SETI, Arvo Pärt, Mass, Simon Schama, Free Speech

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

If China Makes First Contact

Ross Andersen | Atlantic | 9th November 2017

If radio waves from an alien civilisation reach Earth in the foreseeable future, China is poised to take the call, and reply on Earth’s behalf. “As America has turned away from searching for extraterrestrial intelligence, China has built the world’s largest radio dish for precisely that purpose.” If a signal arrives? “International protocols require the disclosure of first contact, but they are nonbinding. Maybe China would go public with the signal but withhold its star of origin” (6,200 words)

Best Deathbed Music

Kate Molleson | Guardian | 8th November 2017

What music most comforts dying people? Works by Celine Dion, Enya, Susan Boyle and Philip Glass all have their fans. But the overall favourite, based on experiments in a Scottish hospice, seems to be music by the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, especially his concerto for two violins, Tabula Rasa: “The music contains two voices, slowly dropping in register and eventually dropping off. Pärt doesn’t give us the final note of the scale, but leaves four bars of written silence” (820 words)

Physics Has Demoted Mass

Jim Baggott | Nautilus | 9th November 2017

We used to think the world was made of things. No longer. Things are composed of atomic particles, which are composed of sub-atomic particles, which are composed of waves and fields of energy. “Matter has lost its tangibility. It has lost its primacy. Mass has become a secondary quality, the result of interactions between intangible quantum fields. What we recognize as mass is a behavior of these quantum fields; it is not a property that belongs or is necessarily intrinsic to them” (2,700 words)

Acceptance World

Abigail Green | TLS | 7th November 2017

On Simon Schama’s Story of the Jews. “This is history as magical realism. From the ghetto Jews who walked among Venetians to the corpse of Giacomo Meyerbeer setting out on his final train journey, from the fluttering fingers of Maghrebi Jewish women caressing the tombstones of their loved ones as they welcome the Sabbath to the snowfall of feathers blowing through the burnt-out streets of pogrom-struck Odessa, there is much in this book that is beautiful and unforgettable” (2,660 words)

The Best Books On Free Speech

Sophie Roell | Five Books | 8th November 2017

Interview. Timothy Garton Ash on the principles of free speech, with reference to John Stuart Mill, Amos Oz, Arieh Neier, J.M. Coetzee, Tim Wu. “A question of free speech is also a question about power relations: Who is in a position to speak freely? The ideal of free speech is an ideal of equality. Victorian Britain didn’t have that. Did the servants have freedom of speech? Did women have freedom of speech? Did colonised people have effective freedom of speech? Certainly not” (6,800 words)

Video of the day Birds

What to expect:

Birds deconstructed, birds reconstructed. Animation by Zeitguised with Matt Frodsham (1’30”)

Thought for the day

Meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything
J.K. Galbraith

Podcast of the day Oliver Sacks | Radiolab

Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich talk to Bill Hayes about Oliver Sacks

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