Aeon Magazine5 min read
How Ballerinas Defy The Corporeal In A Quest For The Ethereal
I am a flake of snow in a young girl’s Christmas dream. I leap and flit across the stage among dozens of fellow flakes. Our long skirts brush past each other as we twirl and whirl on the tips of our toes, sweeping our arms skyward. We move as one, ef
Aeon Magazine5 min read
If Anyone Can See The Morally Unthinkable Online, What Then?
Imagine you work at a Latex glove factory. One night, you type ‘Latex’ into Google: you’re searching for competitors’ products, but you find other things too. Some of what you find turns you on. But some of it you wish you could unsee: prior to the s
Aeon Magazine5 min read
If Reason Exists Without Deliberation, It Cannot Be Uniquely Human
Philosophers and cognitive scientists today generally comprehend the domain of reason as a certain power of making inferences, confined to the thoughts and actions of human beings alone. Like echolocation in bats or photosynthesis in plants, reason i
Aeon Magazine5 min read
Too Much Theory Leads Economists To Bad Predictions
Whether it was the physicist Niels Bohr or the baseball player Yogi Berra who said it – or, most likely, someone else – it is indeed hard to make predictions, especially about the future. This is certainly so regarding economic, social and political
Aeon Magazine5 min read
Like The Emperor’s New Clothes, DNA Kits Are A Tailored Illusion
Most people remember the emperor: a vain ruler, swindled into paying for a nonexistent magical garment, parades in public, only to be embarrassed by a little boy. To me, the story is really about the swindling tailors. Audacious, imaginative, their t
Aeon Magazine5 min read
How The Dualism Of Descartes Ruined Our Mental Health
Toward the end of the Renaissance period, a radical epistemological and metaphysical shift overcame the Western psyche. The advances of Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei and Francis Bacon posed a serious problem for Christian dogma and its dominio
Aeon Magazine5 min read
How Jung’s Collective Unconscious Inspired Alcoholics Anonymous
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is an international mutual-aid fellowship with more than 2 million members worldwide. It strives to help members ‘stay sober and other alcoholics achieve sobriety’. Despite the fact that studies of its efficacy have been inc
Aeon Magazine4 min readTech
Is Emotional Labour Next To Be Outsourced And Professionalised?
Work is hard. But we don’t always realise how hard it is or, indeed, that some forms of labour are work at all. If you stand on your feet or stare at a screen all day, you can point to bodily strain. But if a task is something more mental, the diffic
Aeon Magazine4 min read
Forget The Anthropocene: We’ve Entered The Synthetic Age
One fact about our time is becoming increasingly well-known. No matter how far you travel, no matter in which direction you point, there is nowhere on Earth that remains free from the traces of human activity. The chemical and biological signatures o
Aeon Magazine5 min read
Why Streaming Kids According To Ability Is A Terrible Idea
A class of 15-year-olds. We’ve just read a scene from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. I hesitate for a moment, before launching into a group discussion. Half the students have (I hope) been reading their copies of No Fear Shakespeare, a kid-f
Aeon Magazine4 min read
How The Hard-man Mask Can Affect A Prisoner's Sense Of Self
On my first day teaching philosophy in a maximum-security prison, I stood at my classroom door, nervously waiting for my participants to arrive. As I watched the flow of men into the education department, I was immediately struck by the swagger on di
Aeon Magazine5 min readPsychology
Existence Precedes Likes: How Online Behaviour Defines Us
One of the hallmarks of existentialism is its particular emphasis on the concept of ‘anguish’, understood as the feeling we experience when we grasp our radical responsibility in defining who we are – individually and as a species. If human beings ha
Aeon Magazine5 min read
Will We Ever Know The Difference Between A Wolf And A Dog?
Living in the Canadian Rockies allows me ample opportunities to get out into nature. In an hour outside the city, I can be within wilderness, with no cellphone reception and no other humans. Such wilderness, of course, comes with plenty of wildlife,
Aeon Magazine3 min readTech
AIs Should Have The Same Ethical Protections As Animals
Universities across the world are conducting major research on artificial intelligence (AI), as are organisations such as the Allen Institute, and tech companies including Google and Facebook. A likely result is that we will soon have AI approximatel
Aeon Magazine5 min read
How To Reduce Digital Distractions: Advice From Medieval Monks
Medieval monks had a terrible time concentrating. And concentration was their lifelong work! Their tech was obviously different from ours. But their anxiety about distraction was not. They complained about being overloaded with information, and about
Aeon Magazine5 min read
How Do We Pry Apart The True And Compelling From The False And Toxic?
