An Anthropologist’s Case for Working Less and Relaxing More

by Editors Our work consumes us. But does it have to? Anthropologist James Suzman has spent decades living in the Kalahari Desert with one of the world’s last hunter-gatherer societies, and he’s concluded that our modern attitudes about work don’t mesh with the views held by our ancestors. For 95 percent of human history, we spent the bulk of our time doing… nothing. So what changed? Today on the Next Big Idea podcast, James sits down with Next Big Idea Club curator Adam Grant to advocate for spending less time toiling away at labor we loathe, and more time working at things we love. Listen to … Continue reading An Anthropologist’s Case for Working Less and Relaxing More

You Can’t Dissect a Virtual Cadaver

What is lost when we lose in-person learning. BY MICHAEL DENHAM Last year, my first in medical school at Columbia University, I used a bone saw to slice through the top half of a cadaver’s skull, revealing a gray brain lined with purple blood vessels. This was Clinical Gross Anatomy, the first-year course that has fascinated or devastated (or both) every medical student. You never forget the day you open the skull. Cutting into the brain, unlike the muscles of a forearm or the arteries running down a thigh, feels personal. As a cloud of aerosolized bone dust particles darkened … Continue reading You Can’t Dissect a Virtual Cadaver

Authenticity is a sham

From monks to existentialists and hipsters, the search for a true self has been a centuries-long project. Should we give it up? by Alexander Stern is a writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the LA Review of Books, among others.  Edited by Sam Dresser ‘Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.’ This popular quip, often misattributed to Oscar Wilde, appears without any apparent irony in self-help books and blog posts celebrating authenticity. Understandably, they take the dictum to ‘be oneself’ as a worthy, nearly unassailable goal. Our culture is saturated with authenticity: we’re forever ‘finding ourselves’, … Continue reading Authenticity is a sham

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

Changed by art

Gazing at a painting feels like an almost magical encounter with another mind but what real effects does art have on us? Ellen Winner is professor of psychology at Boston College and senior research associate at Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her most recent book is How Art Works: A Psychological Exploration (2018).  Edited by Nigel Warburton Scenario 1: suppose you’ve been gazing intensely at Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait (1659), which hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and later you’re told that this was actually a painting made by a deep-learning machine that had internalised Rembrandt’s style through exposure to his … Continue reading Changed by art

Why People Feel Like Victims

Getting to the core of today’s social acrimony. BY MARK MACNAMARA In a polarized nation, victimhood is a badge of honor. It gives people strength. “The victim has become among the most important identity positions in American politics,” wrote Robert B. Horwitz, a communications professor at the University of California, San Diego. Horwitz published his study, “Politics as Victimhood, Victimhood as Politics,” in 2018.1 He focused on social currents that drove victimhood to the fore of American political life, arguing it “emerged from the contentious politics of the 1960s, specifically the civil rights movement and its aftermath.” What lodges victimhood in … Continue reading Why People Feel Like Victims

Used furniture is about to become a $16.6 billion business. Even Ikea is getting in on it

Americans dump 12 million tons of furniture into landfills annually. What if we kept these pieces circulating in the economy? BY ELIZABETH SEGRAN Okay, I’ll admit it. I’ve bought furniture on impulse or out of desperation without thinking about its environmental impact. That rickety $150 Ikea bed I used for only two years in grad school. The $99 Target bar cart I picked up while shopping for a party. The $75 Wayfair lamp that completed my living room. I’m not alone. Since the 1990s, the American market has been awash with inexpensive home goods made in low-wage overseas factories, designed to … Continue reading Used furniture is about to become a $16.6 billion business. Even Ikea is getting in on it

The birth of childhood: A brief history of the European child

Did the 20th century bring a breakthrough in how children are treated? by Andrzej Krajewski  It took several thousand years for our culture to realize that a child is not an object. Learning how to treat children as humans continues to this day.”Nature wants children to be children before they are men,” wrote Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the book Emile, or On Education (1762). While Rousseau did not see children as humans, he appealed to parents to look after their offspring. “If we consider childhood itself, is there anything so weak and wretched as a child, anything so utterly at the mercy of … Continue reading The birth of childhood: A brief history of the European child

The misinformation virus

Lies and distortions don’t just afflict the ignorant. The more you know, the more vulnerable you can be to infection by Elitsa Dermendzhiyska is a science writer and social entrepreneur working at the intersection of technology, research and mental health. She is the editor of the mental health anthology What Doesn’t Kill You: 15 Stories of Survival (2020). She lives in London. Edited by Marina Benjamin There’s a new virus in town and it’s not fooling around. You can catch it through face-to-face contact or digitally – that is, via a human or bot. Few of us possess immunity, some are even willing … Continue reading The misinformation virus

What Makes Music Universal

Music brings us together to show us how different we are. BY KEVIN BERGER My friend Robert Burton, a neurologist and author, wanted to share a song with me last year, and sent me a link to an NPR Tiny Desk Concert. “It’s wonderful to see truly new and inspiring music,” he wrote. I clicked open the link to a band who appeared to have journeyed from their mountain village in Russia to busk for tourists in the city square. Three women wore long white wedding dresses, thick strands of bead necklaces, and Cossack hats that towered from their heads … Continue reading What Makes Music Universal