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Philosophy

118 articles
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    Can We Prove the World Isn’t a Simulation?

    You might think we have definitive evidence we’re not in a simulation. That’s impossible.

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    You Can Save More Animals by Donating $100 Than Going Vegan

    By now everybody’s heard about the terrible treatment that pigs and chickens get in factory farms. For many, the solution seems obvious: eat less meat. But let’s look at that solution in terms of how effective it is. According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average American eats about 30 farm animals […]

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    Steven Pinker Has His Reasons

    The psychologist unpacks rationality and denies being a guru to the capitalist elite.

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    Ian and the Limits of Rationality

    A student at the edge of reason.

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    Electrons May Very Well Be Conscious

    Panpsychists look at the many rungs on the complexity ladder of nature and see no obvious line between mind and no-mind.Illustration by Yurchanka Siarhei / Shutterstock Last year, the cover of New Scientist ran the headline, “Is the Universe Conscious?” Mathematician and physicist Johannes Kleiner, at the Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy in Germany, told […]

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    How to Make Sense of Contradictory Science Papers

    Published research is less about conclusions than science at play.

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    How to Make Sense of Contradictory Science Papers

    Published research is less about conclusions than science at play.

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    Are We Cut Out for Universal Morality?

    If objective ethical values exist, we’ll have to give up tribalism to realize them.

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    Our Most Effective Weapon Is Imagination

    Why science changes everything.

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    Do We Have Free Will? Maybe It Doesn’t Matter

    It’s hard to change people’s beliefs about free will. So, it can feel like a relief to realize that even when you can change people’s beliefs, it seems to make no moral difference anyway.Illustration by Triff / Shutterstock Belief is a special kind of human power. Agustin Fuentes, an anthropologist at the University of Notre […]

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    Here’s How We’ll Know an AI Is Conscious

    Zombies are supposed to be capable of asking any question about the nature of experience. It’s worth wondering, though, how a person or machine devoid of experience could reflect on experience it doesn’t have.Photograph by Ars Electronica / Flickr The Australian philosopher David Chalmers famously asked whether “philosophical zombies” are conceivable—people who behave like you […]

  • Should Marine Species Own the High Seas?

    To save the ocean, give property rights to the creatures living there

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    How Einstein Reconciled Religion to Science

    Not long ago, I heard an echo of Albert Einstein’s religious views in the words of Elon Musk. Asked, at the close of a conversation with Axios, whether he believed in God, the CEO of both SpaceX and Tesla paused, looked away from his interlocutors for a brief second, and then said, in that mild […]

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    The Joys of Being a Stoic

    Science and ancient Greeks agree—Stoicism increases well-being.

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    The Universe Knows Right from Wrong

    A proponent of panpsychism argues moral truth is inherent in consciousness.

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    This Vision Experiment Resolved a Centuries-Old Philosophical Debate

    “We conclude,” the researchers wrote, “that objects have a remarkably persistent dual character: their objective shape ‘out there,’ and their perspectival shape ‘from here.’”Photograph by Ryan DeBerardinis / Shutterstock Imagine you are looking at a manhole cover a few paces away on the street. It looks circular, but this is because of some impressive perceptual […]

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    This Philosophical Argument Convinced People to Give More to Charity

    How much would you pay to prevent your own child becoming blind?Photograph by 1000Photography / Shutterstock Last fall Fiery Cushman, the director of the Moral Psychology Research Lab at Harvard, and I announced a contest: We would award $1,000 to the author of an argument that effectively convinces research participants to donate a surprise bonus […]

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    Electrons May Very Well Be Conscious

    Panpsychists look at the many rungs on the complexity ladder of nature and see no obvious line between mind and no-mind.Illustration by Yurchanka Siarhei / Shutterstock This month, the cover of New Scientist ran the headline, “Is the Universe Conscious?” Mathematician and physicist Johannes Kleiner, at the Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy in Germany, told […]

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    What’s Missing in Pandemic Models

    Philosophy is needed to put the science of COVID-19 in perspective.

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    Electrons Don’t Think

    If a philosopher starts speaking about elementary particles, run.Pinterest I recently discovered panpsychism. That’s the idea that all matter—animate or inanimate—is conscious, we just happen to be somewhat more conscious than carrots. Panpsychism is the modern elan vital.  When I say I “discovered” panpsychism, I mean I discovered there’s a bunch of philosophers who produce […]

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    Consciousness Isn’t Self-Centered

    Think of consciousness like spacetime—a fundamental field that’s everywhere.

