Menu
Donate
SIGN IN

Ed Lake

Editorial Director, Profile Books

Ed Lake is an editorial director at Profile Books and former deputy editor of Aeon. He spent five years at The Daily Telegraph before moving to the Middle East to work on The National, where he was deputy editor on the Review section. He is interested in the philosophy of science, the history of political thought, and novels in which a dreamer wakes into a world transformed. He lives in north London.

Written by Ed Lake

Edited by Ed Lake

It’s not easy being green | Aeon
Save

essay

Ecology and environmental sciences

It’s not easy being green

If rational persuasion fails to make people behave environmentally, could rituals and a dash of guilt do a better job?

Stephen Cave & Sarah Darwin

If babies were randomly allocated to families would racism end? | Aeon
Save

idea

Family life

If babies were randomly allocated to families would racism end?

Howard Rachlin & Marvin Frankel

Naughty words | Aeon
Save

essay

Language and linguistics

Naughty words

What makes swear words so offensive? It’s not their meaning or even their sound. Is language itself a red herring here?

Rebecca Roache

Fantasy North | Aeon
Save

essay

Film and visual culture

Fantasy North

The top of the globe has always meant fantasy, myth, adventure. What explains the icy northern grip on our imagination?

E R Truitt

Doing more with less: the economic lesson of Peak Paper | Aeon
Save

idea

Information and communication

Doing more with less: the economic lesson of Peak Paper

John Quiggin

High five! | Aeon
Save

essay

Ethics

High five!

Why, in the entire history of human life, did awesomeness become the great virtue of our age (and suckiness its vice)?

Nick Riggle

Dispatches from the ruins | Aeon
Save

essay

Film and visual culture

Dispatches from the ruins

The human world has become bafflingly complex and strangely fragile making apocalypse the easiest thing to imagine

Frank Bures

What every dictator knows: young men are natural fanatics | Aeon
Save

idea

Childhood and adolescence

What every dictator knows: young men are natural fanatics

Joe Herbert

It’s not presidents but pressure groups who lead US politics | Aeon
Save

idea

Political philosophy

It’s not presidents but pressure groups who lead US politics

Erik Loomis

Biohackers should produce a microbial uberfood for the world | Aeon
Save

idea

Biotechnology

Biohackers should produce a microbial uberfood for the world

Dawn Field

Ask the aged | Aeon
Save

essay

Ageing and death

Ask the aged

Who better to answer questions about the purpose of life than someone who has been living theirs for a long time?

Karl Pillemer

The hunger mood | Aeon
Save

essay

Mood and emotion

The hunger mood

Hunger isn’t in your stomach or your blood-sugar levels. It’s in your mind – and that’s where we need to shape up

Michael Graziano



Recent Comments

Your point is?

Ed Lake

For no very good reason I was recently reading Xenophon’s biography of Cyrus the Great. Cyrus’s achievements are as spectacular as anyone who ever lived. He pieced together the first truly vast empire in world history, pursuing his military and political goals with what, in Xenophon’s telling, appears to be superhuman focus and organisation. He was also, by the standards of ancient despots, really really nice (cut to Astyages singing “Losing My Edge”). What about the Ozymandias effect? I think Cyrus escapes that sheerly by the scale of his deeds. It would take a lot of desert wind to wear his monuments down to trunkless legs. For as long as some sort of human civilisation sticks around, C...

READ MORE→ See comment

In space, there really might be no place like home

Ed Lake

For all the talk of “endless forms most beautiful”, life on Earth seems to reuse a lot of its ideas. There are only so many ways to make a wing or to detect gases or photons or whatever. The essential vital processes are the same across the evolutionary map (survive, get energy, reproduce) and though each of those can be accomplished in a variety of ways depending on your starting point, most of the basic options could be adequately presented in a series of multiple-choice menus:

Are you under the sea? Y/N

If Y, are you sessile or mobile?

If mobile, are you able to control where you go? Y/N

If Y, you will probably need something to flap and wriggle. Have you co...

READ MORE→ See comment

Night school

Ed Lake

Our educational systems are too old, too complicated, too enmeshed in interests and histories and multiple competing agendas to admit of a single “intentional” purpose. The task of understanding them is further complicated by the profusion of theories about the nature of their importance, often produced from within the citadel, which are probably best understood as trade lobbying. So I won’t talk about anything as nebulous as “growth”, “development” (“as a person”!), the cultivation of vital skills for a global economy &c &c, all of which are commonly part of the prospectus. My goal here is to look at the phenomenon from something like a READ MORE→ See comment

Murder she wrought

Ed Lake

Say that Steven Pinker is correct, and human violence is in long-term decline. How far might it fall? Could it disappear completely?

