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    Seeing Electricity, Hearing Magnetism & Other Sensory Feats

    For elephants, feet are sensory organs.Martin Harvey, Getty Images It’s pretty obvious that dogs have sharper ears and cats a keener sense of smell than we do. But as powerful these senses are, they are merely keener versions of the ones we humans possess. The animal kingdom also boast some senses that are arguably more […]

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    The Long, Hard Quest to Create Digital Smells

    Of all of the wondrous feats accomplished by Willy Wonka in his candy factory, the most impressive may have been wedging an entire meal into just one unassuming stick of gum: Upon popping it in your mouth and chewing, you’d first taste tomato soup, then roast beef and baked potato, and finally blueberry pie and […]

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    How Your Brain Gaslights You—for Your Own Good

    Nailia Schwarz via Shutterstock Runners can tell you that sometimes the last mile of a run seems to feel dramatically longer than the first. This perceptual distortion isn’t limited to brains addled by exercise—it’s a consistent feature of our minds.   When we look at the world, it certainly feels like we’re seeing things as […]

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    The Sound So Loud That It Circled the Earth Four Times

    A lithograph of the massive 1883 eruption of KrakatoaThe eruption of Krakatoa, and subsequent phenomena, 1888; Parker & Coward; via Wikipedia On 27 August 1883, the Earth let out a noise louder than any it has made since. It was 10:02 AM local time when the sound emerged from the island of Krakatoa, which sits […]

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    The Unusual Language That Linguists Thought Couldn’t Exist

    In most languages, sounds can be re-arranged into any number of combinations. Not so in Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language.Brian Goodman via Shutterstock Languages, like human bodies, come in a variety of shapes—but only to a point. Just as people don’t sprout multiple heads, languages tend to veer away from certain forms that might spring from […]

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    The Animals That Taste Only Saltiness

      Taste plays an important function for most animals far beyond enriching their culinary experiences. At its most basic level, it’s a last-ditch defense against poison, telling the eater whether to swallow or spit out a mouthful of potentially lethal material. Humans can detect five primary tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami (sometimes called “savory”). […]

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    Strange Eyeless Fish Creates Its Own Sonar Signals to “See”

    The blind cavefish alongside two of its sighted relativesImage Courtesy of NYU Deep in some pitch-black, underwater caves in Mexico, there lives a peculiar little pinkish-white fish. Only about four inches long, this albino has taste buds on the outside of its lower jaw, sleeps very little, and, most interestingly, has no eyes.  This blind […]

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    So Human, So Beautiful

    I look into the mirror and try to see what another human would see. My beard is months old, scraggly and dirty, my balding head covered with wisps of gray. I take out the scissors and start to clean it up. Thoughts of other people, being with other people, force their way to the surface, […]

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    Animals’ Wildly Varying Reactions to the Smell of Death

    The stinkhorn fungus (officially known as Phallus impudicus—“impudent penis”—for obvious reasons) draws in flies with the rotting-flesh smell of putrescine.ƒred via Flickr To us humans, the scent of a rotting corpse is universally abhorrent, the very definition of disgusting. But as strong as that reaction is, many other animals don’t share our unalloyed revulsion. Goldfish […]

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    Hearing Hadrons, and Doing Research by Ear

    Animation of data from collisions at the LHCCERN Several years ago, particle physicist Lily Asquith was hanging out with a few musician pals in London after a band rehearsal, doing impromptu impersonations of what she thought the various elementary particles might sound like, and encouraging the drummer to recreate them electronically. Another band member asked […]