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Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein

  • Sep 24, 2013 · 6:15 PM
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Great minds screw up alike (hey, I oughtta know :> ). Join us at the Harvard Book Store as Mario Livio discusses his new book, Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein—Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe. Livio explores fortuitous mistakes made by great scientists such as Charles Darwin, Lord Kelvin, Linus Pauling, Fred Hoyle, and Albert Einstein, and shows how effing up maybe  isn't such a bad thing after all.

The lecture starts at 7:00, but the HBS isn't that big and getting there early is usually a good idea. We'll gather out front (or inside if the weather is icky) from 6:15 to about 6:30 or so, then go in to get seats. We will try and commandeer as much of the center section of seats as we can, so if you don't find us out front look for us in the seats. The later you get there, the more likely you are to be stuck in the aisles or behind the bookstacks.

Afterwards, we'll gather again out front, then wander over to Pizzeria Uno for food, drinks, and good nerdy fun and discussion. If you want to pick up a book and get it signed first, let us know and we'll save you a seat at the restaurant.

It's Harvard Square, so needless to say the best way to get there is by T. But if you must drive, the best parking options are:

• University Place at Harvard Square, 124 Mount Auburn St, $13 evening after 5:00PM

• Charles Square Garage, Bennett St. near University Road, $12 for 5 hours after 5:00 PM (the underground one on the hotel side, not the above ground one further down next to the MBTA busway entrance)

• Holyoke Center Garage, 1350 Mass Ave, $15 evening after 5:00 PM (closest to the bookstore)

Parking rates are from - YMMV

Hope to see you there :)

From Harvard Book Store:

Harvard Book Store is pleased to welcome astrophysicist and award winning author, MARIO LIVIO, as he discusses his latest book, Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein—Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe.

We all make mistakes. Nobody’s perfect. Not even some of the greatest geniuses in history, as Mario Livio tells us in this marvelous story of scientific error and breakthrough.

Charles Darwin, William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), Linus Pauling, Fred Hoyle, and Albert Einstein were all brilliant scientists. Each made groundbreaking contributions to his field—but each also stumbled badly. Darwin’s theory of natural selection shouldn’t have worked, according to the prevailing beliefs of his time. Not until Gregor Mendel’s work was known would there be a mechanism to explain natural selection. How could Darwin be both wrong and right? Lord Kelvin, Britain’s leading scientific intellect at the time, gravely miscalculated the age of the earth. Linus Pauling, the world’s premier chemist (who would win the Nobel Prize in chemistry) constructed an erroneous model for DNA in his haste to beat the competition to publication. Astrophysicist Fred Hoyle dismissed the idea of a “Big Bang” origin to the universe (ironically, the caustic name he gave to this event endured long after his erroneous objections were disproven). And Albert Einstein, whose name is synonymous with genius, speculated incorrectly about the forces that hold the universe in equilibrium—and that speculation opened the door to brilliant conceptual leaps. These five scientists expanded our knowledge of life on earth, the evolution of the earth itself, and the evolution of the universe, despite and because of their errors. As Mario Livio luminously explains, the scientific process advances through error. Mistakes are essential to progress. 

Brilliant Blunders is a singular tour through the world of science and scientific achievement—and a wonderfully insightful examination of the psychology of five fascinating scientists.

"Scientists make mistakes all the time, but those bumps in the road are often smoothed out in the legends that surround the greatest discoverers. . . . Thoughtful, well-researched and beautifully written, Brilliant Blunders offers a distinctive—and far more truthful—perspective on the journey to scientific discovery." —The Washington Post

“Enlightening. . . . For many people, being a great scientist means being above error. . . . Livio’s book is a valuable antidote to this skewed picture. . . . Thanks to his deep curiosity, Livio turns Brilliant Blunders into a thoughtful meditation on the course of science itself." —The New York Times Book Review

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  • A former member
    A former member

    An excellent, engaging talk by astrophysicist author Mario Livio on major missteps made by some of the world's greatest scientifists over the the last 150 years, focusing in particular on Charles Darwin's wrong early conclusions regarding the exact mechanism by which his still-widely-accepted theories of natural selection actually work. Dinner at Uno's afterwards was great, thanks to a bunch of swell people who were there. Great meetup, John. ;-)

    September 25, 2013

  • Julie B.

    This was great. Dr. Livio is an excellent speaker. Many thanks to John and Doreen for organizing!

    1 · September 25, 2013

  • Doreen C.

    Excellent speaker....funny and intelligent. Nice group went out to dinner after. Thanks for coming out everyone.

    2 · September 25, 2013

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