Geology of the Mountains of Madness

By David Bressan

]…we expected to unearth a quite unprecedented amount of material – especially in the pre-Cambrian strata of which so narrow a range of antarctic specimens had previously been secured. We wished also to obtain as great as possible a variety of the upper fossiliferous rocks, since the primal life history of this bleak realm of ice and death is of the highest importance to our knowledge of the earth’s past.

This week we remembered the struggle and final triumph to reach one of the last large white spots of the globe: the interior of the southern continent of Antarctica. 100 years ago only segments of the coast and the approximately contours of Antarctica were known – a perfect scenario for the imagination of writers. In 1888 the novel “A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder“, by Canadian James De Mille, was posthumously published (Brian Switek recovers these lost tales on his Dinosaur Tracking post “Who Wrote the First Dinosaur Novel?). The novel narrates the adventures of a sailor shipwrecked on an unknown part of the Antarctic continent, where volcanic activity enables a tropical lost world to flourish. Only in 1912, maybe also in response to the successful expeditions to the South Pole, Arthur Conan Doyle reinvented “The Lost World” in a remote region of the Amazonian forest. Curiously Edgar Rice Burroughs published in 1918 the first part of “The Land That Time Forgot“, maybe hoping to exploit the celebrity of Doyle’s tale. Here the primordial world populated by tropical forests and of course dinosaurs is located again near Antarctica on the island of Caprona, first reported by the (fictitious) Italian explorer Caproni in 1721.

At the Mountains of Madness” is a science-fiction/horror story by the American writer H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937), written in February/March 1931 and originally published in the February, March and April 1936 issues of one of the first pulp-magazine of history: “Astounding Stories“.


Like many others stories by Lovecraft also Mountains of Madness is retold from a first-person perspective: Geologist William Dyer is one of the few survivors of an Antarctica expedition that in 1930 studied the geology of the frozen continent. After discovering strange trace fossils a team ventures into the unknown interior of Antarctica, only to discover a terrifying chain of dark peaks:

He was strangely convinced that the marking was the print of some bulky, unknown, and radically unclassifiable organism of considerably advanced evolution, notwithstanding that the rock which bore it was of so vastly ancient a date – Cambrian if not actually pre-Cambrian – as to preclude the probable existence not only of all highly evolved life, but of any life at all above the unicellular or at most the trilobite stage. These fragments, with their odd marking, must have been five hundred million to a thousand million years old.

Lovecraft is today considered one of the first authors to mix elements of the classic gothic horror stories, mostly characterized by supernatural beings, with elements of modern science-fiction, were the threat to the protagonists results from natural enemies, even if these are creatures evolved under completely different conditions than we know. He was an enthusiastic autodidact in science and incorporates in his story many geologic observations made at the time, he even cites repeatedly the geological results of the 1928-30 expedition led by Richard Evelyn Byrd.


Only in 1929-31 the British-Australian-New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition was mapping the last unknown coastlines and still not much was known about the geology and palaeontology of the interior of the continent.

The first fossils, fragments of petrified wood, described from Antarctica were collected in 1892-93 on Seymour Island by members of the Norwegian Antarctic Expedition led by Carl Anton Larsen (most fossils were traded later by the sailors for tobacco, Larsen handled his specimens to the University of Oslo). One of the first geologists to collect fossils in Antarctica was the Swedish geologist Otto Nordenskjöld in 1902-03, he and his crew discovered Jurassic plant fossils, shells and the bones of gigantic penguins (which also have an cameo in Lovecraft’s tale). Based on the plant fossils Nordenskjöld was also one of the first researchers to propose that Antarctica in the past experienced a much warmer climate and was covered by forests of ferns and other tropical plants. Lovecraft will evocate this long lost past in his story by the unexpected discovery of a cave that acted as sediment trap for millions of years:

The hollowed layer was not more than seven or eight feet deep but extended off indefinitely in all directions and had a fresh, slightly moving air which suggested its membership in an extensive subterranean system. Its roof and floor were abundantly equipped with large stalactites and stalagmites, some of which met in columnar form: but important above all else was the vast deposit of shells and bones, which in places nearly choked the passage. Washed down from unknown jungles of Mesozoic tree ferns and fungi, and forests of Tertiary cycads, fan palms, and primitive angiosperms, this osseous medley contained representatives of more Cretaceous, Eocene, and other animal species than the greatest paleontologist could have counted or classified in a year. Mollusks, crustacean armor, fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and early mammals – great and small, known and unknown. No wonder Gedney ran back to the camp shouting, and no wonder everyone else dropped work and rushed headlong through the biting cold to where the tall derrick marked a new-found gateway to secrets of inner earth and vanished aeons.

In 1920 the geologist William Thomas Gordon described the oldest Antarctic fossils, archaeocyathids found in rocks dated to the Cambrian Period (more than 500 million years ago). Archaeocyathids, sponge-like organisms, were also discovered in samples coming from a moraine of Beardmore Glacier and collected in 1907-09 by Ernest Shackleton during his failed attempt to reach the South Pole.


The desire to understand the ancient history of Antarctica had also a tragic consequence. December 14, 1911 Roald Amundsen and his team had reached the South Pole, four weeks later Robert Falcon Scott and his team sighted the tent with the Norwegian flag. This unexpected discovery demoralized Scott and his men who had also to face the impending polar winter and an insufficient stock of supplies. However Scott decided during his return to stop at a moraine and collected rock samples, loosing precious time and adding ulterior weight on the sleigh pulled by the men.

The moraine was obviously so interesting that when we had advanced some miles and got out of the wind, I decided to camp and spend the rest of the day geologizing. It has been extremely interesting . . . Altogether we had a most interesting afternoon, but the sun has just reached us, a little obscured by night haze.

The samples were discovered in 1912 along with the frozen bodies of the men. In 1914 British palaeontologist Albert Charles Seward described the fossil plant remains collected by Scott’s party as Glossopteris and Vertebraria, two species of plants distributed almost worldwide that will later be used by Alfred Wegener as evidence that Antarctica was once connected to the other continents.


Lovecraft apparently was fascinated by the theory of continental drift as proposed by Wegener in the 1920s, as he describes the discovery of an ancient topographic map of unknown origin in a dead city, showing the slow movement of the continents on the surface of earth.

As I have said, the hypothesis of Taylor, Wegener, and Joly that all continents are fragments of an original Antarctic land mass which cracked from centrifugal force and drifted apart over a technically viscous lower surface- an hypothesis suggested by such things as the complementary outlines of Africa and South America, and the way the great mountain chains are rolled and shoved up-receives striking support from this uncanny source.

For Lovecraft the geology and the detailed description of the discovered fossils is an essential part to present the idea of deep time, especially the pre-Cambrian, when according to the knowledge of his time no life existed on earth. However the expedition of Dyer discovered in rocks dated to this ancient period the traces of highly evolved creatures, referred only as Elder Ones. They are far superior in their culture, technology and abilities to our civilization, most important they are immeasurable older than humans and Lovecraft’s tale ends with a warning: compared to the almost unimaginably vastness of the age of earth (and these creatures) we should feel quite humble (and afraid).

I am forced into speech because men of science have refused to follow my advice without knowing why. It is altogether against my will that I tell my reasons for opposing this contemplated invasion of the antarctic – with its vast fossil hunt and its wholesale boring and melting of the ancient ice caps. And I am the more reluctant because my warning may be in vain.

