The idea that we have brains hardwired with a mental template for learning grammar—famously espoused by Noam Chomsky of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—has dominated linguistics for almost half a century. Recently, though, cognitive scientists and linguists have abandoned Chomsky’s “universal grammar” theory in droves because of new research examining many different languages—and the way young children learn to understand and speak the tongues of their communities. That work fails to support Chomsky’s assertions.
The research suggests a radically different view, in which learning of a child’s first language does not rely on an innate grammar module. Instead the new research shows that young children use various types of thinking that may not be specific to language at all—such as the ability to classify the world into categories (people or objects, for instance) and to understand the relations among things. These capabilities, coupled with a unique human ability to grasp what others intend to communicate, allow language to happen. The new findings indicate that if researchers truly want to understand how children, and others, learn languages, they need to look outside of Chomsky’s theory for guidance.
Finland is about to launch an experiment in which a randomly selected group of 2,000–3,000 citizens already on unemployment benefits will begin to receive a monthly basic income of 560 euros (approx. $600). That basic income will replace their existing benefits. The amount is the same as the current guaranteed minimum level of Finnish social security support. The pilot study, running for two years in 2017-2018, aims to assess whether basic income can help reduce poverty, social exclusion, and bureaucracy, while increasing the employment rate.
The Finnish government introduced its legislative bill for the experiment on 25 August. Originally, the scope of the basic income experiment was much more ambitious. Many experts have criticized the government’s experiment for its small sample size and for the setup of the trial, which will be performed within just one experimental condition. This implies that the experiment can provide insights on only one issue, namely whether the removal of the disincentives embedded in social security will encourage those now unemployed to return to the workforce or not.
Still, the world’s largest national basic income experiment represents a big leap towards experimental governance, a transformation that has been given strong emphasis in the current government program of the Finnish state. Additionally, the Finnish trial sets the agenda for the future of universal basic income at large. Its results will be closely followed by governments worldwide. The basic income experiment may thus well lead to the greatest societal transformation of our time.
Where would you look for alien life? An astronomer and science popularizer explains the basics of astrobiology to outline five plausible scenarios for finding extraterrestrials
It takes Jon Willis, astronomy professor at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, 170 pages – the length of a Henry James short story, for Pete’s sake – to get around to the Drake Equation in his winning debut, All These Worlds Are Yours: The Scientific Search for Alien Life, but we should probably deal with it immediately. In 1961, at a conference in West Virginia, astronomer Frank Drake worked up an exotic-looking equation on a blackboard. Drake had just recently completed a project designed to detect alien radio broadcasts from the region of the star systems Tau Ceti and Epsilon Eridanus, and the blackboard equation he wrote has become a signature parameter for the whole subject of Willis’s book, astrobiology.
A new paper using data from NASA’s Kepler telescope came out recently, estimating that 22% of Sun-like stars harbor Earth-sized planets. This is a big increase over previous estimates. It’s very cool work. Love it. But the news spin was predictable:
New York Times: The known odds of something — or someone — living far, far away from Earth improved beyond astronomers’ boldest dreams on Monday.
USA Today: We are not alone.
You get the idea. Aliens under every rock. The existence of extraterrestrial intelligence (henceforth ETIs, or just ETs) is normally discussed in the context of the Fermi Paradox, which Wikipedia describes as “the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilization and humanity’s lack of contact with, or evidence for, such civilizations.” Now I’m a strong advocate for there being no ETs in our galaxy, as explained in this recent post. In fact I’ve gotten so tired of hearing about ETs I’ve started thinking of it as “Carl Sagan Syndrome.” Name checking the deservedly well regarded astronomer and advocate for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). With this latest news cycle I got to wondering. Why so much Sagan Syndrome? What am I missing?
Read full article by Nathan Taylor at Praxtime.
A group led by Dr. Robert Costanza has calculated the value of the world’s ecosystems…the group’s most recent estimate puts the yearly value at $142.7 trillion.
“I think this is a very important piece of science,” said Douglas J. McCauley of the University of California, Santa Barbara. That’s particularly high praise coming from Dr. McCauley, who has been a scathing critic of Dr. Costanza’s attempt to put price tags on ecosystem services.
“This paper reads to me like an annual financial report for Planet Earth,” Dr. McCauley said. “We learn whether the dollar value of Earth’s major assets have gone up or down.”
The group last calculated this value back in 1997 and it rose sharply over the past 17 years, even as those natural habitats are disappearing. Dr. Costanza and his colleagues estimate that the world’s reefs shrank from 240,000 square miles in 1997 to 108,000 in 2011.
Read Full Article at the NYTimes
Deep within the Earth’s rocky mantle lies oceans’ worth of water locked up in a type of mineral called ringwoodite, new research shows.
The results of the study will help scientists understand Earth’s water cycle, and how plate tectonics moves water between the surface of the planet and interior reservoirs, researchers say.
The Earth’s mantle is the hot, rocky layer between the planet’s core and crust. Scientists have long suspected that the mantle’s so-called transition zone, which sits between the upper and lower mantle layers 255 to 410 miles (410 to 660 kilometers) below Earth’s surface, could contain water trapped in rare minerals. However, direct evidence for this water has been lacking, until now.
To see if the transition zone really is a deep reservoir for water, researchers conducted experiments on water-rich ringwoodite, analyzed seismic waves travelling through the mantle beneath the United States, and studied numerical models. They discovered that downward-flowing mantle material is melting as it crosses the boundary between the transition zone and the lower mantle layer.
“If we are seeing this melting, then there has to be this water in the transition zone,” said Brandon Schmandt, a seismologist at the University of New Mexico and co-author of the new study published today (June 12) in the journal Science. “The transition zone can hold a lot of water, and could potentially have the same amount of H2O [water] as all the world’s oceans.” (Melting is a way of getting rid of water, which is unstable under conditions in Earth’s lower mantle, the researchers said.)
Excerpt. Read full article at LiveScience
There’s a Huge Underground Ocean That Could Explain the Origin of Seas
The Inner Earth & Realm of Aghartha
Sgt Bowe Bergdahl spoke English for 23 years until he was captured by Taliban fighters in Afghanistan five years ago. But since his release, he has trouble speaking it, says his father. How can you lose your native language, asks Taylor Kate Brown.
Some people have gone decades without speaking or hearing their first language but they retain the ability to speak it easily, says Dr Monika Schmid, a linguistics professor at the University of Essex in the UK. But others begin losing fluency within a few years of not speaking it.
It’s rare to totally lose command of a first language, she says. Instead people have “language attrition” – trouble recalling certain words or they use odd grammar structures. Age is a factor. Once past puberty, Dr Schmid says, your first language is stable and the effects of attrition can reverse themselves if you are re-immersed. But children as old as 10 don’t necessarily retain the language they were born into. In a study of French adoptees who left South Korea in childhood, when asked in their early 30s to identify Korean, they did no better than native French speakers with no exposure to the language.
The difficulties in recalling your first language are greater the more immersed you are in a second language, says Dr Aneta Pavlenko at Temple University in Philadelphia, because cognitive resources are limited. Despite teaching Russian at university in the US, she herself returned to her Russian-speaking community in Kiev to realise she had forgotten how to start a conversation at the post office.
It’s well known that brain injuries can have an impact on language loss, but emotional trauma can also affect it. Among German Jews who fled the country during the Holocaust, Dr Schmid says the loss of language was far more dramatic the greater their trauma.
All text and Image via BBC News