I can has self-awareness?

What cats, cucumbers, and psychedelic drugs tell us about the nature of consciousness


About three years ago, cat owners around the world stumbled upon a strange phenomenon: their beloved pets appeared to be deathly afraid of cucumbers. This discovery quickly grew into an entire genre of viral video, and in case you aren’t familiar, a typical upload features a cat being scared witless—often stumbling backward wide-eyed or even springing into the air in panic—after finding a cucumber that its owner had covertly placed nearby.

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Twitter Triggers

The push and pull between social media and our moral emotions


A version of this article has been published by Nautilus

In December 2013, Justine Sacco, then the senior director of corporate communications at IAC, sent out a string of tweets over the course of a long, multi-leg journey from New York to South Africa. She started with sardonic observations about the minor trials of travel—one about a smelly passenger at JFK Airport, another about London’s peculiar food and predictably inclement weather. Then came this one, which she sent shortly before boarding her plane for the final, 11-hour flight to Cape Town:

“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

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Peed Us Not Into Temptation

Bladders and Willpower in King Louis XIV’s France


King Louis XIV, according to some historical accounts, had an extraordinarily resilient bladder. That is, he had a nearly superhuman ability to postpone his trips to the chamberpot whenever he found it strategically advantageous. And it turns out that as the most powerful leader of an entire continent, as a monarch who regularly hosted and negotiated with foreign dignitaries at his opulent palace at Versailles, he was given many opportunities to leverage his unique physiological gift.

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Why don’t we like virtuous people?

 We want those around us to be good—but not too good.


A version of this article has been published by Nautilus

At the beginning of the final debate of the 1988 presidential election, Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis, a lifelong opponent of capital punishment, was asked whether he would support the death penalty if his wife, Kitty, were raped and murdered. He quickly and coolly said no.

It was a surprising, deeply personal, and arguably inappropriate question, but in demonstrating an unwavering commitment to his principles, Dukakis had handled it well. Or so he thought.

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Re-evaluating empathy

We tend to put empathy on a pedestal. You can find almost religious reverence of it all over the internet, including business blogs, self-help articles, and even guides on how to fix the world. Its appeal is evident—it can strengthen our relationships and spur us to commit acts of kindness. But if we cut through the rosy din, we find that empathy may have a dark underside. Gaining traction in the fields of social psychology and moral philosophy is the opinion that empathy often corrupts our sense of morality and, in aggregate, makes the world worse.

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On the #GradStudentTax

A nation’s tax system is in many ways a reflection of its priorities. The United States offers tax exempt status to places of worship because of our culture’s deep ties to religion. We impose excise taxes on alcohol and tobacco in part because we want to discourage their use. The latest example is a bill set for a vote in the Senate next week. Its authors aim to drastically change how we prioritize higher education: They plan to make it unnecessarily difficult to earn a graduate degree, and in doing so, they threaten to deal irrevocable damage to scientific progress.

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