Nautilus4 min readPsychology
Why Social Science Needs Evolutionary Theory
My high school biology teacher, Mr. Whittington, put a framed picture of a primate ancestor in the front of his classroom—a place of reverence. In a deeply religious and conservative community in rural America, this was a radical act. Evolution, amon
Nautilus12 min read
Making Time Machines From Taxi Meters: A sculptor explains how his art upends time.
This article is part of Nautilus’ month-long exploration of the science and art of time. Read the introduction here. Growing up in Israel in the 1970s, my household was a place where time and languages were constantly shuffled. Three generations of m
Nautilus9 min readTech
We Need to Save Ignorance From AI: In an age of all-knowing algorithms, how do we choose not to know?
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, East German citizens were offered the chance to read the files kept on them by the Stasi, the much-feared Communist-era secret police service. To date, it is estimated that only 10 percent have taken the opportunity
Nautilus8 min readSelf-Improvement
Why Living in a Poor Neighborhood Can Change Your Biology: The sheer stress of an environment contributes to obesity and diabetes.
It was the most ambitious social experiment ever conducted by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. And one of the most surprising. In 1994, HUD randomly assigned 4,600 poor, mostly African-American families in Baltimore, Bos
Nautilus4 min readScience
Evidence Found for a New Fundamental Particle
Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog. Physicists are both thrilled and baffled by a new report from a neutrino experiment at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory near Chicago. The MiniBooNE experiment has detected far m
Nautilus6 min read
Larry David and the Game Theory of Anonymous Donations
In a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode from 2007, Larry David and his wife Cheryl and their friends attend a ceremony to celebrate his public donation to the National Resources Defense Council, a non-profit environmental advocacy group. Little does he kno
Nautilus3 min readScience
A New View of Time: Introducing the Nautilus Time Project.
This article introduces Nautilus’ month-long exploration of the science and art of time. When Lee Smolin’s book Time Reborn was re-launched to great fanfare at my home in 2015, it accelerated a discussion he and I had been having for years: What if w
Nautilus8 min read
The Smaller The Theater, The Faster The Music: Composer Philip Glass talks time with painter Fredericka Foster.
This article is part of Nautilus’ month-long exploration of the science and art of time. Read the introduction here. How is composing music of a given meter similar to painting flowing water? In this conversation between the composer and musician Phi
Nautilus6 min read
What Time Feels Like When You’re Improvising: The neurology of flow states.
This article is part of Nautilus’ month-long exploration of the science and art of time. Read the introduction here. Don’t look at the clock! Now tell me: How much time has passed since you first logged on to your computer today? Time may be a proper
Nautilus6 min read
When Bad Things Happen in Slow Motion: Is there more to our experience of time than the foibles of memory?
Nothing focuses the mind like a moment of peril. John Hockenberry, the heavily-decorated journalist and commentator, had one of those nearly four decades ago. Yet it has never left him, and it always plays out in his memory, as he puts it, “in super
Nautilus4 min read
To Persuade Someone, Look Emotional
Asked at the start of the final 1988 presidential debate whether he would support the death penalty if his wife were raped and murdered, Michael Dukakis, a lifelong opponent of capital punishment, quickly and coolly said no. It was a surprising, deep
Nautilus4 min readScience
Braces Have Made Snoring a Modern Health Problem
The apotheosis of my five-year orthodontic torment was a sad admission from the orthodontist: After thousands of dollars invested in what felt like medieval technology, my braces had not only failed to ameliorate a complex situation but created a new
Nautilus5 min read
The True Story of Medical Books Bound in Human Skin
In 1868, on a hot, midsummer day, 28-year-old Mary Lynch was admitted to the Philadelphia Almshouse and Hospital, the city hospital for the poor, better known as “Old Blockley.” Lynch had tuberculosis, which was soon to be compounded by the parasitic
Nautilus11 min readBusiness Biography & History
Does Theranos Mark the Peak of the Silicon Valley Bubble?: John Carreyrou talks to Nautilus about the lessons of a $1 billion fraud.
Silicon Valley has a term for startups that reach the $1 billion valuation mark: unicorns. The term is instructive. It suggests not only that hugely successful startups are rare, but also that there’s something unreal about them. There’s no recent Va
Nautilus16 min read
Drums, Lies, and Audiotape: When I was invited to drum in Ghana, I gladly accepted. Then something went wrong.
My wife Ingrid and I had been in Aburi, Ghana for just over a week when our host, Kwame Obeng, informed me that I’d be joining the royal drummers for a performance at the chief’s palace the following afternoon, in celebration of an important holy day
Nautilus10 min read
How to Talk About Vaccines on Television: What one scientist has learned from years of media appearances.
