‘A rose with a thousand petals’ … what makes an aphorism – and is this a golden age?


This post is by Sam Leith from Books | The Guardian


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Forget haikus, epigrams, proverbs, maxims, adages and riddles. If you’re needing a sliver of wisdom, try an aphorism. There are certainly plenty around …

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”
“Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.”
“Winners are not those who never fail, but those who never quit.”

Social media, these days, burgeons with such words of wisdom, floating around on a sea of hashtags, usually misattributed, and frequently accompanied by photos of sunsets over beaches. So are we living in a golden age of aphorisms? They are, after all, well suited to a 280-character limit, and positively beg to be shared.

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Yuval Noah Harari: the myth of freedom


This post is by Yuval Noah Harari from Books | The Guardian


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Governments and corporations will soon know you better than you know yourself. Belief in the idea of ‘free will’ has become dangerous

Should scholars serve the truth, even at the cost of social harmony? Should you expose a fiction even if that fiction sustains the social order? In writing my latest book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, I had to struggle with this dilemma with regard to liberalism.

On the one hand, I believe that the liberal story is flawed, that it does not tell the truth about humanity, and that in order to survive and flourish in the 21st century we need to go beyond it. On the other hand, at present the liberal story is still fundamental to the functioning of the global order. What’s more, liberalism is now attacked by religious and nationalist fanatics who believe in nostalgic fantasies that are far more dangerous and ...

The Wheel of Time Showrunner Rafe Judkins: “I Plan to Lean Heavily Into The Concept of Reincarnation.”


This post is by Stubby the Rocket from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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The Wheel of Time

For the past several weeks, Rafe Judkins, showrunner of Amazon Studios’ The Wheel of Time television series, has instituted #WoTWednesday on social media: He’ll share peeks at scripts (just the episode titles, alas) or his marked-up copies of Robert Jordan’s books, as he and the writing staff embark on the epic undertaking of adapting this beloved fantasy series for the small screen.

This week, Judkins was in Fiji, and so for #WoTWednesday he talked about eastern religions and philosophies, most notably reincarnation.

[Note: Mild spoilers ahead for Book 6.]

In an Instagram post at the Sri Siva Subramaniya Temple in Nadi, Fiji, Judkins got to thinking:

For #WoTWednesday this week, since I’m in Fiji where 30% of the population is Hindu (and the 10 dollar coin is actually a mandala of the Kalachakra or “Wheel of Time”) I thought I’d talk a little about the philosophy of the ...

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The Philosophy of Self-Destruction in Alex Garland’s Annihilation


This post is by Joe George from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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28 Days Later was the first movie that had me stumbling out of the theater in a mind-fried daze. Back in 2002, I knew director Danny Boyle from Trainspotting and The Beach, both movies with some troubling themes, but I went in expecting nothing more than a fun zombie romp (this was, after all, long before zombies had infected every part of popular culture). But the movie sold the “humans are the real monsters” trope in a way I had never before seen. By the time Jim (Cillian Murphy) nearly attacks Selena (Naomi Harris) in his bloody rage, I no longer knew what to believe or expect. My friend and I were so shocked by what we’d just experienced that we drove 20 minutes in the wrong direction before realizing our error.

16 years later, I left Annihilation in a similar state. Working here as both writer and director, ...

The Ship of Theseus Problem Reveals A Lot About SciFi


This post is by Corey J. White from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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The Ship of Theseus is a thought experiment first posited by Plutarch in Life of Theseus. It goes a little something like this:

A ship goes out in a storm and is damaged. Upon returning to shore, the ship is repaired, with parts of it being replaced in the process. Again and again the ship goes out, and again it is repaired, until eventually every single component of the ship, every plank of wood, has been replaced.

Is the repaired ship still the same ship that first went out into the storm? And if not, then at what point did it become a different ship?

Now, say you collected every part of the ship that was discarded during repairs, and you used these parts to rebuild the ship. With the two ships side-by-side, which one would be the true Ship of Theseus? Or would it be both? Or neither?

There’s ...

