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

Searching for hope in hell

Henry Freedland writes: As climate change extremified wildfires raging through the American West and my native California, and as geoscientists realized the world’s oceans were retaining 60 percent more heat each year than previously thought, I flashed to Hesiod’s view of Tartarus: The fertile earth Being burned, roared out, the voiceless forest cried And crackled with the fire; the whole earth boiled And ocean’s streams, and the unfruitful sea. As

Orangutans: Palm oil industry still threatens the lives and habitat of ‘people of the forest’

The New York Times reports: The men came at Hope and her baby with spears and guns. But she would not leave. There was no place for her to go. When the air-gun pellets pierced Hope’s eyes, blinding her, she felt her way up the tree trunks, auburn-furred fingers searching out tropical fruit for sustenance. By the end, Hope’s torso was slashed with deep lacerations. Multiple bones were broken. Seventy-four

The search for extraterrestrial technology finds none

The Guardian reports: The close encounter will have to wait. Astronomers have come up empty-handed after scanning the heavens for signs of intelligent life in the most extensive search ever performed. Researchers used ground-based telescopes to eavesdrop on 1,327 stars within 160 light years of Earth. During three years of observations they found no evidence of signals that could plausibly come from an alien civilisation. The only signals picked up

The value of attention and the cost of giving it away

Franklin Foer writes: I can say definitively now that I faltered in pursuit of my New Year’s resolution. My self-improvement project for the year was to read a fresh poem every morning, before glimpsing the accumulation of unresponded email and lifting the lid off Twitter. My purpose, when I explained it to my wife and kids a few hours before midnight, was to ritualistically remind myself of emotions other than

Humans are wiping out life on Earth

The New York Times reports: Humans are transforming Earth’s natural landscapes so dramatically that as many as one million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction, posing a dire threat to ecosystems that people all over the world depend on for their survival, a sweeping new United Nations assessment has concluded. The 1,500-page report, compiled by hundreds of international experts and based on thousands of scientific studies,

The interplay that brings together order and disorder

Alan Lightman writes: Planets, stars, life, even the direction of time all depend on disorder. And we human beings as well. Especially if, along with disorder, we group together such concepts as randomness, novelty, spontaneity, free will and unpredictability. We might put all of these ideas in the same psychic basket. Within the oppositional category of order, we can gather together notions such as systems, law, reason, rationality, pattern, predictability.

John Ruskin: A prophet for our troubled times

Philip Hoare writes: In 1964, Kenneth Clark set out the problems of loving John Ruskin. One was his fame itself. Like his sometime pupil Oscar Wilde (who, along with other of his Oxford students he persuaded to dig a road in Hinksey in order that they learn the dignity of labour), Ruskin defined the art and culture of his century. “For almost 50 years,” Clark wrote in his book, Ruskin

My generation trashed the planet. I salute the children striking back

Wow this is really quite something. Thousands and thousands of children protesting against climate change in Westminster. — Joey D'Urso (@josephmdurso) February 15, 2019 George Monbiot writes: The disasters I feared my grandchildren would see in their old age are happening already: insect populations collapsing, mass extinction, wildfires, droughts, heatwaves, floods. This is the world we have bequeathed to you. Yours is among the first of the unborn generations

What science can tell us about how other creatures experience the world

Ross Andersen writes: Amid the human crush of Old Delhi, on the edge of a medieval bazaar, a red structure with cages on its roof rises three stories above the labyrinth of neon-lit stalls and narrow alleyways, its top floor emblazoned with two words: birds hospital. On a hot day last spring, I removed my shoes at the hospital’s entrance and walked up to the second-floor lobby, where a clerk

Your life choices aren’t just about what you want to do; they’re about who you want to be

Joshua Rothman writes: In July of 1838, Charles Darwin was twenty-nine years old and single. Two years earlier, he had returned from his voyage aboard H.M.S. Beagle with the observations that would eventually form the basis of “On the Origin of Species.” In the meantime, he faced a more pressing analytical problem. Darwin was considering proposing to his cousin Emma Wedgwood, but he worried that marriage and children might impede

David Suzuki: ‘It’s very, very late and urgent’ to take climate action if we want to prevent human extinction


Astronomers say it’s time to start taking the search for E.T. seriously

Science News reports: Long an underfunded, fringe field of science, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence may be ready to go mainstream. Astronomer Jason Wright is determined to see that happen. At a meeting in Seattle of the American Astronomical Society in January, Wright convened “a little ragtag group in a tiny room” to plot a course for putting the scientific field, known as SETI, on NASA’s agenda. The group is

Inside the struggle to define life

Ian Sample writes: All the brain cells of life on Earth still cannot explain life on Earth. Its most intelligent species has uncovered the building blocks of matter, read countless genomes and watched spacetime quiver as black holes collide. It understands much of how living creatures work, but not how they came to be. There is no agreement, even, on what life is. The conundrum of life is so fundamental