Astronomers have discovered nearly 6,000 planets in the last 20 years. And Neanderthals had red hair and freckles.

We are living in a great age of natural science.

In “On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer,” John Keats described the wonder he felt on reading the translations of The Iliad and the Odyssey published in 1616 by Shakespeare’s contemporary George Chapman (1559-1634):

	Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
		When a new planet swims into his ken;
	Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
		He star’d at the Pacific — and all his men
	Look’d at each other with a wild surmise —
		Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

It was Balboa, not Cortes, who was the first Spanish explorer to see the Pacific from Central America (Keats was corrected but let the line stand). The “watcher of the skies” who delights “when a new planet swims into his ken” was the astronomer William Herschel, who discovered Uranus in 1781.
More… “Our Silver Age of Natural Science”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.


In my old age, I hope to found a new university, called rather unimaginatively the New University, with funding from one or another imprudent billionaire (a prudent billionaire would turn me down). In contemporary universities and colleges there is often a division among the natural sciences, social science and humanities. In my New University, there would be only two faculties: natural sciences and the humanities. The social sciences would be abolished.

Social science was — it is best to speak in the past tense — a mistake. The dream of a comprehensive science of society, which would elucidate “laws of history” or “social laws” comparable to the physical determinants or “laws” of nature, was one of the great delusions of the 19th century. Auguste Comte formulated a Religion of Humanity based on “the positive philosophy” or Positivism. Karl Marx went to his grave convinced that his discovery of laws of history had made him the Darwin or Newton of social science.
More… “Let’s Abolish Social Science”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.


In some cases, the sufferer’s cheeks, ears, or neck grow red. Other people’s entire faces burn, or the heat washes over their head like a wave. A person who blushes feels stripped bare, even when fully clothed. A blush can be triggered by shame, guilt, joy, excitement, or irritation, and can strike when we are alone or in the company of others. But it is never under our control. It can happen when we are praised, criticized, or caught off guard. A blush can be a sign of attraction or of “hot” thoughts. Or a person may blush because she realizes she is unprepared for an important discussion or presentation – or at least feels that way. Sometimes it’s enough to drive you crazy, but blushing also has a positive side.

Blushing is just one possible reaction to feelings of shame, which in turn arise under very different circumstances in different people. Some people never blush in embarrassing situations: instead, they may grin, laugh, or involuntarily alter the timbre of their voices. “Social” blushing is also distinct from hot flashes, stage fright, skin diseases, or the reddening of the skin as a result of physical effort, happiness, or alcohol consumption.
More… “Better Red”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.


This fascinating book traces a debate about the nature of time. The debate begins on April 6, 1922, in Paris, at a meeting of the French Philosophical Society. The opinions expressed will persist and permutate into the 21st century. The first and primary debaters are Albert Einstein, a strikingly good-looking and ambitious young man, and Henri Bergson, a philosopher already distinguished and well-published. Each will develop a wide following that summons up views and arguments on behalf of one or the other.
More… “A Matter of Time”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is now available.


I once spent a year living in a quaint, drafty first-floor apartment. Moving in and out was a breeze, and 2 AM dog walks were slightly more bearable without having to schlep up and down flights of stairs half-asleep in my slippers. One of the prices you pay for a first floor abode, however, is and always will be bugs, which are (usually) most unwelcome roommates. Centipedes, ants, gnats, silverfish – I’ve seen them all. Many a lazy Sunday afternoon was ruined by the discovery of translucent-black creatures poised on an armrest reading over my shoulder. As if they could even begin to grasp the depth of Haruki Murakami’s prose. 

Alyssa Shaw is an English major and graduate education student at Drexel University in Philadelphia. 

Back in June, when the sun was rising at 4:30 a.m. and setting after I went to sleep, I was having a little solstice dinner. It didn’t really feel like the summer solstice, even with the sun trying to rile you from bed at ungodly hours. Summer in Berlin is temperate and wet. There’s only one week or so that blazes through and leaves you gasping on your kitchen tile floor, or — like one pregnant woman in Germany — losing your shit on the un-air conditioned public train, taking off your shoe, and using it to pound through the window. But that never happens until mid-July. In June, you’re still wearing your leather jacket and you are able to do things like make a roast for the solstice and drink a Spanish red. And because there the sun feels vague rather than relentlessly mutating your skin cells into pre-cancerous… More…

Ever since my visit to a home show a few years ago, I have been besotted by kitchens. I fall asleep dreaming that granite countertops will replace my Corian surfaces and that an island will suddenly erupt in the middle of my island-less kitchen space. I covet a breakfast nook. Visions of teak cabinetry and Sub-Zero refrigerators dance in my head. Apparently, I am not alone in my fantasizing. An informal survey of real estate agents indicates that the kitchen has become the crucial room in the sale of a house. According to a friend in the business, my dumpy ’70s-era kitchen is likely to sink the price of my home by 20 percent.

“Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen” Through March 14, 2011. Museum of Modern Art, New York.

The kitchen now holds… More…

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) held its annual convention in Chicago recently, and I was there. Let me make clear at once that I am not a member of this august body but am instead married to someone who is; I was thus in the logistical position to report (with some admitted bias) on the proceedings.

ASCO is a big organization, and its members engulfed the city. Everywhere I looked, disheveled men and women could be seen carrying over-the-shoulder ASCO satchels and leafing through behemothian ASCO Convention Proceedings. Only Chicago and Orlando have convention centers big enough to accommodate the more than 30,000 doctors, researchers, drug company representatives, and sundry others attached to the cancer industry who attend this meeting each year. And although Orlando has hosted on occasion, there’s a certain dissonance in talking about myeloma in the morning and visiting Mickey Mouse in the afternoon. Chicago,… More…

In 1896, H.G. Wells, father of science fiction, published a romance about bicycles. The star of The Wheels of Chance is Hoopdriver, a lower-middle-class draper who embarks upon a 10-day cycling holiday. Along the way, he comes across pretty young Jessie, cycling alone, and the two share a magical tour of South England. Jessie imagines herself a liberated woman like the modern ladies of her novels. Hoopdriver is an all-around romantic. “He wheeled his machine up Putney Hill, and his heart sang within him,” Wells writes of Hoopdriver.

It’s not the kind of fantastical, time machine fiction one expects of Wells, but at the time of The Wheels of Chance, the bicycle was in the midst of a golden age. A bicycle was a chariot to near-distant lands and interesting friends. It became a symbol for freedom of movement — geographically, socially, and economically — for women and the working… More…


Wilson Alwyn Bentley was a snowflake man. So much so that he came to be known as “Snowflake.” Bentley was a Vermont man; it’s easy to understand his fascination with snow. I was just in Montpelier, the capital of Vermont, last weekend. Driving down Route 2 at night with the high beams on as the light catches the white flakes rushing horizontally at the windshield creates the feeling of warp speed.

A couple of years ago, you could hardly get through a winter week without someone telling a version of the Eskimos-words-for-snow story. We’ve only got one word for snow, the story went, but those Eskimos have 20, or a hundred, or a thousand, depending on the yarn-spinning skills of the teller. Hm, we’d say, ain’t it interesting how much language determines experience and vice versa. It turns… More…