A popular political advertisement from early this summer begins with US President Barack Obama addressing a crowd of moon-eyed supporters. Suddenly, the screen goes dark to a crescendo of minor chords. Phrases such as “Fear and Loathing”, “Nauseating” and “Divide and Conquer” flash onto the screen, along with video clips of commentators complaining that Obama has used scare tactics to manipulate voters. In the final scene, the iconic poster from Obama’s 2008 election campaign appears, the word HOPE transforming into FEAR as it bursts into flames.
The advertisement, produced by the conservative organization American Crossroads in Washington DC, is typical of those that have come to dominate the US airwaves and YouTube in preparation for next month’s presidential election. Emerging from both the right and the left, these commercials increasingly resemble horror films as they seek to sway voters by triggering basic emotions such as fear, anger and disgust.
That strategy fits with emerging scientific evidence about how people acquire their political beliefs. In the past, political scientists agreed that social forces — most importantly, parents and the childhood environment — strongly influenced whether people became conservative or liberal, and whether they voted or engaged in politics at all. “We now know that it is probably not the whole story,” says John Jost, a psychologist at New York University.
Read Full Article at Nature
Scientists Are Beginning to Figure Out Why Conservatives Are…Conservative
The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science
Kindness and patience seem to have a clear moral dimension. They are forms of what we might call ‘concern’ — emotional states that have as their focus the wellbeing of another — and concern for the welfare of others lies at the heart of morality. If Nina and Tess were concerned for the welfare of my son then, perhaps, they were acting morally: their behaviour had, at least in part, a moral motivation. And so, in those foggy, sleepless nights of early fatherhood, a puzzle was born inside of me, one that has been gnawing away at me ever since. If there is one thing on which most philosophers and scientists have always been in agreement it is the subject of human moral exceptionalism: humans, and humans alone, are capable of acting morally. Yet, this didn’t seem to tally with the way I came to think of Nina and Tess.
Many scientists (and more than a few philosophers) would have no hesitation in accusing perhaps several billion people of such delusional anthropomorphism. A growing number of animal scientists, however, are going over to the dark side, and at least flirting with the idea that animals can act morally. In his book Primates and Philosophers (2006), the Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal has argued that animals are at least capable of proto-moral behaviour: they possess the rudiments of morality even if they are not moral beings in precisely the way that we are. This was, in fact, Charles Darwin’s view, as developed in The Descent of Man. In a similar vein, the American biologist Marc Bekoff has being arguing for years that animals can act morally, and his book Wild Justice (2009) provides a useful summary of the evidence for this claim. Perhaps scientists such as Darwin, de Waal and Bekoff are also guilty of anthropomorphism? The evidence, however, would suggest otherwise.
Excerpt from an article written by Mark Rowlands at AEON. Read it THERE
Light Show explores the experiential and phenomenal aspects of light by bringing together sculptures and installations that use light to sculpt and shape space in different ways. The exhibition showcases artworks created from the 1960s to the present day, including immersive environments, free-standing light sculptures and projections.
From atmospheric installations to intangible sculptures that you can move around and even through, visitors can experience light in all of its spatial and sensory forms. Individual artworks explore different aspects of light such as colour, duration, intensity and projection, as well as perceptual phenomena. They also use light to address architecture, science and film, and do so using a variety of lighting technologies.
Read Article: Light Show tricks meaning out of physics and biology.
Light Show runs at the Hayward Gallery, London, until 28 April.
To re-purpose a handy metaphor, let’s call two of the first Homo sapiens Adam and Eve. By the time they welcomed their firstborn, that rascal Cain, into the world, 2 million centuries of evolution had established how his infancy would play out. For the first few years of his life, he would take his nourishment from Eve’s breast. Once he reached about 4 or 5 years old, his body would begin to slow its production of lactose, the enzyme that allows mammals to digest the lactose in milk. Thereafter, nursing or drinking another animal’s milk would have given the little hell-raiser stomach cramps and potentially life-threatening diarrhea; in the absence of lactose, lactose simply rots in the guts. With Cain weaned, Abel could claim more of his mother’s attention and all of her milk. This kept a lid on sibling rivalry—though it didn’t quell the animus between these particular sibs—while allowing women to bear more young. The pattern was the same for all mammals: At the end of infancy, we became lactose-intolerant for life.
