Scepticism as a way of life

The desire for certainty is often foolish and sometimes dangerous. Scepticism undermines it, both in oneself and in others Nicholas Tampiois professor of political science at Fordham University in New York. He is the author of Kantian Courage (2012), Deleuze’s Political Vision (2015), and Common Core: National Education Standards and the Threat to Democracy (2018). Think about a time when you changed your mind. Maybe you heard about a crime, and rushed to judgment about the guilt or innocence of the accused. Perhaps you wanted your country to go to war, and realise now that maybe that was a bad idea. Or possibly you grew up … Continue reading Scepticism as a way of life

Where did the Universe come from?

To answer any physical question, you must ask the Universe itself. But what happens when the answers aren’t around anymore? KEY TAKEAWAYS Perhaps the biggest question of all that we’re capable of conceiving is about our ultimate origins: where did all this come from?  From examining the Universe itself, we can uncover the answer to many aspects of this question: where the planets, stars, elements, atoms, and even the Big Bang came from.  But the farther back we go, we find we run into an inevitable problem: the Universe cannot provide answers beyond a certain point. What we make of … Continue reading Where did the Universe come from?

Can Cancer Be Treated by Changing Its Cells?

Tumors grow when cells lose their biological identity. A promising therapeutic might restore their sense of self. BY LINA ZELDOVICH In 2017, Karen Kostroff, a renowned oncology surgeon at Northwell Health in the New York Metropolitan area added a new talking point to her standard conversation with breast cancer patients facing tumor removal surgery. These conversations are never easy, because a cancer diagnosis is devastating news. But the new topic seemed to give her patients a sense of purpose, a feeling that their medical misfortune had the potential to do something good for other people. Kostroff was asking her patients if they … Continue reading Can Cancer Be Treated by Changing Its Cells?

We Can Be Different: David Byrne’s Illustrated History of the Future

“The way things were, the way we made things, it turns out, none of it was inevitable — none of it is the way things have to be.” BY MARIA POPOVA “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, — that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know,” Keats wrote in the closing lines of his “Ode to a Grecian Urn” in the spring of 1819, in the spring of modern science. Humanity was coming abloom with new knowledge of reality as astronomy was supplanting the superstitions of astrology and chemistry was rising form the primordial waters of … Continue reading We Can Be Different: David Byrne’s Illustrated History of the Future

The way of dharma

How do ancient stories of talking elephants and singing birds encourage a life of truth, nonviolence and compassion? Keerthik Sasidharan is a writer whose work has appeared in The Hindu, The Caravan and other publications. He is the author of The Dharma Forest (2019). He lives in New York. As a child, for every summer vacation, my parents took me to Kerala in southern India to spend three months with my aunt in her large family-estate. It was an age before televisions were widely available and therefore at night-time she told us stories from the vast oeuvre of Indian mythologies called the ‘puranas’. These … Continue reading The way of dharma

Opinion: Universities Are Failing the Next Generation of Scientists

In a tight academic job market, graduate schools owe it to students to be transparent about their career prospects. BY PAUL M. SUTTER THE LONG-TERM JOB outlook for a freshly minted science Ph.D. can be pretty grim. After devoting more than a half decade to becoming an independent researcher in the field of their passion, after sacrificing opportunities for better pay and work-life balance, and after writing papers and presenting at who-knows-how-many conferences, graduate students may emerge from the ivory tower only to find that there are no jobs that allow them to do the thing they’ve been training to do. In … Continue reading Opinion: Universities Are Failing the Next Generation of Scientists

Death: how long are we conscious for and does life really flash before our eyes?

About six minutes after the heart stops, the brain essentially dies. by Guillaume Thierry The first time I reached past the sheer horror of the concept of death and wondered what the experience of dying may be like, I was about 15. I had just discovered gruesome aspects of the French revolution and how heads were neatly cut off the body by a Guillotine. Words I remember to this day were the last of Georges Danton on April 5, 1794, who allegedly said to his executioner: “Show my head to the people, it is worth seeing.” Years later, having become a cognitive neuroscientist, … Continue reading Death: how long are we conscious for and does life really flash before our eyes?

What Intrusive Thoughts Actually Are (and How to Overcome Them)

The first step is to identify and label them as what they are. By Meredith Dietz It’s impossible for me to walk over a bridge without thinking “I’m going to chuck my phone into the water.” Luckily, I’ve never acted on this involuntary “intrusive thought.” And since I’m online all the time, I know I’m not alone in finding the humor in this sort of intrusive thought. It’s trendy to use the term to refer to any sort of wacky, unwanted, or inexplicable thought. (Here’s a video that captures it pretty well. And here’s another.) While the term gets tossed around to … Continue reading What Intrusive Thoughts Actually Are (and How to Overcome Them)

Blackness in antiquity

To truly see black people in ancient art we need to look beyond the historically recent trope of ‘Blackness = inferiority’ Sarah Derbew is an assistant professor of Classics at Stanford University in California and the author of Untangling Blackness in Greek Antiquity (forthcoming, June 2022). In their memo ‘On the Abolition of the English Department’ from 1968, the lecturers Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (then known as James Ngũgĩ), Henry Owuor-Anyumba and Taban lo Liyong spearheaded an educational revolution at the University of Nairobi in Kenya. Eager to sweep out the vestiges of British colonialism from the university’s English Department, they proposed abolishing it, to be replaced … Continue reading Blackness in antiquity

The life-long psychological effects your first love has on you

If love is an addiction, your first love is the first dose. KEY TAKEAWAYS Biological researcher Helen Fisher’s 2005 fMRI study on couples in love found that romantic love is primarily a motivation system that can be similar to what we experience during addiction.  Cognitive scientists at MIT explain that we experience peak processing and memory power at around age 18. We experience a lot of firsts (such as our first love) at a time when our brains are still developing or reaching this processing peak.  These emotional and hormonal imprints of first love (at a time when our brains … Continue reading The life-long psychological effects your first love has on you