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Sally Davies

Senior Editor, Aeon+Psyche

Sally is a writer and editor with interests spanning science, philosophy, feminism and the arts. She was digital editor of FT Weekend and the technology and innovation correspondent for the Financial Times. Sally founded the Libreria bookshop in east London as its director, and was on the original editorial team of Nautilus Magazine. She can be found on Twitter @daviesally.

Written by Sally Davies

Edited by Sally Davies

Why simplicity works | Aeon
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Physics

Why simplicity works

Does the existence of a multiverse hold the key for why nature’s laws seem so simple?

Johnjoe McFadden

Asylum | Aeon
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Human rights and justice

Asylum

Patients and psychiatrists at Saint-Alban in France fought against fascism side by side. What can we learn from them?

Ben Platts-Mills

Living orbs of light | Aeon
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Biology

Living orbs of light

Solving the mystery of how and why fireflies flash in time can illuminate the physics of complex systems

Orit Peleg

Why do we sleep? | Aeon
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Sleep and dreams

Why do we sleep?

Adults sleep less than babies. Sperm whales sleep less again. A new mathematical theory unlocks the mysteries of slumber

Van Savage & Geoffrey West

The mind does not exist | Aeon
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Philosophy of mind

The mind does not exist

The terms ‘mind’ and ‘mental’ are messy, harmful and distracting. We should get rid of them

Joe Gough

Art from a mind at sea | Aeon
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Art

Art from a mind at sea

Louise’s Parkinsonism didn’t tamp her artistic drive, but exposed the link between perception, thought and creativity

Michael Stanley

After neurodiversity | Aeon
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Neurodiversity

After neurodiversity

We live in a world that must move beyond identity politics and embrace new models of the mind. Enter psydiversity

Bonnie Evans

Typos, tricks and misprints | Aeon
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Language and linguistics

Typos, tricks and misprints

Why is English spelling so weird and unpredictable? Don’t blame the mix of languages; look to quirks of timing and technology

Arika Okrent

Stock-picking for humanity | Aeon
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Economics

Stock-picking for humanity

Everyone on the planet has a stake in making investment more ethical. What’s new is that they have the power to do so too

Ellen Quigley

Contact | Aeon
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Astronomy

Contact

An alien-made artefact or just interstellar debris? What ʻOumuamua says about how science works when data is scarce

Matthew Bothwell

The unified Universe | Aeon
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Physics

The unified Universe

Physics displays an uncanny alignment at its very deepest levels. Is a grand theory of everything finally within reach?

James Wells

The warped self | Aeon
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Neuroscience

The warped self

Social media makes us feel terrible about who we really are. Neuroscience explains why – and empowers us to fight back

Mark Miller & Ben White



Recent Comments

Was the real Socrates more worldly and amorous than we knew?

Sally Davies

What an intriguing excavations of several ‘Socrateses’ we never knew. For one thing, I didn’t realise that he was connected with so many women who potentially influenced his philosophy. I also found myself wondering how contemporary philosophers from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries had interpreted Socrates’ character as a means to understand his thought – and to what extent each generation ‘gets the Socrates it deserves’.

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Sex talks

Sally Davies

I enjoyed the author’s invitation (ahem) to explore what it would mean to approach the initiation of a sexual encounter through the lens of invitations and gift-giving. As well as capturing more of the nuances of what it means to have good and satisfying sex, it also appears to open up fresh ways of understanding how sex can go wrong. After all, how many of us have received an unwanted present through a grimace we hope resembles appreciation? How many times have we felt compelled to accept an invitation out of politeness or decorum? It couldn’t be said we’re not agreeing to these activities. But the author’s framing does perhaps explain why something should trouble us about them all the s...

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Horace’s lyrics of friendship offer hope to our troubled world

Sally Davies

Such resonant thoughts for these times. Love my family as I do, social distancing has taught me that I’m able to love my intimates best when we’re properly embedded in a wider web of friends and relationships. The fact our friends are not responsible for our weightiest worries and problems, in the way we often expect our families to be, allows them to serve as scaffolds for play and exploration.

At the same time, I like the suggestion at the end of this piece that literature itself is a bond akin to friendship - a way of connecting to another mind across the ages, one we are able to see as imperfect and flawed, perhaps, but worthy of affection nonetheless.

