Dull Minds and Criminal Acts

Sunday, July 5th, 2015

Dull minds and criminal acts go together, Finnish researchers have confirmed:

Finland is the sort of place where they do things thoroughly, things like testing the intelligence of a total population cohort of Finnish males born in 1987 and following up the results. Gold dust.

Joseph A. Schwartz, Jukka Savolainen, Mikko Aaltonen, Marko Merikukka, Reija Paananen, Mika Gisslerd. Intelligence and criminal behavior in a total birth cohort: An examination of functional form, dimensions of intelligence, and the nature of offending. Intelligence, Vol 51, July–August 2015, Pages 109–118.

They found that lower levels of intelligence are associated with greater levels of offending, that the IQ-offending association is mostly linear, with some curvilinear aspects at highest and lowest levels, and that the pattern is consistent across multiple measures of intelligence and offending. In some ways this is exactly as predicted and already observed, since the available literature shows that individuals with lower IQ are more likely to engage in criminal behaviour.  Criminal offending was measured with nine different indicators from official records and intelligence was measured using three subscales (verbal, mathematical, and spatial reasoning) as well as a composite measure. The results show consistent evidence of mostly linear patterns, with some indication of curvilinear associations at the very lowest and the very highest ranges of intellectual ability.

However, the advantage of these data is that they deal with an entire birth cohort, so there are no distorting effects caused by the loss of a few miscreants who might account for lots of crimes. The population is restricted to males n = 21,513 because only males in Finland do military service and sit the intelligence tests. Offending is judged from real documentary data, not from fallible self report, even more fallible when painful memories are involved. Lastly, they have verbal, mathematic and spatial IQ measures, so can investigate whether verbal intelligence has a particular effect, as some have argued.

Crimes vs. Intelligence

Note that violent crime is an order of magnitude higher in the bottom 20% of the population by ability than the top 20% of population by ability.

Is Special Education Racist?

Friday, July 3rd, 2015

Is special education racist? With the New York Times asking, you’d have to assume, yes:

More than six million children in the United States receive special-education services for their disabilities. Of those age 6 and older, nearly 20 percent are black.

Critics claim that this high number — blacks are 1.4 times more likely to be placed in special education than other races and ethnicities combined — shows that black children are put into special education because schools are racially biased.

But our new research suggests just the opposite. The real problem is that black children are underrepresented in special-education classes when compared with white children with similar levels of academic achievement, behavior and family economic resources.

The belief that black children are overrepresented in special education is driving some misguided attempts at policy changes.

I was not expecting that:

In a study published today, we report that the under-diagnosis of black children occurs across five disability conditions for which special services are commonly provided — learning disabilities, speech or language impairments, intellectual disabilities, health impairments and emotional disturbances. From the beginning of kindergarten to the end of eighth grade, black children are less, not more, likely than white children with similar levels of academic performance and behaviors to be identified as having each of these disabilities.

In fact, our study statistically controlled for many possible factors that might explain these disparities. Examples included differences in children’s academic achievement, behavior, gender and age, birth weight, the mother’s marital status and the family’s income and education levels. In contrast, many previous studies reporting overrepresentation have not adjusted for these factors. Instead, these prior studies have relied on school- or district-level data that did not adequately control for differences in risk factor exposure between black and white children.

Since nobody remembers anything, Steve Sailer notes that racial differences in special ed were what led Arthur Jensen of Berkeley to the Dark Side a half century ago:

Jensen’s interest in this topic began when one of his graduate students noted that the white special education students he was working with appeared to be more genuinely “retarded” than the students from minority groups who had been placed in special education. In fact, it seemed to Jensen’s student that whereas the white children functioned at a low level both inside and outside the classroom, the minority children sometimes appeared “quite indistinguishable in every way from children of normal intelligence, except in their scholastic performance and in their performance on a variety of standard IQ tests (Jensen, 1974, p. 222).”

