Nautilus14 min readMedical
How to Conquer COVID-19 Amid a Confederacy of Dunces: Science can’t be democratic, says an outspoken virologist.
Robert Burioni is a virologist at the San Raffaele University in Milan, Italy, and a serious scientist. But in 2016, something happened that changed his course. He was on television with two anti-vaxxers—a famous actress and a former DJ—who were taki
Nautilus12 min readBiology
The Vast Viral World: What We Know (and Don’t Know): Exploring the minuscule and mysterious world of viruses.
Slightly ovoid in shape and somewhat blurred at the edges, the black splotches were scattered across a mottled gray background, looking much like a postmodern painting. At a meeting of the Medical Society of Berlin in 1938, Helmut Ruska, a German phy
Nautilus8 min read
Gaia, the Scientist: What if the first woman scientist was simply the first woman?
There exists a social hierarchy within science that strikes people who are not mixed up in it as ridiculous. It goes like this: Mathematicians are superior to Physicists, who are, in turn, superior to Chemists, who are of course, superior to Biologis
Nautilus6 min readPsychology
Do We Have Free Will? Maybe It Doesn't Matter
Belief is a special kind of human power. Agustin Fuentes, an anthropologist at the University of Notre Dame, eloquently claims as much in his recent book Why We Believe: Evolution and the Human Way of Being. It’s the “most prominent, promising, and d
Nautilus8 min readIntelligence (AI) & Semantics
I Am Not a Machine. Yes You Are.: Debating the impact of machine-created art.
I’m trying to explain to Arthur I. Miller why artworks generated by computers don’t quite do it for me. There’s no human being behind them. The works aren’t a portal into another person’s mind, where you can wander in a warren of intention, emotion,
Nautilus18 min readScience & Mathematics
The Trouble with Brain Scans: An aspiring cognitive scientist faces the sketchy truth about fMRI.
One autumn afternoon in the bowels of UC Berkeley’s Li Ka Shing Center, I was looking at my brain. I had just spent 10 minutes inside the 3 Tesla MRI scanner, the technical name for a very expensive, very high maintenance, very magnetic brain camera.
Nautilus10 min readPsychology
A Quiet Path Out of the Coronavirus Shadow: Mindfulness helped this ER doctor through a dark time. It can help us through these times.
Eleven years ago, I sat down across from a man named Edward Espe Brown. I had returned home to Texas from a four-month stay at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in California, endured a breakup, and was feeling adrift. I told Ed that I was struggling
Nautilus6 min readIntelligence (AI) & Semantics
Here’s How We’ll Know an AI Is Conscious
The Australian philosopher David Chalmers famously asked whether “philosophical zombies” are conceivable—people who behave like you and me yet lack subjective experience. It’s an idea that has gotten many scholars interested in consciousness, includi
Nautilus8 min readPhysics
This Tenet Shows Time Travel May Be Possible: Director Christopher Nolan could take a tip from new research into “closed timelike curves.”
Time travel has been a beloved science-fiction idea at least since H.G. Wells wrote The Time Machine in 1895. The concept continues to fascinate and fictional approaches keep coming, prodding us to wonder whether time travel is physically possible an
Nautilus13 min read
I Have Come to Bury Ayn Rand: A prominent evolutionary biologist slays the beast of Individualism.
My father, Sloan Wilson, wrote novels that would help define 1950s America. I loved and admired him, but the prospect of following in the footsteps of The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit and A Summer Place was like being expected to climb Mount Everest.
Nautilus8 min read
Blackout In The Brain Lab: What will happen to the organoids? A work of fiction.
When the power goes out, the two young scientists are plunged into pitch blackness. After exclamations and fumbling they turn their phone lights on, creating bisecting cones that spear wildly at the darkness and dance over the ceiling. “I guess they
Nautilus12 min readBody, Mind, & Spirit
Life Beyond Human Has to Play by the Rules: A zoologist explains why complex life anywhere depends on natural selection.
There are many ways to think about alien, extraterrestrial life forms. Science-fiction writers do it all the time. Scientists, more interested in nonfiction, think about how to receive signals that real aliens might send, as well as what sort of sign
Nautilus8 min readBiology
COVID Experts: We’re Putting Out Campfires but the Forest Fire Rages
After I got my second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, a wave of euphoria infused me along with the modified messenger RNA. Many friends describe the same feeling. This is the end of the pandemic for me. Life returns to normal.  But then my usual, pessimi
Nautilus10 min readBiology
How Intelligent Could Life Be Without Natural Selection?: Don’t be surprised if alien life forms are a lot like us.
I could stridently insist that natural selection is the only way that complex life can evolve, but that’s not strictly true. We can already design computers that can learn and reason and—almost—convince an observer that their behavior might be human.
Nautilus14 min readPhysics
The Charmed Life of Frank Wilczek: A novelist gets a physicist to explain his scientific breakthroughs.
Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek’s new book, Fundamentals: Ten Keys to Reality, is both a way of thinking about the abundance that characterizes our exterior and interior worlds, and a kind of alternative to traditional religion, a way of being “born aga
Nautilus8 min readPsychology
How to Quiet Your Mind Chatter: To break the tape loop in your head, talk to yourself as another person.
