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 may...

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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 a decentralised...

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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 to which...

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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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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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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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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 them,...

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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 with thallium...

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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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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 intelligent?...

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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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Get the jab!

Rupert Beale, 17 December 2020

Until the vaccines arrive – like the cavalry, if you want – it makes sense to be extremely cautious and to suppress transmission of the virus as much as reasonably possible. More stringent social distancing...

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Twenty Types of Human: Among the Neanderthals

John Lanchester, 17 December 2020

That feeling of similar-but-not-quite is present all through the history of our engagement with the Neanderthals: when we look at them we are looking at a distorted reflection in a mirror. As with a mirror-gazer,...

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