What’s so funny? John McCrone reviews recent research on humour The joke comes over the headphones: ‘ Which side of a dog has the most hair? The left.’ No, not funny. Try again. ‘ Which side of a dog has the most hair? The outside.’ Hah! The punchline is silly yet fitting, tempting a smile, … more →

Pulling string to build pyramids No one knows exactly how- the pyramids were built. Marcus Chown reckons the answer could be ‘hanging in the air’ The pyramids of Egypt were built more than three thousand years ago, and no one knows how. The conventional picture is that tens .of thousands of slaves dragged stones on … more →

A.D.D. – Missing Out on Learning Study requires a student’s undivided attention. It is impossible to acquire a complex skill or absorb information about a subject in class unless one learns to concentrate without undue stress for long periods of time. Students with Attention Deficit Disorder (A.D.D.) are particularly deficient in this respect for reasons … more →

What Do Whales Feel? An examination of the functioning of the senses in cetaceans, the group of mammals comprising whales, dolphins and porpoises Some of the senses that we and other terrestrial mammals take for granted are either reduced or absent in cetaceans or fail to function well in water. For example, it appears from … more →

The Return of Artificial Intelligence It is becoming acceptable again to talk of computers performing human tasks such as problem-solving and pattern-recognition A After years in the wilderness, the term ‘artificial intelligence’ (AI) seems poised to make a comeback. AI was big in the 1980s but vanished in the 1990s. It re-entered public consciousness with … more →

A Chronicle of Timekeeping Our conception of time depends on the way we measure it A  According to archaeological evidence, at least 5, 000 years ago, and long before the advent of the Roman Empire, the Babylonians began to measure time, introducing calendars to co-ordinate communal activities, to plan the shipment of goods and, in … more →

The Triune Brain The first of our three brains to evolve is what scientists call the reptilian cortex. This brain sustains the elementary activities of animal survival such as respiration, adequate rest and a beating heart. We are not required to consciously “think” about these activities. The reptilian cortex also houses the “startle centre”, a … more →

The Concept of Role Theory Any individual in any situation occupies a role in relation to other people. The particular individual with whom one is concerned in the analysis of any situation is usually given the name of focal person. He has the focal role and can be regarded as sitting in the middle of … more →

Obtaining Linguistic Data A.  Many procedures are available for obtaining data about a language. They range from a carefully planned, intensive field investigation in a foreign country to a casual introspection about one’s mother tongue carried out in an armchair at home. B.   In all cases, someone has to act as a source of language … more →

The True Cost of Food A For more than forty years the cost of food has been rising. It has now reached a point where a growing number of people believe that it is far too high, and that bringing it down will be one of the great challenges of the twenty first century. That … more →