Watches, Bees, John Henry, Mathematics, Social Studies

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

The Million-Dollar Superwatch

Ian Bogost | Atlantic | 16th February 2017

In praise of the mechanical watch, “one of the only devices left that embraces utility, design, and fashion without having any relationship to computers and the internet”. The watch is “automatically contrarian”, offering “a deliberate, if modest, rejection of digital and online life”. The wearer feels the “cool solace of that serenity against the skin, a tiny reprieve from the unceasing persistence of computation”. The modest care needed to keep a watch running “makes it a pleasure not unlike gardening” (1,900 words)


Rafil Kroll-Zaidi | Harper's | 30th March 2017

News from the world of science. “Honeybee guards accept drifting migrant bees but repel hostile raider bees. Buddhists can suppress reactions to terrifying stimuli by chanting the name of Amit obha but not by chanting the name of Santa Claus. Rangers in Western Australia observed a 3,000-foot-tall fire tornado. The genomes of the death cap and the destroying angel have been sequenced. The guardian of the thousand-year-old windmills of Nashtifan was expected to die with no successor” (611 words)

John Henry

Greil Marcus | Oxford American | 30th March 2017

Sleeve notes for a 1949 recording of “John Henry” by John Lee Hooker. “For three minutes, it’s as if Hooker has just woken up from a dream and is trying to remember it. The song is nothing but fragments, fragments of fragments. A gray, foggy rhythm floats over Hooker’s broken riffs and his tapping foot: nothing holds. The more you listen, the closer it moves to what Jackson Pollock and Dizzy Gillespie were doing in the same year that John Lee Hooker was being paid to play folk music” (700 words)

Quantum Questions Inspire New Math

Robbert Dijkgraaf | Quanta Magazine | 30th March 2017

Ideas found first in mathematics have an uncanny habit of manifesting themselves in the natural world. But “these days we seem to be witnessing the reverse: Ideas that originate in particle physics have an uncanny tendency to appear in the most diverse mathematical fields”. What could be the underlying reason for this “unreasonable effectiveness” of quantum theory? “It is closely connected to the fact that in the quantum world everything that can happen does happen” (2,090 words)

Social Science Or Social Studies

Daniel Little | Understanding Society | 30th March 2017

There is no social science. Society is too complex. Scholars can gather data, investigate great events, even model causality, but at best they arrive at “a fairly miscellaneous set of results”. We have no fundamental theories, let alone general laws, which hold good for all human societies in all places at all times. Thinkers who claim otherwise are deluded, or dangerous, or both; Karl Marx, for example. It would be more prudent and truthful to speak not of “social science” but of “social studies” (980 words)

Video of the day: What Are Binary Numbers?

What to expect:

BBC explainer with James May (4’55”)

Thought for the day

Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less
C.S. Lewis

Join 150,000+ curious readers who grow with us every day

No spam. No nonsense. Unsubscribe anytime.

Great! Check your inbox and click the link to confirm your subscription
Please enter a valid email address!
You've successfully subscribed to The Browser
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in
Could not sign in! Login link expired. Click here to retry
Cookies must be enabled in your browser to sign in