To sing of one origin

Times_Literary_Supplement_logoNOBODY understood the power of boundaries better than Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz (1878–1947). A Swiss writer who had to go to Paris to find his voice, he returned to his native canton of Vaud during the First World War to create a distinctively French-Swiss body of literature. He was loyal to his patrie but his patrie was not Switzerland. It was his village, at most his canton – the people who shared his language and who sprang from the same soil as him. From his home on the north shore of Lake Geneva he looked across the water at the French Alps, a reminder that boundaries are where both creation and destruction happen; where opposing forces clash and new forms are born out of the old…

This article first appeared in The Times Literary Supplement on 21 August 2015. To continue reading, click here.

portrait_cf_ramuz_03

A Faustian bargain

economist-logoHUNTINGTON’S disease is awful. It slowly robs its victims of mobility, wits and emotions. And there is no cure. The idea that it might be the obverse of something good sounds, to say the least, counter-intuitive. Yet that is the contention of a small band of neuroscientists who have been studying it. They suggest the underlying cause of Huntington’s, a strange form of genetic mutation called a triplet-repeat expansion, might also be one of the driving forces behind the expansion of the human brain. Huntington’s, these people suspect, may be a price humanity pays for being clever…

This article first appeared in The Economist on 7 March 2015. To continue reading, click here.

Funny feet

ns_logoMY RUNNING shoes have a thick sole and cushioned heel. I bought them five years ago, before the “barefoot” craze for minimalist shoes that would allow people to better emulate how our ancestors ran. Soon after that, reports began appearing of injuries sustained by runners who had adopted these shoes, and lawsuits were filed against some manufacturers. Now the maximally cushioned or “fat” shoe is back in vogue, and suddenly my old shoes look high-tech again…

This article first appeared in New Scientist on 24 January 2015. To continue reading, click here.

Ella Albrecht/Gallerystock
Ella Albrecht/Gallerystock

Once upon a time…

ns_logoWHAT is “now”? It is an idea that physics treats as a mere illusion, yet it is something we are all familiar with. We tend to think of it as this current instant, a moment with no duration. But if now were timeless, we wouldn’t experience a succession of nows as time passing. Neither would we be able to perceive things like motion. We couldn’t operate in the world if the present had no duration. So how long is it…?

This article first appeared in New Scientist on 10 January 2015. To continue reading, click here.