Nautilus3 min readPsychology
Why Is There So Much Hate for the Word “Moist”?
A lot of people don’t like the word “moist.” Several Facebook groups are dedicated to it, one with over 3,000 likes, New Yorker readers overwhelmingly selected it as the word to eliminate from the dictionary, and Jimmy Fallon sarcastically thanked it
Nautilus8 min readSelf-Improvement
When You Listen to Music, You’re Never Alone: Technology hasn’t diminished the social quality of listening to music.
On a late spring evening in 2015, at South Street Seaport, a square on the southern tip of Manhattan, hundreds of people slipped on headphones and slipped into their own worlds. It was a clear night, perfect for a stroll, but attendees weren’t intere
Nautilus8 min read
The City At The Center Of The Cosmos: Robots and lasers are uncovering an ancient, sacred geography.
Some 48 kilometers north of Mexico City, in the Basin of Mexico, towers the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacán. This massive 71-meter high structure makes you feel like a speck of dust in the presence of the gods. And that is exactly what the builders
Nautilus6 min read
Why New York City Needs Its Own Cryptocurrency: The case for making money local again.
Money used to be local. The first non-precious metal coins emerged as a natural consequence of trade, and were seldom accepted as currency outside the city-state on the Grecian coast that minted them. Then nation-states emerged and central banking wa
Nautilus5 min readPsychology
Loneliness Is a Warning Sign to Be Social
In 2002, a group of adults aged 50 and over answered a series of questions about their physical and mental health. A subset of the questions went as follows. How often do you feel … 1) A lack of companionship 2) Left out 3) Isolated from others Th
Nautilus5 min read
The Case for Making Cities Out of Wood
Last month, 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 build th
Nautilus8 min readTech
How We Make Gods: Taking lessons from the rise and fall of divinity in online games.
From the moment he arrived, Egor lived for mayhem. The time was 1982, and the place was the first online game world, called MUD (short for Multi-User Dungeon). Before Egor there had been duels, pranks, and the occasional fire-breathing dragon, all am
Nautilus6 min readTech
Waiting For the Robot Rembrandt: What needs to happen for artificial intelligence to make fine art.
The cellist Jan Vogler famously claimed that art is what makes us human. But what if machines start making art too? Here’s an example of a piece of art made by an artificial intelligence (AI): On the right side of the picture is a computer running an
Nautilus7 min readScience
Why Your Roses Smell Nice: Hint—it’s mostly coincidence.
The appeal of many floral scents to humans is a fortunate byproduct: We were not even around when they appeared. And, for all the effort, commercial perfumes rarely smell like flowers. Expensive, fancy bottles labeled jasmine or gardenia may smell wo
Nautilus3 min readPsychology
If You Can’t Smell Him, Can You Love Him?
What are the ingredients of a good relationship? Trust? Communication? Compromise? How about a sense of smell? When researchers in the United Kingdom surveyed almost 500 people with anosmia (the loss of sense of smell), more than 50 percent of them r
Nautilus5 min readScience
How Hidden Social Contexts Influence Your Genetics
What if a wound of yours, a pierced ear, say, healed at a different rate depending on who was around you? A 2017 study explored this question, albeit with mice. Researchers paired mice together, punching holes in their ears, and tracked the rate of r
Nautilus5 min readScience
Why Are So Many Animals Homosexual?
Few creatures can boast of devotions so deep as greylag geese. Most are monogamous; many spend their decade-long adult lives with the same goose, side-by-side in constant communication, taking another partner only if the first should die. It’s a rema
Nautilus11 min read
The Last Love of Jonas Salk: The unusual union of a renowned artist and the discoverer of the Polio vaccine.
The first time they met, French artist Françoise Gilot seemed more interested in her salad than in Jonas Salk—somewhat embarrassing for her friend Chantal Hunt, who had insisted she join them for lunch. Chantal’s husband, John Hunt, the executive vic
Nautilus3 min read
How the Elwha River Was Saved: The inside story of the largest dam removal project in US history.
I know firsthand what a hydroelectric dam can do to the environment. As a tribal member growing up on the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe’s reservation, the Elwha River and its two hydroelectric dams were in my backyard. Before the dams, whose construction
Nautilus16 min readScience
The Last Drop of Water in Broken Hill: In the Australian outback, the future of drought has come early.
It’s April in the outback of New South Wales, a southeastern state of Australia, and the afternoon sun is warming the red, sandy, and scrubby plains. We’re near the desolate area where The Road Warrior was filmed. But the movie got it wrong. The real
Nautilus6 min readPsychology
What William James Got Right About Consciousness
Is consciousness an instinct? When feeling at sea about definitions and meanings in the mind/brain business, it is always rewarding to dial up William James once again. More than 125 years ago, James wrote a landmark article simply titled “What Is an
Nautilus3 min readPsychology
What Question Will You Be Remembered For?
