Between Science and Magic: How Hummingbirds Hover at the Edge of the Possible

How a tiny creature faster than the Space Shuttle balances the impossible equation of extreme fragility and superhuman strength. BY MARIA POPOVA Frida Kahlo painted a hummingbird into her fiercest self-portrait. Technology historian Steven Johnson drew on hummingbirds as the perfect metaphor for revolutionary innovation. Walt Whitman found great joy and solace in watching a hummingbird “coming and going, daintily balancing and shimmering about,” as he was learning anew how to balance a body coming and going in the world after his paralytic stroke. For poet and gardener Ross Gay, “the hummingbird hovering there with its green-gold breast shimmering, slipping its needle nose … Continue reading Between Science and Magic: How Hummingbirds Hover at the Edge of the Possible

The Woman Who Saved the Hawks: Redeeming an Overlooked Pioneer of Conservation

The story of the countercultural courage and persistence that shaped the modern ecological conscience. BY MARIA POPOVA It is 1928 and you are walking in Central Park, saxophone and wren song in the April air, when you spot her beneath the colossal leafing elm with her binoculars. You mistake her for another pearled Upper East Side lady who has taken to birding in the privileged boredom of her middle age. And who could blame you? In some obvious ways — polished and traveled, born into a wealthy New York family to a British father whose first cousin was Charles Dickens … Continue reading The Woman Who Saved the Hawks: Redeeming an Overlooked Pioneer of Conservation

The joy of being animal

Human exceptionalism is dead: for the sake of our own happiness and the planet we should embrace our true animal nature by Melanie Challenger works as a researcher on the history of humanity and the natural world, and environmental philosophy. Her books include On Extinction (2011) and How to Be Animal (2021). She is a current member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics. Edited by Pam Weintraub When I visited my grandmother at the undertakers, an hour or so before her funeral, I was struck by how different death is from sleep. A sleeping individual shimmers with fractional movements. The dead seem to rest in … Continue reading The joy of being animal

A Zoologist Imagines What Alien Life Might Look Like

In “The Zoologist’s Guide to the Galaxy,” Arik Kershenbaum speculates about the universal lessons of evolution on Earth. BY EMILY CATANEO ANIMALS AS VARIED as sharks, salamanders, and duck-billed platypuses can detect electric fields around them, while some fish, including the South American knifefish and various species of African elephantfish, can actually generate unique, complex electric fields, which they use to communicate information about their social status, sex, and dominance position within their social group. These are the kinds of musings that can help us postulate about alien life, according to “The Zoologist’s Guide to the Galaxy: What Animals on Earth Reveal About … Continue reading A Zoologist Imagines What Alien Life Might Look Like

What pastoralists know

Pastoralists are experts in managing extreme variability. In a volatile world economy, bankers should learn how they do it Ian Scoones is professor at the Institute of Development Studies, and co-director of the ESRC STEPS Centre, both at the University of Sussex in the UK… Edited by Sam Haselby What are the connections between a banker working on a trading floor in London and a pastoralist herding animals across the grasslands of East Africa? More than you’d think. Let me explain how they’re connected; and why they can both learn from each other. Both bankers and pastoralists must, as a matter … Continue reading What pastoralists know


Recent research on nearly 400 Labrador puppies reveals a genetic basis for a tendency to look to humans for guidance by DENYSE O’LEARY  Considerable mystery surrounds the question of why dogs achieve a close emotional relationship with humans. Chimpanzees are genetically very much closer to us but few of us bond with them. So the ability is not obviously genetic — but recent findings point to at least one genetic component: Puppies seem naturally adapted to learn the significance of a common human communication method, pointing: Scientists have known for more than 2 decades that dogs understand the logic behind a surprisingly complex … Continue reading RESEARCHERS: DOGS ARE HARDWIRED TO UNDERSTAND US

Philosophers and other animals

Christine Korsgaard argues that we can extend a Kantian moral framework to include other animals. But her argument fails Peter Godfrey-Smith is professor of history and philosophy of science at the University of Sydney. He is the author of Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness (2016). He lives in Sydney.Listen here Edited by Nigel Warburton Some of the most pressing moral issues we face today arise from how humans treat nonhuman animals, especially in farming and scientific experiments. High-intensity or ‘factory’ farming raises the biggest questions because of its sheer scale, and because routine practices there, once … Continue reading Philosophers and other animals

Are humans animals?

Do humans have animal bodies – and animal minds? By Melanie Challenger So, are we animals? For many people today that sounds like a silly question. Of course, humans are animals! We’re composed of cells with genetic material, and we move around, seeking energy to feed our bodies, pooping it out again as waste. We look a lot like our fellow primates with our five-digit hands and feet, our thoughtful eyes, and our lean, muscular physiques. We have lungs, a heart, a brain, a nervous system, and all those other features we share with mammals. And just think of the “nodal” (the … Continue reading Are humans animals?

No Waters Left Untouched: Fish Biodiversity Has Declined Globally

Pollution, dams, and invasive species are wreaking havoc on the biodiversity of nearly all rivers on Earth. BY DAMIAN CARRINGTON ivers in which fish populations have escaped serious damage from human activities make up just 14% of the world’s river basin area, according to the most comprehensive study to date. Scientists found that the biodiversity of more than half of rivers had been profoundly affected, with big fish such as sturgeon replaced by invasive species such as catfish and Asian carp. Pollution, dams, overfishing, farm irrigation and rising temperatures due to the climate crisis are also to blame. This story was originally published … Continue reading No Waters Left Untouched: Fish Biodiversity Has Declined Globally

Cats don’t avoid strangers who behave badly towards their owners, unlike dogs

by Ali Boyle Research Fellow in Kinds of Intelligence (Philosophy), University of Cambridge There’s an old stereotype about the difference between cats and dogs. Dogs are loving and fiercely loyal, they say, while cats are aloof and indifferent. Most cat people probably disagree – I certainly find it hard to believe, with my cat purring away in my lap, that she doesn’t care about me. Overall, cat cognition research suggests cats do form emotional bonds with their humans. Cats seem to experience separation anxiety, are more responsive to their owners’ voices than to strangers’ and look for reassurance from their owners in scary situations. But a … Continue reading Cats don’t avoid strangers who behave badly towards their owners, unlike dogs