aeon

Why Life Before Anaesthesia Made Doctors More Caring

In 1812, the English novelist Frances Burney described her mounting terror as she prepared to undergo a mastectomy without any anaesthetic. Having two hours to wait until the dreaded event (her ‘execution’, as she put it), she wandered into the room where the operation was going to take place and…

Distant Ruins: How Scientists Hunt Space For Dead Alien Civilisations

‘Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’ says Ozymandias’s ruined statue in the desert of Shelley’s imagination. Shelley’s sonnet is often interpreted as a sober warning that human works are fleeting, but when I read it as a young boy it kindled a sense of adventure; it suggested a…

Can Life Evolve From Wires And Plastic?

In a laboratory tucked away in a corner of the Cornell University campus, Hod Lipson’s robots are evolving. He has already produced a self-aware robot that is able to gather information about itself as it learns to walk. Like a Toy Story character, it sits in a cubby surrounded by…