In the News 16.01.17 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


In the News 16.01.17 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
In the News 16.01.17 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
In the News 16.01.17 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Immortality Instinct


What happens to people after they die? Do the deceased live on eternally as spirits? Are loved ones reunited in heaven? Or do personal memories, feelings, thoughts, desires, goals and preferences cease forever, along with brain functioning, at the point of death?

Scholars from theology to biology have attempted to answer these questions by carefully examining different pieces of evidence: they have looked to religious texts, philosophical musings and, more recently, physical anatomy and the biology of death. But for most people in most cultures, the answers to these questions do not require such fierce scrutiny. Even though accepted scientific evidence denies the possibility of immortal life, people the world over seem compelled to think about death as a transition, not an end.

This widespread, uniquely human way of thinking – observed across cultures and religions – has recently caught the attention of cognitive developmental psychologists, including myself. What I have discovered by looking at children’s untaught intuitions is that, rather than intelligence, the part of the self that is most central to our ideas about eternal life is our capacity for feeling and desiring.

Read the rest of this article at aeon

This 3,500-Year-Old Greek Tomb Upended What We Thought We Knew About the Roots of Western Civilization


They had been digging for days, shaded from the Greek sun by a square of green tarpaulin slung between olive trees. The archaeologists used picks to break the cream-colored clay, baked as hard as rock, until what began as a cluster of stones just visible in the dirt became four walls in a neat rectangle, sinking down into the earth. Little more than the occasional animal bone, however, came from the soil itself. On the morning of May 28, 2015, the sun gave way to an unseasonable drizzle. The pair digging that day, Flint Dibble and Alison Fields, waited for the rain to clear, then stepped down into their meter-deep hole and got to work. Dibble looked at Fields. “It’s got to be soon,” he said.

The season had not started well. The archaeologists were part of a group of close to three dozen researchers digging near the ancient Palace of Nestor, on a hilltop near Pylos on the southwest coast of Greece. The palace was built in the Bronze Age by the Mycenaeans—the heroes described in Homer’s epic poems—and was first excavated in the 1930s. The dig’s leaders, Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker, husband-and-wife archaeologists from the University of Cincinnati, in Ohio, had hoped to excavate in a currant field just downslope from the palace, but Greek bureaucracy and a lawyers’ strike kept them from obtaining the necessary permits. So they settled, disappointed, on a neighboring olive grove. They cleared the land of weeds and snakes and selected a few spots to investigate, including three stones that appeared to form a corner. As the trench around the stones sank deeper, the researchers allowed themselves to grow eager: The shaft’s dimensions, two meters by one meter, suggested a grave, and Mycenaean burials are famous for their breathtakingly rich contents, able to reveal volumes about the culture that produced them. Still, there was no proof that this structure was even ancient, the archaeologists reminded themselves, and it might simply be a small cellar or shed.

Read the rest of this article at Smithsonian


Editor’s Letter January 2016

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Stage Oddity: The Story of David Bowie’s Secret Final Project


About ten years ago, I was on a train leaving New York City when I got a call on my cell phone.

“Hello,” the caller said. “Is this Michael Cunningham?”

“It is.”

“This is David Bowie. I hope I’m not calling at an inconvenient time.”

“Whoever you are,” I said, “this is a really cruel joke.”

It was surely the work of a friend, I thought—someone close enough to know that I’d listened to Ziggy Stardust and Diamond Dogs approximately 10,000 times each when I was in college and that still, with college far, far behind me, I listened to Bowie at least once a week. That person might even know about my youthful attempts to look like David Bowie, which I maintained even though a pale, skinny kid walking the streets of Pasadena, California, in a bad (very bad) red dye job and a Ziggy Stardust T-shirt did not seem to read “rock star” to anyone but me. The prankster who was calling me, pretending to be Bowie, might have known that I’d been, essentially, waiting for that call for almost 35 years.

The caller said, “No, really, it’s David. How are you?”

And suddenly, it seemed possible that this was David Bowie, if for no other reason than I couldn’t think of anyone I knew who could manage such a convincing imitation of that particular dulcet, nuanced—and profoundly familiar—voice.

Read the rest of this article at GQ

The Mind of an Octopus

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Someone is watching you, intently, but you can’t see them. Then you notice, drawn somehow by their eyes. You’re amid a sponge garden, the seafloor scattered with shrublike clumps of bright orange sponge. Tangled in one of these sponges and the gray-green seaweed around it is an animal about the size of a cat. Its body seems to be everywhere and nowhere. The only parts you can keep a fix on are a small head and the two eyes. As you make your way around the sponge, so, too, do those eyes, keeping their distance, keeping part of the sponge between the two of you. The creature’s color perfectly matches the seaweed, except that some of its skin is folded into tiny, towerlike peaks with tips that match the orange of the sponge. Eventually it raises its head high, then rockets away under jet propulsion.

A second meeting with an octopus: this one is in a den. Shells are strewn in front, arranged with some pieces of old glass. You stop in front of its house, and the two of you look at each other. This one is small, about the size of a tennis ball. You reach forward a hand and stretch out one finger, and one octopus arm slowly uncoils and comes out to touch you. The suckers grab your skin, and the hold is disconcertingly tight. It tugs your finger, tasting it as it pulls you gently in. The arm is packed with sensors, hundreds of them in each of the dozens of suckers. The arm itself is alive with neurons, a nest of nervous activity. Behind the arm, large round eyes watch you the whole time.

Read the rest of this article at Scientific American

The Hermit Who Inadvertently Shaped Climate-Change Science

Billy Barr moved to the Rocky Mountains four decades ago, got bored one winter, and decided to keep a notebook that has become the stuff of legend.


It was a year into his life alone in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains when Billy Barr began his recordings. It started as a curiosity, a task to busy his mind during the winter. By no means, Barr told me, having skied down from his cabin to use the nearest phone, did he set out to make a vital database for climate change scientists. “Hell no!” he said. “I didn’t know anything about climate change at the time.”

In 1973 Barr had dropped out of college and made his home an abandoned mining shack at the base of Gothic Mountain, a 12,600-foot stone buttress. The cold winds blew through the shack’s wood slat walls as if they didn’t exist; he shared the bare dirt floor with a skunk and pine marten, his only regular company for much of the year. Barr had moved from the East Coast to the Rocky Mountains precisely because of the solitude, but he couldn’t escape boredom. Especially that first winter. So he measured snow levels, animal tracks, and in spring the first jubilant calls of birds returning. He filled a notebook with these observations; then another notebook. This has continued now for 44 years.

Barr’s data would likely have remained the tinkerings of an amateur scientist were he not so close to the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL), one of the most important phenology research sites in the world. During the last couple decades, scientists at the RMBL have become fascinated with climate change’s impact on plants and animals in the high alpines, hoping to scale their discoveries into broader lessons about life in a warmer earth. But their research suffered from a dearth of long-term records. In Gothic, for example, the spring snow seemed to melt a little earlier. The flowers blossomed a little sooner. But without historical context, these little changes could not be understood for what they really were.

Read the rest of this article at The Atlantic

P.S. previous articles & more by P.F.M. // Top images: @ohhcouture, @georgiannalane, @hinalys