science

‘The future enters into us long before it happens.’ –Rainer Maria Rilke

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[L]ife may have been seeded here on Earth by life-bearing comets as soon as conditions on Earth allowed it to flourish (about or just before 4.1 Billion years ago). […]

Evidence of the role of extraterrestrial viruses in affecting terrestrial evolution has recently been plausibly implied in the gene and transcriptome sequencing of Cephalopods. The genome of the Octopus shows a staggering level of complexity with 33,000 protein-coding genes more than is present in Homo sapiens. Octopus belongs to the coleoid sub-class of molluscs (Cephalopods) that have an evolutionary history that stretches back over 500 million years, although Cephalopod phylogenetics is highly inconsistent and confusing. Cephalopods are also very diverse, with the behaviourally complex coleoids, (Squid, Cuttlefish and Octopus) presumably arising under a pure terrestrial evolutionary model from the more primitive nautiloids. However the genetic divergence of Octopus from its ancestral coleoid sub-class is very great, akin to the extreme features seen across many genera and species noted in Eldridge-Gould punctuated equilibria patterns (below). Its large brain and sophisticated nervous system, camera-like eyes, flexible bodies, instantaneous camouflage via the ability to switch colour and shape are just a few of the striking features that appear suddenly on the evolutionary scene. The transformative genes leading from the consensus ancestral Nautilus to the common Cuttlefish to Squid to the common Octopus are not easily to be found in any pre-existing life form — it is plausible then to suggest they seem to be borrowed from a far distant “future” in terms of terrestrial evolution, or more realistically from the cosmos at large. Such an extraterrestrial origin as an explanation of emergence of course runs counter to the prevailing dominant paradigm. […]

One plausible explanation, in our view, is that the new genes are likely new extraterrestrial imports to Earth — most plausibly as an already coherent group of functioning genes within (say) cryopreserved and matrix protected fertilized Octopus eggs. […]

Hoyle and Wickramasinghe thus argued and predicted on the basis of the then available evidence that microorganisms and virus populations in the comets and related cosmic bolides appear to have regularly delivered living systems (organisms, viruses and seeds) to the Earth since its formation, and continue to do so. […]

Darwinian evolution and its various non-Darwinian terrestrial drivers are therefore most likely caused by the continuing supply of new virions and micro-organisms from space with their genetic impact events written all over our genomes. Indeed a strong case can be made for hominid evolution involving a long sequence of viral pandemics, each one of which was a close call to total extinction of an evolving line. The most crucial genes relevant to evolution of hominids, as indeed all species of plants and animals, seems likely in many instances to be of external origin, being transferred across the galaxy largely as information rich virions. In some cases it is possible to imagine multicellular life-forms that were established on an icy cometary or planetary body to be transferred as frozen eggs, embryos or seeds in large icy bolides that have been transported to the Earth in soft landings.

{ Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology | PDF }

photo { Ezra Stoller, Philip Morris headquarters, Richmond, 1972 }

You gotta get up, you gotta get off, you gotta get down, girl

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In Study 2, we moved chairs together in Starbucks across the country so that they were partially blocking the aisle (n = 678).

People in northern China were more likely to move the chair out of the way, which is consistent with findings that people in individualistic cultures are more likely to try to control the environment. People in southern China were more likely to adjust the self to the environment by squeezing through the chairs. Even in China’s most modern cities, rice-wheat differences live on in everyday life.

{ Improbable | Continue reading }

Time to rebuild the

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Across four experiments participants chose between two versions of a stimulus which either had an attractive left side or an attractive right side. […]

In each experiment participants showed a significant bias to choose the stimulus with an attractive left side more than the stimulus with an attractive right side. The leftward bias emerged at age 10/11, was not caused by a systematic asymmetry in the perception of colourfulness or complexity, and was stronger when the difference in attractiveness between the left and right sides was larger.

