The future of the future

From The New York Times: “A geneticist, an oncologist, a roboticist, a novelist and an A.I. researcher walk into a bar.” That could be the setup for a very bad joke — or a tremendously fascinating conversation. Fortunately for us, it was the latter. On a blustery evening in late September, in a private room at…

Cell atlas reveals the landscape of early pregnancy

Rajagoalan and Long in Nature: Scientists have long puzzled over the ‘immunological paradox’ of pregnancy1: how does the mother tolerate the fetus — a foreign entity that carries some of the father’s DNA? In a paper in Nature, Vento-Tormo et al.2 investigate this enigma. The authors performed single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNAseq) of cells isolated from the placenta and the decidua…

Faith and the Fear of Death

Jonathan Jong in The New Atlantis: The line primus in orbe deos fecit timor — “fear first made gods in the world” — appears in at least two Latin poems in the first century. Earlier it was expressed with great aplomb in Lucretius’s poem On the Nature of Things. For Lucretius, as for many thinkers since, what terrifies us is nature —…

Enough With All the Innovation

John Patrick Leary in The Chronicle of Higher Education: At Wayne State University, a commuter campus in Detroit where faculty members and students struggle to turn people out for events, the opening of the Innovation Hub last fall was a big deal. I have rarely seen so many people in one room on campus. Speakers gushed about the university’s “innovation ecosystem” and the “disruptive” start-ups…

‘Reprogrammed’ stem cells implanted into patient with Parkinson’s disease

David Cyranoski in Nature: Japanese neurosurgeons have implanted ‘reprogrammed’ stem cells into the brain of a patient with Parkinson’s disease for the first time. The condition is only the second for which a therapy has been trialled using induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, which are developed by reprogramming the cells of body tissues such as skin so…

The politics of forgiveness

Peter Salmon in New Humanist: On 24 July 1967, the poet Paul Celan gave a reading in Freiburg im Brisgau. At the time he was on a leave of absence from Saint-Anne psychiatric hospital, where he had been interned after suffering a nervous breakdown, in the midst of which he attempted suicide. At the reading was…

Genetics and the Human Revolution

Bennett McIntosh in Harvard Magazine: Before ancient humans put pen to paper, stylus to tablet, or even brush to cave wall, their comings and goings were noted in another record, within their very cells. The human genome consists of chunks of DNA passed forward from countless ancestors, so by comparing modern humans’ genetic material with that…

The longing that defined Napoleon, man of action

Adam Zamoyski in Weekly Standard: Men of action present a problem for decent modern democrats. For the very term “men of action” is a euphemism for men accomplished in war, and no public figure is more suspect these days than the warlike man. When Winston Churchill called Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) “the greatest man of action born…

Enlightenment without end

John Gray in New Statesman: According to David Wootton, we are living in a world created by an intellectual revolution initiated by three thinkers in the 16th to 18th centuries. “My title is, Power, Pleasure and Profit, in that order, because power was conceptualised first, in the 16th century, by Niccolò Machiavelli; in the 17th century Hobbes…

The Cat Who Could Predict Death

Siddhartha Mukherjee in Tonic: Of the many small humiliations heaped on a young oncologist in his final year of fellowship, perhaps this one carried the oddest bite: A 2-year-old black-and-white cat named Oscar was apparently better than most doctors at predicting when a terminally ill patient was about to die. The story appeared, astonishingly, in The…

How biologists are creating life-like cells from scratch

Kendall Powell in Nature: There were just eight ingredients: two proteins, three buffering agents, two types of fat molecule and some chemical energy. But that was enough to create a flotilla of bouncing, pulsating blobs — rudimentary cell-like structures with some of the machinery necessary to divide on their own. To biophysicist Petra Schwille, the dancing creations…

The Lies That Bind Us

Kwame Anthony Appiah in IAI: “And now what will become of us without barbarians? / Those people were a kind of solution.”  —C. P. Cavafy, “Waiting for the Barbarians” (1898) Perhaps you know this poem? Constantine Cavafy was a writer whose every identity came with an asterisk, a quality he shared with Italo Svevo. Born two years after Svevo,…

The de-civilising process

Adrian Wooldridge in 1843: In his new book, “In Pursuit of Civility”, British historian Keith Thomas tells the story of the most benign developments of the past 500 years: the spread of civilised manners. In the 16th and 17th centuries many people behaved like barbarians. They delighted in public hangings and torture. They stank to high…