Today much more is known about the geology of Antarctica. The landmass of Antarctica is composed by two major geologically distinct blocks separated by the Transantarctic Mountains, a 2.800km long mountain range with 4.000m high peaks (Lovecraft´s imaginary Mountains of Madness were more than twice as high as these mountains).

East Antarctica is dominated by Precambrian igneous and metamorphic rocks, however almost completely covered by a 4.000 thick ice cap. Even if East Antarctica is thought to be an ancient and stable continental shield, geophysical investigations showed prominent mountains buried under the ice, like the Gamburtsev Mountain Range, a 1000km long mountain range with peaks almost 3.000m high. The origin of these unachievable mountains was for long time an intriguing mystery – volcanic origin, mountains formed by subduction very recently or the remains of an ancient Gondwanan orogeny were the most popular hypotheses. Most recent research (FERRACCIOLI et al. 2011) proposes that these mountains are much elder ones, formed by movements during the collision of the various Antarctic blocks.

West Antarctica is a mosaic of five smaller blocks covered by the West Antarctic Ice Sheet; however rocks are exposed on the Antarctic Peninsula. The Antarctic Peninsula was formed by uplift and metamorphism of sea-bed sediments during the late Paleozoic and the early Mesozoic, as proved by the fossils that inspired Lovecraft.


The Outrageous Azulik Villas In The Tulum Jungle With Floating Crystal Pools And A Diving Sommelier

By Jim Dobson

In jungles around the world, architects are developing eco-tourist hotels far from the city lights to offer up enchanting, unusual experiences. I have written about treehouse hotels in the past, but my recent experience deep in the Mayan jungle, at the center of the Yucatán peninsula and 30 minutes from the trendy coastal Tulum, is one of the most magical places I have ever been.

AZULIK Uh May is an extraordinary development of luxury residences and villas rising from the jungle floor above the thick tree canopies. It feels like you are in a strange Avatar world on another planet with its crazy curving concrete and fiberglass walls linked together by alien outdoor bejuco wood vine-like walkways.

Azulik Uh May near Tulum, Mexico
Azulik Uh May near Tulum, Mexico

Most of the people who visit the recently opened Azulik Uh May are fans of the designers Azulik hotel in Tulum. And once they arrive, they notice the genius of creating a hidden oasis where not a single tree was removed during construction.

The property was created as a holistic center for human vision and evolution, by one of the most brilliant people I have ever met, Roth (Eduardo Neira). I was blessed to have breakfast with the mastermind himself at the new property with a spectacular meal by executive chef Rogelio Gorozpe Loman. We dined in a pod-like outdoor space surrounded by pools and spoke at length about his new property and his future developments in Patagonia and the Amazon Jungle.

Exterior AZULIK Uh May villa

Roth explains the property, “The location is in the center of a triangle made of Tulum, Coba, and Muyil, the three principle centers of Mayan tradition. And where we are located in the center is the only jungle in the Yucatan peninsula that has no mosquitos.”

Designed as a site for research, transformation, and creation, the first phase of the project was a stunning art gallery incorporating artists in residence; a fashion and design lab and recording studio round off the unusual retreat.

Interior Uh May Residence

The adjacent school for Mayan communities is composed of carefully conceived art studios and craft workshops combining local techniques with state of the art facilities.  Medical facilities integrating Western medicine and ancient Mayan healing techniques will round out the multidimensional experience.

AZULIK Uh May is a 42-villa jungle hotel, including the contemporary art space, SFER IK Museion, as well as a residential space. The second phase, which is currently under construction, includes freestanding guest villas alongside two independent, mixed-use structures. The main Uh May building houses guest amenities that include reception, spa, retail, and dining, and Templo, a grand complex that serves as the administrative and creative offices, as well as housing the third location of SFER IK Museion.


The center of AZULIK’s Uh May development houses guest amenities, including the hotel lobby and reception; ALKEMIA, the holistic spa; ZAK IK, a boutique that carries their in-house fashion label; and KIN TOH, a uniquely experiential restaurant elevated above the treetops.

Guests access the building barefoot via a suspended bridge crafted from local wood, which traverses the elevated gardens at the height of the jungle canopy. Organic flowing shapes and woven textures define the main lobby. The translucent ceiling, made from woven bejuco vines reinforced with clear resin, shows the silhouettes of guests enjoying the swimming pool and restaurant on the floors above.

But it is the new KIN TOH restaurant water nests that will be a game-changer for resorts everywhere and an amazing feat of architecture to inspire all visitors. On the upper level, the KIN TOH restaurant comprises a main dining area, poolside bar and lounge, and 18 individual nest tables. The upper floor also features a dancing area, with DJ booth and special cocktail bar that will send drinks to the nests by drones.

AZULIK elevated walkway

The restaurant’s nest tables are a significant feature of the project, engaging guests with a full immersion into the natural landscape. The nests sit in a circular formation around a central core, which transports guests from the main restaurant platform to the highest point of the building. Each nest is an elevated pool above the trees that can accommodate up to 14 people at a transparent dining table. Supported by wooden columns elevated 15 meters above the ground level, the nests offer a 360-degree view of the treetops, while the transparent acrylic floor also provides views of the jungle below.

KIN TOH´S cellar cools their large selection of wines utilizing water instead of air, surprising guests with an unpredictable experience. As each bottle is ordered, the sommelier will dive underwater down a clear tube to retrieve it from the bottom of the wine cellar, which is built entirely from transparent acrylic and visible to guests in the lobby below.

Aerial view of Uh May residence

Visitors will tour the extensive museum, including the current exhibition Alliga featuring artist Cecilia Bengolea’s outrageous seaweed-shaped sculptures mixed with bats, keepers of the ecosystem, transforming the exhibition space into an immersive aquatic sphere.

For the future, Roth tells me he is developing property in Patagonia, an artist community that is comprised of the Mapuche-Cayún people and established with the sole purpose of protecting their land. Thanks to their commitment, several hydroelectric projects that threatened to destroy thousands of hectares of native forest have been halted. Within 230 hectares, including 5 kilometers of coast along two lakes, they will build artists residences to house projects involving the native communities.

Roth walking through vine covered tunnel at AZULIK Uh May

The Amazon jungle project is another amazing technical feat hoping to help the 1000 Shipibo communities in the area. The tribes preserve an ancestral knowledge of medicinal plants and are natural-born healers. Roth will build artist’s residences, where artists will work with native communities and the works of art will be sold with 100% of the proceeds going to the local native communities to be used for the creation of fish farms and greenhouse farming. The fish farms will provide an alternative for the local people to eating fish from the rivers contaminated by illegal mining. The greenhouses will help them enrich their diets and avoid the continuous burning of hundreds of thousands of acres a year to obtain rich soil for yucca plantations.

Roth explains, “the new Amazonia resort will have rooms hanging in the trees 50 meters high above the jungle, and part of the hotel will be floating in the river.”

Kin Toh Restaurant at Azulik in Tulum

The three concept hotels that will be built in this area (a hotel in the City of Maldonado; a mobile Floating Hotel that will take you to explore Amazonia across the river Madre de Dios; and a Jungle Hotel in the Biosphere Reserve). Guests will be transported by seaplane to be introduced to and connect with the different communities, in an effort to encourage donations and participation in these projects.

