The Insanity That Keeps Us Sane

We’ve got some strange ways of dealing with bad thoughts.

Want to hear a cool story?

In the 1280s, the Mongol warlord Hülegü Khan was getting ready to make war on the city of Baghdad — which was, at that time, the epicenter of the civilized world.

The Khan sent a threat letter to the Caliph of Baghdad that always sends chills up my spine when I read it. Here’s a sample:

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The “Gypsies” Aren’t Who You Think They Are

They’re called Roma, they’re intriguing, and “gypsy” is a slur.

All right my friends, let me tell you about “Gypsies” — or as they’re actually called, the Romani people, or simply the Roma.

They’ve been in the news a few times lately for child abductions. They’ve got a reputation as musicians and fortune-tellers at best; or as thieves, pickpockets and kidnappers at worst. They’re probably from Romania, right? They must have something to do with the Romanians.

Well, not really. Not at all, actually.

 

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Seasons Change

Yeah, I hear what they sayin’. “Strange worms are taking their place on your family tree.”

“The Cambrian explosion of animal life now seems more like a whimper,” that’s what that article in Nautilus said. Life evolved in a whole grip of directions, all type of different ways, long before the Cambrian. It’s a good article. You should read it.

But, I mean, we knew that already. Some of us did, anyway.

Musical accompaniment. This is mandatory.

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Time’s Orphans Have Names

A whirlwind journey into the furthest depths of ancient history

The world is full of orphans.

Not just orphans in the literal sense — though there are millions of those — but people who are just lost. Disconnected from the rest of us, for all kinds of reasons.

But we can listen and try to understand them.

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There Is No Yesterday

An interactive experience in speaking with people from the past

Certain photos demand your attention: vintage mugshots of Australian criminals; portraits of soon-to-be victims of Stalin’s Great Purge, or of nomads in the desert or the steppe.

You stare into these peoples’ eyes and wonder what they were thinking about, what their days were like, how their voice sounded—maybe how they died.

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The Revenant Is a Movie About Man

THIS CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS.

The Revenant takes place in Montana in the 1800s, but most of it could’ve happened any time since the last Ice Age, in any cold part of the earth.

There’s the snow. The wind. The trees. The slow shaggy meaty animals and the quick fierce ones that bring them down.

Men in heavy furs trudge across this landscape. They carry spears and bows. They know the trick of making fire. They catch fish with their hands in the cold river. When a storm blows through, they cut the trees and build shelter.

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Ancient Mesopotamians: The True Original Gangstas

The great crime bosses of the Iron Age

I drove by the Assyrian carvings on the towers of Hollywood & Highland today, Louisiana rap music blasting from my speakers, and I felt a feeling that I’ve felt many times before, but one whose manifold nuances and raw emotional impact I’ve never been able to convey clearly to anyone — not other rap aficionados; not best friends; not even girlfriends or family members — because the progression from ancient Mesopotamia to modern gang culture isn’t exactly an obvious, linear one.

But to me, the emotional and instinctual substrates of the ancient Near East and modern ghetto culture are so tightly bound up with one another as to be mutually inextricable. Let me try to explain why.

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From “One Goat” to “The Number One”

How the birth of math changed everything

Anthropological studies all over the globe have confirmed that in the most primitive cultures, numbers as abstract entities have no meaning at all. In other words, you can talk about one tree, two bananas or three goats, but the words “one,” “two” and “three” are just adjectival modifiers, used in the exact same way we use modifiers like “large” and “round.”

Ask a person in one of these cultures to draw a representation of the concept of “three,” and this person will draw you three trees or three goats: The number exists strictly as at attribute of the thing described. Asking the person to “just draw a three” sounds as nonsensical to them as a request to “just draw a round.” The person can draw a round shape, but has no way to represent the abstract quality of roundness without reference to some object, real or imagined, that is round.

But then, on some long-forgotten morning…

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The Lure of the Abyss

What’s so fascinating about the dark?

The word “abyss” may be one of the oldest words still in use. We can trace its roots with certainty back to the ancient Greek “abyssos,” and possibly back to the Sumerian “abzu,” which would make this word, at the very least, 6,000 years old.

In all those millennia, its meaning has changed very little.

And our desire to plunge into it remains as strong as ever.

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