JS Mill scribbles reveal he was far from a chilly Victorian intellectual


This post is by Richard Adams from Books | The Guardian


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Project to digitise and publish his marginalia online will allow scholars to see his cutting remarks on Ralph Waldo Emerson

Despite writing a shelf-full of books, including his own autobiography, the great Victorian intellectual John Stuart Mill remains a man of mystery to scholars. However, a new side of Mill has now come to light, hidden in the margins of his library.

It turns out that Mill was an inveterate annotator, scribbling comments, observations and in some cases graffiti throughout his library. More than 140 years after his death, those notes are being collected and published for the first time.

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JS Mill scribbles reveal he was far from a chilly Victorian intellectual


This post is by Richard Adams from Books | The Guardian


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Project to digitise and publish his marginalia online will allow scholars to see his cutting remarks on Ralph Waldo Emerson

Despite writing a shelf-full of books, including his own autobiography, the great Victorian intellectual John Stuart Mill remains a man of mystery to scholars. However, a new side of Mill has now come to light, hidden in the margins of his library.

It turns out that Mill was an inveterate annotator, scribbling comments, observations and in some cases graffiti throughout his library. More than 140 years after his death, those notes are being collected and published for the first time.

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Seven Types of Atheism by John Gray review – fascinating study of disbelief


This post is by Richard Harries from Books | The Guardian


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The British philosopher has produced a thought-provoking account of the tradition of atheism and the problems with it

There is an old story of two atheists in Northern Ireland who expressed relief that they had risen above the religious rivalry of their contemporaries. Then one defined himself as a “Protestant atheist” and the other as a “Catholic atheist” and they split apart. The serious point here is that there are many forms of atheism and their meaning depends on what God or gods are being rejected. The first Christians were called atheists because they refused to worship the state deities. John Gray is scathing about the intellectual pretensions of the “new atheists” with their “smears and fulminations” but sees in them a fault line that has run right through most forms of atheism since the 18th century. This is that in reacting against the creator-God of the Jewish and Christian ...

‘There is no such thing as past or future’: physicist Carlo Rovelli on changing how we think about time


This post is by Charlotte Higgins from Books | The Guardian


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Seven Brief Lessons on Physics sold over a million copies around the world. Now Rovelli is back to explore the mysteries of time. He tells Charlotte Higgins about student revolution and how his quantum leap began with an acid trip

Extract from Carlo Rovelli’s new book: on the elastic concept of time

What do we know about time? Language tells us that it “passes”, it moves like a great river, inexorably dragging us with it, and, in the end, washes us up on its shore while it continues, unstoppable. Time flows. It moves ever forwards. Or does it? Poets also tell us that time stumbles or creeps or slows or even, at times, seems to stop. They tell us that the past might be inescapable, immanent in objects or people or landscapes. When Juliet is waiting for Romeo, time passes sluggishly: she longs for Phaethon to take the reins ...

‘There is no such thing as past or future’: physicist Carlo Rovelli on changing how we think about time


This post is by Charlotte Higgins from Books | The Guardian


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Seven Brief Lessons on Physics sold over a million copies around the world. Now Rovelli is back to explore the mysteries of time. He tells Charlotte Higgins about student revolution and how his quantum leap began with an acid trip

Extract from Carlo Rovelli’s new book: on the elastic concept of time

What do we know about time? Language tells us that it “passes”, it moves like a great river, inexorably dragging us with it, and, in the end, washes us up on its shore while it continues, unstoppable. Time flows. It moves ever forwards. Or does it? Poets also tell us that time stumbles or creeps or slows or even, at times, seems to stop. They tell us that the past might be inescapable, immanent in objects or people or landscapes. When Juliet is waiting for Romeo, time passes sluggishly: she longs for Phaethon to take the reins ...

Seven Types of Atheism by John Gray review – is every atheist an inverted believer?


