Nautilus5 min read
12 Mind-Bending Perceptual Illusions
Everyone loves a good optical illusion. Most people first come across them as kids, and are instantly transfixed. And most of us never quite outgrow them. Even cats seem to enjoy the occasional optical illusion! The good news, then, for humans and no
Nautilus17 min read
The Rise of Cancer Immunotherapy: How Jim Allison saved a whole world.
Every time Jim meets a patient, he cries,” Padmanee said to The New York Times in 2016. “Well not every time,” Jim added. Jim Allison and Padmanee Sharma work together at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, having met in 2005 and married
Nautilus6 min read
The Selfish Dataome: Does the data we produce serve us, or vice versa?
You’ve heard the argument before: Genes are the permanent aristocracy of evolution, looking after themselves as fleshy hosts come and go. That’s the thesis of a book that, last year, was christened the most influential science book of all time: Richa
Nautilus12 min readSelf-Improvement
Why We Still Need Monsters: Stephen T. Asma on what haunts us.
It doesn’t seem enough to call Stephen Paddock, who killed 58 innocent people in Las Vegas in October 2017, a monster. The term has lost its power to evoke the unimaginable. The beasts that terrorized the mental lives of our ancestors have been tamed
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
Nautilus13 min read
Hitler And The Naming Of The Shrew: When zoologists tried to change the words for bat and shrew, the Führer was not amused.
On March 3, 1942, a brief item with a rather peculiar headline appeared tucked away in the Berliner Morgenpost newspaper. “Fledermaus No Longer!” the bold letters proclaimed. The following short text was printed underneath: At its 15th General Assemb
Nautilus13 min readSelf-Improvement
Why Doesn’t Ancient Fiction Talk About Feelings?: Literature’s evolution has reflected and spurred the growing complexity of society.
Reading medieval literature, it’s hard not to be impressed with how much the characters get done—as when we read about King Harold doing battle in one of the Sagas of the Icelanders, written in about 1230. The first sentence bristles with purposeful
Nautilus3 min readScience
Can Analogies Reveal the Laws of Physics?
Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog. Hoping to gain insight into domains of nature that lie beyond experimental reach—the interiors of black holes, the subtleties of the quantum realm, the Big Bang—physicists are experi
Nautilus5 min read
Are Black Holes Actually Dark Energy Stars?
What does the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way look like? Early next year, we might find out. The Event Horizon Telescope—really a virtual telescope with an effective diameter of the Earth—has been pointing at Sagittarius A* for
Nautilus9 min read
Have Balloons and Ice Broken the Standard Model?: How five anomalous events at two neutrino experiments provide evidence for supersymmetry.
For something called the Standard Model, the foundational theory of particle physics is confronting a lengthy list of non-standard data. Neutrino oscillations, dark matter and energy, the imbalance between matter and anti-matter, quantum gravity—ther
Nautilus9 min read
So Can We Terraform Mars or Not?: Elon Musk wants to engineer Mars’ atmosphere. Can he?
It seemed inevitable that Elon Musk would eventually get into a Twitter war over whether Mars can be terraformed. When you’re on Twitter, he told Businessweek in July, you’re “in meme war land.” “And so essentially if you attack me,” he said, “it is
Nautilus9 min readTech
Why Futurism Has a Cultural Blindspot: We predicted cell phones, but not women in the workplace.
In early 1999, during the halftime of a University of Washington basketball game, a time capsule from 1927 was opened. Among the contents of this portal to the past were some yellowing newspapers, a Mercury dime, a student handbook, and a building pe
Nautilus3 min readScience
Why Mathematicians Can’t Find the Hay in a Haystack
Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine‘s Abstractions blog. The first time I heard a mathematician use the phrase, I was sure he’d misspoken. We were on the phone, talking about the search for shapes with certain properties, and he said, “It’
Nautilus10 min read
Can a Cat Have an Existential Crisis?: Treating my cat for depression caused me to question the state of anxiety in animals and us.
When I first adopted Lucas nine years ago from a cat rescue organization in Washington, D.C., his name was Puck. “Because he’s mischievous,” his foster mother said. Although we changed the name, her analysis proved correct. Unlike his brother Tip, wh
Nautilus13 min read
This Is Urban Wildlife Biology: Minks in TV graveyards, and other stories of Chicago’s hidden animals.
We are at the midpoint of our journey. Seth twists the key, turning the truck ignition off, and we step out and walk the few remaining feet to Tong’s Tiki Hut. The aroma of cooked rice wafts toward us. We take our seats underneath yellowed mood light
Nautilus11 min readLeadership & Mentoring
Your IQ Matters Less Than You Think: In studies of children and historical figures, IQ falls short as a measure of success.
