Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

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Life

The discovery of vast populations of subsurface microbial beings is shaking up what we think we know about life

JoAnna Klein writes: At the surface, boiling water kills off most life. But Geogemma barossii is a living thing from another world, deep within our very own. Boiling water — 212 degrees Fahrenheit — would be practically freezing for this creature, which thrives at temperatures around 250 degrees Fahrenheit. No other organism on the planet is known to be able to live at such extreme heat. But it’s just one

Russians interacted with at least 14 Trump associates during the campaign and transition

The Washington Post reports: The Russian ambassador. A deputy prime minister. A pop star, a weightlifter, a lawyer, a Soviet army veteran with alleged intelligence ties. Again and again and again, over the course of Donald Trump’s 18-month campaign for the presidency, Russian citizens made contact with his closest family and friends, as well as figures on the periphery of his orbit. Some offered to help his campaign and his

If dying could be sweet

When former presidents or other famous people die, the news of such events is always dominated by recollections of their lives. Generally we learn only the most abbreviated details of the circumstances in which life came to an end. The final days of George H W Bush’s life were unusual in that they were shared with his lifelong friend James Baker and other friends and family members who then graciously

The insect apocalypse is here. What does it mean for the rest of life on Earth?

Brooke Jarvis reports: Sune Boye Riis was on a bike ride with his youngest son, enjoying the sun slanting over the fields and woodlands near their home north of Copenhagen, when it suddenly occurred to him that something about the experience was amiss. Specifically, something was missing. It was summer. He was out in the country, moving fast. But strangely, he wasn’t eating any bugs. For a moment, Riis was

Humanity is destroying life on Earth

  The Guardian reports: Humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970, leading the world’s foremost experts to warn that the annihilation of wildlife is now an emergency that threatens civilisation. The new estimate of the massacre of wildlife is made in a major report produced by WWF and involving 59 scientists from across the globe. It finds that the vast and growing consumption of

The rhythm of life

 

Living in ignorance about our ignorance

Kaidi Wu and David Dunning write: In 1806, entrepreneur Frederic Tudor sailed to the island of Martinique with a precious cargo. He had harvested ice from frozen Massachusetts rivers and expected to make a tidy profit selling it to tropical customers. There was only one problem: the islanders had never seen ice. They had never experienced a cold drink, never tasted a pint of ice cream. Refrigeration was not a

We are more than our brains

Alan Jasanoff writes: Brains are undoubtedly somewhat computer-like – computers, after all, were invented to perform brain-like functions – but brains are also much more than bundles of wiry neurons and the electrical impulses they are famous for propagating. The function of each neuroelectrical signal is to release a little flood of chemicals that helps to stimulate or suppress brain cells, in much the way that chemicals activate or suppress

What matters

Owen Flanagan writes: In “The Strange Order of Things” Antonio Damasio promises to explore “one interest and one idea … why and how we emote, feel, use feelings to construct our selves; how feelings assist or undermine our best intentions; why and how our brains interact with the body to support such functions.” Damasio thinks that the cognitive revolution of the last 40 years, which has yielded cognitive science, cognitive

Have we forgotten how to die?

In a review of seven books on death and dying, Julie-Marie Strange writes: James Turner was twenty-five when his four-year-old daughter Annice died from a lung condition. She died at home with her parents and grandmother; her sleeping siblings were told of her death the next morning. James did everything to soothe Annice’s last days but, never having encountered death before, he didn’t immediately recognize it. He didn’t know what

Aristotle’s lessons on happiness

Edith Hall writes: In the Western world, only since the mid-18th century has it been possible to discuss ethical questions publicly without referring to Christianity. Modern thinking about morality, which assumes that gods do not exist, or at least do not intervene, is in its infancy. But the ancient Greeks and Romans elaborated robust philosophical schools of ethical thought for more than a millennium, from the first professed agnostics such

David Buckel — destined to be remembered more for the cause of his death than its stated purpose

The New York Times reports: Two weeks before he died [through self-immolation on April 14 in Brooklyn], Mr. Buckel seemed particularly agitated when he came to work one day. “I asked if he was stressed,” Mr. Morales said. “He dismissed it.” Then Mr. Buckel started sending him emails — lists of contacts, instructions for how to complete annual reports, forms to be turned over to officials. He began labeling everything

Humanity is a tiny fraction of life on Earth but has destroyed over 80% of wild mammals and half of plants

The Guardian reports: Humankind is revealed as simultaneously insignificant and utterly dominant in the grand scheme of life on Earth by a groundbreaking new assessment of all life on the planet. The world’s 7.6 billion people represent just 0.01% of all living things, according to the study. Yet since the dawn of civilisation, humanity has caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of plants, while livestock

Why do so many people feel their work is completely unnecessary?

David Graeber writes: One day, the wall shelves in my office collapsed. This left books scattered all over the floor and a jagged, half-dislocated metal frame that once held the shelves in place dangling over my desk. I’m a professor of anthropology at a university. A carpenter appeared an hour later to inspect the damage, and announced gravely that, as there were books all over the floor, safety rules prevented

Person of the forest

Person of the Forest from Melissa Lesh on Vimeo.

Worldwide catastrophe as shorebirds face extinction

  John W. Fitzpatrick and Nathan R. Senner write: A worldwide catastrophe is underway among an extraordinary group of birds — the marathon migrants we know as shorebirds. Numbers of some species are falling so quickly that many biologists fear an imminent planet-wide wave of extinctions. These declines represent the No. 1 conservation crisis facing birds in the world today. Climate change, coastal development, the destruction of wetlands and hunting