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This might be one of the most remote places on earth, little accessible by road, but its peace is routinely broken by the oldest, largest and busiest spaceport in the world: the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Photograph by Alex Zelenko / Wikicommons

The Altai mountain region of Central Asia is a rugged and remote place. Right in the center of the continental landmass, it forms a crossroads between the Kazakh steppes, the snow forests of Siberia and the arid plains of Mongolia. It’s a landscape of granite, forced up by the inch-a-year collision of the Indian tectonic plate with Asia, then carved out over millions of years by streams of snowmelt. Siberian Ibex wander here along with musk deer feeding on the lichenous rocks and brown bears that follow the retreating snow fields in spring.

This might be one of the most remote places on earth, little accessible by road, but its peace is routinely broken in the most dramatic way. That’s because the Altai region sits right beneath the main flight path of the oldest, largest and busiest spaceport in the world: the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Debris from each rocket launch rains down on these remote hills, and the people of the region are…
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Not having to endure costs radically changes behavior, in humans and in plants.Photograph by Thomas Hawk / Flickr

Plants have their own form of money: carbon dioxide. For decades, our fossil fuel industry has been artificially inflating their currency. What happens to plants during inflation—when CO2 levels in the atmosphere rise?

The same thing that happens if you drop money from the sky over Times Square, leaving everyone there with $1,000 in their pockets, says Hope Jahren, a geochemist and geobiologist at the University of Oslo, and author of Lab Girl, a personal memoir of her life in science.* “Some people would save it; some people would run out and buy clothes; some people would gamble it away within 5 minutes,” she told Nautilus editor in chief Michael Segal. Plants face similar choices. “Some build a bunch of new leaves; some make a bunch more flowers; some shunt it into their roots; some stop making defense compounds. I call that the Costco effect. If you go buy 100 rolls of toilet paper, you’re going to use toilet paper at your house very differently than if you’re buying it roll by roll. So plants, if it’s that easy to make a…
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A city’s pace of life was indeed “significantly related” to the physical, social, and psychological well-being of its inhabitants.Photograph by Neta Bartal / Flickr

While on vacation in distant locales, people often find that time moves quite differently than in the places they’re used to. In the tropics, we settle into the grooves of “island time” and relax thanks to a more leisurely rhythm. A trip to a big city can leave us exhilarated but also drained by the energetic whir of life there.

The different paces of different communities also seem to be connected to other cultural characteristics. Robert Levine and his colleagues have studied the speed of life in cities around the world and across the U.S. In a series of experiments they measured how fast solitary pedestrians in a downtown core covered a distance of 60 feet (being careful to exclude those who are obviously window shopping), timed how long it took to complete a simple commercial transaction, and recorded the accuracy of randomly selected clocks in the downtown business area. They found that places with a faster pace of life also had more robust economies (as measured by GDP per capita, average purchasing power, and average caloric…
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The lack of willingness to view human cognition and behavior as within the purview of evolutionary processes has prevented evolution from being fully integrated into the social science curriculum.Photograph by David Carillet / Shutterstock

My high school biology teacher, Mr. Whittington, put a framed picture of a primate ancestor in the front of his classroom—a place of reverence. In a deeply religious and conservative community in rural America, this was a radical act. Evolution, among the most well-supported scientific theories in human history, was then, and still is, deliberately censored from biological science education. But Whittington taught evolution unapologetically, as “the single best idea anybody ever had,” as the philosopher Dan Dennett described it. Whittington saw me looking at the primate in wonder one day and said, “Cristine, look at its hands. Now look at your hands. This is what common descent looks like.”

Evolution has shaped the human body, but it also shaped the human brain, so evolutionary principles are indispensable for understanding our psychology. Yet many students, teachers, and even social scientists struggle to see how our evolutionary history significantly shapes our cognition and behavior today. “Learning” and “culture” do not explain behavior so completely that…
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It was the most ambitious social experiment ever conducted by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. And one of the most surprising.

In 1994, HUD randomly assigned 4,600 poor, mostly African-American families in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York to one of three groups. One group received housing vouchers intended to help them move to low-poverty neighborhoods. Another group received vouchers without geographic restrictions. A final control group didn’t receive vouchers at all.

Called “Moving to Opportunity,” the study was designed to answer a question that had divided social scientists and policymakers for decades: Did getting people off of welfare and other forms of social assistance depend on changing their social context?

TOWN WITHOUT PITY: A rundown, abandoned house in Detroit symbolizes the kind of poor American neighborhood that fuels destructive levels of stress.Peter Baker

More than a decade later, the researchers found that a lot of things hadn’t changed. Many people offered housing vouchers didn’t move. The people who did move to better neighborhoods didn’t change their diets or daily lifestyles. Their kids showed no improvement in reading or math scores. And moving didn’t make people any more or less economically self-sufficient, the question the…
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Nautilus by Christina Leuker & Wouter Van Den B.. - 6d ago

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, East German citizens were offered the chance to read the files kept on them by the Stasi, the much-feared Communist-era secret police service. To date, it is estimated that only 10 percent have taken the opportunity.

