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How curiosity became transformed

Curiosity; seen as a hazard to society in the classical world, early Christianity condemned it as a sin, and now, in the modern world, it is seen as an essential part of human nature. Somewhere between the late 1500s and 1700s attitudes in Europe changed. The change, according to Phillip Ball in Curiosity, was gradual […]

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Gaia: is there scientific evidence for this intriguing, inspiring, infuriating hypothesis?

Just on 30 years ago I came across an intriguing book, the then relatively unknown Gaia: A new look at life on Earth (OUP 1979) by an ‘independent scientist’, J.E. Lovelock. My earliest impression of it may seem surprising to many people now. I was infuriated. I was infuriated not by Lovelock’s hypothesis per se, […]

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Do animals have minds?

Animal Wise: the thoughts and emotions of our fellow creatures, by Virginia Morell, Black Inc. Books, 2013. Laughing rats, name-calling wild parrots, archer-fish with a sense of humour, and educated ants; the naturalist Charles Darwin would have loved this book. The philosopher Rene Descartes would equally have found it deeply troubling. Both with good reason. […]

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Does my science look big in this? The astrobiology edition

During the 20th century a powerful new idea gradually entered our consciousness and culture: cosmic evolution.  We are all par of a huge narrative: a cosmos billions of years old and billions of light years in extent. It is this idea that caught my attention this month via the proceedings of the Sao Paulo Advanced […]

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