The headline almost writes itself: “World-Class Scientist Says Miracles Can Happen!” The subhead would add: “Extraterrestrials may play a role.”
But that’s the headline you’d write if you were just trying to maximize clicks. If you wanted to capture the philosophical significance of what Hamilton was saying, you’d take another tack. Rather than focus on miracles, you’d focus on the idea of “higher purpose” — the idea that there’s some point to life on earth that emanates from something that is in some sense beyond it. And — in hopes of generating as many clicks as possible, notwithstanding the philosophical significance — you’d put this in listicle form, laying out several misconceptions that Hamilton had implicitly dispelled. You could call these the “Three Great Myths About Evolution and Purpose.”
Just what is it about “untranslatable” words that fascinate us so much? There are endless lists and articles on these beautiful words, so apparently alien to English, that are simply “untranslatable” or even the hardest words in the world to translate… but then they’re subsequently translated anyway, in English sentences, just not in words that are directly equivalent. Untranslatable words aren’t really untranslatable at all. When we unpack this concept it raises a number of curious questions.
The early fascination with the monstrous births of humans and animals as objects of wonder was intricately connected to the desire to interpret them as God’s messages to the world. By the eighteenth century this religious and philosophic wonder at the variety of the natural world was being transformed into popular entertainment.
By the end of the 19th century, this attitude too had changed: a figure like John Merrick, the Elephant Man, whose condition might once have been interpreted as a religious omen, could move in the course of a lifetime from a circus sideshow attraction to a man deserving of sympathetic treatment.