Artificial Food, Dawkins & Darwin, Short Men, Eating Octopus, Zadie Smith In New York , Zarganar, Bu

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Opt Out Of Food

Nicola Twilley | Aeon | 6th October 2014

Slurp Soylent. You don't have to cook; you save 60-90 minutes in your daily routine and make some economies in cognitive effort and nervous energy. But at what cost? Social, obviously, and perhaps physical, too. "The replacement of food with a liquid substitute could result in dramatic changes to the human jaw. Soylent-face might become a recognisable look. Teeth themselves might become obsolete" (3,600 words)

The Closed Mind Of Richard Dawkins

John Gray | New Statesman | 4th October 2014

Scathing review of An Appetite For Wonder. Dawkins "sees himself as a Darwin-like figure". But "no two minds could be less alike". Darwin "understood science as an empirical investigation in which truth is never self-evident and theories are always provisional". Dawkins sees science as the triumph of certainty over superstition. But he "shows very little interest in asking what scientific knowledge is or how it comes to be possible" (3,666 words)

Short Men Make Better Husbands

Adam Gopnik | BBC | 5th October 2014

Shorter men marry later, on average, but they tend to stay married longer, and to report greater happiness. Why? "Short men live in a world of taller men and know that any advantage seized is better kept. Desperation makes short men good husbands." There is a broader moral here: "In every area of life, we underrate the merits of desperation, and persistently overrate the advantages of free choice" (1,690 words)

Why Not Eat Octopus?

Silvia Killingsworth | New Yorker | 3rd October 2014

In form and function octopuses are "far more distant from humans than the animals we tend to have moral quandaries about consuming". But their intelligence is "well documented". They have relatively large brains. They can open jars and deter predators; even "demonstrate personalities". Here's one way to think about it: Would you want to eat an alien? The octopus is "probably the closest we’ll get to meeting an intelligent alien” (1,960 words)

Find Your Beach

Zadie Smith | New York Review Of Books | 3rd October 2014

New Yorkers pursue happiness, and everything else, with a vigour exceptional even by American standards. New York is for people who believe they can achieve their desires by changing the realities around them. "There is a kind of individualism so stark that it seems to dovetail with an existentialist creed. Manhattan is right at that crossroads. You are pure potential in Manhattan, limitless, you are making yourself every day" (2,080 words)

The Comedian And The Tyrants

David Pilling | Financial Times | 3rd October 2014

Portrait of Zarganar, Myanmar’s most popular comedian and one of its bravest dissidents throughout the time of the military junta. "Just as Charlie Chaplin pilloried Adolf Hitler in The Great Dictator, so Zarganar, on stage, on television and in popular films, poked fun at dictatorship, using the puns and wordplay that come so easily in the Burmese language. His jokes stung. Of the past 30 years, he has spent more than 10 in prison" (4,100 words)

How The Bullet Train Shaped Japan

Masako Tsubuku & Philip Brasor | Guardian | 30th September 2014

High-speed trains have "completely changed the face of Japan", and not necessarily for the better. They were launched fifty years ago as the centrepiece of post-war reconstruction. But their effect was lopsided; they funnelled workers and resources out of the provinces and into Tokyo. Regional capitals became dormitory towns. Even now, as Japan's population declines, the construction of new lines continues (1,900 words)

Great Psychoanalysts: John Bowlby

Alain de Botton | School Of Life | 4th October 2014

Bowlby traced "the tensions and conflicts we have with our partners back to our early experience of maternal care"; he saw these conflicts handed on, through parenting, to yet more unhappy children. "Avoidant spouses often team up with anxious ones. It’s a risky combination. The avoidant one doesn’t give the anxious one much support. And the anxious one is always invading the delicate privacy of the avoidant one" (2,150 words)

Interview: Tom Peters

Suzanne Heywood et al | McKinsey Quarterly | 3rd October 2014

Pithy conversation with ex-McKinsey management guru. "My number-one goal in life, at the age of 71, is to be able to walk past a mirror without barfing ... People say that fame is important, but in the end it really isn’t. People say that wealth is important, but in the end it really isn’t. My ex-wife had a father who was in the tombstone business. I’ve seen a lot of tombstones. None of ’em have net worth on ’em” (2,600 words)

The Great Lightbulb Conspiracy

Markus Krajewski | IEEE Spectrum | 24th September 2014

The world's lightbulb manufacturers made a secret agreement in 1924 to limit the life of their lamps so that more would be sold. "It wasn’t just a matter of making an inferior or sloppy product; anybody could have done that. But to create one that reliably failed after an agreed-upon 1,000 hours took some doing over a number of years". The cartel collapsed 15 years later; but its strategy of planned obsolescence has survived (2,380 words)

Video of the day: Polyphonic Overtone Singing

What to expect: Anna-Maria Hefele demonstrates how she can sing in harmony with herself

Thought for the day

Punishment is directed, above all, at the potentially guilty
Michel Foucault (

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