A new picture of language

 If you’ve taken Linguistics 101, you know what language is. It’s a system for conveying meaning through speech. We build words out of sounds, and then complex ideas out of those words. Remarkably, the relationship between the sounds and the meanings they convey is purely arbitrary. Human language consists, in other words, of abstract symbols. […]

Climate, risk, and the rise of agriculture

It’s an enduring puzzle. For hundreds of thousands of years, our ancestors were nomadic, ranging over large territories, hunting and gathering for sustenance. Then, beginning roughly 12,000 years ago, we pivoted. Within a short timeframe—in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas—humans suddenly decided to settle down. We started to store our food. We […]

Consider the spider

Maybe your idea of spiders is a bit like mine was. You probably know that they have eight legs, that some are hairy. Perhaps you imagine them spending most of their time sitting in their webs—those classic-looking ones, of course—waiting for snacks to arrive. Maybe you consider them vaguely menacing, or even dangerous. Now this […]