  • If Bugs Are Sentient, Should We Eat Them?

    The ethics of eating insects.

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    It May Not Feel Like Anything To Be an Alien

    Humans may have one thing that advanced aliens don’t—consciousness.

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    Philosophy Is a Public Service

    I design thought experiments to provoke dialogue about who and what we want to become.

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    The Rainforest Is Teeming with Consciousness

    Our fate turns on retiring our dualist view of nature.

  • Philosophers Debate New ‘Sonic Black Hole’ Discovery

    Opinions differ about what recent measurements of a sound-trapping fluid reveal about light-trapping black holes.

  • The Reality of Color Is Perception

    An argument for a new definition of color.

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    The Ancient Rites That Gave Birth to Religion

    Sacred beliefs likely arose out of prehistoric bonding and rituals.

  • Al Gore Does His Best Ralph Waldo Emerson

    The former vice president reads the transcendentalist poet—and reminds us of one.

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    Yes, Determinists, There Is Free Will

    You make choices even if your atoms don’t.

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    The Case for More Science and Philosophy Books for Children

    If we, as a society, were serious about our children, then children’s education—especially for those beginning “the age of reason”—would be our highest priority.Photograph by Sharon Mollerus / Flickr During my career as a scientist and a philosopher I have written and edited, thus far, 14 books. Of these, seven are for the general public. […]

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    How Einstein Reconciled Religion to Science

    I recently heard an echo of Albert Einstein’s religious views in the words of Elon Musk. Asked, at the close of a conversation with Axios, whether he believed in God, the CEO of both SpaceX and Tesla paused, looked away from his interlocutors for a brief second, and then said, in that mild South African […]

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    We Are All Bewildered Machines

    Bewilderment is the antidote to scientific reductionism.

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    Do Religious People Really Have a Problem with Evolution?

    My journey into the middle ground of the science-religion culture war.

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    The Smaller the Theater, the Faster the Music

    Composer Philip Glass talks time with painter Fredericka Foster.

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    How Posture Makes Us Human

    The philosophy and science of standing up straight.

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    The Self Is Other People

    “We’re constantly bouncing off other people and looking at other people as a mirror of us. Our very sense of who we are is intertwined with what we see when we see other people look at us.”Photograph by Saly Noémi / Fortepan / Wikicommons An oft-repeated line in A Series of Unfortunate Events, a Netflix TV […]

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    Why Did a Billionaire Give $75 Million to a Philosophy Department?

    Philosophy matters. The new challenges of the genomics revolution, the rise of AI, the growth in inequality, societal fragmentation, and our capacity for devastating war all invite philosophical perspective.Painting by Otto Scholderer / Wikicommons Last week, for the first time in recent memory, a news story in this troubling period had me, a bachelor of […]

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    The Logic Puzzle You Can Only Solve with Your Brightest Friend

    You have to cleverly build “common knowledge” to solve this lethal riddle.Wikicommons You’ve been caught snooping around a spooky graveyard with your best friend. The caretaker, a bored old man fond of riddles (and not so fond of trespassers), imprisons each of you in a different room inside the storage shed, and, taking your phones, […]

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    A Modest Proposal for Thanksgiving

    Given 46 million turkeys, the carbon footprint of Thanksgiving turkeys is well over 2 billion pounds of carbon dioxide. In the present deplorable state of the Earth, this is a very great additional grievance.“Still Life with a Turkey Pie,” by Pieter Claesz (1627) / Wikicommons Or, For Preventing the Annual Repast from Being a Burden on […]

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    Is Talking About De-Extinction a Moral Hazard?

    There’s a saying, in conservation biology, credited to the plant ecologist Frank Egler: Ecosystems are not just more complex than we think, they’re more complex than we can think. With doomsday narratives swirling about nuclear war, the existential threat of artificial intelligence, and runaway global warming, it’s one we might want to constantly bear in […]

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    Why Are So Many Monsters Hybrids?

    The captivating horror of category violation.

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    Sexism Killed My Love for Philosophy Then Mary Astell Brought It Back

    How one woman philosopher reinvigorated another.

