Cardinals and bishops attend the Mass for the closing of Extraordinary Synod held by Pope Francis at St Peter’s Square  in the Vatican City. Photograph:  Franco Origlia/Getty Images

photograph: franco origlia/ getty images

those who feel they’ve been consigned to the margins once again by a catholic church statement should put the brakes on their despair for the moment.

the concluding relatio synodi document of the extraordinary synod of bishops on the family, published yesterday, is not the last word.

copies will be sent to catholic bishops’ conferences worldwide for further reflection before a synod of bishops proper next year.

it takes place from october 4th to october 21st and will be a much larger synod than the one concluded, which had 183 voting participants

next year’s synod will have 250 and it will be followed by an apostolic exhortation from pope francis, taking up its themes and deepening them.

so, as the song says, “the road is long, with many a winding turn…”

that said, the catholic church does not do winding turns.

still, as archbishop of Dublin diarmuid martin put it yesterday: “there can be a development of doctrine in the sense that we can understand the same doctrine in a different way, but a change whereby, overnight, you say that what was wrong is now right, that is just not on the cards.”

the very fact that last monday a document from a synod of catholic bishops could offer such hope to gay people, the unhappily married and others, is an advance, regardless of how constricted the language became five days later.

let’s remember that interim document spoke of gay people as having “gifts and qualities to offer to the christian community” and asked “are we capable of welcoming these people?”

where the unhappily married were concerned, it spoke of “the necessity to make the recognition of cases of nullity more accessible and flexible”, while the debate on admitting divorced remarried catholics to communion goes on.

more generally monday’s document said: “the church turns respectfully to those who participate in her life in an incomplete and imperfect way, appreciating the positive values they contain rather than their limitations and shortcomings”.

it would be felt that monday’s document more accurately reflects the thinking of pope francis and that what was published last night was a setback for him.

rather, it is evidence of his intention to give fair hearing to sincere views as this process goes on.

and while many who believe pope francis is impelled to embrace all, chaff and wheat, leaving it to God to judge, it would be a mistake for them to see last night’s document as a block to that ambition or that he is naïve to attempt it.

he knows what he is up against. in his final address to the synod yesterday he warned against those with “a temptation to hostile inflexibility,” such as “is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous and of the so-called - today - ‘traditionalists’ and also of the intellectuals”.

he also cautioned against the “the temptation to a destructive tendency to goodness, that ….binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them” and against “the temptation of the ‘do-gooders,’ of the fearful, and also of the so-called ‘progressives and liberals’.”

he made clear over the weekend where he is coming from.

at the beatification of pope paul vi he quoted approvingly from that pope: “by carefully surveying the signs of the times, we are making every effort to adapt ways and methods… to the growing needs of our time and the changing conditions of society.”

dreamy bruises: sylvan esso on the road.

An exhibit shows the life of a neanderthal family in the Neanderthal Museum in Krapina, Croatia
photograph: nikola solic/ reuters

neanderthals snacked on pigeons that they had toasted on open fires, according to researchers, adding to the menu of foods known to be eaten by our closest ancient relatives.

leftovers of neanderthal feasts were discovered in sediments that built up over millennia in the huge Gorham’s Cave on the east face of Gibraltar, where generations of neanderthals sheltered for nearly 100,000 years.

workers at the site unearthed a haul of pigeon bones and found that some bore tooth marks, cuts from stone tools or signs of charring, perhaps created when the meat was left to cook on the glowing embers of a fire.

most of the tell-tale marks were on pigeon wing and leg bones where much of the meat was to be had. some of the thicker bones had tiny puncture marks from smaller, needle-like bones, which can happen when chicken wings are twisted apart to get at the meat.

the findings add to a growing body of evidence that neanderthals had more on their minds at dinner time than large mammals. those living in the caves of Gibraltar left behind butchered bones from seals and dolphins, and even had shucks for prising open shellfish.

image by mo riza, licensed under creative commons.

as someone who is conscious of her health, i spent 13 years cultivating a vegetarian diet. i took time to plan and balance meals that included products such as soy milk, soy yogurt, tofu, and chick’n patties. i pored over labels looking for words i couldn’t pronounce—occasionally one or two would pop up. soy protein isolate? great! they’ve isolated the protein from the soybean to make it more concentrated. hydrolyzed soy protein? i never successfully rationalized that one, but i wasn’t too worried. after all, in 1999 the food and drug administration (fda) approved labeling i found on nearly every soy product i purchased: ‘diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol that include 25 grams of soy protein a day may reduce the risk of heart disease.’ soy ingredients weren’t only safe—they were beneficial.

after years of consuming various forms of soy nearly every day, i felt reasonably fit, but somewhere along the line i’d stopped menstruating. i couldn’t figure out why my stomach became so upset after i ate edamame or why i was often moody and bloated. it didn’t occur to me at the time to question soy, heart protector and miracle food.

when i began studying holistic health and nutrition, i kept running across risks associated with eating soy. endocrine disruption? check. digestive problems? check. i researched soy’s deleterious effects on thyroid, fertility, hormones, sex drive, digestion, and even its potential to contribute to certain cancers. for every study that proved a connection between soy and reduced disease risk another cropped up to challenge the claims. what was going on?