What’s true remains true

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

What’s true remains true, JayMan reminds us, even if the truth is unpopular — or supports a dangerous idea.

Double-Muscled Hogs

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

The same myostatin mutation responsible for double-muscled Belgian Blue cattle — and some freakishly muscular humans &mdahs; has been introduced into pigs:

To introduce this mutation in pigs, Kim used a gene-editing technology called a TALEN, which consists of a DNA-cutting enzyme attached to a DNA-binding protein. The protein guides the cutting enzyme to a specific gene inside cells, in this case in MSTN, which it then cuts. The cell’s natural repair system stitches the DNA back together, but some base pairs are often deleted or added in the process, rendering the gene dysfunctional.

The team edited pig fetal cells. After selecting one edited cell in which TALEN had knocked out both copies of the MSTN gene, Kim’s collaborator Xi-jun Yin, an animal-cloning researcher at Yanbian University in Yanji, China, transferred it to an egg cell, and created 32 cloned piglets.

Double-Muscled Hogs

Yin says that preliminary investigations, show that the pigs provide many of the double-muscled cow’s benefits — such as leaner meat and a higher yield of meat per animal. However, they also share some of its problems. Birthing difficulties result from the piglets’ large size, for instance. And only 13 of the 32 lived to 8 months old. Of these, two are still alive, says Yin, and only one is considered healthy.

Rather than trying to create meat from such pigs, Kim and Yin plan to use them to supply sperm that would be sold to farmers for breeding with normal pigs. The resulting offspring, with one disrupted MSTN gene and one normal one, would be healthier, albeit less muscly, they say; the team is now doing the same experiment with another, newer gene-editing technology called CRISPR/Cas9. Last September, researchers reported using a different method of gene editing to develop new breeds of double-muscled cows and double-muscled sheep (C. Proudfoot et al. Transg. Res. 24, 147–153; 2015).

Politics and Self-Control

Saturday, June 27th, 2015

There is a link between political ideology and the ability to exert self-control:

In a series of three studies with more than 300 participants, the authors found that people who identify as conservative perform better on tests of self-control than those who identify as liberal regardless of race, socioeconomic status and gender.

They also report that participants’ performance on the tests was influenced by how much they believed in the idea of free will, which the researchers define as the belief that a person is largely responsible for his or her own outcomes.

For example, conservatives who are more likely to embrace the idea of free will overwhelmingly agreed with statements like “Strength of mind can always overcome the body’s desires” and “People can overcome any obstacles if they truly want to.”

“Conservatives tend to believe they had a greater control over their outcomes, and that was predicting how they did on the test,” said Joshua Clarkson, a consumer psychologist at the University of Cincinnati and the lead author of the paper.

To screen for self-control, Clarkson and his colleagues relied on the Stroop test that asks participants to look at a list of color words such as “red” or “blue” that are printed in mismatching color fonts. (Picture the word “orange” printed in green letters.) Volunteers were asked to read the words, ignoring the color of the font, which can be challenging.

Inverse Weathervanes

Friday, June 26th, 2015

Sociology is useful, Razib Khan pointed out, because it has negative predictive value — which is odd, Gregory Cochran notes:

There are a lot more possible wrong theories than right ones — which means that identifying the right theories is difficult. Identifying anti-correct theories, exact negatives of the truth, should be just as difficult. Perverse, too, of course, but who’s counting?

Considering that sociologists typically deny the very existence of some of the most important causal factors on human behavior (like genetics), you’d think their theories would make about as much sense as Galenic medicine or Freudian psychology — not even wrong. Their theories should not make antisense — more like random nonsense.

Probably they manage this by denying experience. Experience can show that a method works centuries before anyone has a correct theory of why it works. There are things that your grandmother (and her grandmother) knew — (the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, blood is thicker than water) — and without those grannies, sociologists wouldn’t know what to disbelieve.

