science

if it moves fuck it

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In a mossy forest in the western Andes of Ecuador, a small, cocoa-brown bird with a red crown sings from a slim perch. […] Three rival birds call back in rapid response. […] They are singing with their wings, and their potential mates seem to find the sound very alluring. […]

This is an evolutionary innovation — a whole new way to sing. But the evolutionary mechanism behind this novelty is not adaptation by natural selection, in which only those who survive pass on their genes, allowing the species to become better adapted to its environment over time. Rather, it is sexual selection by mate choice, in which individuals pass on their genes only if they’re chosen as mates. From the peacock’s tail to the haunting melodies of the wood thrush, mate choice is responsible for much of the beauty in the natural world.

Most biologists believe that these mechanisms always work in concert — that sex appeal is the sign of an objectively better mate, one with better genes or in better condition. But the wing songs of the club-winged manakin provide new insights that contradict this conventional wisdom. Instead of ensuring that organisms are on an inexorable path to self-improvement, mate choice can drive a species into what I call maladaptive decadence — a decline in survival and fecundity of the entire species. It may even lead to extinction.

{ NYT | Continue reading }

art { Cy Twombly, Achilles Mourning the Death of Patroclus, 1962 }

Life offers second chances, it’s called tomorrow

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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 }

No one speaks English, and everything’s broken


As men are generally more short-term oriented in their sexuality than women, and given that cigarette and alcohol use are still considered masculine behaviors, we explored if female smoking and drinking can function as a short-term mating strategy. […]

The experiment showed that young men perceive women who use cigarettes and alcohol as being more sexually unrestricted. Furthermore, tobacco and (especially) alcohol use brought some short-term attractiveness benefits to women. In short-term mating contexts, drinking enhanced women’s attractiveness, whereas occasional smoking was found equally desirable as not smoking. However, in long-term mating contexts, frequent drinking and all smoking behavior harmed women’s desirability.

{ Evolutionary Psychology | Continue reading }

art { Edvard Munch, Girls on the Bridge, 1902 }

Your air in my lungs

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People are often the most aggressive against the people to whom they are closest—intimate partners. Intimate partner violence might be partly a result of poor self-control. Self-control of aggressive impulses requires energy, and much of this energy is provided by glucose derived from the food we eat. We measured glucose levels in 107 married couples over 21 days. To measure aggressive impulses, participants stuck 0–51 pins into a voodoo doll that represented their spouse each night, depending how angry they were with their spouse. To measure aggression, participants blasted their spouse with loud noise through headphones. Participants who had lower glucose levels stuck more pins into the voodoo doll and blasted their spouse with louder and longer noise blasts.

{ PNAS | PDF }

art { Sergei Eisenstein. Untitled, c. 1931 }

‘When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other.’ –Eric Hoffer

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The ability to choose should let people create more enjoyable experiences. However, in a set of 5 studies, people who chose repeatedly during ongoing consumption exhibited a greater drop in enjoyment compared with those who received a series of random selections from the same set of liked stimuli.

{ American Psychology Association | Continue reading }

related { This questionnaire was designed to test your ability to choose at random }

‘The second half of a man’s life is made up of nothing but the habits he has acquired during the first half.’ –Dostoyevsky

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When you’re doing two things at once – like listening to the radio while driving – your brain organizes itself into two, functionally independent networks, almost as if you temporarily have two brains. That’s according to a fascinating new study from University of Wisconsin-Madison neuroscientists Shuntaro Sasai and colleagues.

{ Neuroskeptic | Continue reading }

art { Harri Peccinotti }

yesterday never comes back

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Remembering the past is a complex phenomenon that is subject to error. The malleable nature of human memory has led some researchers to argue that our memory systems are not oriented towards flawlessly preserving our past experiences. Indeed, many researchers now agree that remembering is, to some degree, reconstructive. Current theories propose that our capacity to flexibly recombine remembered information from multiple sources – such as distributed memory records, inferences, and expectations – helps us to solve current problems and anticipate future events. One implication of having a reconstructive and flexible memory system is that people can develop rich and coherent autobiographical memories of entire events that never happened.

