Francis Fukuyama’s ‘Political Order and Political Decay’

51rahCSzmBL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Sheri Berman at The New York Times:

Perhaps Fukuyama’s most interesting section is his discussion of the United States, which is used to illustrate the interaction of democracy and state building. Up through the 19th century, he notes, the United States had a weak, corrupt and patrimonial state. From the end of the 19th to the middle of the 20th century, however, the American state was transformed into a strong and effective independent actor, first by the Progressives and then by the New Deal. This change was driven by “a social revolution brought about by industrialization, which mobilized a host of new political actors with no interest in the old clientelist system.” The American example shows that democracies can indeed build strong states, but that doing so, Fukuyama argues, requires a lot of effort over a long time by powerful players not tied to the older order.

Yet if the United States illustrates how democratic states can develop, it also illustrates how they can decline. Drawing on Huntington again, Fukuyama reminds us that “all political systems — past and present — are liable to decay,” as older institutional structures fail to evolve to meet the needs of a changing world. “The fact that a system once was a successful and stable liberal democracy does not mean that it will remain so in perpetuity,” and he warns that even the United States has no permanent immunity from institutional decline.

more here.

earth: both extraordinary and insignificant

The-star-V838-Monocerotis-009Tim Radford at The Guardian:

His book is an intoxicating collection of questions answered with other questions, and startling discoveries that make creation even more mysterious. A couple of decades ago, physicists spoke confidently of a “theory of everything” and one or two even proposed an “end to science”. All has now changed. The mysteries have multiplied.

Forget the tricksy parenthesis in the subtitle. Skip past an early tendency to label scientists as budding, and science as cutting-edge. This book expands, like spacetime itself, from a very small point. It begins with the microscope pioneer Antony van Leeuwenhoek's famous discovery in Delft in 1674 of a microcosm in a drop of lake water, and it ends with speculation about a lonely civilisation, 100bn years on, in a freezing vacuum that no longer contains information about anything. Books such as these remind us that we are lucky to be here at all, and even luckier to be here now.

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limits to the pursuit of happiness

E123f1eb-4a72-4f96-baf6-ee90a3396ee6Stephen Cave at The Financial Times:

For most of the past 2,000 years of western culture, happiness on earth was considered neither achievable nor desirable. “Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life,” said God to Adam, in an early example of expectations management. But Christians also saw this misery as the key to the life-to-come: “Whosoever doth not bear his cross,” said Jesus, “cannot be my disciple.” And if the days before painkillers weren’t sorrowful enough already, the faithful would flail their backs to hasten their way to beatitude.

So how did happiness change from being a sin to our foremost earthly goal? The answer in short is that western culture retained the promise of paradise but brought it forward from the next world into this one. The process took a few hundred years, beginning with the Renaissance and the Reformation. But it owes most to the thinkers of the Enlightenment, who combined the Christian belief in progress towards a happier state with a new faith in science and reason. In doing so, they wrote the script to which we still speak: a doctrine that says we can have heaven here and now if only we try hard enough.

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Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Galen Strawson in The Guardian:

Human-history-011Human beings (members of the genus Homo) have existed for about 2.4m years. Homo sapiens, our own wildly egregious species of great apes, has only existed for 6% of that time – about 150,000 years. So a book whose main title is Sapiens shouldn't be subtitled “A Brief History of Humankind”. It's easy to see why Yuval Noah Harari devotes 95% of his book to us as a species: self-ignorant as we are, we still know far more about ourselves than about other species of human beings, including several that have become extinct since we first walked the Earth.

…At one point Harari claims that “the leading project of the scientific revolution” is the Gilgamesh Project (named after the hero of the epic who set out to destroy death): “to give humankind eternal life” or “amortality”. He is sanguine about its eventual success. But amortality isn't immortality, because it will always be possible for us to die by violence, and Harari is plausibly sceptical about how much good it will do us.

