Author Archive | dangerousmeme

Evolution of the God Gene

CardinalsNicholas Wade reports in the New York Times:

In the Oaxaca Valley of Mexico, the archaeologists Joyce Marcus and Kent Flannery have gained a remarkable insight into the origin of religion.

During 15 years of excavation they have uncovered not some monumental temple but evidence of a critical transition in religious behavior. The record begins with a simple dancing floor, the arena for the communal religious dances held by hunter-gatherers in about 7,000 B.C. It moves to the ancestor-cult shrines that appeared after the beginning of corn-based agriculture around 1,500 B.C., and ends in A.D. 30 with the sophisticated, astronomically oriented temples of an early archaic state.

This and other research is pointing to a new perspective on religion, one that seeks to explain why religious behavior has occurred in societies at every stage of development and in every region of the world. Religion has the hallmarks of an evolved behavior, meaning that it exists because it was favored by natural selection.

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Crime Dramas Foster Victimization Fears

ScienceDaily reports:

People who watch forensic and crime dramas on TV are more likely than non-viewers to have a distorted perception of America’s criminal justice system, according to new research from Purdue University.

“These kinds of shows, such as ‘CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,’ ‘Law & Order,’ ‘Cold Case’ and ‘The Closer,’ are some of the most popular programs on television today, so it’s important that we understand how they might influence people,” says Glenn Sparks, a professor of communication who studies mass media effects. “We know they have inspired people to pursue careers in forensic science and law enforcement, but what are some of their other effects? We found that people who watch these shows regularly are more likely to overestimate the frequency of serious crimes, misperceive important facts about crime and misjudge the number of workers in the judicial system.”

Sparks and Susan Huelsing Sarapin, a doctoral student in communication, conducted 103 surveys with jury-eligible adults about their crime-television show viewing and their perceptions of crime and the judicial system.

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Celebrity Hoax Dupes Tabloids

Paul Lewis reports in The Guardian:

The plan to subvert the pages of some of Fleet Street’s bestselling newspapers was hatched in a windowless office in east London. For months, a team of documentary makers had sat in the Brick Lane film studio they called “the cell”, trawling through tabloid clippings in search of stories they could prove were untrue.

They decided to concoct an experiment to test their theory that tabloid editors sometimes publish celebrity stories with scant regard for the truth.

“We consumed a lot of coffee thinking about it,” said Chris Atkins, the director of the forthcoming film Starsuckers. “How can we do this intelligently? How can we prove our point? But how can we make it funny?”

Atkins and his producers decided the answer was to pose as members of the public and offer completely fictitious stories to the tabloid press about well-known figures. Their first call, on 18 March, concerned a fictional sighting of the Canadian singer Avril Lavigne asleep at the nightclub Bungalow 8.

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How to Make People Believe in Telepathy

Psyblog reports:


Have you ever been thinking about someone and then moments later they’ve called you? Is that random coincidence or something more?

People love to believe in supernatural powers like telepathy. At least one-third of Americans report a belief in extra-sensory perception (ESP), with a further 40% refusing to rule out the possibility. Surveys in Europe reveal similar figures with one study finding that almost two-thirds of people believe in some form of ESP (further figures on the NSF website).

Psychologists are particularly interested in why people have these sorts of beliefs. One common explanation is that people’s natural desire to make sense of what is a fundamentally random and confusing world is so strong that patterns are seen where there are none. It’s like when we look at a visual illusion or watch a good magician: we’re easily tricked.

So what kinds of situations make us more prone to this magical thinking?

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The Myth of Artificial Intelligence

Ari N. Schulman writes in The New Atlantis

People who believe that the mind can be replicated on a computer tend to explain the mind in terms of a computer. When theorizing about the mind, especially to outsiders but also to one another, defenders of artificial intelligence (AI) often rely on computational concepts. They regularly describe the mind and brain as the “software and hardware” of thinking, the mind as a “pattern” and the brain as a “substrate,” senses as “inputs” and behaviors as “outputs,” neurons as “processing units” and synapses as “circuitry,” to give just a few common examples.

Those who employ this analogy tend to do so with casual presumption. They rarely justify it by reference to the actual workings of computers, and they misuse and abuse terms that have clear and established definitions in computer science—established not merely because they are well understood, but because they in fact are products of human engineering.