The property is 2300 hectares, including 15 kilometers along the banks of the most important river in the region, the wide Madre de Dios River, and another 15 kilometers along the Quebrada Palma Real River. I can’t wait to see what magical transformation Roth creates in the Amazon, but if it is anywhere near as glorious as his Mexico properties, it will be a bucket list destination.


How Elf on the Shelf Became a Surveillance State Apparatus

by Dan Nosowitz

It is a silent observer, a CCTV camera with pointy ears.

Dr. Laura Pinto, whose research focuses on educational policy and practice, was among the first to shine a light on one of the strangest and most disturbing toys on the market, the Elf on the Shelf. Starting with a video connecting the toy to Foucault’s writings about surveillance, her 2014 article (co-written with Selena Nemorin) for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives became that rarest of creatures: a largely academic paper about ideas that entered the cultural narrative.

The Elf on the Shelf is a recent creation, and its story is so specific to this era that none of it—the product itself, the dialogue about it—would make any sense in any other time. The Elf on the Shelf is a book of branding, self-promotion, the surveillance state, educational philosophy, social media, and performative parenting. It is a goddamn nightmare and it should freak you out.

The Elf in question is a small elf doll, accompanied by a book, that parents move around the house each day of December, leading up to Christmas. Written and self-published by Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell, the book was first released in 2005, and took off in 2007. The story in the book, written in rhyme, reveals that the elf doll is an emissary sent by Santa Claus to observe children and report back on their behavior for judgment. The elf cannot be touched or the magic will be broken; it is a silent observer, a CCTV camera with pointy ears.

Pinto’s article discussed the issues of introducing small children to the concept of perpetual surveillance. “The theoretical foundation behind it is that when kids play with toys, they’re creating a pretend world, but they’re also reinforcing values and behaviors,” says Pinto. Living in a state of constant spying is something adults deal with every day, and education and awareness about the dangers of surveillance is certainly lacking, but the Elf on the Shelf presents the concept uncritically. “When you convey to kids that what’s normal is somebody will be watching you and reporting back to authority figures and you’ll be punished or rewarded accordingly, that’s something to be wary of,” says Pinto.

The Christmas holiday has, of course, a much older and more established central mythological figure, in the form of Santa Claus. The research on the psychological effects of the Santa myth is distressingly slim, but I spoke to Jacqueline Woolley, a psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, who conducted research on whether and in what form kids believe in Santa. There’s no conclusions about whether telling your kids that Santa exists will have any lasting psychological effect on them or the way they’ll see the world, but there are a few intertwining concepts.

“I think believing in an impossible being like Santa Claus could possibly exercise a child’s counterfactual reasoning,” says Woolley. Counterfactual thinking is the human ability to imagine a world that doesn’t exist in reality, but not in a Lord of the Rings kind of way. It’s more about following pathways of acts that never happened. What if I had done this, instead of that? What would the ramifications be? And exercising that is an important part of cognitive development; it helps a person understand the effects of their actions in the future. Of course, kids have plenty of non-Santa stuff that would exercise that, too.


But getting back to the elf, there’s also the aspect of surveillance to Santa. He knows whether you’re naughty or nice, somehow, and he’s going to reward or punish you based on what he knows. That kind of system is called an extrinsic reward system, as opposed to an intrinsic reward system. If you get a gold star for reading a book, that’s an extrinsic reward which is designed to encourage more reading. If you decide you like to read books, and that’s why you want to read more books, that’s an intrinsic reward. It gets more complicated than that, but that’s the basic idea.

It’s not really fair to generalize and say that one of those methods doesn’t work, but it’s probably fair to say that the general understanding is that extrinsic rewards tend to be more short-lived and unsustainable than intrinsic rewards. That isn’t always the case; a gold star for reading might get a child to start reading, and that child may find they enjoy reading and want to keep doing it. But it’s hard to apply that to what the elf does; no child is going to find that they enjoy behaving and doing what their parents say so much that they want to keep doing it. “From a broader perspective, I don’t think these kinds of things are the most effective way to mold your child’s behavior or moral sense,” says Woolley.


But Santa is pretty different from the elf. Santa might be an omnipotent spy, but he’s also associated with generosity, kindness, warmth, family. The Elf on the Shelf has none of this, aside from any tangential effects coming from being part of the Christmas celebration. The elf is solely an indicator of a surveillance system, a dark and ominous warning and, very clumsily, an analogue for tech giants and overstepping governments.

Pinto’s article was picked up, first by the Toronto Star and then by American outlets including the Washington Post and Drudge Report. The Washington Post article carries a tone of disbelief that someone had spent so much time thinking about an innocent toy. “Before you burst out laughing, know that Pinto comes across as extremely friendly and not at all paranoid on the phone. She’s also completely serious,” writes Peter Holley. The story was incredibly popular; the Columbia Journalism Review said it was the Washington Post‘s most-read story of the year.

“What we wrote was oddly controversial in 2014,” Pinto tells VICE now. “The reaction was a little bit weird. We were kind of like, ‘Oh no, what do we do, they’re painting us as crackpots.’” But a groundswell of anti-Elf writing had already begun to spring up with a couple of other articles on the topic, and within only a few years, think-pieces and even Amazon comments had begun to turn against the elf.


This did little to stop the elf’s rise to Christmas prominence, because fear is a much lesser motivator than self-promotion. Today if you Google “elf on the shelf,” mostly what you’ll find are slideshows and Pinterest boards of hundreds of social-media-focused elf ideas. These are often completely bizarre. You can find hand-crafted outfits that turn the elf into a coffee-slinging employee of Starbucks. Parents create elaborate tableaus and dioramas for the elf, like this one of a “sick elf” that includes “reindeer flu pills” and a forged doctor’s note. Or, in a take that’s a little too on-the-nose, they’ll dress the elf up like a cop.

The elf sparked competitive wars of which parent can create, and post on Instagram and Facebook, the most elaborate elf presentation. The more favs you get, the better a parent you are it seems. Mommy bloggers felt forced to participate in the elf wars, promoting their brand as quirky parents who have the time and energy to spend hours on an elf photo booth with a couple of Barbies.

The elf is not the only form of surveillance that a child will encounter early on, not even if we discount the obvious stuff like smartphones. There’s also ClassDojo, which provides live-streaming video of classrooms for parents to watch, complete with “behavior points” that can be awarded for doing homework, or taken away for being a little jerk.


ClassDojo also creates and stores a massive database of information about students on a much more granular and searchable level than had ever been available before. Remember that whole thing about your “permanent record” which never actually existed? Now it does, and it includes data about how often you played desktop soccer with your soccer-ball-shaped eraser instead of learning about the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act.

There’s an argument to be made that surveillance is going to be a part of every modern child’s life, and that shielding them won’t do them any favors. That’s a lousy argument because there’s no reason for us to blindly accept this garbage, but it would also require some pretty complex discourse between parent and child about what this elf is really doing. That might be a good thing; the elf is, after all, a very easily understandable demonstration of a modern surveillance state. But parents would have to spend some of their Christmas break talking about the dangers of data gathering instead of creating a tiny fishing rod that the elf uses to catch Goldfish crackers.


