RogerBW's Blog

The Science of Being Human, Marty Jopson 20 January 2021

2019 non-fiction, popular science; short treatments of scientific aspects of human existence.

These are pieces of 1,500 words or so, only occasionally building on earlier pieces, so as usual there's very little space to get into anything like detail – which is very frustrating, because I've talked with Marty and I know he knows much more about these things than would fit in the space. And the theme is pretty broad, taking in evolutionary history, proprioception, Alzheimer's disease, traffic jams and 3-D films, among other subjects.

Still, there were things I didn't know about – like the current theoretical model for crowd flow, which is based on personal space; so if you're next to a wall, you feel more free to sway into it, push off it, and so on, than if you're next to another human, and thus you're able to move more quickly. (And thus the bit which I already knew, about putting a barrier or even just a small pillar in front of a doorway to move people through it more quickly.) Or the way the Siberian dwarf hamster's immune system doesn't activate if it's in winter conditions, presumably since activating it is energy-expensive and thus may not offer a better chance of survival of infection than simply letting the thing burn itself out would.

If you can resist the urge to say "yes, but what about…?" then this is a decent introduction to a wide range of subjects, particularly suitable like Marty's other books for an enquiring youngster who doesn't yet know what they may find interesting. Still rather expensive for the word count, though.

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