(Phys.org)—A team of four scientists has published a Perspectives piece in the journal Science outlining their arguments for reaching back further in time than others have suggested for the beginning of the Anthropocene—a geologic epoch defined by the impact of homo sapiens on planet Earth. William Ruddiman, Erle Ellis, Jed Kaplan and Dorian Fuller suggest that current arguments that point to modern exploits overlook the huge impact of forest clearing and farming many thousands of years ago.
Humans have had a major impact on planet Earth, there is no debating that. But have our efforts resulted in an un-reversible geologic impact? And if so, when exactly did it happen? That is what climatologists, geologists and other scientists have been debating for the past several years. Back in 2000 Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer published a paper igniting the debate by coining the word Anthropocene to describe what they felt was the current epoch—where humans are the driving force, instead of nature. They suggested its start was the 1700's because that was when the industrial revolution got going.
Over the past fifteen years, many others have published papers offering their ideas on when the Anthropocene got its start, with some debating whether it ever really did. In this new paper, the authors suggest that if a start date is to be identified it should take into account the massive changes wrought by cutting down forests and the start of agriculture, which they say pushes the date back 11,000 years, or perhaps to the time when humans began wiping out other large animals such as the woolly mammoth, around 50,000 years ago.
The thing that is making it difficult to settle the matter is the absence of a clearly identifiable marker, known as a golden spike, e.g., the comet that killed off the dinosaurs. Some have suggested that scientists finding traces of radiation worldwide from nuclear tests is such a marker, while others point to the finding of carbon ash (due to burning coal) in soils.
A new brain-scanning technique could change the way scientists think about human focus.
Human attention isn’t stable, ever, and it costs us: lives lost when drivers space out, billions of dollars wasted on inefficient work, and mental disorders that hijack focus. Much of the time, people don’t realize they’ve stopped paying attention until it’s too late. This “flight of the mind,” as Virginia Woolf called it, is often beyond conscious control.
So researchers at Princeton set out to build a tool that could show people what their brains are doing in real time, and signal the moments when their minds begin to wander. And they've largely succeeded, a paper published today in the journal Nature Neuroscience reports. The scientists who invented this attention machine, led by professor Nick Turk-Browne, are calling it a “mind booster.” It could, they say, change the way we think about paying attention—and even introduce new ways of treating illnesses like depression.
Here’s how the brain decoder works: You lie down in an a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine (fMRI)—similar to the MRI machines used to diagnose diseases—which lets scientists track brain activity. Once you're in the scanner, you watch a series of pictures and press a button when you see certain targets. The task is like a video game—the dullest video game in the world, really, which is the point. You see a face, overlaid atop an image of a landscape. Your job is to press a button if the face is female, as it is 90 percent of the time, but not if it’s male. And ignore the landscape. (There’s also a reverse task, in which you’re asked to judge whether the scene is outside or inside, and ignore the faces.)
"Big idea: Teaching kids to ask smart questions on their own
A four-year-old asks on average about 400 questions per day, and an adult hardly asks any. Our school system is structured around rewards for regurgitating the right answer, and not asking smart questions – in fact, it discourages asking questions. With the result that as we grow older, we stop asking questions. Yet asking good questions is essential to find and develop solutions, and an important skill in innovation, strategy, and leadership. So why do we stop asking questions – and more importantly, why don’t we train each other, and our future leaders, to ask the right questions starting from early on?"
A maverick neuroscientist believes he has deciphered the code by which the brain forms long-term memories.
Theodore Berger, biomedicínský inženýr a neurolog v Los Angeles, si budoucnost pacientů s těžkou poruchou paměti představuje tak, že jí bude moci opět získat pomoc z elektronického implantátu. U lidí, jejichž mozek utrpěl poškození, mrtvici nebo Alzheimerova chorobu, narušení neuronální sítě často brání vytváření dlouhodobých vzpomínek. Již více než dvě desetiletí, Berger navrhuje křemíkové čipy napodobující signály, který tyto neurony vytvářeli, když řádně fungovali.
Researchers manipulate mouse neurons to create a false memory; the work could lead to a better understanding of how memories form.
Vědci vytvořili falešnou paměť u myší tím, že manipulují neurony, které nesou vzpomínku. Práce dále ukazuje, jak nespolehlivá paměť může být.
