Tuesday, December 22, 2009
The 79th and year-end edition of Encephalon is out at The Mouse Trap. Posts to check out: Neuronarrative on further evidence that our memories are highly fallible, and The Neurocritic on the neurobiology of internet addiction...
Monday, December 14, 2009
Some (much delayed) lazy linking...
- Heartwarming piece, roughly, about "leaving science". Must be read to be appreciated.
- The doyen of South African evolutionary science and anthropology, Phillip Tobias, on Darwin's theory of descent with modification. It's a Good Thing that scientists are reaching out to the South African public about evolution.
- A wonderful article in the NY Times on some fascinating history of science. It turns out early scientists ('natural philosophers') conducted some truly weird experiments.
- By the way, I love the Royal Society's motto: nulluis in verba or "Take nobody's word for it".
A distinguishing feature of science is the acknowledged supremacy of experimentation: the ultimate arbiter of truth is empirical demonstration, not authority or abstract ratiocination. This motto nearly sums up that ideal.
- A News Focus piece by Elizabeth Culotta in Science on the various hypotheses about the origin of religion. Interesting, but it's clear we are a long way away from having a robust consensus account.
- Frans de Waal on various animal studies that seem to demonstrate that a concern with fairness is not uniquely human, but is widespread among social species.
- "All of this shows that our hostility to conspicuous consumption and excess at the top is only natural. It is part of a long evolutionary history in which cooperation and equity go hand in hand, even though it is undeniable that we have also a hierarchical streak. This is equally true for other primates, not to mention for canines, but no species accepts these vertical arrangements 100 per cent of the time."
- One of the more annoying theist arguments is that it is impossible to be moral without God. This idea has remained popular despite powerful rebuttals, most notably Euthuphro's Dilemma.
- Anyway, the most excellent Ed Yong covers a study that concludes people decide what God wants largely by inspecting their own beliefs. Not exactly surprising, but a fascinating study nonetheless.
- "People may use religious agents as a moral compass, forming impressions and making decisions based on what they presume God as the ultimate moral authority would believe or want. The central feature of a compass, however, is that it points north no matter what direction a person is facing. This research suggests that, unlike an actual compass, inferences about God's beliefs may instead point people further in whatever direction they are already facing."
- Remember the to-do back in the 90s about the meteorite that supposedly contained alien microbes? Well the same team that published the original study in 1996 have now released two new papers that again defend their conclusion. Very interesting stuff. I sure hope they're right, but obviously we'll have to wait and see what the experts think of the recent stuff.
- Big Picture with a gorgeous set of nature photographs.
- Johann Hari interviews a bunch of ex-Islamists and tries to understand what attracted them to radicalism, and what made them give it up.
- "I realise how far all my interviewees – and new friends – have travelled. They have burned in this fire of certainty. They have felt it consume all doubt and incinerate all self-analysis. And they dared, at last, to let it go. Are they freakish exceptions – or the beginning of a great unclenching of the jihadi fist?"