Fixation Error

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

In a crisis, the brain’s perceptual field narrows and shortens:

We become seized by a tremendous compulsion to fix on the problem we think we can solve, and quickly lose awareness of almost everything else. It’s an affliction to which even the most skilled and experienced professionals are prone.

Imagine a stalled car, stuck on a level crossing as a distant train bears down on it. Panic rising, the driver starts and restarts the engine rather than getting out of the car and running. The three doctors bent over Elaine Bromiley’s throat were intent on finding a way to intubate, just as the three pilots in the cockpit of United 173 were determined to establish the status of the landing gear. In neither case did these seasoned professionals look up and register the oncoming train: in the case of Elaine, her oxygen levels, and in the case of United 173, its fuel levels.

When people are fixating, their perception of time becomes highly erratic; minutes stretch and elongate. One of the most striking aspects of the transcript of United 173’s last minutes is the way the captain seems to be under the impression that he has plenty of time, right up until the moment the engines cut out. It’s not that he didn’t have the correct information; it’s that his brain was running to a different clock. Similarly, it’s not that the doctors weren’t aware that Elaine Bromiley’s oxygen supply was a problem; it’s that their sense of how long she had been without it was distorted. When Harmer interviewed him, the anaesthetic consultant confessed that he had no idea how much time had passed.

Imagine, for a moment, being one of those doctors. You have a patient who has stopped breathing. The clock is ticking. The standard procedure isn’t working, but you have employed it dozens of times before and you know it works. Each of the senior colleagues around you is experiencing the same difficulty, which reassures you. You cling to the belief that, between the three of you, you will solve the problem, if it is soluble at all. You vaguely register nurses coming into the room and saying things but you don’t really hear what they say. Perhaps it occurs to you to step back from the patient and demand a rethink, but you don’t want your peers to see you as panicky or naive. So you focus on the one thing you can control: the procedure. You repeat it over and over, hoping for a different result. It is madness, but it is comprehensible madness.

Not Seeking Visionary Experiences

Saturday, June 20th, 2015

Psychedelic researcher Dr. James Fadiman is now looking at microdosing:

Microdosing refers to taking extremely small doses of psychedelics, so small that the affects usually associated with such drugs are not evident or are “sub-perceptual,” while going about one’s daily activities.

[...]

He explained that, beginning in 2010, he had been doing a study of microdosing. Since research with LSD remains banned, he couldn’t do it in a lab, but had instead relied on a network of volunteers who administered their own doses and reported back with the results. The subjects kept logs of their doses and daily routines, and sent them via email to Fadiman. The results were quite interesting, he said.

“Micro-dosing turns out to be a totally different world,” he explained. “As someone said, the rocks don’t glow, even a little bit. But what many people are reporting is, at the end of the day, they say, ‘That was a really good day.’ You know, that kind of day when things kind of work. You’re doing a task you normally couldn’t stand for two hours, but you do it for three or four. You eat properly. Maybe you do one more set of reps. Just a good day. That seems to be what we’re discovering.”

Study participants functioned normally in their work and relationships, Fadiman said, but with increased focus, emotional clarity, and creativity. One physician reported that microdosing put him “in touch with a deep place of ease and beauty.” A singer reported being better able to hear and channel music.

In his book, a user named “Madeline” offered this report: “Microdosing of 10 to 20 micrograms (of LSD) allow me to increase my focus, open my heart, and achieve breakthrough results while remaining integrated within my routine. My wit, response time, and visual and mental acuity seem greater than normal on it.”

These results are not yet peer-reviewed, but they are suggestive.

“I just got a report from someone who did this for six weeks,” Fadiman said. “And his question to me was, ‘Is there any reason to stop?’”

It isn’t just Fadiman acolytes who are singing the praises of microdosing. One 65-year-old Sonoma County, California, small businesswoman who had never heard of the man told AlterNet she microdosed because it made her feel better and more effective.

