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The Origin of the Mind

The first step in figuring out how the human mind arose is determining what distinguishes our mental processes from those of other creatures

By Marc Hauser

Rainbows

The simple magic of their shape and colors still puzzles

By George Musser

Love

Large brains may have led to the evolution of amour

By Kate Wong

Asteroids

The small fry of the solar system have troubled pasts

By George Musser

External Ears

They guide sound to the sensitive middle ear

By Christine Soares

Batteries

Their inventor may not have known how they actually work

By Davide Castelvecchi

Insurance

Its probability-based view of misfortunes helped to shape the scientific outlook

By Bruce Grierson

Scotch Tape

Most new inventions quickly fall into oblivion; some stick

By Davide Castelvecchi

Antibiotics

These wonder-drug molecules might have evolvedto help bacteria speak with their neighbors, not kill them

By Jessica Snyder Sachs

Artificial Heart

Did the wrong man get credit for the world's first permanent pump?

By Michael Moyer

Ball Bearings

Cheap steel was key to allowing the routine design of parts that rolled against one another

By Peter Brown

Coriolis Effect

The earth's spin influences hurricanes but not toilets

By Graham P. Collins

Egg

The answer to the age-old riddle is biologically obvious

By Michael Moyer

Teeth

They long predate the smile

By Christine Soares

Cancer

When a cells controls break down, chaos is unleashed

By Christine Soares

Cooking

Preparing foods with fire may have made us humans what we are

By Melinda Wenner

Clocks

Their origin is one of the deepest questions in modern physics

By George Musser

Paper Money

A substitute for coins turned into a passport for globalization

By Mara Hvistendahl

The Vibrator

One of the first electrical appliances made its way into the home as a purported medical device

By Mara Hvistendahl

Economic Thinking

Even apparently irrational human choices can make sense in terms of our inner logic

By Davide Castelvecchi

The Placenta

An eggshell membrane evolved into the organ that lets fetuses grow in the womb

By Davide Castelvecchi

Anthrax

Solving the riddle of its lethal contagion modernized the understanding of disease

By Bruce Grierson

The Paper Clip

Despite its shortcomings, the iconic design will likely stick around

By Peter Brown

The Eye

What was half an eye good for? Quite a lot, actually

By Davide Castelvecchi

Diamond

Its hardness is natural; its value is not

By Michael Moyer

The Pill

Infertility treatments led to reproductive liberation

By Christine Soares

The Mechanical Loom

Programmable textile machinery provided inspiration for the player piano and the early computer

By Jonathon Keats

Feathers

Barbs became plumes long before birds took wing--in fact, long before birds

By Christine Soares

The Blueprint

A failure for photography, it was long irreplaceable for duplicating house plans

By Jonathon Keats

AIDS and HIV

The viral infections origin among apes might hold a key for someday taming it

By Christine Soares

Bone

Structure, strength and storage in one package

By Christine Soares

Recorded Music

The first recordings remained silent for 150 years

By Michael Moyer

Religious Thought

Belief in the supernatural may have emerged from the most basic components of human cognition

By Michael Moyer

The Color Blue

The natural pigment was once a "precious" color

By Peter Brown

Facial Expressions

Our unique expressiveness may have a three-million-year-old pedigree

By Kate Wong

Light

It emerged not with a quick flip of the switch but with a slow breaking of the dawn

By George Musser

Chocolate

Mixing the bitter treat with milk was the popular breakthrough

By Davide Castelvecchi

Appendix

Not needed, but not useless

By Christine Soares

Tectonic Plates

The long, strange trip of continental drift

By Graham P. Collins

The Web

The global information resource spun out of research into fundamental physics

By Michael Moyer

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Special Edition: Mysteries of the Mind