…there's no guarantee that amortality will bring greater happiness. Harari draws on well-known research that shows that a person's happiness from day to day has remarkably little to do with their material circumstances. Certainly money can make a difference – but only when it lifts us out of poverty. After that, more money changes little or nothing. Certainly a lottery winner is lifted by her luck, but after about 18 months her average everyday happiness reverts to its old level. If we had an infallible “happyometer”, and toured Orange County and the streets of Kolkata, it's not clear that we would get consistently higher readings in the first place than in the second. This point about happiness is a persistent theme in Sapiens. When Arthur Brooks (head of the conservative American Enterprise Institute) made a related point in the New York Times in July, he was criticised for trying to favour the rich and justify income inequality. The criticism was confused, for although current inequalities of income are repellent, and harmful to all, the happiness research is well confirmed. This doesn't, however, prevent Harari from suggesting that the lives lived by sapiens today may be worse overall than the lives they lived 15,000 years ago.

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Can a Book Ever Change a Reader’s Life for the Worse?

Leslie Jamison in The New York Times:

Jamison-bookends-master315At his sentencing hearing in 1981, after he was convicted of John Lennon’s murder, Mark David Chapman read aloud from J. D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye”: “I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over. . . . I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.” “The Catcher in the Rye” was the book Chapman had been reading at the crime scene when he was arrested. It was the book that held, as he claimed, his message for the world. He was standing at the cliff; he was just doing his work. A few years later, the serial killers Leonard Lake and Charles Ng embarked on what they called “Operation Miranda,” a violent spree of torture, rape and murder named for the woman abducted by a deranged butterfly collector in John Fowles’s novel “The Collector,” which they cited as their inspiration.

I’m not saying that Salinger or Fowles are responsible for what Chapman or Lake or Ng did. Clearly, they weren’t. Their novels weren’t. I mention them only to suggest the ways that novels can become embodiments of our own worst impulses, can christen or distill or liberate these impulses — and also because reading about these men makes me remember reading “The Collector” when I was young. I moved through it compulsively. I couldn’t turn away from it. I didn’t want to.

More here.

Letters by Vladimir Nabokov to his wife Véra

Donald Rayfield in the Literary Review:

Rayfield_09_14What seems to emerge is a portrait of a marriage of which most male writers can only dream: a wife who devotes all her talents, energy and steely character to nurturing her husband's genius and promoting his fame. (Véra's biographer, Stacy Schiff, simply called her a 'shrewish, controlling dragon-lady' and compared extracting information from her with extracting an angry cat from its box at the vet's.) In his foreword to this book, Brian Boyd presents a condensed version of his extensive and canonical biography of Nabokov. His very first sentence – 'No marriage of a major twentieth-century writer lasted longer than Vladimir Nabokov's' – is his only wrong call: Anthony Powell's sixty-five years of marriage to Lady Violet Pakenham is the obvious record-holder. Field in his biography, frustrated by the Nabokovs' manipulation, relied too much on gossip, speculation and psychoanalysis; Boyd, who won the family's total trust and who stuck to what was corroborated by documents or respectable sources, has superseded him. Nevertheless, he lets his love of Nabokov downplay, even ignore, uncomfortable facts.

One such fact is Nabokov's 1937 love affair in Paris with the young blonde Russian émigrée Irina Guadanini. It is clear (from other sources) that Véra, stuck in Prague with her mother-in-law and infant son, was told in an anonymous letter of the affair. The content of her letters to Nabokov that spring and summer can only be guessed at; the nervous tone that enters Nabokov's mixtures of cloying affection with irritable self-justification belies the sincerity of his declarations during the previous fourteen years: 'I can imagine how exhausted you are, my darling, and how overstrung, but believe me, you will get much better over summer.' Boyd dismisses Irina as a 'part-time poet who supported herself as a dog-groomer', which is about as fair as calling Catherine Walston, Graham Greene's great love, a part-time ballroom dancer who enjoyed herself as a Scrabble player.