“I started doing it in 1980, when I lived in San Francisco and one of my roommates had some mushrooms in the fridge,” said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous. “I just took a tiny sliver and found that it made me alert and energized all day. I wasn’t high or anything; it was more like having a coffee buzz that lasted all day long.”

This woman gave up on microdosing when her roommate’s supply of ‘shrooms ran out, but she has taken it up again recently.

“I’m very busy these days and I’m 65, so I get tired, and maybe just a little bit surly sometimes,” she admitted. “So when a friend brought over some chocolate mushrooms, I decided to try it again. It makes my days so much better! My mood improves, my energy level is up, and I feel like my synapses are really popping. I get things done, and I don’t notice any side-effects whatsoever.”

She’s not seeking visionary experiences, just a way to get through the day, she said.

In an in-depth post on the High Existence blog, Martijn Schirp examined the phenomenon in some detail, as well as describing his own adventure in microdosing:

“On a beautiful morning in Amsterdam, I grabbed my vial of LSD, diluted down with half high grade vodka and half distilled water, and told my friend to trust me and open his mouth. While semi-carefully measuring the droplets for his microdose, I told him to whirl it around in his mouth for a few minutes before swallowing the neuro-chemical concoction. I quickly followed suit,” Schirp wrote. “We had one of the best walking conversations of our lives.”

James Oroc, author of Tryptamine Palace: 5-MeO-DMT and the Sonoran Desert Toad, exposed another realm where microdosing is gaining popularity. In a Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies monograph titled “Psychedelics and Extreme Sports,” Oroc extolled the virtues of microdosing for athletes. Taking low-dose psychedelics improved “cognitive functioning, emotional balance, and physical stamina,” he wrote.

“Virtually all athletes who learn to use LSD?at psycholytic [micro] dosages believe that the use of these compounds improves both their stamina and their abilities,” Oroc continued. “According to the combined reports of 40 years of use by the extreme sports underground, LSD can increase your reflex time to lightning speed, improve your balance to the point of perfection, increase your concentration until you experience ‘tunnel vision,’ and make you impervious to weakness or pain. LSD’s effects in these regards amongst the extreme-sport community are in fact legendary, universal, and without dispute.”

Even the father of LSD, Albert Hofman seems to have been a fan. In his book, Fadiman notes that Hofmann microdosed himself well into old age and quoted him as saying LSD “would have gone on to be used as Ritalin if it hadn’t been so harshly scheduled.”

Psychonauts, take note. Microdosing isn’t going to take you to another astral plane, but it may help you get through the day.

The idea that LSD would improve athletic performance sounds crazy, but Doc Ellis did pitch a no-hitter on a not-so-microdose.

Analysis of Skeletal Remains

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

Race is not skin deep. In fact, you can often identify the race of a human skeleton, especially if you have access to the skull:

There are several features that can be used to determine the race of an individual. In terms of the skull, a great place to start is the maxillary bone. The left and right maxillary bones form the roof of the mouth, contain the upper 16 teeth in the adult (the upper 10 teeth in the child), and form the outline of the nasal cavity (the nasal cavity itself involves several other bones: ethmoid, inferior nasal conchae, lacrimal, nasal, sphenoid, and vomer).

The arch of the maxilla can be found in three basic shapes: hyperbolic, parabolic, and rounded. Each of the the following three races have their own shape: (1) African = hyperbolic, (2) European = parabolic, and (3) Asian = rounded.

The incisors, as well, differ in their basic shape. The incisors (click HERE to refresh your memory) fall into two basic categories, based on the shape of the lingual (tongue) surface of the tooth. These two categories are: (1) shovel-shaped, and (2) spatulate, or spatula-shaped. As there is more than one race with spatulate incisors, other indicators are necessary to positively identify race, although this single feature can be used to eliminate one of the possibilities. Each of the the following three races have their own shape: (1) African = spatulate , (2) European = spatulate , and (3) Asian = shovel-shaped.

