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Posts Tagged ‘human beings

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

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  • Bad Astronomy notes that some Ukrainian astronomers have insulted Putin by naming a star after him.
  • blogTO notes on the park front that the bandmembers of Rush will be honoured with a park in their own name in their own neighbourhood, and turns to the discussion about the
  • Broadside Blog’s Caitlin Kelly asks readers if they can describe their job in five words.
  • Joe. My. God. links to a new Australian study suggesting the children of same-sex couples might turn out better than the children of traditional family structures.
  • Language Hat links to an interesting speculation of Victor Mair’s, to the effect that all languages include at least a thousand basic concepts, suggesting this might reflect something about the human mind.
  • Language Log notes garbled language about the greenhouse effect on Earth and Mars.
  • Marginal Revolution suggests that, based on a study, the Chinese language has the lowest percentage of borrowed words of any major language.
  • Personal Reflection’s Jim Belshaw notes, as a white Australian, problems with being involved in the struggles of Aborigines.
  • Savage Minds notes the use of archeology in Israel to justify the displacement of Palestinians.
  • Towleroad examines how a picture of a gay male couple with their newborn child has gone viral.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy’s Will Baude shared the voices of some Americans critical of the Declaration of Independence. (Frederick Douglass’ issues were well-founded.)
  • Window on Eurasia notes the exile of another Crimean Tatar from his Russian-annexed homeland and observes a call for less education in languages other than Russian that might hit worldly Russians as badly as it would ethnic minorities.

[LINK] “Scientists Translate Chimpanzee and Bonobo Gestures That Resemble Human Language”

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Wired‘s Brandon Keim reports on claims by scientists to have observed what might be proto-language among chimpanzees, one based on gestures.

It will be interesting to watch this develop. It is noteworthy that chimpanzees can’t speak because they’re physically unable to, and that other primates like the famous Koko the gorilla have mastered sign language. What was going on unnoticed in the wild?

Scientists have described the communications of chimpanzees and bonobos in new and unsurpassed detail, offering a lexicon for our closest living relatives and even a glimpse into the origins of human language.

The research, contained in two new studies published July 3 in Current Biology, focuses on physical gestures. These are the primary form of communication in bonobos and chimps, used more readily than vocalizations.

One study describes how a certain bonobo gesture conveys an informational complexity not previously observed in non-human great apes. The other study identifies the meanings of no fewer than 36 chimpanzee gestures.

“What we’ve shown is a very rich system of many different meanings,” said primatologist Richard Byrne of Scotland’s University of St. Andrews, co-author of the chimpanzee study. “We have the closest thing to human language that you can see in nature.”

Byrne’s co-author, fellow University of St. Andrews primatologist Catherine Hobaiter, spent 18 months observing a group of chimpanzees in the Budongo Forest Reserve in western Kenya. Hobaiter painstakingly documented more than 4,500 gestures in 3,400 incidents of chimp-to-chimp gesturing, noting both the motions used and the responses of nearby chimps.

Subsequent statistical analysis boiled those observations down to 36 established gestures and 15 clear-cut meanings. (Multiple gestures are sometimes used for the same purpose, perhaps conveying some not-yet-understood nuance.) Stomping two feet, for example, is used to initiate play. Reaching means, “I want that,” and an air-hug embrace is a request for contact.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 4, 2014 at 7:33 pm

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • Andart’s Anders Sandberg links to a paper of his examining the ethics of brain emulations. How ethical is it do make very life-like simulations of minds?
  • blogTO notes a public art movement tracing the former path of the Don River.
  • The Burgh Diaspora’s Jim Russell notes that population change in the US is a consequence of migration and natural change.
  • Centauri Dreams considers intergalactic travel. Given the huge travel times involved, travelling on a hypervelocity star ejected from a solar system may be more secure.
  • The Cranky Sociologists’ SocProf notes that not caring about a particular social issue until it affects you actually isn’t good for society as a whole.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to one paper suggesting between 5.3 and 10% of Sun-like star ssupport Earth-sized planets in their circumstellar habitable zones, and another identifying HIP 114328 as a solar twin.
  • Joe. My. God. notes the latest developments in marriage equality in Finland.
  • Marginal Revolution’s Tyler Cowen notes that Scottish devolution hasn’t changed much policy, perhaps passing over the possibility that perhaps devolution has prevented change.
  • Patrick Cain maps the 2014 Ontario election.
  • Torontoist notes that the Toronto Star has given the Toronto Public Library more than a million of its vintage photographs.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes that, according to a recent court ruling, smartphones in the US are safe from arbitrary search.
  • Window on Eurasia notes that the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine is steadily losing its position there.