I’m going to put what I guess might, in the jargon of international relations theory, qualify as a “realist” view, although I intend these remarks to apply to violence at every scale, not just interstate conflict. I should also make it clear that I mean to talk only about actual physical attacks. Rhetorical violence, structural violence and the like are not what I have in mind. If there isn’t a deliberate bodily injury, protot...

READ MORE→ See comment

Romantic regimes

Ed Lake

Humanity doesn’t come in degrees. Membership of the human species is sufficient to qualify for 100-percent humanity. And within that large family, there are lots of different ways to be, by nature or nurture, choice or circumstance. We don’t all share the same opportunities or tastes. We don’t even share the same emotional capacities. Different 100-percent humans will experience romantic love (or its absence) in different ways. It’s true that lots of people regard romatic love as being among the most important things in life, but this is frankly a matter of taste. Of course, many more things are questions of taste than we commonly acknowledge.

There remains, however, the problem of...

READ MORE→ See comment

Korean Thanksgiving

Ed Lake

Interesting question! At the legal level, in the West, a child usually doesn’t have any particular obligations to a parent, although the parental care that the child receives may be implicitly contingent on some basic level of respect or obedience. And it is of course possible to inherit certain financial debts, which might be viewed as an obligation to one’s parents. But for the most part the law is silent - which means we are in the mistier realm of ethics. The silence of the law perhaps implies the difficulty of the question. The parent-child relationship certainly feels rather freighted with obligation, on both sides. What more momentous responsibility can there be than the care of a ...

READ MORE→ See comment

Lock up your wives!

Ed Lake

Presented with a question like this, it’s easy to yield to the seduction of Whig history and predict that the world will have got closer to the *correct* way of understanding sex and gender – ie, what I already think. The related but opposite temptation, affecting those with a tragic picture of sexual relations, is to say that all the fundamental problems will remain. I feel each of those temptations at different times, but today I shall do my best to give into both at once. The heart of the matter is, of course, the nature/nurture debate. Male and female humans differ from one another in certain systematic ways (I fear that the wordcount will prevent me from discussing people who are nei...

READ MORE→ See comment

Money talks

Ed Lake

Money is the name for the counters in a game that we all have to play. The game is very serious, because it is how we organise the production and consumption of goods, some of which we need in order to live. The rules of the game have a vaguely inevitable appearance, but this owes largely to their familiarity.

It’s fun to imagine new rules that might change the quality of play. What if the counters were designed to disappear over time, so that it was impossible to stockpile them? What if you introduced different kinds of counters for different kinds of goods? From time to time people do try to introduce alternative forms of money with these and other interesting properties. It’s am...

READ MORE→ See comment

I am not a story

Ed Lake

Whenever I want to confront the inadequacy of narrative to capture the multifariousness of even my own limited understanding of life, I try to write a diary entry. I don’t know how any honest person can do it. It’s like using a coat hanger as a sieve. But I do think stories can be quite a good medium for simple causal generalisations. They’re like stylised instruction manuals for situations, aren’t they? Pull Tab A. Flip ignition switch. Stand back. To the extent that the generalisation is reliable and the story presents it clearly, it might indeed facilitate understanding of (or at least successful engagement with) the world. In the main, though, I think story is probably more like Pinke...

READ MORE→ See comment

The ministry of truth

Ed Lake

As a habitual abuser of weaselly qualifiers of the sort that Professor Millgram recommends, I am disposed to find the view laid out here quite sympathetic. But it’s also interesting (to me) how dependent we find as great a depictor of human thought as the later Henry James to be on a wide range of havering qualifications. Here’s the first paragraph of The Ambassadors, with moments of what I think can properly be called “doublethink” in bold:

Strether’s first question, when he reached the hotel, was about his friend; yet on his learning that Waymarsh was apparently not to arrive till evening he was not wholly disconcerted. A tel...

READ MORE→ See comment

The long revolution

Ed Lake

It seems indisputable that democracies would make better decisions if the electorate was “better” in some global sense (better informed? Better calibrated?). One is reminded of Edward O Wilson’s joke about communism: “Nice theory; wrong species.” Of course a democracy of cognitive superbeings would outperform a democracy of mere humans. But this is not the interesting thing about democracy: its great advantage is not that it reliably identifies the best solutions to the problems it faces, but that it tends to avoid calamities – famines and revolutions and the like. So rather than lamenting the fallibility of electorates, one might ask how much weaker they could become without eroding the ...

READ MORE→ See comment

Why pray?

Ed Lake

Are we counting meditation as prayer? I do that, or try to, and my motives are pretty purely instrumental: I want to calm down a bit and get a grip on myself. I can imagine that my “practice”, if I might so dignify it, would be more effective if it wasn’t pursued in such a mercenary spirit: I wouldn’t be so distracted by questions about whether it was working. But even so, it does seem to do more or less what was advertised. On days when I meditate, I think I grind my teeth less.

→ See comment