My Bookmarks on Science & Technology, Climate Change, Astrobiology, Genetics, Evolution

“… while the crisis of civilisation shows that business-as-usual is not sustainable – and could at worst lead to an uninhabitable planet by the end of this century based on the consensus science projections – we are already in the midst of a process of civilisational transition which offers unprecedented opportunities to re-envision new forms of prosperity that can function in harmony with our environment, rather than in conflict with it.”

“Wouldn’t it be nice to predict future events, even if they are just ten seconds ahead? According to researchers at Northwestern University, we can do just that.

…fringe phenomenon recently got a mainstream airing after a paper providing evidence for its existence was accepted for publication by the leading social psychology journal.

What’s more, sceptical psychologists who have pored over a preprint of the paper say they can’t find any significant flaws. “My personal view is that this is ridiculous and can’t be true,” says Joachim Krueger of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, who has blogged about the work on the Psychology Today website. “Going after the methodology and the experimental design is the first line of attack. But frankly, I didn’t see anything. Everything seemed to be in good order.”

“What hasn’t been clear is whether humans have the ability to predict future important events even without any clues as to what might happen,” said Julia Mossbridge, lead author of the study and research associate in the Visual Perception, Cognition and Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern.

A person playing a video game at work while wearing headphones, for example, can’t hear when his or her boss is coming around the corner.

“But our analysis suggests that if you were tuned into your body, you might be able to detect these anticipatory changes between two and 10 seconds beforehand and close your video game,” Mossbridge said. “You might even have a chance to open that spreadsheet you were supposed to be working on. And if you were lucky, you could do all this before your boss entered the room.”

…Zacks and his colleagues are building a theory of how predictive perception works. At the core of the theory is the belief that a good part of predicting the future is the maintenance of a mental model of what is happening now. Now and then, this model needs updating, especially when the environment changes unpredictably.

“When we watch everyday activity unfold around us, we make predictions about what will happen a few seconds out,” Zacks says. “Most of the time, our predictions are right.

“Successfull predictions are associated with the subjective experience of a smooth stream of consciousness. But a few times a minute, our predictions come out wrong and then we perceive a break in the stream of consciousness, accompanied by an uptick in activity of primitive parts of the brain involved that regulate attention and adaptation to unpredicted changes.”

This phenomenon is sometimes called “presentiment,” as in “sensing the future,” but Mossbridge said she and other researchers are not sure whether people are really sensing the future.

“I like to call the phenomenon ‘anomalous anticipatory activity,’” she said. “The phenomenon is anomalous, some scientists argue, because we can’t explain it using present-day understanding about how biology works; though explanations related to recent quantum biological findings could potentially make sense. It’s anticipatory because it seems to predict future physiological changes in response to an important event without any known clues, and it’s an activity because it consists of changes in the cardiopulmonary, skin and nervous systems.”

“A team of researchers has shown that 8-month-old infants expect objects they identify as animals to have insides. The study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

University of Illinois professor of psychology Renée Baillargeon, who led the new study with graduate student Peipei Setoh, said that many psychologists have theorized that babies are born with core physical and psychological frameworks that help them navigate the world.

For instance, when babies see a self-propelled object, their core physical framework leads them to understand that the object has internal energy. And when babies see that an object has control over its actions (that is, responds to changes in its environment), their core psychological framework leads them to view the object as an agent that has mental states.

“In each case, babies seem to be born equipped with abstract expectations that drive their reasoning,” Baillargeon said.”

“…a group of researchers from Harvard and Oregon State University has published the first global temperature reconstruction for the last 11,000 years – that’s the whole Holocene (Marcott et al. 2013). The results are striking… 

Over the last decades, numerous researchers have painstakingly collected, analyzed, dated, and calibrated many data series that allow us to reconstruct climate before the age of direct measurements. Such data come e.g. from sediment drilling in the deep sea, from corals, ice cores and other sources. Shaun Marcott and colleagues for the first time assembled 73 such data sets from around the world into a global temperature reconstruction for the Holocene, published in Science. Or strictly speaking, many such reconstructions: they have tried about twenty different averaging methods and also carried out 1,000 Monte Carlo simulations with random errors added to the dating of the individual data series to demonstrate the robustness of their results.

To show the main result straight away, it looks like this:

Figure 1 Blue curve: Global temperature reconstruction from proxy data of Marcott et al, Science 2013. Shown here is the RegEM version – significant differences between the variants with different averaging methods arise only towards the end, where the number of proxy series decreases. This does not matter since the recent temperature evolution is well known from instrumental measurements, shown in red (global temperature from the instrumental HadCRU data). Graph: Klaus Bitterman.

The climate curve looks like a “hump”. At the beginning of the Holocene – after the end of the last Ice Age – global temperature increased, and subsequently it decreased again by 0.7 ° C over the past 5000 years. The well-known transition from the relatively warm Medieval into the “little ice age” turns out to be part of a much longer-term cooling, which ended abruptly with the rapid warming of the 20th Century. Within a hundred years, the cooling of the previous 5000 years was undone.”

Read more:

“Harvard scientists create an interface that allows humans to move a rat’s tail just by thinking about it.

We’re not quite at the stage where we can communicate brain to brain with our fellow humans, but we may be on our way to communicating with other species. Or at least controlling them, thanks to a new, non-invasive interface developed by scientists at Harvard Medical School.

A team led by Seung-Schik Yoo, an assistant professor of radiology, has created a brain-to-brain interface (BBI) that allows a human controller to move a portion of a rat’s body just by thinking about it, all without invasive surgical implants.

…Using six different human subjects and six different rat subjects, the team achieved a success rate of 94 percent, with a time delay of 1.59 ± 1.07 seconds between user intention and the rat’s response.”

“The Arctic has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the globe in the past two decades. Sea ice in this region is melting into the ocean so rapidly that its rate exceeds most model projections. The consequences of a world with less sea ice, argue the authors of this Review, include amplification of the warming phenomenon: less sea ice means fewer surfaces to reflect sun back into the atmosphere. Thus, loss of sea ice is not just an indicator of warming, but a contributor to it as well.

Read more about this research from the 2 August issue of Science here.”

“A team of scientists in South Korea have now developed the most precise method ever used to insert DNA into cells. The method combines two high-tech laboratory techniques and allows the researchers to precisely poke holes on the surface of a single cell with a high-powered “femtosecond” laser and then gently tug a piece of DNA through it using “optical tweezers,” which draw on the electromagnetic field of another laser. The team’s approach, which is a breakthrough in precision and control at the single-cell level, was published today in the Optical Society’s (OSA) open-access journal Biomedical Optics Express.”

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