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Mining for Antibiotics, Right Under Our Noses

Carl Zimmer in the New York Times:

ScreenHunter_792 Sep. 12 17.30“Microorganisms are the best chemists on the planet,” declaredMichael A. Fischbach, a chemist himself at the University of California, San Francisco.

For evidence, Dr. Fischbach points to the many lifesaving drugs that microorganisms produce. In 1928, for example, Alexander Fleming discovered that mold wafting into his lab produced a bacteria-killing chemical that he dubbed penicillin.

Later generations of scientists found drugmaking microorganisms in more exotic locales. In 1951, a missionary in Borneo named William Bouw shipped a box of jungle dirt to Edmund C. Kornfield, a chemist at Eli Lilly. In that soil, Dr. Kornfield discovered a species of bacteria that made a potent antibiotic, later named vancomycin.

Scientists today are still searching jungles, oceans and other corners of the world for microorganisms that make medicines. But in a new study published Thursday in the journal Cell, Dr. Fischbach and his colleagues suggest that we should also be looking inward.

Analyzing the bacteria that live in our bodies, the scientists identified genes for making over 3,000 previously unknown molecules that may prove to be useful drugs.

“Nobody had thought to look that close to home,” said Dr. Fischbach.

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How Vladimir Putin is revolutionizing information warfare

Peter Pomerantsev in The Atlantic:

LeadAt the NATO summit in Wales last week, General Philip Breedlove, the military alliance’s top commander, made a bold declaration. Russia, he said, is waging “the most amazing information warfare blitzkrieg we have ever seen in the history of information warfare.”

It was something of an underestimation. The new Russia doesn’t just deal in the petty disinformation, forgeries, lies, leaks, and cyber-sabotage usually associated with information warfare. It reinvents reality, creating mass hallucinations that then translate into political action. Take Novorossiya, the name Vladimir Putin has given to the huge wedge of southeastern Ukraine he might, or might not, consider annexing. The term is plucked from tsarist history, when it represented a different geographical space. Nobody who lives in that part of the world today ever thought of themselves as living in Novorossiya and bearing allegiance to it—at least until several months ago. Now, Novorossiya is being imagined into being: Russian media are showing maps of its ‘geography,’ while Kremlin-backed politicians are writing its ‘history’ into school textbooks. There’s a flagand even a news agency (in English and Russian). There are several Twitterfeeds. It’s like something out of a Borges story—except for the very real casualties of the war conducted in its name.

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Brilliance Often Springs from Boredom

Ingrid Wickelgren in Scientific American:

Insight_garlandcannon-300x259Every so often, we face a job we dread because it seems exceedingly dull. As a child, I felt that way about household chores—scrubbing a toilet, sweeping a floor, wiping a countertop, weeding. I remember one day my grandmother was visiting and announced that she would sweep the floor for me, because she liked sweeping. What? She explained something about the little piles that I really tried to appreciate—because I wanted to like sweeping too—but alas, could not. Recently, however, I’ve been given a new reason to like sweeping, and other somewhat tiresome tasks. It is not because the tasks themselves can be made more intellectually invigorating, but because they generally cannot. When the mind is not fully engaged, it can wander—and that’s often when insights arrive.

Every so often, we face a job we dread because it seems exceedingly dull. As a child, I felt that way about household chores—scrubbing a toilet, sweeping a floor, wiping a countertop, weeding. I remember one day my grandmother was visiting and announced that she would sweep the floor for me, because she liked sweeping. What? She explained something about the little piles that I really tried to appreciate—because I wanted to like sweeping too—but alas, could not. Recently, however, I’ve been given a new reason to like sweeping, and other somewhat tiresome tasks. It is not because the tasks themselves can be made more intellectually invigorating, but because they generally cannot. When the mind is not fully engaged, it can wander—and that’s often when insights arrive.

More here.

