Essays

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Politics & Government
How nations stay together

Nations come with a vast array of peoples, languages and histories, but the strong ones share three simple things

Andreas Wimmer

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Art
Is it really a Leonardo?

Forensics can't be sure. Provenance can be fudged. This is why the expert eye still rules the game of art authentication

Noah Charney

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Poverty & Development
What good is religion?

International development has focussed on material goods, but religion has an important role to play in human flourishing

Manini Sheker

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Astronomy
Our aquatic universe

We know that the universe is awash with watery moons and planets. How can we pinpoint which of them could support life?

Tim Folger

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History of Science
Behold: science as seeing

One astronomer’s dimpled pie is another’s cratered moon. How can our mind’s eye learn to see the new and unexpected?

Gene Tracy

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Mood & Emotion
The myth of ‘mad’ genius

The Romantic stereotype that creativity is enhanced by a mood disorder is dangerous, and dissolves under careful scrutiny

Christa L Taylor

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Old Age & Death
Die like a dog

Pet dogs often have a peaceful death that forestalls protracted suffering and pain. Why can’t we do the same for humans?

Joseph Pierre

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Cognition & Intelligence
Gesture talks

Across vast cultural divides people can understand one another through gesture. Does that make it a universal language?

Kensy Cooperrider

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Philosophy of Religion
What is nirvana?

Liberating oneself from rebirths might seem irrelevant to the non-believer. But nirvana is also a profound psychological goal

Robert Wright

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Cultures & Languages
Black Achilles

The Greeks didn’t have modern ideas of race. Did they see themselves as white, black – or as something else altogether?

Tim Whitmarsh

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Neuroscience
The cerebral mystique

Neuroscience gives us invaluable, wondrous knowledge about the brain – including an awareness of its limitations

Alan Jasanoff

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Beauty & Aesthetics
The puzzle of beauty

Rather than a golden ratio or a moral judgment, beauty is more like a radical jolt that awakens us to the world

Shahidha Bari

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History
The forgotten prophet

Radical Quaker Benjamin Lay was a pioneer of abolitionism, who lived what he preached. So why was he erased from history?

Marcus Rediker

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Anthropology
Envy’s hidden hand

Namibian hunter-gatherers deride those who stand out. What does this tell us about why, and how, we care about fairness?

James Suzman

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Knowledge
Out of the armchair

A growing number of philosophers are conducting experiments to test their arguments. Is this the future for philosophy?

Stephanie Wykstra

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Work
Utopia now

In 1890 William Morris imagined a world free from wage slavery. Thanks to technology, his vision is finally within reach

Vasilis Kostakis & Wolfgang Drechsler

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Stories & Literature
Communist robot dreams

Tech flourished in communist Bulgaria and so did a body of science fiction asking vital philosophical questions

Victor Petrov

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Values & Beliefs
Human nature matters

The only way to construct a robust philosophy for life is to have a clear and realistic picture of what makes humans tick

Skye C Cleary & Massimo Pigliucci

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Cities
A metropolitan world

Urbanisation might be the most profound change to human society in a century, more telling than colour, class or continent

Michael Goebel

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Mental Health
Temperamentally blessed

Just one in five people will be lucky enough to avoid mental health problems throughout their life. How do they do it?

Elizabeth Svoboda

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Religion
Not your Tibetan Buddhism

Behind the beatific image of Tibetan Buddhism lies a dark, complicated reality. But is it one the Western gaze wants to see?

Mark Hay

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Evolution
Evolving street-smarts

Living among humans favours fearless problem-solvers interested in new things. That's how city birds get smarter

Menno Schilthuizen

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Political Philosophy
Against marriage

Marriage is what happens when the state gets involved in endorsing and regulating personal relationships. It’s a bad idea

Clare Chambers

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Genetics
Haunted by history

War, famine and persecution inflict profound changes on bodies and brains. Could these changes persist over generations?

Pam Weintraub

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Medical Research
Viral rescue

When antibiotics fail, could phage therapy succeed? The germ’s-eye view of infection might open up revolutionary treatments

Emily Monosson

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Politics & Government
Everyday politics

Imperial Chinese conscription shows how ordinary people exercise influential political skills, even in a repressive state

Michael Szonyi

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History of Ideas
Philosophy’s first steps

Science asks and answers its big questions, so why is philosophy taking its time? Because it’s only just getting started

J L Schellenberg

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Knowledge
Escape the echo chamber

First you don’t hear other views. Then you can’t trust them. Your personal information network entraps you just like a cult

C Thi Nguyen

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History of Science
What is good science?

Demanding that a theory is falsifiable or observable, without any subtlety, will hold science back. We need madcap ideas

Adam Becker

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History
Phantasmic Phoenicia

The British, Irish and Lebanese have all claimed descent from the ancient Phoenicians. But ancient Phoenicia never existed

Josephine Quinn