People too often forget that IQ tests haven’t been around that long. Indeed, such psychological measures are only about a century old. Early versions appeared in France with the work of Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon in 1905. However, these tests di
Nautilus5 min read
The Case for Making Cities Out of Wood
Earlier this year, 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 b
Nautilus4 min readScience
A Short History of the Missing Universe
Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine‘s Abstractions blog. The cosmos plays hide-and-seek. Sometimes, though, even when astronomers have a hunch for where their prey might hide, it can take them decades of searching to confirm it. The case o
Nautilus5 min read
How Doctors Use Poetry: A Harvard medical student describes how he is learning to both treat and heal.
One part of the Hippocratic Oath, the vow taken by physicians, requires us to “remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.”  When I, a
Nautilus8 min read
The Curious Case of the Bog Bodies: Why do so many corpses found in Europe’s peat bogs show signs of violent death?
Who will say ‘corpse’ to his vivid cast? Who will say ‘body’ to his opaque repose? —Seamus Heaney, “Grauballe Man” (1975) One Saturday in the spring of 1950, brothers Viggo and Emil Højgaard from the small village of Tollund, in Denmark, were cutti
Nautilus9 min read
The Fourth Copernican Revolution: Is our universe one island in an archipelago?
The sun formed 4.5 billion years ago, but it’s got around 6 billion years more before its fuel runs out. It will then flare up, engulfing the inner planets. And the expanding universe will continue—perhaps forever—destined to become ever colder, ever
Nautilus4 min read
Why Did the Ancients Bury Their Dogs like Family Members?
As a kid, when my pet turtle died we had a funeral—of course—and buried him in the backyard. When the family dog passed, his remains were cremated and placed in an urn on the mantle. In today’s society, mortuary rites for animals are so common, Yelp
Nautilus10 min read
Fine Tuning Is Just Fine: Why it’s not such a problem that the Large Hadron Collider hasn’t found new physics.
It is hard to overstate the anticipation that preceded the opening of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) 10 years ago. Smashing protons together at energies well above those produced at any previous particle accelerator, the LHC seemed capable of vindic
Nautilus11 min readScience
Is It Time to Get Rid of Time?: The crisis inside the physics of time.
Poets often think of time as a river, a free-flowing stream that carries us from the radiant morning of birth to the golden twilight of old age. It is the span that separates the delicate bud of spring from the lush flower of summer. Physicists think
Nautilus10 min read
Love, Death, and Other Forgotten Traditions: What we don’t tell our children.
The science-fiction writer Robert Heinlein once wrote, “Each generation thinks it invented sex.” He was presumably referring to the pride each generation takes in defining its own sexual practices and ethics. But his comment hit the mark in another s
Nautilus5 min read
Why Joel Osteen, “The Smiling Preacher,” Is So Darn Appealing
It’s hard to quantify charisma, but by any measure Joel Osteen has some pretty impressive stats. Every week, the man some call “The Smiling Preacher,” draws an estimated 43,500 individuals to his Lakewood Church, which he moved into a former professi
Nautilus12 min read
Geology Makes You Time-Literate: A scientist tells us how her field instills timefulness.
As a geologist and professor I speak and write rather cavalierly about eras and eons. One of the courses I routinely teach is “History of Earth and Life,” a survey of the 4.5-billion-year saga of the entire planet—in a 10-week trimester. But as a hum
Nautilus13 min read
Los Angeles Should Be Buried: A day in the war between the city and its mountains.
The San Gabriel Mountains are waging war on Los Angeles and Ed Heinlein’s chainsaw is screaming in the late afternoon sun. It’s January 2015 and Heinlein, who has a friendly paunch and paws sheathed in mud-stained work gloves, is carving up avocado t
Nautilus14 min readSelf-Improvement
A Cardiologist’s 9/11 Story: From trauma to arrhythmia, and back again.
The morgue was inside Brooks Brothers. I was standing at the corner of Church and Dey, right next to the rubble of the World Trade Center, when a policeman shouted that doctors were needed at the menswear emporium inside the building at One Liberty P
Nautilus4 min readTech
Should You Get an AI Nanny for Your Child?
Mattel’s AI nanny, called Aristotle, recently gained the notorious distinction of being subject to a bipartisan protest in the US Congress. Plus, there was a petition against it with over 15,000 signatures. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhoo
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