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Onbashira Matsuri, Japan

The Onbashira matsuri or festival held at Nagano in Japan is one of the world’s most enduring – and dangerous – spiritual rites.

Make rhymes not war: the hip hop solution to gang violence

They showed up when Big Flossy was freestyling. At first, they kept to themselves, scanning the scene as if they were looking for someone.

Physics and caffeine

Coffee might seem like a simple pleasure, but it’s taken centuries of scientific theory and experimentation to begin to understand the physical mysteries contained in a single cup – and scientists are still working out the details.

We made a minimal cell and began a synthetic-life revolution

The American physicist Richard Feynman once said: ‘What I cannot create, I do not understand.’ With that inspiration, my colleagues and I set out to attain a deeper understanding of life by assembling it ourselves.

The nature of Britain

A group of gentlemen antiquaries wanted to unite Britain. They turned to natural history, archaeology and linguistics By Elizabeth Yale Read at Aeon

Science has next to nothing to say about moral intuitions

For centuries, philosophers have been using moral intuitions to reason about ethics. Today, some scientists think they’ve found a way to use psychology and neuroscience to undermine many of these intuitions and advance better moral arguments of their own.

Six centuries of secularism

When the first ‘how-to’ books began to explain the way the world worked, they paved the way for science and secularism By William Eamon Read at Aeon

The veil of ignorance

What would it take to build a more just society? In contemporary debates about justice, identity is frequently front and centre, but the 20th-century American philosopher John Rawls thought that looking past identity was the key to more equality.

Is ‘devouring’ books a sign of superficiality in a reader?

Last year, a reporter in the Observer described how the Man Booker Prize judges spent ‘a summer… devouring novel after magnificent novel’, culminating in their selection of ‘a (baker’s) dozen’.

A handy history

Condemned, celebrated, shunned: masturbation has long been an uncomfortable fact of life. Why? By Barry Reay Read at Aeon

Buster Keaton: the art of the gag

From the meticulous geometric framing of Wes Anderson to the droll deadpan of Bill Murray, the influence of Buster Keaton’s comedy still ripples throughout popular culture.

How DNA traced the Ashkenazic Jews to northeastern Turkey

Northeastern Turkey has not received much attention from scholars of Jewish history. It was not an area of dispute nor a region known to host famous schools such as the Jewish academies (yeshiva) in Babylon, where the Talmud was written.

Don’t beat yourself up

Learning to be kind to yourself when you (inevitably) make mistakes could have a remarkable effect on your happiness By Mark Leary Read at Aeon

Kite fight

‘When we fly a kite up high we feel free.’ Kites are hugely popular in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, where they are made using cheap materials and easily flown in the breezy, coastal skies.

Sex is a costly molecular kind of wizardry – why evolve it?

At its heart, sex is a process of genetic mixing: it creates unique sets of genes and trait combinations different from either of the two parents.

Having a backup plan might be the very reason you failed

My optometrist once told me that a research job can be tough on the eyes. When you aren’t reading articles, you’re staring at data or puzzling your way though code on some blinking monitor.

The deadliest tooth

Extinct for close to 10,000 years, the saber-toothed cat, Smilodon fatalis, still inspires passionate debate among palaeontologists.

‘Big data is people!’

The sum of our clickstreams is not an objective measure of who we are, but a personal portrait of our hopes and desires By Rebecca Lemov Read at Aeon

The concrete buildings of Brutalism are beautiful

Everybody recognises Brutalist architecture – the massive concrete buildings that thumped their grey bulk into the heart of almost every city on Earth during the course of the 1960s and ’70s.

Hazard lines

The Fukushima disaster shows why the line between high and low risk is individual. Can we learn to manage our own safety?