science

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

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Two pennies can be considered the same — both are pennies, just as two elephants can be considered the same, as both are elephants. Despite the vast difference between pennies and elephants, we easily notice the common relation of sameness that holds for both pairs. Analogical ability — the ability to see common relations between objects, events or ideas — is a key skill that underlies human intelligence and differentiates humans from other apes.

While there is considerable evidence that preschoolers can learn abstract relations, it remains an open question whether infants can as well. In a new Northwestern University study, researchers found that infants are capable of learning the abstract relations of same and different after only a few examples.

“This suggests that a skill key to human intelligence is present very early in human development, and that language skills are not necessary for learning abstract relations,” said lead author Alissa Ferry, who conducted the research at Northwestern.

{ Lunatic Laboratories | Continue reading }

“La vieillesse est un naufrage.” –Charles de Gaulle

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Ageing causes changes to the brain size, vasculature, and cognition. The brain shrinks with increasing age and there are changes at all levels from molecules to morphology. Incidence of stroke, white matter lesions, and dementia also rise with age, as does level of memory impairment and there are changes in levels of neurotransmitters and hormones. Protective factors that reduce cardiovascular risk, namely regular exercise, a healthy diet, and low to moderate alcohol intake, seem to aid the ageing brain as does increased cognitive effort in the form of education or occupational attainment. A healthy life both physically and mentally may be the best defence against the changes of an ageing brain. Additional measures to prevent cardiovascular disease may also be important. […]

It has been widely found that the volume of the brain and/or its weight declines with age at a rate of around 5% per decade after age 40 with the actual rate of decline possibly increasing with age particularly over age 70. […]

The most widely seen cognitive change associated with ageing is that of memory. Memory function can be broadly divided into four sections, episodic memory, semantic memory, procedural memory, and working memory.18 The first two of these are most important with regard to ageing. Episodic memory is defined as “a form of memory in which information is stored with ‘mental tags’, about where, when and how the information was picked up”. An example of an episodic memory would be a memory of your first day at school, the important meeting you attended last week, or the lesson where you learnt that Paris is the capital of France. Episodic memory performance is thought to decline from middle age onwards. This is particularly true for recall in normal ageing and less so for recognition. It is also a characteristic of the memory loss seen in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). […]

Semantic memory is defined as “memory for meanings”, for example, knowing that Paris is the capital of France, that 10 millimetres make up a centimetre, or that Mozart composed the Magic Flute. Semantic memory increases gradually from middle age to the young elderly but then declines in the very elderly.

{ Postgraduate Medical Journal | Continue reading | Thanks Tim}

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

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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 }

Fame means millions of people have the wrong idea of who you are

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The McCollough effect is a phenomenon of human visual perception in which colorless gratings appear colored contingent on the orientation of the gratings. It is an aftereffect requiring a period of induction to produce it. For example, if someone alternately looks at a red horizontal grating and a green vertical grating for a few minutes, a black-and-white horizontal grating will then look greenish and a black-and-white vertical grating will then look pinkish. The effect is remarkable for often lasting an hour or more, and in some cases after prolonged exposure to the grids, the effect can last up to three and a half months

{ Wikipedia | Continue reading | via Brad Weslake }

There is nothing new under the sun

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Most real decisions, unlike those of economics texts, have a status quo alternative—that is, doing nothing or maintaining one’s current or previous decision. A series of decision-making experiments shows that individuals disproportionately stick with the status quo.

{ Journal of Risk and Uncertainty | PDF }

unrelated { Would you Pay for Transparently Useless Advice? }

I was just going back for that lotion whitewax, orangeflower water

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DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is the main component of our genetic material. It is formed by combining four parts: A, C, G and T (adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine), called bases of DNA combine in thousands of possible sequences to provide the genetic variability that enables the wealth of aspects and functions of living beings.

In the early 80s, to these four “classic” bases of DNA was added a fifth: the methyl-cytosine (mC) derived from cytosine. And it was in the late 90’s when mC was recognized as the main cause of epigenetic mechanisms: it is able to switch genes on or off depending on the physiological needs of each tissue.

