Language, Islamic State, Alien, Group Selection, Fruitarians, Medieval Murder

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

There Is No Language Instinct

Vyvyan Evans | Aeon | 4th December 2014

Nor a language organ. Nor, probably, a universal grammar anchoring all human languages. Chomsky's conjectures were brilliant but wrong. Children learn language, as they do many other things, by trial and error. "Children have far more sophisticated learning capacities than Chomsky foresaw". At the age of nine months, most children are already hard at work decoding what the adults around them are trying to say (4,200 words)

ISIS: What The US Doesn’t Understand

Ahmed Rashid | New York Review Of Books | 2nd December 2014

Islamic State is fighting "a war within Islam". Its enemies are Shias, all moderate Muslims, and regional minorities. It has not condemned Israel, nor backed the Palestinians. It is not waging war on the West. Beheadings of Western hostages are "best understood as acts of revenge against US bombing", and as propaganda. America can give vital support to an Arab coalition against Islamic State; it cannot lead such a coalition (1,560 words)

Alien: A Typographical Guide

Dave Addey | Typeset In The Future | 1st December 2014

Meticulous tour through the typography and iconography used in the first Alien film. Wonkish to a awe-inspiring degree. But engagingly written and enlivened still further by a torrent of digressions involving Apple, Madame Blavatsky, Nitrosyl Chloride, cats, Pump Demi, French culture, Ominous Clocks, metric measures, and much else. (Caveat: relies heavily on illustrations, so may not save well to Kindle) (4,000 words)

Ants And Altruism

Matt Ridley | 11th November 2014

Useful note arbitrating the argument between E.O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins about group selection versus kin selection. Do ants co-operate for the good of their nest (group), or the good of their species (kin)? Dawkins rightly defends kin selection as the winning evolutionary strategy. "Group selection is a theory of competition between groups, and that is generally known by another name in human affairs. We call it war" (1,062 words)

This Means Raw

Alexandra Kleeman | Guardian | 3rd December 2014

A week among the fruitarians at the Woodstock fruit festival on a diet of 80% fruit plus occasional raw vegetables. For breakfast a pound of kiwi and a pound of orange juice; for lunch two pounds of bananas wrapped in lettuce leaves; for dinner two pounds of tangerines with celery and red peppers. You feel pretty good, at least at first, but you go to the loo a lot. "I told him I hadn’t been raw for very long" (4,860 words)

Death At St Paul’s

Richard Dale | History Today | 3rd December 2014

Gripping 16th-century murder mystery. Did the Bishop of London have a heretic killed in prison, disguising the crime as a suicide? "It was obvious to the jurymen, when they examined the corpse hanging in Lollards Tower, that Hunne could not have killed himself. The noose was too small to accommodate the head; his hands had been tied; the serrations round the neck had been caused by some metal object" (3,900 words)

Video of the day: Schrödinger's Cat In 60 Seconds

What to expect: Animated explanation of Schrödinger's thought experiment about a cat in a box (1'20")

Thought for the day

Such a narrow range of plights defines our moral lives
Douglas Coupland (

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