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Human Parts
A publication about humanity from Medium: yours, mine, and ours.

Science

In Human Parts. More on Medium.

Express Yourself

Our need to give things simple names leaves out a lot of nuance

Fish illustration by melissa toldy
Fish illustration by melissa toldy

“When you actually examine the range of life on Earth, it takes a lot of acrobatics to sort it into a single hierarchy with humans at the top.” — Lulu Miller, Why Fish Don’t Exist

I wonder how many of humanity’s mistakes stem from using the wrong words. Language is our superpower, but it’s also a weapon. These days, a prominent person can simply tweet a message and chaos can follow.

Words help us arrange our thoughts into a meaningful pattern. The trouble is, every word we know is a word created over time. …


Wherein I, a childless woman, answer actual questions of actual children and possibly traumatize them for life

Black and white photo of a young boy holding a moon figure in his hands.
Black and white photo of a young boy holding a moon figure in his hands.

Q: “Do bees have lips?”
A: An excellent question, dear child. Bees do not have lips in the same sense that humans do, rather, they have something called a labial palp that are situated on either side of the proboscis. Here is a picture. I am told children enjoy those:


More To That

Our expectations of the world are truly perplexing

The strangest thing about reality is how un-strange it actually is.

Let me explain.

When Newton discovered the laws of gravity in the 17th century, this was a fundamental departure from the prevailing paradigm at the time. Prior to Newton, people believed that celestial bodies orbited around one another in a “natural motion” without understanding why.

We like to believe that Newton updated the nature of reality, and that we were all better off for it.

But here’s the thing.

Reality itself didn’t change one bit as a result of Newton’s discoveries. The world was always governed by gravity, whether…


Humans 101

Our fast brains are gullible, and our slow brains can fix things up… when they get around to it

Blue reflection of person drinking from cup.
Blue reflection of person drinking from cup.

When you encounter new information but have yet to form a belief about it, what’s your immediate response? Do you hold it up in your mental spotlight and subject it to a critical analysis? Do you suspend your belief until you’ve either confirmed or denied it?

We have limited time and mental resources to properly evaluate everything that impinges on our minds. We don’t stop to fact-check every headline that passes by on social media or every claim made by certain news outlets or each idea presented in a book.

What happens to things we encounter but don’t critically analyze…


Lived Through This

The red planet’s craters are as familiar to me as my yard

For over a decade, I went to work on Mars.

There was a routine to each day: Come into the office. Make a cup of Earl Grey. Sit down at my computer and delve into the images sent to Earth from Mars overnight. In those moments, I was no longer on Earth. A watchful robotic eye orbiting 175 miles above the surface of the red planet acted as my proxy in the harshness of space.

Alas, I wasn’t wearing an awesome spacesuit to make the journey — although I would like to think that my collection of space-themed T-shirts was…


More To That

We need philosophy more than ever, but it has drifted too far from the issues that matter

I was a late bloomer when it comes to philosophy. The first time I read the work of a philosopher was less than five years ago, but I was hooked right away.

My first purchase was a collection of letters written by Seneca, a prominent Stoic thinker who lived 2,000 years ago. His clear writing and timeless wisdom made an indelible impression on me, and I brought this book with me wherever I went.

Seneca’s words provided applicable advice on leading a life well-lived. Inevitably, his work led me to those of other Stoics, which then led me to Buddhism…


Waiting for divine inspiration will get you nowhere

Writers engage in a lot of magical thinking related to our own productivity. Some of us believe we need special writing spots where the temperature, lighting, and ambient volume are supposedly perfect for courting our personal muses. Others are fastidious about which devices they use, or say they require a particular type of pen. Some writers believe they must be “inspired” before they can begin a project, and will wait weeks or even months for that feeling to arrive and put the creative gas in their engine.

A lot of writers also study (and fetishize) the writing habits of famous…


Science says being considerate is much more important

Sex is something that speaks to a fundamentally human part of us. Whether you enjoy it or not, our lives are often defined by the experience of living in a society so wrapped up in sex that it’s inescapable. And nothing fascinates us more than a story about what constitutes good sex, perhaps because we tend to be so desperate to experience it.

So when a study seemed to demonstrate the age-old misogynistic adage that “crazy women are better in bed,” media from across the world leaped on the idea. Of course emotionally unstable women were better at sex! …


MOTHERHOOD

We fail moms with ill-informed guidance and moralizing

The moment I found out I was pregnant, I was hungover. While epic evenings of drinking were mostly behind me (after I hit 30, my hangovers had morphed into cruel, multi-day affairs), the previous night had been a rare, fun exception. I was sleeping it off, my heavy breathing interrupted by the ring of my cell phone.

The night before, my husband and I had martinis at our house before heading to our favorite neighborhood restaurant for a pizza with anchovies and pickled peppers. I’d lost a pregnancy a couple of months prior, and a big part of our grieving…


My struggles with time, academia, and existence (both mine and otherwise)

“You’ve got no idea what you’re talking about you fucking idiot,” one read. I had just gotten out of bed and checked my email. There were messages sharing similar observations. Others containing giddy superlatives and explanation points!!! People pleading for help with their theories of space, time, and the universe. An email written in bright multicolored font quoting long passages from scripture and postscripted with a personal message from God: “Peter, I am aware of the pain that you went through when you were three years old.” Another extolling the virtues of Ayn Rand. People with different takes than mine…

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