The results are relevant to the aesthetics of product and packaging design and show that leftward biases extend to the perceptual judgement of everyday items. Possible causes of the leftward bias for attractiveness judgements are discussed and it is suggested that the size of the bias may not be a measure of the degree of hemispheric specialization.

{ Laterality | Continue reading }

art { Adrian Piper, Catalysis III, 1970 }

What then can Kant mean by his mysterious suggestion that ‘objects must conform to our cognition’?

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The image of the world that we see is continuously deformed and fragmented by foreshortenings, partial overlapping, and so on, and must be constantly reassembled and interpreted; otherwise, it could change so much that we would hardly recognize it. Since pleasure has been found to be involved in visual and cognitive information processing, the possibility is considered that anhedonia (the reduction of the ability to feel pleasure) might interfere with the correct reconstruction and interpretation of the image of the environment and alter its appearance.

{ Schizophrenia Research and Treatment | Continue reading }

The boots to them, them in the bar, them barmaids came

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It is often claimed that negative events carry a larger weight than positive events. Loss aversion is the manifestation of this argument in monetary outcomes. In this review, we examine early studies of the utility function of gains and losses, and in particular the original evidence for loss aversion reported by Kahneman and Tversky (Econometrica  47:263–291, 1979). We suggest that loss aversion proponents have over-interpreted these findings.

{ Psychological Research | Continue reading }

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

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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 }

I mean a being absolutely infinite

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A group of scientists who study Artificial Intelligence (AI) say they’ve come up with a process that can not only measure biological age, but tell you whether you will live longer or die younger than other people your age, and how to increase your odds that you will do the former.

They’ve called it the Aging Clock—an aging clock that is embedded in our body’s blood chemistry that forecasts when our cells and bodies are most likely to die and whether we’re getting old too quickly compared with other people our age.

It’s the result of a big-data, AI-driven analysis of blood tests from 130,000 people from South Korean, Canadian and Eastern European patient populations. The results netted a computer algorithm scientists at Insilico Medicine describe as the most precise measure of a person’s biological age. They say the algorithm and corresponding website, young.ai, can provide visitors real time information about their potential life span and hopefully help them lengthen it. […]

“Our biological age measures how quickly the cells in our body will deteriorate compared with the general population,” he said. “Depending on the genetics we inherit and the lifestyle choices we make regarding diet, exercise, weight, stress and habits like smoking or drinking, our biological age can vary as much as 30 years compared with our chronological age.”

{ Forbes | Continue reading }

oil on canvas { Amy Sherald, A clear, unspoken, granted magic, 2017 }

My leaves have drifted from me

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In a study published in Nature Neuroscience on Jan. 21, neuroscientists and systems biologists from Harvard Medical School reveal just how inexorably interwoven nature and nurture are.

Using novel technologies developed at HMS, the team looked at how a single sensory experience affects gene expression in the brain by analyzing more than 114,000 individual cells in the mouse visual cortex before and after exposure to light.

Their findings revealed a dramatic and diverse landscape of gene expression changes across all cell types, involving 611 different genes, many linked to neural connectivity and the brain’s ability to rewire itself to learn and adapt.

The results offer insights into how bursts of neuronal activity that last only milliseconds trigger lasting changes in the brain, and open new fields of exploration for efforts to understand how the brain works.

{ Harvard Medical School | Continue reading }

art { Josef Albers, Hotel Staircase, Geneva, 1929/1932 }

I couldn’t even change my new white shoes all ruined with the saltwater and the hat I had with that feather all blowy and tossed on me how annoying and provoking

Why Women Wear High Heels: Evolution, Lumbar Curvature, and Attractiveness

…high-heeled footwear increased women’s attractiveness only when wearing heels altered their lumbar curvature to be closer to an evolutionarily optimal angle.

{ Frontiers in Psychology | Continue reading }

‘A noir, E blanc, I rouge, U vert, O bleu’ –Arthur Rimbaud

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Grapheme-color synesthesia is a neurological phenomenon in which viewing a grapheme elicits an additional, automatic, and consistent sensation of color.

