The Hollow Face Illusion is spooky. The photo is of a flat sheet of plastic with a facial mask pushed in one side. In this case it’s the face of Albert Einstein*. It’s not surprising that when illuminated, the shadows give a perception of Einstein’s face. The spooky part is that the photo was taken with the face pointing away from the camera — It’s as if we are looking at the face from inside the head. But for most of us, it looks as if the face is pointing towards you; that is, the nose is closer to the camera than the rest of the face. Actually, the nose is is furthest away. Continue reading
Everyone knows a picky eater—a former classmate of mine ate only cereal, pasta and milk—but why does picky eating exist? Continue reading
Before moving to London, I lived in New York City, where it was not uncommon to see cockroaches out on the street, and even once in a while in my apartment (and it was clean, I swear!). Despite an arsenal of poisons and eradication strategies, it seemed like cockroaches were just a part of city life I had to live with. A recent paper in the journal Science has shown that this may be true because cockroaches are quickly evolving to avoid precisely the yummy, sweet-tasting poisoned baits that I was using to keep them out of my kitchen. Continue reading
Pain and the avoidance behaviors it induces are important survival tools for animals, keeping them away from situations that threaten their safety. When we hurt ourselves and feel pain, it is due to nociceptors, which are nerves located throughout our body, for instance in our skin or the surface of our eyes. Nociceptors can be activated mechanically (for instance when a part of skin is cut) and by hot or cold temperatures. They can also be activated by some chemicals, and you might have already experienced it if you ate a meal with chili peppers. Continue reading
Memory is our most prized human treasure. It defines our sense of self, and our ability to navigate the world. It defines our relationships with others – for good or ill – and is so important to survival that our gilled ancestors bear the secret of memory etched in their DNA. If you asked someone over 50 to name the things they most fear about getting older, losing one’s memory would be near the top of that list. There is so much worry over Alzheimer’s disease, the memory thief, that it is easy to forget that our modern understanding of memory is still quite young, less than one, very special lifespan.
Meet the Patient Zero of memory disorders, H.M.
The last time I was on Boylston Street it was to give a lecture in November at a scientific meeting in the Weston Hotel. Today, Sunday, I’m looking out onto an empty street, barricaded. An eerie modern-day ghost town festooned with yellow police tape rippling in the cold Boston wind. Continue reading