There is an established notion of the "happy idiot" — someone who doesn’t know a lot, knows he doesn’t know a lot, and doesn’t care. Think about Joey Tribbiani from Friends or Fry from Futurama. Though simple-minded and rather oblivious to their surroundings, both characters tended to come out on top. New research suggests that there may be something to this frequently invoked trope. Not knowing a lot — and being aware of your own ignorance — can make decisions easier and, as a result, lead to greater happiness.
What Makes Our Brains Special? Scientific American
The human brain is unique: Our remarkable cognitive capacity has allowed us to invent the wheel, build the pyramids and land on the moon. In fact, scientists sometimes refer to the human brain as the “crowning achievement of evolution.” But what, exactly, makes our brains so special? Some leading arguments have been that our brains have more neurons and expend more energy than would be expected for our size, and that our cerebral cortex, which is responsible for higher cognition, is disproportionately large—accounting for over 80 percent of our total brain mass.
The Great Brain Drain, Scientific American
In the human form of mad cow disease, called Creutzfeldt-Jakob, a person's brain deteriorates—literally developing holes that cause rapidly progressing dementia. The condition is fatal within one year in 90 percent of cases. The culprits behind the disease are prions—misfolded proteins that can induce normal proteins around them to also misfold and accumulate. Scientists have known that these self-propagating, pathological proteins cause some rare brain disorders, such as kuru in Papua New Guinea. But growing evidence suggests that prions are at play in many, if not all, neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer's, Huntington's and Parkinson's, also marked by aggregations of malformed proteins.
Antimatter is the stuff of science fiction. In the book and film Angels and Demons, Professor Langdon tries to save Vatican City from an antimatter bomb. Star Trek’s starship Enterprise uses matter-antimatter annihilation propulsion for faster-than-light travel. But antimatter is also the stuff of reality. Antimatter particles are almost identical to their matter counterparts except that they carry the opposite charge and spin. When antimatter meets matter, they immediately annihilate into energy. While antimatter bombs and antimatter-powered spaceships are far-fetched, there are still many facts about antimatter that will tickle your brain cells.
Are Europeans Better than Americans at Forecasting Storms? Scientific American
As Hurricane Joaquin gained wind over the Atlantic today, meteorologists scrambled to figure out where it’s headed next, leaving the rest of us scratching our heads. Will this storm currently punishing the Bahamas turn west and make landfall along the East Coast, or will it turn east and leave us alone? Both of these forecasts aired today. The American Global Forecasting System (GFS) predicted the storm would make landfall on the U.S. while the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecast (ECMWF) expected Joaquin to skip the East Coast entirely. Meanwhile, the hurricane grew from Category 3 to Category 4 on the Saffir-Simpson scale, with winds clocked at around 125 mph.