Descartes divided the mind up into two faculties: intellect and will. The intellect gathers up data from the world and presents the mind with various potential beliefs that it might endorse; the will then chooses which of them to endorse. We can look at the evidence for or against a particular belief, but the final choice about what to believe remains a matter of choice. This raises the question of the ‘ethics of belief,’ the title of an essay by the mathematician William K. Clifford, in which he argued that ‘it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.’
I used to climb trees when I was young (and I still, on occasion, do). As a boy in Iraq I had a favoured loquat tree, with branches that bore leathery, serrated leaves, shiny on the upper surface, and densely matted with fine hairs underneath. It seemed so big, though I now reflect it was probably rather small. I would haul myself up and over the lowest branch, making whatever use of the twists and folds of the trunk as provided purchase to my small feet.
The Chipstone Foundation in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, an organization devoted to innovative museum practice as well as to the study of historic American furniture, American and British ceramics, and American prints, doesn’t always collect what one might expect. Recently we acquired three peas said to have been served at Andersonville Prison, a swatch from bareknuckle boxer Joe Goss’s colors, splinters from the wreck of an ill-fated arctic expedition, and a feather collected from a Russian state bed.
DNA is the foundation of life. It codes the instructions for the creation of all life on Earth. Scientists are now reading the autobiographies of organisms across the Tree of Life and writing new words, paragraphs, chapters, and even books as synthetic genomics gains steam. Quite astonishingly, the beautiful design and special properties of DNA makes it capable of many other amazing feats. Here are five man-made functions of DNA, all of which are contributing to the growing “industrial-DNA” phenomenon.
The week of the UK general election has finally arrived. After suffering weeks of incessant sound-bites, you will soon be free of political jargon for another few years. Phrases like “long-term economic plan” have been repeated so often that they have ceased to mean anything. From Margaret Thatcher to Harold Wilson, from Benjamin Disraeli to Winston Churchill, British prime ministers and politicians have uttered phrases that have echoed throughout history. How many of these famous political quotes do you remember?
Music as a school subject, it so often seems, retains its apparently perilous position in the school largely as a result of the unstinting pressure of advocacy groups. The 2004 Music Manifesto that underpins much of the current drive to keep school music alive was unashamedly “a voluntary, apolitical 13-strong Partnership and Advocacy Group”.
The first female Juliet appears to have been Mary Saunderson, to Henry Harris’s Romeo in 1662 when her future husband, Thomas Betterton, played Mercutio. Later she acted admirably as Ophelia and Lady Macbeth but nothing I have read characterizes her as great. Elizabeth Barry (c.1658–1713) succeeded her as Betterton’s leading lady, excelling in pathetic roles and achieving her greatest successes in the heroic tragedies of her own time.
The last three decades have seen arguably the most fertile periods in the history of children’s literature, across the field. The phenomenon that is Harry Potter, the rise of YA, and books that tackle difficult subjects for younger readers are just a few examples of the material included in the new edition of The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature by Daniel Hahn.
Stanley Wells’ latest book, Great Shakespeare Actors, offers a series of beautifully written, illuminating, and entertaining accounts of many of the most famous stage performers of Shakespeare from his time to ours. In a video interview, Wells revealed some of the ‘lesser’ remembered actors of the past he would have loved to have seen perform live on stage. The edited transcript below offers an insight into three of these great Shakespeare actors.
I have ambivalent feelings about Easter. I am sure I am not alone in this attitude towards the greatest of events on the Christian calendar, especially among people who grew up, as I did, in intensely religious (and loving) families but who have long put their Christian beliefs behind them. As it happens, my family were Quakers and that religion does not mark out the church festivals. But I went to a school that had a great musical tradition and each year there was a performance of one of the Bach Passions, alternating the St Matthew with the St John.
Did you see ‘blue and black’ or ‘white and gold’? Or did you miss the ‘dress-capade’ that exploded the Internet last month? It was started by this post on Tumblr that went viral. Many people warned their heads risked exploding in disbelief. How could people see the same dress in different colours? It appears the variation lies in the way we judge how light reflects off objects of different colours, as Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker explained in Forbes. A follow-on, calmer discussion started about whether this trait could be in our DNA.
In order to celebrate the launch of The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature in March, we invited OUP staff to dress up as their favourite characters from children’s books. The result was one surreal day during which our Oxford offices were overrun with children’s literature characters, ranging from the Cat in the Hat to Aslan, from Pippi Longstocking to the Tiger Who Came to Tea, and from Little Red Riding Hood to the Very Hungry Caterpillar. It was a brilliant and brave effort by all those who attended. Particularly those who commuted to and from work in their costumes!
This story may or may not be a fairy tale, though there are certainly fairies in it. However, unlike any of his Victorian forebears or most of his contemporaries, Machen manages to achieve, only a few years before the comfortably kitsch flower fairies of Cicely Mary Barker, the singular feat of rendering fairies terrifying. With James Hogg’s ‘Confessions of a Justified Sinner’, Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Thrawn Janet’ and several of M. R. James’s marvellous ghost stories, ‘The White People’ is one of only a handful of literary texts that have genuinely unnerved me.
March is Women’s History Month and as the United States gears up for the 2016 election, I propose we salute a pathbreaking woman candidate for president. No, not Hillary Rodham Clinton, but Shirley Chisholm, who became the first woman and the first African American to seek the nomination of the Democratic Party for president. And yet far too often Shirley Chisholm is seen as just a footnote or a curiosity, rather than as a serious political contender who demonstrated that a candidate who was black or female or both belonged in the national spotlight.
The news that Britain is set to become the first country to authorize IVF using genetic material from three people—the so-called ‘three-parent baby’—has given rise to (very predictable) divisions of opinion. On the one hand are those who celebrate a national ‘first’, just as happened when Louise Brown, the first ever ‘test-tube baby’, was born in Oldham in 1978. Just as with IVF more broadly, the possibility for people who otherwise couldn’t to be come parents of healthy children is something to be welcomed.
A generalization is a claim of the form: (1) All A’s are B’s. A generalization about generalizations is thus a claim of the form: (2) All generalizations are B. Some generalizations about generalizations are true. For example: (3) All generalizations are generalizations. And some generalizations about generalizations are false. For example: (4) All generalizations are false. In order to see that (4) is false, we could just note that (3) is a counterexample to (4).