[DM] “On the longevity and extended health of Icarians, among others”

I’ve a brief post up at Demography Matters taking a look at the longevity of certain Greek islanders, among others, and wondering what it might mean for the rest of us.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 26, 2014 at 3:59 am

[BLOG] Some Monday links

  • Centauri Dreams features an essay by Andreas Hein arguing that interstellar travel will be quite easy after the singularity hits, when our minds can be copied onto physical substrates.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes that the dispute between Vietnam and China over their maritime boundaries runs the risk of intensifying.
  • Far Outliers chronicles the Australian creation of the Ferdinand radio network in the 1930s, a network of civilian radio broadcasters in northern Australia and Papua New Guinea charged with reporting on border security.
  • Joe. My. God. notes controversy in Israel over a harmless music video by trans pop star Dana International.
  • Language Hat notes one Russian writer’s suggestion on how Russian-language writers can avoid Russian state censorship: write in officially recognized variants of the Russian language (Ukrainian Russian, Latvian Russian, et cetera).
  • Language Log examines “patchwriting”, a subtle variant of plagiarism.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money is just one blog noting the insanity of George F. Will’s claim that being a rape victim on a university campus is a coveted status.
  • The Map Room’s Jonathan Crowe links to OpenGeoFiction, an online collaborative map-creation fiction.
  • Marginal Revolution notes that, before Hitler, the Biblical pharoah was the figure used as the embodiment of evil.
  • The New APPS Blog takes issue with the claim that photographs sully our memories. Arguably they supplement it instead.
  • Personal Reflection’s Jim Belshaw notes, following Australia’s recent budget cuts, how young people lacking connections can find it very difficult to get ahead.
  • Window on Eurasia notes that ethnic minorities and secessionist groups in Moldova are being mobilized as that country moves towards the European Union, and observes the maritime sanctions placed against Crimean ports.
  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell is very skeptical of UKIP founder Alan Sked’s statements that the party was founded free of bigotry.

[LINK] “Clever crows beaten by babies in causality test”

Via io9 I came across an article by Wired‘s Kadhim Shubber summarizing a study on the intelligence of the famously bright New Caledonian crow, “Of babies and birds: complex tool behaviours are not sufficient for the evolution of the ability to create a novel causal intervention”.

If you observed a brick falling onto a button that dispensed food, you would quickly realise that you didn’t need the brick to get the food. You could just push the button yourself.

You have observed a sequence of cause and effect, and although you haven’t directly experienced it, you can figure out what’s going on and get the food.

Caledonian crows, according to a new study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, aren’t able to do this.

“The crows are great at solving certain types of problems but, as our new study shows, struggle at others,” lead author Alex Taylor told Wired.co.uk via email. “Discovering the limits of their cognition allows us to get a better understanding of how intelligence evolves, and which aspects our our cognition are particularly special.”

Taylor and his colleagues have studied Caledonian crows for years, and have been the source of numerous papers on their intelligence, including a March paper that replicated Aesop’s Fable of a thirsty crow using stones to raise the water level in a half-filled container.

Indeed a 2009 study showed that the crows are able to understand cause and effect quite well. Crows that received food as an effect of pushing a platform with their beak then learned to use other tools, like stones, to move the platform if it was out of reach.

The crucial difference, said Taylor, is that this required a direct experience. The crows had previously pushed the platform themselves.

“Animals are very good at learning from their own experience, or via observing the effects of others (social learning),” he said. “But so far only humans appear to be able to simply observe an effect in the world, and, without reference to their own behaviour or another humans, then create a novel behaviour to cause the effect.”

Written by Randy McDonald

June 16, 2014 at 7:56 pm

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • Antipope Charlie Stross announces his support of Scottish independence on political grounds. Marginal Revolution’s Tyler Cowen takes issue with him.
  • The Broadside Blog’s Caitlin Kelly writes movingly about self-critical voices.
  • The Cranky Sociologists’ SocProf shares sociology-related World Cup infographics.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes that Homo erectus picked up the herpes virus from chimps.
  • The Financial Times‘ The World blog notes that German attitudes towards the United States and the United Kingdom have cooled in recent years.
  • Joe. My. God. notes the election of out lesbian Kathleen Wynne as premier of Ontario.
  • Language Hat notes the increasing prominence of languages other than English in India, particularly in mass media.
  • Marginal Revolution suggests that the economic effects of recessions make people in recessionary economies more inclined towards racism.
  • Torontoist notes that many employees of the provincially-owned Beer Store chain have been active on social media in arguing against allowing convenience stores to sell beer.

