A Possible Break in One of Evolution’s Biggest Mysteries

Whales have a history that is among the strangest and least-understood of any animal—and barnacles might be the key to unlocking their secrets.

Peter Brannen in The Atlantic:

Lead_960Once upon a time, before India knew Asia, when alligators sunned themselves on shores north of the Arctic Circle, a small, timid, dog-like creature tentatively waded into a river. Fifty million years passed. The continents wandered and crashed, and the ocean reconfigured itself.

Now, where there were once Arctic alligators, there was ice. As for the creature who once dipped its toes into the tepid river, it now swam the frigid seas. The intervening age had transformed it into the largest animal in the history of life on Earth.

“There’s a famous paleontologist who’s dead by now, George Gaylord Simpson, and he once described whales as, ‘On the whole, the most peculiar and aberrant of mammals,’” says Felix Marx, a whale paleontologist and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. “And I think that’s really true, because, I mean, they’re mammals, so they have to face all of the challenges that a normal mammal does. They’re adapted to living on land: they’re [warm-blooded], they have fur, they breathe air, they give birth to live young and they have to suckle those live young. And then you try and do all of that in the sea, and of course, almost everything is stacked against you. Like, the milk is floating away, heat is draining from your body, your fur isn’t really that useful, there’s no air to breathe—like, everything is against you. And yet, within a relatively short period of time they’ve managed to tackle all of that, and they managed to achieve feats like diving down several kilometers and staying down for—I don’t know—an hour at a time, and doing some of the weirdest, biggest feeding events in all of the animal kingdom.”

More here.

Three minutes with Hans Rosling will change your mind about the world

Amy Maxmen in Nature:

ScreenHunter_2456 Dec. 18 22.51Hans Rosling knew never to flee from men wielding machetes. “The risk is higher if you run than if you face them,” he says. So, in 1989, when an angry mob confronted him at the field laboratory he had set up in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rosling tried to appear calm. “I thought, ‘I need to use the resources I have, and I am good at talking’.”

Rosling, a physician and epidemiologist, pulled from his knapsack a handful of photographs of people from different parts of Africa who had been crippled by konzo, an incurable disease that was affecting many in this community, too. Through an interpreter, he explained that he believed he knew the cause, and he wanted to test local people’s blood to be sure. A few minutes into his demonstration, an old woman stepped forward and addressed the crowd in support of the research. After the more aggressive members of the mob stopped waving their machetes, she rolled up her sleeve. Most followed her lead. “You can do anything as long as you talk with people and listen to people and talk with the intelligentsia of the community,” says Rosling.

He is still trying to arm influential people with facts. He has become a trusted counsellor and speaker of plain truth to United Nations leaders, billionaire executives such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and politicians including Al Gore. Even Fidel Castro called on the slim, bespectacled Swede for advice. Rosling’s video lectures on global health and economics have elevated him to viral celebrity status, and he has been listed among the 100 most influential people in the world by the magazines Time and Foreign Policy. Melinda Gates of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation says, “To have Hans Rosling as a teacher is one of the biggest honours in the world.”

More here.

Hunter S. Thompson Predicted the Rise of Trumpism

Susan McWilliams in The Nation:

ScreenHunter_2455 Dec. 18 22.46In late March, Donald Trump opened a rally in Wisconsin by mocking the state’s governor, Scott Walker, who had just endorsed his Republican opponent, Ted Cruz. “He came in on his Harley,” Trump said of Walker, “but he doesn’t look like a motorcycle guy.”

“The motorcycle guys,” he added, “like Trump.”

It has been 50 years since Hunter S. Thompson published the definitive book on motorcycle guys: Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. It grew out of a piece first published in The Nationone year earlier. My grandfather, Carey McWilliams, editor of the magazine from 1955 to 1975, commissioned the piece from Thompson—it was the gonzo journalist’s first big break, and the beginning of a friendship between the two men that would last until my grandfather died in 1980. Because of that family connection, I had long known that Hell’s Angels was a political book. Even so, I was surprised, when I finally picked it up a few years ago, by how prophetic Thompson is and how eerily he anticipates 21st-century American politics. This year, when people asked me what I thought of the election, I kept telling them to read Hell’s Angels.

