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To The Best Of Our Knowledge
November 4, 2019
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Reading Down Under

As I read and re-read “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” as a child, I loved following Alice as she hurtled down into an entirely different world, full of impossible happenings and unlikely creatures. Lewis Carroll had originally titled that book, published in 1865, “Alice’s Adventures Underground.”

It’s part of a genre of “subterranean fiction,” stories about going underground, or even into the earth. One of the earliest examples is Dante’s “Inferno,” a poem of fire and horror and things we almost can’t imagine taking place in this world. Literature like Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” and "Foucault’s Pendulum" by Umberto Eco take us to new depths. My favorite of The Chronicles of Narnia, “The Silver Chair,” is partly set in Underland, a world beneath Narnia.

Today, I think of Neil Gaiman as the modern creator of gothic underground fiction. His novel “Neverwhere” explores the world below London. A children’s book, “The Graveyard Book,” is about a boy left to be raised by the ghosts who come up from the earth.

On this week’s To the Best of Our Knowledge, “Going Underground,” we’ll take you into caves and on earthquake fault lines, and delve deeper into what we learn about ourselves as we descend. Do you have an underground novel you love? Tell me about it at


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Why We Descend into Darkness

Robert Macfarlane spent a decade exploring caves, mines, catacombs and sewers, on a quest to discover the deep underground. He found a subterranean world of wonder and horror.
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A Cave Diver's Treks Through The Veins Of The Earth

Jill Heinerth nearly died when she was trapped by ocean currents inside an Antarctic iceberg. She's one of the world's most accomplished underwater cave divers, often exploring caves no one's ever been in, which show her "the veins of the Earth."
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12/4: Beyond Oneself: The Ethics and Psychology of Awe @ NYAS

How does the feeling of awe connect us with the depth of the human experience? Steve will ask a panel of experts — Prof. of religious studies and ethicist Lisa Sideris and psychologists Jennifer Stellar and Piercarlo Valdesolo — on December 4 at the New York Academy of Science.

From the panel description:

At its core, awe and wonder appear to be powerful emotions that can inform and shape our attitudes toward ourselves and others, especially in relation to the larger meaning and purpose of our lives. What are the psychological underpinnings of these universal emotions? How does awe, for example, relate to self-knowledge, and more generally to understanding the enigmatic contradictions of human nature? Is it possible to cultivate and develop this emotion as an ethical incentive in our relations with others? Are awe and wonder capable of awakening and engendering moral transformation? Does the emotion of awe lie at the root of the religious impulse in humans? And is there any room left for a sense of the miraculous in today’s increasingly scientific and secular world?

This event is part of the series, The Power of Wonder: Modern Marvels in the Age of Science.

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What Do You Do With The Family Ghost Stories? An Investigation Into The Paranormal

Steve Paulson's family has lots of stories of the paranormal, but Steve is the family skeptic. So he did his own investigation, talking with skeptic Michael Shermer, religion scholars Tanya Luhrmann and Jeff Kripal, channeler Paul Selig, and his Aunt Marge Bradley.
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Uncovering the Buried History of Savannah's 'Ghost Tours'

A house in Savannah, Georgia — one of America's most haunted cities.
The Sorrel-Weed House has been called the “most haunted house” in Savannah, Georgia, and its “ghost tour” is a big tourist attraction. But historian Tiya Miles found another story of slavery and racial stereotypes buried in this history.
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The Case for Embracing Horror

Writer Gemma Files' Dangerous Idea? There are upsides to embracing horror — spending time playing out negative scenarios in fiction can lead to a more positive life.
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How the Human Brain Processes Wonder

NYAS panel on wonder
Steve asked a panel of experts— social psychologist Michelle Shiota, writer Caspar Henderson, and astrophysicist Alex Filippenko — to unpack the emerging science behind the emotions of awe and wonder, including their role in our ongoing quest for understanding and knowledge.
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