This post is by Terry Eagleton from Books | The Guardian


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An an impressively erudite work, ranging from St Augustine to Joseph Conrad, embraces an atheism that finds enough mystery in the material world

There has been a rash of books in recent years by thinkers for whom the human race is getting nicer and nicer. Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Matt Ridley and Sam Harris are rational humanists who believe in progress, however many famines and genocides may disfigure the planet. We are en route to a vastly improved future. Perhaps this return to the values of the western Enlightenment is not unrelated to the threat of radical Islam. The philosopher John Gray’s role has been to act as a Jeremiah among these Pollyannas, insisting that we are every bit as nasty as we ever were. If there is anything he detests, it is schemes of visionary transformation. He is a card-carrying misanthrope for whom human life has ...

A Philosophy of Dirt review – what does it mean to be clean?


This post is by PD Smith from Books | The Guardian


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Philosopher Olli Lagerspetz considers being dirty, and the fashion for filth in art

The philosopher Olli Lagerspetz notes that in continental Europe there is a widely believed stereotype of the British as “inordinately fond of bathtubs, lukewarm water … but otherwise with a doubtful sense of hygiene”. This was confirmed for him when his first child was born in the newly built Singleton Hospital in Swansea: “We were shown into the delivery room, where the floor was adorned with a carpet. A carpet.” He notes that “carpets in delivery rooms are not to be thought of in the Nordic countries”.

The distinction between clean and dirty is a universal organising principle in human society, like right and wrong: “Homo sapiens is also Homo sordidus – not merely the rational animal but also the dirty (and clean) animal.” Today dirt is fashionable. Every modern art gallery has works made from “the ...

Skin in the Game by Nassim Nicholas Taleb review – how risk should be shared


This post is by Zoe Williams from Books | The Guardian


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Hawkish politicians and reckless bankers never face the consequences of their actions – but they should, according to this arresting but flawed book

Skin in the Game is Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s fifth book. He presents it sometimes as part of a triptych with his earlier works The Black Swan and Antifragile, and at other times as a continuation, each book “just as Eve came out of Adam’s ribs”, seeding the central idea of the next. The Black Swan, a soaraway success praised for its prophetic power and intense relevance, looked – just before the financial crash of 2007 – at “high-impact, unexpected” events; at those disasters that result when you underestimate the complexity of systems and, at its simplest, when you assume that because you’ve never seen one, black swans don’t exist.

Antifragile, which had more of a pop-philosophy feel, advised how to take advantage of modern randomness and volatility. Skin in ...

What Are We Doing Here? by Marilynne Robinson review – hope, as distinct from optimism


This post is by Dinah Birch from Books | The Guardian


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Essays with a religious sensibility from the author of Gilead and Housekeeping argue that modern culture tends to devalue humankind

“I have never admired deference.” Marilynne Robinson is a stubborn nonconformist, and her new collection of essays confirms the distance between her combative ideas and the dominant values of the west. This is partly a matter of temperament. Her years as a novelist reflect her belief that character implies “consistency of a kind”, though never “predictability”. Character, she tells us, has “a palette or a music”, which may be both constraining and liberating. The music of her character is ordered by her lifelong allegiance to the traditions of Protestantism, theological and political, that created American Puritanism. Her commitment to this identity, in both historical and contemporary terms, is what drives her fiction and her cultural criticism.

Writing on behalf of the “wounded or discounted”, always Robinson’s preferred position, leads ...

‘Key’ fourth book of Foucault’s History of Sexuality published in France


This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian


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Confessions of the Flesh, published against the late philosopher’s wishes, turns attention to medieval Europe

A previously unpublished work by Michel Foucault, in which the French philosopher takes on sexuality among the early Christians, has been released in France, 34 years after his death.

Foucault published three volumes of the History of Sexuality, which explored the experience of sexuality in western society from the ancient Greeks to the modern day: The Will to Knowledge (1976), The Use of Pleasure and The Care of the Self (both 1984). The fourth volume was incomplete on his death in 1984 from an Aids-related illness.

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12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B Peterson – digested read


This post is by John Crace from Books | The Guardian


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‘Here’s a rule that’s catnip for right-wingers everywhere: do not bother children while they are skateboarding’

Just a few years ago, I was an unknown professor writing academic books that nobody read. Then, with God’s help, I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and develop my potential. Pinkos and wishy-washy liberals had cornered the market in cod psychology, so I guessed there must be a huge hunger for a self-help book, backed up with religion, mythology, CAPITAL LETTERS and stating the obvious – one directed at responsible, socially minded conservatives craving some pseudointellectual ideology to prop up their beliefs. And bingo! Here are my 12 Rules for Life.

