The mist wisped its way over the sea towards the shore, curling over the beach and on to the promenade. A deepening haze softened the contours of the beach huts and the cliffs behind. I walked more slowly, feeling my way ahead. The air was unusually still. Scanning the beach I glimpsed a shape there. It seemed to be blue and white; an abandoned deckchair perhaps? Coming closer I could see it was a figure stretched out in the sand. Probably one of those giant puppets from yesterday’s carnival. Then I heard a faint moan. I approached cautiously. As I drew closer I could see wide canvas trousers and a short jacket with brass buttons. A scene from my childhood floated past me. It was a wet day and I was asking when it would be dry enough to play outside. ‘Is there enough blue sky to make a pair of sailor’s trousers?’ my mother asked, looking up at the sky. So perhaps this figure was a sailor? He seemed rather small. There was seaweed hanging from his body. Had he nearly drowned and been washed ashore? I hesitated, being somewhat squeamish and also aware that I was on my way to a rehearsal. Continue reading
Are we alone in the Universe? This question has teased scientists and philosophers for many decades and is a central theme in much science fiction writing. More recently, as planets have been discovered in solar systems other than our own, the question has returned. Could there be another Earth-like planet colonised by living organisms out there somewhere? This field has become so important scientifically that it is now regarded as a separate discipline – that of astrobiology. Continue reading
At some level we fear technology and its power over us. But the church can’t be content to merely offer warnings—we also need to call out the good in technology… we need to remember that technology, in the sense of it being something useful created through the application of science, has been part of humankind for quite a while. It finds its way into the Scripture early when Tubal-Cain “forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron” (Genesis 4:22) and continues throughout its pages. In fact, the church and technology have enjoyed a long and often positive history… Continue reading
When we are faced with issues of climate change, habitat loss, global population increase and the resulting demands for resources and waste management, the question is not just how to respond, but why? In her lecture at the Faraday summer course, Biblical Dr Hilary Marlow described three ways people answer the question “Why care for the Earth?” Continue reading
How will developments in AI and robotics change the way we think about what it means to be human? This was the question that Professor John Wyatt, a medical doctor with a long involvement the discussion about what it means to be human, asked in his lecture at the Faraday Institute summer course this month, which I’ll summarise here. Continue reading
Where can we go to find out what is true? At the Faraday Summer course last week, the Dutch philosopher Professor René van Woudenberg explained why science cannot be relied upon as the only source of truth in the world. In a sense, he said, this type of argument is ‘kicking at an open door’. Philosophers have known that we need more than science as a source of knowledge for a long time, but it’s worth talking about because many people don’t know the door is open! Science is a great source of knowledge, but it has a number of limitations. Continue reading
The simple act of buying a coffee and a croissant in a coffee shop rests on a massive chain of cooperation dating back thousands of years. There was the growing and processing of raw materials, sourcing and supplying them, manufacturing products, setting up a business, training staff, and so on. Perhaps the most important links in this chain were the people who shared their knowledge about all those processes across the globe, and over many generations.
Humans are unusually cooperative, but other living organisms also play the same game. In Supercooperators: Evolution, Altruism and Human behaviour, or Why we need each other to succeed, the biological mathematician Martin Nowak, and his cooperating co-author the science journalist Roger Highfield, explain how this process works. Continue reading