Guest Post: A Mathematical Mastermind Gets His Head Examined

On a December day a few years ago, John Horton Conway settled in for an interview at the office of neuroscientist Sandra Witelson. Conway wasn’t there for an appointment proper, but rather to provide fodder for Witelson’s ongoing research on scientifically minded brains. All the same, he’d braced himself for an arsenal of standard neuropsychological […]

Double Play: How the Yankees Ruined My Feng Shui

I don’t make decisions easily. When it comes to home décor, I can revisit a rug or bedspread five times before dismissing or buying it, usually with remorse one way or the other. Online shopping makes it worse. Oh, the hours I’ve spent toggling between web pages, Googling in search of a better price, rethinking […]

The trolley and the psychopath

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A trolley carrying five school children is headed for a cliff. You happen to be standing at the switch, and you could save their lives by diverting the trolley to another track. But there he is – an innocent fat man, picking daisies on that second track, oblivious […]

Redux: The Knowledge

 This first ran on Nov. 18, 2011, before Sally took indefinite leave.  We just know you’re missing her so here’s the next best, the redux Sally. A transatlantic phone call ended badly the other day. “You can just turn left at the next light,” I heard my friend tell the New York cab driver over […]

Guest Post: Lost in Congo

Ever get the feeling that the whole world’s privy to a joke you just don’t get? That sort of approximates my life in the sprawl of Kinshasa. For the next year or so, my wife Anne-Claire and I will call this notorious behemoth of a failed state home. I couldn’t be happier – to live […]

Secret Satans: Neuroscience

“Well, you know we only use about 10 per cent of our brain.” I don’t like when people tell me this. Someday, I hope to acquire the guts to issue the following rejoinder: “Which 10 per cent do you use?” But because I don’t like confrontation, I usually just make a face of mute disappointment […]

Abstruse Goose: Disproportionate Reaction

I should never argue about anything whatever with someone who understands math, especially someone who understands it as well as our boy, AG, here.  But I wonder whether “disproportionate” isn’t confusing statistics with neuroscience. Let’s say AG is 30 years old, meaning he’s lived for 10,800 days, so finding the spider one day out of […]

Women’s Work

(Update below) I write mostly about neuroscience, genetics and biotechnology. That means I spend most of my time talking to and writing about men. In May of 2011 (chosen arbitrarily just because it was a year ago and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t thinking about this gender gap then), 89 percent of my phone interviews […]