Category Archives: Neuroscience

The progress illusion

ns_logoWHEN Admiral Zheng He led his fleet out of the eastern Chinese port of Suzhou in 1405, it must have been a sight to behold. The largest of the several hundred ships under his command were the size of modern aircraft carriers and housed 500 men apiece. The fleet made seven expeditions in all, to advertise the might of the Ming dynasty around the Indian Ocean, but having returned to port for the last time it was dismantled, vanishing along with the engineering know-how that created it. For the next few centuries China’s seagoing vessel of choice was a much humbler junk…

This article was first published in New Scientist on 4 October 2012. To continue reading, click here.

The underhand ape

ns_logoIN 2004, Benjamin Olken visited a road-building project in rural Indonesia. There was just one small section missing – a bridge over a stream – but the money had run out because of embezzlement, and construction abandoned. “By the time I got there, you could see where the road had been cleared and built, but the grass had completely grown back,” he says. “The road had fallen into decay…”

This article was first published in New Scientist on 9 November 2011. To continue reading click here.

H.M.

economist-logoEACH time Suzanne Corkin met H.M. during one of his visits to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she would ask him if they had met before. He would smile and say yes, and when she asked him where he would reply, “In high school.” They did not actually meet until he was in his late 30s, but they worked together for nearly five decades, and the last time they met he still failed to recognise her. The most she ever elicited in him was a sense of familiarity…

This article first appeared in the Economist on 18 December 2008. To continue reading click here

How time flies

titlepieceTHE old man shields his eyes against the fierce light of the Altiplano and considers the question. When he talks about his ancestors, does he mean the Incas? No, he replies in a sort of Spanish creole, he means his great-great-grandfather. And with his right hand he makes a rotating gesture up and forwards from his body. The Incas, he adds, came way earlier. And with the same hand he sweeps even further forward, towards the mountains on the horizon…

This article first appeared in the Guardian on 24 February 2005. To continue reading click here.