Only Human

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Uprooted, Again

For me, the hardest part of writing a story is finding the end. It often feels arbitrary, or artificial, or both. A person’s story isn’t necessarily over, after all, just because I’m ready to write it down. But I can’t put it off forever, either. Editors are waiting, and my unpaid bills. So I squeak […]…

The Dog Mom’s Brain

When people ask me if I have kids, my standard answer is, “I have a dog.” My husband and I are the first to admit that we tend to treat our pup like a “real” child. He eats organic food. Our apartment is littered with ripped plush toys. We talk to him in stupid high-pitched […]…

The Other Polygraph

A test that measures brain waves may be more useful to criminal investigations than the traditional polygraph.

Emotion Is Not the Enemy of Reason

This is a post about emotion, so — fair warning — I’m going to begin with an emotional story. On April 9, 1994, in the middle of the night, 19-year-old Jennifer Collins went into labor. She was in her bedroom in an apartment shared with several roommates. She moved into her bathroom and stayed there […]…

Why Jurors and Policemen Need Stress Relief

I’ll be sitting on a jury tomorrow for the first time. The logistics are annoying. I have to take an indefinite time off work, wait in long security lines at the courthouse, and deal with a constant stream of bureaucratic nonsense. But all that is dwarfed by excitement. And, OK, yes, some pride. My judgments […]…

The Point of Pointing

Five years ago cognitive scientist Rafael Núñez found himself in the Upper Yupno Valley, a remote, mountainous region of Papua New Guinea. The area is home to some 5,000 indigenous people, and Núñez and his graduate student, Kensy Cooperrider, were studying their conceptions of time. Most of you reading this post have a Western understanding […]…

Brain Zaps Boost Memory

Researchers who study memory have had a thrilling couple of years. Some have erased memories in people with electroshock therapy, for example. Others have figured out, in mice, how to create false memories and even turn bad memories into good ones. Today, another “No way, really?!” study gets added to the list. Scientists have boosted memory skills in healthy volunteers by […]…

Peak Zone

In June 1958, 17-year-old Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known as Pelé, arrived in Stockholm with the rest of the Brazilian national football team to play against Sweden in the World Cup Finals. Just before the game, as the peppy marching beats of the Brazilian national anthem rang out, Pelé’s thoughts wandered. He thought of […]…

From Ancient Genomes to Ancient Epigenomes

Late last year, scientists unveiled the complete genome of a female Neanderthal whose 130,000-year-old toe bone had been found in a cave in Siberia. As it turned out, her sequence of some 3 billion DNA letters was not all that much different from mine or yours. The researchers identified only about 35,000 places in the […]…

The Chatty Hippocampus

The hippocampus, a skinny log of brain tissue tucked in deep above your ear, is the star of memory research. People with damaged hippocampi — such as the famous patient Henry Molaison, known as H.M. — can’t make new memories. And studies in rodents have shown that creating new memories drives robust connections between neurons […]…

Napoleon’s Legacy

I’m on vacation this week, so here’s a fun story from my archives about Napoleon’s genes. It was originally published in 2010 on The Last Word on Nothing. * In perhaps the same way that Americans prattle on about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the French never tire of the death of Napoleon Bonaparte. […]…

Expanding Guts in Pythons and People

Regular readers of this blog might remember a post I wrote a few months ago about weight-loss surgery. A mouse study suggested that surgery works — triggering weight loss and, often, diabetes remission — not because it makes the stomach smaller, but because it drastically changes its biochemistry. I took a close look at that […]…

The Sexual Politics of Autism

A diagnosis of autism is almost five times more common in boys than girls. But a new study suggest the sex differences in autism have been greatly exaggerated…