The Psychological Benefits of Thanksgiving Rituals


(Credit: Brian Chase/Shutterstock)

When Americans gather together around a table groaning with favorite dishes on the fourth Thursday of November, what are we doing beyond filling our bellies with turkey and pie? We convened four experts in the psychology of family traditions and shared meals for a roundtable discussion about what ritual means in the context of Thanksgiving. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: psychology

5 Extreme Examples of Evolutionary Prowess

By Marla Broadfoot | November 25, 2015 11:00 am

An illustration of the water bear. (Credit: Sebastian Kaulitzki/Shutterstock)

Hidden among us are survivors – living, breathing beings that have pulled off some pretty remarkable feats in order to live another day. They can be found ambling through the moss beneath our feet, drifting in our oceans and our streams, even stuck in the local pet store or on the subway. You just have to know where to look.

These creatures give clues into how we could withstand extreme conditions, regrow damaged tissue or missing limbs, turn back the hands of time, guard ourselves from illness, and perhaps even achieve humankind’s most elusive goal – immortality. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Top Posts

Taming the New Frontiers in Gene Editing

By Sarah Scoles | November 17, 2015 1:10 pm


The world’s most powerful gene-editing tool, CRISPR-Cas9, gives humans the ability to swap out sections of the genome with less money and time than ever before. That’s a lot of power, and with great power comes great responsibility.

But right now, most of the world doesn’t have regulations about what scientists — and someday, hobbyists — can and can’t do to the double helix. In China, scientists have used CRISPR-Cas9 to modify human embryos. And that has left the rest of the world a little nervous. Read More

The Brain Has a Blind Spot for ‘Unknown Unknowns’

By Rob Brotherton | November 17, 2015 9:00 am


A conspiracy theory is an invitation to an exciting alternative reality where nothing is quite as it seems. There is fun to be had defying conventional wisdom, sifting through signs, uncovering lost knowledge and secret plots. But we don’t generally believe stuff just for the fun of it. For us to really believe something it has to seem plausible.

How can we be so sure that our journey off the intellectual beaten path and down twisting trails of conspiracy theory has led us to the truth, while the scientific mainstream is deluded or deceptive? Sometimes all it takes is our own overly optimistic brain telling us we understand the world in far greater depth than we actually do.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: psychology

Animal Hair Could Inspire Self-Cleaning Technologies


Watch a fly land on the kitchen table, and the first thing it does is clean itself, very, very carefully. Although we can’t see it, the animal’s surface is covered with dust, pollen and even insidious mites that could burrow into its body if not removed.

Staying clean can be a matter of life and death. All animals, including us human beings, take cleaning just as seriously. Each year, we spend an entire day bathing, and another two weeks cleaning our houses. Cleaning may be as fundamental to life as eating, breathing and mating. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Technology, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: animals, robots

Human-Like Neural Networks Make Computers Better Conversationalists

By Ben Thomas | November 11, 2015 2:00 pm

HAL 9000, depicted as a glowing red “eye,” was the frighteningly charismatic computer protagonist in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 movie “2001 Space Odyssey.” (Credit: Screengrab from YouTube

If you’ve ever tried to hold a conversation with a chatbot like CleverBot, you know how quickly the conversation turns to nonsense, no matter how hard you try to keep it together.

But now, a research team led by Bruno Golosio, assistant professor of applied physics at Università di Sassari in Italy, has taken a significant step toward improving human-to-computer conversation. Golosio and colleagues built an artificial neural network, called ANNABELL, that aims to emulate the large-scale structure of human working memory in the brain — and its ability to hold a conversation is eerily human-like. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Technology, Top Posts

What Do Auroras Look Like on Other Planets?

By Nathan Case Lancaster University | November 10, 2015 11:17 am

An artist’s rendering of MAVEN’s Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph (IUVS) observing the “Christmas Lights Aurora” on Mars. (Credit: University of Colorado)

Witnessing an aurora first-hand is a truly awe-inspiring experience. The natural beauty of the northern or southern lights captures the public imagination unlike any other aspect of space weather. But auroras aren’t unique to Earth and can be seen on several other planets in our solar system.

An aurora is the impressive end result of a series of events that starts at the sun. The sun constantly emits a stream of charged particles known as the solar wind into the depths of the solar system. When these particles reach a planet, such as Earth, they interact with the magnetic field surrounding it (the magnetosphere), compressing the field into a teardrop shape and transferring energy to it. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Top Posts

The Man Who Tried to Weigh the Soul

By Ben Thomas | November 3, 2015 3:00 pm


In 1907, a Massachusetts doctor named Duncan MacDougall performed an unusual series of experiments. Intrigued by the idea that the human soul had mass, and could therefore be weighed, Dr. MacDougall put together a bed fitted with a sensitive set of beam scales, and convinced a series of terminally ill patients to lie on it during the final moments of their lives.

MacDougall was nothing if not detail-oriented: He recorded not only each patient’s exact time of death, but also his or her total time on the bed, as well as any changes in weight that occurred around the moment of expiration. He even factored losses of bodily fluids like sweat and urine, and gases like oxygen and nitrogen, into his calculations. His conclusion was that the human soul weighed three-fourths of an ounce, or 21 grams. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts

Meet the Parasites That Control Human Brains

By Ben Thomas | October 29, 2015 9:00 am
brain illustration

(Illustration credit: Triff/Shutterstock)

It’s time to enjoy some monster stories, and the scariest monsters of all are those that actually exist.

Join us as we share tales of some of the creepiest parasites around — those that control the brains of their human hosts, sometimes leaving insanity and death in their wake. These are the tales of neurological parasites. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Mind & Brain, Top Posts

The Scientific Method is a Myth

By Daniel P. Thurs | October 28, 2015 12:25 pm

beakers and test tubes

It’s probably best to get the bad news out of the way first. The so-called scientific method is a myth. That is not to say that scientists don’t do things that can be described and are unique to their fields of study. But to squeeze a diverse set of practices that span cultural anthropology, paleobotany, and theoretical physics into a handful of steps is an inevitable distortion and, to be blunt, displays a serious poverty of imagination. Easy to grasp, pocket-guide versions of the scientific method usually reduce to critical thinking, checking facts, or letting “nature speak for itself,” none of which is really all that uniquely scientific. If typical formulations were accurate, the only location true science would be taking place in would be grade-school classrooms. Read More


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