What happens to life sentences if the human lifespan is radically extended? A philosopher talks about future punishment:
Even in my most religious moments, I have never been able to take the idea of hell seriously. Prevailing Christian theology asks us to believe that an all-powerful, all-knowing being would do what no human parent could ever do: create tens of billions of flawed and fragile creatures, pluck out a few favourites to shower in transcendent love, and send the rest to an eternity of unrelenting torment. That story has always seemed like an intellectual relic to me, a holdover from barbarism, or worse, a myth meant to coerce belief. But stripped of the religious particulars, I can see the appeal of hell as an instrument of justice, a way of righting wrongs beyond the grave. Especially in unusual circumstances.
PUBLISHED: March 13, 2014
LENGTH: 11 minutes (2800 words)
Our favorite stories of the week, featuring Pacific Standard, Aeon, Oxford American, Cincinnati Magazine and the Los Angeles Times.
On the online cultural phenomenon of posting and disseminating horror stories in online forums:
I had unwittingly stumbled into the world of ‘creepypasta’, a widely distributed and leaderless effort to make and share scary stories; in effect, a folk literature of the web. ‘[S]ometimes,’ wrote the American author H P Lovecraft in his essay ‘Supernatural Horror in Literature’ (1927), ‘a curious streak of fancy invades an obscure corner of the very hardest head, so that no amount of rationalisation, reform, or Freudian analysis can quite annul the thrill of the chimney-corner whisper or the lonely wood.’ These days, instead of the campfire, we are gathered around the flickering light of our computer monitors, and such is the internet’s hunger for creepy stories that the stock of ‘authentic’ urban legends was exhausted long ago; now they must be manufactured, in bulk. The uncanny has been crowdsourced.
PUBLISHED: Dec. 20, 2013
LENGTH: 13 minutes (3300 words)
is a Senior Editor at Aeon Magazine
. He has written extensively about science and philosophy for several publications, including The Atlantic and The Economist.
Inside the quest to understand whether the coelacanth is an early ancestor to tetrapods:
The Coelacanthus fossils caused a stir in the scientific world, particularly after the publication of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” in 1859. In the coelacanth’s lobed fins, palaeontologists thought they saw clues to the identity of the “missing link”, the first fish that crawled out of the sea to evolve into amphibians, reptiles, mammals and, eventually, man. They postulated that the lobed fins of the fossil coelacanths suggested that they were the ancestor of the first fish that crawled out of the sea. Others put their money on the lungfish, the first living specimen of which had been discovered in the Amazon in the 1830s by Johann Natterer, a Viennese naturalist.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 1, 2013
LENGTH: 21 minutes (5444 words)
After his grandfather’s death, Samanth Subramanian attempts to piece together what he did not know about the man’s past—and understand why he hadn't sought out the information earlier:
Given all this, I now wonder, why did I fail to learn more about him? It is true that, for all the diligence my family has expended on passing down the rituals of our religion, it has never been as attentive to personal histories; I know absolutely nothing about my eight great-grandparents except for the name of one of them. Even so, my grandfather always felt like a special case — less a real person than a character pulled out of a fable, his abilities and his flaws both immensely larger than life, and his past obscured as much by my own ignorance as by the half-truths and legends that swirl around him.
PUBLISHED: Oct. 26, 2013
LENGTH: 11 minutes (2900 words)
A trip to experience what sculptor Charles Ross is building in the New Mexico desert. Star Axis is a naked-eye observatory that he's been working for more than 40 years:
"O’Bryan walked me slowly down the steep side of the mesa, to the desert floor, so I could see Star Axis in its entirety. The work’s centrepiece is a 10-storey staircase that lets you walk up through the rock of the mesa, your eyes fixed on a small circular opening that cuts through the top of the pyramid. The first section of the staircase is roofless and open to the sky, but the end of it has a stone overhang that makes it look and feel like a tunnel. This ‘star tunnel’, as Ross calls it, is precisely aligned with Earth’s axis. If you bored a tunnel straight through the Earth’s core, from the South Pole to North Pole, and climbed up it, you’d see the same circle of sky that you do when you walk through Ross’ tunnel. Gazing up through it in the afternoon glare, I saw a patch of blue, the size and shape of a dime held at arm’s length. But if the sun had blinked for a moment, fading the heavens to black, I’d have seen Polaris, glittering at the end of the tunnel, like a solitary diamond in the void."
PUBLISHED: Oct. 15, 2013
LENGTH: 32 minutes (8200 words)
This week's picks from Emily include stories from Vice, Buzzfeed, Aeon Magazine, and The New York Times Magazine.
New reading list from Emily Perper featuring picks from The New Yorker, Aeon Magazine, and the New Inquiry.