A reading club with a view to the future

098 John Brockman: This Explains Everything

World’s most brilliant minds answer the question: “What scientific concept would improve everyone’s cognitive toolkit?”

John Brockman: This Explains Everything


The book is a compilation of short essays written by 150 leading scientists, thinkers, and artists. They were asked to answer the question, "What scientific concept would improve everyone's cognitive toolkit?" The essays cover a wide range of topics, from physics to psychology, from biology to philosophy, and provide insights into the mysteries of the universe.


Title: This Explains Everything: Deep, Beautiful, and Elegant Theories of How the World Works

Author: John Brockman

Publishing Year: 2014

Publisher: Harper Perennial

Length in Hours: 12 hours and 4 minutes 

5 main ideas

  1. The universe is full of surprises, and science is our best tool for understanding it.
  2. We need to be open-minded and willing to challenge our assumptions in order to learn and grow.
  3. The power of metaphor and analogy can help us better understand complex concepts.
  4. Complexity is a fundamental aspect of the natural world, and we need to embrace it to understand how things work.
  5. Collaboration and diversity of perspectives are essential for making progress in science and society.
John Brockman: This Explains Everything

5 funny quotes

  1. "I'm a physicist, and we have invented the time machine." - Michio Kaku
  2. "The universe is like a safe to which there is a combination. But the combination is locked up in the safe." - Peter de Vries
  3. "When you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." - Arthur Conan Doyle
  4. "I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I'm not absolutely sure of anything." - Richard Feynman
  5. "I am not young enough to know everything." - Oscar Wilde

5 thought-provoking quotes​

  1. "We are not passengers on Spaceship Earth; we are the crew. We are not residents on this planet; we are citizens. The difference in both cases is responsibility." - Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart
  2. "The cosmos is a gigantic flywheel, continually spinning. It is impossible to say when it began to spin, but it is clear that it will never stop. Nor will mankind, whose history is entwined with the spinning of the cosmos, ever stop trying to discover its secrets." - Neil deGrasse Tyson
  3. "Science is not a monument of received Truth but something that people do to look for truth." - Richard Feynman
  4. "Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself." - Richard Feynman
  5. "The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you." - Neil deGrasse Tyson

5 dilemmas

  1. The Fermi Paradox: if there are other intelligent civilizations in the universe, why haven't we found any evidence of them?
  2. The Trolley Problem: a classic ethical dilemma where you must decide whether to divert a trolley onto a track where it will kill one person instead of five.
  3. The Grandfather Paradox: if you went back in time and killed your grandfather before he had children, how could you exist to do so?
  4. The Twin Paradox: how does time dilation affect the aging of two twins who experience different gravitational fields or relative motion?
  5. The Sleeping Beauty Problem: a thought experiment where you are told that you will be put to sleep and have a coin flipped. If it comes up heads, you will be awakened and then put to sleep again. If it comes up tails, you will be awakened and the experiment will end. You are then awakened and asked, "What is the probability that the coin came up heads?"

5 examples

  1. "Can we find a 'theory of everything'?" - Stephen Hawking
  2. "What do you think about the Fermi paradox?" - Neil deGrasse Tyson
  3. "How do we achieve sustainable energy?" - Bill Gates
  4. "What is the future of artificial intelligence?" - Ray Kurzweil
  5. "What is the role of science in society?" - Carl Sagan

Referenced books

  1. "The Selfish Gene" by Richard Dawkins
  2. "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" by Thomas S. Kuhn
  3. "On the Origin of Species" by Charles Darwin
  4. "Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid" by Douglas R. Hofstadter
  5. "The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood" by James Gleick

Share a quote

"We are not passengers on Spaceship Earth; we are the crew. We are not residents on this planet; we are citizens. The difference in both cases is responsibility."

John Brockman: This Explains Everything
Become a NextBook Insider

Join our community to access exclusive content, comment on stories, participate in giveaways, and more.