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 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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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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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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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...

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Blips on the Screen: Risk-Free Assassinations

Andrew Cockburn, 3 December 2020

The record of this year’s wars shows that although these weapons may not provide a decisive edge in combat they excel in self-advertisement, projecting an image of all-seeing omnipotence. Drones...

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Consider the Giraffe

Katherine Rundell, 19 November 2020

The world is a wild and unlikely place: the giraffe, stranger than the griffin, taller than a tall house, does us the incomparable gift of being proof of it.

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Flour Fixated

Bee Wilson, 24 September 2020

‘Wheat is in everything!’ a friend of mine exclaimed with fury after being diagnosed with coeliac disease. To those of us who live far from the land, wheat seems a changeless and universal...

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In the Lab

Rupert Beale, 13 August 2020

A substantially reduced chance of death for patients in intensive care is good news of a sort, but isn’t going to make the world normal again. You will still avoid hugging and kissing your nearest...

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Consider the Hare

Katherine Rundell, 2 July 2020

‘The cat of the wood,’ Heaney calls them. ‘The stag of the cabbages.’ If there is magic in this world, some part of it lies with them. So if you are reading this, my love, I don’t...

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The more we learn about ourselves and the universe, the more we appreciate that aliens probably won’t just be humans with longer limbs and waving antennae. How do you communicate with a planet-sized...

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All hail the microbe: Things Pile Up

Lavinia Greenlaw, 18 June 2020

As a concept, ‘future fossils’ seems a bit reductive, too slickly oppositional, when put to work in such open terrain. What we’re really talking about is stuff. From plastic teaspoons...

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Drain the Swamps

Steven Shapin, 4 June 2020

It​ starts with bone-shivering chills, which give way to a high fever. The attacks last between six and twelve hours, and end in profuse sweating. When the chills and fever subside, they leave...

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Not in Spanish: Bilingualism

Michael Hofmann, 21 May 2020

The author is obviously in love with his subject, taking it everywhere with him, seeing it wherever he goes. ‘Most of the people I know are bilingual’ is his delightful shrug.

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Consider the Greenland Shark

Katherine Rundell, 7 May 2020

I am glad not to be a Greenland shark; I don’t have enough thoughts to fill five hundred years. But I find the very idea of them hopeful. They will see us pass through our current spinning apocalypse,...

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Short Cuts: Internet Speak

Lauren Oyler, 7 May 2020

The internet’s contribution to language has been to give us more ways to communicate without saying anything at all :(

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The government is now keen to claim it was never prepared to tolerate high levels of infection in order to achieve herd immunity, but while it was defending the mitigation strategy it was prepared to argue...

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The Arrestables

Jeremy Harding, 16 April 2020

Extinction Rebellion has come under fire for suggesting, as Roger Hallam has, that prison isn’t such a bad experience. Eda Seyhan, a lawyer and civil liberties campaigner, delivered a blistering...

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