On Not Telling Everything

Why are people fascinated by films that hide their secrets?

Why I Walked Away From the Word “Cyborg”

I used it 157 times in my first book. In my second, only once. Why? I'll be lecturing on this subject at the Library of Congress on Wednesday, March 20, 2013.

What Kind of Religion Is There for Nonbelievers?

Nonbelievers can show that the universe does have meaning, and that it exists whether humans do or not. And they can show that that meaning emerges inevitably, inexorably, out of the basic physical processes of the universe – that it is not optional or accidental. We can get a religion out of that, but of a very different kind than we've had in the past six thousand years.

Is the Brain Just a Giant Switching Machine?

Is the brain replaceable in principle by digital switches? Here's four reasons why it might not be.

How To Play Video Games Peacefully

When you kill someone in a video game, there should be a popup telling you his name, age, significant other, and hobbies. Here's how I learned how to play video games peacefully.

Can science shed light on “Proof of Heaven”?

In his book "Proof of Heaven," the neurosurgeon Eben Alexander tells a vivid story of life after death, and of an omniscient and loving God. How much of it can a rationalist believe?

How To End Gun Violence

It's not enough to point out the difficulty of shooting only the assailant in a room full of panicking people. We also have to remember that in a civilized nation, citizens grant a monopoly on violence to a legitimately elected government.

Do Super-Earths Trap the Civilizations On Them?

Far from being gravitational traps, super-Earths should be positive incubators of spacefaring civilizations. Surface gravity could be the same as Earth, and their larger size would give them more resources to work with.

Do Super-Earths Have Too Much Gravity For Us?

Many rocky planets have been discovered in their star's habitable zone. All of them are larger than Earth, but that doesn't mean their gravity will be crushing.

A Status-Quo Election, But Much Cause For Hope

Historians will someday say that 2012 set the stage for 2016, the year in which the 21st century really started.

The Revolution We Can't Imagine

When implantable technologies come of age, new uses will be found for them, and they won’t be about merely enhancing our bodies. It’ll about letting our bodies do things we have never dreamed of doing before.

Workstations of the Future

Imagine a user standing at a table, wearing glasses, gesturing in the air, and turning in various directions to look at different aspects of her work. Monitors will be obsolete. That's what computer work will look like in 2022.

Why I Am A Scientific Progressive–And An Optimist

In the long run, stupidity never wins. Humanity will get its act together, as it always has. The only question is when. That’s why I’m not only a scientific progressive, I’m an optimistic scientific progressive.

The Uncanny Valley of Alien Technology

If you sent 5.25" floppy disks back to medieval times, knights might decide that they make excellent sun visors. And our cat Posy thinks that a flash drive dangled from a lanyard is simply a great cat toy. To my own surprise, this train of thought led to mind-destroying messages and Shannon entropy. Here's how you build really good alien technology.

How Incomprehensible Could Extraterrestrials Be?

In the popular imagination, aliens are usually either thinly disguised humans (e. g. Klingons) or utterly incomprehensible (e.g. the inscrutable monolith in 2001.) But will real extraterrestrials be so different from us as to be truly incomprehensible? I think the answer is no. And yes.

Why Publishers Don't Fact-Check Books

In the light of recent events, some people have been asking why publishers don't fact-check books. Here's why.

Why the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony Was So Brilliant

Danny Boyle's opening ceremony for the Olympics told a rich and fascinating story of why Great Britain had such a massive impact on world history. It was a brilliant achievement, and it makes the 2012 Olympics one to remember.

A better way to listen for messages from the stars

A small radio antenna fifty billion miles from Earth would be incredibly sensitive. It would use the Sun itself as a gravitational lens. If you want to get serious about SETI, this is one way to do it.

What's The Connection Between Deafness and SETI?

I think of our planet swimming in the starry blackness, studded with radio telescopes peering anxiously into the void—and hearing nothing. To me, that feels a lot like being deaf.

The Visitor From Planet X

When I was a kid I read "Tom Swift and the Visitor From Planet X" and found it a crashing disappointment. But here's a way we could send a real Visitor to an alien planet: create an AI (artificial intelligence) and send that, along with instructions on how to run it.

Will Extraterrestrials Understand A Message We Send?

Can we create a message that any intelligent extraterrestrial mind can understand?

After the Turning Point at UC Davis: Building Moral Politics

How, exactly, does nonviolent protest—or protest of any kind, for that matter—actually change anything? How does it deprive the violent, the unjust, and the selfish of their power? How does it put competent and fair-minded people in power? How does it take bad laws off the books and replace them with good ones? How, in short, does it change anything?

The Turning Point: The Moral Example of UC Davis Students

If America needs a moral turning point, this is it.

Why The Rapture Was Fascinating

Pseudo-apocalypses are proxies for American fears about very real events: global climate change, peak oil, and terrorism. Laughing at the people who believed in a fake apocalypse is a way of dealing with our fears of the real thing.

Communicating with Intelligent Aliens

Aliens could have profoundly different metaphorical systems for structuring their languages, but patient explanation may get the message across all the same. Here's how the work of several linguists can be applied to the problem of interspecies communication.

Are We Alone in the Universe?

Scientists disagree radically on whether there is life Out There, let alone intelligent life. Here I survey a few intriguing and provocative recent books.

Is There a Logic to History?

Can we find biological, thermodynamic, and philosophical criteria for defining how advanced a society is? And should we even try?

To Become Intelligent, Watson Needs an Ecosystem

When I was ten, my dad showed me how to make a computer out of a bunch of matchboxes and jujubes. It taught me a crucial lesson: all computers are equally stupid, no matter how much RAM they have or how fast their CPUs are. To make a smart computer, you need more than hardware. You need an environment in which computers have to evolve to survive.

A New "Moore's Law" for Neuroscience

According to Moore's Law, the number of transistors on a chip doubles approximately every two years. Now, welcome Stevenson & Kording's Law: the number of neurons that can be tracked in the brain doubles every 7.4 years. What are the implications of that?

Ten Hard-Learned Relationship Tips

I made one relationship blunder after another throughout my thirties and early forties. Still, I did learn a lot along the way. Here's ten behaviors that helped me as my wife and I transitioned from "dating" to "serious relationship."