A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘human beings

[LINK] “Ancient Romanian jawbone sheds light on Neanderthal interbreeding”

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The Globe and Mail hosts Will Dunham’s Reuters article reporting that an ancient Homo sapiens skeleton in Romania has substantial Neanderthal ancestry. That this skeleton does not belong to a population that left descendants in contemporary Europe is also noteworthy, IMHO.

You may not know it, but you probably have some Neanderthal in you. For people around the world, except sub-Saharan Africans, about 1 to 3 percent of their DNA comes from Neanderthals, our close cousins who disappeared roughly 39,000 years ago.

Scientists said on Monday a jawbone unearthed in Romania, of a man who lived about 40,000 years ago, boasts the most Neanderthal ancestry ever seen in a member of our species.

[. . .]

“We show that one of the very first modern humans that is known from Europe had a Neanderthal ancestor just four to six generations back in his family tree,” said geneticist Svante Pääbo of Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

“He carries more Neanderthal DNA than any other present-day or ancient modern human seen to date.”

Harvard Medical School geneticist David Reich said 6 to 9 percent of this individual’s genome derived from a Neanderthal ancestor.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 22, 2015 at 7:04 pm

[BLOG] Some Friday links

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  • blogTO notes that Diner en blanc will be returning to Toronto this summer.
  • D-Brief observes that DNA testing of the skeleton of Kennewick Man reveals the person to have been of indigenous American background.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper making the case for circumbinary exoplanets orbiting compact binaries.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes the controversy over the question of whether flooding doomed pre-Columbian Cahokia.
  • In the aftermath of the Charleston tragedy, Lawyers, Guns and Money notes the close linkage of the Confederate flag to racism.
  • Marginal Revolution looks at rhetoric of austerity in Greece.
  • The New APPS Blog considers the inhibitory role of copyright in popular culture.
  • Personal Reflections’ Jim Belshaw muses that the clash of ideologies is fundamentally irrelevant to Australian life, that things work differently than left versus right.
  • The Planetary Society Blog notes transient hot spots on Venus indicative of volcanism.
  • Peter Rukavina celebrated Autism Acceptance Day yesterday, and his son Oliver.
  • Mark Simpson notes the ridiculous rhetoric of masculinity with commercial products.
  • Speed River Journals’ Van Waffle celebrates the rebirth of St. Jacob’s Farmer’s Market.
  • Towleroad shares a video of Lady Gaga’s stunning performance of “Imagine.”
  • Window on Eurasia is skeptical about the prospects of the Russian economy and argues Ukrainians should not hope for much from Russia.

[BLOG] Some Thursday links

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  • The Broadside Blog’s Caitlin Kelly wonders who we should trust.
  • Centauri Dreams notes the discovery of Kepler-138b, a Mars-sized exoplanet orbiting a red dwarf star.
  • Cody Delistraty considers whether language influences morality.
  • Geocurrents’ Martin Lewis shares different scenarios for the breakup of Nigeria.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes the oppression of women workers.
  • Marginal Revolution argues that there is a skills shortage in the American economy and is in favour of the TPP trade agreement.
  • Steve Munro shares plans for TTC improvement.
  • The Russian Demographics Blog notes how Russia’s neighbours see it as a greater or lesser threat.
  • Torontoist and Transit Toronto react to the extension of cell service into the subways.
  • Window on Eurasia notes how Ukrainian Baptists in the Donbas resist Russian influence and argues that Russian militarization will ultimately hurt Russians.

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

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  • The Big Picture has a photo essay about albino children in Panama.
  • Crooked Timber considers African-American radicalism.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to one paper imagining the frequency of habitable planets in other universes, and links to another suggesting that to host habitable worlds exoplanet systems will need their worlds to have aligned orbits.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that police in Seoul cannot halt the Pride parade.
  • Language Hat reports on a pavilion at the Venice Biennale featuring Native American languages.
  • Marginal Revolution notes that 19th century Chinese bet on the outcome of student exams.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer notes the crackdown on money laundering has not hit the average Mexican.
  • Savage Minds considers race from the perspective of a library cataloguer.
  • Torontoist notes a local call for ghost bikes.
  • Window on Eurasia notes the repression of Crimean Tatars, notes a Chinese proposal for settlement in Siberia, and looks at how the war in Ukraine has given nuclear weapons new life.

[PHOTO] “Google Photos and the Ideal of Passive Pervasive Documentation”

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The Frailest Thing’s Michael Sacasas has an extended meditation on photography in an era of superabundant memory. Is there any way, he wonders, to get around the risk that to have memories so readily preserved and invoked will be to diminish them?

(I have more than three thousand pictures on my Flickr account and hundreds on Instagram, to say nothing of the thousands more I have saved on my computers. Should I worry?)

