A Faustian bargain

economist-logoHUNTINGTON’S disease is awful. It slowly robs its victims of mobility, wits and emotions. And there is no cure. The idea that it might be the obverse of something good sounds, to say the least, counter-intuitive. Yet that is the contention of a small band of neuroscientists who have been studying it. They suggest the underlying cause of Huntington’s, a strange form of genetic mutation called a triplet-repeat expansion, might also be one of the driving forces behind the expansion of the human brain. Huntington’s, these people suspect, may be a price humanity pays for being clever…

This article first appeared in The Economist on 7 March 2015. To continue reading, click here.

Funny feet

ns_logoMY RUNNING shoes have a thick sole and cushioned heel. I bought them five years ago, before the “barefoot” craze for minimalist shoes that would allow people to better emulate how our ancestors ran. Soon after that, reports began appearing of injuries sustained by runners who had adopted these shoes, and lawsuits were filed against some manufacturers. Now the maximally cushioned or “fat” shoe is back in vogue, and suddenly my old shoes look high-tech again…

This article first appeared in New Scientist on 24 January 2015. To continue reading, click here.

Ella Albrecht/Gallerystock
Ella Albrecht/Gallerystock

Once upon a time…

ns_logoWHAT is “now”? It is an idea that physics treats as a mere illusion, yet it is something we are all familiar with. We tend to think of it as this current instant, a moment with no duration. But if now were timeless, we wouldn’t experience a succession of nows as time passing. Neither would we be able to perceive things like motion. We couldn’t operate in the world if the present had no duration. So how long is it…?

This article first appeared in New Scientist on 10 January 2015. To continue reading, click here.

Consciousness out there

FOLLOW this link to the first of a series of articles I’ve written about FEEL, a new project being run by experimental psychologist Kevin O’Regan in Paris, to explore the possibility that consciousness is not locked inside our brains, but emerges when we interact with the world. The implications are exciting and sometimes disturbing – for example, that babies are born without consciousness and acquire it gradually, in piecemeal fashion, as they move and receive sensory feedback, and gradually learn more sophisticated ways of manipulating the world.

 

Courtesy of Jacqueline Fagard
Courtesy of Jacqueline Fagard