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
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
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
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
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