Profile: aeon

Digital Magazine

Since 2012, Aeon has established itself as a unique digital magazine, publishing some of the most profound and provocative thinking on the web. We ask the big questions and find the freshest, most original answers, provided by leading thinkers on science, philosophy, society and the arts.

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NoteStreams By aeon

The AI Revolution Will Be Led By Toasters, Not Droids

Post by Janelle Shane: trains neural networks to write humour at aiweirdness.com. She is also a research scientist in optics, and lives in Boulder, Colorado.
1,200 words
Edited by Sally Davies
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CC BY-ND 4.0

Category: Social Awareness

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What Makes People Distrust Science? Surprisingly, Not Politics

Today, there is a crisis of trust in science. Many people – including politicians and, yes, even presidents – publicly express doubts about the validity of scientific findings. Meanwhile, scientific institutions and journals express their concerns about the public’s increasing distrust in science. How is it possible that science, the products of which permeate our everyday lives, making them in many ways more comfortable, elicits such negative attitudes among a substantial part of the population?
Bastiaan T Rutjens is an assistant professor at the psychology department of the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
Edited by Sam Dresser
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CC BY-ND 4.0

Category: Social Awareness

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‘I Believe Because it is Absurd’: Christianity’s First Meme

This paradoxical expression makes a routine appearance in philosophical evaluations of the rationality of religious belief, in contemporary polemics addressed to an imagined opposition between science and religion, and in virtually every reputable dictionary of quotations.
Post by Peter Harrison, an Australian Laureate Fellow and director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Queensland. He is the author of The Territories of Science and Religion (2015), and the editor of Narratives of Secularization (2017).
Edited by Sam Dresser
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CC BY-ND 4.0

Category: History

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Why Greeting-Card Clichés are Utterly Empty Yet Full of Meaning

In the United States, approximately 6.5 billion greeting cards are bought each year, and the annual retail sales figures are valued at between $7-8 billion. It would be easy to write off these cards as empty sentences, a commercial option for the inarticulate consumer, without questioning the reason for this failure of expression.
Daniel Fraser is a freelance writer. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, the Irish Post and Marx & Philosophy Review of Books, among others. He lives in London.
Edited by Nigel Warburton
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CC BY-ND 4.0

Category: Social Awareness

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The Red & Green Specialists: Why Human Colour Vision is so Odd

There’s something strange about the way we see colours. We have prioritised distinguishing a few types of colours really well, at the expense of being able to see as many colours as we possibly might.
Post by James Higham, associate professor of anthropology at New York University.
Edited by Sam Dresser
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Category: Science

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Holding Your Partner’s Hand Can Ease Their Pain

The annual cost of managing pain is greater than that of heart disease, cancer and diabetes, and the cost to the economy through decreased productivity reaches hundreds of billions of dollars. But must we rely on pharmacology to stave off pain? Perhaps there is a more natural nostrum – partial and insufficient, but helpful nonetheless – closer to hand.
Post by Pavel Goldstein, a postdoctoral research associate in the department of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado Boulder.
900 words
Edited by Sam Dresser
Cover photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash
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CC BY-ND 4.0

Category: Health

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How the Whalers of Moby-Dick Could Help Put Humans on Mars

In the 45 years since the Apollo 17 astronauts placed the last boot prints on the Moon, Mars has loomed as the next target for human exploration of the solar system. NASA, SpaceX and other spacefaring enterprises have repeatedly declared their intentions to go there in the coming years and decades.
Perhaps nothing better prefigures this most daunting and ambitious of quests than the whaling industry of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Matthew Bruen is assistant professor of English at Young Harris College in Georgia.
1,200 words
Edited by Corey S Powell
Cover image Courtesy Wikipedia
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Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivatives

Category: Book Club

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Why the Idea That the World is in Terminal Decline is so Dangerous

From all sides, the message is coming in: the world as we know it is on the verge of something really bad. From the Right, we hear that ‘West’ and ‘Judeo-Christian Civilisation’ are in the pincers of foreign infidels and native, hooded extremists. Left-wing declinism buzzes about coups, surveillance regimes, and the inevitable – if elusive – collapse of capitalism.
In fact, the idea of decline is one thing the extremes of Left and Right agree upon. Declinisms share some traits; most of all: they ignore signs of improvement that point to less drastic ways out of trouble.
Post by Jeremy Adelman: the Henry Charles Lea professor of history and director of the Global History Lab at Princeton University. His latest books are Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O Hirschman (2013) and the co-authored Worlds Together, Worlds Apart (4th ed, 2014).
1,300 words
Edited by Sam Haselby
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CC BY-ND 4.0

Category: Social Awareness

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Does Acupuncture Work by Re-mapping the Brain?

