Author: Logan Chipkin

In Celebration of Errors

Making mistakes is out of fashion. To utter the wrong phrase or entertain an uncomfortable hypothesis is to risk both personal and professional ostracism. You might express an idea that is false, such as that the Earth is flat. Or you might say something that is true but nonetheless violates some taboo. A historical example is the assertion that the Earth revolves around the Sun, which once upon a time would have landed a person in hot water with the Catholic Church, as scientist Galileo Galilei learned the hard way in the 1600s. The content of what is unspeakable ebbs and flows over time as culture evolves and our understanding of reality improves. While defending Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection would once have elicited mockery, today, the opposite is (mostly) true. It is irrelevant whether or not someone is correct when he initially expresses an idea. What matters is how others respond to an idea that they find unpalatable, as solving problems always requires correcting errors. Civilization has been in the game of …

Origins and Exploration—An Interview with Dr. Lewis Dartnell

Dr. Lewis Dartnell is an award-winning research scientist in the field of astrobiology. In his most recent book, the Sunday Times bestseller Origins: How the Earth Made Us, Dartnell tells the story of how cosmic and geological forces have directed the evolution of humans and their civilizations. The following is an interview with Dr. Dartnell about Origins, as well as his field of expertise, astrobiology—the search for life in the universe. *     *     *  Logan Chipkin: Early in Origins, you describe a fascinating hypothesis which causally links the cosmic movements of Earth with the evolution of human intelligence. What is this hypothesis, in detail? Lewis Dartnell: One of the big questions in evolutionary biology is: what drove our evolution from tree-swinging apes to bipedal, highly intelligent homonins that went on to build civilization and inherit the world? Primarily, what needs to happen is that the land around you needs to dry out, the forests need to be replaced by grasslands, by savannah. And what was driving that process over 5–6 million years since …

Memes, Genes, and Sex Differences—An Interview with Dr. Steve Stewart-Williams

Dr. Steve Stewart-Williams is an associate professor of psychology at the University of Nottingham, researching the evolution of altruism and human sex differences. The philosophical implications of evolutionary theory was the focus of his first book, Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life. The following is an interview with Stewart-Williams about his new book, The Ape that Understood the Universe. Logan Chipkin: Your book begins with an alien’s perspective on modern humanity. This alien has apparently never encountered typical human behavior. How did you come up with this idea, and how did you subsequently decide which aspects of humanity to include in the alien’s report? Steve Stewart-Williams: Like you say, I kick off the book by looking at human beings through the eyes of an alien scientist: a hyper-intelligent alien scientist from a species that doesn’t have males and females, doesn’t fall in love, doesn’t have families, and doesn’t have music or art or reality TV or anything else like that. And I ask: What would such a being make of us? The short answer is …