Nautilus8 min lettiBiology
Our Mind-Boggling Sense of Smell: How your brain identifies an aroma from its minute molecular traces is a marvel.
You might say the brain is our most photogenic organ. We are, thanks to modern neuroimaging, living amid an explosion of brain data. Just consider: We can zoom into the brain’s connectivity to the most minute, molecular level. We can trace individual
Nautilus6 min lettiPsychology
The Neurology of Flow States: Why time vanishes when you’re jamming.
Don’t look at the clock! Now tell me: How much time has passed since you first logged on to your computer today? Time may be a property of physics, but it is also a property of the mind, which ultimately makes it a product of the brain. Time measures
Nautilus11 min lettiPsychology
Your Brain Makes You a Different Person Every Day: Our brains are wired for new sensations.
Brain “plasticity” is one of the great discoveries in modern science, but neuroscientist David Eagleman thinks the word is misleading. Unlike plastic, which molds and then retains a particular shape, the brain’s physical structure is continually in f
Nautilus5 min letti
The Psychic Toll of Severing the Hunter-Prey Relationship
A productive hunt is a violent act—success requiring as it does the dismemberment of a living creature. Yet, to focus alone on the concluding moment, the bloody brutality of the killing itself, risks obscuring a more subtle and significant meaning to
Nautilus6 min lettiPsychology
It Pays to Be a Space Case
It’s a feeling we all know well—you’re at a work meeting or in the middle of a book, when you realize that you have no idea what just happened. Without noticing it, your thoughts have drifted away from you.  Like many people, I’ve found my mind wande
Nautilus9 min lettiNature
Kim Stanley Robinson Holds Out Hope: The science-fiction author on why climate change doesn’t have to be humanity’s final story.
There’s something about stories. We cherish them. Teach them. Pass them down to the next generation. Stories create a sacred space that humans have always respected. And science fiction takes us one step further. It gives us the space to imagine what
Nautilus9 min letti
Los Angeles Is Gone: In an excerpt from his new novel, the author drowns La La Land.
I was in my apartment in Sierra Madre, which is a little town lined by tall palm trees, wedged between Pasadena and Azusa, set right at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains, which tower over that part of LA like a brown corrugated wall, pretty ugly
Nautilus9 min lettiNature
The Greening of Antarctica: Few have witnessed the impact of global warming more closely than this scientist.
If Antarctica had a voice, it would be Jim McClintock. The marine biologist has been narrating the story of the changing continent for the past 30 years. A professor at the University of Alabama, McClintock studies the tiny marine invertebrates and c
Nautilus4 min lettiSelf-Management
Does Social Media Poison Everything?
The power of platforms like Facebook and Google has escaped the control of the optimistic technocrats at their helm. And it is wreaking havoc in ways that we lab rats have only just begun to understand. At least, that’s the case Netflix’s new documen
Nautilus4 min lettiMedical
Thank You for the 7 PM Clapping, But Camaraderie Is Needed More Than Ever
COVID has reached peak unsexiness. The thought occurs to me as I scroll through previously lively physician COVID forums where research, clinical quandaries, and professional anxieties were plentiful in March. Tonight, they are dormant. Even as the v
Nautilus4 min letti
Why We Should Eat Crickets. And Other Bug Ideas
In his new book, The Butterfly Effect: Insects and the Making of the Modern World, Edward Melillo calls some insects “little laboratories,” the various productions of which have supported our material world for millennia. The “butterfly effect” refer
Nautilus7 min letti
How Psilocybin Can Save the Environment: To preserve nature, we need to open our minds to it.
Last week, biologist and writer Merlin Sheldrake introduced Nautilus readers to Paul Stamets, a mycologist who preaches that mushrooms can save the world. “Give him an insoluble problem and he’ll toss you a new way it can be decomposed, poisoned, or
Nautilus7 min letti
The Human Error Darwin Inspired: How the demotion of Homo sapiens led to environmental destruction.