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Stupefied

Sally Davies

I think the problem is partly a Kantian one. We want to be treated as, and treat others, as ends in ourselves, rather than as mere means. We’re all beautiful snowflakes, right? But the challenge in organisations is that you’re working towards the achievement of a series of objectives set in the first instance by the owners of the business, and more proximately, by the various incentives of managers within the hierarchy of operatives that keep the whole thing running. One has to instrumentalise people in order to get things done, and this is inherently dehumanising. It’s much easier to administer humans as tools if you can convince them, by way of company culture, to willingly dial down th...

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Getting things moving

Sally Davies

When I’m feeling down about my (in)ability to get stuff done to a standard I’m happy with, a friend likes to warn me of the perils of “premature evaluation”. He’s a fan of the acronym “IDEA” to describe the sequential process of making: Ideas, Design, Evaluation and Action. I’m naturally sceptical of anything that promises to solve knotty problems in a series of programmatic steps, but I think he might be on to something. The thinking is that people are usually proficient in a couple of these areas, but rarely talented at all four. So you might be a genius at coming up with business concepts for drone-delivered ice cream or on-demand pet-grooming (the “Idea”), but rubbish at actually maki...

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Death is no leveller if some live much longer than others

Sally Davies

I’m reminded of one of the fascinating insights that Peter Godfrey-Smith offered in his book about octopus intelligence, Other Minds (2016). He notes that an animal’s natural lifespan is usually related to the likelihood of dying by some other means – being eaten, not being able to find enough food, etc. There are two reasons for this. One, if chances are high that you’re going to die by time X anyway, there’s little evolutionary advantage in devloping adaptations that will allow you to persist beyond that point; they might actually be costly in terms of resources and harm your prospects in the life you do have left. And secondly, certain features or processes in your bo...

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Bookish fools

Sally Davies

Surely, yes, book ownership is a mark of status, only enhanced by the fact many of us feel like flimsy rubber dinghies tossed around in a sea of digital “content”. As this piece suggests, perhaps it was ever thus. Still, I’m reminded of a line from this New York Times op-ed, critical of the rise of longform journalism: “When you fetishize — as opposed to value — something, you wind up celebrating the idea of the thing rather than the thing itself.” The greatest risk isn’t that books become a status symbol, but that they become only a status sy...

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Creating some slack

Sally Davies

What a wonderful piece! I do not naturally take to the idea of slack, and have had to learn very painfully (with the patient help of my partner) to create what he calls ‘redundancy’ in our shared life – rather than ram every spare moment full of outings, adventures, nights at the theatre etc. It’s interesting to reflect, too, on how things we think create tension can, after a time, actually end up generating slack – that’s certainly been the case with our cat, who lends such a sense of wellbeing and relaxation to the house, she’s worth the minor hassle of needing to rehome for a while when we go away. I’m hoping kids might be like that, in the long term…

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Being ill, living well

Sally Davies

A good friend of mine caught dengue fever a couple of years ago. She recounted being unable to sleep without clutching frozen bottles of spirits, because the palms of her hands and the soles of her feet burned so painfully at night. After her initial recovery, she suffered from a period of post-viral fatigue, which made it difficult for her to work for more than a couple of hours a day. She was running her own business at that stage, and has always been a remarkably vibrant and capable person, generous with her time and her abilities. But says now that she’s genuinely grateful for the experience, because it taught her to safeguard energies, forced her to prioritise what was really importa...

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The missing fossils matter as much as the ones we have found

Sally Davies

I’m reminded here of Bertrand Russell’s famous teapot: how can we know there’s not a minuscule china teapot, invisible to the naked eye and any microscope or telescope devisable by man, orbiting the sun between Earth and Mars? The point is that when you’re making a claim that can’t be disproved using the scientific method, the burden lies on the person making the assertion – which, in effect, means that a lack of evidence points to evidence of a lack.

By contrast, when a defendant chooses not to testify in court, the jury is usually instructed not to draw any adverse inferences from the fact a person won’t speak in their own defence. A lack of willingness to justify one’s actions, ...

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The struggle of women in science is written in the stars

Sally Davies

Battles over names often boil down to a dispute about the meaning and purpose of symbols. Are the figureheads a society enshrines – in its statuary, on the facades of its college campuses, in the names it gives to plants and stars – primarily a reflection of its history and traditions, however chequered they may be? Or should they evolve to capture the worldview of the present-day citizenry and the values to which it aspires?

When it comes to scientific nomenclature, supporting women and other under-represented groups in science to flourish in their fields, and so be in a position to claim inventions and discoveries, would be a good start. Astronomy is not the only field with a gen...

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