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Polar Expressed

The New Yorker

In February of 1880, the whaling ship Hope sailed north from Peterhead, Scotland, and headed for the Arctic. Her crew included a highly regarded captain, an illiterate but gifted first mate, and the usual roster of harpooners, sailors, and able-bodied seamen--but not the intended ship's surgeon. That gentleman having been unexpectedly called away on family matters, a last-minute substitute was found, in the form of a middling third-year medical student making his maiden voyage: a young man by the name of Arthur Conan Doyle. Conan Doyle was twenty when he left Peterhead and twenty-one when he returned. On Saturday, May 22nd, in the meticulous diary he kept during that journey, he wrote, "A heavy swell all day.


Rewriting the Code of Life

The New Yorker

Esvelt, an assistant professor of biological engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was on his way to present to local health officials a plan for ridding the island of one of its most persistent problems: Lyme disease. Esvelt has spoken about Lyme dozens of times in the past year, not just on Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard but at forums around the world, from a synthetic-biology symposium in Chile to President Obama's White House Frontiers Conference, in Pittsburgh. Esvelt plans to release enough genetically modified mice, tens of thousands of them, to overwhelm the wild population. But I would submit that the single most important application of gene drive is not to eradicate malaria or schistosomiasis or Lyme or any other specific project.


All Alone in No Man's Sky

The New Yorker

If reality is a game--a vast, snow-globe-y sort of experiment that plays out according to the hard rules of physics and the loose rules of story--then it is, in contemporary game-design parlance, a persistent one. We enter it when it is already under way, and we hope, for the sake of our children, that we exit before it's finished. There are advantages and drawbacks for those who, like us, have arrived to this game relatively late. While we benefit from the invention of penicillin, of airplanes, of the Internet, we also suffer antibiotic resistance, looming climate disaster, online comments. And one pleasure enjoyed by our forebears, now largely denied to us, is the thrill of cartographic discovery.


For the Golden State Warriors, Brain-Zapping Could Provide an Edge

The New Yorker

Though you couldn't tell from the picture, these particular headphones incorporated a miniature fakir's bed of soft plastic spikes above each ear, pressing gently into the skull and delivering pulses of electric current to the brain. Made by a Silicon Valley startup called Halo Neuroscience, the headphones promise to "accelerate gains in strength, explosiveness, and dexterity" through a proprietary technique called neuropriming. "Thanks to @HaloNeuro for letting me and my teammates try these out!" McAdoo tweeted. On Thursday night, McAdoo and his teammates will seek the eighty-ninth and final win of their record-breaking season, as they defend their National Basketball Association title in Game 6 of the final series against LeBron James's Cleveland Cavaliers. The headphones' apparent results, in other words, have been impressive.


The Mistrust of Science

The New Yorker

The following was delivered as the commencement address at the California Institute of Technology, on Friday, June 10th. If this place has done its job--and I suspect it has--you're all scientists now. Sorry, English and history graduates, even you are, too. Science is not a major or a career. It is a commitment to a systematic way of thinking, an allegiance to a way of building knowledge and explaining the universe through testing and factual observation.


Kalief Browder Learned How to Commit Suicide on Rikers

The New Yorker

On June 6, 2015, Kalief Browder took his own life at his home, in the Bronx. He was twenty-two years old. He had been released from Rikers Island two years earlier, ending an ordeal that had begun on a spring night in 2010, when he had been arrested for robbery, at sixteen. He spent the next three years in jail trying to prove his innocence, and, for about two of those years, he was held in solitary confinement, where he attempted suicide several times. The charges against him were eventually dropped.


Feel Me

The New Yorker

On a bitter, soul-shivering, damp, biting gray February day in Cleveland--that is to say, on a February day in Cleveland--a handless man is handling a nonexistent ball. Igor Spetic lost his right hand when his forearm was pulped in an industrial accident six years ago and had to be amputated. In an operation four years ago, a team of surgeons implanted a set of small translucent "interfaces" into the neural circuits of his upper arm. This afternoon, in a basement lab at a Veterans Administration hospital, the wires are hooked up directly to a prosthetic hand--plastic, flesh-colored, five-fingered, and articulated--that is affixed to what remains of his arm. The hand has more than a dozen pressure sensors within it, and their signals can be transformed by a computer into electric waves like those natural to the nervous system.


Runs in the Family

The New Yorker

In the winter of 2012, I travelled from New Delhi, where I grew up, to Calcutta to visit my cousin Moni. My father accompanied me as a guide and companion, but he was a sullen and brooding presence, lost in a private anguish. He is the youngest of five brothers, and Moni is his firstborn nephew--the eldest brother's son. Since 2004, Moni, now fifty-two, has been confined to an institution for the mentally ill (a "lunatic home," as my father calls it), with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. He is kept awash in antipsychotics and sedatives, and an attendant watches, bathes, and feeds him through the day.


The Life Biz

The New Yorker

"Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business" (Random House) is Charles Duhigg's follow-up to his best-selling "The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business," which was published in 2012. The new book, like its predecessor, has a format that's familiar in contemporary nonfiction: exemplary tales interpolated with a little social and cognitive science. The purpose of the tales is to create entertaining human-interest narratives; the purpose of the science is to help the author pick out a replicable feature of those narratives for readers to emulate. What enabled the pilot to land the badly damaged plane? How did the academic dropout with anxiety disorder become a champion poker player?