Ozymandias, Let My People Go? The Historical And Religious Connections in Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Poem

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Percy Shelly’s poem Ozymandias is about a statue of the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II, also known as Ramses the Great. His name has also been spelled by some scholars as Ramesses II. The poem is set up so Shelley is telling the story of a traveler who saw the statue in the deserts of Egypt. This poem shows a great deal of historical connection to Ramses II in the description of the statue and the landscape around it.

According to the notes at the bottom of the Norton Anthology, the largest statue in Egypt that Shelley’s poem is about had the inscription, “ I am Ozymandias, king of kings; if anyone wishes to know what I am and where I lie, let him surpass me in some of my exploits”(pg. 776). Since Ozymandias has been identified as Ramses II, I was able to look up some of the greatest things that he did according to historic records.

This is where the analysis of the poem comes in, because we can see from some of the descriptions given by the poem of the statue how the pharaoh was meant to be portrayed. Shelley says that the adventurer from Egypt said in the desert a, “Half sunk and shattered visage lies, whose frown/ And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, / Tell that the sculptor well those passions read” (Shelley, 4-6). These lines say that the statue found in the desert gives the pharaoh it was designed after the image of being a cold and cruel man and that the sculptor caught those emotions well in the statue. This connects historically because we know that the statue is believed to be of Ramses II, who is well-known in history as being a self-absorbed and warrior king.


According to the article Ramesses II: Anatomy of a Pharaoh: The Military Leader by Jimmy Dunn on the website, there are many hieroglyphics and painting on the walls of tombs that show the cruelty of Ramses II and his father Seti I. According to Dunn, “On these walls we are, repeatedly, almost like the high budget advertisements of our modern society, treated to scenes of the king vanquishing the enemy and thus fulfilling his duty to defeat the forces of chaos and preserve ma ‘at…No one was better at this propaganda than Ramesses the Great, who always won his wars and always forced his enemies to grovel at his feet”(Dunn).

This article depicts Ramses II as a war hero of Egypt and a vicious conqueror of enemies, which would explain why he is depicted in a statue as such a fearful man. He would want to be respected for his strength as a warrior no doubt and would have wanted to look intimidating and remembered as powerful for years to come through his statues, hence having a cold and cruel face. (For more information about Dunn’s article, see link 1 below.)


There is another section of the poem that connects to not so much proven history, but biblical history. According to Shelley the statue in the poem has a scripture below it that says, “Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! / Nothing beside remains. Round the decay/ Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare” (Shelley 11-13). Now in class we talked about how this could be a message to the British Empire. I believe it was Ann who said it was a message like, “yeah England, our empire was great too and now look at it! You think you are so powerful? Let’s see you in a few centuries.” This is a good point, but I saw this more as a biblical and historical reference. Many people do believe that it was Ramses II who was the pharaoh during the time of Exodus in the Bible; the story of Moses freeing the slaves of Egypt. So much that he has been casted as the pharaoh in the story of Moses in the 1950’s film The Ten Commandments and the animated film The Prince of Egypt.

If what many scholars and religious people believe is true, then when the poem says “Nothing beside remains” (Shelley 12) could refer to the fall of Egypt after it lost all of its slaves. If could also refer to the mistakes Ramses was known to make with his desire to make himself remembers.

According to the article Ramses II and the Bible by Margaret Hunter on the website Amazing Bible Timeline with World, Ramses was less than frugal with his projects. Hunter claims that Ramses II was, “seen as an incompetent leader. He took credit not due to him and consumed most of the wealth of Egypt in maintaining his name by building big projects during his reign. He scribed his name everywhere on the shrines and buildings in Egypt and even put his name on statues which were not his own” (Hunter). If this is true, then the lines “Look on my Works, ye Might, and despair!”(Shelley 11) would represent how Ramses II spent so much of his fortune on making monuments and statues to himself and after all of the money and work put into it, there is little to nothing left of his great empire except for shattered and broken ruins. Like the sunken in statue Shelley writes about. (For more information about biblical and real history of Ramses II, see link 2 below)

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In this poem I see a lot of historical background as well as biblical references to the fall of Egypt that many believe happened under the reign of Ramses II. There are strong words used such as “despair”(Shelley 11) “decay”(Shelley 12) and “Wreck”(Shelley 13) that represent not only the destruction of the statue, but also the destruction and fall of the Egyptian empire that if was from.

Link 1-

Link 2 -

Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Apes and villagers clashing in Uganda. If some enterprising film producer could come up with a story-line, this might turn into a movie franchise

Where Does the Concept of Time Travel Come From?

Time Machine
By Adam Mann

Time; he’s waiting in the wings.

The dream of traveling through time is both ancient and universal. But where did humanity’s fascination with time travel begin, and why is the idea so appealing?

The concept of time travel — moving through time the way we move through three-dimensional space — may in fact be hardwired into our perception of time. Linguists have recognized that we are essentially incapable of talking about temporal matters without referencing spatial ones. “In language — any language — no two domains are more intimately linked than space and time,” wrote Israeli linguist Guy Deutscher in his 2005 book “The Unfolding of Language.” “Even if we are not always aware of it, we invariably speak of time in terms of space, and this reflects the fact that we think of time in terms of space.”

Deutscher reminds us that when we plan to meet a friend “around” lunchtime, we are using a metaphor, since lunchtime doesn’t have any physical sides. He similarly points out that time can not literally be “long” or “short” like a stick, nor “pass” like a train, or even go “forward” or “backward” any more than it goes sideways, diagonal or down.

Perhaps because of this connection between space and time, the possibility that time can be experienced in different ways and traveled through has surprisingly early roots. One of the first known examples of time travel appears in the Mahabharata, an ancient Sanskrit epic poem compiled around 400 B.C., Lisa Yaszek, a professor of science fiction studies at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, told Live Science


In the Mahabharata is a story about King Kakudmi, who lived millions of years ago and sought a suitable husband for his beautiful and accomplished daughter, Revati. The two travel to the home of the creator god Brahma to ask for advice. But while in Brahma’s plane of existence, they must wait as the god listens to a 20-minute song, after which Brahma explains that time moves differently in the heavens than on Earth. It turned out that “27 chatur-yugas” had passed, or more than 116 million years, according to an online summary, and so everyone Kakudmi and Revati had ever known, including family members and potential suitors, was dead. After this shock, the story closes on a somewhat happy ending in that Revati is betrothed to Balarama, twin brother of the deity Krishna.

Time is fleeting

To Yaszek, the tale provides an example of what we now call time dilation, in which different observers measure different lengths of time based on their relative frames of reference, a part of Einstein’s theory of relativity.


Such time-slip stories are widespread throughout the world, Yaszek said, citing a Middle Eastern tale from the first century BCE about a Jewish miracle worker who sleeps beneath a newly-planted carob tree and wakes up 70 years later to find it has now matured and borne fruit (carob trees are notorious for how long they take to produce their first harvest). Another instance can be found in an eighth-century Japanese fable about a fisherman named Urashima Tarō who travels to an undersea palace and falls in love with a princess. Tarō finds that, when he returns home, 100 years have passed, according to a translation of the tale published online by the University of South Florida.

In the early-modern era of the 1700 and 1800s, the sleep-story version of time travel grew more popular, Yaszek said. Examples include the classic tale of Rip Van Winkle, as well as books like Edward Belamy’s utopian 1888 novel “Looking Backwards,” in which a man wakes up in the year 2000, and the H.G. Wells 1899 novel “The Sleeper Awakes,” about a man who slumbers for centuries and wakes to a completely transformed London.

