Category: Human animals
Excellent lecture by Robert Sapolsky. Scientists used to think that humans were unique in many ways when compared to other animals. The number of ways in which we are truly unique is dwindling, however, and that dwindling number is the focus of Sapolsky’s talk. There is at least one way in which we are unique, and that is our ability to entertain a contradiction. Sapolsky, speaking to a graduating class, challenges them to take on this contradiction: They are highly educated and thus privileged human animals who are educated to such an extent that they realize that it is virtually impossible for one person to make a difference in the world. The more clear this becomes that it is impossible to make the world better, “the more you must.”
Robert Sapolsky can tell stories about the biological effects of stress as well as anyone. In this short video, he reveals that a chair upholsterer discovered the dangers of having a Type A personality.
Over at Flickr, I ran across a photo by Jimmy O’Donnell featuring a beautiful woman in lingerie walking in a church. Maybe O’Donnell didn’t take this photo for any of the reasons I find it interesting—maybe he took it for the mere shock value, or because he simply liked the image. Nonetheless, this photo serves […]
Psychiatrist and writer Iain McGilchrist agrees that the brain is divided, but not at all in the way that is it is commonly thought. This is one of those quick-draw RSA Animate illustrated videos, deeply thought-provoking and also entertaining.
Here’s a transcript of McGilchrist’s lecture on the divided brain.
So you have, essentially, two kinds of attention, one that narrows a thing down as much as possible to a certainty so that you can pick it up and get it and sort it out. This is very useful for manipulating the world. It’s not good for understanding the world. For understanding the world you need what I would call a relational attention in which you don’t see yourself as somehow disconnected from everything around but realize how interconnected you are with it and need to be aware of all of it.
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From the NYT–most of the cells that comprise you do not contain your DNA:
I can tell you the exact date that I began to think of myself in the first-person plural — as a superorganism, that is, rather than a plain old individual human being. It happened on March 7. That’s when I opened my e-mail to find a huge, processor-choking file of charts and raw data from a laboratory located at the BioFrontiers Institute at the University of Colorado, Boulder. As part of a new citizen-science initiative called the American Gut project, the lab sequenced my microbiome — that is, the genes not of “me,” exactly, but of the several hundred microbial species with whom I share this body. These bacteria, which number around 100 trillion, are living (and dying) right now on the surface of my skin, on my tongue and deep in the coils of my intestines, where the largest contingent of them will be found, a pound or two of microbes together forming a vast, largely uncharted interior wilderness that scientists are just beginning to map.
Humans are not the only animals capable of meta-cognition: the ability to think about their thinking. A recent article in Science Daily demonstrates that chimpanzees are capable of meta-cognition:
[C]himpanzees named items immediately and directly when they knew what was there, but they sought out more information before naming when they did not already know.
The research team said, “This pattern of behavior reflects a controlled information-seeking capacity that serves to support intelligent responding, and it strongly suggests that our closest living relative has metacognitive abilities closely related to those of humans.”
This is an incredible story. Scientists have identified a 30,000-40,000 year old hominid ancestor whose DNA indicates that it is part Human, part Neanderthal.
If further analysis proves the theory correct, the remains belonged to the first known such hybrid, providing direct evidence that humans and Neanderthals interbred. Prior genetic research determined the DNA of people with European and Asian ancestry is 1 to 4 percent Neanderthal.
Those were amazing times in Europe, where humans and Neanderthals co-existed. One wonders whether this co-existence was at all peaceful. Regardless, apparently I (along with many people of European and Asian ancestry) carry some Neanderthal genetic coding.
When I am asked about my “race,” I have sometimes (when I would not receive any sort of benefit or privilege for doing so) indicate “African.” I’ve previously argued that we’d all be better off declaring that we are African, because the categories or “race” are as scientifically deficient as they are culturally divisive. But now, thanks to this new finding, I have the option of indicating that my “race” is Part-human, part Neanderthal, out of Africa via Europe, currently living in the U.S. Or something like that.
It lived 66 million years ago, and it might be your ancestor:
Humankind’s common ancestor with other mammals may have been a roughly rat-size animal that weighed no more than a half a pound, had a long furry tail and lived on insects. In a comprehensive six-year study of the mammalian family tree, scientists have identified and reconstructed what they say is the most likely common ancestor of the many species on the most abundant and diverse branch of that tree — the branch of creatures that nourish their young in utero through a placenta. The work appears to support the view that in the global extinctions some 66 million years ago, all non-avian dinosaurs had to die for mammals to flourish.