Dreams are a precious resource. Don’t let advertisers hack them | Aeon Essays


Advertisers have begun invading our sleep in an attempt to place their products in our dreams. This is neither metaphor nor fiction; it’s a fact. The night before Super Bowl LV, the beverage company Molson Coors ran what they called the ‘world’s largest dream study’. They explicitly aimed to place images of Coors beer, along with positive imagery (of refreshing alpine rivers, for instance), into dreamers’ minds. They hired a Harvard psychologist to design dream-incubation stimuli, incentivised participation with offers of free drinks, and, in a marketing coup, had the pop star Zayn Malik agree to sleep on Instagram Live while having an incubated Coors dream – though he did mention the whole project was ‘kinda messed up’.

Source: Dreams are a precious resource. Don’t let advertisers hack them | Aeon Essays

Mass extinctions don’t drive evolutionary change: life does | Aeon Essays


Of all the species that have ever lived on our planet, more than 99 per cent are extinct. Most of these organisms disappeared through the constant shuffle of ecological and evolutionary change. But not all. Many species have vanished in a geological snap during mass extinctions – truly catastrophic events where the rate of extinction vastly outpaces the origin of new species. For a time, these ecological disasters were thought to drive a great flourish of new lifeforms in the aftermath. It turns out that supposition is wrong.

Source: Mass extinctions don’t drive evolutionary change: life does | Aeon Essays

I hurt therefore I am: a new approach to our shared vulnerability | Aeon Essays


Can the disadvantages that disabled people often experience be attributed to intrinsic vulnerability, or do they result from social arrangements? This is a pressing question, both because of the global disability rights movement, and also because of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s also a very personal question for me. I was born with short stature (achondroplasia). Due to this rare genetic condition, I have had prolonged episodes of back problems, which have come with associated pain and immobility. In 1997, I was bed-bound for six months with sciatica. In 2008, I became paraplegic and spent 10 weeks in a spinal injury unit. Since then, I have used a wheelchair and had constant neuropathic pain. In 2021, I have been bed-bound for months with pain and restriction. I know that many health conditions, irrespective of social context, can be very disabling.

Source: I hurt therefore I am: a new approach to our shared vulnerability | Aeon Essays

Should we rein cities in or embrace their biomorphic growth? | Aeon Essays


In 1996, one in three inhabitants of China lived in an urban setting. In 2021, the figure was close to two in three. In the United States, in comparison, the figure is four in five. The construction boom in China tracks a moment of transition of geological significance in Earth’s history: humans are now a modally urban species. Sometime less than 15 years ago, the population of urban areas surpassed that of rural areas for the first time in history, and trends in the size of Earth’s cities show accelerating growth over the past 200 years. Approximately 250 years ago, there were three cities on Earth with more than a million human inhabitants: Edo (present-day Tokyo), Beijing and London. Today the figure is around 550.

Source: Should we rein cities in or embrace their biomorphic growth? | Aeon Essays

When England met Ireland: a tale of colonialism, not romance | Aeon Essays


William Shakespeare wrote there ‘never was a story of more woe / than this of Juliet and her Romeo’, he had no idea of the uses and abuses his play would face in the coming centuries. Shakespeare’s tale of star-crossed lovers has been woefully misappropriated for wildly different scenarios, from selling us balconies as the very emblem of romance (there’s no balcony in Shakespeare’s play) to serving as a leitmotif for the Israel-Palestine conflict. In 1990, the ever-controversial author Lionel Shriver lamented how often the narrative of doomed lovers cropped up in novels about the Northern Ireland conflict, suggesting that the ‘Troubles Writer … compulsively Romeo-and-Juliets his characters across the sectarian divide’.

Source: When England met Ireland: a tale of colonialism, not romance | Aeon Essays

This Checklist Can Make You a Better Leader | Knowledge@Wharton


Brett LoGiurato: Congratulations on the publication of the 10th anniversary edition of your book, The Leader’s Checklist. What are the biggest things that have changed for you over the past 10 years since you first wrote the book?

Michael Useem: After the initial edition, I spent a good bit of time talking with and watching top executives — especially in the private sector, but in the public sector as well — get the job done and move the needle in a way that made sense to them and to the board of directors and investors [if it was a private company].

In one respect, nothing has changed in that what was true 10 years ago is still true today. For example, one of the items on the checklist is “communicating your character.” People literally want to know who you are. What do you stand for? What are your values?

Source: This Checklist Can Make You a Better Leader – Knowledge@Wharton

Imagination isn’t the icing on the cake of human cognition | Aeon Essays


‘To me,’ wrote William Blake in 1799, ‘this world is all one continued vision of fancy or imagination.’ The imagination, he later added, ‘is not a state: it is the human existence itself.’ Blake, a painter as well as a poet, created images that acquire their power not only from a certain naive artistic technique, but because they are striving to transcend it – to convey a vision of the world beyond superficial appearances, which only imagination can reach.

For the Romantics, imagination was a divine quality. ‘The primary Imagination I hold to be the living Power and prime Agent of all human Perception,’ wrote Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1817. It was a powerful faculty that could be put to use, distinct from the mere ‘fancy’ of making up stuff – which all too often, is how imagination is conceived today.

Source: Imagination isn’t the icing on the cake of human cognition | Aeon Essays

Must we accept the loss of beloved heritage to the climate crisis? | Aeon Essays


As an Amsterdam-born art historian, for the past three decades I’ve enjoyed guiding students and other visitors along the concentric canals that cup the city’s 17th-century historic center (now a UNESCO World Heritage site). With its tall gabled houses, arched bridges and stately municipal buildings, old Amsterdam has survived in a remarkably pristine fashion the wars and urban development that affected many other European cities. But for the past year or two, I have noticed that my students’ appreciation of the city’s visible antiquity has acquired a new dimension. This monument to human ingenuity, which rests on thousands of wooden poles hammered into the marshy soil, now seems to have a longer past than it does a future.

Source: Must we accept the loss of beloved heritage to the climate crisis? | Aeon Essays

How the Anglophone world is rediscovering Hegel’s philosophy | Aeon Essays


To an unusual degree among the great philosophers, G W F Hegel’s influence has waxed and waned. At his death in 1831, he was the reigning voice in German philosophy. His followers, however, soon split into opposed camps: the Right Hegelians, a conservative and religious group, and the Left Hegelians, a socially radical group including Karl Marx. Amid their squabbles, Hegel’s star began to fade in Germany. But in the late 19th century, it once again rose to prominence in the rest of Europe and in the United States. Certain strains of 20th-century Continental philosophy were deeply marked by his influence, such as French existentialism and the Frankfurt school of critical theory. But 20th-century Anglophone philosophy reacted strongly against the neo-Hegelian thought that dominated the universities at the end of the 19th century. In English-speaking lands (including the US), Hegel has lived under a cloud for the past century: his writing too dense, his ideas too abstract, his politics as well as his theology too suspect. His works have been treated with derision in mainstream Anglophone philosophy, and excluded from the canon that trained philosophers need to master.

Source: How the Anglophone world is rediscovering Hegel’s philosophy | Aeon Essays

The British Empire was built on slavery then grew by antislavery | Aeon Essays


Britain ended its slave trade in 1807, and abolished slavery in much of its colonial empire in 1834. Four years later, Queen Victoria was crowned. For British liberals, the timing was auspicious, and the lessons were obvious. The 18th-century empire of enslaved labour, rebellious colonies and benighted protectionism had been purified by the ‘sacrifice’ of the profits of slavery to the principles of free trade, free labour and free markets. But the empire that slavery made endured.

Source: The British Empire was built on slavery then grew by antislavery | Aeon Essays