Aeon Magazine4 min read
Campus Protests Should Stop At The Door Of The Classroom
Protests are a time-honoured tradition on college campuses – memorably exemplified by the protests of 1968 by the grandparents of the current generation of students. They reflect the passionate energies of students discovering their own priorities an
Aeon Magazine5 min readPsychology
When Should A Therapist Decide To Break Confidentiality?
I was shaken and transfixed in the aftermath of the shootings at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Like most of those in the United States, prevention was on my mind. According to partial psychiatric records obtained by t
Aeon Magazine5 min read
Network Visualisations Show What We Can And What We May Know
In 1928 Jacob Levy Moreno, a Vienna-trained psychiatrist who had recently emigrated to New York, developed an innovative way of identifying ‘at risk’ children. He analysed social patterns at the State Training School for Girls and the Riverdale Count
Aeon Magazine4 min read
Animal Pain Is About Communication, Not Just Feeling
If you watch kids at a local playground, sooner or later one of them will run around and fall face-first to the ground. For a moment, there’s likely to be silence. Then the child will look around, catch a glimpse of their parent, and finally burst in
Aeon Magazine6 min readScience
The Khipu Code: The Knotty Mystery Of The Inkas’ 3D Records
The Inka Empire (1400-1532 CE) is one of few ancient civilisations that speaks to us in multiple dimensions. Instead of words or pictograms, the Inkas used khipus – knotted string devices – to communicate extraordinarily complex mathematical and narr
Aeon Magazine5 min read
What Did Max Weber Mean By The ‘Spirit’ Of Capitalism?
Max Weber’s famous text The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905) is surely one of the most misunderstood of all the canonical works regularly taught, mangled and revered in universities across the globe. This is not to say that teache
Aeon Magazine4 min readRelationships & Parenting
More People Should Choose To Have Children With Down Syndrome
My son Aaron, aged nine, has Down syndrome. If you look at photos of our family, his disability might not be readily apparent. He wears glasses, and he likes to pull his baseball cap down low over his forehead, which makes the characteristic almond s
Aeon Magazine5 min read
You’re Simply Not That Big A Deal: Now Isn’t That A Relief?
There is a meme that speaks directly to the hearts and minds of the overly self-conscious. Perhaps you’ve seen it; it goes something like this: ‘Brain: “I see you are trying to sleep. May I offer you a selection of your most embarrassing memories fro
Aeon Magazine5 min read
Suffering, Not Just Happiness, Weighs In The Utilitarian Calculus
In 1826, at the age of 20, John Stuart Mill sank into a suicidal depression, which was bitterly ironic, because his entire upbringing was governed by the maximisation of happiness. How this philosopher clambered out of the despair generated by an arc
Aeon Magazine5 min read
Even If You Build It, The Poor Can’t Come: Against Supply-side
‘If you build it, they will come.’ It’s a Latin saying – Si tu id aeficas, ei venient – but it’s probably more recognisable because it sounds like what that disembodied voice says to Kevin Costner in the film Field of Dreams (1989). And in the film,
Aeon Magazine5 min readSelf-Improvement
Psychogenic Shivers: Why We Get The Chills When We Aren’t Cold
A few years ago, I proposed that the feeling of cold in one’s spine, while for example watching a film or listening to music, corresponds to an event when our vital need for cognition is satisfied. Similarly, I have shown that chills are not solely r
Aeon Magazine4 min read
Bananas Have Died Out Once Before – Don’t Let It Happen Again
You probably take bananas for granted. In the United Kingdom, one in four pieces of fruit consumed is a banana and, on average, each Briton eats 10 kg of bananas per year; in the United States, that’s 12 kg, or up to 100 bananas. When I ask people, m
Aeon Magazine5 min readArts & Languages
Raising A Multilingual Family Is Hard – What Makes It Work?
Parents have many reasons for raising their children with multiple languages. Some hope for better career opportunities for their offspring, while others focus on the reported cognitive and intellectual benefits of learning an additional tongue, incl
Aeon Magazine5 min read
To Get A Grip On Altruism, See Humans As Molecules
‘What is life?’ In 1943, Erwin Schrödinger posed this question in a series of lectures at Trinity College, Dublin. Already famous as a hero of the quantum revolution, he charged scientists with a new mission: to begin to account for the activity of l
Aeon Magazine4 min readScience
What Makes People Distrust Science? Surprisingly, Not Politics
Today, there is a crisis of trust in science. Many people – including politicians and, yes, even presidents – publicly express doubts about the validity of scientific findings. Meanwhile, scientific institutions and journals express their concerns ab
Aeon Magazine4 min read
Teleological Behaviourism Or What It Means To Imagine A Lion
Jill is born with a normal visual system. Green light activates the same mechanism in her brain as it does in all normal people; ditto for red. However, her twin brother Jack is born with the connections crossed so that green light activates his ‘red
Aeon Magazine4 min read
Brutality Is Common In Video Games, But Not Sexual Violence. Why?
