Once upon a time, many, many years in the past, muddling around in mild conspiracies theories were sort of rather fun? From cryptids like Bigfoot, oddball happenings with aliens and Timecube, there was a strange attraction to other people’s particular niche brands of madness.
As a kid, or even a young teen, I found this kind of thing pretty harmless. But sadly, in more recent years conspiracies have gotten far less fun; as conspiracy went mainstream it changed from cute coincidences and goofy silliness to some real nastiness that has some considerable influence*. There is still part of me though that misses the goofy silliness of the 90’s where you could read up on all these quirky phenomena and strange facts with a mostly doubtful eye—but still have fun playing mental connect-the-dots all the same. And you never knew: often you would run into some weird facts that were actually true! Just memorable and odd for the sake of being memorable and odd.
Dan Schreiber is certainly a fan of the goofy silliness of conspiracies and oddball phenomena. As the co-host of the podcast No Such Thing as a Fish and contributor to The Cryptic Factor it is no surprise to find that he is a proverbial gold mine of strange facts and peculiar theories. And in The Theory of Everything Else: A Voyage Into the World of the Weird, Schreiber takes an eccentric blend of strange stories and coincidences and recreates the same fun mental connect-the-dots that I remember from when I was younger—and it is so enjoyable!
I knew Schreiber was approaching the world-of-the-weird with the right attitude when I read the following in the introduction: “All the series in this book want you to believe in them. Don’t even think of it. Read up on them, yes; discuss them with your friends, definitely; sit back and let the ideas alter you universe for just a few seconds, absolutely; but for God sake don’t believe in a single one of them”
This man. This man Gets It. He gets what made this kind of madness fun. He understands why some of us go down these weird little rabbit holes, and get attracted to the odd bit of ‘batshit.’ We want to explore the ideas, sure; lets let them wash over us a little, even. But we don’t go jumping in without thinking. Instead, we should persist and try and get to the bottom of the manner. And enjoy the journey as much as the conclusion.
With the right mindset, reading The Theory of Everything Else is really rewarding. You get to explore the mind of neuroscientist John Lilly, who only wished “to teach dolphins to speak the English language so perfectly that they would be given a chair at the United Nations to speak on behalf of all marine mammals.” What about the strange 1889 novel that seems to describe Donald Trump? And then there’s the theory that it wasn’t the iceberg that put an end to the Titanic—but rather all those damned time travellers.
And then there’s the story of Nobel Laureate Kary Mullis —a fine example of a man who was both brilliant and batshit. This is one that I’ve trotted out at dinner parties myself. Mullis was rewarded the Nobel Prize for his invention of PCR, which revolutionised the study of DNA. You wouldn’t have your COVID tests without him. He also dabbled in hallucinogens and got into some very questionable behaviour—including AIDs denialism, (attempting to) clone celebrities, and being too unhinged to be part of OJ Simpson’s defence team.
But the biggest mystery of his life? The origins of the glow in the dark raccoon who tried to chat to him on a trip to the outhouse in the 80’s.
Was it aliens? He liked to think it was aliens.
Overall, The Theory of Everything Else is a very enjoyable throwback to an age where indulging in the odd oddity and silly speculation was still rather fun. It’s also excellent as an audiobook, as Schreiber narrates it himself. There is plenty of ammunition here for lively conversations that probably make your next dinner party or pub get together more lively and enjoyable.
Without stepping on the toes of a cryptic ‘cooker.’ Probably.
For CBR15Bingo, this is Nostalgia. For my pre-teen years.