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Archive for September, 2012

 

via Nick Bostrom on Cognitive Enhancement – YouTube.

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In case you missed it:


Dr. David Kyle Johnson, with the hosts of the Rationally Speaking Podcast (Julia and Massimo), talk about whether it is plausible to believe that we live in a simulated world.

via Rationally Speaking | Official Podcast of New York City Skeptics – Current Episodes – RS59 – Live at NECSS: David Kyle Johnson on the Simulation Argument.

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“And tickling, Provine says, has a profound lesson to teach us. “When you look at the evolution of the development of tickle, you’re also looking at the evolution of the development of self,” he says. What’s at work in tickling, he argues, is the neurological basis for the separation of self from other. After all, as Provine noted so indelicately, you can’t tickle yourself. Your body knows that you are you; you can’t fool it. “Otherwise you’d go through life in a giant chain reaction of goosiness,” Provine says. “You’d be afraid of your own clothing if you could never distinguish between touching and being touched.”

When a baby senses a foreign hand lightly brushing his bare feet, he’s experiencing something that is recognizably other—which means that there’s something that isn’t other, too: There’s himself. Tickling is central to who we are, because it is part of how we establish that there’s a we there. (This may why too much or unwanted tickling is so viscerally frightening and overwhelming: There’s the sense that someone is invading your body and you can’t stop it.)”

via Tickling and science: How tickling a child connects parents and kids. – Slate Magazine.

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Just days after a poacher’s snare had killed one of their own, two young mountain gorillas worked together Tuesday to find and destroy traps in their Rwandan forest home, according to conservationists on the scene.

“This is absolutely the first time that we’ve seen juveniles doing that … I don’t know of any other reports in the world of juveniles destroying snares,” said Veronica Vecellio, gorilla program coordinator at the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund’s Karisoke Research Center, located in the reserve where the event took place.

“We are the largest database and observer of wild gorillas … so I would be very surprised if somebody else has seen that,” Vecellio added.

via Gorilla Youngsters Seen Dismantling Poachers’ Traps—A First.

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“Ants that are held as slaves in nests of other ant species damage their oppressors through acts of sabotage. Ant researcher Professor Dr. Susanne Foitzik of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) first observed this “slave rebellion” phenomenon in 2009. According to the latest findings, however, this behavior now appears to be a widespread characteristic that is not limited to isolated occurrences. In fact, in three different populations in the U.S. states of West Virginia, New York, and Ohio, enslaved Temnothorax longispinosus workers have been observed to neglect and kill the offspring of their Protomognathus americanus slavemakers rather than care for them. As a result, an average of only 45% of the parasite’s offspring survived. This presumably reduces the strength of the parasites in the area and thereby increases the chances of survival for the neighboring colonies populated by the slave ants’ relatives.”

via Slave rebellion is widespread in ants.

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“The beginning of a beautiful friendship? In some interspecies relationships, ants “tend” to a single caterpillar, preventing it from being attacked by predators. In return for such protection services, they are rewarded with the larva’s sugary secretions. New research has now shown that the rate of evolution in a mutualistic relationship does not depend only on the type of interactions, but also on the number of individuals involved.

The relationship between species determines how rapidly they evolve. Parasites and their hosts coevolve more rapidly, and partners in a mutualistic relationship can evolve more slowly. But this view is obviously too simplistic. The rate of evolution in a mutualistic relationship does not depend only on the type of interactions, but also on the number of individuals involved, according to a model developed by researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Plön, Germany. Therefore, while partners can benefit from slow evolution if only two individuals interact, a higher rate of evolution may be favoured if several individuals are involved.”

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2012-09-relationships-based-mutuality-individuals-involved.html#jCp

via In relationships based on mutuality, number of individuals involved can determine rate at which species evolve.

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Changing/Choosing the Type of Ant Is Easy
(by manipulating simple chemicals during egg growth)

A facebook page entitled simply “Evolution” explains it thus: 
Is the reality of Captain America still far off? Putting it simply, yes. However, manipulating genes can unleash the ‘Super Soldier’ inside Ants

.

Ants are famous for their teamwork, living in vast colonies in nests of fantastic sizes, with one colony in Australia even measuring 100km wide. The level of cooperation and organisation within colonies is incredibly complex with it often being likened to human organisation and as such is often studied as a base model to increase efficiency of human systems. 

This organisation relies on a number of key types or “castes” of ant as they are often called. Workers and soldiers continuously work to protect and feed their Queen, but some species also rely on a caste of ant known as ‘supersoldiers’. These ants protect the Queen by blocking the entrance to the colonies nest with their abnormally large heads.