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    The Case for Cosmic Pantheism

    Einstein, a professed pantheist, wrote that he experienced a “cosmic religious feeling,” a persistent awe at the “sublimity and marvelous order” of the universe. He was not alone.Credit: Internet Archive Aren’t those opposites?” people often ask me, when they discover I study science and religion. As a professor of religious studies, I am particularly drawn […]

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    The Argument Against Terraforming Mars

    When it comes to the ethics of actions, such as the decision to terraform Mars, we should ask: What sort of person would do that—a virtuous or vicious one?Photograph by Kees Veenenbos / Science Photo Library In Kim Stanley Robinson’s science-fiction Mars Trilogy, human colonists “terraform” Mars, turning the rocky red planet into a lush […]

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    The Case for More Science and Philosophy Books for Children

    If we, as a society, were serious about our children, then children’s education—especially for those beginning “the age of reason”—would be our highest priority.Photograph by Sharon Mollerus / Flickr During my career as a scientist and a philosopher I have written and edited, thus far, 14 books. Of these, seven are for the general public. […]

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    Ingenious: Albert Camus

    A reconstructed conversation with the great writer about science and the absurd.

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    Nietzsche Is Not the Proto-postmodern Relativist Some Have Mistaken Him For

    When writing Ecce Homo in the late 1880s, Nietzsche sought to resurrect the Voltairean spirit in Europe, which he felt by his times had been washed away by pessimistic Romanticism. “Voltaire still comprehended umanità in the Renaissance,” Nietzsche wrote, “the cause of taste, of science, of the arts, of progress itself and civilisation.”Photograph by Gustav […]

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    Why Trump Would Enjoy Being a Consciousness Researcher

      Sure, Donald Trump usually isn’t one for heady or complex matters. His business roles—promoting steaks, golf courses, and casinos—haven’t been particularly rigorous, in an intellectual sense. The closest he came was with Trump University (although, among other problems, its use of the word “university” to describe its operations violated New York State law.) Studying […]

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    The Moral Importance of Understanding Consciousness

    As we get better and better ideas of what is conscious and what is not, they might change the kinds of experiments we will be able to comfortably and ethically perform.“The Scream” (1893) by Edvard Munch Debating whether other beings are conscious can sometimes feel like an unimportant academic exercise. But it’s not. The conclusion […]

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    You Can’t Upload Your “Self” Into Virtual Reality

    Thomas Metzinger on the nature of subjective experience.

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    Color Is a Dance Between Your Brain and the World

      When Robbert Dijkgraaf was a little boy, growing up in the Netherlands, he’d play in his home attic after school, often with a friend. It was dark inside except for the light streaming in from one window. One time, they closed the shades so only a sliver of photons could pass through. Robbert, holding […]

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    Why Colonizing the Galaxy Is the Highest Good

    When we work to reduce the risk of global catastrophe, we are doing good at a literally astronomic scale.Illustration by CSA Images / Printstock Collection Ten years ago, I dropped out of my graduate program in electrical engineering. I was in computational electromagnetics, modeling how radio waves propagate through the ground. I liked it, but […]

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    Is Matter Conscious?

    Why the central problem in neuroscience is mirrored in physics.

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    Evil Triumphs in These Multiverses, and God Is Powerless

    How scientific cosmology puts a new twist on the problem of evil.

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    Atheism, the Computer Model

    Big data meets history to forecast the rise and fall of religion.

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    Science Is Not Constantly Being Proved Right

    It’s a subtle point, but the British comedian Ricky Gervais was not quite right when he told Stephen Colbert on The Late Show yesterday, “Science is constantly being proved all the time.” Perhaps he misspoke. He was put on the defensive. Colbert, an idiosyncratic but sincere Catholic, was not really playing devil’s advocate when he […]

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    The Cosmos’ Fine-Tuning Does Not Imply a Fine-Tuner

    Bad ideas die hard, and then sometimes they come back to life. One such bad idea is the so-called design argument that goes something like this: “Behold the human eye: It is perfectly adapted to seeing the things we need to see, like predators or potential mates. It looks almost like the eye was designed […]

  • Fine-Tuning Does Not Imply a Fine Tuner

    Some think fine-tuning is evidence for God, but in fact the opposite is true.