Most people read Hell’s Angels for the lurid stories of sex and drugs. But that misses the point entirely. What’s truly shocking about reading the book today is how well Thompson foresaw the retaliatory, right-wing politics that now goes by the name of Trumpism.

More here.

Ditch the empathy — it’s morally corrosive and gets in the way of reason

Scott Russell Sanders in The Washington Post:

AgainstEmpathy%20hc%20cIn the aftermath of the most virulent U.S. presidential campaign since the Civil War, readers might approach with skepticism a book titled “Against Empathy.” Isn’t our rancorous, hate-riven society suffering from a shortage rather than a surplus of empathy? Don’t we need to feel one another’s pain? On the contrary, Paul Bloom argues, “if we want to be good and caring people, if we want to make the world a better place, then we are better off without empathy.” Bloom, a neuroscientist and professor of psychology at Yale, draws on evolutionary theory and studies of the brain to make the case that empathy — “the act of feeling what you believe other people feel” — is “morally corrosive.” He notes that Amazon.com lists some 1,500 books with the word “empathy” in the title or subtitle, virtually all of which celebrate the human capacity for mirroring the feelings of others. His goal is to challenge that consensus. “On balance, empathy is a negative in human affairs,” he insists. “It’s sugary soda, tempting and delicious and bad for us.”

So why is empathy bad for us? Why is it, in Bloom’s view, “a terrible guide to moral judgment”? Because it’s biased, favoring those who are close to us, our relations and friends, and those with whom we identify by race, religion or other markers. It’s narrow, focusing our care on a single person or a few people, ignoring everyone else. It may lead parents to avoid disciplining their children for fear of making them unhappy. It may cause burnout in therapists who take on the suffering of their patients. It blinds us to empirical evidence and to future costs of present actions. His gravest charge is that “our empathy for those close to us is a powerful force for war and atrocity toward others.”

More here.

The Unexpected Adaptability of Chimps to the Human World

Douglas Foster in The Atlantic:

Lead_960Gatherings of great-ape specialists border on the funereal. Four of six great-ape species (including both species of orangutans in Indonesia) are critically endangered, just one step away from extinction. The non-captive cousins of the two great-ape species in the center, Western Lowland gorillas and chimpanzees, are endangered, two steps from extinction. In recent decades, chimpanzee populations in Africa, estimated at 150,000 to 200,000, have been decimated because of expansion of palm-oil plantations (an industrialized form of agriculture), logging, hunting, climate change, and disease. “We’re surrounded by doom and gloom,” Goodall said. But alongside these dominant trends were strands of a more hopeful counter-narrative, which she was eager to highlight.

…This progress was due, in part, to a program that placed Android mobile phones and Tablets in the hands of rangers and local residents. Now, they could capture evidence of incursions, snares, and illegal logging, upload it quickly, and allow local authorities to respond swiftly enough to make a difference. “Look at what happens when we work with people,” Goodall said. It wasn’t only fresh evidence of success in getting humans to respond more effectively to threats to the existence of chimpanzees that excited her. There were also accumulating reports at the conference about the adaptive social intelligence of chimpanzees.

In a meeting hall near the ape house, a young Japanese researcher named Shinya Yamamoto rolled a bit of video from an ongoing study. Like Matsuzawa, Yamamoto had worked with captive chimps in Japan, and also observed both bonobos and chimpanzees in Africa. The clip showed a pair of dominant males cross a narrow dirt road, scanning it in both directions. They station themselves on the opposite side of the road and stand guard as a mother with an infant on her back, and seven other members of their community, scoot by. In similar footage, available from an earlier study, adult chimpanzees behave much like school crossing guards. This is an example of group coordination, vigilance, waiting and escorting, Yamamoto explained. Since bonobos haven’t been observed escorting and guarding in this way, it could be distinctly chimpanzee behavior. Chimps are hunters and meat eaters, unlike other great apes and more like humans, so perhaps the quality of coordination needed in organizing a hunt prepares chimpanzees for escorting others in this way to avoid danger on the road.

More here.

on the transcendent use of language by Beatrix Potter, Magritte and Shakespeare

Beatrix Potter, 2012, Olivia WasteAS Byatt at The Guardian:

Storytelling is part of most people’s lives, almost from the moment we can understand language at all. Family tales, fairy stories, popular history, news and gossip are integral parts of human life. When I taught literature at University College London I was lucky enough to be invited to sit in the Senior Common Room bar with the artists from the Slade School of Art. I started to think about the fact that they worked with concrete materials – clay, stone, paint, film – whereas what I work with is the language we also use to conduct our daily lives.