Jedním z dlouhodobých cílů práce, je být schopni identifikovat nové metody pro pomoc pacientům s kognitivními poruchami. "Není to protože chceme implantovat některé falešné zkušenosti do lidské mysli, ale protože by mohlo být užitečné, vyvinout nakonec metody ke snížení kognitivní abnormality spojené s psychickými chorobami, jako jsou bludy u pacientů se schizofrenií , "říká Tonegawa.
Researchers developed a neuromorphic system that can carry out complex sensorimotor tasks in real time. They demonstrate a task that requires a short-term memory and context-dependent decision-making.
They combined neuromorphic neurons into networks that implemented neural processing modules equivalent to so-called "finite-state machines". Behavior can be formulated as a "finite-state machine" and thus transferred to the neuromorphic hardware in an automated manner.
We can think of the history of physics as an attempt to unify the world around us: Gradually, over many centuries, we’ve come to see that seemingly unrelated phenomena are intimately connected. The physicist Steven Weinberg of the University of Texas, Austin, received his Nobel Prize in 1979 for a major breakthrough in that quest — showing how electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force are manifestations of the same underlying theory (he shared the prize with Abdus Salam and Sheldon Glashow). That work became a cornerstone of the Standard Model of particle physics, which describes how the fundamental building blocks of the universe come together to create the world we see.
In his new book To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science, Weinberg examines how modern science was born. By tracing the development of what we now call the “scientific method” — an approach, developed over centuries, that emphasizes experiments and observations rather than reasoning from first principles — he makes the argument that science, unlike other ways of interpreting the world around us, can offer true progress. Through science, our understanding of the world improves over time, building on what has come before. Mistakes can happen, but are eventually corrected. Weinberg spoke with Quanta Magazine about the past and future of physics, the role of philosophy within science, and the startling possibility that the universe we see around us is a tiny sliver of a much larger multiverse. An edited and condensed version of the interview follows.
Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has shown that the DNA of bacteria that live in the body can pass a trait to offspring in a way similar to the parents' own DNA. According to the authors, the discovery means scientists need to consider a significant new factor -- the DNA of microbes passed from mother to child -- in their efforts to understand how genes influence illness and health. The study appears online Feb. 16 in Nature.
Bacteria are most familiar through their roles in harmful infections. But scientists have realized that such bacteria are only a tiny fraction of the bacterial communities that live in and on our bodies. Most bacteria are commensal, which means they do not cause harm and often confer benefits.
Commensal bacteria influence traits such as weight and behavior. But until now, researchers thought the bacteria that exerted these effects were acquired during a person's life. The study is the first to show that bacterial DNA can pass from parent to offspring in a manner that affects specific traits such as immunity and inflammation.
The researchers linked commensal bacteria in mice to the animals' susceptibility to a gut injury. Mice with certain inherited bacteria are susceptible to the injury, which is caused by exposure to a chemical. Female mice pass the bacteria to their offspring, making them vulnerable to the injury. Others carrying different bacteria are less susceptible.
In several fields of research, scientists have been confronted intermittently with the sudden, unexplained appearance of new or altered traits in mice. The traits often spread from one mouse habitat to the next, suggesting a spreading microbial infection is responsible. But the traits also consistently pass from mother to offspring, suggesting a genetic cause.
Thaddeus Stappenbeck, MD, PhD, a professor of pathology and immunology, and co-senior author Virgin, the Edward Mallinckrodt Professor of Pathology and head of the Department of Pathology and Immunology, encountered this problem in their studies of inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. They were surprised to find that roughly half their mice had low levels in the gut of IgA, an antibody linked to these disorders.
IgA helps defend the body against harmful invaders. It is commonly present in mucus made by the body in areas where the exterior world encounters the body's interior, such as the eyes, nose, throat and gut. When the scientists housed mice with low levels of the antibody with mice that had high levels of the antibody, all of the mice ended up with low antibody levels in a few weeks. When they bred the mice, the offspring whose mothers had low levels of the antibody also had low levels.
