Runic Escapades: The Ribe Cranium

I wrote the intro­duct­ory post for a new his­tory blog foun­ded by four colleagues/friends and myself. It’s about the Ribe cra­nium, an 8th cen­tury skull frag­ment with a runic inscrip­tion. The inscri­pion is (most likely) a heal­ing spell to defeat a dwar­ven spirit caus­ing ill­ness, pos­sibly a head­ache. The art­icle is part of an ongo­ing series “Runic Escapades”, in which I will present runic inscrip­tions in their cul­tural and his­tor­ical con­text. […Read more…]

On Norbert Wiener’s ‘God & Golem, Inc.’

While read­ing Annalee Newitz’ intriguing blog post on io9 about the his­tory of the word cyber, I came across the name Norbert Wiener (not Weiner — get it straight, you Eng­lish­ers) who had intro­duced the term Cyber­net­ics as “the study of con­trol and com­mu­nic­a­tion in machines and liv­ing beings”. His other works include the book God and Golem, Inc.: A Com­ment on Cer­tain Points Where Cyber­net­ics Impinges on Reli­gion, and that title imme­di­ately caught my eye. Stud­ies of the inter­ac­tion between sci­ence, tech­no­logy, and reli­gion always interest me a lot, as do Golems and Jew­ish folk­lore, so Wiener had sold it to me eas­ily. […Read more…]

2012: A Year in Books

What did I read in 2012? I’ve found look­ing back at my last year in books helps me chart some themes and devel­op­ments in my (men­tal life), so I’ve decided to do it again this year. I read 92 books in 2012, a little fewer than in 2011, but they were big­ger books, and my page total ended up higher. This doesn’t count all the art­icles I’ve read, but we’ve got to draw the read­ing ner­d­age line some­where. It’s all slightly arbit­rary any­way. […Read more…]

Science Stories: The Mythology of Evolution

Most people will be at least passingly famil­iar with the ‘war’ between ‘sci­ence’ and ‘reli­gion’ that has been a cent­ral theme in the his­tory of the West in the past few cen­tur­ies. My quotes are inten­tional because each of these con­cepts is far more com­plic­ated than com­mon usage would sug­gest. The prob­lem is: most, if […Read more…]

Asteroids and the Human Near Future in Space

If news reports from earlier this year are to be believed, aster­oids are high on the list of celes­tial bod­ies to be explored - and manip­u­lated. On May 13th, The Tele­graph revealed that Brit­ish astro­naut Tim Peake was going to be trained by NASA for an aster­oid sur­face mis­sion. Only weeks earlier, on April 24th, the Amer­ican com­pany Plan­et­ary Resources announced its plans to invest in aster­oid min­ing tech­no­logy. In the back­ground the impress­ive explor­a­tion data from NASA’s Dawn mis­sion to the aster­oid belt trickles in, mainly con­cern­ing pro­to­plan­ets Vesta and Ceres. […Read more…]

The Viewpoint of Eternity

I came across the schema below in Olaf Staple­don’s book Star Maker. The book in gene­ral made a very favour­able im­press­ion on me, as you can read in the short review I wrote on Good­reads. How­ever, this one bit in par­ticular I wanted to high­light on this blog, as it speaks direct­ly to the title, Sub Specie. […Read more…]

2011 Inspirational Reading

Out of the 100 books I read last year, I wanted to high­light a few that I found par­tic­u­larly reward­ing. […Read more…]

Magic and Technology

A state­ment often re­peat­ed in dis­cus­sions of tech­nolo­gy, whether within the realm of sci­ence fic­tion (and lite­rary criti­cism of the genre) or with­out, is Arthur C. Clarke’s so-called “Third Law”, which states that “any suffi­cient­ly ad­vanced tech­nolo­gy is in­dis­tin­guish­able from magic”. The reader may refer to Wiki­pedia for a bit of back­ground surroun­ding Clarke’s three laws and pos­sible pre­ce­dents for the third one men­tioned here. While the law obvious­ly makes pre­dic­tions about the per­cep­tion of tech­nology in real life, it is equally rele­vant to fic­tion, par­ticu­larly sci­ence fic­tion and fantasy, where magic and/or tech­nology occupy pro­mi­nent places as plot devices, motifs, etc. […] What inte­rests me in par­ticu­lar are the assump­tions lying behind Clarke’s third law, and how the law and its assump­tions can help (or hinder) us to under­stand the inter­play between tech­nology and magic as con­cepts of acti­vity […Read more…]

Some possible principles of cultural evolution

Fol­low­ing is a brief essay on some prin­ciples of evo­lution that could be use­ful in ana­lysing the spread of ideas, con­cepts, and ideo­logical com­plexes in human cul­ture. While there will be many prac­tical diffe­rences between evo­lution in bio­logical entit­ies and cul­tural ones, some gen­eral prin­ciples of evo­lution may per­haps apply to both. […Read more…]

Two recent books on biological, cultural, and spiritual evolution

Over the past few years, I’ve be­come more and more con­vinced that the concept of evo­lution is not only a power­ful ex­plan­ation of chan­ges and pat­terns in the bio­logic­al world, but also, by exten­sion, of changes and pat­terns in human cul­ture, or the world of ideas. If the sur­vival of (spe­cies of) organ­isms ulti­mately depends on their abil­ity to adapt to ever-changing en­viron­ments, then the same might very well be true of ideas and con­cepts, and I believe it is a fruit­ful line of study to pur­sue this idea. […Read more…]