‘Maybe don’t expect us to ‘just know’ what all your color-coded espresso pods mean.’ –Tim Geoghegan


A distant galaxy that appears completely devoid of dark matter has baffled astronomers and deepened the mystery of the universe’s most elusive substance.

The absence of dark matter from a small patch of sky might appear to be a non-problem, given that astronomers have never directly observed dark matter anywhere. However, most current theories of the universe suggest that everywhere that ordinary matter is found, dark matter ought to be lurking too, making the newly observed galaxy an odd exception. […]

Paradoxically, the authors said the discovery of a galaxy without dark matter counts as evidence that it probably does exist.

{ Guardian | Continue reading }

photo { Luc Kordas }

Ho hang! Hang ho! And the clash of our cries till we spring to be free.


Why the Victorian era saw a surge in female births and war begets boys

There is empirical evidence that heavy sexual activity increases the chances that conception will occur before the most fertile time of the female cycle, as the woman may be pregnant by then. And the data also suggest that, possibly for hormonal reasons, such conceptions are slightly more likely to be boys. “It doesn’t take much imagination to suppose that the ends of wars, with servicemen home on leave or returning home, are associated with fairly intense sex – more babies were born in the UK in 1919 than any other year in history. Put all these together and you get the conclusion – frantic fornication breeds boys.”


Which brings us back to the mysterious surge of female births in the late Victorian period. Could it be that, in the same vein in which heavy sexual activity increases the sex ratio, a  trend towards sexual inactivity lowers it? “Victorian morality” distinguished itself through a set of values that espoused sexual restraint, with an increased condemnation of masturbation and sexual activity in general, repressing any form of sexuality other than penetrative intercourse. And indeed, statistics reflect a steady decline of sexual activity throughout the Victorian period, reaching its lowest point in the year 1898. But as there was less sex going on, conception tended to occur around the most fertile time of the months, bestowing a (relative) excess of baby girls on the Victorians.

{ Rolf Degen | Continue reading }

Hypothesis 1

Up to circa two decades age, it was generally supposed – but without hard supporting evidence – that pregnant women exposed to adverse environmental circumstances were at increased risk of foetal loss, and that male foetuses were at greater risk than female foetuses; and that therefore the liveborn infants produced by stressed women contained a higher proportion of daughters. That hard evidence has now been accumulated in a series of papers by Catalano and colleagues, and others.

Using time-series analysis, it has been shown that the Sex ratios at birth (SRB) briefly declined, slightly but significantly, some three to five months after many catastrophic and other adverse events e.g. the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001; the Troubles in Northern Ireland (1969–1998), the Breivik shooting in 2011 in Norway, the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012 in Connecticut; the assassination of President Kennedy [though the effect in this case was more marked in non-White than White births]. […]

Thus there is overwhelming evidence that sex ratios at birth are partially controlled by maternal stress-induced selective culling of frail males in utero, resulting in a conception cohort with a low sex ratio at birth. It has also been postulated that the ratio may be skewed because of fertilization of non-optimally matured oocytes under these circumstances. Moreover, it has also been hypothesized that higher coital rates will lead to ejaculation of newly formed spermatozoa cells, possibly leading to a preponderance of Y-sperm since it is also hypothesized that X-sperm age faster and are eliminated earlier.

However, it will be appreciated that selective culling of frail males during pregnancy cannot explain some of the established variations of SRB. First, it cannot explain why some reported sex ratios are higher than prevailing norms. Second, it cannot explain why these norms almost always exceed 0.5 (equal numbers of males and females).

Hypothesis 2

It has been hypothesized that human sex ratios at birth are partially controlled by the parental hormone levels of both parents around the time of conception. Ex hypothesi, high levels of testosterone (in either parent) and/or of oestrogen (in the mother), are associated with subsequent male births. And high levels of gonadotrophins (in either parent) are associated with subsequent female births. Most of this evidence is observational and correlational, and is in accordance with the hypothesis of Trivers & Willard.

{ Early Human Development | Continue reading }

lithograph { Ellsworth Kelly, Small Blue Curve, 2013 }

What majesty should be, what duty is, Why day is day, night night, and time is time


{ This Brooklyn Heights fake townhouse is actually a subway emergency exit }

Life offers second chances, it’s called tomorrow


Simulation suggests 68 percent of the universe may not actually exist

According to the Lambda Cold Dark Matter (Lambda-CDM) model, which is the current accepted standard for how the universe began and evolved, the ordinary matter we encounter every day only makes up around five percent of the universe’s density, with dark matter comprising 27 percent, and the remaining 68 percent made up of dark energy, a so-far theoretical force driving the expansion of the universe. But a new study has questioned whether dark energy exists at all, citing computer simulations that found that by accounting for the changing structure of the cosmos, the gap in the theory, which dark energy was proposed to fill, vanishes.

{ New Atlas | Continue reading }

art { Portia Munson, Her Coffin, 2016 }

cloaked in the pall of the ace of spaces


With tens or even hundreds of billions of potentially habitable planets within our galaxy, the question becomes: are we alone?

Many scientists and commentators equate “more planets” with “more E.T.s”. However, the violence and instability of the early formation and evolution of rocky planets suggests that most aliens will be extinct fossil microbes.

Just as dead dinosaurs don’t walk, talk or breathe, microbes that have been fossilised for billions of years are not easy to detect by the remote sampling of exoplanetary atmospheres.

In research published [PDF] in the journal Astrobiology, we argue that early extinction could be the cosmic default for life in the universe. This is because the earliest habitable conditions may be unstable. […] Inhabited planets may be rare in the universe, not because emergent life is rare, but because habitable environments are difficult to maintain during the first billion years.

