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Understanding Literature

More than two thousand years ago, the Roman poet Horace claimed that literature is “sweet” and “useful.” Since then, literature has been traditionally understood, at least in Western cultures, as having the dual purpose of entertaining and educating its audience. Literary texts are constructed in effect as objects of beauty, sources of pleasure and as conveyors of messages and information. While authors often claim no practical purpose for their works,…

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You There, at the Computer: Pay Attention

Humans specialize in distraction, especially when the task at hand requires intellectual heavy lifting. All the usual “Is it lunchtime yet?” inner voices, and external interruptions like incoming phone calls, are alive and well. But in the era of e-mail, instant messaging, Googling, e-commerce and iTunes, potential distractions while seated at a computer are not only ever-present but very enticing. Distracting oneself used to consist of sharpening a half-dozen pencils…

Never Say Die: Live Forever

The “Third Bridge” is the nanotechnology and artificial intelligence revolution, which Kurzweil predicts will deliver the nanobots that work like repaving crews in our bloodstreams and brains. These intelligent machines will destroy disease, rebuild organs and obliterate known limits on human intelligence, he believes. Immortality would leave little standing in current society, in which the inevitability of death is foundational to everything from religion to retirement planning. The planet’s natural…