In 2008, John Porter, a Washington, D.C. lawyer and former Republican member of Congress, stood in front of a group of scientists at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and urged them to make their cases to the media
Nautilus4 min read
This Man Memorized a 60,000-Word Poem Using Deep Encoding
Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit of that forbidden tree,” John Basinger said aloud to himself, as he walked on a treadmill. “Of man’s first disobedience…” In 1992, at the age of 58, Basinger decided to memorize Paradise Lost, John Milton’s
Nautilus5 min readScience
How Brain Waves Surf Sound Waves to Process Speech
Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog. When he talks about where his fields of neuroscience and neuropsychology have taken a wrong turn, David Poeppel of New York University doesn’t mince words. “There’s an orgy of data b
Nautilus9 min read
Are Suicide Bombings Really Driven by Ideology?: The surprising anthropology of group identity.
Harvey Whitehouse doesn’t like how New Atheists like Richard Dawkins make religion out to be a mere “set of propositions” amounting to a “failed science.” In a 2013 YouTube video, Whitehouse—the director of the Institute of Cognitive & Evolutionary A
Nautilus6 min read
Lavatory Laboratory: How sanitation is following the cell phone model.
Our humble toilet has shaped civilization. Starting in 19th-century Britain, it spread throughout the industrialized world, eliminated recurring cholera epidemics, and contributed to the doubling of lifespans. But its spread was not universal. Dozens
Nautilus8 min read
Why New Antibiotics Are So Hard to Find: A dispatch from the front lines of the war against antibiotic resistance.
An 86-year-old patient arrives with a grisly foot injury.1 It’s badly infected—not a surprise, given his chronic untreated Type 2 diabetes. What is surprising is that meropenem, a broad spectrum antibiotic, and vancomycin, known as the antibiotic of
Nautilus4 min read
The Case Against Geniuses
Once you’re called a “genius,” what’s left? Super genius? No, getting called a “genius” is the final accolade, the last laudatory label for anyone. At least that’s how several members of Mensa, an organization of those who’ve scored in the 98th perce
Nautilus5 min read
Forget “Earth-Like”—We’ll First Find Aliens on Eyeball Planets
Imagine a habitable planet orbiting a distant star. You’re probably picturing a variation of Earth. Maybe it’s a little cloudier, or covered in oceans. Maybe the mountains are a little higher. Maybe the trees are red instead of green. Maybe there are
Nautilus5 min read
What’s Worse: Unwanted Mutations or Unwanted Humans?
After a fatal series of errors and malfunctions in the early morning of April 26, 1986, the core of the Chernobyl nuclear facility melted down and then exploded, killing 31 workers at the plant. The accident spewed massive amounts of radioactive mate
Nautilus4 min readSociety
Are Healthcare Metrics Hurting Healthcare?
In 1975, the British economist Charles Goodhart pointed out that when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure. Goodhart’s Law, as it came to be known, is a ubiquitous phenomenon in regulatory affairs, like healthcare. Making health
Nautilus14 min read
How NASA’s Mission to Pluto Was Nearly Lost: The inside story of the New Horizons probe.
On the Saturday afternoon of July 4, 2015, NASA’s New Horizons Pluto mission leader Alan Stern was in his office near the project Mission Control Center, working, when his cell phone rang. He was aware of the Independence Day holiday but was much mor
Nautilus12 min read
My Own Personal Nothingness: From a childhood hallucination to the halls of theoretical physics.
My most vivid encounter with Nothingness occurred in a remarkable experience I had as a child of 9 years old. It was a Sunday afternoon. I was standing alone in a bedroom of my home in Memphis Tennessee, gazing out the window at the empty street, lis
Nautilus10 min read
The Popular Creation Story of Astronomy Is Wrong: The old tale about science versus the church is wide of the mark.
In the early years of the 17th century, Johannes Kepler argued that the universe contained thousands of mighty bodies, bodies so huge that they could be universes themselves. These giant bodies, said Kepler, testified to the immense power of, as well
Nautilus5 min readSelf-Improvement
How Social Media Exploits Our Moral Emotions
A few years ago, Justine Sacco, then the senior director of corporate communications at the holding company InterActiveCorp, tweeted about the nuisances of air-travel during a long, multi-leg journey from New York to South Africa. She started with sa
Nautilus2 min read
Mumbling Isn’t a Sign of Laziness—It’s a Clever Data-Compression Trick
Many of us have been taught that pronouncing vowels indistinctly and dropping consonants are symptoms of slovenly speech, if not outright disregard for the English language. The Irish playwright St. John Ervine viewed such habits as evidence that som
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