• Searches_CURTAIN_HERO


    Searching has a cost. It takes time and energy, and distracts us from other opportunities. It is also a quickly growing part of modern life. The world’s most-visited website is Google, suggesting that we devote more of our time to searching for content than consuming it. Exponentially growing databases create search overhead costs that grow […]

  • Connections_HERO


    One hundred trillion. It’s about the size of the global money supply (called “broad money”), the bacterial count of the human microbiome, and the number of transistors in a supercomputer. It’s also approximately the number of neuronal connections in the human brain. Connection has an exponential, multiplicative power to create complexity. It’s where the meat […]

  • Self_Curtain_HERO


    In thinking about this month’s issue, the question came up among staff: What interesting stories are out there that involve the self but do not involve people? We thought of many, everything from quantum particle self-energies to immune system foreign-body detection. As varied as they were, these stories shared something in common: A fraught definition […]

  •  Community-HERO


    There’s an easy narrative about the fracturing of the modern community: Falling marriage rates produce more single-person households, digital technologies disrupt in-person interactions, and identity politics cast one group against another. Our centuries-long devotion to the idea of the individual, it seems, has gone too far. But, as sociologist Gary Marx observed 20 years ago, […]

  • Trust_HERO


    Why save a drowning stranger? That’s the question biologist Rob Trivers asked at the beginning of his classic 1971 paper, “The evolution of reciprocal altruism.” The answer, he argued, is that it becomes worth it if you can have the expectation of being saved in the future. The population that selects for altruism and against […]

  • Unspoken_CURTAIN_HERO

    The Unspoken

    The philosophers knew it first. “Silence is the element in which great things fashion themselves together,” wrote Thomas Carlyle in 1831. Since then, science has redefined the word. When we rest, our brain’s default mode network lights up. Exposure to the broken and absurd primes our learning faculties. Voiceless animals show rich, culture-like behavior. Speech […]



    Fake is a concept on the rise. The percentage of scientific papers retracted for fraud or error increased for three decades starting in the early 1970s. There are seven ’80s movies and series in the Internet Movie Database with the keyword “fake” attached to them. That number rises to 14 in the ’90s, and 52 in […]

  • Selection-HERO-1


    They say real choices are hard to make. Another way to put that is real choice-making is hard to find. Whether we are choosing a breakfast cereal, politician, or life partner, what seem like free choices often follow from unconscious cues and self-confirming biases. Even Mother Nature can seem reluctant to choose, keeping cats both […]



    At this year’s press conference announcing Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley’s second win of the NBA Sportsmanship Award, the questions from the press were downright nostalgic. “What in today’s game defines sportsmanship?” one reporter asked. “Maybe you don’t see guys do it as much anymore.” Another complained about players’ public behavior. “You don’t see guys […]

  • Currents_HERO


    There is a miles-long solitary wave trundling its way across an ocean right now. It will travel for days on end without changing its shape, before dissipating its billions of joules of energy onto some unseen shore or trench. If you had traveled with it, it would have seemed like the ocean is moving backward, […]