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Popular Science September/October 2017

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United States
Camden Media Inc.
4 Issues

in this issue

1 min
time differences

YOU PROBABLY WON’T remember this page tomorrow. Don’t worry; I’m not offended. See, these 313 words will take you less than two minutes to read. If you live as long as an average American—78.8 years—my carefully crafted editor’s letter (which took me forever to write) will comprise just 1/29796163 of your life. Or, rounding to the nearest sensible number, zero percent of your dance through this mortal coil. But what if you were a mayfly? Stay with me—I am sober and I have a point, I promise. Forget that mayflies don’t so much think as obey instincts hot-stamped into their DNA, and ignore their lack of literacy. If you were a bookish mayfly—specifically a female of the species Dolania americana— these 83 seconds would represent almost a third of your adult…

2 min
your brain: time machine

YOUR MIND IS CONSTANTLY counting: the rhythm of your speech, the minutes until your next snack, the awful pause between text messages. Without all that tallying, you’d misinterpret a friend’s motives, or (horrors!) miss doughnut time. So how does your clever noggin seamlessly compute your life? Neuroscientists do not fully understand the precise neural dance—yet. But researchers do know that you can’t point to just one region in your skull. Different parts of our gray matter respond to different timing tasks, and brain imaging has helped us parse which areas do what. From drumming along with a musical phrase to figuring out how long a lecture has lasted, these specialized areas work together to shape our temporal perception. 1 Stopwatch When your brain picks up a signal from its surroundings, such as a…

1 min
teach ai when to say hi

A GUY WALKS INTO A BAR. THE ROBOT BARTENDER ASKS, “What’ll it be?” But when does the bot greet him? As soon as the man walks in? After he’s browsed the taps? A machine with no sense of social graces would not know the answer. That is, unless you taught it the delicate art of timing. According to Oregon State robotics professor Heather Knight, robots must understand how humans perceive time in order to build relationships with us. To teach them, Knight helps robots read our cues. For instance, a drinker in a hurry will take a direct, not a meandering, route to the barstool. But unpacking human body language is only part of what a would-be bionic barkeep might have to process. A customer enters DRINK SERVER We imagined this robot’s process…

1 min
consider the caribou

IN THE WILD, TIMING IS EVERYTHING: MILLIONS OF YEARS OF EVOLUTION have made species dependent on seasonal cues. In parts of North America, fall’s cooler weather signals some birds to fly south and avoid Jack Frost’s chill; meanwhile, shifts in both temperature and sunlight tell maple trees to shed their leaves. As Earth warms, some creatures are rapidly recalibrating their clocks. But others, such as caribou in Greenland, have stuck to the same old timetable. For them, the results are catastrophic. Arctic caribou herds arrive at their far-north calving grounds in early June, when grasses and sedges would begin to sprout, providing tender, nutritious meals. Caribou, whose internal clocks rely on seasonal changes in light rather than temperature, still arrive at the same time, but global warming has pushed the sprouting…

2 min
which way to tomorrow?

FORGET THE GEARS OF A WATCH. THOSE COLLECTIONS OF COGS AND springs might help us track the passing hours, but the way we visualize tempo is far more nuanced. “Time is abstract. It can’t be tall or short or big or small,” says Emanuel Bylund, a linguist at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. Time itself might be universal, but cultures worldwide use all kinds of metaphors and mannerisms to imagine the fourth dimension —and not everyone crams it into the same spatial constraints. Write Way, Write Time To understand this page, you need to read from left to right. That’s how the Greeks set up their alphabet, one of the precursors to our own. But in written Arabic, words flow in the opposite direction, and in Chinese, characters run top to bottom.…

1 min
where does the day go?

BREATHTAKING MOMENTS MIGHT LINGER IN YOUR MEMORY, BUT THEY’RE NOT what make up a life. It’s the minutes spent cleaning the toilet and choosing a not-too-hard avocado that add up. We spend most of our time zoning out or fussing about the lines at the grocery store, then wonder where the day went. Here’s how you’re most likely spending your waking hours at different stages of your life—and where you can pause to savor them for the lifetime they really are. TIME SPENT Working Helping Learning Shopping At Leisure Exercising Doing Chores Spiritually Eating/Drinking Volunteering Traveling On the Phone Grooming 44m00s GROOMING Gotta look good for all those hot dates you’re going on. 1h 00m EATING Savor it all before your metabolism slows down. 13m 48s CHAUFFERING Because the kids can’t drive themselves to the mall. 3h 13m WATCHING TV Binge-watch all the shows you missed while raising kids. 23m 24s GARDENING Retirement finally lets you focus on the…