Explanations, Catherine The Great, Naturism, Circus, Optimism

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

Learning By Thinking

Tania Lombrozo | Edge | 28th July 2017

Psychologist discusses how we make sense of the world by explaining to ourselves why something has happened in the past, and using this as a basis for predicting what will happen the future. Which works well enough most of the time. But the more rigorously we approach the idea of explanation, the less satisfactory it becomes. We never have complete information about the world; causality is a hazy notion; so at best our knowledge of the world is a collection of anecdotes (8,100 words)

Catherine The Great And The Rule of Law

Robert Zaretsky | LARB | 30th July 2017

Catherine the Great was a liberal at heart when she inherited absolute power over 18C Russia. She copied half her new constitution verbatim from Montesquieu’s L’Esprit Des Lois, earning Voltaire’s praise. But then, like Russian rulers before and after, Catherine measured the gap between “thinkers who propose and rulers who dispose”. She decided only a despot could rule Russia well; so she must remain a despot. She told Diderot: “While you write on unfeeling paper, I write on human skin” (2,900 words)

Naked Truths

Jamie Lauren Keiles | Racked | 25th July 2017

Novice’s diary of a week in a naturist camp. Interesting throughout. “The light came green and filtered through the leaves as I stopped midway to pull off my shirt, then continued down the trail, fully nude except my shoes. A breeze off the lake took stock of every fine mammalian hair on my body. My posture looked stupid, like it had been formed in a time before women were dainty. My brain was a mass of electrical signals; I wanted to kill an animal, or maybe be killed by one” (4,400 words)

It’s A Circle

Joshua Cohen | The Point | 31st July 2017

What the circus brought to America, and what has been lost with its passing. “The circus was how acrobatics and juggling got to the Super Bowl; it was how magic got to Vegas. The circus trained the animals to sit, stay and roll. The circus staged all this spectacle and more, always more, all at once and for one low price of admission — not merely live, but so precariously, proximately live that we were forced to contemplate the mortal risks being undertaken for our entertainment” (6,200 words)

Is The World Really Better Than Ever?

Oliver Burkeman | Guardian | 28th July 2017

Humans in general are living longer and better than ever before. The past 200 years have been the most amazing period of rising prosperity in human history, bringing technologies and opportunities unimaginable in earlier generations. So why don’t we feel more optimistic about the future? First, because we measure our success against our immediate neighbours, rather than against humanity in general. Second, because we think things can only go downhill from here (5,300 words)

Video of the day: Still Life

What to expect:

Nature Morte interpreted with finite element simulations by Mike Pelletier (4’06”)

Thought for the day

I always deserve the best treatment because I never put up with any other
Jane Austen

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