Our suggestion that the universe is filled with dead aliens might disappoint some, but the universe is under no obligation to prevent disappointment.

{ The Conversation | Continue reading }

previously { Where is the Great Filter? Behind us, or not behind us? If the filter is in our past, there must be some extremely improbable step in the sequence of events whereby an Earth-like planet gives rise to an intelligent species comparable in its technological sophistication to our contemporary human civilization. }

still { The Day the Earth Stood Still, 1951 }

‘You speak an infinite deal of nothing.’ –Shakespeare


The present study investigated whether gut feelings — commonly reported visceral sensations that are virtually synonymous with intuitive hunches — may involve information gained by nonordinary means.


Objective: Investigate whether the gut feelings of one person, as measured with an electrogastrogram (EGG), respond to the emotions of a distant person.


This experiment suggests that some somatic feelings may be associated with perceptions transcending ordinary sensory capabilities. Of course, it would be imprudent to assume that all gut feelings necessarily contain intuitive information, as on occasion visceral sensations reflect little more than a bad burrito. But assuming that future studies can successfully replicate the present results, it may turn out that the “belly brain” is more perceptive than previously suspected, and that common reports of gut feelings having special intuitive qualities may have a basis in fact.

{ The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medecine | PDF }

image { thanks Tim }

The night that hides things from us


Penrose and many others argue from practical considerations, Godel’s theorem, and on philosophical grounds, that consciousness or awareness is non-algorithmic and so cannot be generated by a system that can be described by classical physics, such as a conventional computer, but could perhaps be generated by a system requiring a quantum (Hilbert space) description. Penrose suspects that aspects of quantum physics not yet understood might be needed to explain consciousness. In this paper we shall see that only known quantum physics is needed to explain perception.

{ James A. Donald | Continue reading }

photo { Martin Parr }

‘The road up and the road down is one and the same.’ –Heraclitus


Our best theories of physics imply we shouldn’t be here. The Big Bang ought to have produced equal amounts of matter and antimatter particles, which would almost immediately annihilate each other, leaving nothing but light.

So the reality that we are here – and there seems to be very little antimatter around – is one of the biggest unsolved mysteries in physics.

In 2001, Tanmay Vachaspati from Arizona State University offered a purely theoretical solution. Even if matter and antimatter were created in equal amounts, he suggested that as they annihilated each other, they would have briefly created monopoles and antimonopoles – hypothetical particles with just one magnetic pole, north or south.

As the monopoles and antimonopoles in turn annihilated each other, they would produce matter and antimatter. But because of a quirk in nature called CP violation, that process would be biased towards matter, leaving the matter-filled world we see today.

If that happened, Vachaspati showed that there should be a sign of it today: twisted magnetic fields permeating the universe. […] So Vachaspati and his colleagues went looking for them in data from NASA’s Fermi Gamma ray Space Telescope.

{ New Scientist | Continue reading }

related { Rogue antimatter found in thunderclouds }

And shall not Babel be with Lebab?


Sex in reptiles and fish is determined after conception, during embryogenesis, according to ambient environmental temperature. In contrast, in mammals and birds, sex is determined at conception.

In mammals, male births invariably occur slightly in excess […] with approximately 3% more males born than females. The reason for this discrepancy is uncertain as testicles produce equal numbers of X-bearing and Y-bearing spermatozoa. […]

We have shown that M/F varies in geographical space, exhibiting a latitude gradient, and that this gradient is different in Europe and North America, with more males born towards the south of Europe, compared with the North American continent where more males are born towards the north of the continent.

Other studies have also shown that M/F may vary with time. Several authors have shown that M/F has declined over the second half of the 20th century in various industrialised countries. These include Denmark, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, Canada, the United States of America, and Finland. In contrast, M/F has been noted to have risen in Ireland over the same period. A non-significant rise in M/F has also been noted in Australia and Japan.

{ J Epidemiol Community Health | Continue reading }

A wide variety of factors have been shown to influence the male to female ratio at birth, which invariably displays a male excess. […] It will be shown that stress, including stress related to political events, influences this ratio.

{ Early Human Development | Continue reading }

related { Study: ”Woman on top” is the most dangerous sex position, responsible for half of all penile fractures }

‘But as the power of Hellas grew, and the acquisition of wealth became more an objective, the revenues of the states increasing, tyrannies were established almost everywhere.’ —Thucydides


Intrance on back. Most open on the lay-days.


In a paper published in the journal Science, physicists reported that they were able to reliably teleport information between two quantum bits separated by three meters, or about 10 feet.

Quantum teleportation is not the “Star Trek”-style movement of people or things; rather, it involves transferring so-called quantum information — in this case what is known as the spin state of an electron — from one place to another without moving the physical matter to which the information is attached.

{ NY Times | Continue reading }

‘People are always shouting they want to create a better future. It’s not true.’ –Kundera


Many gardeners and horticulturalists seek non-chemical methods to control populations of snails. It has frequently been reported that snails that are marked and removed from a garden are later found in the garden again. This phenomenon is often cited as evidence for a homing instinct.

We report a systematic study of the snail population in a small suburban garden, in which large numbers of snails were marked and removed over a period of about 6 months. While many returned, inferring a homing instinct from this evidence requires statistical modelling. […]

Maximum likelihood techniques infer the existence of two groups of snails in the garden: members of a larger population that show little affinity to the garden itself, and core members of a local garden population that regularly return to their home if removed. The data are strongly suggestive of a homing instinct, but also reveal that snail-throwing can work as a pest management strategy.

{ The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences | Continue reading | LA Times }

art { Vincent van Gogh, Plain Near Auvers, 1890 }