  • The Argument for God Is Out of Tune

    Why scientific cosmology can’t give us the God of religion.

  • Buddhism Is Not Just Compatible with Modern Cosmology, It Welcomes It

    Some of this cosmologist’s most exuberant students are Tibetan monks in Dharamsala.

  • Cosmic Pantheism

    Modern cosmology may rule out a personal God, but leaves open a broader conception of divinity.

  • The Argument Against Terraforming Mars

    We have ethical and aesthetic reasons to leave Mars alone.

  • Whether There’s a Multiverse or Not, Judaism Can Take It

    Why this rabbi’s religious beliefs can bend with science.

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    A Prescription for Awe

    In the debate between religion and science, wonder is what the doctor ordered.

  • Does Science Suggest Humans Have a Cosmic Role?

    Almost in spite of themselves, scientists are driven to a teleological view of the cosmos.

  • An Alien Adaptability Scorecard for the World’s Biggest Religions

    When we find ET, which faiths will bend, and which will snap?

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    This Simple Philosophical Puzzle Shows How Difficult It Is to Know Something

    If knowledge isn’t justified true belief, what is it?

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    It’s Time to Retire the “Trolley Problem”

    In the 1960s, the moral philosopher Philippa Foot devised a thought experiment that would revolutionize her field. This ethical puzzle, today known as the “trolley problem,” has become so influential—not just in philosophy but also in neuroscience, behavioral economics, evolutionary psychology, and meme culture—that it’s garnered its own tongue-in-cheek sub-discipline, called “trolleyology.” That body of […]

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    How to Solve the World’s Hardest Logic Puzzle

    While a doctoral student at Princeton University in 1957, studying under a founder of theoretical computer science, Raymond Smullyan would occasionally visit New York City. On one of these visits, he met a “very charming lady musician” and, on their first date, Smullyan, an incorrigible flirt, proceeded very logically—and sneakily. “Would you please do me […]

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    You Can’t Upload Your “Self” Into Virtual Reality

    In his 2003 book, Being No One, Thomas Metzinger contends there is no such thing as a “self.” Rather, the self is a kind of transparent information-processing system. “You don’t see it,” he writes. “But you see with it.” Metzinger has given a good amount of thought to the nature of our subjective experience—and how […]

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    Euclid as Founding Father

    We hold this mathematics to be self evident.

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    How to Tell If You’re a Jerk

    If you think everyone around you is terrible, the joke may be on you.

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    Consciousness Is Made of Atoms, Too

    In his first lecture on physics to freshmen and sophomores at the California Institute of Technology, in 1961-62, Richard Feynman said: If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generations of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest […]

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    Why Science Should Stay Clear of Metaphysics

    Meet the philosopher who revived anti-realism.

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    Head to Head: Should We Allow a Doping Free-for-All?

    Two philosophers debate the ethics of performance enhancement.

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    The Lessons of a Ghost Planet

    Vulcan shows us science beyond the scientific method.

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    Zombies Must Be Dualists

    What the existence of zombies would do to our philosophy of mind.

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    Zombies Must Be Dualists

    What the existence of zombies would do to our philosophy of mind.

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    Why David Hume Is So Hot Right Now

    David Chalmers, co-director of the Center for Mind, Brain and Consciousness at New York University, once undertook something odd for a philosopher: He conducted an international poll. In November 2009, he and his then-PhD advisee, David Bourget, asked over 2,500 of their colleagues—professors and graduate students alike—among other things, with which dead thinker they most […]

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    This Philosopher Helped Ensure There Was No Nobel for Relativity

    Henri Bergson’s debate with Albert Einstein reached and swayed the 1921 Nobel committee.

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    How a Hypothesis Can Be Neither True Nor False

    Georg Cantor died in 1918 in a sanatorium in Halle, Germany. A pre-eminent mathematician, he had laid the foundation for the theory of infinite numbers in the 1870s. At the time, his ideas received hostile opposition from prominent mathematicians in Europe, chief among them Leopold Kronecker, once Cantor’s teacher. In his first known bout of […]

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    What It Feels Like to Be an Octopus

    On a recent Sunday, at my local Italian market, I considered the octopus. To eat the tentacle would be, in a way, like eating a brain—the eight arms of an octopus contain two-thirds of its half billion neurons. Delicious for some, yes—but for others, a jumping off point for the philosophical question of other minds. […]

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    Why Scientists Need To Fail Better

    The rush for success is driving science into a corner, apart from wider culture.

