Here’s an amazing TED Talk.
But it’s not your fault. According to a short but fascinating article in Scientific America, dogs, and almost all other mammals, don’t like any music. Humans are nearly unique (damn you bats!) in there ability to easily distinguish tones within a twelfth of an octave (and less). Dogs, for instance cannot distinguish within a third of an octave. Thus a C note and a D note sound identical to them. Apparently, we have this ability thanks to separate and more sensitive neural pathways for natural and unnatural (pure tone) sounds.
It’s good to be human.
A group of awesome researchers are creating a cancer-fighting beer. The beer they are developing will also fight heart disease and slow aging. Sounds too good to be true? Not so! Scientists already know that resveratrol, a chemical found in red wines, already has these effects.
The problem with resveratrol in red wine is that one would need to consume at least half a bottle of red wine every day to see any benefits. Also, the amount of resveratrol varies widely from bottle to bottle. The incredibly cool team of researchers at Rice University believe that they can create beer with a consistent amount of the miracle chemical from brew to brew. Furthermore, they believe they can enhance both the amount and effect of resveratrol in beer. The best part is that since resveratrol is orderless and tasteless, it will not effect the flavor of beer. How does the team plan on making the best drink on the planet even better? They are genetically modifying the yeast used to ferment the beer.
I love science.
A little over a month ago, Skeptic published an online article called The Great Divide (scroll down after following the link). The author, Shawn Stover, writes about the functional value of Stephen Jay Gould’s non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA).
NOMA is the idea that science and religion are quests for knowledge in two completely separate areas of human understanding. Science address the empirical universe, and religion addresses ethical and spiritual concerns. As such, science and religion are not in conflict.
This view has been roundly rejected by both the ‘new’ atheists and creationists. They both point out that both fields do make separate claims about the same thing: the origin of humans. Their magisteria do overlap. The falsity of NOMA should be obvious if one considers the history of science and religion. For instance, the center of the solar system used to be identified differently by both fields of human endeavor.
There was an astonishing article in the New York Times yesterday. Basically, it’s about a team of researchers that found the first empirical evidence that supports a hereto-now theoretical explanation of how the brain recalls memories. When remembering something, the brain re-experiences the events being remembered to some extent. The very same neurons that fired during the event fired during the recollection of that event.
The researchers recorded the activity of certain neurons of subjects while they watched television clips. After being distracted for a time, the researchers then asked the subjects to recall the clips. This was how they confirmed that the same neurons were firing at least when recalling short-term memories. The firing patters were so well reproduced during recall that the scientists could tell which clip the patient was remembering…
Or, more precisely, which clip the patient was about to remember.
The scientists asked the subjects to remember any one of the clips. The scientists were able to determine which clip they are recalling one to two seconds before the subject knew which they ‘chose’ to recall. What is choosing the clip? I ask because it certainly isn’t the subjects’ consciousness. This is even more evidence that human consciousness is not free but determined.
The above image was created and licensed by jurvetson.
This video is too cool to not share:
This talk gives such great perspective on our ability to understand the universe. Insight like this is why Dawkins is one of my intellectual heroes.
George Dyson, a historian who specializes in the history of science, has written a thought-provoking short story entitled Engineers’ Dreams. It’s simultaneously historical and science fiction that speculates on possibilities imagined since the advent of computing. It’s a bit technical, but well worth the read. Let me know your thoughts on it.
As an added bonus, I’m including a talk he gave about the history of the computer on TED. Enjoy!
File this story under “too good to be true.” Silicon Valley scientists have genetically engineered a bacteria that eats agricultural waste and shits crude oil. They’ve produced the world’s first jar of renewable crude oil. The bacteria, a non-pathogenic e. coli variant, literally consumes biomass, such as woodchips and wheat straw, and excretes nearly tank-ready diesel.
This is pretty amazing. They have literally taken a process that normally is measured on the geological time-scale and reduced the time it takes to days. A 1,000 liter jug of the bug can produce a barrel of crude in a week. We are moving closer to the ultimate source of all energy on our planet – the sun. Fossil fuels are simply stored solar energy from the distant past. This process makes the solar energy stored in plants available to us now in a form that our entire economic infrastructure is built to handle.
My first thought when reading the article was, “Great, just what the atmosphere needs, more oil burn-off.” But the scientists claim that this production technique is carbon-negative. They don’t go into detail as how that can be. They claim the means of production absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than is produced by burning the fuel. My guess is that they are measuring from the wrong place. Sure, the plants that they use to feed the bacteria absorb carbon. But that is carbon that would have been stored by the plant waste for years. Converting it to oil and burning it will reduce the carbon turnaround time to weeks, if not days. Still, making oil renewable is a step in the right direction.
I also noticed that they didn’t talk about the cost of production. They did mention that it took $20,000 to genetically modify the bacteria, but once it’s modified, it’s self-reproductive, so that’s not a production cost. I guess the main cost would be whatever it takes to keep the bugs alive and healthy. Since we’ve already been doing the same thing with synthetic human insulin for decades, it must be cost-effective. Sure enough, they plan a demonstration-scale plant in two years, and a production-scale one in three. This puts it years ahead of it’s hydrogen-producing-bacteria competitor, which is unfortunate as hydrogen is much cleaner (its burn-off waste).
We humans are so self-important. We once thought that we lived in the physical center of creation: everything revolved around us. Then, in the mid-16th century, Nicolaus Copernicus discovered that the Earth is not the center of the universe. Copernicus removed us from our priviledge place in physical creation. We are not the point of the universe.
The importance of this discovery may seem obvious; he founded modern astronomy. Yet what is sometimes missed is a subtler point. There is nothing special about our point of view. Our perspective is not special. Copernicus objectified observation which paved the way for the subsequent scientific revolution, which is built upon objective observation.
Eventually, mankind adapted (as we are so apt to do). After all, we were still the center of biological creation. We were the only ones with cognition. We were the ones with free will. We were given dominion over the plants and animals by God Himself. We were the point of all life; superior and self-aware.
Then Charles Darwin came along. His objective observation of the evidence he collected from 1831 to 1836 led him to a startling conclusion… We are not the center of biological creation. The other creatures were not created for us to have dominion over and in many cases they were here first. Furthermore, there is nothing special about our particular ‘position’ in the evolutionary tree. Mutations occur randomly (though they are selected non-randomly), we are but one of many possible outcome of a natural process.