In recent years, interest in this fifth DNA base has increased by showing that alterations in the methyl-cytosine contribute to the development of many human diseases, including cancer.

Today, an article published in Cell describes the possible existence of a sixth DNA base, the methyl-adenine (mA), which also help determine the epigenome and would therefore be key in the life of the cells.

{ ScienceDaily | Continue reading }

Langsome heels and langsome toesis

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A paper on gender bias in academia was recently rejected by an academic journal, whose reviewer told the two female authors to “find one or two male biologists to work with” if they wanted to get their work published.

That work, by the way, was a scientific survey of how and why men in academia tend to publish more papers, and in more prestigious academic journals, than women.

{ Bloomberg | Continue reading }

(The mirage of the lake of Kinnereth with blurred cattle cropping in silver haze is projected on the wall.)

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An ambitious effort to replicate 100 research findings in psychology ended last week — and the data look worrying. Results posted online on 24 April, which have not yet been peer-reviewed, suggest that key findings from only 39 of the published studies could be reproduced. […]

The results should convince everyone that psychology has a replicability problem, says Hal Pashler, a cognitive psychologist at the University of California, San Diego, and an author of one of the papers whose findings were successfully repeated.  “A lot of working scientists assume that if it’s published, it’s right,” he says.

{ Nature | Continue reading }

Kicky Lacey, the pervergined, and Bianca Mutantini, her conversa

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Eight studies explored the antecedents and consequences of whether people locate their sense of self in the brain or the heart.

In Studies 1a–f, participants’ self-construals consistently influenced the location of the self: The general preference for locating the self in the brain rather than the heart was enhanced among men, Americans, and participants primed with an independent self-construal, but diminished among women, Indians, and participants primed with an interdependent self-construal.

In Study 2, participants’ perceived location of the self influenced their judgments of controversial medical issues.

In Study 3, we primed participants to locate the self in the brain or the heart, which influenced how much effort they put into writing a support letter for and how much money they donated to a charity for a brain disease (Alzheimer’s disease) or a heart disease (coronary artery disease).

{ Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes }

photo { Kelsey Bennett }

Et qui n’est, chaque fois, ni tout à fait la même, ni tout à fait une autre

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Prosecution is often dropped in cases largely reliant on DNA evidence when the suspect is an identical twin. The risk of convicting the wrong twin is too great.

The chance of a DNA match between two unrelated individuals is extraordinarily small — one in a billion. For siblings, the chance is 1 in 10,000. But identical twins have essentially the same DNA sequence, making the identification of the forensic evidence they leave behind extremely difficult.

But researchers at the University of Huddersfield recently developed a cost-effective and accurate method for differentiating between the genetic profiles of identical twins. The method looks at DNA methylation, a biochemical process that helps manage gene expression — turning genes on and off.

As identical twins age, different environmental factors affect their genomes, or the ways in which their genetic material is expressed. These differences can be seen in their corresponding DNA methylation. […]

The process isn’t perfect. Young twins with similar environments may not have developed significant differences in their DNA methylation. The technique also requires a large genetic sample, which may not be recoverable at every crime scene.

{ UPI | Continue reading }

related { FBI Admits Flaws in Hair Analysis Over Decades }

Full fathom five thy father lies. Of his bones are coral made. Those are pearls that were his eyes.

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What happens to people when they think they’re invisible?

Using a 3D virtual reality headset, neuroscientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm gave participants the sensation that they were invisible, and then examined the psychological effects of apparent invisibility. […] “Having an invisible body seems to have a stress-reducing effect when experiencing socially challenging situations.” […]

“Follow-up studies should also investigate whether the feeling of invisibility affects moral decision-making, to ensure that future invisibility cloaking does not make us lose our sense of right and wrong, which Plato asserted over two millennia ago,” said the report’s co-author, Henrik Ehrsson. […]

In Book II of Plato’s Republic, one of Socrates’s interlocutors tells a story of a shepherd, an ancestor of the ancient Lydian king Gyges, who finds a magic ring that makes the wearer invisible. The power quickly corrupts him, and he becomes a tyrant.

