Goose Bumps. What are they? Radiolab informs us:
1. It traps heat! The air your body heats up gets trapped more effectively when all those hairs are erect, so you’ve got yourself a nice warm layer of air to prevent against the advancing cold. Mmmm. Cozy town.
2. It makes you look bigger to predators. Poof. I’m giant. I swear. Rowr.
But there’s more to the story. Why would an emotional passage in a piece of music cause goose-bumps? Maybe (Radiolab suggests) because the awesomeness of the passage makes us feel small, maybe a little too small, which gets us feeling a big defensive and helpless, making us bring out the goose bumps for reasons #2 above.
In this article at Big Think, Paul Ekman discusses micro-expressions, subtle cues that could tell others what we are really feeling, if only those other people were trained to spot those micro-expressions.
George Lakoff writes about the actual Republican war on women and the supposed “war on religion”
A recent Gallup Poll has shown that, in the US, 82 per cent of Catholics think that birth control is “morally acceptable.” 90 per cent of non-Catholics believe the same. Overall, 89 per cent of Americans agree on this. In the May 2012 poll, Gallup tested beliefs about the moral acceptability of 18 issues total, including divorce, gambling, stem cell research, the death penalty, gay relationships, and so on. Contraception had by far the greatest approval rating. Divorce, the next on the list, had only 67 per cent approval compared to 89 per cent for contraception.
How discriminating are you? With regard to pitch, that is. I have performed music much of my life, and I ended up doing quite well on this 3 minute test (better than 99.4% of those who take it). But I felt like I was guessing on quite a few of these micro intervals.
If you think you have a discriminating ear, you might find this test interesting.
How can I be more efficient, both at work and elsewhere? How can I focus my efforts to be one of those people who gives annoying cliche, “110% effort?” I was recently reminded of a book that provides a metaphor for my personal quest to be efficient, but it also provides a powerful lesson on the topic of artificial boundaries.
First, a bit of background. About 12 years ago, I had the opportunity to audit several graduate-level seminars taught by philosopher Andy Clark while he was on the faculty at Washington University in St. Louis. Andy often stressed that cognition should not be conceptualized as merely the firing of neurons within a human skull. This idea is central to his writings. In a book Andy wrote in 1997, Being There: Putting Brain, Body, and World Together Again, he tells a fish story. It is the scientific story of the astounding swimming efficiency of fish, and it is also a caveat that we humans are so utterly interconnected with our environments that we need to stop characterizing those things outside of our bodies and brains as obstacles to our accomplishments. The following excerpt is from page 219-220, the beginning of the chapter titled “Minds, Brains, and Tuna: a Summary and Brine.”
Do human animals continue to evolve? The evidence is clear that we do, for instance in the case of that small subset of human adults who drink milk, according to this article in Discover Magazine:
Assertion: Because modern humans are a young species, there has not been enough time for major differences to emerge between populations.
This is false. 5 to 10 thousand years ago a set of strangely mutated humans arose. They continued to be able to digest lactose sugar as adults, in contravention of the mammalian norm. In fact, humans are the only mammals where many adults continue to be able to consume milk sugar as adults. The rapidity of this shift has been incredible. 5,000 years ago almost everyone in Scandinavia was lactose intolerant. Today, very few are. The area of the European genome responsible for this shift is strikingly homogeneous, as a giant DNA fragment “swept” through populations in a few dozen generations.
The literature on recent human evolution is still evolving, so to speak. But it is clear that during the Holocene, the last 10,000 years, our species has been subject to a wide array of selective forces. Lactose tolerance, malaria tolerance, differences in color, hair form, and size, seem to be due to recent adaptations. And because of different selection pressures human populations will evolve, change, and diversify. Our African ancestors left 50 to 100 thousand years ago. If 10,000 years was enough time for a great deal of evolution, then the “Out of Africa” event was long enough ago to result in genetic diversification, which we see around us.
What gives human animals such an advantage over so many other animals? Culture is the answer according to Susan Okie at TruthDig, commenting on a new book by Mark Pagel:
About 45,000 years ago, members of our species, Homo sapiens, reached Europe after earlier migrations out of Africa via the Middle East. The newcomers’ arrival must have come as a shock to the Neanderthals, a separate human species who had inhabited Europe for some 300,000 years. As Pagel notes, the new arrivals “would have carried a baffling and frightening array of technologies”—not only new kinds of weapons and tools, but also perhaps sewn clothes, musical instruments and carved figures. “It would have been like a scene from a science fiction story of a people confronted by a superior alien race.” The aliens likely didn’t owe their advantages to dramatically superior genes, but to a development, some 40,000 years prior to their arrival in Europe. Something happened that had immensely speeded up their ability to learn, adapt and acquire new strategies for taking over the planet: Homo sapiens had acquired culture.
In this TED talk, primatologist Frans de Waal asserts that human morality has evolved, and that the existence of morality doesn’t depend on religion. He observes that “humans are far more cooperative and empathic than they are given credit for,” and that they are, in many ways similar to other primates.
From de Waal’s experiments, one can learn that chimpanzees (who have no religion) often reconcile with one another after fights. The principle “is that you have a valuable relationship that is damaged by conflict so you need to do something about it.”
What are the “pillars of morality,” that which morality is based on? Reciprocity (fairness) and Empathy (compassion) are two constants. He indicates that human morality includes more than these two factors, but not much more.
Check out the beautiful 1935 video of chimpanzees at the 3:35 min mark; they cooperate in synchronized fashion to pull in a heavy box of fruit. Then check out at 4:20 what happens when one of the two chimps is not hungry, thus not motivated to work hard. This is incredible footage that will remind you of a species you often see in the mirror. What makes the uninterested chimp to work at all, according to de Waal, is receipt of a past or a future favor, i.e., reciprocity.
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