Nautilus7 min readScience
Aging Is a Communication Breakdown: Genes that can’t express themselves may be hallmarks of cancer.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the 18th-century poet and philosopher, believed life was hardwired with archetypes, or models, which instructed its development. Yet he was fascinated with how life could, at the same time, be so malleable. One day, while
Nautilus14 min read
Hallucinogen Therapy Is Coming: How shrooms can spring people from fears and destructive habits.
Three years later Daniel Kreitman still chokes up when he talks about what he saw, and how it changed him. Kreitman, an upholsterer by trade, had taken psilocybin, a hallucinogen derived from mushrooms, in a trial at Johns Hopkins University School o
Nautilus12 min read
How to Improve Political Forecasts: With a better understanding of probability, we won’t be misled.
The 2020 Democratic candidates are out of the gate and the pollsters have the call! Bernie Sanders is leading by two lengths with Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren right behind, but Cory Booker and Beto O’Rourke are coming on fast! The political hor
Nautilus3 min read
Fear Is Good for the Forest
In 2011, the renowned evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson paid a visit to Gorongosa National Park, in Mozambique. It is one of the few places in the world where you can get a feel for the Great African Rift Valley, humanity’s evolutionary home. After
Nautilus10 min read
How Designers Engineer Luck Into Video Games: The responsibilities and challenges of programmed luck.
On Sept. 16, 2007, a Japanese YouTuber who goes by the handle “Computing Aesthetic” uploaded a forty-eight-second-long video with the deafening title, “ULTRA MEGA SUPER LUCKY SHOT.” The video shows a high-scoring shot in Peggle, a vastly popular vide
Nautilus9 min read
Wikipedia And The Wisdom Of Polarized Crowds: A lesson in how to break out of filter bubbles.
In 2013, James Evans, a University of Chicago sociologist and computational scientist, launched a study to see if science forged a bridge across the political divide. Did conservatives and liberals at least agree on biology and physics and economics?
Nautilus5 min readScience
Galaxy Simulations Offer a New Solution to the Fermi Paradox
Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog. As far as anyone knows, we have always been alone. It’s just us on this pale blue dot, “home to everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of,” as Carl Sagan so me
Nautilus14 min read
Cloudy With a Chance of War: His weather forecasts changed the world. Could his predictions of war?
The burial detail, which had come for the corpses in the pigpen, was surprised. The “dead” were getting up and speaking English. Qu’est-ce que c’est? Ah, they were an ambulance crew. British volunteers, in the trenches with the French Army on the Wes
Nautilus10 min read
How Imagination Will Save Our Cities: Scientists might need to take a cue from artists to adapt our cities for climate change.
In Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2017 science-fiction novel New York 2140, the city of the future has become a vertical super-Venice, after being flooded by rising seas caused by global warming melting the Arctic ice caps.1 While the lower stories of many o
Nautilus6 min readTech
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
Nautilus7 min read
How the Universe Remembers Information: A “memory matrix” might solve Stephen Hawking’s black-hole paradox.
It was one of the great missed connections of physics. In 1965 a particle theorist derived a formula for the collision of elementary particles. Twenty years later two gravitation theorists, using completely different techniques, derived a formula for
Nautilus10 min readScience
The Math That Takes Newton Into the Quantum World: How a math professor learned to stop worrying and love algebraic geometry.
In my 50s, too old to become a real expert, I have finally fallen in love with algebraic geometry. As the name suggests, this is the study of geometry using algebra. Around 1637, René Descartes laid the groundwork for this subject by taking a plane,
Nautilus4 min read
How Our Universe Could Emerge as a Hologram
Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog. The fabric of space and time is widely believed by physicists to be emergent, stitched out of quantum threads according to an unknown pattern. And for 22 years, they’ve had a toy mod
Nautilus4 min read
The Case for Being Skeptical of Moral Outrage
The episode last month at the Lincoln Memorial, involving the boys from Covington Catholic High School, and a Native American man, was like so many Internet-born controversies before it: It spawned vituperative reactions, reactions to the reactions,
Nautilus5 min read
What Dark Matter Needs Are New Kinds of Experiments: After 30 years and no results, it’s time to support more entrepreneurial physicists.
Three decades have passed since the first direct search for dark matter, a modest attempt at recycling the data from a particle detector originally built for another purpose. This work was a rapid response to a proposal by theoretical physicists Mark
Nautilus9 min read
Why We Stink at Tackling Climate Change: Global threats result from human culture outrunning human biology.