1 Stand up straight with your shoulders straight
Most lobsters are complete bastards left to their own devices. Most humans are complete bastards left to their own devices. This proves there is a God who wants us to have Order. Order ...

Further reading: Elif Shafak on books to change your mind


This post is by Elif Shafak from Books | The Guardian


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The Turkish author on the writers whose opinions change our minds and heal our souls, including Naomi Klein and Mary Beard

Poland-born sociologist and philosopher Zygmunt Bauman, who died last year, was one of the most influential figures in social theory. In his 2007 book, Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty, he questions not only the way we see things, but also the very terms and concepts we use. For instance, the phrase “refugee crisis” implies the refugees themselves have caused a problem that other people have been left to deal with. There is an almost hidden resentment implied – and a distinction between “us” and “them”. For Bauman, who had been subjected to racism and antisemitism, our lack of ability to act together is more a reflection of a “crisis in humanity”. His was a wise, provocative, nuanced voice to help us rethink the contemporary ...

The Minister and the Murderer by Stuart Kelly review – should a killer be allowed into the church?


This post is by Blake Morrison from Books | The Guardian


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In this fascinating, demanding book, a famous Church of Scotland case from the 1980s takes the literary critic up various personal and intellectual paths

Should a murderer be allowed to serve as a minister of the church? Is such a person suitable to conduct marriages, open coffee mornings and suffer little children to come to them? Such were the questions facing the Church of Scotland in 1984, when a licence was sought by James Nelson, who after his release from prison on parole, having served a 10-year sentence, had studied divinity at St Andrews and taken up preaching. With the tabloids closely following the story (Nelson, not averse to publicity, had given an interview to the Glasgow Herald the year before), the Kirk’s General Assembly knew it would be criticised, whatever its decision. But after a three-hour debate, by 622 votes to 425, with a courage it’s hard to imagine ...

12 Rules for Life by Jordan B Peterson review – a self-help book from a culture warrior


This post is by Hari Kunzru from Books | The Guardian


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The psychologist and internet celebrity with contentious views on gender, political correctness, good and evil, offers hectoring advice on how to live

The Canadian clinical psychologist Jordan B Peterson has, in recent years, become an internet celebrity, producing a slew of videos and interviews on all manner of political and social topics. He is acerbic, combative and openly contemptuous of his opponents, particularly Marxists and “Postmodernists”, for whom he harbours a special animus. He is an enthusiastic and prolific culture warrior, who has no truck with “white privilege”, “cultural appropriation” and a range of other ideas associated with social justice movements. His reluctance to call transgender people by their preferred pronouns (unless they ask him to) has earned him a reputation as a transphobe, and while his views have marginalised him within the academic community, they have bolstered his reputation in conservative circles.

Related: You are only ever as ...

A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind review – Buddhist housekeeping


This post is by PD Smith from Books | The Guardian


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Shoukei Matsumoto’s slim volume offers practical cleaning tips as well as an introduction to Buddhist thinking on relationships and enlightenment

‘A monk’s day begins with cleaning,” says Shoukei Matsumoto, a Buddhist monk at the Komyoji Temple in Kamiyacho, Tokyo. “We do it to eliminate the gloom in our hearts.” This slim guide, elegantly translated by Ian Samhammer and peppered with delightful illustrations by Kikue Tamura, shows how to bring the tranquillity and serenity of a Japanese temple into ordinary homes: “All you need is a will to sweep the dust off your heart.” For the Japanese, cleaning is more than a chore. Schoolchildren clean their classrooms together: “It’s an ascetic practice to cultivate the mind.” Apparently one of Buddha’s disciples achieved enlightenment solely through the act of sweeping. A bestseller in Japan, this charming book offers practical cleaning tips as well as fascinating insights into the Buddhist approach to life, ...