Category Archives: Evolution

August 22

Is evolution the missing link to understanding mental health?

The human brain has been shaped over hundreds of thousands of years, with evolution selecting for traits that helped our species survive and thrive. So why do we still have so many genes that make us struggle? Why did our remarkable cognitive capacity come with such a susceptibility to disorder?

May 31

The Rise and Fall and Rise of Genetic Memory

We are all products of our past, for better or for worse. At first glance, such a statement seems so obvious it hardly bears mentioning; our earlier experiences, both our successes and our failures, shape our current behavior.  But dig just a bit deeper, and it becomes far murkier. What can you call your past? […]

March 29

The animals snakes have nightmares about

The Box Jellyfish has venom so powerful that its human victims go straight into shock. The bite of a king cobra can result in the death of a healthy human adult within fifteen minutes. One drop of venom from a cone snail is capable of killing more than twenty humans. We live in fear of […]

March 15

Remember Tomorrow?

  We humans have an impressive ability to plan for the future — lapsed New Year’s resolutions and overambitious project planners notwithstanding. We can make decisions in the present (like bringing an umbrella) that make our lives easier in the future (we stay dry). Among the animal kingdom, this capacity is distinctly rare. Even animals […]

December 28

Machines Comparing Circuitry (or, Understanding Our Uniquely Human Brain)

I became fascinated by the brain because I was – and continue to be – fascinated by humans. Why are we so obsessed with other people’s lives, including (sometimes especially) those whom we’ve never met? How are we able to communicate such complex emotions with a raise of an eyebrow or even just a glance? […]

December 07

Ancient Aliens Among Us

  First contact. The prospect of intelligent extraterrestrial life has tantalized us Earthbound humans throughout our history. In relatively recent times, artists such as H.G. Wells, Ursula Le Guin, and Gene Roddenberry have created wide-eyed fantasies full of violent invasions, fraught coexistence, and delicate peace between humanity and the Other. As early as the second […]

August 10

It’s a Fine Line Between Utopia and Gattaca

In a previous piece, we talked about why scientists and innovators around the world are so excited about CRISPR, a powerful new gene editing technology. The tool was first published 2012, but it still regularly makes headlines. Less than a month ago researchers in Portland, Oregon announced the first successful use of CRISPR in human […]

June 15

Your Brain, the Liar

Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality? Thinking machines, like those portrayed in HBO’s Westworld, use new information from their environment to update their beliefs about the world and take action to further their goals. For all such machines, the success of that process of integrating new input is limited by their hardware, […]

December 22

Naked and Unafraid

En español Ugliest animal in the world. 2013’s “Vertebrate of the Year”. Co-star of Disney Channel’s Kim Possible. These are just a few of the naked mole rat’s most notable distinctions. However, the extent of their peculiarity and alienness is, if you would believe it, enormously under-appreciated. The more they learn, scientists across the fields […]

May 05

Hello Darkness My Old Friend: How Echolocation Lets Bats Rule the Night

When I asked my boyfriend, a 15-year-old stuck in 28-year-old’s body, who would win in a battle between Batman and Superman in anticipation of the now-in-theaters “smash-flop” blockbuster, he responded, “Obviously Superman with his powers of x-ray vision and superhuman strength.  Batman is just a human with fancy technology.”  Such gadgets as a tape erasing […]