22 October 2008

Icarus at the Edge of Time

I recently heard Brian Greene (The Elegant Universe and The Fabric of the Cosmos) speak about his new book, Icarus at the Edge of Time. Unlike his previous books, this one is ("intentionally", he says) a work of fiction. It is also one of those cardboard books, and is 16 pages long.

This switch in genre is somewhat surprising. Professor Greene noted that many people who might never pick up one of his other books might pick up, and read, this one. They might even learn something: the plot of the story hinges on one detail of general relativity(!). This is impressive, really. It brings a narrative to this field of science where narrative is so rarely seen, and it makes a small piece of the subject accessible to laypeople. I know something about the "real" science behind this, and I do believe it is beautiful, but I'd be the first to admit that a narrative is appealing in a more visceral kind of way.

I think many advocates for science and technology could take a page (har, har) from Professor Greene. It's so easy to get lost in the details of what we do that we forget that, for better or for worse, people respond to stories much more effectively than they respond to even the most logical arguments.

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