An unknown male mummy found along with the mother and wife of Tutankhamun. Photo by Kenneth Garrett/National Geographic

Essay/
Archaeology
Mummies among us

Before death became a source of disgust and denial, Europeans cheerfully painted with – and ingested – human remains

Michael Press

Photo by Richard Kalvar/Magnum Photos

Essay/
Language and linguistics
The space between our heads

Brain-to-brain interfaces promise to bypass language. But do we really want access to one another’s unmediated thoughts?

Mark Dingemanse

Viewed from the International Space Station, stars glitter in the night sky above the Earth’s atmospheric glow. Photo courtesy Nasa

Essay/
Cosmology
Big space

Our planet is a tiny porthole, looking over a cosmic sea. Can we learn what lies beyond our own horizons of perception?

Katie Mack

Map of the Port of Alexandria, Egypt, from Kitab-ı Bahriye (Book of Navigation) by Piri Reis, first published 1521, map taken from the revised 17th-century edition. Courtesy The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Essay/
Cities
The city is a lie

From Ancient Egypt’s deltas to Edinburgh’s crags and peaks, the city pushes back against the dream of human separateness

Sam Grinsell

Malibu, California, 1957. Photo by Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos

Essay/
Gender and identity
Sexual dinosaurs

The charge of ‘feminist bias’ is used to besmirch anyone who questions sexist assumptions at work in neuroscience

Cordelia Fine

Laugharne, Wales, 1959. Photo by Philip Jones Griffiths/Magnum

Essay/
Language and linguistics
Hand to mouth

If language began with gestures around a campfire and secret signals on hunts, why did speech come to dominate communication?

Kensy Cooperrider

Guilin, China. 1979. Photo by Hiroji Kubota/Magnum

Essay/
Economic history
Counting China

By rejecting sampling in favour of exhaustive enumeration, communist China’s dream of total information became a nightmare

Arunabh Ghosh

The Blue Boat (1892) by Winslow Homer. Courtesy the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Essay/
Neuroscience
Nostalgia reimagined

Neuroscience is finding what propaganda has long known: nostalgia doesn’t need real memories – an imagined past works too

Felipe De Brigard

Photo by George Georgiou / Panos Pictures

Essay/
Illness and disease
On Matthew’s mind

An operation to remove a brain cyst changed Matthew’s identity. Who will he become after the next round of surgery?

Ben Platts-Mills

Detail from Sunset (Zarathustra), 1917 by Christian Rohlfs. Landesmuseum Oldenburg, Germany. Photo by AKG

Essay/
Stories and literature
The inward gaze

In Hermann Hesse’s novels, as in his life, self-discovery walked a tightrope between deep insights and profound solipsism

M M Owen

Children playing in the remains of King Henry’s Sans-Souci Palace in Milot, Haiti, 8 September 2017. Photo by Andres Martinez Casares/Reuters

Essay/
Nations and empires
The king of Haiti’s dream

How a utopian vision of Black freedom and self-government was undone in a world still in thrall to slavery and racism

Marlene L Daut

Scientists near the Daneborg research station in Greenland, July/August 2014. Photo by Jean Gaumy/Magnum

Essay/
Philosophy of science
The necessity of awe

In awe we hold fast to nature’s strangeness and open up to the unknown. No wonder it’s central to the scientific imagination

Helen De Cruz

An Indian worker shows a European man a sample of opium taken from one of the large clay pots in the foreground. Photo by Bourne and Shepherd/British Library

Essay/
Global history
From vice to crime

European empires were addicted to opium smoking. Then their own agents launched a moral crusade to prohibit it

Diana S Kim

A Catholic nun and a young Hispanic immigrant in Central Park, New York, 1976. Photo by Richard Kalvar/Magnum

Essay/
Thinkers and theories
Laughter is vital

For philosopher Henri Bergson, laughter solves a serious human conundrum: how to keep our minds and social lives elastic

Emily Herring

The cleaner wrasse (pictured here accompanying the larger black-and-white snapper) can seemingly recognise itself in a mirror. Photo by Ullstein Bild/Getty

Essay/
Biology
The face of the fish

They’re not cuddly, they don’t behave at all like us – yet they are sentient. Why fish belong in the moral community

Michael Woodruff

A group gather to watch another victim taken to a hospital during the 1956 polio epidemic in Chicago, Illinois. Photo by Francis Miller/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty

