Mouse Party

Okay, before you all go off getting drunk or stoned out of your minds so you can celebrate Thanksgiving with the relatives, here’s a fun lesson about your brain on drugs.

“This interactive game is a great educational tool, teaching you how various legal and illegal drugs work in the brain. Have you ever wondered how various drugs work in the brain to produce the symptoms they do? Well, this wonderful interactive website, Mouse Party, shows you the molecular details of how heroin, exstacy, alcohol, marijuana, methamphetamines, cocaine and LSD work.”

via Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Mouse Party

Infant rat heads grafted onto adults’ thighs

This is an old story. How did I not hear about this before?

Infant rats are being decapitated and their heads grafted onto the thighs of adults by researchers in Japan.

If kept cool while the blood flow is stopped, a transplanted brain can develop as normal for at least three weeks, and the mouth of the head will move, as if it is trying to drink milk, the team reports.

The grafted heads could be “excellent models” for investigating brain function in human babies after periods of no blood flow, known as ischemia, they claim.

“Our main purpose is to investigate how the transplanted brain can develop and maintain function after prolonged total brain ischemia,” researcher Nobufumi Kawai, at the Jichi Medical School in Tochigi, told New Scientist. “And we tried to investigate the effect of lowering the temperature of the brain during the grafting.”

Full Story: New Scientist.

(Thanks James).

On evolutionary psychology

This interview with Satoshi Kanazawa, co-author of Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters (with Alan S. Miller) reminded me of this critique of Kanazawa and Miller’s Psychology Today article by the Thistle. I meant to reply when he first wrote it, but got too caught up with Esozone stuff and forgot.

First of all I have to say that I’m skeptical of all popular science books, especially popular psychology books. I must also say that I am not a scientist, and don’t have a lot of knowledge of evolutionary psychology. Also, I’ve only read the article and interview, not the book. So Kanazawa and Miller’s work could be total bunk for all I know. That said, lets take a look a look at what the Thistle has to say.

Many of the speculations in this article are without clear source.

True. Hypothetically, more detail about how they reached these conclusions can be found in the book.

Evolutionary psychology is emphatically not science. It is a genre of speculation based on a mix of other peoples’ science and observation of cultural trends. EPs, like the sociobiologists before them, are notorious for rationalizing status quo culture as being rooted in biology. They are not researchers but armchair theorists (just like me). Thus when Frank Marlowe contends something, he is not dispelling a “mystery,” just giving his opinion.

Scientists haven’t even decided if social science really is science, nor am I sure I accept social science as science. Evolutionary psychology (or any other branch of psychology) may not live up to the strictest of definitions of science. But to call evolutionary psychology arm chair speculation is unfair. Again, Kanazawa and Miller’s research could turn out to be nothing but arm chair theory. I haven’t evaluated the research. But extensive research, rigid application of the scientific method, and peer review separate professional psychology from home speculation. A professional evolutionary psychologist must examine statistical research, make falsifiable predictions, and subject their work to review of fellow scientists. The process of evolutionary psychology is not a mere practice of saying “oh, maybe that stems from this” but a tedious process of making predictions and testing them.

But “Men also have a universal preference for women with a low waist-to-hip ratio”? [Emphasis mine.] I’ll open this up to the readers: Should I even bother to provide evidence that this isn’t the case?

I was a little surprised at how much of a response this particular bit got (see comment here). I’m also surprised no one pointed out the most obvious deviation from this “rule”: gay men. Gay men are not even attracted to women, much less blond ones. So some men are less attracting to large breasts than other men. Some men prefer chubby women. So what? The use of the word “universal” is probably the hang-up for people here. No, people don’t conform 100% to these rules. Does that make the conclusions drawn any less valid? No. Much less the entire field of evolutionary psychology.

But there is an important lesson to be learned here: we can predict the behavior of individuals based on the past behavior of individual with perhaps enough certainty to do well at gambling. But probably not well to do well at life. We may be able to accurately say “most women prefer cooking shows to sports” or “most men would rather spend money on power tools than handbags” but there will always be exceptions.

To go off on some armchair theorizing of my own: there seems to be a rise in pornography based around non-blond women with many different body types. Some of this might be due to the Internet making it possible to produce and distribute porn profitably without marketing to the lowest common denominator. But perhaps men are adapting as we become aware of the fact that just because a woman is blond and has perky tits doesn’t mean she’s actually young. Or not. I have no idea.

We are currently living through the largest wealth disparity in the history of mankind.

It’s my understanding that the middle class developed along with globalization and industrialization. It might be true that there’s a larger gap between the top 2% and the bottom 2% (or whatever) than ever before (this seems probable as there is more for the top 2% to have than ever before). But are the middle classes of “industrialized” nations not much, much closer matched? And do they not take up the majority of the population?

I can never tell if the largely male population of Evolutionary Psychologists are trying to invent and rationalize some class-based stratification of sexuality because they have a little extra money and need come up with an excuse to get with multiple partners or because they are trying to come up with an excuse for why they can’t get a date at all.

I suspect it’s the latter.

Oooooo burn!

So here’s my advice, you armchair theorists of the world. Lighten up with all the “women act this way, men act that way” talk and get out there and talk to people you actually want to have sex with as though they were people and not aggregate collections of statistically observable behaviors interpreted through the lens of your personal bias. It’s not sexy.

See above for why statistical predictions don’t make good practice in day to day life.

BTW, 100 years ago, similar genetic behavior theorists were trying to convince the populace at large that polygamy was a sign of the inferiority of the poor (they’re having all the sex, which we know because they make so many babies) and trying to get them sterilized because of it.

Scientists were saying lots of incorrect things 100 years ago. Should we discount discount science altogether because of it?

