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

Lori Nix - 'Library' (2007)

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

(Image: ESA)

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

time scale

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

Lt. Kaidan Alenko using a biotic ability in Mass Effect

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…]