The sh*t of our lives takes on scientific meaning

By: Ashley Mcgee

Posted: 4/14/09

Why does water damage kill your electronics, or why can something as simple as walking go horribly wrong?

Some of these small questions have very big answers, and who better to explain them than a scientist? Contrary to popular belief, scientists can be extremely helpful in making modern science understandable to the layman-that is you. That scientist's name is Peter J. Bentley and the book is "Why Sh*t Happens: The Science of a Really Bad Day."

Bentley breaks down the tiny horrors of our everyday lives in a reassuring work of detail and succinctness, but he doesn't do this by offering sage advice on how to control your emotions or start a religion. Bentley offers a series of scenarios involving you, the subject of the narration and the science behind every little inconvenience you can possibly handle.

You wake up late, slip on shampoo, explode a cup of coffee, drink sour milk, wash your MP3 player, get pooped on by a bird, lose your briefcase, nearly roll your car on wet roads, fill your tank with diesel fuel instead of petroleum and you haven't even gotten to work yet.

Bentley illustrates, in dignified hilarity, the many catastrophes that we encounter throughout our daily routines and then explains the science of why these things are so significant.

In sleeping through the alarm, we are taught that the brain goes through five stages of sleep and that these stages occur several times a night. We are taught that tires have evolved over a 100 years of trial and error, but start from an elastic polymer that we call rubber. The sacrifice of your shirt under that tree taught us that birds have no bladder and must poop more than ten times a day. When you downloaded that virus at the office, we learned that viruses are malignant programs that run in the background of good programs and can be activated just by clicking on a link.

Sound like a lot of common sense? Try to go a little further than that. Bentley breaks science down to the very molecules themselves. Some of the chapters are detailed and insightful, yet still easy to follow and understand. He uses simple words and sentences to explain the complexities of the human body.

Bentley is neither boring nor over the top. He offers a number of different tests that help us better understand the science of a certain action, such as holding a vibrating tooth-brush against a bicep while slowly removing your hand from your nose to understand the body's perception of touch.

According to Bentley, this test gives your brain the illusion that your nose is growing. The science behind running may be simple to us, but Bentley knows, and wants us to know, that standing is a feat of balance under gravity that our entire bodies work to perfect every time we move.

Bentley's science is easy to remember, small enough to fit in your purse and handy to quote from. If you find yourself in a know-it-all situation, pull out this book and astound your listeners, for it makes picnic and breakfast conversation informed and enjoyable.

"Why Sh*t Happens" is a phenomenal book that even the least scientifically-inclined person, myself included, has a place for it on a bookshelf at home or permanently stashed in a backpack, ready at all times. Bentley accomplishes a feat of scientific writing that can only be described as, "Thank you, sir."
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