Nautilus5 min read
Bo Burnham And The Illusion Of Meritocracy
In a WTF with Marc Maron podcast episode from 2012, musical comedian Bo Burnham said his fortune felt unreal, as if his life were a futuristic VR game. “I could die, take off a helmet, and, look: It’s the Bo Burnham 2000. There’s a whole line of peop
Nautilus8 min readSociety
Blood Spatter Will Tell: How the science of blood spatter forensics is evolving.
By the time Donald Johnson got the call to come to the crime scene, the victim had been dead for hours. A first responder opened the apartment door to find a woman lying on the edge of her bed, nude from the waist down, bound and gagged with duct tap
Nautilus12 min read
Why Our Intuition About Sea-Level Rise Is Wrong: A geologist explains that climate change is not just about a global average sea rise.
Jerry Mitrovica has been overturning accepted wisdom for decades. A solid Earth geophysicist at Harvard, he studies the internal structure and processes of the Earth, which has implications for fields from climatology to the timing of human migration
Nautilus4 min read
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,
Nautilus3 min read
Our Strange Relationship to World Cup Probabilities
This year’s World Cup has been full of surprises. Tournament mainstays such as the Netherlands and Italy didn’t even qualify, and Germany, the reigning world champions, finished last in their group after upsets by Mexico and South Korea. Statistician
Nautilus9 min read
Is Fixing the Climate Incompatible with American Ideals?: Inalienable rights in the age of carbon dioxide.
Welcome to the Anthropocene. This greeting is belated, of course. We have all been here the whole of our lives, without knowing it for most of our days. The Anthropocene is a span of geological and evolutionary time (technically, an epoch) during whi
Nautilus8 min read
Is This Man the Elon Musk of E-Waste?: Eric Lundgren’s electric car goes farther than a Tesla. He’s also going to prison.
Eric Lundgren, the 33-year-old, fedora-wearing CEO of a major electronic waste recycling plant in Los Angeles, could be called both the Elon Musk and the Edward Snowden of e-waste. Elon Musk because in 2017 he built an electric car out of recycled ba
Nautilus14 min read
Reinventing Staten Island: The ecological philosophy of turning a garbage dump into a park.
When the Dutch arrived in New York Harbor in 1609, Staten Island—or Staaten Eylandt, as they named it—was a wild wonderland, woodland in the middle and tidal salt marsh on the edges, populated by the local Lenape tribe, plus an embarrassment of natur
Nautilus4 min read
Why It’s Hard to Recognize a Black Hole
Astronomers can sometimes be literal to a fault. We like to call things as we see them. For example, if it’s red and it’s huge: “Red Giant.” White and small: “White Dwarf.” Massive explosion: “Big Bang.” Dark and sucks everything in: “Black Hole.” Mo
Nautilus7 min read
The Painful Wait for a Hangover Pill
From freezing showers to ingesting prickly pear to smoking joints, everyone has a home remedy for alcohol’s notorious afterglow: the hangover. Mongolian men swear by pickled sheep eyes, ancient Egyptians wore necklaces of Alexandrian laurel, and one
Nautilus4 min read
What Is the Sun Made Of and When Will It Die?
Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog. Like any star in its prime, the sun consists mainly of hydrogen atoms fusing two by two into helium, unleashing immense energy in the process. But it’s the sun’s tiny concentration o
Nautilus2 min read
The Biggest Misapprehension About Human Origins
Archaeologist Ticia Verveer recently posted a thread on Twitter showing that customer complaints go way back. And I mean way back. Verveer referred to a letter inscribed on a 3,700-year-old Babylonian clay tablet. In the letter, Verveer writes, “The
Nautilus8 min read
Eating for Peace: How cuisine bridges cultures.
It’s a cold evening in New York City and I’m making Nepalese donuts. Or, I should say, Rachana Rimal, a cheerful woman with a dash of sassiness, is teaching me and five other novice cooks to make them. The savory scent of spices in Rimal’s kitchen in
Nautilus6 min readSociety
The Cost of Blood: When corporations run the government and any crime can be bought.
The man whose name was sometimes Theo Miller had been twenty-two years old when they abolished human rights. The government insisted it was necessary to counter terrorism and bring stable leadership to the country. He’d voted for the opposition and f
Nautilus12 min read
Why Revolutionaries Love Spicy Food: How the chili pepper got to China.
In 1932, the Soviet Union sent one of its best agents to China, a former schoolteacher and counter-espionage expert from Germany named Otto Braun. His mission was to serve as a military adviser to the Chinese Communists, who were engaged in a despera
Nautilus4 min readPsychology
Why Enceladus’ Ice Is Part of the Climate Change Conversation
Beneath the icy surface of Saturn’s sixth-largest moon, Enceladus, an ocean dwells. Traces of it get expelled skyward through cracks in the crust via cryo-volcanic plumes. What’s found in the ice grains and vapor are nothing less than the rudiments o
Nautilus11 min read
Should You Tell Everyone They’re Honest?: People try to live up to their labels.
Here is the predicament that most of us seem to be in. We are not virtuous people. We simply do not have characters that are good enough to qualify as honest, compassionate, wise, courageous, and the like. We are not vicious people either—dishonest,
Nautilus4 min read
The Rhythm of Sculpture: How science has informed one sculptor’s view of time.
This article is part of Nautilus’ month-long exploration of the science and art of time. Read the introduction here. In the studio, time does not pass—there is only an “eternal now.” The art coming from the studio is a crystallized form of the artist
Nautilus3 min read
Taking Another Person’s Perspective Doesn’t Help You Understand Them
No moral advice is perfectly sound. The Golden Rule—do unto others as you would have them do unto you—is only as wise as the person following it. A more modern-sounding tip—take the perspective of others—can seem like an improvement. It was Dale Carn
Nautilus3 min read
When It’s Good to Be Antisocial
Bees are emblems of social complexity. Their honeycombs—intricate lattices dripping with food—house bustling hive members carrying out carefully orchestrated duties like defending against predators and coordinating resource collection. Much of our ow
Nautilus3 min read
The Spacetime of Fine Art: For the painter Matthew Phillips, past, present, and future meet at the tip of a brush.
This article is part of Nautilus’ month-long exploration of the science and art of time. Read the introduction here. I recently came across this diagram of time and space: It puts the observer at the intersection of two converging cones of light, one
Nautilus11 min read
What a Russian Smile Means: How culture and history make American and Russian smiles different.
When I approach Sofiya Campbell, she regards me and my exuberant smile carefully. It’s only after we shake hands formally that, with a shock of blonde hair lapping at her chin, she returns my smile. I feel some surprise: Russians, as the stereotype g
Nautilus5 min read
Scavenging Russia’s Rocket Graveyard Is Dangerous and Profitable
The Altai mountain region of Central Asia is a rugged and remote place. Right in the center of the continental landmass, it forms a crossroads between the Kazakh steppes, the snow forests of Siberia and the arid plains of Mongolia. It’s a landscape o
Nautilus2 min read
Climate Change Is Making Plants Behave Like Costco Shoppers
Plants have their own form of money: carbon dioxide. For decades, our fossil fuel industry has been artificially inflating their currency. What happens to plants during inflation—when CO2 levels in the atmosphere rise? The same thing that happens if
Nautilus3 min readHappiness
Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness—But Time Just Might Do It
While on vacation in distant locales, people often find that time moves quite differently than in the places they’re used to. In the tropics, we settle into the grooves of “island time” and relax thanks to a more leisurely rhythm. A trip to a big cit
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
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
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
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
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