All Articles

A Tsimané man plays an instrument resembling a violin.
Abstractions blog

Perceptions of Musical Octaves Are Learned, Not Wired in the Brain

October 30, 2019

Singing experiments with residents of the Bolivian rainforest demonstrate how biology and experience shape the way we hear music.

An interactive illustration of shapes hiding clocks.

Cosmic Triangles Open a Window to the Origin of Time

October 29, 2019

A close look at fundamental symmetries has exposed hidden patterns in the universe. Physicists think that those same symmetries may also reveal time’s original secret.

Illustration of a magnetar with blue magnetic field lines.
Abstractions blog

The Most-Magnetic Objects in the Universe Attract New Controversy

October 28, 2019

How do magnetars get so magnetic? A study of stellar explosions shows that the long-accepted theory might be wrong.

Animation of one icon tracing a wave pattern over a brain, followed by another icon that erases the pattern.

Dueling Brain Waves Anchor or Erase Learning During Sleep

October 24, 2019

While we sleep, one kind of slow brain wave helps to reinforce memories, but a competing wave weakens them.

Photos of Google’s quantum computer system on the left, IMB’s supercomputer Summit on the right.
Abstractions blog

Google and IBM Clash Over Milestone Quantum Computing Experiment

October 23, 2019

Today Google announced that it achieved “quantum supremacy.” Its chief quantum computing rival, IBM, said it hasn’t. The disagreement hinges on what the term really means.

A fractal pattern.

A Power Law Keeps the Brain’s Perceptions Balanced

October 22, 2019

Researchers have discovered a surprising mathematical relationship in the brain’s representations of sensory information, with possible applications to AI research.

Photo of a yellow sunflower against a yellow background.
Abstractions blog

Mathematicians Begin to Tame Wild ‘Sunflower’ Problem

October 21, 2019

A major advance toward solving the 60-year-old sunflower conjecture is shedding light on how order begins to appear as random systems grow in size.

Illustration of cartoon characters working alongside a machine.
artificial intelligence

Machines Beat Humans on a Reading Test. But Do They Understand?

October 17, 2019

A tool known as BERT can now beat humans on advanced reading-comprehension tests. But it’s also revealed how far AI has to go.

Illustration of two strips of movie film coiled around each other in a double helix.

Inherited Learning? It Happens, but How Is Uncertain

October 16, 2019

Studies suggest that epigenetics allows some learned adaptive responses to be passed down to new generations. The question is how.