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issue_2

  • Uncertainty

    Uncertainty is baked into our modern world. We explore how everything from quantum particles to humans themselves turn 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. 

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    When Pigs Fly, Crayfish Whistle, and It Snows Red Snowflakes

    What do you say when faced with something so unlikely, so improbable, that you simply cannot imagine it ever happening? Perhaps you’ll admit your neighbor was right about who owns the shovel you’ve both used—when pigs fly. Or maybe your boss will give you that raise when hell freezes over. But would you ever say […]

  • HD 8049 white dwarf

    When a Planet Is Not Really a Planet at All

    As astronomers point their telescopes up at the sky to learn about the cosmos, they tend to push those devices’ abilities to their limits. The edge of what we can measure is, of course, where all the interesting things are happening. The downside of this ambition is that the conclusions drawn from the newest data […]

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    The Best Evidence for Dark Matter & the Uncertainty Therein

      If I told you that I was 99.81 percent certain I had made a big discovery, you might suggest it was time to break out the champagne. If I said the discovery resolved one of the biggest outstanding problems in science and would probably let me punch a ticket to Stockholm to pick up […]

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    The Remarkable Philosophy of the TV Show “House”

    In his essay for “Uncertainty,” the second issue of Nautilus, David Deutsch explains why you can never be entirely sure that a thought is undoubtedly correct. Despite that, he says we can still learn true things about the world, and that information be used in important pursuits like medicine. In the clip below, Deutsch identifies […]

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    The Comforting Certainty of Unanswered Questions

    Light was thought to travel through aether like waves on a lakeShutterstock You might know the anecdote. In April 1900, Lord Kelvin, one of the most prominent physicists of the 19th century, stands in the speaker’s well of the Royal Society in London. Surveying the state of scientific knowledge at the dawn of a new […]

  • Puget Sound from Space Needle

    How to Tell The Future(s)

    In 1972 the Club of Rome, an international think tank, commissioned four scientists to use computers to model the human future. The result was the infamous Limits to Growth that crashed into world culture like an asteroid from space. Collapse, calamity and chaos were the media take-aways from the book, even though the authors tried […]

  • Benjamin Franklin kite key

    How Science Helped Write the Declaration of Independence

    On July 4, 1776, representatives of thirteen colonies on the eastern shores of North America signed a Declaration of Independence from England. Winning independence was still a bloody war ahead, an unlikely outcome. Declaring independence was rashness, potentially carrying a death sentence for treason. Not, perhaps, what you would expect of well-educated men, many of […]

  • Jamesburg Earth Station

    The Best Way Yet to Talk to Aliens (If They’re Out There)

    “None knows whence creation arose; And whether he has or has not made it; He who surveys it from the lofty skies. Only he knows—or perhaps not.” This is an edited snippet from a 3,500-year-old Vedic creation myth. I sent each of its 143 characters streaming on a beam of radio waves on June 21, […]

  • Jet stream Arctic

    A Weather Man Who Reaches for Months, Not Days

    If you want to know the weather tomorrow, meteorologists can tell you. If you’d like to know what it’ll be like in 50 years, climatologists can tell you that reasonably accurately, too. But if you want to know the weather six months from now? That’s a far trickier matter. Between the reliability of short-term and […]