Tearing out an opponent’s still-beating heart, ripping out his spine, and impaling him on sharp spikes – these are just a few of the colourful ‘fatalities’ from the notoriously violent video game Mortal Kombat. At the time of its release in 1992, it
Aeon Magazine4 min read
Delphic Priestesses Were The World’s First Political Risk Consultants
In 480 BCE, the citizens of Athens were in more trouble than it is possible for our modern minds to fathom. Xerxes, the seemingly omnipotent son of Darius the Great, had some unfinished business left to him by his father. A decade earlier, at the Bat
Aeon Magazine5 min read
Is Philosophy Absurd? Only When You’re Doing It Right
Last semester, halfway through a meeting of my ‘Meaning of Life’ seminar, I found myself lying on a window seat along the eastern wall of the classroom. I was scheduled for spinal surgery in a few months, and sitting and standing were tough. I needed
Aeon Magazine5 min read
Is Nature Continuous Or Discrete? How The Atomist Error Was Born
The modern idea that nature is discrete originated in Ancient Greek atomism. Leucippus, Democritus and Epicurus all argued that nature was composed of what they called ἄτομος (átomos) or ‘indivisible individuals’. Nature was, for them, the totality o
Aeon Magazine5 min read
Our Golden Age Of TV: Amid Collapse, A New Family Emerges
Our present, many have noted, is a new golden age of television, defined by the rise of a range of sophisticated, creative and powerful serial shows. We know that, time and again in history, forms of art arise to meet the demands of even the most pro
Aeon Magazine5 min readSelf-Improvement
How Your Mind, Under Stress, Gets Better At Processing Bad News
Some of the most important decisions you will make in your lifetime will occur while you feel stressed and anxious. From medical decisions to financial and professional ones, we are often required to weigh up information under stressful conditions. T
Aeon Magazine4 min read
You Don’t Have A Right To Believe Whatever You Want To
Do we have the right to believe whatever we want to believe? This supposed right is often claimed as the last resort of the wilfully ignorant, the person who is cornered by evidence and mounting opinion: ‘I believe climate change is a hoax whatever a
Aeon Magazine5 min read
Why Uterus Transplants Are A Bad Idea For Women
The first successful uterus-transplant births in the United States happened in Dallas in November 2017, building on the success of a Swedish team a few years prior. Where regular pregnancy is impossible, traditional surrogacy is already an option for
Aeon Magazine4 min readPsychology
Haven’t We Met Before? On Doppelgängers And Perception
In 2015, Niamh Geaney, a 28-year-old Irish woman, was approached by a TV production company to participate in an unusual competition: a race to find her twin stranger, a stranger who looks exactly like her. Within two weeks of scouring social network
Aeon Magazine5 min read
These Should Be The End Times For American Patriotism
Patriotism is the organising passion of modern political life in the United States yet its vitality defies obvious explanation. The country has no national education system. There’s neither compulsory military nor civil service. No government agency
Aeon Magazine5 min readPsychology
Baby Boomers Are Divorcing For Surprisingly Old-fashioned Reasons
At first, Kathy, 53 years old, spoke to me calmly, but as the minutes ticked away, her voice started to crack. Her husband had a long-standing problem with alcohol. The couple, married for more than 25 years, had one son, and tried to keep the marria
Aeon Magazine3 min read
True Generosity Involves More Than Just Giving
Who is the most generous person in the world today? Ask folks in the West, and the most popular answer would probably be Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft. For good reason, too. According to Business Insider’s 2015 ranking of the 20 most generous
Aeon Magazine4 min readPsychology
The Danger Of Absolute Thinking Is Absolutely Clear
Think of the most happy and well-adjusted person you know – what can you say about their thinking style? Are they dogmatic, with an all-or-nothing outlook on the world? Do they place totally rigid demands on themselves and those around them? When con
Aeon Magazine5 min read
How The Crisis Of The 1930s Made The Catholic Church Modern
The 20th century is littered with failed global experiments. The British Empire roared into the century with the wind at its back, only to fall apart. The Russian Revolution promised to inaugurate a century of communist insurgency, but that dream, to
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