Why Not Kill Them All? Keith Gessen Reports from Donetsk


Over at the LRB (image from wikimedia commons):

Mikhail Mishin is a small, fit man with a couple of gold teeth in his mouth. He grew up in Makeevka, a large town next to Donetsk, and for several years played professional football, rising to the Ukrainian Second League before eventually quitting at the age of 28. After a few tough years, his father helped him find work in the sports section of city government. He lobbied for money for sports facilities and attended their opening ceremonies, where he always gave a short speech about the moral and physical benefits of sport. No scholar of languages, he was never able to master Ukrainian fully, which perhaps would have kept him from climbing higher in politics if things hadn’t taken a strange turn for him, and the Donbass region, earlier this year. In any case, around Donetsk, Russian was the only language necessary for overseeing children’s football tournaments. Mishin’s salary was $300 a month and he didn’t own a car, but he didn’t mind too much. His costs were low – he was unmarried and lived in his parents’ flat – and if he needed a ride somewhere, his best friend Aleksandr was always happy to drive.

When the Maidan protests started in Kiev late last year, Mishin followed them with increasing anxiety. He watched as young men in masks and the insignia of old Ukrainian fascist movements attacked riot police – some of them from the Donetsk area – with Molotov cocktails. He saw governors in the western provinces pulled out of their offices and roughed up by furious crowds. It seemed that the country was descending into chaos. When he heard a rumour that some of the young men from Maidan were headed for Donetsk, he believed it. After work he started taking the bus to the centre of Donetsk to stand with the protesters who called themselves ‘anti-Maidan’. Some of them waved Russian flags; others held up posters of Stalin. But they all wanted to express their disagreement with what was happening in Kiev. Mishin supported this. He was worried that he might get into trouble – he was a city official, after all – but he figured that he was doing it in his own time, and it was something he believed in. But he concealed his new political activity from his parents, who would have worried.

‘The protests in March and April were the most massive grassroots protests I have ever seen in Donetsk,’ Yuri Dergunov, who is also from Makeevka and teaches political science, told me. ‘In my memory people here had never been so active and so involved in their own fate.’ He pointed out the very specific social composition of the protests in Donetsk. The pro-Maidan protests, when they took place, were middle class and nationalistic; anti-Maidan was lower class and anti-oligarchic (and Russian nationalist).

More here.

Stop Pretending that Liberals are Just as Anti-Science as Conservatives

Mennonites Vaccines

Chris Mooney in Mother Jones (Tom E. Puskar/AP):

Vaccines: Here, the undeniable reality is that childhood vaccines are safe and do not cause autism. So do liberals deny this fact more frequently than conservatives?

Recent research suggests the answer to that question is “no.” In a 2013 paper published in PLOS One, for instance, Stephan Lewandowsky and his colleagues surveyed a representative sample of 1001 Americans about their ideological beliefs and their views on contentious science topics. That included vaccines, where they used a five-item questionnaire to assess people's views, including statements like “I believe that vaccines are a safe and reliable way to help avert the spread of preventable diseases” and “I believe that vaccines have negative side effects that outweigh the benefits of vaccination for children.”

The study did not find that people on the left were more likely to oppose or distrust vaccines. Rather, it found a highly nuanced result. The researchers examined two related but distinct contributors to right-wing ideology: self-identification as a political conservative and support for the free market. It found that while the former was related to somewhat more vaccine support, the latter was related to somewhat more vaccine opposition. According to Lewandowsky, the two opposing forces “virtually cancel overall.”

Other studies have found similar results. In a 2009 paper, Yale's Dan Kahan and his colleagues found that the conservative ideological values of “hierarchy” and “individualism” were both linked to greater opposition to the HPV vaccine in particular. In a paper from earlier this year, meanwhile, Kahan found that the idea of a link between the political left and the belief that vaccines in general are dangerous “lacks any factual basis.” In fact, if anything, he found a small increase in belief in vaccine risks as one moved to the right of the political spectrum.

