through the edge of physics and the universe, the authors are careful to distinguish that which we are pretty certain of and what some possible answers might be, all peppered with the soft and charming humor that you might know from PHD Comics. The book chapters are neatly organized in Big Themes (e. g. «what is matter?», «what is time»...) and conveniently paced so you almost always have either something to look forward to and something to base your new knowledge upon.

The humor is hit-or-miss for me (and certainly not as funny as What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by fellow webcomic author Randall Munroe) but it never gets in the way of the explanation. If you can visualize some physics concepts using ferrets, llamas and practical jokes, this might be for you.

A book worth picking up either to learn about how much we don't know or to peek into the sometimes dirty windows of how science is done.
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