Essay/
Illness and disease
Stealth infections

From the Black Death to polio, the most dangerous pathogens have moved silently, transmitted by apparently healthy people

Wendy Orent

Joan Miller in labour. Chicago, 19 September 1946. Photo by Wayne Miller/Magnum

Essay/
Pleasure and pain
The hysteria accusation

Women’s pain is often medically overlooked and undertreated. But the answer is not as simple as ‘believing all women’

Elizabeth Barnes

A section of the Andromeda galaxy M31, from the largest and most detailed image ever taken with the Hubble telescope. The full image shows more than 100 million stars stretching across more than 40,000 light years. Photo courtesy NASA, ESA, J Dalcanton, B F Williams, L C Johnson (University of Washington), the PHAT team and R Gendler

Essay/
Astronomy
Does dark matter exist?

Dark matter is the most ubiquitous thing physicists have never found: it’s time to consider alternative explanations

Ramin Skibba

Two girls with their Cabbage Patch dolls. New York City, 1986. Photo by Leonard Freed/Magnum

Essay/
Mood and emotion
The bittersweet madeleine

It is a guilty pleasure and undergirds nationalist bombast, yet nostalgia for the past can help propel us into the future

Elizabeth Svoboda

A view of Singapore’s central business district from a hotel along Beach Road. Much of Singapore’s recent development has been built upon land reclaimed from the sea. Photo by Sim Chi Yin/Magnum Photos

Essay/
Politics and government
The ungoverned globe

The end of the liberal order would unleash chaos; its continuance means unconstrained economic suffering. What to do?

Benjamin Studebaker

Carl Schmitt addresses the German Industry and Trade Day at the Kroll Opera House, Berlin, 8 April 1930. Photo by Ullstein Bild/Getty

Essay/
Political philosophy
Lawyer for the strongman

Demagogues do not rise on popular feeling alone but on the constitutional ideas of Weimar and Nazi legal theorist Carl Schmitt

David Dyzenhaus

Photo by Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos

Essay/
Self-improvement
Beware of lateral thinking

De Bono’s popular theory is textbook pseudoscience: unsound, untested and derivative of real (unacknowledged) research

Antonio Melechi

On a mountain road from Koya to Ryujin, Japan. 1998. Photo by Peter Marlow/Magnum

Essay/
Physics
From chaos to free will

A crude understanding of physics sees determinism at work in the Universe. Luckily, molecular uncertainty ensures this isn’t so

George Ellis

Photo by Mayr/Flickr

Essay/
Consciousness and altered states
Consciousness regained

After years of deep therapeutic pessimism, emerging therapies offer hope for patients trapped between coma and wakefulness

Aurore Thibaut

Aerial view of the Apollo 9 space vehicle on the way from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Pad A, Launch Complex 39, Kennedy Space Center. 3 January 1969. By 1966, NASA directly employed a staff of 36,000, with another 400,000 people working for 20,000 contractors and 200 universities in 80 countries. Photo courtesy NASA

Essay/
The future
Where did the grandeur go?

Superlative things were done in the past century by marshalling thousands of people in the service of a vision of the future

Martin Parker

Photo by Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Essay/
Medicine
The medicalised life

Why do so many see vaccines and other medical interventions as tools of social control rather than boons to health?

Bernice L Hausman

From Le Petit Journal, 18 February 1912. Photo by Getty

Essay/
Ethics
The trolley problem problem

Are thoughts experiments experiments at all? Or something else? And do they help us think clearly about ethics or not?

James Wilson

The Inquisition Scene (1808-1812), by Francisco Goya. Courtesy the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, Madrid

Essay/
Virtues and vices
Vice dressed as virtue

Cruelty and morality seem like polar opposites – until they join forces. Beware those who persecute in the name of principle

Paul Russell

‘Culling Tea’ (c1869), attributed to Lai Fong (or Afong, Chinese, 1839-90). Courtesy The Met Museum, New York

Essay/
Economic history
Tea and capitalism

The China tea trade was a paradox: a global, intensified industry without the usual spectacle of factories and technology

Andrew Liu

Photo courtesy Wellcome Images

Essay/
Neuroscience
Frames of consciousness

Can electrical impulses in the brain explain the stuff that dreams are made on? What a new consciousness-detector reveals

Joel Frohlich