Nautilus5 min citite
The Dark Side of Smart
Manipulative communication surrounds us. With misinformation and disinformation about the pandemic, “cheap” and “deep” fakes of elected officials, and targeted ads and emotionally exploitative social media algorithms, it can begin to feel like all co
Nautilus6 min cititeSociety
Believing in Monsters: David Livingstone Smith on the Subhuman
The Nazis called Jews rats and lice. White plantation owners called their Black slaves soulless animals. Pundits in Myanmar call Rohingya Muslims beasts, dogs, and maggots. Dehumanizing talk abounds in racist rhetoric worldwide. What do people believ
Nautilus10 min citite
Talking Is Throwing Fictional Worlds at One Another: A linguist exposes the inner truths about language.
A few years ago, David Adger was in his office at Queen Mary University of London, where he is a professor of linguistics, when the phone rang. It was a British TV company that wanted him to invent a language for monsters with no lips, just big teeth
Nautilus9 min citite
The Universe Knows Right from Wrong: A proponent of panpsychism argues moral truth is inherent in consciousness.
Most of us, most of the time, think and act as though there are facts about good and bad, right and wrong. We think the predatory behavior of Jeffrey Epstein was abhorrent, and that the political actions of Mahatma Gandhi were admirable. Moreover, we
Nautilus11 min cititeTech
Welcome To The Next Level Of Bullshit: The language algorithm GPT-3 continues our descent into a post-truth world.
One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit.” These are the opening words of the short book On Bullshit, written by the philosopher Harry Frankfurt. Fifteen years after the publication of this surprise bestseller
Nautilus6 min citite
Your Guide to the Many Meanings of Quantum Mechanics
Quantum mechanics is more than a century old, but physicists still fight over what it means. Most of the hand wringing and knuckle cracking in their debates goes back to an assumption known as “realism.” This is the idea that science describes someth
Nautilus6 min cititeScience
Why Mathematicians Should Stop Naming Things After Each Other: A past generation’s glory can be the next generation’s headache.
Any student of modern math must know what it feels like to drown in a well of telescoping terminology. For a high-profile example, let’s take the Calabi-Yau manifold, made famous by string theory. A Calabi-Yau manifold is a compact, complex Kähler ma
Nautilus7 min citite
An Ancient Site with Human Skulls on Display: Where our ancestors began to elevate themselves above nature.
Above our heads, the lights are going out. Instead of thousands of stars in the heavens, artificial light pollution means that in today’s cities we see only a few dozen. A recent global survey found that most people in Europe and the United States ca
Nautilus2 min citite
Take Our Virtual Trip to Mars: See where NASA’s Mars 2020 mission will go and what it may find.
There’s a surprising natural rhythm to visiting other worlds. If you sit down with pencil, paper, and enough of an aptitude for orbital dynamics you’ll soon discover that the easiest, most efficient trajectories to take us from Earth to a place like
Nautilus6 min citite
The Neurons That Appeared from Nowhere: How an accident led to what could be a medical revolution.
The scientists crowded around Yuanchao Xue’s petri dish. They couldn’t identify the cells that they were seeing. “We saw a lot of cells with spikes growing out of the cell surface,” said Xiang-Dong Fu, the research team’s leader at the University of
Nautilus7 min citite
How Pseudoscientists Get Away With It
The relentless and often unpredictable coronavirus has, among its many quirky terrors, dredged up once again the issue that will not die, science versus pseudoscience. The scientists, experts who would be the first to admit they are not infallible, a
Nautilus11 min cititePsychology
Are You Yoda or Darth Vader?: How to recognize your light and dark sides.
You might think that to become a better person, you should squelch your inner demons, suppress your darker impulses. That’s not quite right, according to Columbia University psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman. The Notorious S.B.K., as some like to call
Nautilus14 min citite
Schrödinger’s Cat When Nobody Is Looking: A solution to the measurement problem, black hole paradox, and other quantum puzzles.
Some of the most perplexing topics in physics revolve around quantum theory. The quandary is seen most famously in the Schrödinger’s cat question and the issue of information loss in black hole evaporation. Richard Feynman said, “I think that I can s
Nautilus6 min cititeSociety
No, Animals Do Not Have Genders
Animals do not have genders. And although this statement is universally accepted by those who study and theorize about gender, there is a lot of confusion about it among those who do not.  The confusion stems from the fact that males and females of m
Nautilus7 min citite
How Rising Education for Women Is Shaping the Global Population
In their 1968 book The Population Bomb, biologists Paul Ehrlich and his wife Anne foretold a Malthusian future of famine and disease if humanity failed to control its growth. The Ehrlichs’ warning made sense. At the time, the global population sat at
Nautilus9 min citite
Just Because It’s Natural Doesn’t Mean It’s Good: We are well advised to not lose track of evolution’s dark side.
