Why the laws of physics are inevitable. "To an astonishing degree, nature is the way it is because it couldn’t be any different."
A time to fast. It’s not just what you eat, but when you eat it—and periods of fasting may have some distinct health benefits. "The underlying physiological processes involve periodic shifts of metabolic fuel sources, promotion of repair mechanisms, and the optimization of energy utilization for cellular and organismal health."
What’s next for psychology’s embattled field of social priming?
Review of Marius Petipa: The Emperor’s Ballet Master by Nadine Meisner.
Emotion semantics show both cultural variation and universal structure. "It is unclear whether emotion terms have the same meaning across cultures. [The authors] examined nearly 2,500 languages to determine the degree of similarity in linguistic networks of 24 emotion terms across cultures. There were low levels of similarity, and thus high variability, in the meaning of emotion terms across cultures."
Scale-free networks well done. "We bring rigor to the vibrant activity of detecting power laws in empirical degree distributions in real-world networks. We first provide a rigorous definition of power-law distributions, equivalent to the definition of regularly varying distributions that are widely used in statistics and other fields." The authors conclude that "real-world scale-free networks are definitely not as rare as one would conclude based on the popular but unrealistic assumption that real-world data come from power laws of pristine purity, void of noise, and deviations."
John Farrell on why literature professors turned against authors — or did they?
Earliest hunting scene in prehistoric art. "Here we describe an elaborate rock art panel from the limestone cave of Leang Bulu’ Sipong 4 (Sulawesi, Indonesia) that portrays several figures that appear to represent therianthropes hunting wild pigs and dwarf bovids; this painting has been dated to at least 43.9 ka on the basis of uranium-series analysis of overlying speleothems. This hunting scene is—to our knowledge—currently the oldest pictorial record of storytelling and the earliest figurative artwork in the world."
The Three-Body Problem and beyond. A Q&A with Liu Cixin.
Meaning and mayhem. Roberto Saviano on the language and symbols used by the mafia.
Detecting and quantifying causal associations in large nonlinear time series datasets. "Here, we introduce a novel method that flexibly combines linear or nonlinear conditional independence tests with a causal discovery algorithm to estimate causal networks from large-scale time series datasets."
Even what doesn’t happen is epic. Review of The Three-Body Problem and two other novels by Cixin Liu. The Three-Body Problem "is one of the most ambitious works of science fiction ever written. The story begins during the Cultural Revolution and ends 18,906,416 years into the future. There is a scene in ancient Byzantium, and a scene told from the perspective of an ant. The first book is set on Earth, though several of its scenes take place in virtual reality representations of Qin dynasty China and ancient Egypt; by the end of the third book, the stage has expanded to encompass an intercivilisational war that spans not only the three-dimensional universe but other dimensions too."
What developers should know about networks. Part one: The physical layer.
The best science images of the year: 2019 in pictures.
Longreads best of 2019.