One of the lousy things about living in New York City is that it is difficult to get away: The journey across potholed Brooklyn streets, backed-up East River bridges, and highways ablaze with brake lights can take a good two hours before you reach the world of clean air and open trails. But one of the great things about working so close to the world of science is that I always have another type of getaway right at hand.
When I talk of science as a form of escapism, I usually mean it in the metaphorical sense. Look at NASA’s images of the crater-blasted asteroid Vesta, or navigate through the richness of the new web-based Map of Life, and it’s hard not to feel as if you have stepped outside of yourself. This month, though, I am relishing a much more direct route out. In “5 Ways to Leave Your Body,” author Sherry Baker shows that it is surprisingly easy to trick your brain into thinking it has migrated out of your body. So easy, in fact, that you can do it yourself at home.
This whole special issue follows in the same vein, sharing the ways that science exposes the invisible worlds arrayed all around us. Pick your destination. Want to explore the psyche of a dog? Watch how engineers are bending light and earthquake waves to their will? Commune with bizarre life-forms deep below your feet, or simply gape in morbid fascination at the fecal microbes that are currently having a party on your pillow and TV screen? Done. Total travel time: 0 hours, 0 minutes.
I was particularly stunned to learn there is a hidden population of women who can probably perceive millions of colors unknown to the rest of us. Scientists have so far identified only one super-seer, code-named cDa29; there are surely many more, but the women themselves seem not to realize they have this power. Our reporter Veronique Greenwood is the first to tell the tale of cDa29. A secret form of vision, unknown to those who possess it and unfamiliar to the world at large: Now that is a trip into the land of invisibility.