John Parrington

Intelligence and the human spirit

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Fraudulent IQ tests, rote learning and unimaginative teaching shape modern education but, argues John Parrington, playtime, culture and imagination are the true foundations of creativity.

The ability to think rationally is an essential feature of being human, but it is hard to imagine how our species could have gone from living in caves to sending rovers to Mars in the space of 40,000 years without another crucial element — our creative impulse. Both Einstein and Picasso believed that their respective genius in science and art was based upon an ability to view the world as would a child. But clearly there is a difference between an adult with a childlike ability to think outside the box, and actually being a child.

John Sulston, 1942-2018

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John Sulston, who died on 6 March, was a pioneering biologist and a passionate life-long advocate for socialism.

Sulston spent his formative years working at the famous Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, sometimes called the “Nobel Prize factory” because of the number of its scientists who achieved that award. Indeed Sulston himself was awarded the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his role in the discovery of “cell death”, the regulated process that helps to shape an embryo as it develops, and to prevent uncontrolled cell growth in the adult organism.

We're not blank slates

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Kevin Devine and Susan Rosenthal make some valid points about the importance of social environment in the genesis of mental disorder, in their defence of Oliver James’s book Not In Your Genes (Feedback, September SR).

But this doesn’t prevent their “blank slate” view of the mind being not just scientifically flawed, but also potentially reactionary in a political sense.

Hag-Seed

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Margaret Atwood’s new novel is based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The main protagonist is Felix Phillips, former artistic director of the acclaimed Makeshiweg Theatre Festival, a kind of Canadian Stratford-upon-Avon.

Nature, nurture: mind the trap

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Is it the DNA we are born with or our environment that determines how we act? John Parrington, author of The Deeper Genome, looks beyond this false dichotomy to a dialectical approach.

Imagine if someone invented a portable supercomputer that required only the wattage of a light bulb to run, but had the literary imagination of a William Shakespeare or Emily Brontë, the scientific genius of an Albert Einstein or Marie Curie, and the musical talent of an Amadeus Mozart or Billie Holliday. In fact such a computer already exists — it’s called the human brain.

Genes, Cells and Brains

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As the 20th century ended, there were many predictions about what we might expect from the next century but one particularly resonated with policy-makers across the world. It was the claim that whereas the past century had been characterised by advances in physics - the fridge, washing machine, television, computer, but also the atom bomb - the 21st century would be dominated by developments in biology.

Naming Nature

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Carol Kaesuk Yoon, Norton, £12.99

Taxonomy, the classification of living things, does not sound like the most stimulating topic for a popular science book. The term conjures up rows of pickled specimens in musty museum cases, their identities reduced to two words in fading Latin. It is to her credit that Carol Kaesuk Yoon has written about the subject in a way that is both entertaining and thought-provoking.

Uranium Wars

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Amir D Aczel, Palgrave Macmillan, £18.99

This book is about a substance that languished in obscurity for centuries, yet today is far more sought after than gold. Uranium is the heaviest natural element, heaviness in this case being associated with another property: radioactive instability. This instability makes uranium a potential source of energy for peaceful uses but has also led to it being used to make the most devastating weapons ever created by humanity.

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