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Illustration by Richard Wilkinson

Essay/
Physics
Radical dimensions

Relativity says we live in four dimensions. String theory says it’s 10. What are ‘dimensions’ and how do they affect reality?

Margaret Wertheim

What if light slowed down? Illustration by Matt Murphy/Handsome Frank

Essay/
Deep time
Light dawns

Light travels at around 300,000 km per second. Why not faster? Why not slower? A new theory inches us closer to an answer

Sidney Perkowitz

Artwork illustrating the concept of an alternate ‘bubble’ universe in which our universe (left) is not the only one. Some scientists think that bubble universes may pop into existence all the time, and occasionally nudge ours. NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC)

Illustration by Claire Scully

Essay/
History of ideas
Physics’s pangolin

Trying to resolve the stubborn paradoxes of their field, physicists craft ever more mind-boggling visions of reality

Margaret Wertheim

Photo by Barry Lewis/Corbis

Essay/
Computing and artificial intelligence
Is this life real?

Philosophers and physicists say we might be living in a computer simulation, but how can we tell? And does it matter?

Matthew Francis

Bits of stuff called matter. Photo by Peter Marlow/Magnum

Essay/
Physics
Minding matter

The closer you look, the more the materialist position in physics appears to rest on shaky metaphysical ground

Adam Frank

Illustration by Claire Scully

Essay/
Astronomy
In the beginning

Cosmology has been on a long, hot streak, racking up one imaginative and scientific triumph after another. Is it over?

Ross Andersen

Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters

Essay/
Philosophy of science
Is the Universe a conscious mind?

Cosmopsychism might seem crazy, but it provides a robust explanatory model for how the Universe became fine-tuned for life

Philip Goff

‘On this view, a dust grain is actually a little galaxy of collapse points, winking instantaneously in and out of existence’

Essay/
Philosophy of science
Our quantum problem

When the deepest theory we have seems to undermine science itself, some kind of collapse looks inevitable

Adrian Kent

From Saturn’s rings, Earth is seen as a distant shining light (centre) in this image taken by the Cassini spacecraft. Photo courtesy NASA/JPL

Essay/
Cosmology
The calibrated cosmos

Is our Universe fine-tuned for the existence of life – or does it just look that way from where we’re sitting?

Tim Maudlin

On a mountain road from Koya to Ryujin, Japan. 1998. Photo by Peter Marlow/Magnum

Essay/
Physics
From chaos to free will

A crude understanding of physics sees determinism at work in the Universe. Luckily, molecular uncertainty ensures this isn’t so

George Ellis

Photo by Marianne Gunderson

Essay/
Physics
Parallel worlds

If human history turns on the tilt of the multiverse, can we still trust our ideas of achievement, progress and morality?

Andrew Crumey

Spaceborne Imaging Radar photo of the autonomous republic of Tuva, the subject of Richard Feynmann’s intense interest during the latter part of his life and documented in Tuva or Bust! by Ralph Leighton. Photo taken from Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1994. Photo courtesy NASA/JPL

Idea/
Thinkers and theories
Richard Feynman was wrong about beauty and truth in science

Massimo Pigliucci

Demonstration being carried out of the E-Cat (Energy Catalyzer) cold fusion system, designed by Italian inventor Andrea Rossi. Photo by Massimo Brega/SPL

Essay/
Philosophy of science
The cold fusion horizon

Is cold fusion truly impossible, or is it just that no respectable scientist can risk their reputation working on it?

Huw Price

Photo by Andia/UIG via Getty Images

Essay/
Philosophy of science
The blind spot

It’s tempting to think science gives a God’s-eye view of reality. But we forget the place of human experience at our peril

Adam Frank, Marcelo Gleiser & Evan Thompson

Photo by Gallery Stock

Essay/
Logic and probability
Why things happen

Either cause and effect are the very glue of the cosmos, or they are a naive illusion due to insufficient math. But which?

Mathias Frisch

Illustration by Clayton Junior

Essay/
Philosophy of science
Too many worlds

Nobody knows what happens inside quantum experiments. So why are some so keen to believe in parallel universes?

Philip Ball

Photo by Getty

Essay/
Physics
Going nowhere fast

After the success of the Standard Model, experiments have stopped answering to grand theories. Is particle physics in crisis?

Ben Allanach

‘Hume’s philosophy of time shows the fundamental relevance of the relation between an observer and a reference object.’ Photo by Himanshu Vyas/Hindustan Times/Getty

Essay/
History of science
No absolute time

Two centuries before Einstein, Hume recognised that universal time, independent of an observer’s viewpoint, doesn’t exist

Matias Slavov

Parallax (Candles) (1951). Courtesy the Estate of Berenice Abbott/Getty Images

Essay/
Philosophy of science
But is it science?

Theoretical physicists who say the multiverse exists set a dangerous precedent: science based on zero empirical evidence

Jim Baggott

String Theory suggests that our universe may be like a page in a book, stacked alongside tens of trillions of others. Those other realities would be right next to us now. Photo by the Esch Collection/Getty

Essay/
Philosophy of science
World next door

Nine theories of the multiverse promise everything and more. But if reality is so vast and varied, where do we fit in?

Michael Hanlon

Photo by duncan1890/getty

Essay/
Quantum theory
Quantum common sense

Despite its confounding reputation, quantum mechanics both guides and helps explain human intuition

Philip Ball

A computer model of a Bose-Einstein condensate shows the wave-like structure of atoms near absolute zero. Courtesy NASA/NIST

Essay/
Quantum theory
Black-hole computing

Might nature’s bottomless pits actually be ultra-efficient quantum computers? That could explain why data never dies

Sabine Hossenfelder

The last remaining house on Holland Island in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, United States. Photo by Baldeaglebluff/Flickr

Essay/
Physics
In defence of disorder

Humans love laws and seek predictability. But like our Universe, which thrives on entropy, we need disorder to flourish

Alan Lightman