• Feedback

    This issue, we cast our gaze onto the feedback loops that regulate, control, and sometimes destabilize the world around us. We unearth them at every scale of space and time, from ants to continents, seconds to millions of years, human myths to the origins of life. Most surprising of all, we find a world carefully […]

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    How Sex Is Like Your Thermostat

    “If you stroke the thermostat just like so…”starmanseries via Flickr Have you ever stopped to consider how sex is like a thermostat? Sex may not sit in a beige box on your wall (or it might, no judging) but there are some striking similarities. The common ingredient is feedback. Both sex and your thermostat depend […]

  • How to love

    How to Learn to Love to Practice

      In interviews, famous people often say that the key to becoming both happy and successful is to “do what you love.” But mastering a skill, even one that you deeply love, requires a huge amount of drudgery. Any challenging activity—from computer programming to playing a musical instrument to athletics—requires focused and concentrated practice. A […]

  • nature

    The Natural World Is an Elephant World

    Elephant dung perfumes the air, a fresh, sweet smell, with undertones of sour vegetation. These balls of waste, scattered across the Kenyan savanna, carry the aroma of the bush, an open sea of acacia trees, aloe vera, Sansevieria, and drapes of elephant pudding, a succulent vine that tastes like salty snap beans but smells like […]

  • fish

    Strange Eyeless Fish Creates Its Own Sonar Signals to “See”

    The blind cavefish alongside two of its sighted relativesImage Courtesy of NYU Deep in some pitch-black, underwater caves in Mexico, there lives a peculiar little pinkish-white fish. Only about four inches long, this albino has taste buds on the outside of its lower jaw, sleeps very little, and, most interestingly, has no eyes.  This blind […]

  • ahead

    Austria’s Ahead-of-Its-Time Institute That Was Lost to Nazis

    In 1911, Popular Science Monthly published an enthusiastic description of a young, private experimental-biology institute in Vienna, lauding its “remarkable scientific productivity resulting from only eight years of research.” The author, zoologist Charles Lincoln Edwards, attributed the success of the Biologische Versuchsanstalt (Insitute of Experimental Biology) to its many advanced experimental devices. The institute, popularly known […]

  • disco

    Scientists Create Cybernetic Links Between People—by DJing

      DJ Angst kicked off the late-February show at the Root Cellar Lounge in Bloomington, Indiana, keeping in mind that, as the first DJ to play, it was his job to figure out what would lure people to the dance floor. As his name implies, he prefers austere, dark electronic music, but he gathered that […]

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    Mood Ring—Cell Phones Can Hear Depression in People’s Voices

    Three examples of speech from a person with bipolar disorder. The rows show one second each of manic, euthymic (normal), and depressed speech. The colored rectangles show various features extracted from the speech, where color indicates the amplitude of that feature for that speaker. The 10 features measure qualities of the person’s voice like pitch, […]