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## Why You Didn’t See It Coming: When scale confounds our perceptions, stories can clarify them.

You don’t see it coming. You probably couldn’t if you tried. The effects of large changes in scale are frequently beyond our powers of perception, even our imagination. They seem to emerge out of nowhere: the cumulative effects of climate change, the

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In the mid-1990s, I studied mathematics. I wasn’t really sure just what I wanted to do with my life, but I was awed by the power of mathematics to describe the natural world. After classes on differential geometry and Lie algebras, I attended a semin

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Before there is life, there must be structure. Our universe synthesized atomic nuclei early in its history. Those nuclei ensnared electrons to form atoms. Those atoms agglomerated into galaxies, stars, and planets. At last, living things had places t

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How do you feel about the multiverse?” The question was not out of place in our impromptu dinner-table lecture, yet it caught me completely off-guard. It’s not that I’ve never been asked about the multiverse before, but explaining a theoretical const

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You might have learned in school that there are three phases of matter: solid, liquid, and gas. That is a useful simplification for young students, but there are in fact many, many more. In the past century or so, we’ve discovered that there are hund

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The name of the image—the “Flammarion engraving”—may not ring a bell, but you’ve seen it many times. It depicts a traveler wearing a cloak and clutching a walking-stick; behind him is a varied landscape of towns and trees; surrounding all is a crysta

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## What Does Any of This Have To Do with Physics?: Einstein and Feynman ushered me into grad school, reality ushered me out.

Have you ever been happy?” My girlfriend asked me that question, after work over drinks at some shiny Manhattan bar, after another stressful day on the trading floor. How to answer that? I knew she was talking about work, but how unhappy did she thin

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To those who say that there is no room for genius in modern science because everything has been discovered, Fabiola Gianotti has a sharp reply. “No, not at all,” says the former spokesperson of the ATLAS Experiment, the largest particle detector at t

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I doubt that any phenomenon, real or imagined, has inspired more perplexing, convoluted, and ultimately futile philosophical analysis than time travel has. (Some possible contenders, determinism and free will, are bound up anyway in the arguments ove

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## How Much More Can We Learn About the Universe?: These are the few limits on our ability to know.

As a cosmologist, some of the questions I hear most frequently after a lecture include: What lies beyond our universe? What is our universe expanding into? Will our universe expand forever? These are natural questions to ask. But there is an even dee

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We recognize beauty when we see it, right? Michelangelo’s David, Machu Picchu, an ocean sunrise. Could we say the same about the cosmos itself? Frank Wilczek, a professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, thinks we can. And sho

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What would physics look like if Einstein had never existed, or biology without Darwin? In one view, nothing much would change—the discoveries they made and theories they devised would have materialized anyway sooner or later. That’s the odd thing abo

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One of the most important machines in modern medicine can now be made with little more than paper, string, and tape.

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Antonio Ereditato insists that our interview be carried out through Skype with both cameras on. Just the other side of middle age, his salt-and-pepper hair frames wide open eyes and a chiseled chin. He smiles easily and his gaze captures your attenti

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To a physicist, perfect quiet is the ultimate noise. Silence your cellphone, still your thoughts, and muffle every kind of vibration, and you would still be left with quantum noise. It represents an indeterminacy deep within nature, bursts of static

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In Gallery 919, in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, there is a giant breathing machine. Its creator, William Kentridge, calls it “the elephant,” after Charles Dickens’s description of factory machines that move “monotonously up and down, like t

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Whenever you say anything about your daily life, a scale is implied. Try it out. “I’m too busy” only works for an assumed time scale: today, for example, or this week. Not this century or this nanosecond. “Taxes are onerous” only makes sense for a ce

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Everyone had his or her favorite drink in hand. There were bubbles and deep reds, and the sound of ice clinking in cocktail glasses underlay the hum of contented chatter. Gracing the room were women with long hair and men dressed in black suits, with

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If I told you that I was 99.81 percent certain I had made a big discovery, you might suggest it was time to break out the champagne. If I said the discovery resolved one of the biggest outstanding problems in science and would probably let me punch a

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The objective world simply is, it does not happen,” wrote mathematician and physicist Hermann Weyl in 1949. From his point of view, the universe is laid out in time as surely as it is laid out in space. Time does not pass, and the past and future are

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