The premise behind the story of the Ring of Gyges, which inspired HG Wells’s seminal 1897 science fiction novel, The Invisible Man, is that we behave morally so that we can be seen doing so.

{ CS Monitor | Continue reading }

photo { Ren Hang }

Epstein had already demonstrated that the continuous and the discontinuous were never opposed to each other in cinema. What are opposed, or at least distinguished, are rather two ways of reconciling them.

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Movies are, for the most part, made up of short runs of continuous action, called shots, spliced together with cuts. With a cut, a filmmaker can instantaneously replace most of what is available in your visual field with completely different stuff. This is something that never happened in the 3.5 billion years or so that it took our visual systems to develop. You might think, then, that cutting might cause something of a disturbance when it first appeared. And yet nothing in contemporary reports suggests that it did. […]

What if we could go back in time and collect the reactions of naïve viewers on their very first experience with film editing?

It turns out that we can, sort of. There are a decent number of people on the planet who still don’t have TVs, and the psychologists Sermin Ildirar and Stephan Schwan have capitalised on their existence to ask how first-time viewers experience cuts. […] There was no evidence that the viewers found cuts in the films to be shocking or incomprehensible. […]

I think the explanation is that, although we don’t think of our visual experience as being chopped up like a Paul Greengrass fight sequence, actually it is.

Simply put, visual perception is much jerkier than we realise. First, we blink. Blinks happen every couple of seconds, and when they do we are blind for a couple of tenths of a second. Second, we move our eyes. Want to have a little fun? Take a close-up selfie video of your eyeball while you watch a minute’s worth of a movie on your computer or TV. You’ll see your eyeball jerking around two or three times every second.

{ Aeon | Continue reading }

Against those who defined Italian neo-realism by its social content, Bazin put forward the fundamental requirement of formal aesthetic criteria. According to him, it was a matter of a new form of reality, said to be dispersive, elliptical, errant or wavering, working in blocs, with deliberately weak connections and floating events. The real was no longer represented or reproduced but “aimed at.” Instead of representing an already deciphered real, neo-realism aimed at an always ambiguous, to be deciphered, real; this is why the sequence shot tended to replace the montage of representations. […]

[I]n Umberto D, De Sica constructs the famous sequence quoted as an example by Bazin: the young maid going into the kitchen in the morning, making a series of mechanical, weary gestures, cleaning a bit, driving the ants away from a water fountain, picking up the coffee grinder, stretching out her foot to close the door with her toe. And her eyes meet her pregnant woman’s belly, and it is as though all the misery in the world were going to be born. This is how, in an ordinary or everyday situation, in the course of a series of gestures, which are insignificant but all the more obedient to simple sensory-motor schemata, what has suddenly been brought about is a pure optical situation to which the little maid has no response or reaction. The eyes, the belly, that is what an encounter is … […] The Lonely Woman [Viaggio in ltalia] follows a female tourist struck to the core by the simple unfolding of images or visual cliches in which she discovers something unbearable, beyond the limit of what she can person- ally bear. This is a cinema of the seer and no longer of the agent.

What defines neo-realism is this build-up of purely optical situations (and sound ones, although there was no synchronized sound at the start of neo-realism), which are fundamentally distinct from the sensory-motor situations of the action-image in the old realism. […]

It is clear from the outset that cinema had a special relationship with belief. […] The modern fact is that we no longer believe in this world. We do not even believe in the events which happen to us, love, death, as if they only halfconcerned us. It is not we who make cinema; it is the world which looks to us like a bad film. […] The link between man and the world is broken. Henceforth, this link must become an object of belief: it is the impossible which can only be restored within a faith. Belief is no longer addressed to a different or transformed world. Man is in the world as if in a pure optical and sound situation.

{ Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2, The Time-Image, 1985 | PDF, 17.2 MB }