In this article, we revisit questions about the conditions under which participants in studies of false autobiographical memory come to believe in and remember fictitious childhood experiences. […]

Approximately one-third of participants showed evidence of a false memory, and more than half showed evidence of believing that the [fictitious] event occurred in the past.

{ Memory | Continue reading }

Photo photo { Brooke Nipar }

No pain, no gain

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In a mixed-gender group, when women talk 25% of the time or less, it’s seen as being “equally balanced”. If women talk 25–50% of the time, they’re seen as “dominating the conversation”

[…]

A Californian company called Skinny Mirror sells mirrors that make you look thinner. When installed in the changing rooms of clothes shops, they can increase sales by 18%.

[…]

Twitter has enough money in the bank to run for 412 years with current losses.

{ Fluxx | Continue reading }

photo { Blaise Cepis }

‘Falsity consists in the privation of knowledge, which inadequate, fragmentary, or confused ideas involve.’ –Spinoza

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Most people strongly believe they are just, virtuous, and moral; yet regard the average person as distinctly less so. This invites accusations of irrationality in moral judgment and perception — but direct evidence of irrationality is absent. Here, we quantify this irrationality and compare it against the irrationality in other domains of positive self-evaluation. […]

Virtually all individuals irrationally inflated their moral qualities […] Irrational moral superiority was not associated with self-esteem. Taken together, these findings suggest that moral superiority is a uniquely strong and prevalent form of “positive illusion,” but the underlying function remains unknown.

{ Social Psychological and Personality Science | Continue reading }

photo { Weegee, Empire State Building Distortion, 1955 }

3 out of 4 people make up 75% of the population

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The idea behind power poses, that if you stand in a “powerful” position, broad posture, hands on hips, shoulders high and pushed back, you will suddenly feel psychologically and physiologically stronger, is intuitively appealing, especially for people without much confidence. The problem is that it’s simply not true, according to University of Pennsylvania researchers. […]

“We did find that […] if you’re a loser and you take a winner or high power pose, your testosterone decreases.”

In other words, Smith said, “people might not be able to ‘fake it until they make it,’ and in fact it might be detrimental.”

{ EurekAlert | Continue reading }

‘History repeats itself. Historians repeat each other.’ –Max Beerbohm

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The Dress photograph, first displayed on the internet in 2015, revealed stunning individual differences in color perception. The aim of this study was to investigate if lay-persons believed that the question about The Dress colors was answerable. Past research has found that optimism is related to judgments of how answerable knowledge questions with controversial answers are. Furthermore, familiarity with a question can create a feeling of knowing the answer.

Building on these findings, 186 participants saw the photo of The Dress and were asked about the correct answer to the question about The Dress’ colors (“blue and black,” “white and gold,” “other, namely…,” or “there is no correct answer”). Choice of the alternative “there is no correct answer” was interpreted as believing the question was not answerable. This answer was chosen more often by optimists and by people who reported they had not seen The Dress before.

{ Frontiers Psychology | Continue reading }

photo { Gregory Halpern }

‘We are all broken, that’s how the light gets in.’ –Ernest Hemingway

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When one draws a correlation between body mass and brain mass for living primates and extinct species of Homo, it is not humans—whose brains are three times larger than those of chimpanzees, their closest primate relative—that are an outlier. Instead, it is the great apes—gorillas and the orangutan—with brains far smaller than would be expected in relation to their body mass. We are the new normal in evolution while the great apes are the evolutionary oddity that requires explanation.

But we remain special in another way. Our 86 billion neurons need so much energy that if we shared a way of life with other primates we couldn’t possibly survive: there would be insufficient hours in the day to feed our hungry brain. It needs 500 calories a day to function, which is 25 percent of what our entire body requires.

{ New York Review of Books | Continue reading }

art { Christopher Wool, Untitled, 2006 }