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Why Do We Forget?

To live is to forget—account numbers, names, the precise locations of keys and wallets, friends from childhood, peripheral characters from prestige TV shows, inside jokes, past ambitions, U.S. history, much else. Goldfish with guns: that’s the human race. But every frailty, we know, serves some larger adaptive…

What's the Loudest Sound in the Universe? What's the Loudest Sound in the Universe?

The human tolerance for sound is, on a galactic level, puny. Volcano eruptions, jackhammer-intensive construction work, My Bloody Valentine concerts—these tinnitus-inducing phenomena are barely whispers besides the majestic, roiling bursts and collisions going on in outer space.

What's the Worst Pain? What's the Worst Pain?

Some people say that life is pain. Those people are optimistic: life isn’t pain, it’s pains, plural—tooth pain, back pain, breakup-pain, the pain of watching your parents grow old and die, the pain of downwardly adjusting your expectations for life, stomach pain and sinus pain, pain you can’t quite trace to any one…

What Was the First Recreational Drug? What Was the First Recreational Drug?

Sex, war, and getting insanely high: Society might’ve changed in the last 60,000 years or so, but these interests have remained constant. In a way, this is a kind of golden age for the aspiring recreational drug user: putting aside the public health consequences of a market flooded with mass-produced speed,…

What's Wrong If You Have a Red, Shiny Nose? What's Wrong If You Have a Red, Shiny Nose?

All this talk about whether or not Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is problematic has obscured a very important question—i.e., what was actually wrong with Rudolph’s nose? Like, medically? Did no one ever think of taking him to a doctor, to see if everything was ok with his nose, before being mean to him about it?

What's the Newest Animal? What's the Newest Animal?

Bears. Donkeys. Fat, friendly dogs. These animals—animals, generally—have been around for an extremely long time, long enough to feel like a fixed part of the landscape. It’s easy to forget that these creatures weren’t always there, and didn’t always look like they do now. On human—as opposed to geologic—time, forms…

What's the Most Dangerous Food of All Time? What's the Most Dangerous Food of All Time?

Surveying the whole scope of human history vis-à-vis food, a couple of themes emerge. One is that humans like their food to taste good. Another is that they like it to not kill them. These two qualities often cohere in the same foodstuff—apples, for instance, taste great, and are not to my knowledge toxic—but…

What's the Smartest Plant? What's the Smartest Plant?

Compared to even the dumbest human being, your average tulip is a moron. But you’d have to be dumber than a tulip to deny that something—maybe not intelligence in its dictionary definition, but some guiding, autonomic power—is at work among the members of the plant kingdom. And if we grant plants this…

Do Animals Grift Each Other? Do Animals Grift Each Other?

Ours is a dog-eat-dog world—but is the same true for dogs? I’ve seen dogs tussle over discarded bits of hamburger meat, but I’ve never seen one try to enlist another in a shady multi-level marketing scheme, nor have I seen one dog try to distract another dog while a third dog steals the second dog’s rat carcass or…

How Will We Know the World Is Ending?

Visions of the end of the world tend to extremes—the planet fatally fracked, flooded, hurricaned, nuke-cratered. No survivors, or maybe one or two survivors, dazed and dust-grimed, roaming a wasted landscape, eating canned beans, rotted squirrels, each other. But the truth is we might be in for a slow burn,…

How Much Human Skin Does a Person Ingest Over the Course of Their Lifetime? How Much Human Skin Does a Person Ingest Over the Course of Their Lifetime?

The average American eats almost a ton of food a year. This breaks down to roughly 630 of milk, cheese and ice cream, 185 pounds of meat, and an increasingly high dosage of anti-depressants. But where does human flesh fit in? Humans shed something like 500 million skin cells a day. The fact is that these literal…

Will Cryogenically Frozen People Ever Be Revived?

Corpse-freezing hasn’t exactly gone mainstream, but most people are now familiar with the concept: you lay out a ton of cash, sign some papers, and spend a couple post-death decades in a cutting-edge meat locker, calmly awaiting the conditions for your eventual revival. Over 300 cold, dead Americans—or dead, cold…

Why Do We Remember Some Dreams but Not Others? Why Do We Remember Some Dreams but Not Others?

If you’ve ever woken up on the brink of a heart attack, drenched in sweat and convinced you’ll never live down the shame of sprinting nude through downtown Pittsburgh, you know that some dreams are more memorable than others. Most dreams, in fact, seem totally unmemorable—at least in the sense that we can’t remember…

Would a BDSM Sex Robot Violate Asimov's First Law of Robotics? Would a BDSM Sex Robot Violate Asimov's First Law of Robotics?

The sex robot community—the people who make the sex robots, and the people who want to have sex with the sex robots—suffered a blow this past week, when the Houston City Council voted to preemptively ban what would’ve been the first sex robot “brothel” in the U.S. But even those council members must know that their…

Do Dogs Forget Their People? Do Dogs Forget Their People?

Let’s say your long-term relationship totally implodes. Browsing for a new apartment, or a therapist that takes your insurance, you hear your dog bark in the other room—and realize, with a start, that it’s not actually your dog. Once you’re all moved out, the dog will be out of your life, too. Stewing in self-pity you…

Is Breakfast Cereal Any Good for You? Is Breakfast Cereal Any Good for You?

Wrangle up the right studies and you can make anything look deadly. Breakfast cereal—at least, the kind without cartoon mascots—might seem innocuous, and might be marketed as healthy, but that’s no reason to think that every naturally-flavored bite isn’t speeding you towards the grave. Nothing, in this world, is above…

Do Kids Feel Stronger Emotions Than Adults? Do Kids Feel Stronger Emotions Than Adults?

It’s easy to feel smug around kids. You might not have it all together—you might, in fact, be rapidly disintegrating professionally and psychologically—but at least you can spill some apple juice without wailing inconsolably for six hours. Comparatively terrible things happen to you all the time, and you don’t freak…

Does Your Cat Actually Hate You? Does Your Cat Actually Hate You?

Dogs wear their hearts on their sleeves; cats—or at least some cats, some of the time—can spend years at your side without making it totally clear that they know, or care, who you are. An expression vaguely resembling contentment flits across their face and you think, triumphantly: see! My cat doesn’t despise me.

Who Is the Most Powerful Supervillain?  Who Is the Most Powerful Supervillain? 

The supervillains who torment, thwart and otherwise mess with the universe’s well-meaning superheroes are, on the whole, a pretty foul bunch. But which of these supervillains is best at what they do? Put otherwise: if what supervillains do is try to inflict as much misery as possible on the largest number of people,…

How Much Sleep Is Too Much Sleep? How Much Sleep Is Too Much Sleep?

An entire industry—with its own spokespeople, podcasts, best-sellers, retreats, truisms, etc.—has sprung up around sleep. Give or take a contrarian or two, the message of most of this stuff seems to be that sleep is good, and that if you’re not sleeping seven or eight hours a night, you should be. And since you’re…

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