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Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘human beings

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

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  • blogTO notes that a party celebrating the end of Rob Ford’s term as mayor is being planned for election night at City Hall.
  • Centauri Dreams notes the discovery of secondary targets for New Horizons after it passes Pluto.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper that looks to examine the oblateness or otherwise of some exoplanets discovered by Kepler.
  • The Dragon’s Tales links to one paper examining underwater archeology and links to a series debating the question of whether or not there was a human presence 30 thousand years ago at a site in Uruguay.
  • Eastern Approaches reports on the aftermath of a failed claim by Radek Sikorski that Russia made a 2008 proposal on partitioning Ukraine.
  • Joe. My. God. notes a Costa Rican survey suggesting that up to a fifth of Costa Rican police think that harassing GLBT people is OK.
  • Language Hat notes the etymology of the Egyptian title of “khedive”, apparently obscure for a reason.
  • Language Log notes a contentious issue in Chinese translation: “rule of law” or “rule by law”?
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer looks at the aftermath of a stunt at a Serbian-Albanian football game.
  • The Russian Demographics Blog considers estimates for Russian losses in Ukrainian fighing.
  • Towleroad notes that Argentina has granted asylum to a Russian GLBT claimant.
  • Window on Eurasia suggests that Ukrainian events have awakened Belarusian nationalism.

[LINK] “Q&A: Cave Art Older, More Widespread Than Thought, Archaeologist Says”

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National Geographic has a nice brief interview with Alistair Pike, a British archeologist who found ancient cave art in Indonesia. This matters.

How surprising is it to find such old cave paintings outside Europe?

Absolutely this changes our views and is going to make us ask a lot of questions about the causes rather than the origins of cave art. The hand stencils are almost identical to ones seen in Europe and elsewhere around the world, which is really interesting.

We’ve been shown here that our views have been too “Eurocentric” about the origins of cave painting. It’s not surprising that people for years thought that France and Spain was the home for this art. That’s where it was found in caves. But now we have new evidence.

Before this find, what was the history of cave painting thought to be?

Well, one argument that was made largely because we had all these European cave paintings was that when modern humans migrated to Europe, they competed with Neanderthals for caves, which led to a cultural change.

Other forms of symbolism existed, but people just didn’t need to paint caves outside of Europe.

What’s clear now is that the phenomenon happened elsewhere.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 14, 2014 at 9:35 pm

[FORUM] Do you think that human beings are too dumb for democracy?

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I heard the CBC Ideas documentary Too Dumb for Democracy on Thursday. Centered around the arguments of PhD student David Moscrop, the documentary’s thesis is that democracy isn’t perfectly compatible with the human being. Far from being perfectly rational individuals, human beings are actually substantially non-rational, and in politics we are prone to accepting claims and persons who aren’t good objectively simply because they or things they do appeal. (Rob Ford’s popularity was an example.) The argument was summarized at CBC.

“You would think that for high-involvement situations, like deciding on who to vote for, we should be creating spreadsheets of pros and cons and deliberately considering the pros and cons of candidates’ platforms,” says [neuroscientist Tanya] Chartrand.

But the truth is, most of us don’t.

Moscrop says that election campaigns are run on a presumption that voters’ political preferences are already formed.

A campaign, then, isn’t really about engaging citizens in a rigorous exchange of transformative ideas, but rather reaffirming people’s existing ideological biases and mobilizing citizens to vote for their respective camp.

If the goal of democracy is to engage in a rigorous exchange of ideas that results in a greater good for all citizens, one of the first things to do is downplay the role of television ads during election campaigns, says University of Toronto philosophy professor Joseph Heath.

“Reason resides in language and our ability to explicitly articulate how we get from point A to point B in an argument,” says Heath.

“If you’re trying to communicate through visual stimulation, it won’t encourage a rational appreciation of things, and that has a bunch of implications. Reason is very, very slow. Speed encourages gut reactions.”

What do you think?

Written by Randy McDonald

October 6, 2014 at 3:59 am

[LINK] “Wild chimps learn from others to make new tools”

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CBC reports on a recent paper suggesting that chimpanzees, like humans, can transmit elements of material culture between each other. We all learn, and share.

It’s not just humans who want the latest gadget. Wild chimpanzees that see a friend making and using a nifty new kind of tool are likely to make one for themselves, scientists report.

“Our study adds new evidence supporting the hypothesis that some of the behavioural diversity seen in wild chimpanzees is the result of social transmission and can therefore be interpreted as cultural,” an international research team writes today in the journal PLOS Biology.

The findings suggest that the ability of individuals to learn from one another originated long ago in a common ancestor of chimpanzees and humans, the researchers add.

“This study tells us that chimpanzee culture changes over time, little by little, by building on previous knowledge found within the community,” said Thibaud Gruber, a co-author of the study, in a statement. “This is probably how our early ancestors’ cultures also changed over time.”

Scientists already knew that chimpanzees in different groups have certain behaviours unique to their group, such as using a particular kind of tool. They suspected that wild chimpanzees learn those behaviours from other chimpanzees within their group, as scientists have observed in captive chimps. But they could never be sure.

