Archive | Science

100-Million-Year-Old Predatory Cockroach Found in Amber

Manipulator modificaputis gen. et sp. n. (Manipulatoridae fam.n.) holotype SMNS Bu-116 (deposited in the Stuttgart Museum of Natural History) from the Cretaceous Myanmar amber. A – left view, B – dorsal view, C – detail on the forewing articulation, D – forewing surface hexagonal structure. Scales 0.5 mm. Photo credit: Geologica Carphatica

Manipulator modificaputis gen. et sp. n. (Manipulatoridae fam.n.) holotype SMNS Bu-116 (deposited in the Stuttgart Museum of Natural History) from the Cretaceous Myanmar amber.
A – left view
B – dorsal view
C – detail on the forewing articulation
D – forewing surface hexagonal structure. Scales 0.5 mm.
Photo credit: Geologica Carphatica

It’s the stuff of nightmares: a predatory cockroach (which hunted at night, of course) was recently found preserved in amber. The cockroach and its kin coexisted with dinosaurs and was found near a mine in Noije Bum, Myanmar.

This predator bears a striking resemblance to a praying-mantis. Scientists, Peter Vršanský from the Geological Institute in Bratislava, Slovakia, and Günter Bechly from the State Museum of Natural History in Stuttgart, Germany, say that its long legs and and long neck indicate that these critters were adept hunters.

“The specimen is one of dozens of preserved insects found in the area, making it the most important site of dinosaur-age amber in the world,” says Vršanský.… Read the rest

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The Automation Loop and its Negative Consequences

GlassCage250I’m currently reading Nicholas Carr’s book The Glass Cage: Where Automation is Taking Us. I think it is an important contribution to the ongoing debate about the growth of AI and robotics, and the future of humanity. Carr is something of a techno-pessimist (though he may prefer ‘realist’) and the book continues the pessimistic theme set down in his previous book The Shallows (which was a critique of the internet and its impact on human cognition). That said, I think The Glass Cage is a superior work. I certainly found it more engaging and persuasive than his previous effort.

Anyway, because I think it raises some important issues, many of which intersect with my own research, I want to try to engage with its core arguments on this blog. I’ll do so over a series of posts. I start today with what I take to be Carr’s central critique of the rise of automation.… Read the rest

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Space travel may be bad for your brain – here’s why

I really hope this is the right flag. NASA/flickr, CC BY

I really hope this is the right flag. NASA/flickr, CC BY

Magdalena Ietswaart, University of Stirling and Paul Dudchenko, University of Stirling

There is bad news for those planning to go to Mars in the near future: a study in mice has suggested that radiation in space could cause cognitive decline in astronauts. However, we know from past research that mental, social and physical exercise can boost cognitive functions. With planned Mars missions moving ever closer, it might be be worth exploring activity as a way to counter radiation damage.

There are many hurdles to overcome to get to Mars. The obvious one, of course, is the amount of time it takes – about eight months. But for those brave enough to attempt such a journey, this may well be acceptable. What could be harder to accept, however, are the harmful galactic cosmic rays you’d be subjected to, produced by supernovae far away from Earth.… Read the rest

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Being and Nothingness: Virtual Reality and the Pioneers of Cyberspace

John Perry Barlow via Medium:

Facebook buys Oculus for $2 billion, identifying virtual reality as the operating system of the future. Hollywood begins making movies in VR. Google creates VR “Spotlight Stories” that make Android phones into VR devices. A sub-branch of VR, “augmented reality,” overlays a virtual world over our real one. (Did I say “real”? That’s a relative term now.)

In short, we are smack in the middle of a virtual reality boom. But it’s not the first time. In the early 1990s, experimenters and entrepreneurs were immersing lucky test-users in fantastic (and sometimes nauseating) artificial worlds. The equipment was funkier, the resolution was spottier, and the money wasn’t nearly as big — but writers and pundits at that time were expounding on the same themes that captivate us about virtual reality in 2015.

No document in that period captured the virtual zeitgeist as well as John Perry Barlow’s 1990 “Being in Nothingness.” Barlow, who had been a Wyoming rancher and a lyricist for Grateful Dead, had only recently turned his prodigious attentions to technology (he would wind up co-founding the Electronic Frontier Foundation).

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Disdaining ‘the Search for Truth’

Paul R. Pillar writes at Consortiumnews:

It is unusual for a political leader to disavow truth-seeking as explicitly as Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin did when he tried to expunge from the longstanding mission statement of the University of Wisconsin a reference to “the search for truth” being a core purpose of the university.

Walker backed off, but only after public outrage and only with a retraction of his previous retraction that blamed the proposed change on a “drafting error.” The change in the mission statement was one part of a larger proposal by Walker that would slash much of the state’s subsidy of the university system.

