The Man Who Counted Infinity

Short Stories from Science, History and Philosophy

The aim of the writings collected in this series is to present some key scientific events, ideas and personalities in the form of short stories that are easy and fun to read. Scientific and philosophical concepts are explained in a way that anyone may understand. Each story may be read separately, but at the same time, they all band together to form a wide-ranging introduction to the history of science and areas of contemporary scientific research, as well as some of the recurring problems science has encountered in history and the philosophical dilemmas it raises today.

CONTENTS


NUMBERS

A mathematical melodrama 15

What is randomness? 18

When our sense of probability deceives us 23

The man who counted infinity 28

The hermit of the Pyrenees 33

Is marriage a mathematical operation? 36

A mathematical intrigue at the Swedish court 41

Worshippers of mathematical infinity 46

The man who believed machines could think 51

Chaos and the butterfly effect 56


ATOMS

Searching for the beginning of time 63

The priest who came up with the Big Bang 69

How black holes are born 74

The origins of continents and oceans 79

In search of the perfect machine 84

How to release the energy of atoms? 89

What are quantum particles telling us? 94

What can we know about the world of atoms? 99


MOLECULES

Cannibals, insomnia and mad cow disease 107

EPO – The story about 2550 liters of powdered urine 113

Cell police 118

The Black Death pandemic 122

When a new, unknown disease breaks out 128

A deadly virus from the heart of Africa 134

Malaria 139

The child prodigy who became the father of cybernetics 144

Statistics against poverty and disease 149

The Pasteurization of heretical ideas 154


LIFE

What wiped out the dinosaurs? 161

The afterlife of Henrietta Lacks 165

A Russian Indiana Jones 170

Creating a second paradise 175

Alexander von Humboldt – adventurer and scientist 179

Feral children 184

The war of images 190

Hobbits from the isle of Flores 195

Lucy, more precious than diamonds 201

Paracelsus – Martin Luther of medicine 206

No more bananas? 210

The bioethics of conception 215


BRAIN

How can I tell you're not a robot? 223

The man with no memory 228

She's blind, but she sees 233

How babies learn languages 238

Why people are exceptional readers 243

Watching the birth of a new language 248

Pseudo-patients in psychiatric hospitals 253

Most submitted to authority 258

Too much safety can be dangerous 263

What does the peacock's tail say? 268

Who really makes the decisions in our minds? 274

Mirror neurons 279

Brain plasticity 282

The invention of permanent innovation 287

Are rewards bad for innovation? 292

Einstein and Freud: the meeting of two universes of knowledge 297

Why dessert comes last 303

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