In other stories from this period, people also start to be able to move backward in time. In Mark Twain’s 1889 satire “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” a blow to the head propels an engineer back to the reign of the legendary British monarch. Objects that can send someone through time begin to appear as well, mainly clocks, such as in Edward Page Mitchell’s 1881 story “The Clock that Went Backwards” or Lewis Carrol’s 1889 children’s fantasy “Sylvie and Bruno,” where the characters possess a watch that is a type of time machine.

The explosion of such stories during this era might come from the fact that people were “beginning to standardize time, and orient themselves to clocks more frequently,” Yaszek said.

Time after time

Wells provided one of the most enduring time-travel plots in his 1895 novella “The Time Machine,” which included the innovation of a craft that can move forward and backward through long spans of time. “This is when we’re getting steam engines and trains and the first automobiles,” Yaszek said. “I think it’s no surprise that Wells suddenly thinks: ‘Hey, maybe we can use a vehicle to travel through time.'”

Because it is such a rich visual icon, many beloved time-travel stories written after this have included a striking time machine, Yaszek said, referencing The Doctor’s blue police box — the TARDIS — in the long-running BBC series “Doctor Who,” and “Back to the Future”‘s silver luxury speedster, the DeLorean.

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More recently, time travel has been used to examine our relationship with the past, Yaszek said, in particular in pieces written by women and people of color. Octavia Butler’s 1979 novel “Kindred” about a modern woman who visits her pre-Civil-War ancestors is “a marvelous story that really asks us to rethink black and white relations through history,” she said. And a contemporary web series called “Send Me” involves an African-American psychic who can guide people back to antebellum times and witness slavery.

“I’m really excited about stories like that,” Yaszek said. “They help us re-see history from new perspectives.”

Space_Chimp_Lives (2)

Time travel has found a home in a wide variety of genres and media, including comedies such as “Groundhog Day” and “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” as well as video games like Nintendo’s “The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask” and the indie game “Braid.”

Yaszek suggested that this malleability and ubiquity speaks to time travel tales’ ability to offer an escape from our normal reality. “They let us imagine that we can break free from the grip of linear time,” she said. “And somehow get a new perspective on the human experience, either our own or humanity as a whole, and I think that feels so exciting to us.”

That modern people are often drawn to time-machine stories in particular might reflect the fact that we live in a technological world, she added. Yet time travel’s appeal certainly has deeper roots, interwoven into the very fabric of our language and appearing in some of our earliest imaginings.

“I think it’s a way to make sense of the otherwise intangible and inexplicable, because it’s hard to grasp time,” Yaszek said. “But this is one of the final frontiers, the frontier of time, of life and death. And we’re all moving forward, we’re all traveling through time.”


Smartphones are worse than nuclear weapons

By David Mitchell

In this extract from the introduction to comedian and writer David Mitchell’s
new collection of his Observer columns, he takes on the scourge of modern life.

Lying is probably the inevitable consequence of being able to communicate. Language is an amazing tool, one that’s not available to most organisms, but I reckon as soon as you have the power to pass on the truth, it’s going to occur to you not to. Some of those bee dances and whale calls are almost certainly bullshit.

So I suppose it makes sense that the advent of the most powerful communication technology ever devised – the internet and the smartphone – should have caused an exponential rise in dishonesty. We should have expected it; we just got distracted by all the hyperbolic chat about the “democratization of truth” from people who, if they were being totally honest themselves, would admit that they’re in it primarily for the gadgets.

I’m fond of saying that the internet and its smartphone delivery system are a more disastrous human invention than nuclear weapons. And it’s certainly arguable at this point in history. Though I admit that’s largely because there’s never been a full-scale nuclear war.

So broadly speaking, if I’m right, it’s good news! One of the many things a full-scale nuclear war would blast away is the arguability of my claim. All of which makes me a sort of doom-mongering optimist. I’m saying that maybe there won’t ever be a big nuclear war, which leaves the field clear for smartphones to wreak their slightly less dramatic form of havoc in a way that will eclipse the harm done, so far, by nuclear bombs. Hooray!

One of the advantages of nuclear weapons, as disastrous things to invent go, is that they were immediately obviously a disastrous thing to invent. Nobody’s going to be fooled for a second into thinking they’re going to democratize anything, except possibly death, which is pretty democratized already.
Conversely, the smartphone/internet combination is in the cigarettes and plastic straws school of disastrous invention. Not because it’s also tubular – neither the internet nor any mobile phones are, to my knowledge, tubular – but because it initially seemed harmless and fun. The cancer and scourge-of-marine-life issues only raised their heads later, in stinging rebuke of the initial invention’s triviality and superfluousness.

To be fair to smartphones (and I always like to be fair to inanimate objects), they never seemed trivial in the same way as plastic straws. They seemed like they’d be useful. And they are useful. It’s very useful to be able to communicate instantly and globally, to be able to find things out, buy things and be entertained by things without having to move, or while moving around doing something else which currently can’t be achieved online, such as gardening or attending funerals.

It’s extremely useful to be able to do all that. The only fly in the utility ointment is that everyone can do it. Frankly, that spoils it. If you were the only person with smartphone powers – able to shop, watch TV, write and receive correspondence, make phone calls, access more data than the Library of Congress wherever you were – that would be brilliant. So labour saving! You’d never have to go to work. But when everyone can do it, it effectively means you never leave work – if you’re lucky enough to be in work, that is, which, if your area of expertise involves shops, restaurants, pubs or any of the old media, you’re much less likely to be post-internet. And that’s a particularly rough deal because you’ve also got several extra monthly bills to pay in order to remain a normal citizen: mobile, broadband, cable TV, maybe a bit of Netflix or Amazon Prime, and rental of space in a “cloud” as well. Well, it all adds to the GDP, I suppose, and conceals the fact that society is coming to bits.

The trouble is that all that – paying every month for a new invisible thing that means you can never literally and metaphorically switch off, and which has undermined economic norms that have existed for millennia – is the fucking least of it. It’s the mere tip of the technological iceberg along which the good ship Life-As-We-Know-It is scraping its hull.

We haven’t even got to the grooming, the dramatic reversal of the decades-long decline in child abuse, the increasing impossibility of distinguishing truth from lies, the financial degradation of the old-media investigative institutions that used to provide that truth, the bullying, the abuse, the threats of murder and rape, and the incalculable long-term effects of social media, bristling as it is with virtue-signalling, selfies and revenge porn, on all of our brains, particularly those of young people, who have grown up with this technology in its current raw, unregulated form. Plus, people don’t keep appointments any more because they can just text and say they’re running late. It’s all fucking terrible! Who knows what the ultimate outcome of all this will be but, anecdotally at least, it doesn’t look like happiness.

Most insidious of all is the effect on truth. Suddenly it feels so flimsy. My whole view of existence is predicated on the notion that, in the end, the truth will out. Possibly long after the protagonists of any controversy have died, but eventually, and for the eternal knowledge of posterity.
That’s how you get taught history at school. Tudor propagandists added a hunched back to Richard III’s portrait, but we now know he only had scoliosis. The crucial phrase is “we now know”. But what if the blizzard of words and imagery that the internet generates about everything, often manipulated by malign interest groups, makes the truth impossible ever to discern? It’s in that haystack somewhere, but it’s just one of the pieces of hay. Suddenly the whole of human existence is like an episode of Poirot in which the murder remains unsolved.