In addition to determining gender, there are characteristics of the skull that can be used to determine the race of an individual. Many of these features are quite subtle, and require detailed examination of the skull. A couple of features, however, are more easily seen. For example, in people of African ancestry, the nasal opening is more flared. Another example is that of the zygomatic arch (or cheek bone), which is angled more forward in people of Asian ancestry, thus giving the person a slightly more flattened face.

Cranial features are not perfect indicators of ancestry:

Forensic anthropologists using multiple features claim at best 85% accuracy in their assessment of racial ancestry. When we know less about the context of a skull, we will be less and less accurate.

Here are some traits that vary between skulls with different race backgrounds. Most of them are on the face or palate.

  • Shape of the eye orbits, viewed from the front. Africans tend to a more rectangular shape, East Asians more circular, Europeans tend to have an “aviator glasses” shape.
  • Nasal sill: Europeans tend to have a pronounced angulation dividing the nasal floor from the anterior surface of the maxilla; Africans tend to lack a sharp angulation, Asians tend to be intermediate.
  • Nasal bridge: Africans tend to have an arching, “Quonset hut”‘ shape, Europeans tend to have high nasal bones with a peaked angle, Asians tend to have low nasal bones with a slight angulation.
  • Nasal aperture: Africans tend to have wide nasal apertures, Europeans narrow.
  • Subnasal prognathism: Africans tend to have maxillae that project more anteriorly (prognathic) below the nose, Europeans tend to be less projecting.
  • Zygomatic form: Asians tend to have anteriorly projecting cheekbones. The border of the frontal process (lateral to the orbit) faces forward. In Europeans and Africans, these face more laterally and the zygomatic recedes more posteriorly.

Facial Feminization

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

Facial feminization surgery involves extensive work:

Advancing the Scalp. A high forehead is an instant clue to maleness. Creating a lower hairline and recontouring the brow are procedures that must be done together, says Deschamps-Braly. In a 19-year-old male, the distance from hairline to the center of the eyebrow is 2.6 inches; it’s just two inches in a woman. Lowering the hairline with scalp advancement requires an ear to ear incision across the top of the head. The scalp is then pulled forward and reattached lower down. If the hair in the front section of scalp is thinning, a strip of it is trimmed away. Hair-follicle implants can be done later. Before the scalp is sutured into place at the lover level, the brow is raised lifting the eyebrows to a more feminine position.

Forehead feminization. The skulls of men and women are vastly different. “The foreheads of genetic males slope back—while a female brow is more vertical. Genetic males have a heavy bony ridge protruding above the eye sockets making the sockets deeper than a woman’s,” explains Deschamps-Braly. “We use a saw and remove the ridge carefully, often exposing the sinus cavity which we refill with some of the extra bone.” Males also have bony hoods over their eye sockets. To feminize the eyes, these need to be removed with a 40,000 rpm mechanical burr. A small percentage of facial feminization patients need their brows augmented above the brow ridge with the same synthetic resin used in making dentures. All this bone work can be done through the same long incision created for the brow advancement. “Without feminization, your forehead will always be a giveaway to your birth gender,” wrote Ousterhaut.

Filling temple depressions. Some men also have shallow depressions in the bone beside their eyes. If they’re noticeable, fat can be injected through small entry points in the temple hair.

Rhinoplasty. Jenner had previously had surgery on her nose, which is a common element in the facial feminization process. Male noses are larger and longer, with bulkier tips than a woman’s. They point straight ahead or down, while the ideal female nose is thinner, shorter and sometimes scoops up.The angle at the radix (where the nose meets the forehead) is sharper in males and slopes gently in females. These characteristics can be achieved with surgery.

Changing the shape of the chin. A man’s chin is 17 percent longer than a woman’s and wider as well. A woman’s chin tends to be tapered or oval. Feminization requires taking, on average, a three-eighths-inch horizontal slice out of the chin bone (think of it as removing one book near the bottom of a stack). The bottom piece has to be anchored with plates and screws. If the chin protrudes or is receding, the lowest section can be pushed back or advanced. If the chin needs narrowing, a vertical wedge of bone can be removed at the tip below the tooth roots.

