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issue_13

  • Symmetry

    Symmetry, on first glance a mere detail of arrangement, has unexpected powers, aesthetic, practical—even moral. We find it in physics, families, and the brain. As shorthand, it heightens our powers of observation, helping us recognize faces and calculate particle interactions. As organizing principle, it steers genes and galaxies. Scientists, long ago convinced that it is […]

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    Mirror Neurons Are Essential, but Not in the Way You Think

    A “brainbow”: neurons labels with fluorescent tags, in this case, from a mouse.Stephen J. Smith via Wikipedia In his 2011 book, The Tell-Tale Brain, neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran says that some of the cells in your brain are of a special variety. He calls them the “neurons that built civilization,” but you might know them […]

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    The Most Symmetrical Objects in the World

    If you’ve ever tried to give yourself a haircut, you know just how hard it is to make something precisely symmetrical. We value symmetry so highly in part because it’s really hard to achieve. Here are five of the most symmetrical objects humans have ever crafted, and why they were so hard to make. 1. […]

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    How The Big Wrong Fat Message Got So Widely Accepted

    Nutritional advice about eggs, naturally high in cholesterol, has been scrambled over the past 50 years.Jag_cz via Shutterstock The practice of nutritional science faces some significant problems, and they are mainly of its own making. For decades, starting in the 1950s, a consensus of experts recommended that Americans cut down on fat, cholesterol, and saturated […]

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    You Can “Catch” Stress Through a TV Screen

    Your heart rate speeds up, your breathing quickens. Your muscles tighten. Your stomach ties itself in knots. All of these changes are symptoms of the condition called stress. When animals, including humans, are under acute stress, their bodies respond with a powerful neurochemical chain reaction. Glucose, the fuel for our cells, is released into the […]

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    Let’s Play a Game: “Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral?”

    As you look closer and closer at the world, you find more and more levels of organization. And at many of those steps, the view is fantastic. From butterfly wings to snowflakes, zooming in on the world around us can reveal incredible symmetries and patterns, and sometimes pure chaos. Seen at a microscopic level, things […]

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    Evolution May Be Drunk, But It’s Serious About Making Brains

    A new study shows that the comb jelly Pleurobrachia bachei evolved its complex features, including neurons and muscles, separately from animals like us.Leonid Moroz and Mat Citarella Our brains, perched atop a network of nerve cells that ascend the length of our bodies, are thought to have arisen once in an animal hundreds of millions […]

  • Forest-for-the-Trees

    Forest for the Trees—Why We Recognize Faces & Constellations

    A Ganado-style Navajo rugNational Park Service For many thousands of years, and across cultures around the world, symmetry has been seen as beautiful. The mirror-image accuracy of the Parthenon is seen also in the Taj Mahal and the geometric patterns of traditional Navajo rugs. We see symmetry in more fluid, modern media, too, like the […]

  • The Universe, Expanding Symmetrically

    The Universe, Expanding Symmetrically and Eternally

      Two months ago, we learned of landmark evidence bolstering the theory of inflation, a period very soon after the Big Bang when the Universe expanded at a terrific rate, stretching out and smoothing its lumps, and making it remarkably consistent on large scales. A recent study confirms that, even 13.8 billion years after the […]

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    Was the Golden Rule Born in the Mind of a Monkey?

    As economic inequality increased in many wealthy nations in recent years, a debate has developed around the question of whether inequality is bad for national economies—and bad for their citizens. A captivating video clip of monkey behavior (see below), taken from a 2011 TED talk by primatologist Frans de Waal, has become a surprising piece of […]