Nautilus14 min readScience
Brain Damage Saved His Music: After a chunk of his brain was removed, guitarist Pat Martino got his groove back.
Eight years ago, when neurosurgeon Marcelo Galarza saw images from jazz guitarist Pat Martino’s cerebral MRI, he was astonished. “I couldn’t believe how much of his left temporal lobe had been removed,” he said. Martino had brain surgery in 1980 to r
Nautilus7 min read
The Surprising Relativism of the Brain’s GPS: How new data is transforming our understanding of place cells.
The first pieces of the brain’s “inner GPS” started coming to light in 1970. In the laboratories of University College London, John O’Keefe and his student Jonathan Dostrovsky recorded the electrical activity of neurons in the hippocampus of freely m
Nautilus9 min read
Why Do So Many Scientists Want to be Filmmakers?: The problem with C.P. Snow’s famous two-cultures hypothesis.
For the past five years, Nautilus has asked scientists what they would be if they weren’t a scientist. I can now report what, above all, they want to be. “Film director,” says physicist David Deutsch. “A filmmaker,” says neuroscientist Antonio Damasi
Nautilus3 min read
Why Forests Give You Awe
Can you remember the time when you first felt awe, that feeling of being in the presence of something immense and mind-blowing? The natural world—with its domineering mountains, colossal trees, and tall waterfalls—is one of its main sources. I felt a
Nautilus5 min read
Your Speech Is Packed With Misunderstood, Unconscious Messages
Imagine standing up to give a speech in front of a critical audience. As you do your best to wax eloquent, someone in the room uses a clicker to conspicuously count your every stumble, hesitation, um and uh; once you’ve finished, this person loudly a
Nautilus3 min read
Why Teens Plea Guilty to Crimes They Didn’t Commit
In 1978, 18-year-old Roy Watford confronted a fateful decision. No, it wasn’t which college to attend—it was whether to plead guilty, while believing himself innocent, to the charge of raping a 12-year-old girl. His grandfather didn’t want him to ris
Nautilus6 min readScience
Dark Matter Is in Our DNA
Family Physics” may be the best episode of Public Radio’s long running show, This American Life. Its premise was simple. Import key concepts from the realms of quantum mechanics and cosmology and use them to illuminate the everyday world of parents,
Nautilus7 min readTech
Scary AI Is More “Fantasia” Than “Terminator”: Ex-Googler Nate Soares on AI’s alignment problem.
When Nate Soares psychoanalyzes himself, he sounds less Freudian than Spockian. As a boy, he’d see people acting in ways he never would “unless I was acting maliciously,” the former Google software engineer, who now heads the non-profit Machine Intel
Nautilus9 min read
The Girl Who Smelled Pink: A mother wonders if we are all born with synesthesia.
My tongue is orange!” my 2-year-old daughter shrieked after licking a dollop of clear hand sanitizer. More orange experiences followed. “Mommy, my ear feels orange,” she moaned when an earache struck. “Mitten off! It’s orange,” she whined from inside
Nautilus11 min readHappiness
Unhappiness Is a Palate-Cleanser: Why it’s impossible to always be happy.
Happiness, in one form or another, seems to be a common goal that most of us would like to attain. We often behave as though we might find a route to contentment—comfort, satiety, warmth, or some other reward—and be happy all the time if we could jus
Nautilus4 min readPsychology
Why Doing Good Makes It Easier to Be Bad
Oscar Wilde, the famed Irish essayist and playwright, had a gift, among other things, for counterintuitive aphorisms. In “The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” an 1891 article, he wrote, “Charity creates a multitude of sins.” So perhaps Wilde wouldn’t ha
Nautilus5 min read
How Sex Is Like Your Thermostat
Have you ever stopped to consider how sex is like a thermostat? Sex may not sit in a beige box on your wall (or it might, no judging) but there are some striking similarities. The common ingredient is feedback. Both sex and your thermostat depend on
Nautilus3 min readSelf-Improvement
You Can Have Emotions You Don’t Feel
What does it mean to have an emotion? It seems obvious that having one means feeling it. If you’re happy but don’t know it, in what sense could you actually be happy? Such reasoning seemed sound to William James. Conscious feeling, he thought, was p
Nautilus18 min read
Heredity Beyond the Gene: What you pass on to your kids isn’t always in your genetic code.
The idea that genes encode all the heritable features of living things has been a fundamental tenet of genetics and evolutionary biology for many years, but this assumption has always coexisted uncomfortably with the messy findings of empirical resea
Nautilus12 min readScience
It’s Time to Make Human-Chimp Hybrids: The humanzee is both scientifically possible and morally defensible.
