It's always good to see other people make mistakes, so a book about serious errors committed by some of history's greatest scientists is bound to be a good read. But Mario Livio's new book isn't just about reassuring
ordinary mortals like me, and it's not at all about poking fun at less ordinary ones. It's a thoughtful look at science, the often hap-hazard path of its progress and the limitations of the human mind.
Space is the stage on which physics happens. It's unaffected by what happens in it and it would still be there if everything in it disappeared. This is how we learn to think about space at school. But the idea is as novel as it is out-dated.
This year's Abel Prize has been awarded to the Belgian mathematician Pierre Deligne for "seminal contributions to algebraic geometry and for their transformative impact on number theory, representation theory, and related fields".
Would you stake your fortune on a 100 to 1 outsider? Probably not. But what if, somewhere in a parallel universe, the straggling nag does come in first? Would the pleasure you feel in that universe outweigh the pain you feel in the one in which you've lost? Questions not dissimilar to this one occupy physicists and for entirely respectable reasons.
Are there parallel universes? Universes in which, rather than reading this article, you are still asleep; in which you are happier, unhappier, richer, poorer, or even dead? The answer is "possibly". It's a controversial claim but one that has won more and more followers over the last few decades.
Mathematicians and psychologists don't cross paths that often and when they do you wouldn't expect it to involve an (apparently) unassuming puzzle like the Tower of Hanoi. Yet, the puzzle holds fascination in both fields.
Ocean waves are not moving walls of water. Instead, it's some kind of energy that moves along. But then, what happens to the water itself? This isn't just an idle question to ponder while watching the ocean — its answer may help protect us from it too. And it requires some sophisticated maths.