The prevailing interpretation about Walker’s moves is that striking blows against the elite intellectuals one finds on the campus of a leading university — and suggesting, as Walker did, that the university could adjust to budget cuts by increasing professors’ work loads — pleases a sector of the Republican primary electorate to which Walker is appealing in seeking a presidential nomination in 2016.

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The Use of DMT in Early Masonic Ritual

pinklazer1

I must say, the concept of DMT ritual being associated with freemasonry or the existence of psychedelic secret societies in the deep south are both topics I was completely unaware of until tipped off by a fellow esoteric writer on FB by the name of PD Newman. Compelling reading, for sure:

What qualifies a Man for the Seventh Order [of Masonry]? A. …the Composition of the Grand Elixir. (Post Boy Exposé, 1723)1

As outlandish as it may sound, allusions to the entheogenic properties of the acacia are commonplace in Masonic literature and various rituals. For, it would appear that the psychoactive nature of acacia was fairly widely known in certain Masonic circles at least up until the late 1700s. However, some time between the mid to late 18th century and the 19th century occult revival, the secrets of acacia, like the true word of a Master Mason, appear to have been lost.… Read the rest

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A Universe of Causes [Interview with Physicist George Ellis]

We assume that effect follows cause. But could this most basic of beliefs be mistaken?

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Mathematician George Ellis made his name focusing on some of the big questions of cosmology and relativity. Along with Stephen Hawking, he co-authored 1973’s The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time, which attempted to describe the very foundations of space itself.

More recently, Ellis has been focusing on top-down causation – the process by which higher level organised systems, such as humans, interact with their own component parts. His theories have important repercussions across many fields of research – from consciousness and free will to understanding quantum phenomena. Ellis is also an active Quaker and was a vocal opponent of apartheid during the 1970s and ‘80s.

We spoke to Ellis about his theories, their implications, and the reasons behind certain resistance to these ideas.

What exactly is top-down causation?

A key question for science is whether all causation is from the bottom up only.

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It’s not easy being cheesy…until now.


People Cheese. There really isn’t much more that can be added to this than what has already been expressed by the fine folks over at Cult of the Weird:

If you loved vagina yogurt, then you’re going to be really excited about the latest scientific breakthrough: Cheese made from human toe bacteria.

And armpit bacteria.

And belly button bacteria.

Not to mention, each cheese is complete with the donor’s body odor.

At some regrettable point in what will no doubt be referred to as a dark period in human history, microbiologist Christina Agapakis and artist Sissel Tolaas decided to make cheese using microbes growing on their own skin for an exhibit at the Science Gallery in Dublin.

According to this article on NPR, Agapakis had this to say about her exhibit:

“People were really nervous and uncomfortable, and kind of making these grossed out faces. Then they smell the cheese, and they’ll realize that it just smells like a normal cheese.”

Good, now even regular cheese has been ruined.

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When society isn’t judging, women’s sex drive rivals men’s

Kevin Dooley (CC BY 2.0)

Kevin Dooley (CC BY 2.0)

Tom Stafford, University of Sheffield

Men just want sex more than women. I’m sure you’ve heard that one. Stephen Fry even went as far as suggesting in 2010 that straight women only went to bed with men because sex was “the price they are willing to pay for a relationship”.

Or perhaps you’ve even heard some of the evidence. In 1978 two psychologists, Russell Clark and Elaine Hatfield, did what became a famous experiment on the topic – not least because it demonstrated how much fun you can have as a social psychologist. Using volunteers, Clark and Hatfield had students at Florida State University approach people on campus and deliver a pick-up line.

The volunteers always began the same “I’ve noticed you around campus. I find you to be very attractive”, they said. They varied what they said next according to one of three randomly chosen options.… Read the rest

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It’s still possible we all live inside a hologram

Credit: TU Wien

Credit: TU Wien

Jamie Lendino via ExtremeTech:

Mathematicians are already familiar with the holographic principle, which the famous physicist Leonard Susskind first proposed. It asserts that a volume of space can be thought of as encoded on a boundary to it — such as an observer-dependent gravitational horizon — and therefore needs one less dimension then it appears to need. By extension, since our universe seems three-dimensional to us, it could actually be a two-dimensional structure that’s overlaid onto an incredibly large cosmic horizon.

Back in 1997, Juan Maldacena first postulated the theory of a holographic universe, saying that gravity arises from thin, vibrating strings that exist in 10 dimensions. Other physicists have been working with the concept since.

“The work culminated in the last decade, and it suggests, remarkably, that all we experience is nothing but a holographic projection of processes taking place on some distant surface that surrounds us,” wrote physicist Brian Greene, from Columbia University, in 2011.

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