The Language Hoax: Why the World Looks the Same in Any Language, John H. McWhorter
Chinese has an extraordinary number of verbs meaning “carry.” If I carry something on a hanging arm, like a briefcase, the verb is ti; on an outstretched palm, tuo; using both palms, peng; gripped between upper arm and body, xie; in my hand, like a stick,wo; embraced, like a baby, bao; on my back, bei;... Read More
Pieces of Light: How the New Science of Memory Illuminates the Stories We Tell About Our Pasts, by...
How far back is your earliest memory? What age? In a recent Canadian study cited by Charles Fernyhough, the average was four and a quarter years. “Very few memories dated from before the age of about two and a half.” I’m out in the early tail of that distribution. My family moved from cramped rented... Read More
Writing The Principles of Mathematics in the spring of 1901, Bertrand Russell got stuck on a simple problem in the theory of classes (we would nowadays say "sets"): "Whether the class of all classes is or is not a member of itself." In his autobiography Russell recalled: "It seemed unworthy of a grown man to... Read More
The Perfect Theory: A Century of Geniuses and the Battle over General Relativity, by Pedro G. Ferreira
On November 25, 1915, Einstein presented his new equations to the Prussian Academy of Sciences in a short three-page paper,” this author tells us. Thus was the General Theory of Relativity born, after of course some years of gestation inEinstein’s remarkable brain. With the centenary of that event almost upon us, a historical survey is... Read More
What Should We Be Worried About? Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up at Night, Edited by John Brockman
Fifty-five years ago British novelist, mandarin, and ex-scientist C.P. Snow gave a lecture at Cambridge university titled "The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution." Snow deplored the mutual aloofness that, he said, existed between scientists and those educated in the humanities. The lecture set off a major public debate, and the phrase "two cultures" was... Read More
Hard Road Home, by Ye Fu
Taking humanity at large, perhaps the greatest service any person of our time could perform for future generations would be to bring rational, consensual government to China. That such a populous nation, with such high general levels of industriousness and intelligence, and with such a glittering cultural legacy, should be ruled by a clique of... Read More
The Myth of the Spoiled Child: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom About Children and Parenting, by...
Child-raising is something everyone can have an opinion about. We were all children once. We interacted with other children—siblings, classmates. If we are middle-aged, we have probably raised children of our own. Many of us have worked as teachers, struggling to engage with half-formed juvenile minds. Practically everyone has a good base of experience to... Read More
Thinking: The New Science of Decision-Making, Problem-Solving, and Prediction, edited by John Brockman
Before mass media came up in the mid-twentieth century there was the public lecture, at which some person of eminence or accomplishment would address a hall full of curious citizens. The Internet equivalent is supplied by nonprofit foundations like Edge.org and TED.com, which spread interesting ideas by inviting thinkers to give online talks. Thinking is... Read More
Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences, by John R. Hibbing,...
The sentry in Iolanthe wondered at how “Nature always does contrive / That every boy and every gal / That’s born into the world alive / Is either a little Liberal / Or else a little Conservative!” He was right to wonder. For most of the past few decades, however, his suggestion that our personal... Read More
Unbalanced: The Codependency of America and China, Stephen Roach
China forecasting is a mug’s game. The terrible example before us all is Gordon Chang, who in 2001 published a book titled The Coming Collapse of China, which predicted that within five to ten years the Communist Party would be chased out of power amid social and economic breakdown. (I reviewed the book here.) As... Read More
The Outer Limits of Reason: What Science, Mathematics, and Logic Cannot Tell Us, by Noson S. Yanofsky
How rarely Reason guides the stubborn Choice / Rules the bold Hand, or prompts the suppliant Voice.” Dr. Johnson didn’t know the half of it. Not only does reason play a dismayingly small part in human affairs, but reason itself has built-in limitations that prevent our employing it in many cases where we should like... Read More
The problems with Intelligent Design.
————————— Why can't the purveyors of Intelligent Design (ID) get a break? They have been plowing their lonely furrow for 20 years now, insisting on their right to a seat at science's banquet and promising that their ideas will bring about a revolutionary overthrow of orthodox biology (which they call "Darwinism" for propagandistic reasons) Any... Read More
Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars, by Lee Billings
In The Principles of Philosophy (1642) Descartes lamented: "We do not doubt but that many things exist, or formerly existed and have now ceased to be, which were never seen or known by man, and were never of use to him." Descartes didn't know the half of it. As our understanding of the natural world... Read More
Gettysburg: The Last Invasion, by Allen C. Guelzo
To write a book about the Battle of Gettysburg is as audacious an enterprise as Robert E. Lee's Pennsylvania campaign itself. Allen Guelzo, in this book's Acknowledgments, tells us that the 2004 edition of a standard bibliography lists 6,193 "books, articles, chapters, and pamphlets on the battle," along with a 128-page magazine, published twice yearly... Read More
The Milky Way: An Insider's Guide, by William H. Waller
A Palette of Particles,...
The British philosopher J.L. Austin coined the handy phrase "medium-sized dry goods" to describe the world of everyday phenomena that the human nervous system is best suited to cope with, phenomena ranging in size from a grain of dust to a landscape. Within that range our senses and cognition are at home. All our intuitions... Read More
A grandchild of two coal miners loses a parent.
Following the betrayal and defenestration of Margaret Thatcher by her colleagues in November 1990, the Daily Telegraph offered for sale a commemorative coffee mug adorned with a picture of the lady. I immediately placed an order, and that commemorative mug has held pride of place in our family glassware cabinet ever since. Having learned as... Read More
Our Church: A Personal History of the Church of England, by Roger Scruton
Thus Rev. Thwackum, the schoolmaster in Tom Jones. That was the 1730s, or about halfway through Roger Scruton's Our Church. The Rev. Thwackum is drawn satirically, but his smugness was well justified. The religious passions of the previous century had subsided or been pushed off to inconsequential border territories in Ireland and the North American... Read More
Heaven: The Heart's Deepest Longing, by Peter Kreeft
Seeing that the first sentence in the first paragraph of the first chapter of Peter Kreeft's book Heaven: The Heart's Deepest Longing is a quote from C.S. Lewis, my suspicions were aroused right away. Kreeft hastened to confirm them, quoting Lewis again four pages further on, and again eleven pages after that, then four pages... Read More
Letter to the Editor
I was absolutely appalled by your current cover story attacking the Darwinian theory of evolution. I am a conservative. I support traditional social values and maintaining the crucial role of organized religion in our society. On most issues, I would probably be characterized as a strong social conservative. But I am a scientist first and... Read More