[LINK] “Endangered Bonobos Reveal Evolution of Human Kindness”

At National Geographic, James Owen observes that studies of the critically endangered bonobo reveal much about human evolutionary origins, particularly human societies and empathy.

The bonobos, orphaned by illegal hunters in central Africa, are the study subjects of evolutionary anthropologists Brian Hare and Jingzhi Tan, both of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

Working with the rescued apes at the Lola Ya Bonobo Sanctuary in Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Hare and Tan have revealed a social side to bonobos that was previously thought to be uniquely human.

Unlike other nonhuman primate—including our other closest living relatives, chimpanzees—peace-loving bonobos seem to tolerate strangers, share resources with random bonobos, and exhibit a form of empathy called contagious yawning. (Related: “‘Contagious’ Yawning Occurs More Among Loved Ones.”)

These findings may help to solve the long-standing evolutionary puzzle of why humans show kind or helpful behavior to other humans beyond their immediate family or group: It could have a biological basis.

“Certainly culture and education play an important role in the development of human altruism, but the bonobo finding tells us that even the most extreme form of human tolerance and altruism is in part driven by our genes,” Tan said.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 11, 2014 at 7:10 pm

[LINK] “Ancient Europe Colonized by Island Hoppers?”

Andrew Curry’s National Geographic News article takes a look at how movements of early agricultural populations westwards across the Mediterranean are reflected in contemporary genetics.

By leapfrogging from island to island across the northern Mediterranean, Neolithic people were able to quickly spread their farming lifestyle across southern Europe some 9,000 years ago, a new genetic study suggests.

Archaeological investigations have shown that individuals in the Near East first developed farming and herding around 12,000 years ago. Agriculture then quickly replaced the more mobile hunter-gatherer lifestyle—in what’s called the “Neolithic transition”—as farmers migrated into Europe and other parts of the world.

“The establishment of agriculture provided the possibility for population growth, and that growth led people to expand to new horizons,” said University of Washington geneticist George Stamatoyannopoulos.

In a new study, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Stamatoyannopoulos and his colleagues analyzed the DNA of individuals from modern Mediterranean populations to reconstruct the migration patterns of their ancient ancestors.

The genetic data showed that the people from the Near East migrated into Anatolia-modern—day Turkey—and then rapidly west through the islands of Greece and Sicily, before making their way north into the center of the continent.

“The gene flow was from the Near East to Anatolia, and from Anatolia to the islands,” Stamatoyannopoulos said. “How well the genes mirror geography is really striking.”

Written by Randy McDonald

June 10, 2014 at 7:47 pm

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • blogTO notes the TTC proposal to remove some streetcar stops.
  • Discover‘s D-Brief suggests that one reason humans are physically weaker than other primates is because we sacrificed physical strength to support our brain instead.
  • The Dragon’s Tales links to a paper suggesting Earth has much more carbon and water sequestered inside than expected.
  • Geocurrents notes that estimates on the size of various economies, including Nigeria and Saudi Arabia, often vary quite widely even between years.
  • The Inkfish blog notes that the Humboldt squid can apparently radically slow down its metabolism when it hangs out in oxygen-poor waters.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that continuing improvements in HIV/AIDS mortality have led a Vancouver hospital to shut down its dedicated ward for patients.
  • Language Log shares a photo explaining how an Arabic word on a sign in Iraqi Kurdistan as badly mistranslated.</li
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money discusses misogyny and gun control after the Rodger shooting.
  • The Planetary Society Blog announces that the parent organization supports the NASA proposal to capture an asteroid into lunar orbit, with qualifications (how much will it cost?).
  • Towleroad notes that in Ghana’s capital of Accra, a mob in a Muslim neighbourhood lynched a gay man and began looking for his partner.
  • Window on Eurasia notes the growing list of travel restrictions on Russian citizens imposed by the Russian government and argues anti-Semitism is a bigger threat in Russia than in Ukraine.
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