John Brockman has run out of questions, and it’s a shame. For 20 years, as a sort of homage to his late friend, the conceptual artist James Lee Byars, who in 1968 started “The World Question Center,” Brockman has been posing an “Annual Question” to s
Nautilus5 min readSelf-Improvement
We Should Not Accept Scientific Results That Have Not Been Repeated
A few years ago, I became aware of serious problem in science: the irreproducibility crisis. A group of researchers at Amgen, an American pharmaceutical company, attempted to replicate 53 landmark cancer discoveries in close collaboration with the au
Nautilus3 min readPsychology
5 Reasons Why Humans Can’t Do Without Sports
Last year, more than 111 million people—about a third of the U.S. population—watched the Super Bowl. The numbers will likely be similar on Sunday: Devout football fans, and those watching their first N.F.L. game all year, will feel the thrill and pul
Nautilus9 min readPsychology
Cracking Avatar’s Language Codes: A fictional language makes the jump to reality.
One hot Thursday in July of 2013, I met a gangly young man at Washington D.C.’s Union Station. Energetic and slightly nervous, he politely shook my hand and ushered me to a silver sedan where his girlfriend, Sarah, was at the wheel. Although he intro
Nautilus6 min readWellness
Does Aging Have a Reset Button?: A Stanford researcher’s new take on stem cells.
Part of Vittorio Sebastiano’s job is to babysit a few million stem cells. The research professor of reproductive biology at Stanford University keeps the cells warm and moist deep inside the Lorry I. Lokey Stem Cell Research Building, one of the nati
Nautilus11 min readScience
Life on Mars, From Viking to Curiosity: A brief history of the scientific debate swirling around the Red Planet.
After midnight in a sweltering room in Pasadena in July 1976, Viking Mars team members sat hunched around a bulky monotone computer monitor, tensely awaiting the first data from the world’s first successful Mars probe lander, the only Mars lander eve
Nautilus5 min readScience
What to Do When Your Brain Insists You’re Always on a Boat
A few years ago, Chris Perry went on an Alaskan cruise with her family to celebrate her parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. When she boarded the massive Norwegian Sun cruise ship, she felt “a little woozy and weird” from the boat’s gentle rocking, she
Nautilus3 min readReligion & Spirituality
How to Get Evangelicals to Care About Climate Change
Last year was among the three warmest years ever recorded, 1.51 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average, scientists from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently reported. The two years prior were warmer (2016 t
Nautilus3 min read
The Irony of the Pope Decrying Fake News
Pope Francis may be the first pontiff in Roman Catholic history to embrace the voice of the modern pundit. In 2015, he wrote an encyclical on climate change, “Laudato Si’,” which the New Yorker described as a “blistering indictment of the human failu
Nautilus11 min readPsychology
How Nostalgia Made America Great Again: When the present looks bleak, we reach for a rose-tinted past.
Make America great again. Clearly the message resonated. In 2016, prior to the presidential election, the Public Religion Research Institute, a nonpartisan group, published its annual American Values Survey. It revealed 51 percent of the population f
Nautilus3 min read
The Antelope Killing Fields: Why did two thirds of all saiga antelope die in a couple months?
Dead animals were scattered across the steppe in front of us. Up to the horizon. Thousands of them. That was the moment we understood that we were observing a mass mortality of catastrophic dimensions. We were in Kazakhstan that day in May of 2015 to
Nautilus11 min read
The Radical Humanism of the Soviet Planetarium: This planetarium was hailed as a successor to Russian theater and the Orthodox Church.
In the skies over Moscow, in the decades before the collapse of the socialist state, stood three symbols of the space program: the rocket, the cosmonaut, and the red star. The rocket is still atop the 1964 Monument to the Conquerors of Space, a 110-m
Nautilus7 min read
How to Understand Extreme Numbers
The late statistics wizard Hans Rosling, who died this month at age 68,  brought at least 10 toilet paper rolls to some of his beloved presentations.  He would stack them into a tower on a table, each roll representing one billion people. In a 2012 t
Nautilus2 min read
Why Did a Billionaire Give $75 Million to a Philosophy Department?
Last week, for the first time in recent memory, a news story in this troubling period had me, a bachelor of arts in philosophy, sitting up straight in stunned delight. Johns Hopkins University was gifted $75 million to expand its philosophy departmen
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