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Mind-bending studies, illnesses and tests

Mind-bending studies, illnesses and tests

(Copyright: Getty Images)

Our pick of the week’s science and technology stories include Oliver Sacks and drugs, a world without pain, and a surprising pregnancy test result.

Oliver Sacks' most mind-bending experiment
Adam Higginbotham | Telegraph | 13 November 2012
This is a most engaging and enjoyable profile-cum-interview with the neurologist. However, if you strongly disapprove of drug-taking, look away now. In his youth, Sacks was an enthusiastic experimenter with drugs. "On a massive dose of morphine, he lay in bed for 12 hours watching the Battle of Agincourt take place on the sleeve of his dressing gown."

The hazards of growing up painlessly
Justin Heckert | New York Times | 15 November 2012

Ashlyn Blocker, 13, has a congenital insensitivity to pain. It's a very rare condition stemming from a genetic mutation. You might think it sounds an appealing state in which to live but Ashlyn's life story offers "an amazing snapshot of how complicated a life can get without the guidance of pain."

Napster, Udacity, and The Academy
Clay Shirky | Clay Shirky | 12 November 2012

Open online education courses are going to hollow out traditional colleges and universities, says Shirky, just as MP3 and Napster did for the music industry. They'll give people freedom to choose only what they want, when they want it. Traditional institutions won't be able to lower their costs or increase enrolment fast enough to protect themselves.

Corridors of the mind
Emily Badger | Pacific Standard | 5 November 2012

Why do people feel more comfortable, more inspired in one place than another? Is it really possible that the built environment can affect the performance of the brain? A growing body of researchers believes that neuroscience could make a valuable contribution to the field of architecture. This piece suggests how.

Positive pregnancy test diagnoses man's cancer
Maggie Koerth-Baker | Boing Boing | 8 November 2012

A man finds a pregnancy test kit in his bathroom cupboard, left by an old girlfriend. Just for laughs, he pees on the stick. Surprise! The result comes back positive. Lucky for him, a friend jokes about it on Reddit and receives an unexpected reply, explaining just what that positive result means.

The science and art of listening
Seth Horowitz | New York Times | 9 November 2012

What's the difference between hearing and listening? Attention, might be a reasonable answer. But, says auditory neuroscientist Seth Horowitz, this "is not some monolithic brain process". It's much more sophisticated than that. "There are different types of attention, and they use different parts of the brain."

Be persuasive. Be brave. Be arrested (if necessary)
Jeremy Grantham | Nature | 14 November 2012

This short piece is a powerful call to arms for scientists. Grantham, who works in finance, is worried that global warming is exacerbating a resource crisis. Politicians and the public don't recognise the extent of the danger but scientists do. They're adept at measuring our progress towards the cliff edge; it's time, says Grantham, they did more to try to stop it.

Bonus read: Hackers
Cars, nuclear plants, computers, phones, webcams – they all succumb to hack attacks in the end. The Browser's special report on Hackers has the definitive collection of stories on the topic, from cyber war to "sextortion" and Stuxnet.

For more articles worth reading, visit The Browser. If you would like to comment on this article or anything else you have seen on Future, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.