This explains a lot… and it isn’t good.

The incomparable Maria Popova (whom you must follow on twitter @brainpicker) recently posted a review of the incredible book “This Explains Everything” from John Brockman. The book presents 150+ brilliant thinkers’ answers to the question:

“What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?”

explains_everything_cover

A brilliant book with a fatal flaw.

With magnificent insights from Jared Diamond, Brian Eno, Steven Pinker, and Susan Blackmore, the book covers pretty much everything we know — or really should know — about the underlying order of the universe. (In other words, there is a lot to think about in this book.)

But there’s a big problem. A huge problem. A problem that makes me want to either cry or start shouting REALLY LOUD.

Out of 150 brilliant minds introducing their favorite theories, only one* used pictures.

WHAT?!This is crazy — especially since EVERY ONE of the entries I’ve read so far (just passed 50) would benefit enormously from the addition of a simple clarifying sketch.

And these pictures aren’t hard to draw. I got so mad while reading this book on the short flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles, I managed to draw the first three while sitting on the plane. Here they are:

1) Susan Blackmore on Evolution

1_blackmore_darwin

2) Matt Ridley on DNA

2_ridely_dna

3) Richard Dawkins on how we process patterns

3_dawkins_redundancy

The big takeaway: If we’re explaining a theory, why wouldn’t we use every means available to make that theory clear, memorable, and alive? If we’re going to use words to describe an image, why don’t we just draw the image we’re trying to describe?

It’s not that hard. I did these three in less that 30 minutes, using nothing but a pen and paper. Imagine what a true genius could do in a day.

When the smartest people we have reject the use of simple images to support their own theories, is it really any wonder that more people reject science?

This really upsets me. Come on, smart people: SHOW me what you’re talking about.

(*That one BTW, is Stewart Brand. My new hero.)

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6 thoughts on “This explains a lot… and it isn’t good.

  1. Excellent or should I declare, “Brillant!” I believe it was Einstein who stated “Everything must be made as simple as possible. But not simpler.” Brillance lies in simplicity or can fit on the back of a napkin.

  2. Great post, Dan! True words – or – well shown. Couldn’t agree more. I’m making a similar argument doing my doctoral dissertation entirely in comic book form (www.spinweaveandcut.com). All this evidence of the importance of visual thinking – and we keep just talking about it… Thanks – Nick

  3. you are here on this earth for this reason Dan. to draw sketches on everything you read. seriously, embrace your destiny.

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