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Steven Pinker’s TED Talk: Is the world getting better or worse?

I read Steven Pinker’s new book, Enlightenment Now, and came away more optimistic about humanity. We’ve made remarkable progress in even the last few decades, not to mention the drastic difference in the human experience over the past two centuries. The book, though, is filled with an extraordinary amount of data backing up his arguments […]

Things fall apart: The Second Law and the meaning of life

I keep coming back to this feature I read last year on the scientific term or concept that scholars think ought to be more widely known. Here’s the scientist Steven Pinker’s response explaining why more people should understand entropy as described by the second law of thermodynamics: Why the awe for the Second Law? The Second […]

Darwin’s plodding path to brilliance

I filed away this Farnam Street article and just now read it. It’s a great take on what made Charles Darwin such a transformational thinker. In short, Darwin wasn’t gifted with an off-the-charts IQ. He was no Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein. But he could focus intently on minute details and stick with an idea for a very […]

The true country of a virtuous soul

“To a wise man, the whole earth is open, because the true country of a virtuous soul is the entire universe.” –Democritus This is from a fascinating essay on Aeon.co about the atomic theory’s ancient origins and the ultimate impact of that theory on our perception of the universe and our place in it. We are […]

The story of Hubble’s Deep Field image

The Hubble telescope’s Deep Field image from 1995 is one of the most important images in human history. I’ve been fascinated by it since I first heard about it in a talk by the neuroscientist, David Eagleman. (Great talk. Add it to your must watch list.) I regularly bring up the Hubble Deep Field image […]

Big picture, big history

   I’m on a big picture, big history kick right now.  I’ve been reading a great history of Homo sapiens, and I’ve started listening to the audio version of Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything.  Bryson’s book is a delightful survey of the biggest ideas and discoveries that explain what we know about […]

Pluto: To boldly go

We can actually see Pluto for the first time ever. Incredible! We (meaning the brilliant humans of NASA and the New Horizons team) launched this piano sized spacecraft nine years ago and sent it hurtling toward the edge of the solar system. It is now more than 3 billion (!) miles from home and sending […]

Standing on the edge of the known

A recent episode of the Nerdist podcast featured physicist Brian Cox, who hosts his own entertaining and enlightening podcast, The Infinite Monkey Cage. I listened to most of this episode of the Nerdist while walking my dog last night. The podcast was a fascinating conversation between regular humans and a super smart scientist who has […]

The merits of doubt

As I was trying to wake up my 7-year-old for school this morning, I reminded her that today is St. Patrick’s Day. That got her attention, and she asked if I thought leprechauns were real. Apparently, there’s been talk at her school this week about leprechauns making mischief. Without giving it much thought, I just […]

Richard Feynman: “This is not yet a scientific age”

The irrepressible Professor Feynman, a poetic scientist of the highest order, was speaking in the 20th century. Even now this statement holds, though there seems to me more optimism for an approaching age of widespread wonder based on the sharpening image of our ever more awe-inspiring universe.

“Of course we might be wrong, but…”

From an interview on TheVerge.com with Brian Cox, the physicist and science superstar and host of the entertaining BBC radio show/podcast, The Infinite Monkey Cage: Science is often presented as being dogmatic, when actually it’s the opposite of that. I’m just writing a new book actually, with a colleague of mine Jeff Forshaw at Manchester […]

Andromeda rising

This merits full screen. It’s a great video highlighting the most recent wonder from the Hubble Space Telescope, a stunning view into the galaxy nearest ours. The density of stars in this image of just a portion of just one galaxy is incredible. And watch till the end of the video to appreciate the context. […]

Sunday evening Stoic: Wash off the mud

Meditations 7.47: Of course, you do revolve with the stars. And, our view of the stars and the perspective they provide has magnified profoundly since the second century when the emperor wrote those words. The image in the slide above is the latest bit of wonder from the Hubble space telescope. It’s an incredible new […]

Imagining a future on the frontier beyond Earth

This gorgeous short film by Erik Wernquist imagines humans exploring deep into our solar system. The images are stunning in their beauty and in the vision they offer of humans venturing to the frontier beyond our own planet. And there’s Carl Sagan’s voice and poetic words. So good.   Why should we even dream of […]

Our star-filled neighborhood

  This photo of the Milky Way by astrophotographer Robert Gendler is stunning: Click on this photo to enlarge it for full awesomeness and existential stupefaction. Phil Plait wrote about it on his site yesterday. Look into what seems like a cloud and realize you’re looking at countless individual stars and their glow. How tightly packed these stars […]

Beyond not knowing

Any line of questioning leads to the ultimate: “I don’t know”. –Adam Savage, Mythbusters The latest episode of the TED Radio Hour includes the line above from the Mythbusters guy. Curiosity moves us forward. Some questions may be unanswerable, for now. But keep asking. “Why is the sky blue?” Centuries ago the answer would be a […]

Sand and stars

*photo by Indesign Mind boggling. And for every grain of sand on Earth there are probably 100 Earth-like planets in the universe. There is no such thing as a big problem in your life. We are barely conscious of the enormous scale of the vast universe we are swimming in.

“Magnificent desolation”

My family just got home from an hour-long full moon guided hike at the botanical garden nearby. It was a nice change from our usual Saturday night. We learned about nocturnal creatures and enjoyed hearing the fading sound of the cicadas being replaced by the katydids as the sun went down. As we drove home, […]

The Fermi Paradox and our place in the universe

What is the more disorienting, confounding possibility? That Earth is the only source of intelligent life in this massive and intricately complex universe, or that we are only one of many intelligent species scattered across the countless galaxies? WaitButWhy.com has a magnificent explanation of the Fermi Paradox. It’s complicated. Go read it and ponder this […]

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