Also: Kanazawa and Miller haven’t made, at least in the articles in question, any value judgements or policy recommendations.

I’m not sure what this point has to do with “human nature.” Period. Is religious affiliation genetically coded? No.

Did you even read the article? Kanazawa and Miller say the Muslim tendency towards suicide bombing isn’t caused directly by religion, but by the absence of sex. Is that correct? I don’t know, but it does answer your question.

Ditto. Actually, I slept through the rest of these until…

What, you didn’t have a problem with the notion, expressed in point 9, that all men care about is sex? That all of our accomplishments, dreams, and ambitions are nothing more than cheap ploys to get laid?

Look, if ever there was a phrase that was designed to bait the political opposition, it is “political incorrectness.” It serves as a umbrella term meant to signal that the author is setting out to offend people, then act as though he is surprised when people get offended. Then he points the finger at them, saying, “You’re too easily offended.” Some people are too easily offended; that doesn’t make these guys any less asinine. It is always an indication that the author is trying to start some very public drama.

I basically agree. The framing of these theories as “politically incorrect” is a marketing ploy. And it seems to have worked.

To address the whole of your objection to the section on sexual harassment: I think you’re way off the mark in your interpretation of what was being said in that section. They say that women “legitimately complain” about harassment. I don’t believe they were trying to *excuse* sexual harassment (any more than they were trying to excuse suicide bombing), but try to get to the bottom of why it happens.

And that is the goal of evolutionary psychology: not to justify bad behavior, but to explain it. One can only hope that with a better rational understanding of our problems, we can find new solutions. From the interview with Kanazawa:

As a scientist, I am not interested in Utopian visions (or any other visions for society). But it seems to me that, if you want to change the world successfully, you cannot start from false premises. Any such attempt is bound to fail.

Astronomers look to quark stars for a fifth dimension

If the universe has weird extra-spatial dimensions in parallel to the 3D world we see around us, then billion-dollar particle accelerators may not be the only place to find them.

Objects in Cygnus X-3 are under extreme gravity, which the researchers say would provide the necessary conditions for extra dimensions to affect matter.

Full Story: New Scientist.

Russia bans human tissue export in bioweapon alert

Russia has banned the shipment of medical specimens abroad, threatening hundreds of patients and complicating drug trials by major companies, the national Kommersant newspaper reported on Wednesday.

Kommersant attributed the ban to fears in the secret service that Russian genetic material could be used abroad to make biochemical weapons targeting Russians. The quality daily cited anonymous sources in the medical community.

Full Story: New Scientist.

Trip proposed to centre of Earth via Arctic hole

A U.S. scientist and a small band of believers are planning a journey to the Canadian Arctic for what they call “the greatest geological expedition in history.”

Are they searching for Arctic oil reserves? Documenting evidence of climate change?

Not quite. They’re looking for a fog-shrouded hole in the Arctic Ocean that leads — they say — to the centre of the Earth, where an unknown civilization is lurking inside the hollow core of the planet.

Full Story: National Post.

(via Post Human Blues).

Computer analysis provides Incan string theory

Via me, Fell, a pretend-ninja and superstar in my own mind

Oh? and New Scientist?

The mystery surrounding a cryptic string-based communication system used by ancient Incan administrators may at last be unravelling, thanks to computer analysis of hundreds of different knotted bundles.

The discovery provides a tantalising glimpse of bureaucracy in the Andean empire and may, for the first time, also reveal an Incan word written in string.

Woven from cotton, llama or alpaca wool, the mysterious string bundles – known as Khipu – consist of a single strand from which dangle up to thousands of subsidiary strings, each featuring a bewildering array of knots. Of the 600 or so Khipu that have been found, most date from between 1400 AD and 1500 AD. However, a few are thought to be about 1000 years old.

Spanish colonial documents suggest that Khipu were in some way used to keep records and communicate messages. Yet how the cords were used to convey useful information has puzzled generations of experts.

Unpicking the knots

Now, anthropologist Gary Urton and mathematician Carrie Brezine at Harvard University, Massachusetts, US, think they may have begun unravelling the knotty code. The pair built a searchable database containing key information about Khipu strings, such as the number and position of subsidiary strings and the number and position of knots tied in them.

The pair then used this database to search for similarities between 21 Khipus discovered in 1956 at the key Incan administrative base of Puruchuco, near modern day Lima in Peru. Superficial similarities suggested that the Khipu could be connected but the database revealed a crucial mathematical bond – the data represented by subsidiary strands on some of Khipu could be combined to create the strands found on more complex ones.

This suggests the Khipu were used to collate information from different parts of the empire, which stretched for more than 5500 kilometres. Brezine used the mathematical software package Mathematica to scour the database for other mathematical links ? and found several.

First word

“Local accountants would forward information on accomplished tasks upward through the hierarchy, with information at each successive level representing the summation of accounts from the levels below,” Urton says. “This communication was used to record the information deemed most important to the state, which often included accounting and other data related to censuses, finances and the military.”

And Urton and Brezine go a step further. Given that the Puruchuco strings may represent collations of data different regions, they suggest that a characteristic figure-of-eight knot found on all of the 21 Puruchuco strings may represent the place itself. If so, it would be the first word to ever be extracted from an Incan Khipu.

Completely deciphering the Khipu may never be possible, Urton says, but further analysis of the Khipu database might reveal other details of life. New archaeological discoveries could also throw up some more surprises, Urton told New Scientist.

Aleister Crowley, Karl Marx, and H.P. Lovecraft as… the Three Stooges

WTF, Thistle? =)

As a proof of concept on a design, a mad scientist travels back in time to recruit various historical figures to make a bio-pic about the actors who came to be known as The Three Stooges.


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