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New Scientist The Collection Issue Three

New Scientist covers discoveries and ideas in science and technology that will change your life and the way you understand the world. New Scientist employs and commissions the best writers in their fields to provide in-depth but accessible coverage of the developments that matter. New Scientist: The Collection is a themed compilation of recent articles and special reports from our back catalogue, providing a book-length examination of some of the deepest questions known to humanity.

United Kingdom
New Scientist Ltd
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access_time3 min.
to your very good health

Life, the old saying goes, is not a dress rehearsal. You only get one shot, and it is worth making the most of it. That means different things to different people, but many of us would prioritise staying fit and healthy, leading an intellectually stimulating life, being both professionally and socially successful, and living to a ripe – and healthy – old age. That is easier said than done. In a world full of contradictory advice, where health news seemingly keeps on flip-flopping (is red wine good or bad for you this week?), it can be hard to know what you should actually do. Some things are obvious: stay physically and mentally active, get plenty of sleep, work hard but not too hard, and eat and drink in moderation. But the fine…

access_time13 min.
mental floss

BREATHE in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. I crack open an eye. Everyone else has theirs closed. I shut it again. Breathe in, breathe out. Around me people are sitting cross-legged, meditating. For some it’s spiritual, for others an oasis of calm. Me? I’m building a better brain. I could have bought a brain-training game, but alas, it turns out they are not much use. Although your performance on the games improves, that effect rarely translates into the real world (see “Does brain training work?”, page 10). With that in mind, I wondered if there was anything else I could do to give my grey matter a boost. Our brains are constantly adapting to information from the world around us. However, some activities make a bigger impression than others. In recent…

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does brain training work?

Once touted as the surest way to hone your mental powers, brain training software is now dogged by doubts over its effectiveness. The big question is whether getting better at the game translates into general cognitive improvements. Some trials have shown success, but no large trial has yet shown concrete evidence that brain training has an effect in the real world. Quite the opposite, in fact. In 2010, 11,000 volunteers were asked to do either online brain training or surf the web to find answers to a set of questions. All showed improvements in the task they were assigned, but there was no difference between the groups on other tests of cognition. A follow-up study of 44,600 people produced similar results. Yet the idea that flexing your mental muscle leads to wider improvements…

access_time11 min.
pimp my memory

IN THE age of Google, with limitless information at our fingertips, it is tempting to think that a good memory is obsolete. Of course anyone studying for exams or learning a new skill, or just trying to remember their myriad passwords, knows otherwise. In truth, many of us aspire to better recall. The trouble is that memory is a bit like a muscle – it can be hard work to keep it in top condition. But the good news is that scientists are now on to the problem. If you want to know how to get the most out of your memory with the least possible effort – and without resorting to dubious memory-boosting drugs – read on. How do memory champions do it? In November 2005, Chinese businessman Chao Lu became…

access_time1 min.
memories are made of this

If your brain were a bank, it would have three different vaults: Sensory memory – contains the fleeting impression of a sight or sound immediately after you experience it Short-term memory – the temporary store of information from second to second or minute to minute. It is where you hold a telephone number you are just about to dial. Long-term memory – a more permanent store, hoarding information over hours, days or years. This information can take the form of declarative memories, which include simple facts or specific episodes in your life, or procedural memories to do with skills, such as how to ride a bike.…

access_time10 min.
go with the flow

I’m close to tears behind my thin cover of sandbags as 20 screaming, masked men run towards me at full speed, strapped into suicide bomb vests and clutching rifles. For every one I manage to shoot dead, three new assailants pop up from nowhere. I’m clearly not shooting fast enough, and panic and incompetence are making me continually jam my rifle. My salvation lies in the fact that my attackers are only a video, projected on screens to the front and sides. It’s the very simulation that trains US troops to take their first steps with a rifle, and everything about it has been engineered to feel like an overpowering assault. But I am failing miserably. In fact, I’m so demoralised that I’m tempted to put down the rifle and leave. Then…