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Pop Science

#1
[Not entirely related to 'creative' writing, per se, but related to literature so I guess it falls hand-in-hand.]

What's your take on the whole popular science genre?

I've got pretty mixed feelings about it in general, but I do enjoy the genre for some light reading that might actually teach me something without bending my brain too much.
At the same time, that's also why I have mixed feelings about it haha.

So, I was pretty unaware of the genre at all until first year of uni, when my roommate (studying Civil Engineering) picked up a copy of Tyson's new book at the time, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. When one of my friends was over and my roommate was reading, he asked 'hey, what's that book about?' And the only suitable response was "Astrophysics, but for people in a hurry." 

Now, I've never read that book in particular, and my roommate at the time was studying engineering, so at least it was somewhat related to what he was studying, and I guess by those standards you could call it 'complementary/supplementary reading' in his case. And the guy was really smart, got higher-than-average grades in all his classes, despite always doing a bong rip before any sort of studying.

But every now and then, I go out to some social gathering (a bar with some friends and friends of friends, or maybe an open-house at a company) and someone starts to open their mouth and talk about quantum mechanics or some subject that they only know about on the very surface, seemingly to make themselves look smart within the group, but if you ask them a question that goes any deeper than a pop-sci book, they completely freeze up, or give you an explanation of something that isn't what you asked about, but contains the same words (strawman-ing to get out of it.)



Like, yeah, I'm a bit of an a** when it comes to that, because I do read a lot (like, way too much, if I'm not studying or playing vidya, I'm reading, whether it be some online journals, articles, or a book of some sort.) If I come across an interesting subject, I really want to go deep into it and do my research on the subject so I can understand it even better, and then I think about the implications of that subject on another subject (occasional psychedelic use also helps me with this haha.) And I get not everyone is like me in that sense, people truly are In a Hurry and can't afford the time to read over other stuff to broaden their horizons, at least to a basic degree of understanding.

I mean, h***, I write academic papers for beer money too (okay, maybe not just beer, as that would mean I'm a complete alcoholic) so I need to research all subjects and find sources on JSTOR or whatever and interpret them to the point where I can use them in an argumentative essay.

But when people try to use all that basic theory to try and prop themselves up socially, that kinda grinds my gears. And that also stems from YouTube videos on the subject.
Numberphile is notorious for that as well, with their sum(1+2..infinity) = -1/12 video which got incredibly popular because of its controversy. It's certainly an interesting watch, but if you have any education with high-school math and divergent vs. covergent functions, you'd find the error immediately when he approximates sum(1+0+1+0+1+[...]) to 0.5. Mathologer made an excellent video explaining why it's wrong, but still an interesting theory. And occasionally people will try to give you 'fun trivia' on why that's true, when in reality it really isn't.

Like, yeah, I'm familiar with certain theories and concepts already, but I don't try to derail conversations or throw 'trivia' in people's faces randomly at the bar to make myself look smart in front of people. Have a drink, talk about life like a normal person. Even my TA's and professor's don't do that shit when we hang out for drinks after class or whatever, and they're usually the smartest people in the room about their respective subjects, so maybe ask them about what they're working on instead for their academic proposals and theses in the case of the TAs who are finishing up their graduate studies. And if you don't understand what they're talking about, either ask them to explain or move on and research it on your own if you're interested. That way, any discussions on academic topics aren't completely unwarranted and you might actually learn something, or maybe you could contribute by giving your own opinion and ideas on the subject to start an actual discussion.



The one channel I do watch for pop-sci with decent explanations is Veritasium, who not only goes over all the theory on a specific subject and brings up cool examples, but he also cites all the papers & books he read on the subject in the description of his videos in the case you want to go over that as well. Same goes for PhilosophyTube, although he's more focused on philosophy and politics (pretty sure he worships Zizek like every other lefty, but hey, at least he's educated on his views.) 

So that's my love/hate relationship with pop-sci. I enjoy the genre as an intro to a subject without doing a full mental workout by reading through a textbook, but I hate the social stirrups it causes when people think they're experts on the subject after they get a vague understanding on the subject. Like, seriously, don't do that shit lmao. But hey, if you're just reading as an intro to understanding a seemingly difficult topic, go for it. No need to be too pretentious about it though unless you actually plan on delving deeper into the subject.



So, if you know any cool books, give me pop-sci recs. Always looking for more cool stuff to read.

Right now, I'm reading Chaos, by James Gleick (revised 2008 edition) since Veritasium did a video on Chaos and the Mandelbrot Set recently and mentioned that book as his main intro to the subject as well. So far, it's been pretty good (not very far in, maybe 50 pages or so) but also focuses on the whole history of Chaos Theory, from Feigenbaum's research to all other approaches handled by other academics or just normal people like meteorologists who noticed how important the butterfly effect was on long-term forecasting (1 week+). My first intro to chaos was probably learning about the Chaos Game which would generate Sierpinski fractal patterns from pure RNG. This was because I was already interested in compsci to begin with, and this has lots to do with compsci and deterministic systems (which is exactly what computers are.)

I've also read some of Carl Sagan's work, most notably Cosmos because my grade 9 Science teacher (one of the nicest teachers I had) was a really big fan and would even go as far as playing Sagan's lectures in class because his explanations of the cosmos were so easily digestable. Didn't read that in grade 9, wasn't as avid of a student back then, but picked it up later on as I got more interested in astronomy and my dad bought me a telescope with a bunch of lens and filters so I could explore the night sky myself whenever the nights were clear and there wasn't too much light pollution (small town outskirts made this relatively easy.)

Of course I've also heard of the late Hawking's works, notably A Brief History of Time, although I haven't personally read it. I did watch a biopic about early Hawking's life (probably also grade 9 with the same teacher) but never got as far and interested in the subject as to actually pick up the book. It's somewhere on my list, though.

Honorable mention goes to Harari's Sapiens. Haven't read it, but maybe once a week I'll see someone on my usual bus ride to class reading it. Only gets the honorable mention because it seems more oriented towards social sciences rather than the more obscure and possibly esoteric Sciences like Math, Physics, Chemistry which more people tend to turn away from. But it certainly does seem to have gotten incredibly popular, so I might pick it up over the summer or something as a supplementary source to any academic papers I write for people (most of them fall into Social/Political sciences, with the occasional Literature paper, 'technical report,' or filler content for people's labs and assignments in which they can't really bullshit too much.)
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