In Amsterdam recently I had the great pleasure of talking with Edmund de Waal about how – and how early in his life – he understood that clay was what he would work with. Why do some of us need to make works of art? How do we choose what we work with? What effect does the shift from dailiness to art have on us as writers and readers?

I remember first noticing that the written word had a form that needed to be understood and thought about. Many of my generation of British children will have grown up with the series of school reading books,The Radiant Way, in which there is the unforgettable sequence of words: “Pat can sing. Pat sing to Mother. Sing to Mother Pat. Mother sing to Pat.” And so on. We discover the “th”, the “ng” which are not part of the sounded out phrases we are first taught. We discover the written word as opposed to the spoken word.

more here.


Mario-bellatin-mirrorMarcelo Ballvé at The Quarterly Conversation:

It’s difficult to find adjectives that will bear the full oddity of Mario Bellatín’s books. But it’s at least possible to say they are remarkably elastic—usually slim in size but containing a stretched-waistband world of absurd characters, uncanny scenarios, and endless transformations.

In Bellatín’s accounts of reality, nothing remains what it is for very long, nothing is cataloged properly or fixed in place. Soon enough it shifts shape, or inverts. Male to female, fanged to toothless, indecent to prim, alive to dead; Central Europe becomes California, a beauty salon an aquarium and a hospice, a roadhouse an underground railroad for Jewish refugees.

An impending transformation is at the center of Bellatín’s fictionalized autobiography, The Large Glass. In “My Skin, Luminous,” a young boy is brought to a claustrophobic convent-like bathhouse for the exhibition of his oddities, including his prodigious testicles and glowing skin. In exchange, he receives gifts. Near the end, he suffers, knowing one day he will lose his remarkable qualities. He will become less shapely, his skin more dull. He will change again. When the show ends, so will his rewards.

more here.

Poor, white and no longer forgotten


Simon Kuper in FT:

About four years ago, George Soros began to focus on Europe’s white working class. This was a new departure for him: in Europe, his liberal Open Society Foundations tended to study and advocate for ethnic minorities. But Soros thought the white working classes had a lot in common with European Muslims: they were mostly poor, they suffered discrimination because of the way they looked and dressed, and their voices were seldom heard.

The financier’s sympathies might surprise some in the white working class. After all, Soros featured in Donald Trump’s final campaign ad — alongside other prominent Jews in finance — as one of “these people that don’t have your good in mind”. And yet Soros’s OSF commissioned studies of six white working-class neighbourhoods around western Europe. This was groundbreaking research. The OSF believes its report on Lyonwas “the only empirical study on the majority population that has been conducted in France”. (Disclosure: as a paid sub-board member of OSF at the time, I was involved in the studies.)

Today, the white working classes aren’t forgotten any more. Mainstream parties are now desperate to win them back from populists. The OSF research suggests how this could be done.

Before visiting the neighbourhoods we studied in Manchester and Lyon, I hadn’t realised just how much the white working classes are mocked. They are called “chavs” in Britain, “white trash” in the US and, sometimes, “beaufs” (“oiks”) in France. “Poverty porn” TV shows make fun of supposedly lazy, half-witted, track-suited scroungers. Many poorer whites complain that the “elite” care about ethnic minorities and gay people, but not about them.

No wonder, because their states had often abandoned them. The people I met in Manchester lacked decent public transport, childcare, elder care and mental-health care (a particular issue for the poor). They distrusted the police. They had “zero-hours contracts” or did agency work, with no guaranteed salary. In weeks when they earned little, they had to fill in complicated forms at the benefits office, and hope for help. Some didn’t send their children to university because they couldn’t afford the living expenses. People in Lyon told me they feared ending up on the streets — an outcome they saw as entirely possible.

More here.

Authoritarianism and Post-Truth Politics


Jacob T. Levy over at the Niskanen Center's No Virtue:

To understand this kind of political untruth, I think we have to look to theorists of truth and language in politics; Frankfurt’s essay was only tangentially that. But the great analysts of truth and speech under totalitarianism—George Orwell, Hannah Arendt, Vaclav Havel—can help us recognize this kind of lie for what it is. Sometimes—often—a leader with authoritarian tendencies will lie in order to make others repeat his lie both as a way to demonstrate and strengthen his power over them.

