Nautilus5 min read
Why Hasn’t the World Been Destroyed in a Nuclear War Yet?
When opposing nations gained access to nuclear weapons, it fundamentally changed the logic of war. You might say that it made questions about war more cleanly logical—with nuclear-armed belligerents, there are fewer classic military analyses about mo
Nautilus2 min read
The Antidote to “Black Mirror” Virtual Reality
Both of Black Mirror’s virtual-reality episodes, “USS Callister” this season and “Playtest” in last one’s, presume VR users will be alone, immobile, and unaware of their true surroundings. They’re rendered unconscious in the real world as they’re bro
Nautilus8 min read
The Reality of Color Is Perception: An argument for a new definition of color.
Philosophers have a bad reputation for casting unwarranted doubt on established facts. Little could be more certain than your belief that the cloudless sky, on a summer afternoon, is blue. Yet we may wonder in earnest, is it also blue for the birds w
Nautilus14 min read
The Stick Is an Unsung Hero of Human Evolution: Stone’s silent sister in the archaeological record.
In April 1997, at the snooker world championship held at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, Ronnie O’Sullivan stepped up to the table to play a frame in what was expected to be a routine victory in his first-round match against Mick Price. What happe
Nautilus8 min readSociety
Your City Has a Gender and It’s Male: Why city designers are increasingly thinking about the female perspective.
I have a secret to tell you about my city,” she says. “It has to do with what Eve Ensler calls the feminine cell.” It was the autumn of 2016. I’d met her in Quito, Ecuador, at the United Nations’ Habitat III, the biggest global urban development conf
Nautilus1 min read
The Real Difference Between You and a Plant
One way to rouse someone is to ask: “What makes you think you’re so different from a plant?” Several sensible retorts may follow, all of which have rejoinders. I have a brain. Well, plants kind of do, too. I can communicate. Plants send coded message
Nautilus7 min readScience
To Save Drowning People, Ask Yourself “What Would Light Do?”
Imagine you’re a lifeguard and you see someone struggling to stay afloat. Being a responsible lifeguard, you want to get to them as quickly as possible. You’re pretty fast when swimming, but even faster running on sand. So what’s the quickest route t
Nautilus5 min readPsychology
Can PTSD Be Good for You?
You might think it insensitive or even offensive to ask whether PTSD could be good for someone. Who wants a disorder, let alone one caused by “post-traumatic stress”? Yet when Nautilus posed this question to Rachel Yehuda, a professor of psychiatry a
Nautilus5 min read
This Is Why Understanding Space Is So Hard
If all the matter in the universe suddenly disappeared, would space still exist? Isaac Newton thought so. Space, he imagined, was something like Star Trek’s holodeck, a 3-dimensional virtual-reality grid onto which simulated people and places and thi
Nautilus16 min readPsychology
Autistic Prodigies Since “Rain Man”: Our evolving understanding of “the engineer’s disease.”
The list of off-the-charts young achievers associated, in retrospect, with Asperger’s syndrome extends a long way back. You may have heard that Bill Gates has been informally diagnosed with it. So, after the fact, has Bobby Fischer, obsessive and una
Nautilus9 min readSelf-Improvement
What Pigeons Teach Us About Love: The sweet, avian romance of Harold and Maude.
Last spring I came to know a pair of pigeons. I’d been putting out neighborly sunflower seeds for them and my local Brooklyn house sparrows; typically I left them undisturbed while feeding, but every so often I’d want to water my plants or lie in the
Nautilus12 min readHistory
You’re Descended from Royalty and So Is Everybody Else: Anybody you can name from ancient history is in your family tree.
Charlemagne, Carolingian King of the Franks, Holy Roman Emperor, the great European conciliator; your ancestor. I am making an assumption that you are broadly of European descent, which is not statistically unreasonable but certainly not definitive.
Nautilus4 min readPsychology
The Logic Puzzle You Can Only Solve with Your Brightest Friend
You’ve been caught snooping around a spooky graveyard with your best friend. The caretaker, a bored old man fond of riddles (and not so fond of trespassers), imprisons each of you in a different room inside the storage shed, and, taking your phones,
Nautilus11 min readScience
The Data That Threatened to Break Physics: What does a rational scientist do with an impossible result?
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
Nautilus13 min read
What We Get Wrong About Dying: A pediatric oncologist describes the lessons of his practice.
My first exposure to the death of a patient came during my third year of medical school, in Israel. It was my first clinical rotation, which happened to be in internal medicine. Tagging along with my mentor, a senior physician to whom I had been assi
Nautilus6 min read
Would Twitter Ruin Bee Democracy?: Simple-majority democracy is used by many animals. But they don’t have social media.