Lower-jaw tapering. The male jaw looks square from the front, but it has a wide, V-shaped bend between the ear and the chin. In contrast, a female jaw has a soft curve from the ear to the chin. The angular male jaw can be rounded by cutting the sharpness from the bend with a right-angle saw and smoothing the edge with a mechanical burr. This is a job for someone very experienced, because running through the jaw are blood vessels and nerves that relay sensation from the lower lip, front teeth, and chin.

Diminishing the Adam’s apple. The Adam’s apple is thyroid cartilage that sits on top of the trachea—the breathing tube—and anchors the vocal cords. Both men and women have one, but a man’s is more prominent. It can be reduced through a small incision under the chin that heals almost invisibly. In 5 percent of cases, male-to-female transgender patients (like Jenner) have it reduced before feminization surgery; Jenner underwent a tracheal reduction in January of 2014.

Raising the cheeks. While rounded cheeks are considered attractive in both men and women, Deschamps-Braly cautions against using cheek implants during the feminization surgery. “I do a cheek lift instead of implants. The cheek looks better. Implants are rarely necessary.”

Shortening lip height. Men typically have a longer upper lip area, averaging 21 millimeters in height compared to 15 millimeters for women. And it gets longer with age. This can be shortened with a short incision right under the nostrils. Lips can then be filled with dermal fat or hyaluronic acid.

Vocal pitch. This is one male trait that isn’t easy to change. Operating on vocal cords to make the voice less husky is risky. It could become deeper and chronically hoarse. “There have been great successes,” says Deschamps-Braly, “but the area is a no-man’s land and complications can’t be corrected.” For this reason, many male-to-female transgender patients skip the surgery and instead hire voice coaches to help them.

ROV Visitor

Monday, June 8th, 2015

Off the coast of Louisiana, 2,000 feet down, a remotely operated vehicle had a curious visitor. Watch — and listen to the monitoring scientists geek out:

New Map of the Lymphatic System

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015

The brain is directly connected to the lymphatic system by vessels previously thought not to exist:

The discovery was made possible by the work of Antoine Louveau, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in Kipnis’ lab. The vessels were detected after Louveau developed a method to mount a mouse’s meninges – the membranes covering the brain – on a single slide so that they could be examined as a whole. “It was fairly easy, actually,” he said. “There was one trick: We fixed the meninges within the skullcap, so that the tissue is secured in its physiological condition, and then we dissected it. If we had done it the other way around, it wouldn’t have worked.”

Maps of the Lymphatic System

After noticing vessel-like patterns in the distribution of immune cells on his slides, he tested for lymphatic vessels and there they were. The impossible existed. The soft-spoken Louveau recalled the moment: “I called Jony [Kipnis] to the microscope and I said, ‘I think we have something.’”

As to how the brain’s lymphatic vessels managed to escape notice all this time, Kipnis described them as “very well hidden” and noted that they follow a major blood vessel down into the sinuses, an area difficult to image. “It’s so close to the blood vessel, you just miss it,” he said. “If you don’t know what you’re after, you just miss it.”

A Rime of Ice atop a Sea of Habit

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015

Julian Jaynes explored the nature of consciousness and came up with an unusual explanation:

To explore the origins of this inner country, Jaynes first presents a masterful precis of what consciousness is not. It is not an innate property of matter. It is not merely the process of learning. It is not, strangely enough, required for a number of rather complex processes. Conscious focus is required to learn to put together puzzles or execute a tennis serve or even play the piano. But after a skill is mastered, it recedes below the horizon into the fuzzy world of the unconscious. Thinking about it makes it harder to do. As Jaynes saw it, a great deal of what is happening to you right now does not seem to be part of your consciousness until your attention is drawn to it. Could you feel the chair pressing against your back a moment ago? Or do you only feel it now, now that you have asked yourself that question?

