Novelty In Novels, Eagleton On Zizek, The Perfect Clock, Psychoanalysis Online, Brain Theory, China

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Why Read New Books?

Tim Parks | New York Review Of Books | 11th November 2014

Great literature is supposed to be timeless. So why do readers in general prefer to read new books, when old ones are cheaper and come with a critical consensus about whether they are worth reading? Because with new books we have the pleasure of making up our own minds; and we want to learn from people who share the world in which we live. A little from the living is worth more than a lot from the dead (1,500 words)

Absolute Recoil

Terry Eagleton | Guardian | 12th November 2014

Hard to imagine a more apt combination of reviewer and reviewed. Terry Eagleton on Slavoj Žižek: "There is something larger-than-life about his flamboyant antics, as though he strayed out of a David Lodge novel. His appetite for ideas is admirable but also faintly alarming. One would not be altogether surprised to hear that he was put together by a committee and consumer-tested on various student focus groups" (1,840 words)

New Clock May End Time As We Know It

Geoff Brumfiel | NPR | 3rd November 2014

A strontium-based clock can keep "perfect time" for five billion years; so perfect that it gets "confused" by changes in gravity, which change the speed of time, as Einstein showed. If you take a strontium clock off the floor to hang it on the wall, it senses time speeding up as gravity weakens. "This isn't some effect of gravity on the clock's machinery. Time itself is flowing more quickly on the wall than on the floor" (1,077 words)

Lie Down On The Couch, Virtually

Phillip Freeman | Hippo Reads | 11th November 2014

Notes on the use of psychoanalysis to address virtual problems, including a conversation with a real Lacanian psychoanalyst who used to treat avatars in Second Life. "His problem was that his avatar patients kept getting real on him. They couldn’t resist dropping their Second Life personas and introducing details, often traumatic details, from their real lives. They were only pretending to pretend" (2,100 words)

How To Study The Brain

Gary Marcus et al | Chronicle Review | 12th November 2014

Scientists have been studying the brain for centuries, and still we have "exactly zero convincing theories of how it all works". We can hope to make incremental progress by gathering more data from more experiments. But for any serious explaining of the brain, what we need most is theoretical breakthroughs — "conceptual foundations for understanding the biological basis of mental processes" (2,348 words)

US-China Climate Announcement

James Fallows | Atlantic | 12th November 2014

Agreement between China and America on new long-term carbon reduction targets is potentially a very a big deal. China and America are the world's biggest economies and biggest carbon emitters. If they commit jointly to curb emissions, other countries are far more likely to fall in line. China's change of tack signals belated recognition that pollution threatens its economic growth and social stability (800 words)

Video of the day: Battleship Island

What to expect: Drone video from the abandoned island of Hashima, near Nagasaki, Japan

Thought for the day

If the world were rational, there would be no need for rationalism
Leon Wieseltier (

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