A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘human beings

[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

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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”

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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

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

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  • blogTO shares pictures from last weekend’s Ukrainian Festival.
  • The Broadside Blog’s Caitlin Kelly started a discussion of the merits of small town life or vice versa, coming down decidedly against.
  • Centauri Dreams examines the concept of the Venus zone.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes a study suggesting that the Moon’s gravity is not high enough for humans to orient themselves.
  • Eastern Approaches looks at the elections in Crimea.
  • Language Hat examines the story of the endangered language Ayapeneco, apparently misrepresented in an ad campaign.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes that the American left is starting to win on cultural issues.
  • Marginal Revolution notes that the collapse of Scotland’s industrial sector has led to a certain deglobalization.
  • The Planetary Society Blog’s Emily Lakdawalla notes the discovery of a potential landing site for Rosetta.
  • Torontoist looks at a local model airplane club.
  • Towleroad notes the lead writer of Orange is the New Black has left her husband and begun dating one of her actors.
  • Window on Eurasia suggests many Westerners haven’t taken the shift in Russian politics fully into account.

[NEWS] Some Monday links

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  • Al Jazeera notes the rivalry between the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, observes claims of persecution by evangelical Christians of followers of traditional African religions in Brazil, notes that separatism is unpopular in Scotland’s border regions, considers the problems of a beetle theme park in the penumbra of Japan’s Fukushima, looks at a Palestinian-American model, and considers rap music in Iran.
  • The Atlantic notes how events have vindicated the American Congress’ Barbara Lee, the only person not to vote in favour of granting unlimited war-making powers to the American presiden after 9/11, looks at the existential problems of Yiddish outside of ultra-Orthodox communities, and examines Stephen King’s thinking on how to teach writing.
  • Bloomberg notes the water problems of Detroit, looks at proposals to give Scotland home rule and Euroskepticism among the English, considers claims that Scotland might need huge reserves to back up its currency, notes ways sanctions threaten oil deals with Russian companies, examines Poland’s natural gas issues and those of the rest of central and southeastern Europe, notes Ukraine’s exclusion of Russian companies from a 3G cellular auction, notes the reluctance of Scottish banks to support an independent Scotland, and observes how domestic protectionism in Argentina is boosting Uruguay’s beef exports to Europe.
  • The Bloomberg View argues that it should be possible to cleanly break up even established nation-states, is critical of what Colombia is doing to Venezuelan refugees, argues that the achievements of social insects like acts are irrelevant to more complex beings like us, and suggests Britain has no place to criticize China over Hong Kong.
  • CBC notes the strength of Inuit oral history following the discovery of one of the Franklin Expedition’s ships, notes that the type of cancer that killed Terry Fox is now highly curable, and notes NDP leader Thomas Mulcair’s proposal of a $15 an hour federal minimum wage.
  • The Inter Press Service notes Uzbekistan’s fear of Russia motivating a look for eastern allies and suggests that an anti-discrimination law can worsen the plight of sexual minorities in Georgia.
  • MacLean’s notes that Mexican economic development is good for Canada, looks at Catalonian secessionism, and suggests that a new EI tax credit won’t help Canadian business boost employment.
  • Open Democracy looked at the likely outcome of Crimean elections under Russian rule.
  • The Toronto Star revisited the unsettled state of affairs in the Central African Republic.

[LINK] Two links on Neanderthal abstractions and intelligence

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The first comes from CBC.

Researchers from 11 European institutions reported that deep in Gorham’s Cave in Gibraltar, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, they found carvings that resemble nothing so much as a rococo Twitter hashtag: eight partially crisscrossing lines with three shorter lines on the right and two on the left, incised on a shelf of bedrock jutting out from the wall about 40 centimetres above the cave floor.

The engraving is covered by undisturbed sediment that contains 294 previously discovered stone tools. They are in a style long known as the signature of Neanderthals, who had reached Europe from Africa some 300,000 years ago.

Standard techniques had dated the tools at 39,000 years old, about when Neanderthals went extinct, meaning the art below it must be older.

Modern humans, who painted the famous caves at Lascaux in France and Altimira in Spain, by then had not reached the region where Gorham’s Cave is located.

The researchers ruled out the possibility that the engravings were accidental or from cutting meat or animal skins. Instead, they were made by repeatedly and intentionally using a sharp stone tool to etch the rock, reflecting persistence and determination: one line required at least 54 strokes and the entire pattern as many as 317.

The second comes from National Geographic.

The analysis was very detailed and suggests the cross-hatching could not have been made by animals, says carbon dating expert Tom Higham of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. “The markings are significant if made by Neanderthals and would add to the increasing amount of information implying that they were capable of thinking in more or less abstract ways.”

The team suggests the ledge at the rear of the cave is where Neanderthals rested, protected behind fires at night from Europe’s long-ago predators: lions, hyenas, and wolves. “It was a perfect place to rest and carve something,” Finlayson says.

No evidence exists that modern humans were in this region of Europe more than 39,000 years ago, which leaves only Neanderthals to explain the engraving.

The study says this is the first abstract design found that could not have been made by modern humans, concluding, “It follows that the ability for abstract thought was not exclusive.”

I think that one reason contemporary humans wanted to believe that Neanderthals weren’t up there with human beings, at least insofar as intelligence goes, is that we don’t want to believe that beings quite like ourselves could ever have disappeared. We’d like to imagine that we’re uniquely special, somehow.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 5, 2014 at 1:38 am

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