What do anti-vaxxers and anti-GMO campaigners have in common? Underpinning both “antis” is a shared belief that because vaccines and GMOs are “unnatural,” they’re bad, which for many people—whatever their feelings about vaccines and GMOs—segues into
Nautilus9 min citite
The Bias In The Machine: Why facial recognition has led to false arrests.
In January, Robert Williams, an African-American man, was wrongfully arrested due to an inaccurate facial recognition algorithm, a computerized approach that analyzes human faces and identifies them by comparison to database images of known people. H
Nautilus5 min citite
The Universe Has Made Almost All the Stars It Will Ever Make: Black holes are cosmic dimmers.
Our human world is soaked in light. For starters there are the 100,000 trillion photons arriving every second at every square centimeter of Earth’s dayside surface, after racing here from the outer envelope of a natural giant thermonuclear reactor we
Nautilus5 min citite
3-D Printed Statues in Central Park Shine a Light on Women Scientists
Forged in metal or chiseled in stone, statues almost always depict dead men. A recent analysis of 12 major American cities turned up only six physical representations of women. Only one of 23 statues in New York’s Central Park depicts a female, and s
Nautilus3 min cititeScience
This Vision Experiment Resolved a Centuries-Old Philosophical Debate
Imagine you are looking at a manhole cover a few paces away on the street. It looks circular, but this is because of some impressive perceptual machinery in your mind. The pattern of light in your eye, on the retina, is, of course, in the shape of an
Nautilus7 min cititeSociety
We Don’t Have to Despair: Medical research director Eric Topol sees light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel.
The Twitter feed of Eric Topol, with nearly 300,000 followers, has become one of the go-to places for reliable updates on the COVID-19 pandemic. Topol is the founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, professor of molecular
Nautilus7 min cititeTech
The Anonymous Culture Cops of the Internet
Giant tech companies and governments largely determine what content is and isn’t allowed online, and their decisions impact billions of people: 55 percent of internet users worldwide open either social media or search engines to read or watch news.1
Nautilus8 min citite
How Life Could Continue to Evolve: On the origin of an interstellar species.
Once upon a time there was a molecule. That molecule, when it reacted with other molecules, set in motion a story that would result in the universe making another molecule almost exactly like that first one. Then that new molecule, when it reacted wi
Nautilus9 min citite
Sex Is Driven By The Impetus To Change: Hooking up is nature’s way for a species to overcome a bad genomic match.
Ask any biologist—sex seems like a waste. It’s costly: Think of the enormous energy that goes into producing a peacock’s spectacular fan-shaped tail, apparently meant to entice a female to mate with him. And it seems inefficient: Sex allows us to pas
Nautilus3 min citite
Sexless In The City
The pandemic is making its way into every corner of our lives—even the bedroom. While many parts of the world gradually return to normal, the United States still wrestles with the fallout of a mismanaged response to the new coronavirus. As 20 million
Nautilus13 min cititeSociety
Gender Is What You Make of It: Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, and the relationship that changed social science.
In July 1925, Margaret Mead, a doctoral student at Columbia University, set off on a cross-country train journey with a young faculty member, Ruth Benedict. Mead was bound for the west coast and then American Samoa, her first fieldwork expedition as
Nautilus5 min citite
The Hard Problem of Breakfast: How does it emerge from bacon and eggs?
Over the past century, scientists have unlocked many of the most profound secrets of bacon, eggs, oatmeal, and avocado toast, advancing our understanding of the day’s most important meal and ushering in a golden age of innovation.1 Yet there remains
Nautilus8 min cititePsychology
Your Romantic Ideals Don’t Predict Who Your Future Partner Will Be: Why birds of a feather don’t flock together for long.
Last year, I briefly ran an analogue dating service. I’ll never know what inspired me to start it—maybe my stable relationship had me missing the excitement of single life—but I loved the simplicity of it. There were no questionnaires, no algorithms,
Nautilus5 min cititeSociety
The Case for Rapid At-Home COVID Testing for Everyone
Imagine that every morning your child and her classmates take a COVID-19 test that offers results within a half hour, showing the transmission risk for that day. Those who might infect others stay home. The rest bring a time-stamped photo of their ne
Nautilus7 min citite
Eels Don’t Have Sex Until the Last Year of Their Life: Why eels are one strange fish.
Fishing for eels was a primal childhood experience for Patrik Svennson. On summer nights his father would take him down to a small stream near their home in Sweden. It was a magical place, surrounded by willow trees, with bats swooping through the mo
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