Science & Technology

Artwork by Anne Rothenstein.

Heat and Force

Patricia Fara

23 September 2021

Every time you ride a bicycle or freeze a bag of peas or carry out a search on Google, some energy becomes unavailable, and the total amount of entropy in the universe gets ever so slightly larger.

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Wild Beasts

Fraser MacDonald

23 September 2021

Iknow​ the road to Abriachan better on the map than on the ground. I can trace it back and forth up the hill as it rises above the old graveyard at Killianan, through the hazel woods, out to the . . .

Charity Refused

Malcolm Gaskill

9 September 2021

Afew weeks ago,​ a man appeared in my front garden as I was trimming the hedge. Slight in stature, in his early twenties with short dark hair, he was wearing a huge hold-all as though it were a rucksack . . .

The Sixth Taste

Daniel Soar

9 September 2021

Food​ is money. Or it can be, if you know how to transform it into profit. Ajinomoto Co. is Japan’s biggest producer of condiments and seasonings, with annual revenues of ¥1 trillion, or . . .

Our Turbine Futures

James Meek

15 July 2021

The equivalent of almost all Scotland’s electricity is now supplied by renewables, and when demand is low and the weather blustery, wind turbines generate two-thirds of the wattage Britain needs . . .

The Sucker, the Sucker! What’s it like to be an octopus?

Amia Srinivasan, 7 September 2017

Their intelligence is like ours, and utterly unlike ours. Octopuses are the closest we can come, on earth, to knowing what it might be like to encounter intelligent aliens.

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You Are the Product: It Zucks!

John Lanchester, 17 August 2017

I am scared of Facebook. The company’s ambition, its ruthlessness, and its lack of a moral compass scare me.

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In Hyperspace

Fredric Jameson, 10 September 2015

Science fiction is not the only mass-cultural genre (or subgenre) whose relationship to ‘high literature’ and to modernism in particular presents problems.

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Ghosting: Julian Assange

Andrew O’Hagan, 6 March 2014

It was exciting to think that no novel had ever captured this new kind of history, where military lies on a global scale were revealed by a bunch of sleepy amateurs two foot from an Aga.

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Diary: After the Oil Spill

Rebecca Solnit, 5 August 2010

New Orleans’s Saint Charles Avenue is lined with oak trees whose broad branches drip Spanish moss and Mardi Gras beads from the pre-Lenten parades, and behind the oaks are beautiful old...

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Why does it take so long to mend an escalator?

Peter Campbell, 7 March 2002

The descent to the tunnels through which the deep lines run is a tax on the spirit that is paid willingly because it makes it easier to live in an old, tight-packed city. But when the system fails it is strongly resented.

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What’s left of Henrietta Lacks? HeLa

Anne Enright, 13 April 2000

I don’t know where I heard of her first: a woman whose cells are bred in culture dishes in labs all over the world; a woman whose cells were so prolific that there is more of her now, in...

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On the Darwinian View of Progress

Amartya Sen, 5 November 1992

It is now a century and a third, almost exactly, since the publication in 1859 of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. In this period the view of evolutionary progress introduced by Darwin...

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The man who mistook his wife for a hat

Oliver Sacks, 19 May 1983

The scientific study of the relationship between brain and mind began in 1861, when Broca, in France, found that specific difficulties in the expressive use of speech (aphasia) consistently...

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The illusion of science, for a writer in the embryonic American marketplace, sold better than the real thing. But Poe had grand scientific ambitions, with which he persisted in the teeth of indifference...

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On the Delta Variant

Rupert Beale, 1 July 2021

We will soon reach a point where the threat of Covid in the UK is substantially diminished by widespread immunity. The 19 July opening is unlikely to cause another devastating wave of hospitalisations...

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Perhaps, as Cixin Liu’s science fiction trilogy The Three-Body Problem suggests, revealing your presence to a hostile cosmos results in your inevitable destruction, so sending messages into space...

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From Its Myriad Tips: Mushroom Brain

Francis Gooding, 20 May 2021

Fungi are diffuse, plastic beings: they reform themselves around the problem at hand. ‘Mycelium’, says Merlin Sheldrake, is a body without limits: ‘a body without a plan’. With...

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When was Hippocrates?

James Romm, 22 April 2021

Doctors today speak not only of a Hippocratic oath but a Hippocratic face (distorted by the approach of death), a Hippocratic bench (used for setting broken bones) and a Hippocratic manoeuvre (for popping...

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A Mystery to Itself: What is a brain?

Rivka Galchen, 22 April 2021

Descartes thought the brain functioned as a system of hydraulics, much like the statues he saw in the gardens of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Later thinkers also saw in the brain what they saw around them: electricity,...

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Cookies, Pixels and Fingerprints

Donald MacKenzie, 1 April 2021

There is something unsettling – especially in the midst of a pandemic that has forced so much of commerce and everyday life to move online – about being brought face to face with the extent...

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Consider the Stork

Katherine Rundell, 1 April 2021

They produce marvels without warning: when the woolly-necked stork opens its wings in flight, it reveals a band of unfeathered skin on the underside of the forearm that shines a startling ruby red. Clattering...

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Your hat sucks: UbuWeb

Gill Partington, 1 April 2021

Perhaps the internet doesn’t so much reboot the avant-garde as make the whole concept obsolete: it has its own home-grown provocateurs in the form of trolls and shitposters and arguably its own culture,...

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Where are the space arks? Space Forces

Tom Stevenson, 4 March 2021

Where are the space arks in orbit? The exploration of exoplanets in the circumstellar habitable zone? Satellite wars over the tiny layer of space immediately above the atmosphere are evidence of a fear...

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Human Origami: Four-Dimensional Hinton

Adam Mars-Jones, 4 March 2021

In Hinton the non-appearance of a transcendent perspective does the book the great service of going against teleology, the sense of moving towards a predestined end that makes most historical novels so...

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Eeek!

Rupert Beale, 4 March 2021

What might the end of the pandemic look like? There are two main possibilities. The first, and most likely, is that Sars-CoV-2 becomes an endemic coronavirus that gives rise to large numbers of infections...

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The Ramsey Effect

Kieran Setiya, 18 February 2021

Picture,​ if you can, a single person with the talents of Keats, Schubert and Seurat: an inspired poet, a prodigious composer, a revolutionary painter, a figure of unlimited promise who died, like...

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A Pox on the Poor: The First Vaccine

Steven Shapin, 4 February 2021

Long before there was a science called immunology, the barrier between bodily self and non-­self was culturally electrified. Cowpox came from cattle, and vaccination was the introduction to your body...

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In the late 1950s, the CIA’s schemes included using an aerosol to lace the air with LSD in the Havana studio where Fidel Castro made his radio broadcasts, sprinkl­ing Castro’s boots...

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The Head in the Shed: Reading Bones

Gavin Francis, 21 January 2021

When the police bring Sue Black a bag of bones and ask what she makes of them she starts out with four questions: Are they human? Are they of forensic interest? Who was this person? Do they tell us anything...

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A com­puter can play chess to superhuman levels and yet have no concept of what chess is, what place chess has in the world, or even that there is a world. Does this mean that its behaviour isn’t...

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The violence and ecological collapse of the Anthropocene isn’t a wrong turn, a death spiral by which we have doomed life on Earth, but part of the evolution of Gaia. The next evolutionary stage awaits....

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