Human

Category archives for Human

My New Book: High Frontiers!

Writing for the Internet is like yelling into the void: freeing, probably more than a little cathartic, but ultimately lonely. That’s not to say that I haven’t made profound connections out here, but like most writers I long for a little thing with my name on it that fits in the hand, that can be…

“This one will look like a jellybean,” the session director warns us. “Or, you know, when you empty a hole punch? The circles of paper that fall out? One of those.” She’s talking about Neptune, and I am about to step, carefully, up a ladder painted industrial yellow and wheeled into place in front of…

I probably don’t need to introduce Oliver Sacks to you. You’ve undoubtedly already delighted over his wobbly affectation and tales of neurological strangeness on RadioLab or NPR. You might have read his lovely first-person account, in the New Yorker, of his early experiments with hallucinogens of all stripes, from the “pharmacological launch pad” of amphetamines…

Universe Book Club: Incognito

The history of science can be read as a series of brusque reality checks. Once, we thought the sun revolved around the Earth, but modern astronomy relegated our real estate, incrementally, from the center of everything to a hum-drum corner of an unimportant galaxy in a handful of generations. The theory of Evolution turned us from mini-gods…

The Earth is the New Moon

Stewart Brand, writing about space colonies, observed that “if you live in a satellite, the Earth is something that goes on in your sky.” For Felix Baumgartner, the daredevil skydiver who seduced the world with his chiseled jaw and seeming invulnerability to fear (and who broke the sound barrier with his body last weekend) the…

The Canals of Mars

The space-heads among you have undoubtedly heard about the Curiosity rover’s first significant discovery: the remnants of an ancient streambed on Mars, which would seem to indicate the presence of water in the planet’s history. This jagged pile of alluvial rock and dust may not look like much, but it brings to mind one of my…

The Best Science Writing Online 2012

I’ve been practicing little idiosyncratic rituals on this corner of the web for years: learn something new, obsessively research, get lost in the idea, scribble, converse endlessly, then write. This blog, Universe, has never been about garnering hits or materializing an audience because, for me, thinking and writing about science is a personal tic. I…

Footprints on the Moon

Yesterday we lost Neil Armstrong, an accidental hero, thrust by fate onto a rock in the sky. Many dreamt of walking on the moon before he did, and a few men did after him. He happened to be the first. Hopefully many more men, and women too, will echo his iconic footsteps in the future.…

On Curiosity and its Shadows

The NASA Mars rover Curiosity just landed on Mars. Those of us who tuned in vicariously via NASA’s live coverage watched as a roomful of tense engineers exploded, and heard their disembodied voices whispering and booming through the control room. Holy shit. We did it. Their headsets fell askew, they glad-handed one another, criss-crossing the…

To scientists, “experimental” is a technical word, one with a precise meaning: that which relates to a procedure of methodical trial and error, to a systematic test for determining the nature of reality. I got in trouble on this blog once, with commenters, for using the word “experimental” too flippantly. But artists experiment too, of course.…