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    How to Solve the Hardest Logic Puzzle Ever

    A step-by-step guide to True, False, and Random.

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    Why Science Needs Metaphysics

    Science can’t tell us whether science explains everything.

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    The Moral Argument for Doping in Sports

    To almost all sports fans, doping in sports is an issue of near-religious importance, says Julian Savulescu. According to the Australian bioethicist and moral philosopher, fans celebrate people of extraordinary physical ability who dedicate themselves to training to perform an athletic feat to perfection—but when they augment their abilities with drugs and enhancers, fans can […]

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    The Philosopher Who Says We Should Play God

    Why ethical objections to interfering with nature are too late.

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    The Philosopher Who Says We Should Play God

    Why ethical objections to interfering with nature are too late.

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    The Reality of Color Is Perception

    An argument for a new definition of color.

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    The Reality of Color Is Perception

    An argument for a new definition of color.

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    How Science Helped Pen the Declaration of Independence

    This classic Facts So Romantic post originally ran in July, 2013. On July 4, 1776, representatives of 13 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 […]

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    The Simple Logical Puzzle That Shows How Illogical People Are

    In the 1960s, the English psychologist Peter Wason devised an experiment that would revolutionize his field. This clever puzzle, known as the “Wason selection task,” is often claimedto be “the single most investigated experimental paradigm in the psychology of reasoning,” in the words of one textbook author. Wason was a funny and clever man and […]

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    Consciousness Began When the Gods Stopped Speaking

    How Julian Jaynes’ famous 1970s theory is faring in the neuroscience age.

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    David Deutsch Explains Why It’s Good To Be Wrong

    Making a mistake on a science exam is bad. So is publishing a paper with flawed reasoning. But what about being fallible in the first place? That, says David Deutsch, should be embraced. Deutsch is a Fellow of the Royal Society, a pioneer in quantum computing, and a popular science book author. He is also […]

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    Is DNA the Language of the Book of Life?

    Thinking of nucleobases as a long sequence of letters may contribute to the illusion that DNA is a language.Neil Palmer / CIAT via Flickr When we talk about genes, we often use expressions inherited from a few influential geneticists and evolutionary biologists, including Francis Crick, James Watson, and Richard Dawkins. These expressions depict DNA as […]

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    Is Santa Claus a God?

    InnervisionArt via Flickr Santa Claus occupies a strange place in Christian belief. On the one hand, only children seem to really believe he exists; on the other, he gets a great deal more attention than many other purported supernatural beings, such as angels or Satan.  Does Santa Claus count as a god of the Christian […]

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    The Common Genius of Lincoln and Einstein

    The president and the physicist teach us a lesson about moral genius.

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    Angst and the Empty Set

    We can experience nothingness, but does it actually exist?

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    A Complicated Question

    A child asks, and war answers.

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    An Atheist’s Guide to Spirituality

    “I did not have to believe anything irrational about the universe.”

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    Ingenious: Alan Lightman

    The physicist on writing, the writer on physics.

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    My Own Personal Nothingness

    From a childhood hallucination to the halls of theoretical physics.

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    My Own Personal Nothingness

    From a childhood hallucination to the halls of theoretical physics.

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    Flashback: Human Uniqueness

    Shining a light on the spark that separates man from beast.

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    Over Time, Buddhism and Science Agree

    Understanding the impermanence of everything—including ourselves.

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    Over Time, Buddhism and Science Agree

    Understanding the impermanence of everything—including ourselves.

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    Over Time, Buddhism and Science Agree

    Understanding the impermanence of everything—including ourselves.

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    Capturing the “Ruin Porn” of Berlin

    Layers of history beckon with imperfect memories.

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    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 […]

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    A Treatise on Miracles by History’s Most Famous Atheist

    Are some things too good to be true?

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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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    Why It’s Good To Be Wrong

    Nothing obstructs access to the truth like a belief in absolute truthfulness.

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    Why It’s Good To Be Wrong

    Nothing obstructs access to the truth like a belief in absolute truthfulness.

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    The Hidden God

    One man’s path to knowing less about God.

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    What Would Buddha Say?

    Human uniqueness is all relative.