Category Archives: Ideas

The worrisome rise of Non-Fungible Tokens

Caleb Scharf writes: Humans are very good at inventing commodities, and we’ve been at it for a long time. See that pebble over there? Well, that’s a better pebble than all these others, and if you give me something in exchange for it, I’ll let you take ownership. It’ll be your pebble, forever. And soon… Read More »

The elephant who could be a person

Jill Lepore writes: The subject of the most important animal-rights case of the 21st century was born in Thailand during the Vietnam War. Very soon after that, a tousle-haired baby, she became trapped in human history. She was captured, locked in a cage, trucked to the coast, and loaded onto a roaring 747 that soared… Read More »

Charles Sanders Peirce was America’s greatest thinker

Daniel Everett writes: The roll of scientists born in the 19th century is as impressive as any century in history. Names such as Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla, George Washington Carver, Alfred North Whitehead, Louis Agassiz, Benjamin Peirce, Leo Szilard, Edwin Hubble, Katharine Blodgett, Thomas Edison, Gerty Cori, Maria Mitchell, Annie Jump Cannon and Norbert Wiener… Read More »

Our most abstract concepts emerged as solutions to our needs

Matthieu Queloz writes: ‘Ideas, Mr Carlyle, ideas, nothing but ideas!’ scoffed a hard-headed businessman over dinner with Thomas Carlyle, the Victorian essayist and historian of the French Revolution. The businessman had had enough of Carlyle’s endless droning on about ideas – what do ideas matter anyway? Carlyle shot back: ‘There was once a man called… Read More »

The spectacular originality of Coleridge’s theory of ideas

Peter Cheyne writes: Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) stands tall in the cultural pantheon for his poetry. It’s less well known that in his own lifetime, and in the decades following his death, this canonical poet had an equal reputation as a philosopher. His published works containing much of his philosophical prose span from The Statesman’s… Read More »

Hume believed we were nothing more or less than human

Julian Baggini writes: Socrates died by drinking hemlock, condemned to death by the people of Athens. Albert Camus met his end in a car that wrapped itself around a tree at high speed. Nietzsche collapsed into insanity after weeping over a beaten horse. Posterity loves a tragic end, which is one reason why the cult… Read More »

A history of precision

James Gleick writes: Scientists and engineers recognize an elusive but profound difference between precision and accuracy. The two qualities often go hand in hand, of course, but precision involves an ideal of meticulousness and consistency, while accuracy implies real-world truth. When a sharpshooter fires at a target, if the bullets strike close together—clustered, rather than… Read More »

Thinking about emergence

Paul Humphreys writes: If you construct a Lego model of the University of London’s Senate House – the building that inspired the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four – the Lego blocks themselves remain unchanged. Take apart the structure, reassemble the blocks in the shape of the Great Pyramid of Giza or… Read More »

Bees may understand zero, a concept that took humans millennia to grasp

Kate Keller writes: As a mathematical concept, the idea of zero is relatively new in human society—and indisputably revolutionary. It’s allowed humans to develop algebra, calculus and Cartesian coordinates; questions about its properties continue to incite mathematical debate today. So it may sound unlikely that bees—complex and community-based insects to be sure, but insects nonetheless—seem… Read More »

Reflective and unreflective atheists

Patrick Freyne writes: John Gray is a self-described atheist who thinks that prominent advocates of atheism have made non-belief seem intolerant, uninspiring and dull. At the end of the first chapter of his new book, Seven Types of Atheism, he concludes that “the organised atheism of the present century is mostly a media phenomenon and… Read More »