Did the ancient Athenians invent democracy? Or did bugs have it way earlier than the Greeks? Cornell entomologist Tom Seeley knows which option he’s voting for. Honeybees regularly split from their mother colony. Seeley wondered, with tens of thousan
Nautilus5 min read
How Classical Cryptography Will Survive Quantum Computers
Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, certainly raised the profile of quantum computing a few notches last year, when he gamely—if vaguely1—described it for a press conference. But we’ve heard a lot about quantum computers in the past few year
Nautilus4 min readReligion & Spirituality
Which Comes First, Big Cities or Big Gods?
Warriors among the Kwara’ae, a collection of tribal communities indigenous to the Solomon Islands, sacrificed pigs before battle. The tradition granted the combatants, so the belief went, aid from heroic ancestral spirits—like the mighty A’orama, a f
Nautilus5 min readPsychology
Why Anti-corruption Strategies May Backfire
One of the defining attributes of humans is that we are champion cooperators, surpassing levels of cooperation far beyond what is observed in other species across the animal kingdom. Understanding how cooperation is sustained, particularly in anonymo
Nautilus5 min readScience
What Needs to Change in Cancer Treatment for Young Adults
I treated an inspiring teenage girl in my clinic the other day. Although Sadie has made a complete recovery from her liver cancer and bears no physical scars from the treatment, anxiety and depression followed her through childhood and adolescence. L
Nautilus4 min read
Our Conflicted Feelings For R2-D2: Lucas’ droids are halfway between human and inhuman, so we can both love and ignore them.
I am your father.” The iconic line from Star Wars, in which Luke Skywalker discovers the real identity of Darth Vader, marks the point in the series when two polar opposites that had been cleanly divided—the Jedi and the Dark Side—are suddenly mixed
Nautilus11 min read
Are Algorithms Building the New Infrastructure of Racism?: How we use big data can reinforce our worst biases—or help fix them.
We don’t know what our customers look like,” said Craig Berman, vice president of global communications at Amazon, to Bloomberg News in June 2015. Berman was responding to allegations that the company’s same-day delivery service discriminated against
Nautilus8 min readSociety
How Darknet Sellers Build Trust: The Amazon for drug dealing is built around user reviews.
Trust used to be a very personal thing: You went on the recommendations of your friends or friends of friends. By finding ways to extend that circle of trust exponentially, technology is expanding markets and possibilities. Consider the darknet. It i
Nautilus9 min readHistory
The Fish That Took a Century to Name: The unlikely story of Alfred Russel Wallace’s pike.
On the morning of Friday Aug. 6, 1852, Alfred Russel Wallace was summoned to the deck of the brig Helen. The boat was in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and Wallace had already been at sea for 26 days. He was used to hardship. He’d spent the previo
Nautilus2 min readScience
The Quiet Revolution of CRISPR
How many diseases could humans treat if the DNA in troublesome cells could be edited within the body? Half? Most? How about “absolutely everything”? That was the answer Irina Conboy, a bioengineer at U.C. Berkeley, recently gave to New Scientist. Her
Nautilus3 min readScience
Should Scientists Publish Their Personal Biases?
A lot of modern science challenges us to change our behaviors. Results related to climate change, for example, suggest we travel, shop, and eat differently. Psychology and sociology ask us to shift our perceptions of each other. Once the science is d
Nautilus3 min read
The Secret Costs of Keeping Secrets
Keeping a secret can be hard work. It may seem relatively easy to avoid mentioning your friend’s surprise birthday party or your co-worker’s recent breakup, but concealing even trivial information, let alone important things, can be exhausting. When
Nautilus4 min read
A Letter From the Publisher of Nautilus
My name is John Steele. I am the publisher and editorial director of Nautilus. Yesterday an open letter was posted on the National Writers Union website, signed by 19 freelance writers. It stated some writers and editors are “awaiting payment from Na
Nautilus12 min readScience
The Science of Star Wars Weaponry: Just how realistic are lightsabers, blasters, and ion cannons?
If you are already a Star Wars fan, you know that the stories take place in a galaxy far, far away, so the laws of physics should still apply. On the other hand, these are obviously works of fiction; is there any point in applying those laws? Yes—it
Nautilus28 min read
Buying Freedom: What happens when you barter a jail break for the wrong person?
There were unexpected difficulties,” said the dark gray blur. That blur sat in a pale blue cushioned chair, no more than a meter away from where Ingray herself sat, facing, in an identical chair. Or apparently so, anyway. Ingray knew that if she reac
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