Aeon Magazine5 min read
What Big History Says About How Royal Women Exercise Power
Eleanor of Aquitaine is often portrayed as one of the most powerful queens in history. Wife, mother and counsellor of kings, crusader, landowner, patron of the arts, her power eventually grew so great – at least in the eyes of one royal husband, Henr
Aeon Magazine4 min read
How Ad Hominem Arguments Can Demolish Appeals To Authority
In 2018, the US Surgeon General declared e-cigarette use among young people an epidemic in the United States. As a result, parents were encouraged to talk with their children about smoking. One of the Surgeon General’s tips for parents is to ‘set a p
Aeon Magazine4 min read
What A Deer-tooth Necklace Says About Our Ice Age Ancestors
Ice Age Europe, approximately 20,000-13,500 years ago; a period known as the Magdalenian. The climate is gradually ameliorating after glaciers and cold temperatures reached their height in the Last Glacial Maximum. Despite this, the landscape is froz
Aeon Magazine4 min readPsychology
Why The Power Of Cute Is Colonising Our World
In such uncertain and uneasy times, and with so much injustice, hate and intolerance threatening the world, don’t we have more serious things to focus on than the escapades of that feline girl-figure Hello Kitty? Or Pokémon, the video-game franchise
Aeon Magazine4 min readScience
Richard Feynman Was Wrong About Beauty And Truth In Science
The American physicist Richard Feynman is often quoted as saying: ‘You can recognise truth by its beauty and simplicity.’ The phrase appears in the work of the American science writer K C Cole – in her Sympathetic Vibrations: Reflections on Physics a
Aeon Magazine5 min read
Why Is Psychedelic Culture Dominated By Privileged White Men?
A recent study of users of novel psychedelic substances found, probably to no-one’s surprise, that they are more likely than average to be male, white and college-educated. This has been the public face of psychedelic culture ever since it emerged mo
Aeon Magazine5 min read
Animals Do Have Memories, And Can Help Us Crack Alzheimer’s
For almost as long as modern science has been around, the idea that animals can remember past experiences seemed so preposterous that few researchers bothered to study it. Surely only humans, with our big, sophisticated brains, could be capable of ‘e
Aeon Magazine4 min read
Noah Webster’s Civil War Of Words Over American English
In the United States, the name Noah Webster (1758-1843) is synonymous with the word ‘dictionary’. But it is also synonymous with the idea of America, since his first unabridged American Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1828 when Webst
Aeon Magazine5 min read
Why The Community That Sings Together Stays Together
In Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), the movie about the British band Queen, the scene that sticks in my mind depicts the Live Aid concert in London in 1985. Queen belt out their best-loved songs and the crowd is singing along, swaying, clapping and stamping
Aeon Magazine5 min read
A Radical Legal Ideology Nurtured Our Era Of Economic Inequality
Where does economic power come from? Does it exist independently of the law? It seems obvious, even undeniable, that the answer is no. Law creates, defines and enforces property rights. Law enforces private contracts. It charters corporations and shi
Aeon Magazine5 min read
If Machines Want To Make Art, Will Humans Understand It?
Assuming that the emergence of consciousness in artificial minds is possible, those minds will feel the urge to create art. But will we be able to understand it? To answer this question, we need to consider two subquestions: when does the machine bec
Aeon Magazine4 min read
Reactionaries Love It, But Country Music Has A Progressive Heart
When Donald Trump took the first international trip of his presidency to Saudi Arabia in May 2017, another US icon also travelled along as part of the celebration of the alliance between these two countries: the country-music star Toby Keith. For man
Aeon Magazine4 min read
Ketamine Trips Are Uncannily Like Near-death Experiences
First-hand accounts of what it is like to come close to death often contain the same recurring themes, such as the sense of leaving the body, a review of one’s life, tunnelled vision and a magical sense of reality. Mystics, optimists and people of re
Aeon Magazine4 min readSociety
The Information Arms Race Can’t Be Won, But We Have To Keep Fighting
Arms races happen when two sides of a conflict escalate in a series of ever-changing moves intended to outwit the opponent. In biology, a classic example comes from cheetahs and gazelles. Over time, these species have evolved for speed, each respondi
Aeon Magazine4 min read
The Pandemonium Of Modern Celebrity Began In 19th-century Theatre
Why do so many people care so much about celebrities? Just as each generation believes it invented sex, so each thinks it created celebrity. Ask someone born in the 21st century what defines celebrity culture, and they will likely single out the digi
Aeon Magazine5 min read
How Adam Smith Became A (surprising) Hero To Conservative Economists
People like to fight over Adam Smith. To some, the Scottish philosopher is the patron saint of capitalism who wrote that great bible of economics, The Wealth of Nations (1776). Its doctrine, his followers claim, is that unfettered markets lead to eco
Aeon Magazine5 min read
Let’s Resolve To Own The Right To Make And Break Resolutions
The most interesting thing about resolutions is not that we make them, but the ways we find to break them. If you’re like me, you’ve already broken, and then attempted to forget, the hopeful promises that opened the year. I have come to see the stran
Aeon Magazine5 min readRelationships & Parenting
Part-time Work Is Humane And Should Be Respected And Encouraged
I woke up on a recent Tuesday morning and, while my husband got ready for work, I fixed some not-quite-healthy breakfast for the kids, harangued them until they brushed their teeth and put on shoes and socks, and drove them to school. Then I took the
Aeon Magazine5 min read
The Dancing Species: How Moving Together In Time Helps Make Us Human
Dancing is a human universal, but why? It is present in human cultures old and new; central to those with the longest continuous histories; evident in the earliest visual art on rock walls from France to South Africa to the Americas, and enfolded in
Aeon Magazine5 min readSociety
Fantasies Of Forced Sex Are Common. Do They Enable Rape Culture?