What’s wrong with us? Not us Democrats, Republicans, or Americans. Rather, what’s wrong with our species, Homo sapiens? If human beings are as Hamlet suggested, “noble in reason, infinite in faculty,” then why are we facing so many problems? In many
Nautilus6 min readScience
The Impossible Mathematics of the Real World: Near-miss math provides exact representations of almost-right answers.
Using stiff paper and transparent tape, Craig Kaplan assembles a beautiful roundish shape that looks like a Buckminster Fuller creation or a fancy new kind of soccer ball. It consists of four regular dodecagons (12-sided polygons with all angles and
Nautilus2 min read
Watch and See: The Medium Really Is the Message: How communication technologies shaped the arts and sciences.
Cesar Hidalgo, director of the Collective Learning group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, would like you to know that Marshall McLuhan was right. And he has the datasets to prove it. In a new paper, “How the Medium Shapes the M
Nautilus8 min read
Why We Should Think Twice About Colonizing Space
There are lots of reasons why colonizing space seems compelling. The popular astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson argues that it would stimulate the economy and inspire the next generation of scientists. Elon Musk, who founded SpaceX, argues that “there is
Nautilus6 min read
When Gravity Breaks Down
Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity is more than a hundred years old, but still it gives physicists headaches. Not only are Einstein’s equations hideously difficult to solve, they also clash with physicists’ other most-cherished achievemen
Nautilus7 min readScience
How To Get Close To A Black Hole: Want to understand the most mysterious object in the universe? Make one at home.
An Introduction to the Black Hole Institute Fittingly, the Black Hole Initiative (BHI) was founded 100 years after Karl Schwarzschild solved Einstein’s equations for general relativity—a solution that described a black hole decades before the first a
Nautilus8 min read
The Case For Leaving City Rats Alone: A Vancouver rat study is showing us how pest control can backfire.
Kaylee Byers crouches in a patch of urban blackberries early one morning this June, to check a live trap in one of Vancouver’s poorest areas, the V6A postal code. Her first catch of the day is near a large blue dumpster on “Block 5,” in front of a 20
Nautilus14 min readTech
Why Misinformation Is About Who You Trust, Not What You Think: Two philosophers of science diagnose our age of fake news.
I can’t see them. Therefore they’re not real.” From which century was this quote drawn? Not a medieval one. The utterance emerged on Sunday from Fox & Friends presenter Pete Hegseth, who was referring to … germs. The former Princeton University under
Nautilus6 min read
New Evidence For The Strange Geometry Of Thought
In 2014, the Swedish philosopher and cognitive scientist Peter Gärdenfors went to Krakow, Poland, for a conference on the mind. He was to lecture at Jagiellonian University, courtesy of the Copernicus Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, on his theo
Nautilus14 min readScience
Gustav Klimt in the Brain Lab: What is neuroscience doing to art?
The neuroscientist was in the art gallery and there were many things to learn. So Eric Kandel excitedly guided me through the bright lobby of the Neue Galerie New York, a museum of fin de siècle Austrian and German art, located in a Beaux-Art mansion
Nautilus7 min read
How Supermassive Black Holes Were Discovered: Astronomers turned a fantastic concept into reality.
An Introduction to the Black Hole Institute Fittingly, the Black Hole Initiative (BHI) was founded 100 years after Karl Schwarzschild solved Einstein’s equations for general relativity—a solution that described a black hole decades before the first a
Nautilus8 min read
Impossible Cookware and Other Triumphs of the Penrose Tile: Infinite patterns that never repeat have moved from fantasy to reality.
In 1974, Roger Penrose, a British mathematician, created a revolutionary set of tiles that could be used to cover an infinite plane in a pattern that never repeats. In 1982, Daniel Shechtman, an Israeli crystallographer, discovered a metallic alloy w
Nautilus7 min read
Paradox Is Illuminating the Black Hole: How reconciling opposites is driving the science of black holes forward.
An Introduction to the Black Hole Institute Fittingly, the Black Hole Initiative (BHI) was founded 100 years after Karl Schwarzschild solved Einstein’s equations for general relativity—a solution that described a black hole decades before the first a
Nautilus6 min read
The Real Secret of Youth Is Complexity: Our physiological processes become increasingly simple as we age.
Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!” Henry David Thoreau exhorted in his 1854 memoir Walden, in which he extolled the virtues of a “Spartan-like” life. Saint Thomas Aquinas preached that simplicity brings one closer to God. Isaac Newton believed it l
Nautilus10 min readScience
What Impossible Meant to Feynman: Physicist Paul Steinhardt remembers a great mentor and scientist.
Impossible! The word resonated throughout the large lecture hall. I had just finished describing a revolutionary concept for a new type of matter that my graduate student, Dov Levine, and I had invented. The Caltech lecture room was packed with scien
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