Finding the higher things

It's worth an extra moment to pause in front of that expensive store shelf or glossy catalog page.

Of course, that luxury stereo or car or purse looks better. But will it really enhance our lives? In our search for the high end, are we finding a higher expression - or merely feeding an overconsuming appetite?

The answers are not cut and dried, as Kim Campbell explains in this week's cover story on Americans' increasing attention to aesthetics and style. In some ways, consumers define themselves by what they buy, the experts say.

Of course, material things don't capture our total essence. If they did, we would never look out to the stars to discover new opportunities - and, as science correspondent Peter Spotts reports, potential hazards.

Painting scenarios worthy of a techno-thriller (in fact, Hollywood has already picked up on the theme), astronomers are searching the skies for a new class of asteroids that could collide with Earth.

And if material beginnings determined our destiny, the young daughter of an illiterate mother would never have risen to prominence in the Arab world.

This week, Danna Harman profiles Yemen's first human rights minister, who has marked a series of firsts in her remarkable rise from television announcer to public servant. Amat al-Aleem Alsoswa is living proof of the potential for women in that conservative region - and the changes already afoot for some of them.

Maybe we're best defined by what we do. And become what we reach for.

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