Since its publication in 1859, Darwin’s On the Origin of Species has been read as a blow to the hubris of Homo sapiens. We aren’t God’s final and most perfect creation, after all, but merely one more product of the same evolutionary process that gave
Nautilus13 min lettiBiology
When Evolution Is Infectious: How “probiotic epidemics” help wildlife—and us—survive.
Eugene Rosenberg, a coral microbiologist, ran into a rather large problem in the early 2000s. While working at the University of Tel Aviv in Israel, he discovered that he couldn’t replicate his own breakthrough findings from a decade earlier. What se
Nautilus9 min lettiTechnology & Engineering
Build Your Own Artificial Neural Network. It’s Easy!
The first artificial neural networks weren’t abstractions inside a computer, but actual physical systems made of whirring motors and big bundles of wire. Here I’ll describe how you can build one for yourself using SnapCircuits, a kid’s electronics ki
Nautilus11 min lettiBiology
Junk Food Is Bad For Plants, Too: How a steady diet of fertilizers has turned crops into couch potatoes.
Most of us are familiar with the much-maligned Western diet and its mainstay of processed food products found in the middle aisles of the grocery store. Some of us beeline for the salty chips and others for the sugar-packed cereals. But we are not th
Nautilus8 min letti
The Fungal Evangelist Who Would Save the Bees: How mushrooms could solve colony collapse disorder.
If anyone knows about going fungal, it’s Paul Stamets. I have often wondered whether he has been infected with a fungus that fills him with mycological zeal—and an irrepressible urge to persuade humans that fungi are keen to partner with us in new an
Nautilus12 min lettiBiology
The Importance Of Face Masks And The Tragedy Of Downplaying Them: An infectious disease expert brings us up to date on the science of wearing a face mask.
Let’s start all over again about face masks. The noise about them is a Judas Priest blare. Can we turn down the volume for a moment? OK, good, thanks. Now, let’s talk about their value. Why there is such discord about them. After all, what has the cl
Nautilus3 min lettiPsychology
People Are Discovering The Joy Of Actually Talking On A Phone
I’m one of the lucky ones. The onset of this pandemic has put a strain on the sanity of many people forced to isolate themselves from friends and family. If you live alone, or with roommates who you aren’t close with, you’ve likely had a harder time
Nautilus5 min lettiIntelligence (AI) & Semantics
At The Math Olympiad, Computers Prepare To Go For The Gold
Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine‘s Abstractions blog. The 61st International Mathematical Olympiad, or IMO, began yesterday. It may go down in history for at least two reasons: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic it’s the first time the event
Nautilus15 min lettiNature
Dawn Of The Heliocene: Why the next geological epoch should be named for when we tapped the sun’s energy.
I was born on the summer solstice in an age without a name. My parents were born in a previous geological epoch. Six unknowing months before the start of the Great Depression, my father arrived. His given name was Richard, but as soon as his hair cam
Nautilus6 min letti
The Environmental Headache in Your Shampoo: Palm oil is an environmental scourge. Plant biology has a solution.
As little as two centuries ago, the northern edge of the island of Borneo, home to Malaysia’s Sarawak state, was covered in a verdant canopy that stretched, uninterrupted, from shore to shore. It was a forest that had persisted for more than 100 mill
Nautilus6 min lettiBiology
What the Meadow Teaches Us: Feeling is the physics of the organic world.
Anyone who believes that life is a battlefield full of individual warriors should go out into the meadows on a spring night. There, you can learn that the biosphere does not spawn cutoff, clearly differentiated individuals who compete against one ano
Nautilus5 min letti
When Plants Go to War: In the fight against insects, plants have evolved an arsenal of ingenious chemical defenses.
Compared to the hectic rush of our bipedal world, a plant’s life may appear an oasis of tranquility. But look a little closer. The voracious appetites of pests put plants under constant stress: They have to fight just to stay alive. And fight they do
Nautilus5 min lettiPsychology
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 lettiDiscrimination & Race Relations
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 lettiPsychology
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 lettiPsychology
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 lettiIntelligence (AI) & Semantics
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 lettiPsychology
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
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