March 28, 2011

Are We Martians?
A team of researchers at MIT is proposing to apply forensic science testing on the Martian surface. Specifically, the task would be to do DNA and RNA sequencing on Martian microbes (if they exist) to see if they share a common genetic origin with us. This addresses the novel question of panspermia—that we are descended from Mars life that migrated to Earth. (Ray Villard, Discovery News)

The Emotion Recognition Project
The algorithm Matthew Fernandez and Akash Krishnan came up with allows them to determine the emotion of a speaker by measuring 57 different features of an audio signal against a prerecorded signal that’s already been defined by a human listener as, say, “happy” or “angry.” Their algorithm doesn’t yet recognize confidence, or sarcasm, but what it does do (imperfectly, but better than the rest of the field) is detect fear, anger, joy, and sadness in real time, without eating up so much processing power as to be impractical in a handheld device. (Jesse Lichtenstein, The New York Times Magazine)

How Babies Learn
Researchers, with clever experiments at museums and elsewhere, are finding that young children have a surprisingly sophisticated intuitive grasp of probabilities, which they use to make inferences. When a toy does not work, or a squeeze ball squeaks, even babies weigh data and make informed bets about why. The results are forming the basis for a new understanding of one of the most distinctive traits of the human mind—the ability to make, test, and continually adjust ideas about how one thing causes another. (Carolyn Johnson, The Boston Globe)

Zero Degrees of Empathy
Simon Baron-Cohen: People said to be “evil” or cruel are simply at one extreme of the empathy spectrum. We can all be lined up along this spectrum of individual differences, based on how much empathy we have. At one end of this spectrum we find “zero degrees of empathy.” (The Observer)


Michael Zimmerman: Filmmaker Marty Ostrow and Terry Kay Rockefeller want people to recognize that there is a vibrant religious-environmental movement, to realize that the media have largely missed the story about religious movements going green, and to appreciate that this movement is being embraced by all religious traditions. (The Huffington Post)

Category: Field Notes


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