December 24, 2010

Seeing Survival in a New Way
This year, we read tales of survival, and those tales have challenged our ideas about what can be survived. Could it be that our bodies and brains are capable of far more than we once thought? Could it be that simply hearing these stories will increase our individual chances of surviving a life-or-death situation? Can we now dismiss the so-called Rule of Three—the survival principle that says a person can survive roughly three minutes without air, three hours without shelter in extreme weather, three days without water, and three weeks without food? (Kathryn Blaze Carlson, National Post)

Can Infants Understand the Mental States of Others Earlier Than We Thought?
Babies as young as seven months old may be able to take into account the thoughts and beliefs of other people, according to a paper published in Science. Called “theory of mind,” this ability is central to human cooperation. (Janelle Weaver, Nature News)

World’s Biggest Neutrino Detector Is Finished
About 8,000 feet underneath a sheet of arctic ice, the last group of detectors for a 279 million dollar neutrino detector called IceCube were successfully lowered into place, capping a five-year project in the South Pole that has fired the imagination of astrophysicists. (CBS News)

Gene Mutation Found in Some Finnish Violent Offenders
The mutation, in a gene called HTR2B, prevents production of the serotonin 2B receptor, a key docking point in brain cells for the neurotransmitter serotonin. One consequence could be depletion of serotonin in the nucleus accumbens, a part of the brain involved in providing restraint and foresight into the consequences of actions. The mutation was three times as common in violent criminals as in the general population. (Andy Coghlan, New Scientist)

The Science of Right and Wrong
Michael Shermer: The “naturalistic fallacy,” sometimes rendered as the “is-ought problem”—the way something “is” does not mean that is the way it “ought” to be—has for centuries been piously parroted from its leading proponents, philosophers David Hume and G.E. Moore, as if pronouncing it closes the door to further scientific inquiry. We should be skeptical of this divide. If morals and values should not be based on the way things are—reality—then on what should they be based? (Scientific American)

Evidence for Embodied Cognition
A rapidly growing body of research indicates that metaphors joining body and mind reflect a central fact about the way we think: The mind uses the body to make sense of abstract concepts. Thus, seemingly trivial sensations and actions—mimicking a smile or a frown, holding smooth or rough objects, nodding, or giving a thumbs-up—can influence high-level psychological processes such as social judgment, language comprehension, visual perception, and even reasoning about insubstantial notions such as time. (Siri Carpenter, Scientific American)

More on the Link Between Moral and Physical Purity
The “Macbeth effect” suggests that moral and physical cleanliness are associated in an alarming way: Feeling good about the one seemed to incline people to give themselves a pass about the other. Intriguing idea, which makes sense to me (and which aligns with a number of other studies performed elsewhere). But in a paper last year in the Journal of Articles in Support of the Null Hypothesis, four psychologists, in two separate projects, who tried to replicate “Macbeth effect” experiments report that they could not do it. (David Berreby, Mind Matter, Big Think)

Billboard Battle at the Lincoln Tunnel Continues
An atheist billboard on the New Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel that declared Christmas a “myth” has been replaced by a pro-Christian billboard. (Emanuella Grinberg, CNN)

Category: Field Notes

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