Saying something obviously untrue, and making your subordinates repeat it with a straight face in their own voice, is a particularly startling display of power over them. It’s something that was endemic to totalitarianism. Arendt analyzed the huge lies and blatant reversals of language associated with the Holocaust. Havel documented the pervasive little lies, lies that everyone knew to be lies, of late Communism. And Orwell gave us the vivid “2+2=5.”

Being made to repeat an obvious lie makes it clear that you’re powerless; it also makes you complicit. You’re morally compromised. Your ability to stand on your own moral two feet and resist or denounce is lost. Part of this is a general tool for making people part of immoral groups. One child makes a second abuse a third. The second then can’t think he’s any better than the first, the bully, and can’t inform. In a gang or the Mafia, your first kill makes you trustworthy, because you’re now dependent on the group to keep your secrets, and can’t credibly claim to be superior to them.

But in totalitarian and authoritarian politics, there seems to be something special about the lie, partly because so much of politics is about speech (and especially public speech) in the first place. Based on the evidence of his presidential campaign, I think Donald Trump understands this instinctively, and he relished the power to make his subordinates repeat his clearly outlandish lies in public. Every Sunday he provided fresh absurdities that Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani, and Kellyanne Conway repeated on the talk shows. They didn’t persuade anyone who were strategically important to persuade; the audience for Meet the Press isn’t low-information, undecided, working-class voters, and the kinds of people who did watch those shows knew the claims were false. But making his surrogates repeat the lies compromised them; that tied them to him. And it degraded them, and made clear where power lay.

More here.

Ethics, Law and Politics


Richard Marshall interviews John Kleinig in 3:AM Magazine:

3:AM: You’re a philosopher who has written widely on both legal and ethical and political philosophy. How do you see the relationship between ethics, law and politics as it seems to be a relationship that needs to be borne in mind as we follow your thinking, in particular how you separate legal and moral requirements because they often parallel each other in the domains you examine.

JK: Although my earliest interests were in philosophy of religion, my masters and doctoral dissertations were on topics in moral/social/legal philosophy (conscience and punishment, respectively). That more or less set the course for my subsequent career. The interest in political philosophy came a bit later, though my main doctoral supervisor – Stanley Benn – had made significant contributions to the revival of political philosophy in the 1960s. However, I remember him remarking that one needed to be a certain age to engage with problems in political philosophy – I think he had in mind a certain breadth of understanding and experience – and so my political interests developed more slowly than the others.

As for the ethics, law, and politics relationship, there has always been a tension for me as I try to keep them distinct while recognizing their interactions. A valuable contribution to my thinking there and elsewhere was Ellen Meiksins Wood’s Mind and Politics, which reinforced for me the ways in which seemingly disparate philosophical endeavors were/are interconnected, and although I have tended to give a certain priority to ethical considerations as part of practical reasoning, I am reminded often enough that this position makes some contentious presumptions . In separating out, say, legal and moral requirements, I tend to work with paradigms rather than strict divisions – eg, paradigmatically, legal requirements are jurisdictionally bound whereas ethical requirements are aspirationally universal; ethical requirements focus especially on intentions whereas legal requirements focus primarily on conduct; ethical requirements take priority over legal requirements; and so on. One starts there, but then has to kick away the ladder with qualifications – to accommodate ethical obligations to animals, environmental objects, criminal excuses, etc. I guess something like that is true in most disciplines – we step off the ladders we necessarily construct to deal with more complex understandings.

More here.

Future tension


Anthony Sudbery in Aeon:

Que sera sera
Whatever will be will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que sera sera.

So sang Doris Day in 1956, expressing a near-universal belief of humankind: you can’t know the future. Even if this is not quite a universal belief, then the universal experience of humankind is that we don’t know the future. We don’t know it, that is, in the immediate way that we know parts of the present and the past. We see some things happening in the present, we remember some things in the past, but we don’t see or remember the future.