Eventually, the scientists learned that one of the culprits likely responsible for the spread of low antibody levels is a bacterium called Sutterella. This bacterium and others found in the low-IgA mice could explain both ways that decreased antibody levels were spreading: Mice that were housed together acquired low antibody levels through normal spread of the bacteria, and mouse mothers passed the same bacteria to their descendants.
"As teachers, allowing students to see failure as a negative experience is one of the worst things we can do.
Granted, this isn’t unique to education. The idea of risk-taking, failing, looking, leaping, try-try-again is ingrained in our cultural DNA. But in education, we certainly have made it dramatic. In fact, we don’t even need the whole word anymore. Failure erodes to fail, which itself erodes to simply F..."
On average, people pick up their smartphone 221 times a day to do things with it. It's no secret that we are getting more and more addicted to these handsets, but have you wondered what effect that is having on your mind and your body? Scientists are definitely curious and have a few ideas
Many studies show us that our brains prefer storytelling to facts.When we read facts, only the language parts of our brains work to understand the meaning. When we read a story, the language parts of our brains and any other part of the brain that we would use if we were actually experiencing what we’re reading, light up.This means that it’s easier for us to remember stories than facts. Our brains can't make major distinctions between a story we’re reading about and something we are actually doing....
North Carolina State University researchers have developed methods for electronically manipulating the flight muscles of moths and for monitoring the electrical signals that moths use to control those muscles. The goal: remotely-controlled moths, or “biobots,” for use in emergency response, such as search and rescue operations.
“The idea would be to attach sensors to moths … to create a flexible, aerial sensor network that can identify survivors or public health hazards in the wake of a disaster,” said Alper Bozkurt, PhD, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State and co-author of a JOVE paper on the work.
Bozkurt, with Amit Lal, PhD, of Cornell University, previously developed a method for attaching electrodes to a moth during its pupal stage, when the caterpillar is in a cocoon undergoing metamorphosis. Now, Bozkurt’s research team wants to find out precisely how a moth coordinates its muscles during flight.
With much of our attention focused the rise of advanced artificial intelligence, few consider the potential for radically amplified human intelligence (IA). It’s an open question as to which will come first, but a technologically boosted brain could be just as powerful — and just as dangerous – as AI.
As a species, we’ve been amplifying our brains for millennia. Or at least we’ve tried to. Looking to overcome our cognitive limitations, humans have employed everything from writing, language, and meditative techniques straight through to today’s nootropics. But none of these compare to what’s in store. Unlike efforts to develop artificial general intelligence (AGI), or even an artificial superintelligence (SAI), the human brain already presents us with a pre-existing intelligence to work with. Radically extending the abilities of a pre-existing human mind — whether it be through genetics, cybernetics or the integration of external devices — could result in something quite similar to how we envision advanced AI.
Looking to learn more about this, I contacted futurist Michael Anissimov, a blogger atAccelerating Future and a co-organizer of the Singularity Summit. He’s given this subject considerable thought — and warns that we need to be just as wary of IA as we are AI. The real objective of IA is to create super-Einsteins, persons qualitatively smarter than any human being that has ever lived. There will be a number of steps on the way there.
The first step will be to create a direct neural link to information. Think of it as a "telepathic Google." The next step will be to develop brain-computer interfaces that augment the visual cortex, the best-understood part of the brain. This would boost our spatial visualization and manipulation capabilities. Imagine being able to imagine a complex blueprint with high reliability and detail, or to learn new blueprints quickly. There will also be augmentations that focus on other portions of sensory cortex, like tactile cortex and auditory cortex. The third step involves the genuine augmentation of pre-frontal cortex. This is the Holy Grail of IA research — enhancing the way we combine perceptual data to form concepts. The end result would be cognitive super-McGyvers, people who perform apparently impossible intellectual feats. For instance, mind controlling other people, beating the stock market, or designing inventions that change the world almost overnight. This seems impossible to us now in the same way that all our modern scientific achievements would have seemed impossible to a stone age human — but the possibility is real.
For it to be otherwise would require that there is some mysterious metaphysical ceiling on qualitative intelligence that miraculously exists at just above the human level. Given that mankind was the first generally intelligent organism to evolve on this planet, that seems highly implausible. We shouldn't expect version one to be the final version, any more than we should have expected the Model T to be the fastest car ever built.
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