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Uncertainty

If we asked you to name the towering achievements of 20th century science, you might point to relativity, genetics, the polio vaccine,…By Michael Segal

If we asked you to name the towering achievements of 20th century science, you might point to relativity, genetics, the polio vaccine, and space travel. And of course you’d be right.

But science also made a different kind of breakthrough in the last century: it began to map out, in a precise way, what we could not know.

Think about that. The sophistication of our observations, and our thinking, had grown to the point that they could expose the limits of knowledge itself. We began to glimpse the boundaries of our sandbox.

Nautilus’ second issue is all about the uncertainty that is baked into our modern world. We explore how everything from quantum particles to humans themselves turns out to be undetermined in ways that upset expectations. Even mathematics itself—the language of logic—includes statements that can be proven to be neither true nor false. In this issue’s first chapter, “Uncertainty in Nature,” we tell you stories about the boundaries of the knowable.

But uncertainty extends past the natural world. Our second chapter, called “This Uncertain Life” and published on Thursday, June 13, explores the uncertainty in our lived lives. Its stories include a touching piece by Somali activist and author Ayaan Hirsi Ali, along with explorations of parenthood, religion, mathematics, and the five senses. Our stories will convince you that you already know uncertainty well, and live with it every day.

Not just live with it but enjoy it, trade it on markets, write it into music, and build widgets with it. Our third chapter, called “Uncertainty for Fun and Profit” goes live Thursday, June 20, and points the way to better living through uncertainty. You can even tender your own wager in our special interactive, on who will win a Nobel Prize this year. But be careful, you can get addicted, as did the hapless gambling protagonist in K.G. Jewell’s story, “Know When To Hold ’Em.”

We’ll publish the issue’s final chapter, “Balancing Uncertainty”, on Thursday, June 27. Maverick physicist David Deutsch and Columbia University neuroscientist Stuart Firestein give us some words of wisdom about the entire affair. Too little uncertainty, they tell us, poses its own serious problems. Journalists David Duncan and David Levine add personal accounts of how uncertainty has affected their health and well-being. And there’s some weather forecasting, too.

We hope you learn a lot about what you can’t know. Welcome to “Uncertainty.”


Michael Segal
Editor in Chief 

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