Asking questions like an Italian: Get quick answers with your hands

What’s the first thing that comes to mind in response to “Italian”? Lots of things probably, from Lamborghini to cannelloni and Bertolucci. Perhaps you also thought of how Italians talk. Even if we don’t speak Italian, we probably know that Italians do a lot of talking with their hands: in case you have any doubt, […]

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Alpha, Beta, Blink: Synchronicity between brain oscillations and the attentional blink

We are constantly bombarded with a lot more information than we can process at once. We use our attentional abilities to filter out unwanted information and to focus on those things that appear particularly relevant—for example, right now I am trying to ignore all the buzz around me in a Star Alliance lounge at Heathrow […]

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Vladimir Putin and the empty chair: Can people spot #Fakepictures?

Hamburg, Germany, July 2017. The leaders of the 20 most powerful countries in the world gather at the G20 summit to discuss the issues facing our global society. The meeting was hosted by Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, and among the guests were President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. The New Statesman reported the excitement […]

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When 5 fingers make a person: Generalization of expertise to coarser categories

One sip, and most of us can tell with near-perfect accuracy whether the wine is red or white. And suppose it’s red, it takes relatively little expertise to know whether it’s a shiraz or a merlot. But judging whether it’s an Australian shiraz or a Chilean shiraz may require considerable expertise. Finally, being able to […]

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How long till today’s cigarette will make me ill? Time estimation revisited

Today’s cigarette may yield considerable satisfaction to a smoker, although that satisfaction will likely pale in comparison to the disutility arising from that person’s lung cancer in the future. Likewise, today’s Big Mac and extra-large bag of potato chips may gratify the consumer but the long-term consequences—from obesity to diabetes to heart attacks—are unlikely to […]

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Open but not rugged: The awe-inspiring vastness of the Nullarbor

Have you ever experienced “vastness”? Have you driven across a vast expanse of space that stretches from horizon to horizon seemingly without limit? If not, then I can recommend the Australian Nullarbor (pronounced “null-ah-bore”), the treeless arid expanse of red soil and scrubs in between Eucla in Western Australia and Ceduna in South Australia. It […]

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Porcine aviators’ attire: The indestructible causal rationality of magical worlds

Suppose your task is to design a stylish aviator outfit for pigs. How would you go about doing that? You might find it helpful to know that the 1616 edition of John Withals’s English-Latin dictionary, A Shorte Dictionarie for Yonge Begynners, notes that “Pigs fly in the ayre with their tayles forward.” So you might […]

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Bob better had a round face and Kirk a square jaw: People are liked better if their names go with their faces

What does Bob look like? … Bob who? … No, just Bob, any Bob. And while you are at it, what does Kirk look like? At first glance those questions appear absurd. How could anyone infer an unknown person’s looks from their name? Why would the average Bob look any different from the average Kirk? […]

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Chunks amidst the ruins of Giuoco Pianissimo: Superior expert memory for random domain-relevant material

In 1974, philosopher Thomas Nagel famously asked, what’s it like to be a bat? I am not sure that this question has been answered satisfactorily, so maybe we should focus on a slightly more circumscribed variant of the same question: What’s it like to be a chess grand master? Cognitive scientists have been addressing this […]

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