Essays

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Human evolution
United by feelings

Universal emotions are the deep engine of human consciousness and the basis of our profound affinity with other animals

Stephen T Asma & Rami Gabriel

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History of science
No absolute time

Two centuries before Einstein, Hume recognised that universal time, independent of an observer’s viewpoint, doesn’t exist

Matias Slavov

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Stories and literature
Eros at play

Why the ancient erotic poems of Sappho and Wallada bint al-Mustakfi are far more stimulating than modern pornography

Jamie Mackay

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Gender and identity
Pink and blue tsunami

From tutus to trucks, parents are often struck by the gendered choices made by their children. Could these be ‘hardwired’?

Gina Rippon

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Thinkers and theories
The American Aristotle

Charles Sanders Peirce was a brilliant philosopher, mathematician and scientist. His polymathic work should be better known

Daniel Everett

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Neuroscience
Deep brain stimulation

DBS is an incredibly promising intervention for intractable neurological and psychiatric illness. What are the risks?

Jonathan Pugh

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Information and communication
Reddit, with wigs and ink

The first newspapers contained not high-minded journalism but hundreds of readers’ letters exchanging news with one another

Rachael Scarborough King

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Social psychology
Debunking debunked

Secular modernity requires the weeding out of all the baloney. Yet it’s not clear that we are any less credulous than before

Emily Ogden

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Economic history
The economics of bubbles

Market booms and busts might be irrational, but we can understand why they happen – and what to do to mitigate the damage

Brent Goldfarb & David A Kirsch

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The future
The end of us

Only since the Enlightenment have we been able to imagine humans going extinct. Is it a sign of our maturity as a species?

Thomas Moynihan

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Personality
Spot the psychopath

Psychopaths have a reputation for cunning and ruthlessness. But they are more like you and me than we care to admit

Heidi Maibom

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Biography and memoir
Mistress of all trades

A campaigning journalist and an early feminist, Harriet Martineau humanised economic theory through Dickensian storytelling

Valerie R Sanders

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Food and drink
Homo gluttonous

Humans have evolved with little resistance to abundant, easy food. Will we gorge ourselves and our planet to death?

Louise Fabiani

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Evolution
Life is tough

Human life is fragile but tardigrades and other extremophiles show that life itself is in little danger of disappearing

David P Barash

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Cities
The first global city

High in the Andes, Potosí supplied the world with silver, and in return reaped goods and peoples from Burma to Baghdad

Kris Lane

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Physics
The ABC of time

In our Universe, time seems to go from past to future, not in reverse. But what if time doesn’t even have a direction?

Matt Farr

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Philosophy of mind
The problem of mindfulness

Mindfulness promotes itself as value-neutral but it is loaded with (troubling) assumptions about the self and the cosmos

Sahanika Ratnayake

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Music
Contrapuntal consciousness

The music of Bach is full of suggestive structures of counterpoint and recursion (even if Hofstadter got it quite wrong)

Ilari Kaila

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Family life
Against ‘natural’ parenting

We’re opportunistic, inventive and flexible animals, and there is no ‘natural’ or ‘right’ way to bring up our children

Olga Mecking

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Ethics
Tainted by association

Would you carve a roast with a knife that had been used in a murder? Why not? And what does this tell us about ethics?

Paul Sagar

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Neuroscience
Human magnetism

For centuries, people have navigated the globe using instruments. But what if the Earth itself can help us feel our way?

Philip Jaekl

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Thinkers and theories
Marxism and Buddhism

Life is suffering, whether you sit under a Bodhi Tree or stand with the workers. But do the two schools agree on the remedy?

Adrian Kreutz

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Film and visual culture
Celebrity matters

As aspirational avatars, idolised icons and vessels of collective memory, celebrities permeate all aspects of modern life

Holly Grout

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Thinkers and theories
Impossible choices

Learning from his family, his animals and his work with tribal people, Gregory Bateson saw the creative potential of paradox

Tim Parks

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Medicine
In defence of antidepressants

The backlash against antidepressants results from a suspicion of medicine, and misunderstands the very nature of depression

Vasco M Barreto

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Religion
Zen terror

Master Nissho Inoue and his band of assassins teach some uncomfortable truths about terrorism, for those who will hear

Brian Victoria

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Mathematics
Social physics

Despite the vagaries of free will and circumstance, human behaviour in bulk is far more predictable than we like to imagine

Ian Stewart

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Anthropology
The emotional lives of others

On Nias island, the heart can be ‘squeezed’, ‘hot’, even ‘hairy’. What can anthropology say about unfamiliar emotional zones?

Andrew Beatty

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Neuroscience
Now you see it

Our brains predict the outcomes of our actions, shaping reality into what we expect. That’s why we see what we believe

Daniel Yon

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Thinkers and theories
The first socialist

Well before Bentham, Cesare Beccaria radically questioned the right of the state to imprison and execute its citizens

Lorenzo Zucca