Category Archives: Ideas

How mathematics built the modern world

Bo Malmberg and Hannes Malmberg write: In school, you might have heard that the Industrial Revolution was preceded by the Scientific Revolution, when Newton uncovered the mechanical laws underlying motion and Galileo learned the true shape of the cosmos. Armed with this newfound knowledge and the scientific method, the inventors of the Industrial Revolution created… Read More »

Augustine of Hippo and the virtue of hope

Michael Lamb writes: The binary between optimism and pessimism does not capture the complexity of Augustine’s thought. As concepts, ‘optimism’ and ‘pessimism’ came to be employed only in the 18th century. Moreover, the binary overlooks Augustine’s more nuanced account of hope as a virtue that finds a middle way between the vices of presumption and despair. The difference that it makes… Read More »

Utopian thinking prompts us to get real about society’s needs

William Paris writes: All politics seems to operate under the demand to be realistic. There is no quicker end to a political conversation than to describe someone’s ideas as ‘utopian’. The power of this pejorative draws upon seemingly obvious facts concerning human nature, empirical realities and social constraints. Whether we are considering demands to restructure… Read More »

The man rethinking the definition of reality

Tom Chatfield writes: If you woke up one day and discovered that you were living in a virtual world – that everything you’d ever known was, like the Matrix, a form of hyper-realistic simulation – what would this imply for your hopes, dreams and experiences? Would it reveal them all to be lies: deceptions devoid… Read More »

How one man changed the meaning of past present and future

Emily Thomas writes: Events happen in order – you whisk icing before decorating a cake. Some events seem to be present, while others are future or past. A birthday party lies in the future, approaching slowly. When the big day arrives, the party is present; afterwards, it slips into memory and the past. Pastness, presentness… Read More »

Rediscovering the value of cynicism

Arthur Brooks writes: Cynicism—the belief that people are generally morally bankrupt and behave treacherously in order to maximize self-interest—dominates American culture. Since 1964, the percentage of Americans who say they trust the government to do what is right “just about always” or “most of the time” has fallen 53 points, from 77 to 24 percent.… Read More »

Hope isn’t optimism

David B Feldman and Benjamin W Corn write: Hope is not wishful thinking, optimism, or ‘the power of positive thinking’. There’s nothing wrong with being optimistic, of course. Research shows that optimism is associated with many beneficial outcomes. But that doesn’t mean it’s the same as hope. The Cambridge Dictionary defines optimism as ‘the feeling… Read More »

Why so many people still don’t understand anti-Semitism

Yair Rosenberg writes: Most people do not realize that Jews make up just 2 percent of the U.S. population and 0.2 percent of the world’s population. This means simply finding them takes a lot of effort. But every year in Western countries, including America, Jews are the No. 1 target of anti-religious hate crimes. Anti-Semites… Read More »

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 »