And it’s not just the bare-faced lying that scares me but all the subjectivity. In the online world, which has become such a high percentage of many people’s experience of existence, almost everything we see has been curated for us: the adverts that appear, the political claims that are made, the people we interact with, the products that are suggested to us when we search for something and the news that we’re told about. It’s all been tailored according to what we’re likely to respond to. No two people see the same thing.

Even the BBC News website is at it. It’s taken to asking me if I want to “change nation”. Considering the Brexit situation, I bloody do. Sadly, the only options are England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which is a bit of a samey range if you ask me. But it’s not really offering to change my nationality; it’s telling me that it will report stories from where I live, or where I’m most interested in, more prominently. I hate that. I just want to look at the BBC News website. I want to see the same one as everyone else, just like I would if I’d bought a newspaper in a shop.

I can seek out the subjects I particularly want to find out about by myself. I want to be able to find them, but I don’t want them pushed towards me. The level of interest an algorithm thinks I’m likely to show in any given news report is not a meaningful gauge of how important it actually is. If I only want to read stories about, say, cricket, I’ll go to a cricket website or buy a cricket magazine. I don’t want all my news feeds to suddenly start banging on exclusively about cricket because some machine has worked out I’m into it, thereby giving me the illusion that the most important global events are all cricket-related.

No wonder we talk about our online echo chambers, where everyone seems to agree with each other and any transgression from a range of approved views is jumped upon and the transgressor shamed. Social media corrals people into interacting solely with those who share their viewpoint more effectively than the court of Versailles in the last days of the Bourbons.

This already dangerous situation is exacerbated by the fact that the only news, adverts or products that each echo chamber will get to see are specifically designed to attract the attention of its members – and so inevitably to confirm them in their opinions and prejudices. How else can the censorious and admonitory extreme political correctness of some university campuses coexist in the same world as the unabashed rise of crypto-fascism?

The fact is that, virtually speaking, they don’t exist in the same world. There is no unified reality, and that really might be a disaster. Objective truth may always have been unattainable, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth striving for.

If we all just settle into small, mutually ignorant online support groups exchanging comforting half-truths, then civilization is in for a rough ride. No one will know what is really going on, and working out what is really going on has, for most of history, been humankind’s main purpose. Losing that is a high price to pay for being able to order pizza without speaking to anyone.

8 Pics Of Finnish Cats Living Their Best Winter Life


The chonkier the cat, the more of it there is to hug and love. Four cats who are some of the cutest megafloofs we’ve ever seen are Sämpy and its furry friends Hiskias Hääppönen, Elmeri, and Nelli, all from Northern Finland.

To bring a smile to your face, brighten up your day, and give you a reason to get out of bed in the morning, we’ve compiled the chonkiest, floofiest, and most wholesome pictures of Sämpy and its pals. If you’re up for it, share this list with anyone whom you think is in need of some catto goodness. Remember to upvote your fave Finnish cat photos and scroll down.

We’d love to hug one of these cats and never let go, what with the weather getting chilly and all. What about you, dear Readers? Would you like to have a chonky cat like in these pictures? Perhaps you already own one, in which case, what can you tell us about their character and how to raise them? Share your thoughts with us in the comments and check out Bored Panda’s previous posts about cats here (Curious Zelda), here (Bocco and Zuu), as well as here (cats bond with humans just like dogs and babies).

In an interview with Bored Panda, Riikka Hedman, the owner of Sämpy and the other cats, gave us insights into these majestic animals, their ‘careers’ in publishing, as well how Sämpy became a beloved icon on the internet. Make sure to scroll down for the full interview!

Norwegian-Forest-Cats-Sampy-Hiskias  Norwegian-Forest-Cats-Sampy-Hiskias

“Sämpy is a 6-year-old domestic cat and isn’t a special breed, although he looks like a Norwegian Forest cat. Elmeri, the gray cat, is 11 and he is also domestic cat. Hiski, the biggest tabby without white paws, is a half-Norwegian Forest cat and is 2 years old. They all are neutered male cats. On my sites, there are also pictures of a gray-white cat, Nelli, but she passed away earlier this year,” Riikka explained about her cats.

She continued to say that Sämpy adores outdoor activities when the weather isn’t too cold. “He is so happy when he goes with me on a small trip to the old forest near our house. There is a small river there, as well as many other exciting places, and interesting scents. Elmeri and Hiski prefers to stay in the yard, at home, but sometimes they come along for a walk. My cats jump over obstacles I build in the back yard for them, especially in the winter. It is easier to demarcate the jumping area when there is a lot of snow.”


Riikka shared the fact that she won the 2014 Photographer of the Year title in a Finnish photography magazine’s competition. The prize? A ‘super-fast’ camera. Riikka was overjoyed. “I was practicing shooting with my new camera and got a great jump shot of Sämpy. I sent the picture to a local newspaper and it became so popular that a journalist was sent to make an article about the cat. When the article came out I got a lot of wishes that the cat would have his own Facebook page. After Facebook, I created an Instagram account for Sämpy.”

Sämpy’s owner mused that the popularity of the social media accounts is most likely linked to the fact that she usually photographs her cats outdoors, ‘in beautiful surroundings, in funny situations, and without forcing them’ to do anything: “I think that in a good cat picture the cat needs to be natural and do its own cat things.”


There are a total of two books about Sämpy. The first one was published in 2016 and is called ‘Kissan vuosi’ (‘Cat Year’). “Then the publisher contacted me and asked for a photo book about Sämpy and of course I agreed.” The new book came out just last week. Sämpy and Riikka have together also published calendars for three years.

“It’s not that easy to pick pictures for a book, but luckily there are professionals at the publishing house. I also wrote some text, but the books are mostly picture books. In the captions, I use the local dialect, which has also been a much lauded. I do not have any specific plans for the future, but proposals are certainly welcome. If anyone wants to make Sämpy a character in an animated movie, a wallpaper, or a key chain, it is all fine, as long the cat doesn’t have to leave his home himself. Sämpy hates travelling,” Riikka pointed out.


Sämpy & Co. have captured the hearts of many internet users, most of them in Finland, but plenty of them spread all around the world as well. The cat has over 104,000 followers on Instagram and another 43,000 fans on Facebook. They’re all waiting for the newest photos featuring Sämpy, as well as his friends Hiskias, Elmeri, and Nelli. The latter is didn’t play much with the other cats and she also hated the cold weather, which is somewhat ironic because she lived in Northern Finland.

In a previous interview with a Finnish blogger, more was revealed about Sämpy. According to the journalist, Sämpy answered the questions itself. “I live in the north of Oulu, in the village of Kalime,” the cat told the Finnish blogger.

“My favorite hobby is hunting. I hunt mice and moles. I’d also like to catch birds, but they are too fast. I also like meeting with my Secretary of Forest Trips and playing with my cat friend Elmeri,” Sämpy the floofy and chonky cat explained. “Every day, I eat dry food and wet food; meat and salmon every now and then. Best of all is butter, that’s my biggest delicacy. Sometimes, I get a small dollop of butter. Aaaaah. And yes, I hear when the butter box is being opened.”

