Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

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Life

Our fate turns on retiring our dualist view of nature

Philip Goff writes: Since 1980, the temperature of the planet has risen by 0.8 degrees Celsius, resulting in unprecedented melting of the Greenland ice sheet and the acidification of oceans. In 2015, 175 million more people were exposed to heat waves compared with the average for 1986 to 2008, and the number of weather-related disasters from 2007 to 2016 was up by 46 percent compared with the average from 1990

Buddhism and ecology shed light on the nature of reality and the reality of nature

David P Barash writes: Once, while waiting for a wilderness permit at a ranger station in North Cascades National Park, Washington state, I overheard the following message, radioed into headquarters by a backcountry ranger: ‘Dead elk in upper Agnes Creek decomposing nicely. Over.’ This ranger was not only a practical and profound ecologist, she also possessed the wisdom of a Buddhist master. The ‘over’ in her communication seemed especially apt.

How science has shifted our sense of identity

Nathaniel Comfort writes: In the iconic frontispiece to Thomas Henry Huxley’s Evidence as to Man’s Place in Nature (1863), primate skeletons march across the page and, presumably, into the future: “Gibbon, Orang, Chimpanzee, Gorilla, Man.” Fresh evidence from anatomy and palaeontology had made humans’ place on the scala naturae scientifically irrefutable. We were unequivocally with the animals — albeit at the head of the line. Nicolaus Copernicus had displaced us

The meaning to life? A Darwinian existentialist has his answers

By Michael Ruse I was raised as a Quaker, but around the age of 20 my faith faded. It would be easiest to say that this was because I took up philosophy – my lifelong occupation as a teacher and scholar. This is not true. More accurately, I joke that having had one headmaster in this life, I’ll be damned if I want another in the next. I was convinced

Evolution tells us we might be the only intelligent life in the universe

NASA By Nick Longrich, University of Bath Are we alone in the universe? It comes down to whether intelligence is a probable outcome of natural selection, or an improbable fluke. By definition, probable events occur frequently, improbable events occur rarely – or once. Our evolutionary history shows that many key adaptations – not just intelligence, but complex animals, complex cells, photosynthesis, and life itself – were unique, one-off events, and

What an embodied history of trees can teach us about life

Dalia Nassar and Margaret M Barbour write: Place yourself on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand, near the Franz Josef Glacier. Officially, this forest is a temperate podocarp-hardwood rainforest, but these dry words belie the rich diversity of plant life around, encompassing every imaginable shade of green, brown and grey. They also do an injustice to the experience of standing dwarfed by the soaring trunks of

For Rachel Carson, wonder was a radical state of mind

By Jennifer Stitt In 1957, the world watched in wonder as the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite, into outer space. Despite Cold War anxieties, The New York Times admitted that space exploration ‘represented a step toward escape from man’s imprisonment to Earth and its thin envelope of atmosphere’. Technology, it seemed, possessed the astonishing potential to liberate humanity from terrestrial life. But not all assessments of

The fast track to a life well lived is gratefulness

By David DeSteno For the Ancient Greeks, virtue wasn’t a goal in and of itself, but rather a route to a life well lived. By being honest and generous, embodying diligence and fortitude, showing restraint and kindness, a person would flourish – coming to live a life filled with meaning and finding an enduring, as opposed to ephemeral, happiness. Today, that view hasn’t much changed. While we hear plenty of

Consciousness doesn’t depend on language

Christof Koch writes: The contrast could not have been starker—here was one of the world’s most revered figures, His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, expressing his belief that all life is sentient, while I, as a card-carrying neuroscientist, presented the contemporary Western consensus that some animals might, perhaps, possibly, share the precious gift of sentience, of conscious experience, with humans. The setting was a symposium between Buddhist monk-scholars and Western

One skill that doesn’t deteriorate with age

Reading and writing can prevent cognitive decline. AJP/Shutterstock.com By Roger J. Kreuz, University of Memphis When Toni Morrison died on Aug. 5, the world lost one of its most influential literary voices. But Morrison wasn’t a literary wunderkind. “The Bluest Eye,” Morrison’s first novel, wasn’t published until she was 39. And her last, “God Help the Child,” appeared when she was 84. Morrison published four novels, four children’s books, many

The end of life on Earth?

Apocalyptic statements always sound crazy and talking about the end of life on Earth at this juncture in its history will, for many people, seem like an overly pessimistic assessment of the perils we face. Temperatures rise, extreme weather events become more frequent, species dwindle or disappear, forests burn, glaciers melt — no doubt the situation is dire, but surely not so bad that we are witnessing the destruction of

Wendell Berry’s lifelong dissent

Jedediah Britton-Purdy writes: At a time when political conflict runs deep and erects high walls, the Kentucky essayist, novelist, and poet Wendell Berry maintains an arresting mix of admirers. Barack Obama awarded him the National Humanities Medal in 2011. The following year, the socialist-feminist writer and editor Sarah Leonard published a friendly interview with him in Dissent. Yet he also gets respectful attention in the pages of The American Conservative

On 9/11, luck meant everything

Garrett M. Graff writes: Joseph Lott, a sales representative for Compaq computers, survived one of the deadliest days in modern American history because he had a penchant for “art ties,” neckties featuring famous masterpieces. “It began many years earlier, in the ’90s,” he said in an oral history with StoryCorps. “I love Impressionist paintings, and I use them as a way to make points with my kids. I’d put on

Living in space

  By Paul Woodward To see things clearly, we often need to break the patterns of habit. The Earth, physically and metaphorically — the ground of human experience — is the stationary foundation that forms the background of movement: our movement across its surface; the terra firma against which the oceans wash and above which birds fly; the horizon that the Sun rises above and then falls beneath. Intellectually, as

Without inner narratives we would be lost in a chaotic world

Robert A. Burton writes: We are all storytellers; we make sense out of the world by telling stories. And science is a great source of stories. Not so, you might argue. Science is an objective collection and interpretation of data. I completely agree. At the level of the study of purely physical phenomena, science is the only reliable method for establishing the facts of the world. But when we use

News organizations are timidly changing their approach to covering climate crisis

The New York Times reports: As Europe heats up, Greenland melts and the Midwest floods, many news organizations are devoting more resources to climate change as they cover the topic with more urgency. In Florida, six newsrooms with different owners have taken the unusual step of pooling their resources and sharing their reporting on the issue. They plan to examine how climate change will affect the state’s enormous agriculture sector