Skip to main content

Brian Clegg – Four Way Interview

Brian Clegg is the editor of the Popular Science website and has written books on subjects including light, infinity, quantum entanglement, inflight science and time machines. His latest titles are The Universe Inside You, exploring science using the human body and Gravity on the force that shaped the universe.
Why science?
Science fascinated me as a child and I’ve never lost that sense of wonder. For me it’s a no-brainer of a question: I’d almost rather ask ‘why not science?’ This is a subject everyone should be fascinated by – for goodness sake, it’s how our world, our universe (and us) works – and presented right, I believe science can excite anyone.
Why these books?
They’re very different. The Universe Inside You is a follow up to Inflight Science. Like that book I wanted to use something familiar as a starting point to thinking about the science of the world around us. With Inflight Science that starting point was a plane flight, and with Universe Inside it’s our bodies – arguably the most remarkable things in the universe. So, yes it’s about our bodies but it is also much more, using the body as a starting point and laboratory to explore the universe. You can see a bit more about it in the video below.
Gravity is, if you like, a more traditional book – looking back through history to explore humanity’s gradual understanding of gravity. It’s something we take for granted, yet it’s responsible for so much of the formation of the universe – not to mention keeping us stuck on the surface of the planet. For me the most fascinating bits are Einstein’s general relativity, which I think I’ve explored more thoroughly than is usually the case in popular science, but still kept it approachable, and anti-gravity, which is great fun as a topic.
What’s next?
I have a couple of books in the pipeline. I’m doing one of the little pocket illustrated books in the Introducing series, which has been brilliant to do, working with an excellent illustrator (I even make it into the illustrations). And I’m well into my next book for St Martin’s Press, which will be exploring telepathy, telekinesis and the like and seeing if there is any possible scientific explanation or if it’s all bunk.
What’s exciting you at the moment?
Writing as always, and pathetic though it may seem I’m still thrilled with my new iMac which has really transformed my day-to-day experience sitting in front of a computer screen. I’m also really enjoying converting the Popular Science site into its new, more accessible format.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Art of Logic - Eugenia Cheng ***

This is an important book, though I'm not sure Eugenia Cheng would agree with my logic in saying so. 

Going on the marketing, what we have here is a counter to fake news and dodgy argumentation in the form of mathematical logic. The back cover tells us 'Newspaper headlines and social media use emotions to warp the facts. Politicians and companies master rhetoric to mislead us. What one book could help us make sense of it all?' Admittedly they don't answer their rhetorical question, but I assume the answer is intended to be The Art of Logic. (Did the company behind this book realise it was using rhetoric, though presumably not to mislead us?) 

What we actually have is a combination of a lucid and interesting explanation of the basics of logic with the mathematical equivalent of those books such as Algorithms to Live By that were so popular a couple of years ago. They used the logic of algorithms (differently worded, and, to me, easier to understand), the heart of computer…

Quantum Economics - David Orrell ****

David Orrell's earlier title Economyths is one of my favourite popular science books of all time. Or, perhaps, I should say popular non-science, as Orrell shows just how devastatingly traditional economics uses the tools of science without having a scientific basis. I was, therefore, really looking forward to reading Orrell's new book - until I saw the title. As anyone involved with physics can tell you, there's nothing more irritating than the business of sticking the word 'quantum' onto something to give a pseudo-scientific boost to waffle and woo. Was Orrell doing the same thing? Thankfully, his introduction put my fears aside.

Orrell, a mathematician with a physics background quickly makes it clear that the way he is using quantum theory is not just employing magic words, but involves making use of strong parallels between the nature of quantum objects and concepts like money (more on money in a moment). Yes, this is to some extent a metaphorical use of quantum …

The Ashtray - Errol Morris *****

Wow. When someone suggested I read a book called The Ashtray, written by a documentary film-maker, it didn't strike me that it would be a book that gave deep insights into the history and philosophy of science - while also being a remarkable reading experience. In fact, I almost didn't bother with it, but I'm glad that I did.

The titular ashtray was thrown at the author when he was a grad student - thrown by one of the two best known names in the philosophy of science, Thomas Kuhn, he of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and the concept of paradigm shifts. Kuhn didn't like the young Errol Morris daring to challenge his ideas and reacted with what some would regard as a less than philosophical reply by hurling a heavy glass ashtray at him.

Part of the reason that reading The Ashtray is a remarkable experience is because it's a book that feels in some ways like watching a documentary. I have to confess I've never seen any of Morris's work, but he uses vis…