If you'd prefer to examine the patterns of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks, meanwhile, those also seem politically diverse. We are having a horrible year for measles, for instance, with 18 outbreaks and 592 cases, more than double the total in any previous year since 2001. And the 21 states that have seen cases and outbreaks run the political gamut; they include California and Massachusetts, but also Alabama, Tennessee, Texas, and Ohio (home to a large outbreak in the Amish community, a group of people that can hardly be called “liberal”). Last year, meanwhile, there was a measles outbreak clustered around a Texas megachurch.

So in sum, the evidence that vaccine opposition is somehow specially tied to left-wing beliefs is just lacking. Rather, the largest factor here, according to Lewandowsky's research, is conspiratorial beliefs, which are hard to categorize as either left wing or right wing in nature.

More here.

From the Archives: A Basic Income for All


I recently posted a link to a thorough summary of the idea and history of universal basic income, over at Vox. I recalled that 14 years ago the Boston Review held a forum on Basic Income, following the arguments made by Phillipe van Parijs in Real Freedom for All. Van Parijs:

Advocates of a UBI may, but generally do not, propose it as a full substitute for existing conditional transfers. Most supporters want to keep–possibly in simplified forms and necessarily at reduced levels–publicly organized social insurance and disability compensation schemes that would supplement the unconditional income while remaining subjected to the usual conditions. Indeed, if a government implemented an unconditional income that was too small to cover basic needs–which, as I previously noted, would almost certainly be the case at first–UBI advocates would not want to eliminate the existing conditional minimum-income schemes, but only to readjust their levels.

In the context of Europe’s most developed welfare states, for example, one might imagine the immediate introduction of universal child benefits and a strictly individual, noncontributory basic pension as full substitutes for existing means-tested benefit schemes for the young and the elderly. Indeed, some of these countries already have such age- restricted UBIs for the young and the elderly. Contributory retirement insurance schemes, whether obligatory or optional, would top up the basic pension.

As for the working-age population, advocates of a universal minimum income could, in the short term, settle for a “partial” (less-than-subsistence) but strictly individual UBI, initially pitched at, say, half the current guaranteed minimum income for a single person. In US terms, that would be about $250 per month, or $3,000 a year. 

More here. Responses from Herbert A. Simon, Emma Rothschild, Brian Barry, Anne L. Alstott, Fred Block, Katherine McFate, Gar Alperovitz, William A. Galston, Wade Rathke, Edmund S. Phelps, Elizabeth Anderson, Ronald Dore, Robert E. Goodin, Peter Edelman and Claus Offe can be found here. Herbert Simon:

I am in strong general agreement with Philippe Van Parijs’s argument for a UBI or “patrimony”–a portion of the product of a society that should be shared by all of those who inhabit that society. To establish such a patrimony is equivalent to recognizing shared ownership of a significant fraction of the resources, physical and intellectual, that enable the society to produce what it produces. As the essay makes a very strong case for the UBI and its feasibility, I will limit my comments to just two issues: (1) why a UBI (or patrimony) would be just; and (2) some problems of incentives that such a system poses and that need to be handled effectively.

When we compare average incomes in rich nations with those in Third World countries, we find enormous differences that are surely not due simply to differences in motivations to earn. Laziness is not a principal cause of poverty. A more plausible explanation for the differences, in fact the explanation that is universally put forward, is that much greater resources per capita are available to some countries than to others. These differences are not simply a matter of acres of land or tons of coal or iron ore, but, more important, differences in social capital that takes primarily the form of stored knowledge (e.g., technology, and especially organizational and governmental skills).

Exactly the same claim can be made about the differences in incomes within any given society. In large part, these differences must be attributed to differences in capital ownership, of which the largest part is social capital: knowledge, and participation in kinship and other privileged social relations. In addressing the question of justice, therefore, we are assessing the justice of inheritance of such resources along bloodlines. This is a question of value, not of fact. I personally do not see any moral basis for an inalienable right to inherit resources, or to retain all the resources that one has acquired by means of economic or other activities.

More here.

