How to Get Close to a Black Hole
Want to understand the most mysterious object in the universe? Make one at home.
At each level of complexity in nature, “entirely new properties appear,” wrote Nobel Laureate Philip Anderson in 1972. In other words, we should expect new scientific foundations to emerge from complex systems.
The Typewriter’s Love of the Desert
Reflections on Sam Shepard’s time at the Santa Fe Institute I was first introduced to Sam by our mutual friend Valerie Plame Wilson. Sam had played Valerie’s father in the cinematic adaptation of her book, Fair Game. On the phone inviting Sam to SFI his first question to me was whether there would be sufficient desk […]
The $1 Billion Misunderstanding of Aging
Robert Conquest, a historian of Soviet Russia and a poet, once summarized Shakespeare’s 28-line poem, “The Seven Ages of Man,” in five lines. They go like this: Seven Ages: first puking and mewling Then very pissed off with your schooling. Then fucks and then fights. Then judging chaps’ rights— Then sitting in slippers—then drooling. For […]
A New Explanation for One of the Strangest Occurrences in Nature—Ball Lightning
Explanations for how ball lightning is formed are even more diverse than its physical characteristics. Just a sampling of the theories out there suggest the ball is a cloud of hot silicon particles, a natural nuclear reaction, a lightning-induced epileptic hallucination, a miniature black hole, an aggregate of cellulose and other natural polymers, and a […]
The Supervolcano Under Yellowstone Is Alive and Kicking
The wind shifts. The stench of rotten eggs makes it nearly impossible to breathe and the hot fog clouds my view. I hold my breath and close my eyes, imagining the fog growing thicker, crushing me. Then without warning the wind clears and I’m enveloped once again in the cold, dry air. The heat feels […]
Make Concrete Roman Again!
The Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder can be charmingly self-deprecating. He attempted, in the 1st century A.D., to curate all ancient knowledge in his Natural History, yet he described its 37 volumes to his close friend’s son, Titus, the Emperor of Rome, as having “such inferior importance.” To Pliny, they did “not admit of the […]
How to Defuse Offensive Speech
The claim that speech can be violence is dangerous, it is argued, because it exacerbates the emotional vulnerability that’s already rampant in the “Internet generation,” of which today’s undergraduates are a part.Image by Eduard Bezembinder / Flickr If you Google “It’s been emotional,” even without quotes, you’ll find that a clip from Guy Ritchie’s 1998 […]
Gold Mining for Profit and Paleontology
How the Gold Rush and Fossil Rush came together.
As the World Collapses
An exclusive glimpse into Jeff VanderMeer’s new apocalyptic novel, “Borne.”