Essays

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Global history
Re-made in China

From Marxism to hip hop, China’s appropriations from the West show that globalisation makes the world bumpy, not flat

Amy Hawkins & Jeffrey Wasserstrom

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History of ideas
Against disenchantment

The move away from myth and toward reason is an ancient human impulse. But must enchantment be the enemy of enlightenment?

Jason Josephson Storm

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Biology
Life ≠ alive

A cat is alive, a sofa is not: that much we know. But a sofa is also part of life. Information theory tells us why

Michael Lachmann & Sara Walker

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Cosmology
The cosmic now

Are you here now? Impossible to say. The idea that any group of events can truly happen at once is just an illusion

Anthony Aguirre

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Pleasure and pain
Catching desires

That drink, that cigarette, that dance: wanting things is highly contagious. Can you be immunised against the infection?

Bence Nanay

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Thinkers and theories
The ironic feudalist

Kure Tomofusa’s hatred of democracy, human rights and liberalism has found an echo in the West. But has he been joking all along?

Jeremy Woolsey

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Neuroscience
The interoceptive turn

The science of how we sense ourselves from within, including our bodily states, is creating a radical picture of selfhood

Noga Arikha

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Thinkers and theories
The spirit of history

Hegel’s search for the universal patterns of history revealed a paradox: freedom is coming into being, but is never guaranteed

Terry Pinkard

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Film and visual culture
Love isn’t what it was

In a strangely unremarked-upon twist, Disney films have taken to subverting romance and rethinking the happy-ever-afters

Sophus Helle

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Nations and empires
Scots running amok

As loan sharks, drug smugglers, generals and plant hunters, Scots played a central role in expanding the British Empire

Jessica Hanser

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Animals and humans
For the hate of dogs

We treat pet dogs with such sentimentality while their wild, endangered relatives are feared and persecuted. Why?

Sy Montgomery

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Beauty and aesthetics
More than skin deep

Beauty is a deeply moral matter that makes kindness, empathy and honesty attractive, while vice warps into ugliness

Panos Paris

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Astronomy
Monsters in the dark

The Universe’s biggest galaxies could hold the key to the birth of the cosmos. Why are these behemoths so hard to find?

Matthew Bothwell

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Animals and humans
American bull

The story of American beef is like the story of the nation as a whole: a mashup of history and myth, bloody and contested

Joshua Specht

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Knowledge
Knowledge is crude

Far from being a touchstone of the truth, knowledge is a stone-age concept that harms our dealings with the modern world

David Papineau

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Cognition and intelligence
Women’s minds matter

Feminists never bought the idea of the computational mind set free from its body. Cognitive science is finally catching up

Sally Davies

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Nations and empires
Asia had the upper hand

For centuries, Europeans in Asia were guests, trading partners and subordinates. Only much later did Empire seem imaginable

Chris Nierstrasz

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Medicine
We need worms

You might think they are disgusting. But our war against intestinal worms has damaged our immune systems and mental health

William Parker

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History
Who really owns the past?

Cultural heritage is an ideal imposed from above. It’s time to listen to what communities value about their own histories

Michael Press

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History of science
Curving the Universe

A century ago, a team of scientists chased the arc of starlight across a total eclipse to prove Einstein right on relativity

Matthew Stanley

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Animals and humans
Green-eyed pets

Commonsense tells us that both dogs and cats experience jealousy. Are we being anthropomorphic or can we know for sure?

Paul Thagard

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Mental health
The red thread of obsession

Evolved human capacities for vigilance and worry are both exacerbated and rewarded by the intense pressure of modern life

Elizabeth Svoboda

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History
Muslims of early America

Muslims came to America more than a century before Protestants, and in great numbers. How was their history forgotten?

Sam Haselby

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Thinkers and theories
Susan Sontag was a monster

She took things too seriously. She was difficult and unyielding. That’s why Susan Sontag’s work matters so much even now

Lauren Elkin

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Earth science and climate
Flash!

It ignited life on Earth, propelled evolution, and now signals climate change. Yet what sparks lightning remains a mystery

Sidney Perkowitz

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Neuroscience
Brain, heal thyself

Neurofeedback can put thoughts in your head and help you conquer phobias – even when you’re unaware of what it’s doing

Sara Kimmich

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History of science
Natural philosophy redux

The great split between science and philosophy must be repaired. Only then can we answer the urgent, fundamental problems

Nicholas Maxwell

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Family life
When breast isn’t best

New parents face intense moral pressure from every quarter to breastfeed their babies. But sometimes bottle is better

Laura Frances Callahan

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Animals and humans
Eating someone

Farmed animals have personalities, smarts, even a sense of agency. Why then do we saddle them with lives of utter despair?

Lori Marino

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History of ideas
A revolution in time

Once local and irregular, time-keeping became universal and linear in 311 BCE. History would never be the same again

Paul J Kosmin