Friday Poem


There was nothing to name, time
held its tongue. A dancing foaming
above dull thuds. The dark

hollow that neither lacked nor longed
became home to a boundless
being that grew, blind,

to the beat of my heart.
It was her. Wordless and free
to receive the soothing rhythm.

She listened to the rustling throb,
and heard, tucked up against it,
the hasty tick of her being.

by Anna Enquist
from Een kooi van klank
publisher: Stiching CPNB & Poetry International


The paradox of Charles Ives

0a275282-38d6-11e4_1093733hCarol J. Oja at the Times Literary Supplement:

In “Monster (for Charles Ives)”, the American abstract expressionist Robert Motherwell painted the head and upper body of a scraggly animal, pierced by a white hole that receded into grey nothingness. “I dedicated the painting to Ives,” Motherwell stated, “for the title refers to the monstrous ambiguity of the modernist artist’s situation, which Ives no less (and no more) epitomizes than other deeply serious composers, poets, playwrights, painters and sculptors in the U.S.A. in the twentieth century.” Motherwell said his inspiration came from listening to the music of Ives on a classical radio station in New York City, a shared sonic space for devotees of high art. He created this painting in 1959, five years after Ives’s death and somewhere amid the composer’s tumultuous journey from spurned rebel to canonical visionary.

Myth-making and myth-bashing have defined the “monstrous ambiguity” of Ives’s cultural status, and in Charles Ives in the Mirror: American histories of an iconic composer, David C. Paul unpacks shifting perceptions of the composer and his music. Paul has crafted an ambitious intellectual history, putting Ives at the centre of diverse forces, including the history of twentieth-century composition, the legacy of transcendentalism, the cultural marketing of the Cold War and the rise of American Studies and American musicology.

more here.

Hector Berlioz’s “To be or not to be”

Fellix vallotton kp0Peter Bloom at The Hudson Review:

Berlioz cannot be said to have been gifted at languages other than his own, of which he became a master. As a boy in the Isère, in the eighteen-naughts, he was tutored in Latin by his demanding father, a learned country doctor. Virgil became the composer’s lifelong companion (ergo Les Troyens). Berlioz spent two years in Italy in his late twenties and picked up Italian as a diligent tourist. He travelled extensively in Germany in his forties and learned nary a word. He twice visited Russia and there spoke exclusively French. He went five times to England between 1847 and 1855 and did on the first occasion mention to his father that he found himself able, to his surprise, to say what he needed to say. His love of Shakespeare derived, however, from no such practical experience. It rather developed—this is one of those things that cause us to see Berlioz as fanatique and excentrique—from love itself. Love for the Anglo-Irish actress Harriet Smithson, that is, who came to Paris in 1827 and who, during an intensive but short-lived craze for Shakespeare in English, revealed the depths of the dramas and captivated the French public with her performances of leading roles inHamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, King Lear, The Merchant of Venice, and Richard III.

All of the French Romantics were smitten by Smithson—Hugo and Gautier, Dumas and Delacroix, the list goes on—but only Berlioz made it his business relentlessly to pursue the actress and eventually to persuade her, after a courtship whose vicissitudes forever confirm how truth is stranger than fiction, to become his wife.

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At 8:48 on the morning of September 11, Michael Wright was a thirty-year-old account executive working on the eighty-first floor of the World Trade Center

From Esquire:

ScreenHunter_791 Sep. 11 16.08All of a sudden, there was the shift of an earthquake. People ask, “Did you hear a boom?” No. The way I can best describe it is that every joint in the building jolted. You ever been in a big old house when a gust of wind comes through and you hear all the posts creak? Picture that creaking being not a matter of inches but of feet. We all got knocked off balance. One guy burst out of a stall buttoning up his pants, saying, “What the fuck?” The flex caused the marble walls in the bathroom to crack.

You're thinking, Gas main. It was so percussive, so close. I opened the bathroom door, looked outside, and saw fire.