The new study documents the spread of two new behaviours among chimpanzees living in Uganda’s Budongo Forest. It shows that chimps learned one of them — the making and use of a new tool called a moss sponge — by observing other chimps who had already adopted the behaviour. Chimps dip the tool in water and then put it in their mouth to drink.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 1, 2014 at 11:04 pm

[LINK] “Science Has Great News for People Who Read Actual Books”

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Mic’s Rachel Grate has a nice piece examining how reading physical books is actually healthier than reading e-books.

It’s no secret that reading is good for you. Just six minutes of reading is enough to reduce stress by 68%, and numerous studies have shown that reading keeps your brain functioning effectively as you age. One study even found that elderly individuals who read regularly are 2.5 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s than their peers. But not all forms of reading are created equal.

[. . .]

A 2014 study found that readers of a short mystery story on a Kindle were significantly worse at remembering the order of events than those who read the same story in paperback. Lead researcher Anne Mangen of Norway’s Stavanger University concluded that “the haptic and tactile feedback of a Kindle does not provide the same support for mental reconstruction of a story as a print pocket book does.”

Our brains were not designed for reading, but have adapted and created new circuits to understand letters and texts. The brain reads by constructing a mental representation of the text based on the placement of the page in the book and the word on the page.

The tactile experience of a book aids this process, from the thickness of the pages in your hands as you progress through the story to the placement of a word on the page. Mangen hypothesizes that the difference for Kindle readers “might have something to do with the fact that the fixity of a text on paper, and this very gradual unfolding of paper as you progress through a story is some kind of sensory offload, supporting the visual sense of progress when you’re reading.”

While e-readers try to recreate the sensation of turning pages and pagination, the screen is limited to one ephemeral virtual page. Surveys about the use of e-readers suggest that this affects a reader’s serendipity and sense of control. The inability to flip back to previous pages or control the text physically, either through making written notes or bending pages, limits one’s sensory experience and thus reduces long-term memory of the text.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 30, 2014 at 11:22 pm

[LINK] On genetic studies revealing patterns of Bantu migration in Africa

The Dragon’s Tales linked to a paper using DNA studies to trace the historic migrations of Bantu peoples across southern and eastern Africa. “Genetic variation reveals large-scale population expansion and migration during the expansion of Bantu-speaking peoples” by Li, Schlebusch and Jakobsson seems to confirm the theories of some linguists.

The majority of sub-Saharan Africans today speak a number of closely related languages collectively referred to as ‘Bantu’ languages. The current distribution of Bantu-speaking populations has been found to largely be a consequence of the movement of people rather than a diffusion of language alone. Linguistic and single marker genetic studies have generated various hypotheses regarding the timing and the routes of the Bantu expansion, but these hypotheses have not been thoroughly investigated. In this study, we re-analysed microsatellite markers typed for large number of African populations that—owing to their fast mutation rates—capture signatures of recent population history. We confirm the spread of west African people across most of sub-Saharan Africa and estimated the expansion of Bantu-speaking groups, using a Bayesian approach, to around 5600 years ago. We tested four different divergence models for Bantu-speaking populations with a distribution comprising three geographical regions in Africa. We found that the most likely model for the movement of the eastern branch of Bantu-speakers involves migration of Bantu-speaking groups to the east followed by migration to the south. This model, however, is only marginally more likely than other models, which might indicate direct movement from the west and/or significant gene flow with the western Branch of Bantu-speakers. Our study use multi-loci genetic data to explicitly investigate the timing and mode of the Bantu expansion and it demonstrates that west African groups rapidly expanded both in numbers and over a large geographical area, affirming the fact that the Bantu expansion was one of the most dramatic demographic events in human history.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 20, 2014 at 2:00 am

[LINK] “Ancient human genomes suggest three ancestral populations for present-day Europeans”

The Dragon’s Tales linked to a study in Nature analyzing ancient DNA.

We sequenced the genomes of a ~7,000-year-old farmer from Germany and eight ~8,000-year-old hunter-gatherers from Luxembourg and Sweden. We analysed these and other ancient genomes with 2,345 contemporary humans to show that most present-day Europeans derive from at least three highly differentiated populations: west European hunter-gatherers, who contributed ancestry to all Europeans but not to Near Easterners; ancient north Eurasians related to Upper Palaeolithic Siberians, who contributed to both Europeans and Near Easterners; and early European farmers, who were mainly of Near Eastern origin but also harboured west European hunter-gatherer related ancestry. We model these populations’ deep relationships and show that early European farmers had ~44% ancestry from a ‘basal Eurasian’ population that split before the diversification of other non-African lineages.

The study is not available in full at the link.

The Guardian provides more analysis.

The findings suggest that the arrival of modern humans into Europe more than 40,000 years ago was followed by an influx of farmers some 8,000 years ago, with a third wave of migrants coming from north Eurasia perhaps 5,000 years ago. Others from the same population of north Eurasians took off towards the Americas and gave rise to Native Americans.

Modern Europeans are various mixes of the three populations. Sardinians are more than 80% early European farmer, with less than 1% of their genetic makeup coming from the ancient north Eurasians. In the Baltic states such as Estonia, some modern people are 50% hunter-gatherer and around a third early European farmer.

The modern English inherited around 50% of their genes from early European farmers, 36% from western European hunter-gatherers, and 14% from the ancient north Eurasians. According to the study, published in Nature, modern Scots can trace 40% of their DNA to the early European farmers and 43% to hunter-gatherers, though David Reich, a senior author on the study at Harvard University, said the differences were not significant.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 19, 2014 at 12:47 am

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