Why all the rancour against acupuncture from some corners of the internet (and academia)? Shouldn’t we apply our modern research methods to see which classical acupuncture techniques have solid physiological backing?
It’s not as easy as it seems. Let’s look at the clinical research.
Post by Vitaly Napadow, director of the Center for Integrative Pain Neuroimaging (CiPNI) and an associate professor at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, both at the Massachusetts General Hospital at Harvard Medical School. He is also co-president of the Society for Acupuncture Research.
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CC BY-ND 4.0

Category: Health

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Imagination is a Powerful Tool: Why is Philosophy Afraid of it?

Philosophers have a love-hate relationship with the imagination. René Descartes, for one, disparaged it as ‘more of a hindrance than a help’ in answering the most profound questions about the nature of existence.
Yet Descartes also relied heavily on imagination in scientific and mathematical essays such as The World (1633), in which he tried to conjure up the details of the basic building blocks for structures such as humans, animals and machines.
Amy Kind is professor of philosophy at Claremont McKenna College in California. She is the author of Persons and Personal Identity (2015).
Edited by Sally Davies
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Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivatives

Category: Social Awareness

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How We Learn to Read Another’s Mind by Looking Into Their Eyes

Eyes play a prominent role in our daily social encounters and are sometimes metaphorically referred to as windows to our souls. There now is compelling evidence to support the notion that much information about another person’s mind can be gleaned from his or her eyes.
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CC BY-ND 4.0

Category: Social Awareness

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Even the Ancient Greeks Thought Their Best Days Were History

Was there ever a Greek Golden Age? When, exactly, was Greece great? In fact, nostalgia for a lost greatness can be found in the so-called Golden Age itself. Even in the mid-fifth century BCE, Athenians were already looking back with longing.
Johanna Hanink is associate professor of classics at Brown University in Rhode Island. Her latest book is The Classical Debt: Greek Antiquity in an Era of Austerity (2017).
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CC BY-ND 4.0

Category: Social Awareness

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The Strange Story of Inventing the ‘Bastard’ in Medieval Europe

Today, ‘bastard’ is used as an insult, or to describe children born to non-marital unions. Yet prior to the 13th century, legitimate marriage or its absence was not the key factor in determining quality of birth. What changed?
Sara McDougall is associate professor of history at John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York (CUNY) and a member of the doctoral faculty at the CUNY Graduate Center. Her research focuses primarily on marriage and law in medieval Europe. Her latest book is Royal Bastards: The Birth of Illegitimacy, 800-1230 (2017).
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CC BY-ND 4.0

Category: History

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Lifestyle Changes, Not A Magic Pill, Can Reverse Alzheimer’s

Last summer, a research group from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) quietly published the results of a new approach in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. What they found was striking. Although the size of the study was small, every participant demonstrated such marked improvement that almost all were found to be in the normal range on testing for memory and cognition by the study’s end. Functionally, this amounts to a cure.
Post by Clayton M Dalton, Medical Resident, Massachusetts General Hospital
Aeon
CC BY-ND 4.0

Category: Health

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Palmyra’s Ruins Can Rebuild Our Relationship With History

The ancient city of Palmyra lies in ruins, which is saying something, since it was already a ruin to begin with (not originally, of course, but you take my meaning). Echoes of the destruction have reverberated beyond Syria, prompting international calls for the ruins to be reconstructed. But isn’t the idea of replicating antiquities absurd?
Author Erich Hatala Matthes is assistant professor of philosophy at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. His research focuses on moral and political issues surrounding cultural heritage, art, and the environment.
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CC BY-ND 4.0

Category: Social Awareness

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