When false and malicious speech roils the body politic, when racism and violence surge, the right and role of freedom of speech in society comes into crisis. People rightly begin to wonder what are the limits, what should be the rules. It is a compli
Aeon Magazine4 min read
A Rock, A Human, A Tree: All Were Persons To The Classic Maya
For the Maya of the Classic period, who lived in southern Mexico and Central America between 250 and 900 CE, the category of ‘persons’ was not coincident with human beings, as it is for us. That is, human beings were persons – but other, nonhuman ent
Aeon Magazine4 min read
Is Acting Hazardous? On The Risks Of Immersing Oneself In A Role
In 2009, Heath Ledger posthumously received an Academy Award for his performance as the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s film The Dark Knight (2008). To say that Ledger earned the recognition of his peers is to vastly understate his accomplishment. Ledge
Aeon Magazine4 min read
Cheers! How The Physics Of Fizz Contributes To Human Happiness
Think of the last time you had something to celebrate. If you toasted the happy occasion, your drink was probably alcoholic – and bubbly. Have you ever wondered why it’s so enjoyable to imbibe a glass of something that sets off a series of microexplo
Aeon Magazine5 min read
An Electrical Meltdown Looms: How Can We Avert Disaster?
You might find your car dying on the freeway while other vehicles around you lose control and crash. You might see the lights going out in your city, or glimpse an airplane falling out of the sky. You’ve been in a blackout before but this one is diff
Aeon Magazine5 min read
The Birth Of The Book: On Christians, Romans And The Codex
A codex is just the Roman name for a book, made of pages, and usually bound on the left. Its predecessor was the scroll or book roll, which was unrolled as you read. The codex is manifestly superior: one can hold many volumes (from the Latin for book
Aeon Magazine4 min readScience
Did European Colonisation Precipitate The Little Ice Age?
Many of us think that rapid environmental change is a quintessentially modern crisis. Today, temperatures are soaring, topsoil is washing away, phosphorous is being diluted, forests are retreating, pesticides are sterilising farmland, fertilisers are
Aeon Magazine4 min read
Why Hasn’t Evolution Dealt With The Inefficiency Of Ageing?
Life pits the order and intricacy of biology against the ceaseless chaos of physics. The second law of thermodynamics, or the thermodynamic arrow of time, states that any natural system will always tend towards increasing disorder. Biological ageing
Aeon Magazine5 min read
Philosophical Writing Should Read Like A Letter
I came to philosophy bursting with things to say. Somewhere along the way, that changed. Not that I stopped talking, or, as time went on, writing. But the mood of it, the key in which it was pitched, moved. I came to feel answerable. And not just to
Aeon Magazine5 min readTech
How Much Can We Afford To Forget, If We Train Machines To Remember?
When I was a student, in the distant past when most computers were still huge mainframes, I had a friend whose PhD advisor insisted that he carry out a long and difficult atomic theory calculation by hand. This led to page after page of pencil scratc
Aeon Magazine4 min readPsychology
To Boost Your Self-esteem, Write About Chapters Of Your Life
In truth, so much of what happens to us in life is random – we are pawns at the mercy of Lady Luck. To take ownership of our experiences and exert a feeling of control over our future, we tell stories about ourselves that weave meaning and continuity
Aeon Magazine5 min readTech
Is Consciousness A Battle Between Your Beliefs And Perceptions?
Imagine you’re at a magic show, in which the performer suddenly vanishes. Of course, you ultimately know that the person is probably just hiding somewhere. Yet it continues to look as if the person has disappeared. We can’t reason away that appearanc
Aeon Magazine4 min read
Was The Real Socrates More Worldly And Amorous Than We Knew?
Socrates is widely considered to be the founding figure of Western philosophy – a thinker whose ideas, transmitted by the extensive writings of his devoted follower Plato, have shaped thinking for more than 2,000 years. ‘For better or worse,’ wrote t
Aeon Magazine4 min readReligion & Spirituality
Muhammad: An Anticlerical Hero Of The European Enlightenment
Publishing the Quran and making it available in translation was a dangerous enterprise in the 16th century, apt to confuse or seduce the faithful Christian. This, at least, was the opinion of the Protestant city councillors of Basel in 1542, when the
Aeon Magazine6 min read
Comics Offer Radical Opportunity To Blend Scholarship And Art
I am a historian and, a few years ago, I collaborated with the artist Liz Clarke to produce a history in comic-book form. Together, we created Abina and the Important Men (2012), a graphic history of a 19th-century court case in colonial West Africa.
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