Friday, August 4, 2023

Book Report - This Idea Must Die

This Idea Must Die - John Brockman

General Overview-

I found this book to be extremely enlightening, contrary to what the majority of reviews say. This book is digestible with bite sized yet profoundly interesting chapters. He discusses popular ideas, concepts, and theories in the scientific community that he claims are useless, unhelpful, or just holding us back. Some of these ideas like neuro-plasticity are fascinating and fun to view from the author's perspective, however he wants to disregard some ideas like unification which is far too pessimistic to be taken seriously.

A lot of this book sounds like ramblings of an old cranky man, which I really enjoyed. Sometimes you can get lost in the crankiness and start to agree, other times you read a chapter and wonder "what the heck did he just say!? Is that really how some people think?". However I think there is a lot of truth and lessons that we can learn from this book that can take science to a new level.

Favorite Part-

My favorite part of the book has to be the chapter "Indivi-duality". This chapter describes the concept of individuality in society's terms and in scientific terms. He describes individuality as a single person in a society. However goes on to describe how difficult it is to describe the 'sense of self'. He discusses the atoms and bacteria that make us up, the cells and organs that work together, the thoughts and ideas that we have, and etc. This chapter is my favorite because it is one that actually makes sense to me, and it's an idea that I often think about on my own.


This book teeters on the edge of fast thinking and slow thinking. Many of these chapters are just the author, John Brockman, giving his perspective on societal ideologies and theories that play into science. One part that comes to mind as an example of slow thinking in this book is his chapter on aethetic motivations in the scientific community. He claims that science has been based off of aesthetic values and elegance for too long and that data and research should be collected out of curiosity and wonder, not for superficial reasons. However, these chapters that rely on slow thinking are few and far between. Most chapters are based on opinions and fast thinking. For example, there is a chapter about the concept of altruism where he claims being altruistic is inherently selfish, and to truly be altruistic you must fend for your own happiness before anyone else's. I tried my best to make it sound like real words, instead of the ramblings of an old scientist, but the statement is simply an opinion acting like a fact. In order to point out pseudoscience and fast thinking in our own lives, we need to be able to see through opinionated beleifs and facts. While this logic has to do with most of the topics in this class, it is especially reminiscent of the end of the world scenarios. People that believed in the leader of the heaven's gate cult were not able to (or did not want to) tell the difference between fact and farce.


I saw Andrew O's post and thought it would be fun to use the BS detection kit given from another book on the list Viral BS. I have repeated many times in this report that this book feels like total BS, so I thought it would be fun to put it to the test.
Some questions weren't able to be answered fully since this book is not one central big idea, instead a collection of small ideas. I will be talking about the book as a whole.

1) Who is making the claim? Are they reliable? Do their peers trust them?
John Brockman is the author of this book, however, each chapter is written by a different person or group, and overall re-edited by Brockman.
3) How is the source media being used? Where was it taken from?
Each chapter is written by someone new, and

5) Follow the money: Who is profiting off of this book?
John Brockman, his publishing company, and his online science art and philosophy forum .
7) Who benefits? Who is harmed? Does it harm anyones credibility or health? Who might be out to get that community?
I think there are more benefits than harms. He takes ideas from his websites and certifies them in his own way. In some ways, the majority of crazy ideas dilutes the good ideas in the book.
9) Common Sense: Is it credible? Does it fit into the world?
Definitely not credible lol. Each idea mentioned has no backings. However, some ideas are definitely worth thinking about.
11) Alternate Theories.
N/A, I cant answer this question based on the book as a whole. However these ideas are alternate theories within themselves. Kind of like giving alternate meanings to philosophical and scientific findings/sayings.
13) Occam's razor. Find the fewest assumptions.
Again N/A.
15) Can findings be duplicated?
N/A, since this is not a research study or motivated science experiment.
17) Are personal beliefs driving the claim?
Yes, each chapter is heavily opinionated with philosophical thoughts from each writers mind, combines with John Brockman.
19) Has the claim been verified with outside sources?
Nope, kind of N/A but no, the claims in most chapters are just thoughts and not reputable science experiments.
21) Each link of the argument must be strong.
Honestly, I would argue in some ways the links are strong. With no backings however they are strong in a different way. Each chapter has a lot of connection conveyed with the respective author.
23) Question authority.

Overall, yes I think this book is viral BS. A lot of the ideas communicated need to be reworked into more cohesive forms so they can be easily considered. And some don't even have cohesive forms. All in all though, I think this book is worth a read, and for literal cents for a used copy on amazon, I think its definitely worth the price.


Similar to the related, I think the main message of this book in my perspective is to take some people's opinions with a grain of salt. When I read a few chapters here and there I would feel myself getting really annoyed with his nihilistic thought process. This book has also taught me the importance of giving people a voice. This book is essential John Brockman giving himself a voice to denounce and rant about ideologies he disapporves of. Although some may be more obscure and out there than others, the good chapters are new and fresh ideas that can absolutely be built on with more backing and research.

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