It is a bit of a stretch, but by no means impossible or even unlikely that a hybrid or a chimera combining a human being and a chimpanzee could be produced in a laboratory. After all, human and chimp (or bonobo) share, by most estimates, roughly 99 p
Nautilus8 min read
This Is Where Your Childhood Memories Went: Your brain needs to forget in order to grow.
We called them fairy rocks. They were just colorful specks of gravel—the kind you might buy for a fish tank—mixed into my preschool’s playground sand pit. But my classmates and I endowed them with magical properties, hunted them like treasure, and ca
Nautilus3 min readPsychology
This Neural Net Hallucinates Sheep
If you’ve been on the internet today, you’ve probably interacted with a neural network. They’re a type of machine learning algorithm that’s used for everything from language translation to finance modeling. One of their specialties is image recogniti
Nautilus7 min read
The Point of Men’s Cults
One surprising thing about secret societies is how visible they are. In the ethnographic record, they can be found almost everywhere. They’re particularly well documented across Melanesia,1 the Amazon,2 and West Africa.3 There are mixed-sex,4 and all
Nautilus5 min read
Can Many-Worlds Theory Rescue Us From Boltzmann Brains?
Can you trust the world to be consistent? Scientists don’t have much choice. They need to assume that objective observations of the universe can be trusted. This assumption has allowed us to develop powerful theories about the inner workings of the c
Nautilus8 min read
Here’s Why Our Postwar “Long Peace” Is Fragile
You could be forgiven for balking at the idea that our post-World War II reality represents a “Long Peace.” The phrase, given the prevalence of violent conflict worldwide, sounds more like how Obi-wan Kenobi might describe the period “before the dark
Nautilus15 min read
A Mental Disease by Any Other Name: For Frank Russell, reinterpreting his schizophrenia as shamanism helped his symptoms.
It starts without warning—or rather, the warnings are there, but your ability to detect them exists only in hindsight. First you’re sitting in the car with your son, then he tells you: “I cannot find my old self again.” You think, well, teenagers say
Nautilus8 min readPsychology
Why Women Choose Differently at Work: Psychologist Susan Pinker on the role of choice in gender differences in the workplace.
If you were to predict the future on the basis of school achievement alone, the world would be a matriarchy.” Susan Pinker, who wrote that sentence almost a decade ago in her book The Sexual Paradox: Extreme Men, Gifted Women, and the Real Gender Gap
Nautilus3 min readPsychology
Why Is There So Much Hate for the Word “Moist”?
A lot of people don’t like the word “moist.” Several Facebook groups are dedicated to it, one with over 3,000 likes, New Yorker readers overwhelmingly selected it as the word to eliminate from the dictionary, and Jimmy Fallon sarcastically thanked it
Nautilus8 min readSelf-Improvement
When You Listen to Music, You’re Never Alone: Technology hasn’t diminished the social quality of listening to music.
On a late spring evening in 2015, at South Street Seaport, a square on the southern tip of Manhattan, hundreds of people slipped on headphones and slipped into their own worlds. It was a clear night, perfect for a stroll, but attendees weren’t intere
Nautilus8 min read
The City At The Center Of The Cosmos: Robots and lasers are uncovering an ancient, sacred geography.
Some 48 kilometers north of Mexico City, in the Basin of Mexico, towers the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacán. This massive 71-meter high structure makes you feel like a speck of dust in the presence of the gods. And that is exactly what the builders
Nautilus6 min read
Why New York City Needs Its Own Cryptocurrency: The case for making money local again.
Money used to be local. The first non-precious metal coins emerged as a natural consequence of trade, and were seldom accepted as currency outside the city-state on the Grecian coast that minted them. Then nation-states emerged and central banking wa
Nautilus5 min readScience
Loneliness Is a Warning Sign to Be Social
In 2002, a group of adults aged 50 and over answered a series of questions about their physical and mental health. A subset of the questions went as follows. How often do you feel … 1) A lack of companionship 2) Left out 3) Isolated from others Th
Nautilus5 min read
The Case for Making Cities Out of Wood
Last month, Dan Doctoroff, the C.E.O. of Sidewalk Labs, Google’s sibling company under Alphabet, answered a question about what his company “actually does” during a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session, replying, “The short answer is: We want to build th
Nautilus8 min read
How We Make Gods: Taking lessons from the rise and fall of divinity in online games.
From the moment he arrived, Egor lived for mayhem. The time was 1982, and the place was the first online game world, called MUD (short for Multi-User Dungeon). Before Egor there had been duels, pranks, and the occasional fire-breathing dragon, all am
Nautilus6 min readTech
Waiting For the Robot Rembrandt: What needs to happen for artificial intelligence to make fine art.
The cellist Jan Vogler famously claimed that art is what makes us human. But what if machines start making art too? Here’s an example of a piece of art made by an artificial intelligence (AI): On the right side of the picture is a computer running an
…Or Discover Something New