Category: Science

Time to end the “war on drugs”

| November 12, 2014 | Reply

What’s the drug war about? American psychosis, born of racism, but now one humongous wholly misguided attempt to put children into a protective bubble. But now there is some hope for change in the right direction, according to Ethan Nadelmann’s TED talk. He is Director of Drug Policy Alliance. Brilliant talk, concluding with a call to end the drug war.

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NYT features the story of the skepticism of James (The Amazing) Randi

| November 8, 2014 | Reply

The NYT has recently featured the story of the skepticism of James (The Amazing) Randi. Excellent detail on the battle between Randi and con man Uri Geller.

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Why there are not any civilizations without temples – Video featuring Jonathan Haidt

| October 31, 2014 | 1 Reply

Jonathan Haidt explains why there are not any civilizations without temples, starting at minute 14 of this video. This is the 2013 Boyarsky Lecture at Duke University. About 10,000 years we went from an almost instantaneous transition from hunter-gathers to Babylon. A huge part of our evolutionary development is this newly learned ability of humans to circling around sacred objects (religious and political objects are two dominant examples) in order to form teams. As we circle around, we generate a social energy that knits the social fabric, but also encourages Manichean thinking–us versus them, blinding us to our own faults and faulty thinking. No shades of gray are allowed when we are intensely groupish. This kind of groupish thinking is radically incompatible with scientific thinking. Science is squeezed out, replaced by sacred objects, groupishness and authoritarian obeisance.

At min 24, Haidt gets to the crux of his talk. Those of us who focus on the “care” (empathy) foundation of morality, often circle about it bonding with others like us, rejecting and denigrating the impulses and ideas that tend to drive those who are politically conservative.

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Monkey takes selfie. No one owns the copyright

| October 20, 2014 | Reply

I love this story about Indonesian macaques who borrowed a camera and took their own photos. It brings together intellectual property law and animal rights into one conversation.

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Progress on the origin of life?

| October 13, 2014 | 1 Reply

From News.Mic:

One of the most challenging questions in basic biology and the history of evolution and life stems from the unknown origin of the first cells billions of years ago. Though many pieces of the puzzle have been put together, this origin story remains somewhat murky. But a team of researchers from the University of Cambridge believe they’ve accidentally stumbled on an answer, and a very compelling one at that.

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Guided meditation Video

| October 7, 2014 | Reply

I’ve soured on Sam Harris over the years, but I still find him to be highly articular and engaging.

In recent weeks, some friends have indicated that I look absorbed and even anxious, even though my life is filled with joys and possibilities. I have been told that I have tied myself in knots, and I have heard, “You need to get out of your own way.” For the umpteenth time, it has been suggested that I consider meditation in order to clear my mind.

You can learn about meditation in many places. I’ve read articles and even a book on meditation. Today, I stumbled across this video by Sam Harris, who has long been an advocate of meditation. The fact that he is also well versed in cognitive science caused me to be interested in his approach to meditation. This is a 26 minute guided meditation. I found myself surprisingly able to hang onto the process and to escape some of the things that have been distracting me as I viewed this video. I’m going to come back to this several more times, while I continue to explore personal meditation.

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Virtual worlds inside of our heads

| August 27, 2014 | 6 Replies

This morning, I found myself reveling in the representational capacity of brains.

Here’s an illustration: Sometimes I misplace an item such as my keys and I can’t find them while physically walking around my house. Sometimes, frustrated, I pause my physical search. I sit down and close my eyes. Using only images, sounds and memories embedded in neural pathways in my head, I “see” that I had my keys when I last walked into my house. I “play” a series of short “videos” and “images” in my head reminding myself where I walked and what I touched. I run through the logic that I could NOT have left them in certain places, because I didn’t go to those parts of the house, seeing images of them as I run through this logic? Then, perhaps, I “see” myself closing my car trunk while holding my briefcase. I’m now wondering–did I put the keys on top of the car for a second while closing the trunk? I go outside and there are the keys on top of the car.

My mind contained detailed representations of my home and car, as well as episodic memories that, while imperfect, is often good enough. My neural pathways contain a virtual, somewhat explorable, world inside of my head. Although it is not perfect in all of its details, it is quite functional. It’s a capability we use every day, drawing on the brain’s extraordinary power to represent the world around us, allowing us to perform virtual manipulations of objects, “searching” our house while sitting down with our eyes closed. What type of magic is this that a 3 pound living organ can do this and so much more? How is it even possible that a system like this can spout up and train itself over a lifetime without a “person in the brain” to guide the process? And how is it possible that we experience consciousness on top of this amazing process?

This is but one reason for my love of cognitive science. It’s not my profession, but it is one of my passions to better understand this process that we so often take for granted.

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Fake Creationist Labs

| August 20, 2014 | Reply

Delightful detective and unsurprising information from Patheos.

Amazingly proud ignorance displayed her, and a green-screened lab thrown in for shits and grins. Wow. These are the people who want to have equal time in science classrooms.

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How many ancestors do you have?

| August 17, 2014 | Reply

How many ancestors do you have? This article is a delightful excursion into math and biology.

I’m always fascinated to hear people over-focused on only that one twig of their family that carries their surname. Too bad we can put a button to see everyone related to us glow, the glow brighter based on how closely they are related to us. Would anyone NOT glow? Maybe such a fantasy device would make us less likely to start wars.

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