Usually the caste of an ant is decided by the environment the egg grows in. Tiny changes to factors, such as temperature and nutrition, affect the individuals purpose within the colony. Dr. Abouheif and his team, from McGill University in Montreal, have discovered that the caste of an ant can be changed by altering the concentration of juvenile hormone in the egg.

This was tested in a number of species and even found that many species that didn’t naturally have the ‘supersoldier’ caste could produce this type of ant with the right amount of juvenile hormone added to an egg, at the right stage of development. The fact that species without the caste can naturally have it induced in them shows that organisms with common ancestors can be commonly affected to produce evolutionary significant changes, all through the interplay of relatively simple chemicals. 

This could mean that if similar relationships are found within other organisms, we could easily manipulate them to produce fantastic benefits for human kind such as fast growing and breeding crops in harsh conditions, which would help to end world hunger or if we could learn to reverse these relationships we may be able to reverse the rapid growth of cancerous cells potentially, curing one of the most deadly diseases known to man. JB

Abouheif, E. et al., 2012. Ancestral Developmental Potential Facilitates Parallel Evolution in Ants. Science, 335 (6064) pp. 79-82.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/3561352.stm
http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/16424096

via BBC Nature – Ants turned into ‘supersoldiers’.

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CBS News Reports: Researchers from the University of California and University of Oxford in Geneva figured out a way to pluck sensitive information from a person’s head, such as PIN numbers and bank information.

The scientists took an off-the-shelf Emotiv brain-computer interface, a device that costs around $299, which allows users to interact with their computers by thought.

The scientists then sat their subjects in front of a computer screen and showed them images of banks, people, and PIN numbers. They then tracked the readings coming off of the brain, specifically the P300 signal.

The P300 signal is typically given off when a person recognizes something meaningful, such as someone or something they interact with on a regular basis.

Scientists that conducted the experiment found they could reduce the randomness of the images by 15 to 40 percent, giving them a better chance of guessing the correct answer.

Another interesting facet about the experiments is how the P300 signal could be read for lie detection.

In the paper that the scientists released, they state that “the P300 can be used as a discriminative feature in detecting whether or not the relevant information is stored in the subject’s memory.

“For this reason, a GKT based on the P300 has a promising use within interrogation protocols that enable detection of potential criminal details held by the suspect,” the researchers said.

However, scientists say this way of lie detection is “vulnerable to specific countermeasures,” but not as many compared to a traditional lie detector.

This could only be the beginning of a new form of fraud. Scientists say that a person with their guard lowered could be “easily engaged into ‘mind games’ that camouflage the interrogation of the user and make them more cooperative.”

Also, much like other household electronics, “the ever increasing quality of devices, success rates of attacks will likely improve.”

via Scientists Successfully ‘Hack’ Brain To Obtain Private Data « CBS Seattle.

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Let’s Get Critical !

Free Six Part Class: 
Critical Reasoning for Beginners



Are you confident you can reason clearly? Are you able to convince others of your point of view? Are you able to give plausible reasons for believing what you bel

ieve? Do you sometimes read arguments in the newspapers, hear them on the television, or in the pub and wish you knew how to confidently evaluate them? In this six-part course, you will learn all about arguments, how to identify them, how to evaluate them, and how not to mistake bad arguments for good. Such skills are invaluable if you are concerned about the truth of your beliefs, and the cogency of your arguments.

via Critical Reasoning for Beginners – Download free content from Oxford University on iTunes.

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Think your moral choices are clear, concise and firm? Read this and think again.

Choice Blindness is a phenomena occurring in the areas of taste, smell and aesthetic appeal. Now, moral choice has been shown to be just as malleable. So, what is choice blindness? and why does it matter?

A simple test was conducted by researchers at Lund University. They asked random people walking through a park if they would fill out a simple questionaire about their moral principles. The questions covered topics ranging from prosititution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Surveys were filled out by 160 people, but unknown to the participants, there was a trick to them (see video): While the second page of the survey was being completed, the statements on the first page of the survey were surreptitiously changed to the opposite moral position, while leaving the participants answers the same.

Then, the participants were asked to read three of the moral positions on page 1, including two which had been altered, and discuss their response to them. The results were surprising.

HALF of the participants did not detect the changes at all. 69% accepted at least one of the altered statements. An unimaginable 53% argued unequivocally for the reversed moral position.

