The Neuroscience of Despair

by Michael W. Begun

We often think of depression as a disorder caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. Not only is this idea empirically flawed, but it has drawn our attention away from the important social and psychological aspects of mental illness. Michael W. Begun shows how we got here and explains why a neurobiological understanding of depression can never be complete.

Abstract composition by Victor Hugo

Losing Liberty in an Age of Access

by James Poulos

Americans increasingly rely on subscription services like Netflix and sharing services like Airbnb, Uber, and Zipcar, renting access to goods instead of buying them. While some pundits have heralded the so-called sharing economy, James Poulos asks whether freedom can flourish when access no longer involves ownership.

READ MORE Flickr Ted Eytan (CC)

Confronting the Technological Society

by Samuel Matlack

In 1954, a Frenchman named Jacques Ellul penned one of the most bracing twentieth-century critiques of technology. Translated into English in 1964, The Technological Society was commended by the likes of Aldous Huxley and Robert K. Merton but written off by others as little more than a lamentation of modernity. Samuel Matlack revisits Ellul’s perplexing book and explains why it is still relevant today.

READ MORE Flickr galeriestudio18 (CC)

The Optimistic Science of Leibniz

by Marc E. Bobro

When Leibniz is remembered at all today, it is usually for inventing the calculus or for calling this “the best of all possible worlds” — a phrase that Voltaire famously scorned. Marc E. Bobro argues that Leibniz’s optimism is best understood in the context of his grand project to unify science, religion, and pretty much everything else.

READ MORE Wikimedia

The Invention of the War Machine

by M. Anthony Mills and Mark P. Mills

Although we tend to think of World War I as a hinge in technological history, most of the war’s iconic technologies were not in fact invented during or because of the war. But, as M. Anthony Mills and Mark P. Mills argue, the war was a turning point in another way — it brought together technology, industry, academic science, and government as never before, the first glimpse of what would later be called the “military-industrial complex.”

The Forgotten Honor of World War I

by James Bowman

Responding to those progressive historians who call the war an avoidable mistake — and who hint that we, today, know better than they did — James Bowman shows how obligations of honor, which may seem arcane in our day, played a part in the war’s beginning.

Image via U.S. National Archives

The Genius and Faith of Faraday and Maxwell

by Ian H. Hutchinson

The religious commitments of the great scientists are often dismissed as vestiges of more superstitious times. Ian H. Hutchinson offers a window into the intellectual and religious lives of the two greatest nineteenth-century electricians and shows how their religious beliefs facilitated their scientific accomplishments.

READ MORE Images via flickr/Leo Reynolds (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
and flickr/David Farrer (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Virtual Reality as Moral Ideal

by Matthew B. Crawford

The physical world resists our will. Matthew B. Crawford considers how we try to insulate ourselves from the limitations and frustrations of physicality — but thereby make ourselves more fragile and, ironically, more pliable to the wills of others.


First Thoughts on Germline Engineering

For the first time in history, scientists have genetically modified human embryos. New Atlantis assistant editor Brendan P. Foht explains why this technique is morally troubling, and puts it in the context of other bioethical issues.


Correlation, Causation, and Confusion

by Nick Barrowman

“Correlation,” as the saying goes, “does not imply causation.” But if you want to understand the statistics that appear everywhere in our daily lives — in sports reporting, in weather forecasts, and of course in politics and medicine — it helps to know just what correlation does imply. Nick Barrowman explains why some disciples of “big data” think causation is passé, and why they’re wrong.


In Defense of Prejudice, Sort of

by Ari N. Schulman

Prejudice is the Enlightenment’s most detested foe, the vampire that withers in the light of Reason. But an ambitious new book argues that prejudice, properly understood, is a prerequisite for lucid thinking. In this review, Ari N. Schulman explains why our modern ideal of perfect rationality is irrational.


Regarding Life at the Beginning

by Gilbert Meilaender

Unborn children are hidden from our view and totally dependent on us. Yet the debate over abortion usually treats the human community as made up only of free subjects that can enter into mutual dialogue or contractual relations. Gilbert Meilaender reviews a new book that offers a phenomenological critique of the abortion debate.

Flickr Jerry Lai (CC)

The Tools of Their Tools

by Evan Selinger
and Jathan Sadowski

From spell-checkers to self-driving cars, automation technologies can relieve us of difficult or tedious work. But a new book by Nicholas Carr highlights the danger of living life on autopilot. Evan Selinger and Jathan Sadowski discuss the book’s approach, and what its critics missed.


Liberty and the Environment

by Ronald Bailey

Are liberty and the environment simply opposed? Or can liberty and a flourishing natural environment reinforce one another, the good of one encouraging the good of the other? Ronald Bailey explores whether economic activity under a system of liberty can be environmentally sustainable in the long run.

Image: Robert Adrian Hillman
via Shutterstock


Modernity and Our American Heresies

by Peter Augustine Lawler

Critics of America have often argued that the country is too individualistic and materialistic, doomed to a kind of techno-obsessive liberal nihilism. But, as Peter Lawler explains, the American story is really a tale of constant compromise between our Lockean and Puritan tendencies, accommodating the need for both freedom and community.


Image: The Apostle (Butcher's Run Films, 1997)

Practicing Medicine

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A Feeling for Pain

by Ronald W. Dworkin

Modern medicine has mastered the elimination of pain to an impressive degree. But as Ronald W. Dworkin, a practicing anesthesiologist, shows, when science tries to explain pain, it often muddles what we know from experience.


Detail of Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time (ca. 1546), by Agnolo Bronzino (via Wikimedia)

Evolution and Ethics, Revisited

by Gertrude Himmelfarb

The temptation to draw moral lessons from biology is strong today — but it is hardly new. As the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb explains, the nineteenth-century scientist known as “Darwin’s bulldog” argued against those who wanted to apply evolutionary science to mankind.