Justin Smith writes: "At a cultural moment when psychedelics are getting a second wind, and even someone as upstanding as Michael Pollan has moved from counseling us to eat our roughage to praising the benefits of microdosing, philosophers are conducting themselves as though it were still 1950, when we wore skinny ties to colloquia, got funding from the RAND Corporation to work on decision trees and other such narrow and straitlaced endeavors, and all knew that it is the unaltered and wakeful mind that has exclusive access to the forms and qualities of the external world. I am a philosopher who has taken an interest, of late, in psychedelic experimentation, and I find that my experiments have significantly widened the range of accounts of the nature of reality that I am disposed to take seriously. If you think you are in an emotional state to handle it, and in a legal jurisdiction that permits it, I would recommend that you try some."
The sonnets of Michelangelo
Most famous for painting the Sistine Chapel and his sculpture of David, the Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo was also a prolific poet, in his lifetime penning more than 300 sonnets and madrigals. It is in his poetry that many critics have seen present the clearest evidence of his homosexual leanings. The openly homoerotic nature of the poetry has been a source of discomfort to later generations. Michelangelo's grandnephew, Michelangelo the Younger, published them in 1623 with the gender of pronouns changed, and it was not until John Addington Symonds translated them into English in 1878 that the original genders were restored - the book featured here is a later edition of this work which features the Symonds translations side-by-side with the original Italian (see here for the 1st edition, with no Italian). Even in modern times some scholars continue to insist that, despite the restoration of the pronouns, the sonnets represent "an emotionless and elegant re-imagining of Platonic dialogue, an expression of refined sensibilities."
This geologist found the oldest water on earth in a Canadian mine
When Barbara Sherwood Lollar sent water samples to a colleague at the University of Oxford for testing, she knew this was no ordinary water. The geochemist had spent much of her career wandering around some of the deepest mines in the world, finding and extracting water that was millions of years old. She waited and waited for results that should’ve come back promptly. So she dialled up the U.K. researcher in charge of the test. “I said, ‘Hey, what’s going on with the samples?’ ” she recalls. “He said, ‘Our mass spectrometer is broken. This can’t be right.’ ” The tests pegged the mean age of the samples, extracted from a mine north of Timmins, Ont., in 2009, at 1.6 billion years old—the oldest ever found on Earth. Sherwood Lollar, the Canada Research Chair in Isotope Geochemistry of the Earth and the Environment at the University of Toronto, says the ancient water might help answer a question that curious earthlings have asked as long as we’ve peered skyward: could there be life on other planets?
Researchers examine 3,500-year-old bear preserved in permafrost
Two and a half years ago, reindeer hunters discovered a perfectly preserved bear carcass, frozen for millennia in Siberian permafrost. Found on Bolshyoy Lyakhovsky, an Arctic island north of mainland Russia, the creature had its fur, skin, claws, teeth, body fat and internal organs all still intact, which is an extremely rare occurrence. “This is the first and only find of its kind—a whole bear carcass with soft tissues,” paleontologist Lena Grigorieva said in a September 2020 statement announcing the discovery. “It is completely preserved, with all internal organs in place, including even its nose. Previously, only skulls and bones were found. This find is of great importance for the whole world.” Now, researchers have announced that the mummified bear is much younger than they had previously estimated, and it belongs to a different species than they originally presumed.
Here's why you should be careful if you make your own tonic water
The current trend toward homemade everything makes it easy to sniff at buying something you could make yourself. But companies making bottled tonic have lawyers and food scientists, and are governed by strict food safety rules before they can put something on the market. “Quinine is a bitter and bitters taste bitter for a reason — they [can be] poisonous,” said mixologist Jordan Silbert. Tonic was originally used as a medicine to treat malaria: it's made from the bark of the cinchona tree, which some indigenous people have reportedly been using as protection from malaria for hundreds of years. It was given to soldiers stationed in malaria-prone regions, and since British troops also got gin in their rations, the gin-and-tonic was born. However, an excess of quinine can cause a disorder called cinchonism, and it doesn't take very much. Side effects include nausea, vomiting, headache, dizziness, ringing in the ears, visual disturbances, and even more serious effects like abnormal heart rhythms. In rare cases, it can cause death.
Scientists may have discovered how birds evolved to have wings
The evolution of wings powerful enough to lift a vertebrate off the ground is one of the greatest mysteries in paleontology. Pterosaurs are famous for being the earliest known vertebrates to achieve true lift-off nearly 200 million years ago. Yet these massive ancient reptiles weren't dinosaurs, leaving the direct ancestors of birds to figure out the whole flying business all on their own. Avian dinosaurs would only evolve much later from two-footed, feathered theropods – 80 million years or more after pterosaurs had already achieved powered flight. Despite these vastly different origin stories, birds use a strikingly similar structure to pterosaurs to stay aloft, one that, like feathers, seems to have evolved long before flight itself. Called a propatagium, it's a membrane present in all living vertebrates that flap their wings today, including birds and bats. Some gliding mammals even have a similar structure present across their parachute-like upper limbs.