In 2007, James Watson, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, asked that he not be given any information about his APOE gene, one allele of which is a known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.

Most people tell pollsters that, given the choice, they would prefer not to know the date of their own death—or even the future dates of happy events.

Each of these is an example of willful ignorance. Socrates may have made the case that the unexamined life is not worth living, and Hobbes may have argued that curiosity is mankind’s primary passion, but many of our oldest stories actually describe the dangers of knowing too much. From Adam and Eve and the tree of knowledge to Prometheus stealing the secret of fire, they teach us that real-life decisions need to strike a delicate balance between choosing to know, and choosing not to.

Move slower?: Silicon Valley culture celebrates fast experimentation, which may not be what…
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This article is part of Nautilus’ month-long exploration of the science and art of time. Read the introduction here.

Growing up in Israel in the 1970s, my household was a place where time and languages were constantly shuffled. Three generations of my family, speaking English, Hebrew, or Arabic, co-mingled and co-existed. Throughout my childhood, we visited two cities weekly, “The City of Gold” (Jerusalem) and “White City” (Tel Aviv). The cities are just 40 miles apart but worlds away. The buildings, monuments, and markets of Jerusalem are a repository of 4,000 years of history, while Tel Aviv is a 20th-century modernist city birthed from the Bauhaus art school. When I was a child, the car ride between those two cities was an excursion, and time seemed to fold in on itself as I moved between two concurrent realities, spanning four millennia in less than an hour.

At an early age, my grandfather planted the seed of nonlinear time in me with a passage from Ecclesiastes: “What is, it already was, and what will be, it already is.” He used this biblical passage to explain the absence of a chronological order in the Torah, and also as an aphorism…
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A partial solution to the problem of punishing droughts may be to snatch water from the air, Dune-style.Photograph by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center / Flickr

Last year, after a punishing four-year drought, California lifted emergency water-scarcity measures in all but four counties. Residents could sigh in relief but not without resignation. “This drought emergency is over, but the next drought could be around the corner,” California Governor Jerry Brown said at the time. “Conservation must remain a way of life.”

He’s right. In April, a study in Nature Climate Change, based on climate model simulations, concluded that a 25 percent to 100 percent “increase in extreme dry-to-wet precipitation events is projected” for the rest of this century, “despite only modest changes in mean precipitation. Such hydrological cycle intensification would seriously challenge California’s existing water storage, conveyance and flood control infrastructure.” In 2015, when a record-setting low of California mountain snowpack was being set, Richard Saykally, a water chemist at UC Berkeley, told me it wouldn’t be unprecedented for the drought to last for decades. “There has been a record of far worse droughts than what we’re experiencing now,” he said, referring to tree-ring data which…
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Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog.

An experiment at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory near Chicago has detected far more electron neutrinos than predicted—a possible harbinger of a revolutionary new elementary particle called the sterile neutrino.Photograph of nside the MiniBooNE tank, photodetectors capture the light created when a neutrino interacts with an atomic nucleus, by Reidar Hahn / Fermilab

Physicists are both thrilled and baffled by a new report from a neutrino experiment at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory near Chicago. The MiniBooNE experiment has detected far more neutrinos of a particular type than expected, a finding that is most easily explained by the existence of a new elementary particle: a “sterile” neutrino that’s even stranger and more reclusive than the three known neutrino types. The result appears to confirm the anomalous results of a decades-old experiment that MiniBooNE was built specifically to double-check.

The persistence of the neutrino anomaly is extremely exciting, said the physicist Scott Dodelson of Carnegie Mellon University. It “would indicate that something is indeed going on,” added Anže Slosar of Brookhaven National Laboratory.

As for what, no one can say.

“I’m very excited about this result, but I am not ready to say ‘Eureka!’” said 

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What’s intriguing about anonymous giving, and other behaviors apparently designed to obscure good traits and acts, like modesty, is that it’s “hard to reconcile with standard evolutionary accounts of pro-social behavior.”Photograph by David Hume Kennerly / Getty

In a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode from 2007, Larry David and his wife Cheryl and their friends attend a ceremony to celebrate his public donation to the National Resources Defense Council, a non-profit environmental advocacy group. Little does he know that the actor Ted Danson, his arch-frenemy, also donated money, but anonymously. “Now it looks like I just did mine for the credit as opposed to Mr. Wonderful Anonymous,” David tells Cheryl. David feels upstaged, as if his public donation has been transformed from a generous gesture to an egotistical one. Cheryl says, about Danson, “Isn’t that great? He donated the whole wing. Didn’t want anybody to know.” “I didn’t need the world to know either!” David says. “Nobody told me I could be ‘anonymous’ and tell people!” He would have done it Danson’s way, he says, but, realizing the contradiction, he fumes, “You can’t have it halfway! You’re either anonymous, or you’re not.” What Danson did, David concludes, is “fake philanthropy and faux…
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