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Global Warming Intensifies Locust Plagues

Jane Qiu reports in Nature News

Ancient records link a hotter climate to more damaging infestations.

Analysis of Chinese historical records stretching back for over a thousand years show that locust outbreaks are more likely to occur in warmer and drier weather, especially in the country’s northern provinces, researchers say.

Locust swarm

Warmer weather in China has been linked to worse locust outbreaks.

“The results are an alarm bell for yet another serious consequence of climate change,” says Ge Quansheng, deputy director of the Beijing-based Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, who was not involved with the study.

The findings, by climate researcher Yu Ge and her colleagues at the Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology, part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Jiangsu province, are published in the Journal of Geophysical Research1.

In population ecology, researchers have been debating what controls the size of species populations over long time periods.

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Transmit Your Thoughts Via Brain-Computer Interface

A University of Southampton report from ScienceDaily:

(Oct. 6, 2009) — New research from the University of Southampton has demonstrated that it is possible for communication from person to person through the power of thought — with the help of electrodes, a computer and Internet connection.

Dr. Chris James demonstrating brain to brain communication using BCI to transmit thoughts, translated as a series of binary digits, over the Internet to another person whose computer receives the digits. (Credit: University of Southampton)

Brain-Computer Interfacing (BCI) can be used for capturing brain signals and translating them into commands that allow humans to control (just by thinking) devices such as computers, robots, rehabilitation technology and virtual reality environments.

This experiment goes a step further and was conducted by Dr Christopher James from the University’s Institute of Sound and Vibration Research. The aim was to expand the current limits of this technology and show that brain-to-brain (B2B) communication is possible.

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Can We Really Read Minds?

Digby Tantam reports in Psychology Today:

Telepathy and the interbrain. The belief in telepathy is deeply rooted in many of us, and not only science fiction fans. Mothers ring their daughters thousands of miles away, and their daughters say, “How did you know? I was just thinking of you”. We walk into a room and we just get a feeling about someone: it is as if we knew what they were thinking, and what they will say next.

Professors of parapsychology — and there are a few — have been unable to replicate these results in the laboratory. Minds they have to conclude cannot pass thoughts or images to other minds directly. Perhaps this should not be a surprise. After all, we do pass thoughts and images to each other pretty effectively by speaking, drawing, singing, and so on. More to the point, our minds are our own, and we want them to remain so.

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Religious Experience Linked to Brain’s Social Regions


Brandon Keim reports in Wired

Brain scans of people who believe in God have found further evidence that religion involves neurological regions vital for social intelligence.

In other words, whether or not God or Gods exist, religious belief may have been quite useful in shaping the human mind’s evolution.

“The main point is that all these brain regions are important for other forms of social cognition and behavior,” said Jordan Grafman, a National Institutes of Health cognitive scientist.

In a study published Monday in Public Library of Science ONE, Grafman’s team used an MRI to measure the brains areas in 40 people of varying degrees of religious belief.

People who reported an intimate experience of God, engaged in religious behavior or feared God, tended to have larger-than-average brain regions devoted to empathy, symbolic communication and emotional regulation. The research wasn’t trying to measure some kind of small “God-spot,” but looked instead at broader patterns within the brains of self-reported religious people.

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Italian Scientist Reproduces Shroud of Turin

The Turin Shroud Philip Pullella reports for Reuters

ROME (Reuters) – An Italian scientist says he has reproduced the Shroud of Turin, a feat that he says proves definitively that the linen some Christians revere as Jesus Christ’s burial cloth is a medieval fake.

The shroud, measuring 14 feet, 4 inches by 3 feet, 7 inches bears the image, eerily reversed like a photographic negative, of a crucified man some believers say is Christ.

“We have shown that is possible to reproduce something which has the same characteristics as the Shroud,” Luigi Garlaschelli, who is due to illustrate the results at a conference on the para-normal this weekend in northern Italy, said on Monday.

A professor of organic chemistry at the University of Pavia, Garlaschelli made available to Reuters the paper he will deliver and the accompanying comparative photographs.

The Shroud of Turin shows the back and front of a bearded man with long hair, his arms crossed on his chest, while the entire cloth is marked by what appears to be rivulets of blood from wounds in the wrists, feet and side….

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