This is “choice blindness”. It demonstrates how malleable and flexible people really are.

A psychologist adds, “These findings suggest that if I’m fooled into thinking that I endorse a view, I’ll do the work myself to come up with my own reasons [for endorsing it],” .

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KO_cDCoRACg&feature=player_embedded

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Marissa Mayer chose to major in what she describes as “symbolic systems”, which are a combination of these 4 disciplines: 

–philosophy (how do people reason?) 
–cognitive psychology (how do people learn?) 
–linguistics (how do people communicate?) and 
–computer science (can a computer do the same or assist people in doing these things?) 

That kind of thinking appears to set you up pretty well to be a product manager for a company that creates software to assist human minds in reaching a greater potential. (video 1.3hour) via http://www.quora.com/Stanford-University/What-is-it-about-the-Symbolic-Systems-program-at-Stanford-that-produces-such-amazing-alums#ans1399154

via An Evening with Marissa Mayer – YouTube.

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(Short audio and transcript)

Greene says we really have two completely different moral circuits in our brain. Compare these two scenarios and think about it. 

#1 — The first trolley problem:
A trolley is headed towards five people and the only way you can save them i

s to hit a switch that will turn the trolley away from the five and onto a side track, but if you turn it onto the side track it will run over one person.

Most people say they would flip the switch and divert the trolley. They say they don’t want to kill someone, but one innocent person dead is better than five innocent people dead. This is cost-benefit analysis and an inherent component of utilitarianism.

#2 — The second trolley problem:
This time, you’re on a footbridge, in between the oncoming trolley and the five people. And next to you is a big person wearing a big backpack. And the only way you can save those five people is to push this big guy off of the footbridge so that he lands on the tracks. And he’ll get squashed by the train; you sort of use him as a trolley stopper. But you can save the five people.

Would you push the big guy to his death? More important, do you feel this moral dilemma is identical to the earlier one?

“In a certain sense, they’re identical,” Greene said. “Trade one life to save five. But psychologically, they’re very different.” If you watched yourself during the first dilemma, you may have noticed you had to think about whether you’d push that switch. In the footbridge dilemma, you probably didn’t have to think. You just knew that pushing someone to his death is wrong.

via Why Pictures Can Sway Your Moral Judgment : NPR.

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How Nerve Cells Communicate: Scientific American.

Neuroscientists do not fully understand how the brain manages to extract meaningful information from all the signaling that goes on within it. The two of us and others, however, have recently made exciting progress by focusing new attention on how the brain can efficiently use the timing of spikes to encode information and rapidly solve difficult computational problems. This is because a group of spikes that fire almost at the same moment can carry much more information than can a comparably sized group that activates in an unsynchronized fashion.an.

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One million people die by their own hand each year, accounting for more deaths than wars and murders put together, the World Health Organisation said Friday, calling for urgent action to address the problem.”

If not addressing the issue of human flourishing, then we should provide a safe, affordable and effective means of assisted-suicide for those who choose to die. The right to dignity in death, as in life, should be available to everyone on the planet. Suffering should always be optional.

via One million people commit suicide each year: WHO.

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Bosch took virgin males and set them up in vole apartments with roommates—either a brother they hadn’t seen in a long time or an unfamiliar virgin female. As males and females are wont to do, the boy-girl roommates mated and formed a bond. After five days, he split up half the brother pairs, and half the male-female pairs, creating what amounted to involuntary vole divorce. Then he put the voles through a series of behavioral tests.

The first is called the forced-swim test. Bosch likens it to an old Bavarian proverb about two mice who fall into a bucket of milk. One mouse does nothing and drowns. The other tries to swim so furiously the milk turns into butter and the mouse escapes. Paddling is typically what rodents will do if they find themselves in water; they’ll swim like crazy because they think they’ll drown if they don’t. (Actually, they’ll float but apparently no rodent floaters have ever returned to fill in the rest of the tribe.)

The voles that were separated from their brothers paddled manically. So did the voles who stayed with their brothers and the voles who stayed with their female mates. Only the males who’d gone through vole divorce floated listlessly as if they didn’t care whether they drowned.

“It was amazing,” Bosch recalls. “For minutes, they would just float. You can watch the video and without knowing which group they were in, you can easily tell if it’s an animal separated from their partner, or still with their partner.” Watching the videos of them bob limply, it’s easy to imagine them moaning out “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone” with their tiny vole voices.

via Love Hurts: Brain Chemistry Explains the Pangs of Separation.

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