We’ve all been there. Stuck in our own heads, fixated on a two-minute conversation from three days ago. We replay it over and over. I shouldn’t have snapped at Dad. He was always so patient when I was growing up. We get stuck. The voice in our heads
Nautilus7 min readScience & Mathematics
Comets Are More Dangerous Than We Thought: Could a comet, not an asteroid, have killed the dinosaurs?
You know what the plot of a show called CSI: Chicxulub would be? Finding out what killed the dinosaurs, of course. There’s now no question that the scene of the “crime” was the Yucatan Peninsula, in Mexico, where researchers found a massive crater. B
Nautilus5 min readBiology
The Link Between Bioelectricity and Consciousness
Life seems to be tied to bioelectricity at every level. The late electrophysiologist and surgeon Robert Becker spent decades researching the role of the body’s electric fields in development, wound healing, and limb regrowth. His 1985 book, The Body
Nautilus8 min readPsychology
What If You Could Describe Your Dreams While Dreaming?: The potential to hack our dreams opens a new frontier for mental research.
It’s a bit of a bummer that dreams are as fascinating as they are hard and expensive to study. Famed psychologists like Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung may have made big names for themselves mining the meaning and significance of our dreams, but even tod
Nautilus12 min readPsychology
Consciousness Is Just a Feeling: With help from Freud, this neuropsychologist locates consciousness in choice.
When he was a boy, Mark Solms obsessed over big existential questions. What happens when I die? What makes me who I am? He went on to study neuroscience but soon discovered that neuropsychology had no patience for such open-ended questions about the
Nautilus9 min readPsychology
That Is Not How Your Brain Works: Forget these scientific myths to better understand your brain and yourself.
The 21st century is a time of great scientific discovery. Cars are driving themselves. Vaccines against deadly new viruses are created in less than a year. The latest Mars Rover is hunting for signs of alien life. But we’re also surrounded with scien
Nautilus11 min readIntelligence (AI) & Semantics
Literature Should Be Taught Like Science: This renegade professor says literature is a machine that accelerates the human brain.
In the past quarter century, enrollment in college English departments has sunk like the Pequod in Moby Dick. Meanwhile enrollment in science programs has skyrocketed. It’s understandable. Elon Musk, not Herman Melville, is the role model of the digi
Nautilus12 min readBody, Mind, & Spirit
If Aliens Exist, Here’s How We’ll Find Them: Two esteemed astrophysicists peer into the future of space exploration.
Suppose aliens existed, and imagine that some of them had been watching our planet for its entire four and a half billion years. What would they have seen? Over most of that vast timespan, Earth’s appearance altered slowly and gradually. Continents d
Nautilus7 min readChemistry
The Joy of Condensed Matter: Hard times in fundamental physics got you down? Let’s talk excitons.
Everyone seems to be talking about the problems with physics: Peter Woit’s book Not Even Wrong, Lee Smolin’s The Trouble With Physics, and Sabine Hossenfelder’s Lost in Math leap to mind, and they have started a wider conversation. But is all of phys
Nautilus10 min readSelf-Improvement
I Am a Heroin User. I Do Not Have a Drug Problem: Carl Hart says drug addiction is often distorted by scientists and the media.
Carl Hart is a neuroscientist and Ziff Professor of Psychology at Columbia University—he was the first tenured African-American professor of sciences at Columbia. His research focuses on the “behavioral and neuropharmacological effects of psychoactiv
Nautilus6 min readPsychology
Why Making Our Brains Noisier Feels Good: A counterintuitive approach to improving our mental health.
Not since World War II has there been as great a threat to mental health as the current COVID-19 pandemic, according to Aiden James. The challenges to our mental health won’t “stop when the virus is under control and there are few people in hospital,
Nautilus5 min readReligion & Spirituality
Martin Luther Rewired Your Brain: How mass literacy, spurred by Protestantism, reconfigured our neural pathways.
Your brain has been altered, neurologically rewired as you acquired a particular skill. This renovation has left you with a specialized area in your left ventral occipital temporal region, shifted facial recognition into your right hemisphere, reduce
Nautilus6 min readBody, Mind, & Spirit
The Alien-Haunted World
Did you know that there are many scientists who devote their working lives to skillfully charting out the most unassuming chunks of our solar system—chunks that none of our species will likely never see up close? Chunks that, individually, are mere s
Nautilus4 min readPsychology
A Simple Way to Reduce Cognitive Bias
Would you like to be more rational? Of course you would. Who doesn’t want to behave and think more reasonably? Good news: New research, from Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer, suggests mindfulness, or at least an aspect of it, can help. By “mindfulne
Nautilus8 min read
In Science Fiction, We Are Never Home: Where technology leads to exile and yearning.
This essay first appeared in our “Home” issue way back in 2013. But somehow feels so timely today. Halfway through director Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, Sandra Bullock suffers the most cosmic case of homesick blues since Keir Dullea was hurled toward th
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