They define the world and our place in it. They confer identity. They are closer to us than a small child, arms tight around a mother's neck.
With the rollout today of Ideas, the fourth of five new weekly feature sections, Monitor journalists join with readers in the great thought adventures of our times.
The French philosopher Ren Descartes, in a statement that launched a million egos and defined the modern sensibility said, "I think, therefore I am." But the German phrase, Denken ist Danken - "to think is to thank" - best captures the essence of this new section, articles that delight in life.
Ideas is a daunting beat. Monitor readers are vitally concerned about the world they live in. Their thinking circles in orbits much wider than themselves: the natural sciences, religion, ethics, cultural mores, technology, the environment, media, computers, and telecommunications, for starters.
We will report on justice and the law and the underlying principles of democracy. Besides regular book reviews, there will be lively exchanges with authors and media movers-and-shakers.
Without intellectualizing or leaden seriousness, Ideas will explore subjects as diverse as genetic engineering, intellectual property rights, and new software; as quirky as cell-phone etiquette; or as down-to-earth as finding the tallest trees and giving them a hug.
James Madison wrote that partisan, selfish interests - faction - was a mortal danger to the new American nation. Likewise, ideology and narrow politics spell the death of a section devoted to ideas. Such closed mindedness has no place in the Ideas section. In keeping with this goal, we profile Stephen Carter on civility and his plea for its renewal in public mores.
More than 100 years ago the founder of this newspaper, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote in her pioneering book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures": "The astronomer will no longer look up to the stars, he will look out from them upon the universe;"
Today's cover story highlights the major space effort of this generation. It is a multi-national space station. No longer a dream on a drawing board, work on it has started. Looking out from the stars is the horizon.
* Comments or questions? Write to Ideas Editor, One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, or e-mail Ideas@csps.com