Dear Readers and Writers,
Conjecture Magazine has been several months in the making, and we are proud of our initial lineup of articles. This newsletter will push the month’s articles to you, and otherwise refrain from menacing your inbox.
If you have suggestions for content, or know someone who may be interested in writing for us, please let us know at email@example.com. For regular updates, follow us on Twitter @conjecture_mag.
We hope you enjoy the holidays with a sample from our opening slate of articles.
Aaron and Logan
1. Fake News: The Manifest Truth Delusion (Parts 1,2 and 3)
This is our feature article this month, by philosopher Ray Scott Percival. In three parts, Ray takes us deep into the philosophical significance of fake news, including several topical references, and reaches a surprising conclusion on the value of gullibility. …
Note — this was originally published with Physics World.
The explosion of a nearby star could have caused a mass extinction that occurred long ago on Earth. That is the conclusion of a study by an international team of scientists, which suggests that this scenario could be confirmed by looking for a plutonium isotope in fossils.
Around 359 million years ago, at the boundary between the Devonian and Carboniferous periods, the Earth suffered an intense loss of species diversity that lasted for at least 300,000 years. …
There are growing rumblings about the need for a National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation for the post-Trump world. In a recent Philadelphia Inquirer opinion piece, Will Bunch wrote that “The idea behind such panels is to hold high-profile hearings that aren’t geared toward punishment but exposing the truth of what has happened — no matter how painful — so that once-divided citizens can again find a common language or grant amnesty, which will form the basis for the conversation to make sure these things never happen again.” …
Free speech is a value, not a right. Understanding this distinction sheds light on the various debates in the culture war — who social media platforms should ban, the role of the First Amendment, and cancel culture. It’s true that companies like Twitter and Facebook have the moral right to allow whoever they like on their platforms. In that sense, customers do not have some immutable right to say whatever they please, but instead must conform to the companies’ rules or risk banishment. The same holds for a suburban dinner party — the host owns the house and so determines the rules of engagement for guests. …
If you are reading this, then you are taking advantage of the global information network we call the Internet and a piece of electronic hardware known as a computer. For much of the world, access to these technologies is commonplace enough to be taken for granted, and yet they only emerged in the last century. A few hundred thousand years ago, mankind was born into a Hobbesian state of destitution, literally and figuratively naked. Yet we’ve come to solve an enormous sequence of problems to reach the heights of the modern world, and continue to do so (global extreme poverty currently stands at an all-time low of just nine percent). But what are the necessary ingredients in solving such problems, in improving the conditions of humanity? …
Historically, the creation of ideas has been a messy process. Knowledge has not usually been delivered as an immaculate gem, but as a needle in a grubby haystack of wrong ideas. It is only with the benefit of hindsight that we are able to differentiate between our ancestors’ mistakes and their genuine discoveries. It may therefore be a mistake to reject a tradition altogether, even if some of its pillars seem absurd in light of our modern scientific and moral theories. We should instead cherish the good ideas that our ancestors did deliver. One culture in particular, though it offers a false account of reality, may have contained the knowledge required to give birth to modern science. …
In my office of hallowed halls
I sit staring at sullied paper,
Seeking answers that do not yet exist,
That no one can give me,
One fist to chin for thinking,
One hand to pencil for scribbling.
What is the world made of?
The question taunts me, haunts me, consumes me.
For this, they call me a scientist.
They may call me whatever they like,
I am blind to their lives,
Dinner parties and rock concerts, funerals and global politics
I notice as a sprinter notices a beetle:
I am consumed.
What is the world made of?
On the paper, numbers and symbols are another Road to…
In our fight against COVID-19, we must respect the universal principles that allow for problem-solving in general. While these will never tell us exactly what we should be doing in any given problem-situation, such as the one in which we currently find ourselves, they provide the framework in which we are able to solve problems and make progress in the first place. So it can save us a lot of civilizational headaches if we invest time into the higher-level ideas that we’d better get straight as we wage war with the virus.
Wealth is not a fixed pie. It is not generally true that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, and in a free market, it’s next to impossible (I suppose everyone could still choose to undergo mass suicide, but I digress). It mustn’t be taken for granted that we in the West are orders of magnitude wealthier than our ancestors, and much of the rest of the world is similarly escaping from the Hobbesian poverty into which our species was born. …
Out of nothing came the world,
Space-time and particles and heat and force,
Chaos to start.
Father Reality grew defined with age.
Banged and congealed,
Swirling matter brewed in cosmic storms,
The Universe came ablaze with round, fiery Titans.
Eight or ten billion years on,
One Titan sheltered a molten rock,
The third of its nine patrons,
A magical cocoon.
In that cocoon, chemistry catalyzed itself,
Replicating and replicating.
Strands of knowledge,
Forged by Darwin’s hammer,
Arming and armoring,
Complexity begets complexity,
Chemicals evolve cells evolve beasts evolve apes.
Bald, skinny apes are the first of their…