April 25, 2010

Science for Sunday 4/25/10

"I can't understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I'm frightened of the old ones."
-John Cage

"Based on previous analyses of the skeletons ofAustralopithecus afarensis, we expected that the Laetoli footprints would resemble those of someone walking with a bent knee, bent hip gait typical of chimpanzees, and not the striding gait normally used by modern humans," Raichlen said. "But to our surprise, the Laetoli footprints fall completely within the range of normal human footprints."

If you find this as fascinating as I do, check out Becoming Human.  You can even stream it from Netflix.  Kids will love  it too!

Whether we are mentally active, resting or asleep, the brain always has some level of electrical activity. 

Alpha waves were more abundant in the posterior parts of the brain during meditation than during simple relaxation. They are characteristic of wakeful rest.

I'm looking to increase the alpha waves in my own brain.  I've reserved a few books from our library on mindfulness meditation.  I picked up the first one today, Anger by Thich Nhat Hanh.  I'm also still reading Everyday Blessings, a few pages at a time, when I parent the girls to sleep.  

Using behavioral experiments administered across 15 diverse populations, the study sought to measure the influence of three different mechanisms -- punishment, market integration and religious beliefs -- that might maintain cooperation within societies. Market integration is the extent to which individuals use anonymous, rule-governed transactions to buy and sell goods.

The researchers found that overt punishment, religious beliefs that can act as a form of psychological punishment and market integration each were correlated with fairness in the experiments.

I find this rather sad actually.  The larger the group, the more likely you need some form of punishment to convince people to do the right thing.  The real question here is why?  From what I've learned about the effects of rewards and punishments, I wonder if the mere use of punishments doesn't compound the problem with each generation.  As populations grew, things seemed a little more chaotic, and so the quick fix was to use punishments to bring people back in line.  The more you use them, the more you feel you need them.  But people don't like punishments because it doesn't actually change behavior.  So they act out even more, which means they need more punishments.  It's a common parenting trap.  I find myself getting drawn into the cycle, and it's hard to break free.  I just can't help but wonder if they focused more on how being fair effects everyone, perhaps they would find they don't need punishments.  Educate fairness, don't bully people into it.  

This means it is difficult for a "more empathetic" brain to behave in a violent way, at least on a regular basis. "Educating people to be empathetic could be an education for peace, bringing about a reduction in conflict and belligerent acts," the researcher concludes.

Just another study that encourages me to move toward becoming more emotionally intelligent.  I have even experienced this in myself.  I can't be angry and understanding at the same time.   I hope by being better at identifying the emotions that trigger anger, I will be able to skip it altogether, and go straight to empathy.

Mathematics also plays a key role in computer-generated animations of all kinds of solids, from animated characters to cityscapes. Virtually every computer-generated solid has an explicit mathematical representation as a meshed surface or volume. Flesh simulations can endow computer-generated characters with realistically bulging muscles and rippling fat. Hair simulation provides a realistic way to depict the highly complex phenomenon of thousands of hairs interacting and colliding. The article describes recent work by the the first and third authors that provides a new technique for hair simulation. 

Somehow, I just don't think I'm going to have a problem with Robotson wanting to learn higher math concepts.  When math is as cool as this, who wouldn't want to learn more?

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