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Death and Happiness

Posted on 2017-08-28 Monday 07:50 AM


Essay Review: Michel De Montaigne, That Our Happiness Must Not Be Judged Until After Our Death

“No man should be called happy till his death;

Always we must await his final day,

Reserving judgement till he’s laid away.”


                In this essay, De Montaigne discusses the potential for a bad death to ruin a life of happiness and goodness and for a good death to make people forget a life of badness and regret. His point is that on one day, the judgement of whether a life was a happy one can change.

                He describes the fickleness of fortune and the unpredictability of contentment. We do not know what will happen, and we know even less about what will make us happy or sad. All we can do follow an instinct towards a sense of quality, a belief that somethings have more value than others.


Vast Areas of Permafrost are Melting

Posted On 2017-08-23 Wednesday 10:33 AM


The New York Times has published an interactive map of permafrost in Alaska as an example of the changes currently happening in Arctic regions.

The changes are dramatic and fast. Huge areas of permafrost are now unfrozen and releasing the carbon stored in the frozen ground. This carbon is adding to the climate change caused by human activity.

The term ‘tipping point’ is used in systems theory to describe when a positive feedback unbalances a system and leads to rapid change. Even if humanity limits the carbon it releases into the atmosphere, it appears the changes that are already happening will release more carbon anyway.

Climate change is not new in the history of Earth and life has persisted through extreme conditions before, but the speed of the current climate change is disastrous for the human species.


For the full report, see the link to the New York Times below.


Delusions of Power

Posted On 2017-08-21 Monday 11:48 AM


Selected Excerpt

“It seemed dreadful to see the great beast, lying there, powerless to move and yet powerless to die, and not even to be able to finish him. I sent back for my small rifle and poured shot after shot into his heart and down his throat. They seemed to make no impression. The tortured gasps continued as steadily as the ticking of a clock.”


In Shooting an Elephant, George Orwell reveals the truth about power. The powerful are anonymous. When someone is elected president, or prime minister, or promoted into a leadership role, their power to change things is limited.

Whether the leaders of the most powerful countries in the world decide to act against air pollution makes no difference if individual, seemingly powerless citizens refuse to act.

Orwell writes:

In Moulmein, in Lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people — the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me,

showing us the connection between importance and hate. Showing us how perceived importance, whether by the individual or others, leads to behaviour that people detest.

Shooting an Elephant is a difficult essay to finish because of the brutal death of the creature. Orwell’s focus on breathing and suffocation bring the sense of helplessness we often feel when we think about life and death.


Link to Full Essay


Caravaggio’s Blood

Posted On 2017-08-17 Thursday 10:10 AM


Contributor: Jin 

In 1606, the painter Caravaggio killed Ranuccio Tomassoni in a brawl. He was exiled and fled to Naples. In 1608, he painted The Beheading of John the Baptist and with the carmine blood spilling from John’s head, he signed his own name.

                In the last few days, an alt-right activist killed Heather Heyer by driving into her with his car. Nationalists, fascists, and anti-fascists were protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E Lee. Lee was well respected on both sides of the American Civil War and had been offered a position in the Union army. As a southerner, he felt he had to reject it, and fought for the Confederacy. People sometimes think of slavery, the fight for freedom, as one of the main factors of the Civil War and, therefore, think of Lee’s decision to fight for the Confederacy as a pro-slavery choice. Lee was pro-slavery. Even after the Civil War ended, he defended it. George Washington was also a slave owner. So was Thomas Jefferson.

                In WW2, the Nazi party was surprised by the American reaction to European racism when in the US itself was sending segregated units to fight.

                In every case, and in all cases, there are things to praise and criticise. It is only in a fantasy Hollywood dream-world that good guys are always good and bad guys are always bad.


Brain Plasticity: The secret of life is have no fear

Posted On 2017-08-16 Wednesday 07:07 AM


Contributor: Sarah Syers

Research on the plasticity of the brain is leading to greater understanding of how we develop and change over time. A troubling example of recent years is how porn seems to desensitize the brain by increasing the threshold for the release of pleasure-related chemicals such as dopamine. The effect is so strong that over-use of porn can cause psychological impotence, but the brain is flexible enough to ‘reset’ over a period time without stimulation.

New research is revealing more about how this ‘plasticity’ works, and the ability for the brain to “birth” new cells seems to play a fundamental role.

In one area of the brain -  the Hippocampus, which is involved with memory – exercise and some antidepressants cause the creation of new cells and stress slows the creation of new brain cells.

More cells = more control, so neuron activity is slightly quieter when more of these cells are created. And more activity leads to more intense emotions such as fear. In other words, more exercise means less fear and                   anxiety.  


Links for Further Information



Posted On 2017-08-15 Tuesday 09:40 AM


Contributor: Sappho's Lover

Writing is ideas. More interesting, original, entertaining, profound, enlightening ideas lead to more interesting, original, entertaining, profound, enlightening pieces of writing. Invention is the process of finding something to say about a subject. You may already have something to say. Anything you have in your mind will be a combination of your experience, education, or reading. The ideas in a piece of writing are either ideas you already have or ideas you find (known as invention in rhetoric).

When do you need to invent ideas and when can you rely on your existing ideas? If you have any of the following, you need to invent your ideas.

  1. no ideas on a subject at all
  2. not enough ideas to develop a piece of writing adequately
  3. vague, inaccurate, mixed-up, or unusable ideas


For hundreds of years, writers and speakers have used a set of common topics to learn how to invent ideas. The common topics of invention will help you find and create ideas that will improve your writing. Once you become familiar with the common topics, you will use them without thinking to shape your written and spoken thoughts.


How to use the common topics of invention?


When you are learning to write, you can use the common topics as a checklist. They are most useful for argumentative and expository writing. Narration and description are usually based on creativity rather than invention. When you don’t know what to write about, go through the common topics and think if there is anything you can say about your subject using each of them. As you become more familiar with the common topics, you will develop the ability to automatically express your thoughts as arguments based on the common topics.


You will cover all of the common topics one by one. The common topics are








Essay Review: Samuel Johnson’s Obstructions of Learning (Feb. 2nd, 1760)

Posted On 2017-08-14 Monday 11:36 AM


Contributor: Borges Foxx

Johnson’s Obstructions of Learning contains some memorable lines on the subjects of learning, persistence, and failure. One of my favourite lines in any piece of writing is the following:

The Idler never applauds his own idleness, nor does any man repent of the diligence of his youth.

                The tone reminds me of the discomfort, as a young child, of being told off by a teacher. I knew what was expected, I knew I was lazy, I knew this was coming.

                No matter who tells you that you need to work harder or be more focused, it is an easy piece of advice to forget. It seems forgettable because of time. We have all the time in the world to study when we are young.

                Johnson’s genius is in popping that bubble of comfort. He introduces time by framing this piece of advice in the point of view of someone older. It is advice from someone who no longer has time to change, who looks back with either contentment or disappointment.

                I imagine the idler, alone and miserable, contemplating his wasted life. The diligent man, on the other hand, is also alone but is content.


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