Two hundred thousand years later, around 10,000 B.C., this began to change. A genetic mutation appeared, somewhere near modern-day Turkey, that jammed the lactose-production gene permanently in the “on” position. The original mutant was probably a male who passed the gene on to his children. People carrying the mutation could drink milk their entire lives. Genomic analyses have shown that within a few thousand years, at a rate that evolutionary biologists had thought impossibly rapid, this mutation spread throughout Eurasia, to Great Britain, Scandinavia, the Mediterranean, India and all points in between, stopping only at the Himalayas. Independently, other mutations for lactose tolerance arose in Africa and the Middle East, though not in the Americas, Australia, or the Far East.
Excerpt of an article written by Benjamin Phelan, at Salon. Continue HERE
Decades of research in biological anthropology have led to one simple conclusion: Race is a biological fiction; human variation is real. People do indeed vary in their biology all around the world. That variation just does not fall into the simple slots imagined by government forms, discussed in locker rooms, and shown on television. Humans are more complex than white, black, red, and yellow.
Decades of research in cultural anthropology have led to one simple conclusion: Race as a social construction is real, and this social reality shapes people’s everyday lives, including their bodies. Some societies do indeed divide up people by color, and those divisions make a difference in people’s lives. The way those divisions make a difference is not just through stereotypes and race-based thinking, but also through how “races” have divided people in economic and historical terms. People’s lives were not and are not the same because of race as a social phenomenon.
Race as a social phenomenon has real biological effects. We understand now from human development that people’s experiences, from being marginalized to expecting discrimination, have definite, often unhealthy outcomes. The converse of this point is also true: race as white is as embodied as race as black or any other color. In the case of white privilege in the United States, this embodied space often has positive biological effects: better nutrition, less stress, less fear, and so forth. This lack of equality because of race also has another name: injustice.
Excerpt from a text written by Daniel Lende, PLOS. Continue HERE
The very idea of an “ought” is foreign to evolutionary theory. It makes no sense for a biologist to say that some particular animal should be more cooperative, much less to claim that an entire species ought to aim for some degree of altruism. If we decide that we should neither “dissolve society” through extreme selfishness, as Wilson puts it, nor become “angelic robots” like ants, we are making an ethical judgment, not a biological one. Likewise, from a biological perspective it has no significance to claim that I should be more generous than I usually am, or that a tyrant ought to be deposed and tried. In short, a purely evolutionary ethics makes ethical discourse meaningless.
Excerpt from an article written by RICHARD POLT, NYT. Continue HERE
Have you heard this one? A sociologist, a lawyer, and a biologist walk into a bar, scoot their stools up to the counter, order drinks, and begin to chat. Suddenly, a booming voice (God, the bartender?) envelops them. “What is the meaning of race?” the voice asks.
While the question may seem straightforward on its face, it quickly spawns further questions, often vexing. Is race purely a political construct, or is it biologically encoded? Certainly there are aspects of human biology—skin color, hair color, the presence or absence of epicanthic folds, etc.—that are commonly associated with racial differences, but is race just the sum of these physical features, with all of the overlaps, exceptions, and ambiguities they involve? How do genes factor into the story? And what connection—if any—is there between biological markers of race and the social experiences of racial groups?
Excerpt from a text written by Anne Fausto-Sterling, Boston Review. Continue HERE
There’s no language gene.
There’s no innate language organ or module in the human brain dedicated to the production of grammatical language.
There are no meaningful human universals when it comes to how people construct sentences to communicate with each other. Across the languages of the world (estimated to number 6,000-8,000), nouns, verbs, and objects are arranged in sentences in different ways as people express their thoughts. The powerful force behind this variability is culture.
So goes the argument in Language: The Cultural Tool, the new book I’m reading by Daniel Everett. Next week, I’ll have more to say about the book itself; this week, I want to explore how Everett’s years of living among the Pirahã Indians of Amazonian Brazil helped shape his conclusions — and why those conclusions matter.
The Pirahã are hunter-gatherers who live along the Maici River in Brazil’s Amazon region. They fish, gather manioc and hunt in the forest. As is true with any human society, Pirahã communities are socially complex.
Excerpt of an article written by Barbara J King, NPR. Continue HERE
To the biologist Edward O. Wilson, the Metropolitan Museum of Art encapsulates some of the conflicting impulses natural selection has instilled in humans: the innate drive for expression that spurs some of us to make art, the selfishness that motivates others to earn the riches needed to collect it, and the altruism that compels the donation of collections for the public good — as long as the donors’ names are inscribed on the walls too.