But perception can be deceptive, and memory can be unreliable; even this kind of direct knowledge is not certain. And there are kinds of indirect knowledge of the future that can be as certain as anything we know by direct perception or memory. I reckon I know that the sun will rise tomorrow; if I throw a stone hard at my kitchen window, I know that it will break the window. On the other hand, I did not know on Christmas Eve last year that my hometown of York was going to be hit by heavy rain on Christmas Day and nearly isolated by floods on Boxing Day.

In the ancient world and, I think, to our childhood selves, it is events such as the York floods that make us believe that we cannot know the future. I might know some things about the future, but I cannot know everything; I am sure that some things will happen tomorrow that I have no inkling of, and that I could not possibly have known about, today. In the past, such events might have been attributed to the unknowable will of the gods. York was flooded because the rain god was in a bad mood, or felt like playing with us. My insurance policy refers to such catastrophes as ‘acts of God’. When we feel that there is no knowing who will win an election, we say that the result is ‘in the lap of the gods’.

More here.

Trump, the Dragon, and the Minotaur


Yanis Varoufakis in Project Syndicate:

If Donald Trump understands anything, it is the value of bankruptcy and financial recycling. He knows all about success via strategic defaults, followed by massive debt write-offs and the creation of assets from liabilities. But does he grasp the profound difference between a developer’s debt and the debt of a large economy? And does he understand that China’s private debt bubble is a powder keg under the global economy? Much hinges on whether he does.

Trump was elected on a wave of discontent with the establishment’s colossal mishandling of both the pre-2008 boom and the post-2008 recession. His promise of a domestic stimulus and protectionist trade policies to bring back manufacturing jobs carried him to the White House. Whether he can deliver depends on whether he understands the role America used to play in the “good old days,” the role it can play now and, crucially, the significance of China.

Before 1971, US global hegemony was predicated upon America’s current-account surplus with the rest of the capitalist world, which the US helped to stabilize by recycling part of its surplus to Europe and Japan. This underpinned economic stability and sharply declining inequality everywhere. But, as America slipped into a deficit position, that global system could no longer function, giving rise to what I have called the Global Minotaur phase.

According to ancient myth, King Minos of Crete owed his hegemony to the Minotaur, a tragic beast imprisoned under Minos’s palace. The Minotaur’s intense loneliness was comparable only to the fear it inspired far and wide, because its voracious appetite could be satisfied – thereby guaranteeing Minos’s reign – only by human flesh. So a ship loaded with youngsters regularly sailed to Crete from faraway Athens to deliver its human tribute to the beast. The gruesome ritual was essential for preserving Pax Cretana and the King’s hegemony.

After 1971, US hegemony grew by an analogous process.

More here.

The Seahorse In Your Brain: Where Body Parts Got Their Names

Joy Ho and Erin Ross in NPR:

Hippocampus-still_wide-7380d31ae62a7cdfa8051e1996572bedbc5bf361-s600-c85When the ancient Greeks were naming body parts, they were probably trying to give them names that were easy to remember, says Mary Fissell, a professor in the Department of the History of Medicine at Johns Hopkins. “Sure, there were texts, but the ancient world was very oral, and the people learning this stuff have to remember it.” So the Greek scholars, and later Roman and medieval scholars, named bones and organs and muscles after what they looked like. The thick bone at the front of your lower leg, the tibia, is named after a similar-looking flute.


The hippocampus is one of several parts of our brain involved in memory. Some intrepid brain-dissector must have thought it looked like a seahorse, because that's exactly what hippocampus means in Greek. We agree; it really does.

More here.

the Human Condition Through Art and Science

Vivian Gornick in The New York Times:

Gornick“A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women” is a collection of essays that, taken as a whole, is meant to increase the common reader’s understanding of and interest in the rich brew of human endeavor to be found in science and the humanities when we try to see the accomplishments of the one through the lens of the other. In its introduction, Siri Hustvedt reminds us of the famous culture war brought on in 1959 by the English scientist and novelist C.P. Snow, who warned that the gulf between those who understood either science or literature but not both would prove deadly to the future of liberal democracy. Today, Hustvedt observes, that threat seems more potent than ever, what with those who love the new technology indiscriminately, those who hate it indiscriminately, and very few in either camp who have a large grasp of its potential effect on us half a century from now. Hustvedt speaks here both as a writer of fiction (she’s got six novels under her belt) and as a serious autodidact who has spent the last decade reading and writing about neurobiology in hopes that she herself might become that marvelously integrated citizen Snow was calling for: a person who has developed a mind-set that moves with ease between understanding derived from the emotional imagination as well as the analytic intellect. The book we have in hand, however, made me wonder whether anyone can develop a sensibility so flexible it can address both sorts of experience with equal intimacy.