Color-to-letter associations in synesthesia are interesting in their own right, but also offer an opportunity to examine relationships between visual, acoustic, and semantic aspects of language. […]

Numerous studies have reported that for English-speaking synesthetes, “A” tends to be colored red more often than predicted by chance, and several explanatory factors have been proposed that could explain this association.

Using a five-language dataset (native English, Dutch, Spanish, Japanese, and Korean speakers), we compare the predictions made by each explanatory factor, and show that only an ordinal explanation makes consistent predictions across all five languages, suggesting that the English “A” is red because the first grapheme of a synesthete’s alphabet or syllabary tends to be associated with red.

We propose that the relationship between the first grapheme and the color red is an association between an unusually-distinct ordinal position (”first”) and an unusually-distinct color (red).

{ Cortex | Continue reading }

A Black, E white, I red, U green, O blue: vowels,
Someday I shall tell of your mysterious births

{ Arthur Rimbaud | Continue reading }

art { Roland Cat, The pupils of their eyes, 1985 }

Saas and taas and specis bizaas

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Normal consciousness relies, at least in part, on the brain’s Default Mode Network (DMN), according to neuroscientist Robin Carhart-Harris, head of psychedelic research in the brain sciences division of the Imperial College of London medical school. The DMN is a network of interacting brain regions that acts as a cognitive transit hub, integrating and assimilating information. As the name implies, it’s the usual system of organization for your mind. Carhart-Harris says the DMN “gives coherence to cognition” by connecting different regions of the brain, and is considered the “orchestrator of the self.”

Carhart-Harris and his colleagues found what seems to be an important function of the DMN inadvertently. While studying brain networks, they got curious about what changes might occur when people are under the effects of hallucinogens. In studies analyzing the effects of psilocybin on brain wave oscillation and blood flow, they found that when the DMN was inactive, an alternate network of consciousness seemed to arise.

When some study subjects tested psilocybin, they reported a strong sense of interconnectedness, as well as spiritual, magical, and supernatural feelings.

In the alternate mode, brains produced a different world that offered other sensations and realizations than in everyday life. In this mode, the self wasn’t the protagonist of the narrative. Meanwhile, scans of blood flow and brain wave oscillations showed new, unusual—but orderly and synchronous—connections forming between cortical regions, as if the brain was reorganizing its network. This led Carhart-Harris to posit that the DMN generates the feeling we each have that we’re individuals, a feeling that manifests very strongly as reality. And that means we can temporarily switch off, or mute, this part of the brain.

{ Quartz | Continue reading }

According to the famous work of Roger Sperry and Michael Gazzaniga, “split brain” patients seem to experience a split in consciousness: the left and the right side of their brain can independently become aware of, and respond, to stimuli. Split brain patients are those who underwent surgery to sever the corpus callosum, the nerve tract connecting the two hemispheres of the brain.

{ Neuroskeptic | Continue reading }

art { Leah Schrager }

The dinosaurs had sex… and look what happened to them #abstinence

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We explored the effect of revealing or conservative attire on perceptions of women’s leadership competence. We also used eye-tracker technology to determine whether looking at sexualized body parts (i.e., breasts, hemline) was related to lower perceptions of leadership competence and electability.

A female candidate for a student senate presidency at a U.S. university wearing revealing clothing was perceived by 191 college students as less honest and trustworthy, electable, and competent than one wearing conservative clothing. Sexualized body parts were looked at longer when the candidate was wearing revealing clothing compared to conservative clothing. Furthermore, mediation analyses indicated that the revealing clothing led participants to gaze at sexualized body parts, which, in turn, led to perceiving the candidate as less honest/trustworthy, which lowered their evaluations of her competence and electability.

These findings suggest that viewing a woman in a sexy outfit can lead others to stare more at her body and make negative evaluations of her personal attributes.

{ Sex Roles | Continue reading }

art { Corinne Dodenhoff }