Nautilus


Antonio Damasio Tells Us Why Pain Is Necessary - Issue 56: Perspective

Nautilus

Following Oliver Sacks, Antonio Damasio may be the neuroscientist whose popular books have done the most to inform readers about the biological machinery in our heads, how it generates thoughts and emotions, creates a self to cling to, and a sense of transcendence to escape by. But since he published Descartes' Error in 1994, Damasio has been concerned that a central thesis in his books, that brains don't define us, has been muted by research that states how much they do. To Damasio's dismay, the view of the human brain as a computer, the command center of the body, has become lodged in popular culture. In his new book, The Strange Order of Things, Damasio, a professor of neuroscience and the director of the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California, mounts his boldest argument yet for the egalitarian role of the brain. In "Why Your Biology Runs on Feelings," another article in this chapter of Nautilus, drawn from his new book, Damasio tells us "mind and brain influence the body proper just as much as the body proper can influence the brain and the mind.


The Reality of Color Is Perception - Issue 56: Perspective

Nautilus

Philosophers have a bad reputation for casting unwarranted doubt on established facts. Little could be more certain than your belief that the cloudless sky, on a summer afternoon, is blue. Yet we may wonder in earnest, is it also blue for the birds who fly up there, who have different eyes from ours? And if you take an object that shares that color--like the flag of the United Nations--and place half in shadow and half in the full sun, one side will be a darker blue. You might ask, what is the real color of the flag?


What Pigeons Teach Us About Love - Issue 56: Perspective

Nautilus

Last spring I came to know a pair of pigeons. I'd been putting out neighborly sunflower seeds for them and my local Brooklyn house sparrows; typically I left them undisturbed while feeding, but every so often I'd want to water my plants or lie in the sun. This would scatter the flock--all, that is, except for these two. One, presumably male, was a strapping specimen of pigeonhood, big and crisp-feathered in an amiably martial way. The other, smaller bird presented a stark contrast: head and neck feathers in patchy disarray, eyes watery, exuding a sense of illness that transcends several hundred million years of divergent evolution.


Why Your Brain Hates Other People - Issue 55: Trust

Nautilus

As a kid, I saw the 1968 version of Planet of the Apes. As a future primatologist, I was mesmerized. Years later I discovered an anecdote about its filming: At lunchtime, the people playing chimps and those playing gorillas ate in separate groups. It's been said, "There are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide the world into two kinds of people and those who don't." In reality, there's lots more of the former.


Our Conflicted Feelings For R2-D2 - Issue 55: Trust

Nautilus

The iconic line from Star Wars, in which Luke Skywalker discovers the real identity of Darth Vader, marks the point in the series when two polar opposites that had been cleanly divided--the Jedi and the Dark Side--are suddenly mixed together in the most personal of ways. This ambiguity of opposition, which is part of what makes the series so compelling, is well known. There is another example of this opposition, though, that is easier to overlook: Star Wars both humanizes machines, so that we can like them, and dehumanizes them, so we can accept their slaughter. By the conclusion of the series, we feel a genuine warmth for the droid characters, R2-D2, C-3PO, and BB-8 and a concern for their safety. But why, when we know they are just machines?


Are Algorithms Building the New Infrastructure of Racism? - Issue 55: Trust

Nautilus

We don't know what our customers look like," said Craig Berman, vice president of global communications at Amazon, to Bloomberg News in June 2015. Berman was responding to allegations that the company's same-day delivery service discriminated against people of color. In the most literal sense, Berman's defense was truthful: Amazon selects same-day delivery areas on the basis of cost and benefit factors, such as household income and delivery accessibility. But those factors are aggregated by ZIP code, meaning that they carry other influences that have shaped--and continue to shape--our cultural geography. Looking at the same-day service map, the correspondence to skin color is hard to miss.


Which Comes First, Big Cities or Big Gods? - Facts So Romantic

Nautilus

The tradition granted the combatants, so the belief went, aid from heroic ancestral spirits--like the mighty A'orama, a fierce fighter in Kwara'ae folklore. For every man who prepared to shed blood, a hog met its end.1 Any non-superstitious observer might regard this ritual as a costly habit. Why give offerings when one can eat them instead? This puzzle is not unique to the Kwara'ae. Or erect and attend churches, mosques, temples?


Our Conflicted Feelings For R2-D2 - Issue 55: Trust

Nautilus

The iconic line from Star Wars, in which Luke Skywalker discovers the real identity of Darth Vader, marks the point in the series when two polar opposites that had been cleanly divided--the Jedi and the Dark Side--are suddenly mixed together in the most personal of ways. This ambiguity of opposition, which is part of what makes the series so compelling, is well known. There is another example of this opposition, though, that is easier to overlook: Star Wars both humanizes machines, so that we can like them, and dehumanizes them, so we can accept their slaughter. By the conclusion of the series, we feel a genuine warmth for the droid characters, R2-D2, C-3PO, and BB-8 and a concern for their safety. But why, when we know they are just machines?


Are Algorithms Building the New Infrastructure of Racism? - Issue 55: Trust

Nautilus

We don't know what our customers look like," said Craig Berman, vice president of global communications at Amazon, to Bloomberg News in June 2015. Berman was responding to allegations that the company's same-day delivery service discriminated against people of color. In the most literal sense, Berman's defense was truthful: Amazon selects same-day delivery areas on the basis of cost and benefit factors, such as household income and delivery accessibility. But those factors are aggregated by ZIP code, meaning that they carry other influences that have shaped--and continue to shape--our cultural geography. Looking at the same-day service map, the correspondence to skin color is hard to miss.


Should Scientists Publish Their Personal Biases? - Facts So Romantic

Nautilus

A lot of modern science challenges us to change our behaviors. Results related to climate change, for example, suggest we travel, shop, and eat differently. Psychology and sociology ask us to shift our perceptions of each other. Once the science is done, though, the work is not over. The next step involves facing one of a scientist's "most significant challenges," according to a recent study in PLoS ONE.