Decapitation, But Not Cannibalism, Might Transmit Memories
Cross-section of a planarianJubal Harshaw via Shutterstock Earlier this year, scientists published a bizarre finding: A decapitated flatworm that grows a new head seems to retain memories from its old one. Weird—but not even close to the weirdest finding in the annals of flatworm memory research. Half a century ago, experiments by James McConnell the […]
One Big Question Not Answered by Today’s Nobel Winners
Earlier today three US-based researchers shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their research on vesicles, special structures that ferry all kinds of molecules around biological cells, and are fundamental to those cells’ functioning. Their findings provide some key background for our understanding of life—information that will fill textbooks for decades—though they lack […]
Finding the Concept That Is Jennifer Aniston in My Brain
Are your neurons thrown off by this photo? Shutterstock Most of us have an uneasy love/hate relationship with celebrity culture. No matter how much we try to pretend we’re above it all, celebrities somehow seep into our consciousness, whether it’s Miley Cyrus’s cringe-inducing twerking at the VMAs, or our enduring affection for the ensemble cast […]
Fame Is a Magnet that Reveals Our Weak Hold on Reality
This past July the Duchess of Cambridge gave birth to a baby boy. An international press corps was parked in front of the entrance of the hospital for over four weeks before that. The UK’s Daily Mail interviewed a woman who’d flown in from New Zealand to camp out in front of Buckingham Palace awaiting the […]
Depth Perception & Death Prevention: Babies’ Visual Instinct
We humans take a lot for granted. Pizza delivery, email, smartphones, dishwashers. All of this occurs in the background, making our lives simpler. None of it requires any explicit effort. Our minds also do a lot of subconscious work that we take for granted. Have you ever seriously thought about how you know that the […]
Why Do We Get Transported by Stories We Know Are False?
In Jasper Fforde’s lighthearted “Thursday Next” series of books, people can use a “prose portal” to enter the world of a book, to change the plot or kidnap a character. The prose portal is an imaginative metaphor for a familiar experience: feeling taken away by a narrative, sucked into a good book so that we […]
Composing Your Thoughts
Music that upsets expectations is what makes your gray matter sing.
A Moment When Animals Started to Seem More Like People
Any self-respecting pet owner will confidently claim that their dog or cat (or rabbit, or gerbil) seems sentient, exhibiting a distinct temperament and emotional responses. I know my many beloved pets over the years could feel pain, and fear, as well as love and trust. But are our pets truly conscious creatures? Or are we […]
The Mystery of Human Uniqueness
What, exactly, makes our biology special?