There was screaming. One of my coworkers, Alicia, was trapped in the women's room next door. The doorjamb had folded in on itself and sealed the door shut. This guy Art and another guy started kicking the shit out of the door, and they finally got her out.

There was a huge crack in the floor of the hallway that was about half a football field long, and the elevator bank by my office was completely blown out. If I'd walked over, I could've looked all the way down. Chunks of material that had been part of the wall were in flames all over the floor. Smoke was everywhere.

More here.

Does life play dice?

Philip Ball in Chemistry World:

CW0914_Crucible_630m‘Quantum biology’ was always going to be a winning formula. What could be more irresistible than the idea that two of the most mysterious subjects in science – quantum physics and life – are connected? Indeed, you get the third big mystery – consciousness – thrown in for good measure, if you accept the highly controversial suggestion by Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff that quantum behaviour of protein filaments called microtubules is responsible for the computational capability of the human mind.

Chemists might sigh: once again those two attention-grabbers, physics and biology, are appropriating what essentially belongs to chemistry. For the fact is that all of the facets of quantum biology that are so far reasonably established, or at least well grounded in experiment and theory, are chemical ones. The least disputable case, though arguably the most mundane, is enzyme catalysis, where quantum tunnelling enables proton and electron transfer. It also appears beyond doubt that photosynthesis involves transfer of energy from the excited chromophore to the reaction centre in an excitonic wavefunction that maintains a state of quantum coherence. It seems rather staggering to find these quantum phenomena operating in the warm, messy environment of the cell while physicists and engineers still struggle to harness them at cryogenic conditions for quantum computing.
The riskier reaches of quantum biology also address chemical problems: the mechanism of olfaction(proposed to happen by sensing of odorant vibrational spectra using electron tunnelling) and of magnetic direction-sensing in birds (which might involve quantum entanglement of electron spins on free radicals).
Yet it is no quirk of fate that these phenomena are sold as a union of physics and biology, bypassing chemistry. As Jim Al-Khalili and Johnjoe McFadden explain in a forthcoming book, Life on the edge, the first quantum biologists were pioneers of quantum theory: Pascual Jordan, Niels Bohr and Erwin Schrödinger. Bohr was never shy of pushing his view of quantum theory – the Copenhagen interpretation – into fields beyond physics, and his 1932 lecture ‘Light and life’ seems to have been influential in persuading Max Delbrück to turn from physics to genetics – work which later won Delbrück a Nobel prize.
More here.


Justin E. H. Smith in his blog:

EuropaOne day I'm sitting in a rented SUV in a traffic jam, near yet far from LaGuardia, listening to NPR. Some harmless duffer, probably wearing a bowtie and a Yankees cap, is waxing sentimental about the great baseball stadiums of yore. I get in a plane and the next day I'm back in France and the taxi driver is listening to France Culture. Some professor is on, talking about Maurice Blanchot, who suspects that what we all really want, deep down, is to get spanked.

So I'm back in France. I came out of the airplane into a gauntlet of ads from HSBC, the ones asking you to imagine what banking is going to be like in the future. Whenever I see them I imagine how they will look –sorry, how they would look– sticking out of post-apocalyptic rubble.

Really, I'm sorry. Elif Batuman has announced that we've exited the age of irony and have entered the age of awkwardness. Oy, Elif, I just can't keep up with all the ages, and I suppose that in itself is a prescription for countless awkward encounters. Anyhow I'm still dwelling on how ironic, not awkward, all the feverish proclamations of capitalism triumphant are going to look someday.

Now I'm back home, back in Europe. Where? When I got my French cellphone contract they told me I would have to call for a special forfait prior to any trips to North America, but they assured me I could use it anywhere in 'Europe'. This sounded strange, and ill-defined. I asked if I could use it in Romania. Yes, of course, the agent replied. Bulgaria? Yes. Croatia? I think so. Montenegro? Um. Moldova? Uh. Chechnya? No, definitely not.

More here.