I’ve been thinking, recently, about the past and how we remember it. That this year marks the 20th anniversary of my high school graduation accounts for some of my reflective reminiscing. Flipping through my senior yearbook, I was surprised by what I didn’t remember. Seemingly memorable events alluded to by friends in their notes and more than one of the items I myself listed as “Best Memories” have altogether faded into oblivion. “I will never forget when …” is an apparently rash vow to make.

But my mind has not been entirely washed by Lethe’s waters. Memories, assorted and varied, do persist. Many of these are sustained and summoned by stuff, much of it useless, that I’ve saved for what we derisively call sentimental reasons. My wife and I are now in the business of unsentimentally trashing as much of this stuff as possible to make room for our first child. But it can be hard parting with the detritus of our lives because it is often the only tenuous link joining who we were to who we now are. It feels as if you risk losing a part of yourself forever if you were to throw away that last delicate link.

“Life without memory,” Luis Bunuel tells us, “is no life at all.” “Our memory,” he adds, “is our coherence, our reason, our feeling, even our action. Without it, we are nothing.” Perhaps this accounts for why tech criticism was born in a debate about memory. In the Phaedrus, Plato’s Socrates tells a cautionary tale about the invention of writing in which writing is framed as a technology that undermines the mind’s power to remember. What we can write down, we will no longer know for ourselves–or so Socrates worried. He was, of course, right. But, as we all know, this was an incomplete assessment of writing. Writing did weaken memory in the way Plato feared, but it did much else besides. It would not be the last time critics contemplated the effects of a new technology on memory.

I’ve not written nearly as much about memory as I once did, but it continues to be an area of deep interest. That interest was recently renewed not only by personal circumstances but also by the rollout of Google Photos, a new photo storage app with cutting edge sorting and searching capabilities. According to Steven Levy, Google hopes that it will be received as a “visual equivalent to Gmail.” On the surface, this is just another digital tool designed to store and manipulate data. But the data in question is, in this case, intimately tied up with our experience and how we remember it. It is yet another tool designed to store and manipulate memory.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 9, 2015 at 9:46 pm

[LINK] “Comic Fan Outrage? It’s Part of Being Human, Scientists Say”

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Newsarama’s Vaneta Rogers reports on one new, plausibly-sounding, theory regarding comic fan outrage.

[W]hat gives with comic book fans? With both DC and Marvel embarking on major relaunches that’ll feature varying degrees of changes to iconic characters, are previous/classic verions of characters really that difficult for them to give up?

Yes, actually, they are, according Travis Langley, a psychology professor at Henderson State University who studies and writes about popular culture. As Langley describes it, the process of becoming familiar with a certain character is like making a “mental map.”

“In our heads, we have our own versions of these characters and stories, our mental maps of them,” Langley said. “When writers and companies make changes that don’t fit our mental maps, it can be jarring to us. We either have to alter our maps or reject the new information so we can keep our maps the same.”

As Langley explained it, when DC and Marvel changed Superman and Spider-Man’s circumstances, the publishers may have been trying to attract new fans, but the changes required long-time fans to rewrite their mental map of that character, which some of them rejected.

And when those publishers acknowledge or even bring back the circumstances of the pre-existing “mental map,” fans react positively. As one DC fan put it on Newsarama when DC brought back the potentially infinite Multiverse in the finale of Convergence, “I’m back because somewhere out there, there’s a Superman who still wears red trunks.”

Written by Randy McDonald

June 8, 2015 at 8:38 pm

[LINK] “Chimpanzees have the brainpower, motivation to cook”

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CBC carried this Thomson Reuters article suggesting that chimpanzees–and by extinction, our now-extinct primate ancestors–are smart enough to take advantage of heat to cook their food.

They’re not likely to start barbecuing in the rainforest, but chimpanzees can understand the concept of cooking and are willing to postpone eating raw food, even carrying food some distance to cook it rather than eat immediately, scientists reported on Tuesday.

The findings, based on nine experiments conducted at the Tchimpounga Sanctuary in Republic of Congo and published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, suggest that chimps have all the brainpower needed to cook, including planning, causal understanding, and ability to postpone gratification.

They do lack the ability to produce fire. But if they were given a source of heat, chimps “might be quite able to manipulate (it) to cook,” said developmental psychologist Felix Warneken of Harvard University, who conducted the study with Alexandra Rosati.

While the finding may seem esoteric, it lends support to the idea that cooking accelerated human evolution. Cooked food is easier to digest, spurring the growth of large brains in our australopithecine ancestors, Harvard’s Richard Wrangham proposed about a decade ago.

If chimps have the cognitive skills to cook, australopithecines likely did, too, said Wrangham, who was not involved in the study: “It suggests that with a little extra brainpower, australopithecines could indeed have found a way to use fire to cook food.”

Written by Randy McDonald

June 8, 2015 at 8:32 pm


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