Consciousness, Jaynes tells readers, in a passage that can be seen as a challenge to future students of philosophy and cognitive science, “is a much smaller part of our mental life than we are conscious of, because we cannot be conscious of what we are not conscious of.” His illustration of his point is quite wonderful. “It is like asking a flashlight in a dark room to search around for something that does not have any light shining upon it. The flashlight, since there is light in whatever direction it turns, would have to conclude that there is light everywhere. And so consciousness can seem to pervade all mentality when actually it does not.”

Perhaps most striking to Jaynes, though, is that knowledge and even creative epiphanies appear to us without our control. You can tell which water glass is the heavier of a pair without any conscious thought — you just know, once you pick them up. And in the case of problem-solving, creative or otherwise, we give our minds the information we need to work through, but we are helpless to force an answer. Instead it comes to us later, in the shower or on a walk. Jaynes told a neighbor that his theory finally gelled while he was watching ice moving on the St. John River. Something that we are not aware of does the work.

The picture Jaynes paints is that consciousness is only a very thin rime of ice atop a sea of habit, instinct, or some other process that is capable of taking care of much more than we tend to give it credit for. “If our reasonings have been correct,” he writes, “it is perfectly possible that there could have existed a race of men who spoke, judged, reasoned, solved problems, indeed did most of the things that we do, but were not conscious at all.”

Jaynes believes that language needed to exist before what he has defined as consciousness was possible. So he decides to read early texts, including The Iliad and The Odyssey, to look for signs of people who aren’t capable of introspection — people who are all sea, no rime. And he believes he sees that in The Iliad. He writes that the characters in The Iliad do not look inward, and they take no independent initiative. They only do what is suggested by the gods. When something needs to happen, a god appears and speaks. Without these voices, the heroes would stand frozen on the beaches of Troy, like puppets.

Speech was already known to be localized in the left hemisphere, instead of spread out over both hemispheres. Jaynes suggests that the right hemisphere’s lack of language capacity is because it used to be used for something else — specifically, it was the source of admonitory messages funneled to the speech centers on the left side of the brain. These manifested themselves as hallucinations that helped guide humans through situations that required complex responses — decisions of statecraft, for instance, or whether to go on a risky journey.

The combination of instinct and voices — that is, the bicameral mind — would have allowed humans to manage for quite some time, as long as their societies were rigidly hierarchical, Jaynes writes. But about 3,000 years ago, stress from overpopulation, natural disasters, and wars overwhelmed the voices’ rather limited capabilities. At that point, in the breakdown of the bicameral mind, bits and pieces of the conscious mind would have come to awareness, as the voices mostly died away. That led to a more flexible, though more existentially daunting, way of coping with the decisions of everyday life — one better suited to the chaos that ensued when the gods went silent. By The Odyssey, the characters are capable of something like interior thought, he says. The modern mind, with its internal narrative and longing for direction from a higher power, appear.

Blue light for infectious diseases

Monday, June 1st, 2015

Researchers are looking at blue light treatment for infectious diseases:

Blue light, particularly in the wavelength range of 405–470 nm, has attracted increasing attention due to its intrinsic antimicrobial effect without the addition of exogenous photosensitizers. In addition, it is commonly accepted that blue light is much less detrimental to mammalian cells than ultraviolet irradiation, which is another light-based antimicrobial approach being investigated.

In this review, we discussed the blue light sensing systems in microbial cells, antimicrobial efficacy of blue light, the mechanism of antimicrobial effect of blue light, the effects of blue light on mammalian cells, and the effects of blue light on wound healing. It has been reported that blue light can regulate multi-cellular behavior involving cell-to-cell communication via blue light receptors in bacteria, and inhibit biofilm formation and subsequently potentiate light inactivation. At higher radiant exposures, blue light exhibits a broad-spectrum antimicrobial effect against both Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria.

