The writer on losing his mother to cancer, and on the science of grieving:
My mom died on July 18, 2013, of pancreatic cancer, a subtle blade that slips into the host so imperceptibly that by the time a presence is felt, it is almost always too late. Living about 16 months after her diagnosis, she was "lucky," at least by the new standards of the parallel universe of cancer world. We were all lucky and unlucky in this way. Having time to watch a loved one die is a gift that takes more than it gives.
Psychologists call this drawn out period "anticipatory grief." Anticipating a loved one's death is considered normal and healthy, but realistically, the only way to prepare for a death is to imagine it. I could not stop imagining it. I spent a year and a half writing my mother a goodbye letter in my head, where, in the private theater of my thoughts, she died a hundred times. In buses and movie theaters, on Connecticut Avenue and 5th Avenue, on crosswalks and sidewalks, on the DC metro and New York subway, I lost her, again and again. To suffer a loved one's long death is not to experience a single traumatic blow, but to suffer a thousand little deaths, tiny pinpricks, each a shot of grief you hope will inoculate against the real thing.
PUBLISHED: Dec. 3, 2013
LENGTH: 13 minutes (3466 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.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 15, 2013
LENGTH: 90 minutes (22700 words)
Our story picks of the week, from the Dallas Morning News, Narratively, The Atlantic, The Awl and GQ, with a guest pick by Rebecca Hiscott.
Douglas Hofstadter, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Gödel, Escher, Bach, is on a quest to redefine what we call artificial intelligence—saying that current advancements do not go far enough to understand the human mind:
Hofstadter wanted to ask: Why conquer a task if there’s no insight to be had from the victory? “Okay,” he says, “Deep Blue plays very good chess—so what? Does that tell you something about how we play chess? No. Does it tell you about how Kasparov envisions, understands a chessboard?” A brand of AI that didn’t try to answer such questions—however impressive it might have been—was, in Hofstadter’s mind, a diversion. He distanced himself from the field almost as soon as he became a part of it. “To me, as a fledgling AI person,” he says, “it was self-evident that I did not want to get involved in that trickery. It was obvious: I don’t want to be involved in passing off some fancy program’s behavior for intelligence when I know that it has nothing to do with intelligence. And I don’t know why more people aren’t that way.”
PUBLISHED: Oct. 27, 2013
LENGTH: 29 minutes (7486 words)
Our story picks this week include The Atlantic, The Toast, Los Angeles Times, Outside and At Length, with a guest pick by Nolan Feeney.
Our story picks from CNN, Philadelphia Magazine, Mother Jones, The Atlantic, The New York Times, and a Rolling Stone guest pick by Win Bassett.
How do we live with drones during wartime—and then after it's over? A look at the ethical and legal implications, and the realities of what advantages drones have given the U.S. in the battle against al-Qaeda:
"Once the pursuit of al-Qaeda is defined as 'law enforcement,' ground assaults may be the only acceptable tactic under international law. A criminal must be given the opportunity to surrender, and if he refuses, efforts must be made to arrest him. Mary Ellen O’Connell believes the Abbottabad raid was an example of how things should work.
"'It came as close to what we are permitted to do under international law as you can get,' she said. 'John Brennan came out right after the killing and said the seals were under orders to attempt to capture bin Laden, and if he resisted or if their own lives were endangered, then they could use the force that was necessary. They did not use a drone. They did not drop a bomb. They did not fire a missile.'"
PUBLISHED: Aug. 14, 2013
LENGTH: 41 minutes (10324 words)
A killer enlists the help of a high school student to target unemployed, middle-aged men by luring them with a job listing on Craigslist:
"Jeff Schockling was sitting in his mother’s living room, watching Jeopardy, when he heard the doorbell. That alone was strange, as he’d later explain on the witness stand, because out there in the boondocks, visitors generally just walked in the front door. Besides, he hadn’t heard a car drive up. Schockling sent his 9-year-old nephew to see who it was, he testified, and the kid came back yelling, 'There’s a guy at the door! He’s been shot and he’s bleeding right through!' Schockling assumed his nephew was playing a prank, but when he went to the door, there was the stranger, holding his right arm across his body, his sleeve and pant leg soaked with blood. The guy was pale and fidgety and wouldn’t sit down at the picnic table outside. But he asked Schockling to call 911.
"Sheriff Stephen Hannum of Noble County arrived after about 15 minutes. He would later describe Davis as remarkably coherent for a man who had been shot and was bleeding heavily. But what Davis was saying made no sense. He claimed that he’d come to the area for a job watching over a 688-acre cattle ranch, and that the man who’d offered him the job had shot him."
PUBLISHED: Aug. 14, 2013
LENGTH: 39 minutes (9933 words)