Why People Drink

Between 2005 and 2007, the suburbs of Los Angeles, California, saw several avian casualties. The victims were 90-odd cedar waxwings and the cause of their death was drunk flying. The tipsy birds had accidentally rammed into windows, walls, and fencing – and died of trauma. Before they met their tragic end, the birds had been feasting on … Continued


Why We Describe Bad Things as “Dark”

You don’t have to look very hard to see that our culture has some pretty powerful associations between colors and feelings. As a recent example, the new Pixar film Inside Out has characters representing emotions, and the color choices for these characters—red for anger, and blue for sadness—feel right. Red, specifically, is one of the most powerful … Continued


20 Great Ideas from David Gelernter

Last month, David Gelernter, the pioneering Yale University computer scientist, met with Donald Trump to discuss the possibility of joining the White House staff. An article about the meeting in The Washington Post was headlined, “David Gelernter, fiercely anti-intellectual computer scientist, is being eyed for Trump’s science adviser.” It is hard to imagine a more misleading treatment. By one common definition, … Continued


The Rise of Sanctimony Cities

In the days leading up to the inauguration of Donald Trump, the streets in one wealthy corner of northwest Washington, D.C., were draped with flags almost from one end to the other. They recalled Monet’s painting of the Rue Montorgueil that hangs in the Musée d’Orsay, or the oils that the American impressionist Childe Hassam … Continued


What Great Books Can Teach Us

On a beautiful day in fall 2004, I walked up a mountain on Terceira Island in the Azores with six students. They were 15-year-olds, all enrolled in public high schools in the Azorean city of Angra do Heroísmo. I was 42. We talked about the Republic of Letters, a voluntary weekend program of readings and … Continued


The Man Without a Cellphone

It is mildly subversive and perhaps a little quaint when someone clings to their flip phone and refuses a smartphone. Refusing both kinds of phones is viewed as downright lunacy, especially if the person refusing was born after the mid-1970s. But I’ve never had a cellphone and I’m not going to get one. I have several … Continued


How the Language You Speak Changes Your Worldview

I went to my neighbor’s house for something to eat yesterday. Think about this sentence. It’s pretty simple—English speakers would know precisely what it means. But what does it actually tell you—or, more to the point, what does it not tell you? It doesn’t specify facts like the subject’s gender or the neighbor’s, or what direction the … Continued


How Long Will You Live?

Women born in South Korea in 2030 are projected to be the first peopleto break the 90-year barrier in life expectancy. Women born in other developed countries in that decade won’t be too far behind, with many projected to live through their 80s, according to a recent study. An international team of scientists developed forecasting … Continued


Are Video Games Better than Real Life?

On the evening of November 9, having barely been awake to see the day, I took the subway to Sunset Park. My objective was to meet a friend at the arcade Next Level. In size, Next Level resembles a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant. It does indeed serve food — free fried chicken and shrimp were provided that night, … Continued


The Dangers of the Academic Bubble

Universities are a fundamental force of good in the world. At their best, they mine knowledge and understanding, wisdom and insight, and then freely distribute these treasures to society at large. Theirs is not a monopoly on this undertaking, but in the concentration of effort and single-mindedness of purpose, they are truly unique institutions. If … Continued