Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Some of our basic verbs: “drink”

Last week, I discussed the origin of the verb eat, which probably has the same root as the ancient Indo-European name of the tooth. Time will tell whether my idea to devote a few posts to such basic verbs will arouse any interest, but I decided to try again. So today the story will be devoted to the verb drink.

Read More

AI is dangerous, but not for the reasons you think.

In 1997, Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov, the reigning world chess champion. In 2011, Watson defeated Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, the world’s best Jeopardy players. In 2016, AlphaGo defeated Ke Jie, the world’s best Go player. In 2017, DeepMind unleashed AlphaZero, which trounced the world-champion computer programs at chess, Go, and shogi. Perhaps computers have moved so far beyond our intelligence that we should rely on them to make our important decisions. Nope.

Read More

How pictures can lie

On 9 August 1997, The Mirror printed an edited photo of Diana, Princess of Wales, and Dodi Fayed on its front page. The edited photo shows Diana and Fayed facing each other and about to kiss, although the unedited photo reveals that at that point Fayed was facing an entirely different direction. Did The Mirror lie to its readers?

Read More

Why recognizing the Anthropocene Age doesn’t matter

You’ve probably heard that we’re living in the Anthropocene, a new geological epoch in which human activity is the dominant geological process. If you’ve been attentive to discussion surrounding the Anthropocene, you probably also know that the Anthropocene Working Group, a panel of scientists tasked to make a recommendation as to whether geologists should formally recognize the Anthropocene, voted just a few months ago to recommend recognizing the new epoch.

Read More

Aunt Lydia could be the voice of conservative women

Fans of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 The Handmaid’s Tale proliferated as the novel’s scenarios came to resemble the realities of American women who were subject to more regulation and surveillance. In its 2019 sequel, The Testaments, Atwood gives us a different voice and a different tale, told largely from the perspective of someone who perpetuated the authoritarian regime instead of […]

Read More

Why scientists should be atheists

My friend and colleague George asked me, “Do you think a scientist can be an atheist?” I replied, “Not only can a scientist be an atheist, he should be one.” I was teasing because I knew what response George wanted to hear and this was not it. Sure enough, he shook his head. The only logical position that a scientist can take, he said, is to be an agnostic because we can never know the answer to the question of whether God exists or not.

Read More

Some of our basic verbs: “eat”

Whoever the Indo-Europeans were and wherever they lived several thousand years ago, by the time they began to write, they had produced a word for “eat” that sounded nearly the same all over the enormous territory they occupied. In Latin, Celtic, Slavic, Baltic, Greek, Sanskrit, and beyond, the verb for devouring food resembles Engl. eat.

Read More

The Oxford Place of the Year 2019 is…

After a close round of voting, the winner of our Place of the Year 2019 is the atmosphere! While the global conversation around climate change has increased in recent years, 2019 set many records – this past summer tied for the hottest one on record in the northern hemisphere, continuing the trend of extreme weather set […]

Read More

Why there is a moral duty to vote

In recent years, democracies around the world have witnessed the steady rise of anti-liberal, populist movements. In the face of this trend, some may think it apposite to question the power of elections to protect cherished democratic values. Among some (vocal) political scientists and philosophers today, it is common to hear concern about voter incompetence, which allegedly explains why democracy stands on shaky ground in many places. Do we do well in thinking of voting as a likely threat to fair governance? Julia Maskivker propose a case for thinking of voting as a vehicle for justice, not a paradoxical menace to democracy.

Read More

Why we don’t understand what a space race means

Fifty years after the first moon landing, a quantum leap is underway in space as a domain of human activity. Over 70 countries have space programs and 14 have launch capabilities. These developments have involved intense cooperation across borders, both across public and private sectors.

Read More

Etymology gleanings for November 2019

I agree: no voice should be silenced, but it does not follow that every voice deserves equal respect. I called the previous two posts “Etymology and Delusion” and deliberately did not emphasize such words as madness, lunacy, and derangement, for perfectly normal people can also be deluded. In etymology, the line separating amateurs from professionals is in most cases easy to draw.

Read More

How hip hop and diplomacy made an unlikely partnership

Google “hip hop” and “diplomacy” and what images come up? Black men wearing gold chains and baggy clothes, holding microphones. White men in suits shaking hands, flanked by flags. The contrast is stark: informal/formal, loud/quiet, the resistance/the establishment, black/white. These images reflect common perceptions but also misconceptions about diplomacy and hip hop. Both are, in fact, more […]

Read More

How to address the enigmas of everyday life

Here are some hard questions: Is the value of human life absolute? Should we conform to the prevalent values? The questions are hard because each has reasonable but conflicting answers. When circumstances force us to face them, we are ambivalent. We realize that there are compelling reasons for both of the conflicting answers. This is not an abstract problem, but a predicament we encounter when we have to make difficult decisions whose consequences affect how we live, our relationships, and our attitude to the society in which we live.

Read More

Philosopher of the Month – A 2019 Review

As 2019 draws to a close, we look back at the philosophers who have featured in our monthly Philosopher of the Month posts and their significant contribution to philosophy and the history of intellectual thought.

Read More

How to use the existential “there”

When I read something, one of the things I notice right away is overuse of non-referential there as a means of sleepwalking from topic to topic. Also known as the existential there, this grammatical form asserts the existence (or non-existence) of something and is often used to introduce new information, to shift the topic of discussion or to call something to mind.

Read More