Personal Essays

The Mellow Season

Human civilization tends to gravitate toward extremes in many realms. When it comes to weather, that is for good reason. No reminder is needed that, aside from a pick-ax to the eye, too much hot or cold is the very definition of discomfort. That is why, in our age of increasing climate extremes, and when […]

Bikel Remembered, And Linked

Theodore Meir Bikel was born in Vienna, Austria, on May 2, 1924. His family fled to Palestine after the Nazi Anschluss in 1938. After a lifetime of accomplishments, he died of natural causes in Los Angeles on July 21, 2015. He was 91 years of age. Broadway and Hollywood: Theodore Bikel was a lecturer, author, […]

Mosquitoes. What Are They Good For?

Not much. In fact, the mosquito has long been extremely annoying and extremely deadly, with one half of all human deaths since the Stone Age being attributed to mosquitoes. They are vectors of several human diseases, including encephalitis, filariasis, yellow fever, dengue, and malaria. They also spread West Nile virus from birds to horses and […]

Animal, Vegetable, Intelligence

Plant neurobiologists argue the ways in which plants demonstrate behaviors that look very much like intelligence, memory, learning, and decision-making. Rather than relying on a brain and neurons, plants use a decentralized network, but both plants and animals can respond adaptively to circumstances. This list of the 10 smartest animals includes anoles and cockatoos, in […]

Let It Bee

Honeybees are sophisticated creatures. They are one of the few nonhuman animals to communicate symbolically, using a waggle dance and excreting pheromones to recruit and direct others in the hive to a new food source. The honeybee waggle dance is a unique animal signal that exhibits several characteristics of true language. Bees have a phenomenal […]

Faking It

La Bella Principessa is a painting worth somewhere between $19,000 and $150 million dollars. In 1998, Christie’s listed the chalk-and-ink drawing on vellum dated as early 19th century and Germanic in provenance. (Oops!) It was sold to Kate Ganz for $21,850. The portrait was sold a few years later to Peter Silverman for a similar amount. […]

Alone Again, Or

Scientists have been studying the calls of a whale dubbed “the loneliest whale in the world” for more than 20 years. Its calls are unusually high pitched—52 hertz, versus the typical 15-20 hertz range of blue whales. No one has ever seen the 52-hertz whale, but scientists believe he has been swimming alone for decades, […]

See Journeys

There is a long-standing puzzle about the wiring of the human eye: why was it wired backwards? The inside-out vertebrate retina has always been presented as an example of inefficient structure locked in by development and evolutionary history. Some recent research has shown that the retina of the eye has been optimized so that the sizes […]