But asked to imagine the museum from the perspective of ants, whose intricate social world he has built a towering reputation by studying, Dr. Wilson painted a scene that was less a lesson in evolution than a chaotic free-for-all.
“To them the crowds would just be a flank-to-flank herd of enormous elephants you have to dodge around,” he said with a boyish giggle from the museum’s teeming steps during a recent visit to New York to promote his 27th book, “The Social Conquest of Earth,” which is being published Monday by Liveright. “I don’t think ants would have any aesthetic or intellectual interest in the museum, though they would certainly find a happy home in Central Park.”
Excerpt of an article by JENNIFER SCHUESSLER at NYT. Continue HERE
“The Brine Shrimp’s Butterfly Stroke.” From Brennan Johnson, Deborah Garrity, Lakshmi Prasad Dasi (Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, USA.)
Abstract: We investigate the fluid dynamics of brine shrimp larvae swimming in this gallery of fluid motion video. Time resolved particle image velocimetry was performed using nano-particles as seeding material to measure the time dependent velocity and vorticity fields. The Reynolds number of the flow was roughly 8 and the Womerseley number (ratio of periodic forcing to viscous forcing) was about 5. Vorticity dynamics reveals the formation of a vortex ring structure at the tip of each arm at the beginning of the power stroke. This two vortex system evolves dramatically with time as the stroke progresses. The outer circulation is noted to weaken while the inner circulation strengthens over the power stroke. The gaining strength of the inner vortex correlates with the acceleration and forward movement of the larvae.
A selection of Medical Illustrations by AS&K Visual Science.
Why do humans, uniquely among animals, cooperate in large numbers to advance projects for the common good? Contrary to the conventional wisdom in biology and economics, this generous and civic-minded behavior is widespread and cannot be explained simply by far-sighted self-interest or a desire to help close genealogical kin.
In A Cooperative Species, Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis–pioneers in the new experimental and evolutionary science of human behavior–show that the central issue is not why selfish people act generously, but instead how genetic and cultural evolution has produced a species in which substantial numbers make sacrifices to uphold ethical norms and to help even total strangers.
The authors describe how, for thousands of generations, cooperation with fellow group members has been essential to survival. Groups that created institutions to protect the civic-minded from exploitation by the selfish flourished and prevailed in conflicts with less cooperative groups. Key to this process was the evolution of social emotions such as shame and guilt, and our capacity to internalize social norms so that acting ethically became a personal goal rather than simply a prudent way to avoid punishment.
Using experimental, archaeological, genetic, and ethnographic data to calibrate models of the co-evolution of genes and culture as well as prehistoric warfare and other forms of group competition, A Cooperative Species provides a compelling and novel account of how humans came to be moral and cooperative.
Samuel Bowles heads the Behavioral Sciences Program at the Santa Fe Institute and teaches economics at the University of Siena. Herbert Gintis holds faculty positions at the Santa Fe Institute, Central European University, and the University of Siena. The authors’ recent research has appeared in Science, Nature, American Economic Review, Journal of Theoretical Biology, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, and Current Anthropology.
A Cooperative Species: Human Reciprocity and Its Evolution. By Samuel Bowles & Herbert Gintis. Princeton University Press 2011. ISBN: 0691151253; 9780691151250
Text via IdeoBook
Our ears can’t blink. It is an observation that is frequently raised in areas of study such as biology, sociology and sound theory. This is used to demonstrate how valuable listening has been to our evolutionary development. It also points to why noise is so intrusive and imposing since we can’t easily block it out. The pervasive use of headphones in populated environments represents one way in which listeners maintain some level of control over their personal audio space.
The Noisolation Headphones are a critical investigation that transforms the relationship between a person and the noise in their environment. This electromechanical listening appendage is designed to exist directly between a listener and the noise that surrounds them. While worn, exposure to the noise is structured through a sequence designated by a composer which controls the behavior of the sound-prevention valves. The composer also determines what values are adjustable by the listener through the single knob built into the device. The headphones mechanically create a personal listening experience by composing noise from the listener’s environment, rendering it differently familiar.
An invention for mechanically transforming the relationship between a person and the noise that immediately surrounds them. This project is part of the graduate thesis “Listening Instruments” by Alex Braidwood. Additional experiments, collaborations, research and writings are available at listeninginstruments.com