The Vatican Secret Archives is one of the grandest historical collections in the world. It’s also one of the most useless. The grandeur is obvious. Located within the Vatican’s walls, next door to the Apostolic Library and just north of the Sistine Chapel, the VSA houses 53 linear miles of shelving dating back more than 12 centuries. It includes gems like the papal bull that excommunicated Martin Luther and the pleas for help that Mary Queen of Scots sent to Pope Sixtus V before her execution. In size and scope, the collection is almost peerless. That said, the VSA isn’t much use to modern scholars, because it’s so inaccessible.
The material and moral progress made possible by the Enlightenment is evident across a wide range of metrics, from human rights to life expectancy. But today’s political leaders seem inadequate to the task of managing the Enlightenment’s more troubling legacies.
In his 2017 book Taste, the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben digs up the roots of the word. Historically, it is defined as a form of knowledge through pleasure, from perceiving the flavour of food to judging the quality of an object. Taste is an essentially human capacity, to the point that it is almost subconscious: We know whether we like something or not before we understand why. “Taste enjoys beauty, without being able to explain it,” Agamben writes. Algorithms are meant to provide surprise, showing us what we didn’t realise we’d always wanted, and yet we are never quite surprised because we know to expect it.
Far from being easy to grasp and anodyne, Tibetan Buddhism is rich in tantric practices, the impenetrably esoteric ideas and techniques used to try to slingshot spiritual seekers directly towards the enlightenment they seek to attain within this lifetime to best help others.
LET’S START THIS story at the end: You can’t kill email. Attempting to do so is a decades-long tradition of the tech industry, a cliché right up there with “Uber, but for” and “the Netflix of X.” AOL Instant Messenger tried to kill email. So did MySpace. Then Facebook took up the mantle, followed by Slack and Symphony and WhatsApp and HipChat. Through it all, email persists—always dying, never dead.
Mainstream philosophy in the so-called West is narrow-minded, unimaginative, and even xenophobic…how else can we explain the fact that the rich philosophical traditions of China, India, Africa, and the Indigenous peoples of the Americas are completely ignored by almost all philosophy departments in both Europe and the English-speaking world?
Here’s something you probably didn’t do this morning: Look in the mirror and ask, am I a jerk? It seems like a reasonable question. There are, presumably, genuine jerks in the world. And many of those jerks, presumably, have a pretty high moral opinion of themselves, or at least a moderate opinion of themselves. They don’t think of themselves as jerks, because jerk self-knowledge is hard to come by.
The north wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a vast, airy enclosure featuring a banked wall of glass and the Temple of Dendur, a sandstone monument that was constructed beside the Nile two millennia ago and transported to the Met, brick by brick, as a gift from the Egyptian government. The space, which opened in 1978 and is known as the Sackler Wing, is also itself a monument, to one of America’s great philanthropic dynasties.
Given a choice of being the disruptor or the disrupted, many would prefer to choose the former. But it’s not as easy as just flipping a switch and subsequently reaping the benefits of a forward-looking vision, new product categories, and forthcoming patents. Instead, an organisation has to proactively acquire this innovation and intellectual capital from somewhere.
From the perspective of 19th-century visitors to the United States, the country’s system of higher education was a joke. It wasn’t even a system, just a random assortment of institutions claiming to be colleges that were scattered around the countryside…But by the second half of the 20th century, it had assumed a dominant position in the world market in higher education. How did this remarkable transformation come about?