Nautilus6 min readTech
Most Tech Today Would be Frivolous to Ancient Scientists
Surrounded by advanced achievements in medicine, space exploration, and robotics, people can be forgiven for thinking our time boasts the best technology. So I was startled last year to hear Sarah Stroup, a professor of classics at the University of
Nautilus7 min readScience
When Beauty Gets In The Way Of Science: Insisting that new ideas must be beautiful blocks progress in particle physics.
The biggest news in particle physics is no news. In March, one of the most important conferences in the field, Rencontres de Moriond, took place. It is an annual meeting at which experimental collaborations present preliminary results. But the recent
Nautilus9 min readScience
Why Europa Is the Place to Go for Alien Life: NASA is scheduled to probe the Jovian moon in 2023.
I have seen the future of space exploration, and it looks like a cue ball covered with brown scribbles. I am talking about Europa, the 1,940-mile-wide, nearly white, and exceedingly smooth satellite of Jupiter. It is an enigmatic world that is, in m
Nautilus9 min readScience
How Does Turbulence Get Started?: The high stakes of solving one of science’s most obstinate problems.
The water is always running in Björn Hof’s laboratory. Like a Zen water fountain, it gently flows over the top of a reservoir into a tube, and from there into a glass pipe 15 meters long, but thinner than a glass thermometer. To keep the flow as smo
Nautilus3 min readPsychology
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
Nautilus5 min readScience
Viruses Have a Secret, Altruistic Social Life
Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog. Social organisms come in all shapes and sizes, from the obviously gregarious ones like mammals and birds down to the more cryptic socializers like bacteria. Evolutionary biologists o
Nautilus7 min readScience
The Strangeness of Black Holes: From quantum information to the Schwarzschild radius.
This essay is one of the five winners in the 2019 writing competition held by the Black Hole Initiative at Harvard University. “The Black Hole Initiative offers a unique environment for thinking about the topic of black holes more creatively and comp
Nautilus4 min readScience
First Black-Hole Image: It’s Not Looks That Count
The Italian 14th-century painter, Giotto di Bondone, when asked by the Pope to prove his talent, is said to have swung his arm and drawn a perfect circle. But geometric perfection is limited by the medium. Inspect a canvas closely enough, and every c
Nautilus6 min readScience
How Black Holes Nearly Ruined Time: Quantum mechanics rescued our understanding of past and future from the black hole.
This essay is one of the five winners in the 2019 writing competition held by the Black Hole Initiative at Harvard University. “The Black Hole Initiative offers a unique environment for thinking about the topic of black holes more creatively and comp
Nautilus6 min readScience
How Supermassive Black Holes Were Discovered: Astronomers turned a fantastic concept into reality.
This essay is one of the five winners in the 2019 writing competition held by the Black Hole Initiative at Harvard University. “The Black Hole Initiative offers a unique environment for thinking about the topic of black holes more creatively and comp
Nautilus7 min readPsychology
Paradox Is Illuminating the Black Hole: How reconciling opposites is driving the science of black holes forward.
This essay is one of the five winners in the 2019 writing competition held by the Black Hole Initiative at Harvard University. “The Black Hole Initiative offers a unique environment for thinking about the topic of black holes more creatively and comp
Nautilus9 min read
The Beckoning of the Ice Worlds: We’ve been looking for life on Earth-like planets. Will Europa teach us better?
I have seen the future of space exploration, and it looks like a cue ball covered with brown scribbles. I am talking about Europa, the 1,940-mile-wide, nearly white, and exceedingly smooth satellite of Jupiter. It is an enigmatic world that is, in m
Nautilus3 min readScience
The Day Feynman Worked Out Black-Hole Radiation on My Blackboard
The amazing image of a black hole unveiled Wednesday, along with data from the Event Horizon Telescope, may not substantiate Stephen Hawking’s famous theory that radiation, an example of spontaneous emission at the quantum level, is emitted by a blac
Nautilus6 min readPsychology
In Quantum Games, There’s No Way to Play the Odds
Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog. In the 1950s, four mathematically minded U.S. Army soldiers used primitive electronic calculators to work out the optimal strategy for playing blackjack. Their results, later publish
Nautilus6 min read
Nassim Taleb’s Case Against Nate Silver Is Bad Math
Since the midterm elections, a feud has been raging on Twitter between Nate Silver, founder of FiveThirtyEight, and Nassim Nicholas Taleb, hedge-fund-manager-turned-mathematical-philosopher and author of The Black Swan. It began, late last year, with
Nautilus2 min readScience
A Precursor Piece to DNA Was Found in Star Material
April—National Poetry Month—prompted me to reread some of the work of English-American poet W.H. Auden. In “Funeral Blues,” famously recited in Four Weddings and a Funeral, Auden pairs musings on the cosmos with those on the human condition. The last
Nautilus12 min readScience
The Dam Problem in the West: On a raft trip down the Green River, a writer faces her environmental preconceptions.
I am paddling through the silt of the Green River, the largest, most remote, and least developed tributary of the Colorado River, which brings water to nearly 40 million people across the western United States. It’s crucial, it’s overused, and it’s a
Nautilus9 min readPsychology
The Mystery of Time’s Arrow: This simple model of the universe shows how one natural law points toward order.
As conscious beings, we are constantly aware of the relentless march of time. You can make an egg into an omelet, but you can’t turn an omelet back into an egg. Dropped glasses shatter and do not reassemble themselves. Above all, we age and become de
Nautilus8 min readSelf-Improvement
Why Your Brain Hates Slowpokes: The high speed of society has jammed your internal clock.
Not long ago I diagnosed myself with the recently identified condition of sidewalk rage. It’s most pronounced when it comes to a certain friend who is a slow walker. Last month, as we sashayed our way to dinner, I found myself biting my tongue, think
Nautilus3 min readScience
When the Link Between Space and Time Will Be Intuitive
The celebrated English writer Ian McEwan has, in his stories and essays, shown a fondness for science. For two years he shadowed a neurosurgeon to write his 2005 novel Saturday, and his 2010 novel Solar focused on a Nobel Prize-winning physicist’s so
Nautilus3 min read
The Self Is Other People
An oft-repeated line in A Series of Unfortunate Events, a Netflix TV show recently adapted from a book series, feels apt for the moment. “In a world too often governed by corruption and arrogance,” it goes, “it can be difficult to stay true to one’s
Nautilus10 min read
A Magician Explains Why We See What’s Not There: Our brain is constantly picturing what the future should be.
Norman Triplett was a pioneer in the psychology of magic, and back in 1900, he published a wonderful scientific paper on magic that, among many other things, discusses an experiment on an intriguing magical illusion. A magician sat at a table in fron
Nautilus8 min read
Glaciers May Have Covered the Entire Planet—Twice
This story was originally published by Knowable Magazine. The Earth has endured many changes in its 4.5-billion-year history, with some tumultuous twists and turns along the way. One especially dramatic episode appears to have come between 700 millio
Nautilus7 min read
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
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