Atheism & Belief, Time, Wikipedia, China Slowdown, Billy Joel, Ada Lovelace, Copper Mining, Damascus

Hic sunt camelopardus: this historical edition of The Browser is presented for archaeological purposes; links and formatting may be broken.

Interview: Atheism And Belief

Francis Spufford | Unapologetic | 13th October 2014

Francis Spufford defends religious belief. "People think belief means entering a kingdom of fixed answers. It really means living with more and more questions. People imagine that religion must shrink as science grows bigger, but they don’t do the same thing. There is plenty of thinking room for both. Marilynne Robinson says there is nothing like a subscription to Scientific American to fill you with wonder at Creation" (2,000 words)

The Grand Illusion

Jim Holt | Lapham's Quarterly | 10th October 2014

A short history of time in science and philosophy. Einstein showed that time was subjective, even illusory. The best you could say was that things did or did not happen at the same time — and this judgement would vary with the position of the observer. In effect, Einstein rehabilitated the belief held by pre-Socratic and later religious philosophers, that time belonged to the realm of appearances, not of reality (2,575 words)

The Wikipedia Story

Walter Isaacson | Daily Beast | 19th October 2014

Jimmy Wales was struggling to create an online encyclopaedia written by experts, which he called Nupedia. Ward Cunningham had built an application called WardsWiki, based on Apple's Hypercard, for quick collaborative writing and editing. With Cunningham's blessing, Wales adapted WardsWiki as the basis for an open-sourced encyclopaedia. "The result has been the greatest collaborative knowledge project in history" (4,680 words)

Larry Summers On China: Regression Ahead

Gwynn Guilford | Quartz | 16th October 2014

Larry Summers and Lant Pritchett argue in a new academic paper that China's 36-year record of "super-rapid" economic growth is probably unique in world history; and that reversion to a more modest rate of long-term growth is both inevitable and imminent. Tyler Cowen calls this ( "One of the best and most important economics papers I have seen all year". An ungated PDF draft of the original paper is here ( (930 words)

Billy Joel: Thirty-Three Hit Wonder

Nick Paumgarten | New Yorker | 20th October 2014

Billy Joel plays Madison Square Garden: "Close your eyes and it’s 1982". His last new album was 20 years ago, but the old songs are what the audience wants, the shows sell out, and Joel is enjoying late middle age perhaps even a little more than he should. “I’m with the Jack Nicholson school, that it’s this flat-belly shit that’s ruining America. I don’t think there’s anything more pathetic than a man on a diet” (10,400 words)

Ada Lovelace, Tech Innovator

Steven Berlin Johnson | FT Magazine | 17th October 2014

Some innovators are so far ahead of their time that they seem to possess a separate category of genius. As with Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron, who wrote "the first examples of working software ever published" in 1842-43. These were "instruction sets" to control the intricate counting machines built by her friend Charles Babbage. It was another century before the true value of her work was understood (2,387 words)

A Company Man

Hector Tobar | Work In Progress | 16th October 2014

Extract from Héctor Tobar’s book, Deep Down Dark, about the 2010 Chilean mine collapse which trapped 33 underground. The miners knew the pit was dangerous well before its collapse — and that the owners had stopped seismic monitoring. But they worked on. "Mining is an inherently dangerous occupation, and those who have decades of experience working underground take pride in facing its risks" (3,930 words)

The Syria We Don’t Know

Charles Glass | New York Review Of Books | 18th October 2014

With each American sortie against ISIS, Bashar Al-Assad's prospects improve. Damascus is enjoying "a respite of sorts from war". The peaceful pro-democracy protestors have given up; they fear ISIS more than Assad. The Free Syrian Army holds some outlying areas of Damascus, and fights on in Aleppo, but its grip is weakening. “People are exhausted. Even those who fought the regime are moving toward reconciliation” (2,980 words)

I’m Pregnant, So Why Can’t I Tell You?

Abigail Rasminsky | The Archipelago | 15th October 2014

The hardest part of the first trimester is morning sickness. The next-hardest part is keeping it all a secret. And why? "From what I can gather, this code of silence is meant to protect you, the pregnant woman, from the (supposed) shame of reporting back to your community that this pregnancy is not to be". This is doubly wrong. There is no shame in a miscarriage; and in pregnancy you need the support of your friends (2,220 words)

The Political Marketplace

Alex De Waal | Reinventing Peace | 17th October 2014

How government works across much of Africa and the Greater Middle East. Rulers buy loyalty for cash. The political system exists for the welfare of its participants, not for the production of public goods. Violence is a means of bargaining. Skilfully managed, the system is robust. "The political marketplace is not a transitional or outdated system that is about to replaced, but a flexible and dynamic governance order" (4,570 words)

Transportation, Divergence, And Industrial Revolution

Nick Szabo | Unenumerated | 16th October 2014

Horse-power made the industrial revolution happen. North-west Europe took the lead thanks to its developed system of roads, horses and agriculture. China fell far behind because its local haulage relied on human porters. Efficient transport became a powerful economic multiplier. "A reduction in transportation costs by a factor of two increases the potential value of a trade network by a factor of sixteen" (1,480 words)

Video of the day: Still Life With Checked Tablecloth

What to expect: Leonard Lauder and Met curators discuss Juan Gris's masterpiece

Thought for the day

Time is a great teacher, but it kills all its pupils
Hector Berlioz (

The Death of Old Europe 3rd November, St Mary Moorfields Church, 7pm
The brilliant and charming David Hargreaves, editor of The Browser Looks Back, will be our guide to the extraordinary parallel world of 1914. Admission is free. Click here to register. (

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