Sämpy continued about his owner (or ‘secretary’ as it refers to her): “The secretary is my servant and maid. All the time she is pointing her camera at me. In the morning, she usually will go somewhere, of course, she makes breakfast for us cats before she leaves.

I like to sleep outside, even in the middle of the grass if the weather is good. Inside, I lay on the sofa and sometimes on top of the refrigerator. Sometimes, I sleep in the sauna, whenever it’s not too hot. In the summer, I’m the boss. I’ll give orders to the other cats and mice of the neighborhood,” Sämpy revealed.


Mini lab-grown brains reveal when humans stopped being apes


Humans diverged from chimpanzees and other great apes roughly 6m years ago. But despite us being closely related, human brains are vastly different – enabling us to engage in complex language, science, art, morality, and much more. But what exactly was it that enabled our brains to reach such mindboggling heights?

We know that the human brain has dramatically expanded in size over the past 6m years. Humans are in fact the mammals with the largest brain relative to body size. But which specific evolutionary genetic changes enabled larger and more complex brains has long remained a bit of a mystery. Now a new study, published in Nature, offers clues.


One important reason why it has been so hard to study primate brain development is that, until relatively recently, scientists did not have access to living, developing brain tissue. This is what can ultimately allow us to functionally test theories of brain evolution as we can essentially watch how a brain develops over time in a dish and manipulate biological pathways to see what role they play in brain development.

But in the last few years, scientists have worked out how to make lab-grown models of developing brain tissue – so-called brain organoids – to begin to address these questions.


Organoids are clusters of cells that organize themselves into mini versions of our organs, such as the brain or the liver. That’s because they are made by culturing stem cells, which have the potential to develop into any tissue of the body. These stem cells can be generated directly from cells of adult origin, such as skin or blood cells. They are then grown in a gel that allows them to develop three-dimensionally. And that’s exactly what the researchers behind the new study did.

Genetics of evolution

So what kind of genetic changes do we think contributed to human brain evolution? Only about 1.5 percent of our DNA actually consists of genes with instructions for making proteins. Proteins are the molecules that do most of the work in cells and determine the cells’ structure and function. It was once thought that the remaining 98.5 percent of DNA was “junk” with no clear purpose. However, it is now known that some of this DNA may play an important role in controlling which genes are “expressed” – meaning determining how they are turned on and off.

The number of changes in protein-coding regions of DNA is far too few to explain the striking differences observed between humans and other primates. In fact, of the genetic regions that have changed the most since our divergence from chimpanzees, 92 percent do not overlap with protein-coding DNA.


It is predicted that at least a third of these regions play a role in controlling the expression of genes. It has long been hypothesized that the majority of differences observed between the brains of great apes and us are due to changes in the timing and expression of genes, rather than changes to the gene itself. The vast majority of our genes are therefore identical.

The main focus of the new study was to identify how genes are regulated differently in humans compared to other primates. The authors did this by generating brain organoids from human, chimpanzee, and macaque stem cells and compared these at various points over the course of four months. This mimics how a brain forms in the womb, with organoids consisting of multiple growing “buds” of brain tissue that first consist largely of neural progenitor cells that in later stages begin to make neurons.

From the outside, brain organoids look more like small popcorn than a mini-brain and do not reach sizes larger than around five or six millimeters due to a lack of blood supply.

The authors observed that human brain development occurs at a slower pace than the other two primates. This delayed maturation of the human brain makes sense as, given more time, the cells that generate neurons will have a longer period to expand their population, giving rise to more neurons and a bigger brain later on.

The researchers were also able to look at the expression of genes in individual cell types of the brain organoids. They measured the expression of a gene by looking at the levels of a messenger molecule that is made from “reading” DNA and is necessary to direct the formation of proteins. By comparing gene expression in cells that were developing to become the cerebral cortex – which plays an important role in advanced cognitive processes such as awareness, thought, memory, language, and consciousness – they detected 98 genes that were differently expressed in humans.

Gene expression doesn’t tell the whole story though. Its rate is ultimately controlled by a process called gene regulation. In order to identify potential regulatory mechanisms, the authors pinpointed regions of DNA that are “accessible” or “open” at the various stages in particular cells. These accessible regions of DNA have the potential to interact with proteins and can regulate gene expression.

By comparing organoids between humans and chimpanzees, the researchers were able to identify regions of DNA that were differently accessible in humans – potentially playing a regulatory role. Regulatory regions of DNA are more likely to be found in close proximity to the genes they are regulating the expression of. More than 60% of the genes that were expressed differently in humans were also in close proximity to differently accessible regions. This suggests that human-specific development and gene expression is a result of evolutionary changes in regions of DNA that are capable of regulating gene expression.

A significant proportion of the regions of DNA that we already know has changed the most since our divergence from chimps were found to overlap with those being different in terms of accessibility – suggesting the team has indeed highlighted key regulatory processes responsible for making us humans.

This study takes the first steps in pinpointing interesting candidate genetic regions responsible for human brain complexity. The authors do not dive deeper into the mechanisms of what the altered expression of a specific gene actually means in terms of how the brain grows and functions. It does, however, provide an excellent resource and starting point to direct future research in this direction.

This research is not only important in understanding what makes us human, but also in working out how certain human disorders may arise. Several studies have found that mutations in regions of DNA with human-specific changes are associated with neurodevelopmental disorders.


Why are we living in an age of anger – is it because of the 50-year rage cycle?

From passive-aggressive notes on ambulance windscreens to bilious political discourse, it feels as though society is suddenly consumed by fury. What is to blame for this outpouring of aggression?

By Zoe Williams

A neighbor objected to a young couple from Newcastle being naked in their own home. “We are sick of seeing big bums, big boobs and little willy,” was the core message of the note, crescendoing to: “We will report you both for indecent exposure.” It is such a small thing, banal, without consequence. It connects to no wider narrative and conveys nothing but the bubbling discomfort of human beings living near each other. Yet when Karin Stone (one of the nakeds) posted the note on Facebook, 15,000 people pored over it. An Australian radio show interviewed her. I have got to be honest, I am heavily emotionally invested in the story myself and I do not regret a second of the time I have spent reading about it.

There is a through-line to these spurts of emotion we get from spectatorship: the subject matter is not important. It could be human rights abuse or a party-wall dispute; it does not matter, so long as it delivers a shot of righteous anger. Bile connects each issue. I look at that note, the prurience and prissiness, the mashup of capital and lower-case letters, the unlikeliness that its author has a smaller bum or a bigger willy, and I feel sure they voted for Brexit. The neighbours are delighted by their disgust for these vigorous, lusty newlyweds, I am delighted by my disgust for the neighbours, radio listeners in Australia are delighted. We see rage and we meet it with our own, always wanting more.

There was the mean note left on the car of a disabled woman (“I witnessed you and your young able-bodied daughter … walk towards the precinct with no sign of disability”); the crazed dyspepsia of the woman whose driveway was blocked briefly by paramedics while they tried to save someone’s life. Last week, Highways England felt moved to launch a campaign against road rage, spurred by 3,446 recorded instances in a year of motorists driving straight through roadworks. Violent crime has not gone up – well, it has, but this is thought mainly to reflect better reporting practices – but violent fantasies are ablaze. Political discourse is drenched in rage. The things people want to do to Diane Abbott and Luciana Berger make my eyes pop out of my head.