“A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women” is divided into three parts. The first part includes essays on sexism, the arts, pornography in our time, and Hustvedt’s own psychoanalysis; the third, essays on suicide, psychological blindness, philosophy and the brain, and Kierkegaard. These essays are often richly explored — especially the ones based in philosophical thought — and, when art is the subject, touchingly personal. Reflecting on the sculptor Louise Bourgeois, Hustvedt asserts that the spiritual exchange between herself and the artist has been so intense that Bourgeois “is now part of my bodily self in memory, both conscious and unconscious” and “in turn has mutated into the forms of my own work, part of the strange transference that takes place between artists.”

More here.

Finding North America’s lost medieval city: Cahokia was bigger than Paris—then it was completely abandoned

Annalee Newitz in Ars Technica:

ScreenHunter_2450 Dec. 16 21.49A thousand years ago, huge pyramids and earthen mounds stood where East St. Louis sprawls today in Southern Illinois. This majestic urban architecture towered over the swampy Mississippi River floodplains, blotting out the region's tiny villages. Beginning in the late 900s, word about the city spread throughout the southeast. Thousands of people visited for feasts and rituals, lured by the promise of a new kind of civilization. Many decided to stay.

At the city's apex in 1050, the population exploded to as many as 30 thousand people. It was the largest pre-Columbian city in what became the United States, bigger than London or Paris at the time. Its colorful wooden homes and monuments rose along the eastern side of the Mississippi, eventually spreading across the river to St. Louis. One particularly magnificent structure, known today as Monk’s Mound, marked the center of downtown. It towered 30 meters over an enormous central plaza and had three dramatic ascending levels, each covered in ceremonial buildings. Standing on the highest level, a person speaking loudly could be heard all the way across the Grand Plaza below. Flanking Monk’s Mound to the west was a circle of tall wooden poles, dubbed Woodhenge, that marked the solstices.

Despite its greatness, the city’s name has been lost to time. Its culture is known simply as Mississippian. When Europeans explored Illinois in the 17th century, the city had been abandoned for hundreds of years. At that time, the region was inhabited by the Cahokia, a tribe from the Illinois Confederation. Europeans decided to name the ancient city after them, despite the fact that the Cahokia themselves claimed no connection to it.

Centuries later, Cahokia's meteoric rise and fall remain a mystery.

More here.

Has LIGO Actually Proved Einstein Wrong – and Found Signs of Quantum Gravity?

Three physicists have predicted that finding ‘echoes’ of gravitational waves coming from blackhole mergers might be signs of a theory that finally unifies quantum mechanics and general relativity.

Vasudevan Mukunth in The Wire:

13991433420_3c1e4516d1_hYour high-school physics teacher would’ve likely taught you to think about the smallest constituents of nature by asking you to start with a large object – like a chair – and then keep breaking it down into smaller bits. For the purposes of making sense of your syllabus, you probably stopped at protons, electrons and neutrons. That’s a pity because, if you’d kept going, you’d have stumbled upon some of the biggest mysteries of the universe. At some point, you’d have hit the Planck scale: the smallest region of space, the shortest span of time. This is the smallest scale that quantum mechanics can make sense of, and this is where many physicists expect to find the fundamental particles that make up space itself.

If this region – or some phenomena that are thought to belong exclusively to this region – are found, then physicists will have made a stunning discovery. Apart from finding the ‘atoms’ of space, they’d have opened the doors to marrying the two biggest theories of physics: quantum mechanics and the theory of general relativity (GR). The former’s demesne is the small and smaller particles you passed along the way to the Planck scale. The latter’s is the largest distances and spans of time in the universe. And the discovery would be stunning because GR, created by Albert Einstein 101 years ago, doesn’t allow space to have any constituent ‘atoms’. For GR, space is smooth. And it is this fundamental conflict that has prevented the theories from being reconciled into a single ‘quantum gravity’ theory.

But the first signs of change might be here.

More here.