Blue light therapy is a clinically accepted approach for Propionibacterium acnes infections. Clinical trials have also been conducted to investigate the use of blue light for Helicobacter pylori stomach infections and have shown promising results. Studies on blue light inactivation of important wound pathogenic bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa have also been reported. The mechanism of blue light inactivation of P. acnes, H. pylori, and some oral bacteria is the photo-excitation of intracellular porphyrins and the subsequent production of cytotoxic reactive oxygen species. Although it may be the case that the mechanism of blue light inactivation of wound pathogens (e.g., S. aureus, P. aeruginosa) is the same as that of P. acnes, this hypothesis has not been rigorously tested. Limited and discordant results have been reported regarding the effects of blue light on mammalian cells and wound healing.

Under certain wavelengths and radiant exposures, blue light may cause cell dysfunction by the photo-excitation of blue light sensitive chromophores, including flavins and cytochromes, within mitochondria or/and peroxisomes. Further studies should be performed to optimize the optical parameters (e.g., wavelength, radiant exposure) to ensure effective and safe blue light therapies for infectious disease. In addition, studies are also needed to verify the lack of development of microbial resistance to blue light.

When Birds Squawk, Other Species Listen

Monday, June 1st, 2015

When birds squawk, other species listen:

Studies in recent years by many researchers, including Dr. Greene, have shown that animals such as birds, mammals and even fish recognize the alarm signals of other species. Some can even eavesdrop on one another across classes. Red-breasted nuthatches listen to chickadees. Dozens of birds listen to tufted titmice, who act like the forest’s crossing guards. Squirrels and chipmunks eavesdrop on birds, sometimes adding their own thoughts. In Africa, vervet monkeys recognize predator alarm calls by superb starlings.

[...]

So-called “seet” calls, peeps produced by many small songbirds in response to a raptor on the wing, are well-known to ornithologists. Conventional wisdom held that the calls dissipated quickly and were produced only for other birds nearby. However, that’s not what Dr. Greene noticed: chatter sweeping across the hillside, then birds diving into bushes.

Studying the phenomenon, he documented a “distant early-warning system” among the birds in which the alarm calls were picked up by other birds and passed through the forest at more than 100 miles per hour. Dr. Greene likened it to a bucket brigade at a fire.

The information rippled ahead of a predator minutes before it flew overhead, giving prey time to hide. Moreover, while raptors can hear well at low frequencies, they are not very good at hearing at 6 to 10 kilohertz, the higher frequency at which seet calls are produced. “So it’s sort of a private channel,” he said.

Dr. Greene turned to chickadees, which are highly attuned to threats. When one sees a perched raptor nearby, it will issue its well-known “chick-a-dee” call, a loud, frequent and harsh sound known as a mobbing call because its goal is to attract other birds to harass the predator until it departs.

In 2005, Dr. Greene was an author of an article in the journal Science that demonstrated how black-capped chickadees embed information about the size of predators into these calls. When faced with a high-threat raptor perched nearby, the birds not only call more frequently, they also attach more dee’s to their call.

Raptors tend to be the biggest threat to birds nearest their own size because they can match the maneuverability of their prey. So a large goshawk might only merit a chick-a-dee-dee from a nimble chickadee, while that little pygmy owl will elicit a chick-a-dee followed by five or even 10 or 12 additional dee syllables, Dr. Greene said.

The researchers next showed that red-breasted nuthatches, which are chickadee-size and frequently flock with them in the winter, eavesdrop on their alarm language, too.

Dr. Greene, working with a student, has also found that “squirrels understand ‘bird-ese,’ and birds understand ‘squirrel-ese.’ ” When red squirrels hear a call announcing a dangerous raptor in the air, or they see such a raptor, they will give calls that are acoustically “almost identical” to the birds, Dr. Greene said. (Researchers have found that eastern chipmunks are attuned to mobbing calls by the eastern tufted titmouse, a cousin of the chickadee.)