‘Rape fantasies,’ says M, an American kink educator, ‘are one of the most common fantasies for women.’ Studies attempting to quantify just how common yield wildly different results, likely thanks to their limited sample sizes, varied methodologies, a
Aeon Magazine6 min readTech
How Do You Teach A Car That A Snowman Won’t Walk Across The Road?
Picture yourself driving down a city street. You go around a curve, and suddenly see something in the middle of the road ahead. What should you do? Of course, the answer depends on what that ‘something’ is. A torn paper bag, a lost shoe, or a tumblew
Aeon Magazine5 min read
How Erasmus Darwin’s Poetry Prophesied Evolutionary Theory
Though he died before his grandson Charles was even born, Erasmus Darwin anticipated the theory of evolution through natural selection, albeit in poetic form. In his posthumously published The Temple of Nature (1803), he writes of how: This verse dem
Aeon Magazine5 min read
Nuclear Power Is Not The Answer In A Time Of Climate Change
In November 2018, the Woolsey Fire scorched nearly 100,000 acres of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, destroying forests, fields and more than 1,500 structures, and forcing the evacuation of nearly 300,000 people over 14 days. It burned so viciously
Aeon Magazine4 min read
Philosophy Should Care About The Filthy, Excessive And Unclean
Philosophy traditionally has been about ‘higher’ questions: what is knowledge? What is the meaning of justice? What is the nature of ultimate reality? These questions soar above the petty concerns of the everyday and reach towards a realm of pure ide
Aeon Magazine4 min readHappiness
Happiness Doesn't Follow Success: It's The Other Way Round
Work hard, become successful, then you’ll be happy. At least, that’s what many of us were taught by our parents, teachers and peers. The idea that we must pursue success in order to experience happiness is enshrined in the United States’ most treasur
Aeon Magazine5 min readSociety
To Avoid Moral Failure, Don’t See People As Sherlock Does
If we’re the kind of people who care both about not being racist, and also about basing our beliefs on the evidence that we have, then the world presents us with a challenge. The world is pretty racist. It shouldn’t be surprising then that sometimes
Aeon Magazine5 min read
Civilisational Collapse Has A Bright Past – But A Dark Future
Is the collapse of a civilisation necessarily calamitous? The failure of the Egyptian Old Kingdom towards the end of the 2nd millennium BCE was accompanied by riots, tomb-raids and even cannibalism. ‘The whole of Upper Egypt died of hunger and each i
Aeon Magazine5 min read
How Ballerinas Defy The Corporeal In A Quest For The Ethereal
I am a flake of snow in a young girl’s Christmas dream. I leap and flit across the stage among dozens of fellow flakes. Our long skirts brush past each other as we twirl and whirl on the tips of our toes, sweeping our arms skyward. We move as one, ef
Aeon Magazine5 min read
If Anyone Can See The Morally Unthinkable Online, What Then?
Imagine you work at a Latex glove factory. One night, you type ‘Latex’ into Google: you’re searching for competitors’ products, but you find other things too. Some of what you find turns you on. But some of it you wish you could unsee: prior to the s
Aeon Magazine5 min read
If Reason Exists Without Deliberation, It Cannot Be Uniquely Human
Philosophers and cognitive scientists today generally comprehend the domain of reason as a certain power of making inferences, confined to the thoughts and actions of human beings alone. Like echolocation in bats or photosynthesis in plants, reason i
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