Read more:

diane young (vampire weekend cover): ball park music.

Haruki Murakami
photograph: murdo macleod for the guardian

'strange things happen in this world,” haruki murakami says. “you don’t know why, but they happen.” it could be a guiding motto for all of his fiction, but he is talking specifically about a minor character in his new novel, colorless tsukuru tazaki and his years of pilgrimage. the character is a jazz pianist who seems to have made a pact with death, and is able to see people’s auras.

"why that pianist can see the colours of people, i don’t know," murakami muses. "it just happens." novels in general, he thinks, benefit from a certain mystery. "if the very important secret is not solved, then readers will be frustrated. that is not what i want. but if a certain kind of secret stays secret, it’s a very sound curiosity. i think readers need it."

the world’s most popular cult novelist is sipping coffee in the sunny library of an Edinburgh hotel, which – perhaps disappointingly for admirers of his more fantastical yarns – is not reached through a labyrinthine network of subterranean tunnels. murakami is relaxed and affable, rather than forbiddingly gnomic. “i’m not mysterious!” he says, laughing.

tsukuru tazaki, as the author calls his own novel for short, sold a million copies in two weeks when it came out last summer in Japan. (murakami was born in Kyoto to two literature teachers, and grew up in the port city of Kobe. these days he lives near Tokyo, having spent periods in Greece, at Princeton and tufts universities – where he wrote his masterpiece, the wind-up bird chronicle – and recently in Hawaii.) it contains passing mysteries like the pianist who sees auras, but it is also a mystery novel in a larger sense. tsukuru, its 36-year-old protagonist, is still in mourning for the years before he went to university, when he was part of an inseparable group of five friends – until one day they told him, without explanation, that they never wanted to see him again.

"in the first place i had the intention to write a short story," murakami says. "i just wanted to describe that guy, 36 years old, very solitary … i wanted to describe his life. so his secret was not to be dissolved; the mystery was going to stay a mystery."

but he hadn’t reckoned on the inciting power of a woman to move the story forward, as murakami’s female characters so often do. “when i wrote that short-story part,” he continues, “sara, [tsukuru’s] girlfriend, came to him and she said, ‘you should find out what happened then’, so he went to Nagoya to see his old friends. and the same thing happened to me. sara came to me and said, ‘you should go back to Nagoya and find out what happened.’ when i was writing the book, my own character came to me and told me what to do … the fiction and my experience happened at the same time, in parallel. so it became a novel.”

murakami has often spoken of the theme of two dimensions, or realities, in his work: a normal, beautifully evoked everyday world, and a weirder supernatural realm, which may be accessed by sitting at the bottom of a well (as does the hero of the wind-up bird chronicle), or by taking the wrong emergency staircase off a city expressway (as in 1q84). sometimes dreams act as portals between these realities. in tsukuru tazaki there is a striking sex dream, at the climax of which the reader is not sure whether tsukuru is still asleep or awake. yet murakami hardly ever remembers his own dreams.

Open-plan officephotograph: photofusion/ rex features

an open-plan office is a way of telling you that you don’t matter. here you will sit for your allotted hours, at a work station, devoid of any personal touch, while opposite you someone you don’t know shouts into the telephone to a person sitting in an almost identical human warehouse in Bangaloreabout how their cash card isn’t working, tells his girlfriend precisely what he intends to do to her tonight, or absentmindedly picks his nose and eats the result.

once upon a time the open-plan office was the home of the typing pool. now it is the everyday working environment for most of us. like the filthy term “typing pool”, the open-plan office tells us precisely what our bosses think of us – that we are employed to fulfil a mechanical task and that we are all interchangeable. it is the bean-counter’s answer to the wrong question.

the poor saps condemned to labour in this environment – deliberately designed so the bosses can see whether any galley slaves are doing something unproductive like talking to another human being – soon learn to fear the very place designed for them to interact in. they have seen enough people summoned by email for an encounter with their boss in a specially booked meeting room. too many colleagues emerge in tears, for a summons to the meeting room is as likely to mean you’re being sacked as being given a heads-up on issues likely to come up in next week’s thought shower.

