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.
Fascinating story told by Carl Zimmer, illustrated by yeast studies.
Scientists suspect that the first step towards a complex multicellular body like ours is for cells to evolve to live in primitive clumps. There may be a lot of advantages to living this way. It may be harder for a predator to eat you, for example. At the University of Minnesota, a team of scientists led by William Ratcliff and Michael Travisano figured out a way to create this kind of natural selection in a lab. As I reported last year in the New York Times, they were able to get yeast–which normally lives as single cells–to turn into simple multicellular clumps in a few weeks.
One of my photographer mentors advised that I try to shoot SOMETHING every day. And this morning I finished reading Phil Zimbardo’s “The Time Paradox,” from which I learned (for the 800th time) that my perspective is skewed way toward future time orientation, which causes me to miss out on the present, especially ordinary things that are actually quite stunning. Therefore . . . I gave myself an assignment to take photos of leaves from the backside, illuminated from the front by direct sun. I tried to simply enjoy their beauty, but couldn’t help contemplating their incredibly sophisticated function.
At the St. Louis Zoo yesterday, I watched this drama unfold. A bird landed in the prairie dog area and decided that it wanted the prairie dog to share its food. The prairie dog (and yet another prairie dog) remained stoic throughout this ordeal (this is a series of 13 photos), which begs for cartoon captions.
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In this article in the Wall Street Journal, Frans de Waal cautions us that we need to properly test animals before declaring that they lack intelligence. He gives several examples, concluding that scientists need to take the time to think like animals when designing experiments for animals.
A growing body of evidence shows . . . that we have grossly underestimated both the scope and the scale of animal intelligence. Can an octopus use tools? Do chimpanzees have a sense of fairness? Can birds guess what others know? Do rats feel empathy for their friends? Just a few decades ago we would have answered “no” to all such questions. Now we’re not so sure.
Experiments with animals have long been handicapped by our anthropocentric attitude: We often test them in ways that work fine with humans but not so well with other species. Scientists are now finally meeting animals on their own terms instead of treating them like furry (or feathery) humans, and this shift is fundamentally reshaping our understanding.
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.”