But what exactly are we looking at? Does any of this have a wider social meaning? Does it place us at a perilous point on the curve of history, on the tinderbox of a grand explosion? Or is it that some things – cars, social media – are really bad for our mental health?

There is a discipline known as cliodynamics, developed at the start of the century by the scientist Peter Turchin, which plots historical events by a series of mathematical measures. Some are obvious – equality – and some take a bit of unpacking (“elite overproduction”, for example; as a consequence of inequality, there are periods in history when there are too many extremely rich people for the positions of power that extremely rich people typically occupy. This results in them going rogue and buying themselves into power by hosing money at elections. Donald Trump is the ultimate human face of elite overproduction). These measures yield a map of history in which you can see spikes of rage roughly every 50 years: 1870, 1920, 1970 (you have to allow a little wiggle room to take in the first world war and 1968). Cycles of violence are not always unproductive – they take in civil rights, union and suffragette movements. Indeed, all social movements of consequence start with unrest, whether in the form of strike action, protest or riot. Some situate economics at the heart of the social mood: the Kondratiev wave, which lasts between 40 and 60 years (call it 50 and it will correspond neatly with the cycle of violence), describes the modern world economy in cycles of high and low growth, where stagnation always corresponds with unrest.

David Andress is a professor of history at the University of Portsmouth and the author of Cultural Dementia, a fascinating account of how the slash-and-burn rage of the present political climate is made possible only by wilfully forgetting the past. He counsels against what could become an indolent understanding of history – if everything is a wave and the waves just happen, what is there to discover? – but he allows that “everything has to come back to economics unless you’re rich. Economics is about scarcity and insecurity turns very quickly into anger and scapegoating.”

“As a historian and as a teacher, I’m always trying to get people to understand that societies in general are violent and hierarchical places,” he says. “People like you and me have wanted societies to be less violent and hierarchical and we have worked at that. We’ve never actually succeeded. We’ve managed to persuade people to take their foot off other people’s throats, when they felt secure enough.” Anger is remarkable not in and of itself, but when it becomes so widespread that it feels like the dominant cultural force. What is notable to Andress is the counterfactual – the periods in history not marked by fury. “Antagonism never goes away. That is what has made the postwar project quite exceptional, the EU project quite exceptional.” Ah, the EU. Perhaps another time.


The psychotherapeutic perspective would not reject these economic factors, nor argue that anger is a new phenomenon. But there are elements of the human emotional journey that are novel and are driven by modern conditions. Aaron Balick, a psychotherapist and the author of a perceptive and surprisingly readable academic account, The Psychodynamics of Social Networking, says: “I think for sure anger is more expressed. What you see of it is a consequence of emotional contagion, which I think social media is partly responsible for. There’s an anger-bandwagon effect: someone expresses it and this drives someone else to express it as well.” Psychologically speaking, the important thing is not the emotion, but what you do with it; whether you vent, process or suppress it.

We are in an age where the trigger event can be something as trivial as a cranky git who does not like nudity. Thanks to Facebook, 15,000 people can get a righteous thrill of expressed rage. Wherever we are on the Kondratiev curve, ours is a materially different life experience to one in which you would only come together in fury for something serious, such as destroying a ploughshare or burning a witch.

“Hysteria is not a particularly politically correct term any more, because it’s kind of misogynist, but it does have a technical meaning,” says Balick. “A hysterical emotional response is when you’re having too much emotion, because you’re not in touch with the foundational feeling. An example would be office bitching. Everybody in the office is bitching and it becomes a hysterical negativity that never treats itself; nobody is taking it forwards.” This has the hammer thud of deep truth. I have worked in only a couple of offices, but there was always a gentle hubbub of whinging, in which important and intimate connections were forged by shared grievance, but it was underpinned by a deliberate relinquishing of power. You complained exactly because you did not intend to address the grievance meaningfully.

Social media has given us a way to transmute that anger from the workplace – which often we do not have the power to change – to every other area of life. You can go on Mumsnet to get angry with other people’s lazy husbands and interfering mother-in-laws; Twitter to find comradeship in fury about politics and punctuation; Facebook for rage-offs about people who shouted at a baby on a train or left their dog in a hot car. These social forums “enable hysterical contagion”, says Balick, but that does not mean it is always unproductive. The example he uses of a groundswell of infectious anger that became a movement is the Arab spring, but you could point to petitions websites such as 38 Degrees and Avaaz or crowdfunded justice projects. Most broad, collaborative calls for change begin with a story that enrages people.

To distinguish “good” anger from “bad” anger – indeed, to determine whether anything productive could come of a given spurt of rage – it is worth considering the purpose of anger. “Its purpose is to maintain personal boundaries. So, if somebody crosses you, gets in your space, insults you, touches you, you’re going to get angry and the productive use of anger is to say: ‘Fuck off,’” Balick says. The complicating feature of social media is that “someone might be stepping on our identity or our belief system”. So, the natural sense of scale you get in the offline world – a stranger could run over your toes with a shopping trolley but, being a stranger, would find it hard to traduce your essential nature – is collapsed in the virtual one. In the act of broadcasting who we are – what we believe, what we look like, what we are eating, who we love – we offer up a vast stretch of personal boundary that could be invaded by anyone, even by accident. Usually it is not an accident, though; usually they do it on purpose.


However, if it gives you a fillip to lie in bed checking whatever news or chat feed nourishes you, then experience a short thrill of indignation, is that a bad thing? Could it just be supplying the insignificant boost we used to get from smoking? There is certainly a hormonal response (“There’s always a physical manifestation; emotions aren’t a made-up thing,” Balick says), but it is not an obvious one: Neus Herrero, a researcher at the University of Valencia, “stimulated” anger in 30 men (with “first-person” remarks) and found a variety of apparent contradictions. Cortisol, which you would expect to go up, since it is the stress hormone, goes down; testosterone goes up and heart rate and arterial tension go up. Herrera discovered an oddity in “motivational direction” – usually, positive emotions make you want to get closer to the source, while negative ones make you want to withdraw. Anger has a “motivation of closeness”, which Herrera explains simply: “Normally, when we get angry, we show a natural tendency to get closer to what made us angry to try to eliminate it.”

Like any stimulant, it has addictive properties: you become habituated to it and start to rove around looking for things to make you angry. Rage has an illusion of power, the way the Incredible Hulk takes peculiar pride in the destructive potential of his strong emotion. “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry” is such a curious catchphrase; the only logical response is: “I don’t like anyone when they are angry.” But it manages to make sense on a deeper, primeval level.

The important consequences are not for your own health, but rather for that of society as a whole. Unprocessed anger pollutes the social sphere. Every outburst legitimises the next. And we have landed – I like to think by accident – on a technology that perpetuates it and amplifies it, occasionally productively, but more often to no purpose at all. Writ large on a world stage – take Trump or Viktor Orbán, the prime minister of Hungary, venting unmediated fury for political effect – we can see how denaturing it is, how it gates off all other, less exhilarating responses, such as empathy.

People getting so angry about traffic cones that they drive straight into them, while effing and jeffing at a workman in a hi-vis jacket, may or may not be a harbinger of greater social unrest, but I remember the John Major years and his cones hotline. Whatever cones signify, it is never anything good.


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