the new bbc headquarters, featured in the mockumentary w1a, is a good example. the place was mildly satirised when the new, and horribly plausible, head of values couldn’t find anywhere to sit (another characteristic of open-plan spaces is that there never seem to be quite enough workstations for the drones to occupy – it makes them get to work earlier.) there is nowhere to have a quiet chat – if a channel controller wants to discuss a commission, they must first book time in a glass-walled meeting room named after some long-gone bbc character – the del boy or wilfred pickles suite or something. the mr pastry suite or the basil fawlty snack bar would have been no more likely to produce creative ideas, but at least it might have been fun getting the summons.

deliberately inventing an uncreative environment is one thing. but it is worse than that. a masterstroke by the buffoons who commissioned the bbc building was to decree that the ordeal be aggravated by refusing to provide either coathangers or waste bins. within weeks the place was filthy, reeking with a distinctive aroma of wet coats and feet and ancient pot noodles. at one point there was even a goon patrol to check that no one had personalised their workspace with a potted plant.

i have never yet met anyone who likes working in an open-plan office. because the space belongs to no one – don’t dare to try to put down any reminder, like a photograph, that you are a human, with a family and friends – it is noisy and grubby, and soon becomes a natural incubator for any passing winter bug.

they say frank lloyd wright invented open-plan living. i neither know nor care who invented the open plan office. i just hope he’s having the full benefit of the vast open-plan space that hell must be.

1998: chet faker.

gold: skating to chet faker.

Solar flare erupting from the surface of the sun.illustration: alamy

an unusual signal picked up by a European space observatory could be the first direct detection of dark matter particles, astronomers say.

the findings are tentative and could take several years to check, but if confirmed they would represent a dramatic advance in scientists’ understanding of the universe.

dark matter cannot be seen, but the mysterious substance is thought to make up about 85% of all the matter in the universe. the web of dark matter that stretches through space is believed to give the cosmos its structure, although so far it has eluded direct detection by physicists.

researchers at Leicester university spotted the curious signal in 15 years of measurements taken by the European space agency’s orbiting xmm-newton observatory. they noticed that the intensity of x-rays recorded by the spacecraft rose by about 10% whenever it observed the boundary of Earth’s magnetic field that faces towards the sun.

andy read, an astronomer on the team, said that conventional models of the universe failed to explain the effect. once galaxies, stars and other bright x-ray sources have been filtered out, he said, the intensity of x-rays in space was expected to be the same whenever measurements were taken.

with no explanation in traditional physics, the scientists looked to more outlandish theories. one seemed to fit the bill. it called for theoretical particles of dark matter called axions streaming from the core of the sun and producing x-rays when they slammed into Earth’s magnetic field.

“if the model is right then it could well be axions that we are seeing and they could explain a component of the dark matter that everyone thinks exists,” read told the guardian.

Tokyo, Japan
photograph: karin slade/ getty images

a disparate group of experts from around the world will meet for the first time on thursday for talks on what must rank as one of the most momentous decisions in human history.

the question confronting the scientists and other specialists is straightforward enough, even if the solution is far from simple. is it time to call an end to the epoch we live in and declare the dawn of a new time period: one defined by humanity’s imprint on the planet?

the 30-strong group, made up of geologists, climate scientists, ecologists – and a lawyer for good measure – will start their deliberations in a room at the haus der kulturen der welt, or house of the cultures of the world, a contemporary arts centre in Berlin.

like many things in the world of geology, little moves fast at the international commission on stratigraphy (ics), the body that decides the time period we live in. but the arrival and informal adoption of the word “anthropocene” to mean a new epoch of humanity has somewhat forced their hand.

the word came into common usage after paul crutzen, a dutch chemist and nobel prize winner, used the term in 2000. he argued in an academic newsletter that the current geological epoch should be awarded the new name to reflect the major and ongoing impact of human life on Earth.

the official arrival of the anthropocene would mark the end of the holocene, the geological time we live in now. identified by a geochemical signal in Greenland ice cores that marks the onset of warmer and wetter conditions at the end of the last ice age, the holocene defined a time when humans colonised new territories and the population swelled.

though many scientists are happy with the holocene, the anthropocene was quickly picked up on. it entered the lexicon of archaeologists, historians, climate scientists and environmentalists. for the ics, which balks at terms being bandied about without them being properly defined, the rise of the anthropocene posed a problem.

the ics responded the way any large and conservative organisation might. its subcommission on quaternary stratigraphy set up a working group on the anthropocene, filled it with a diverse range of experts, and handed the problem to them. the working group has given itself until 2016 to bash out a proposal for the ics to consider.