"We all believe we live in an exceptional time, perhaps even a critical moment in the history of the species. Technology appears to have given us power over the atom, our genomes, the planet-with potentially dire consequences. This attitude may stem from nothing more than our desire to place ourselves at the center of the universe. "It's part of the fundamental limited perspective of our species to believe that this moment is the critical one and critical in every way-for good, for bad, for the final end of humanity," says Nicholas Christenfeld, a psychologist at the University of California, San Diego. Imagining the end of the world is nigh [...]
Soon human office workers will not have to put on their pants or get up from their cubicles to attend meetings. This fall, a company called Anybots will start selling a robot called QB that is designed to attend meetings, on-site tours, or probably any other gathering or presentation that people can't or don't really want to be at in person. It looks a little bit like a vacuum cleaner or push-mower with video-camera eyes and a hat with a screen on it. (Or, as Scientific American notes, Olivia Newton-John.) A lazy human can control a QB over the internet from the comfort of his or her [...]
Californian engineering firm Samson Motorworks is developing a motorcycle that will transform into a mini two-seater airplane: "The company is building a prototype of its Switchblade Multi Mode Vehicle, or flying motorcycle, and hopes to sell a $60,000 do-it-yourself kit as early as 2011. (Engine and avionics are sold separately, for about $25,000 total)." Excuse me? A DO-IT-YOURSELF-KIT?! To build a motorcycle that will rocket into the air? Like a jetski that flies in the sky, you say. That people will assemble at home. How many people will kill themselves with this? It's like, Well, I'm pretty sure I followed those directions right. That video they included seemed pretty [...]
This is not Frank, the terrifying rabbit psychic mind-monster from Donnie Darko. It is a microscopic aquatic fly larva enlarged 20 times-one of the many beautiful pictures from Scientific American's slideshow of Nikon's Small World Photomicrography Competition.
This is pretty embarrassing, but one night, when I was a freshman in college, my friend Todd and I got so high from smoking pot that we thought we could read each other's minds. We were in my room doing too many bong hits and one of us (I'll take responsibility, though I don't remember for sure) had the brilliant idea of, "What would happen if we drank the bongwater?" I know: yuck: we might as well have eaten used cigarette butts. But this is the state we'd put ourselves in.
The good folks at Scientific American magazine dedicate their new issue to "The 169 Best Illusions." (Why 169? I don't know.) "Illusions make great eye candy," they say. "But they also serve a serious purpose. When we look at an illusion, we 'see' something that does not match the physical reality of the world around us. Scientists take advantage of this discrepancy between perception and reality to gain insights into how our eyes and brains gather and interpret (or misinterpret) visual information." For us here on the Internet, they provide a fun slideshow of ten samples and explain what's going on in each.
My one complaint: [...]
"When Gupta was asked how a physician deals with such apparent medical miracles, he fell into the fallacy of the argument from ignorance: 'When I was researching this for a long time, I thought I was going to explain it all away physiologically. But things that I heard and validated and subsequently believed convinced me that there were things that I could not explain. There were things that were happening at that moment, that near-death experience moment, that simply could not be explained with existing scientific knowledge.' So what? The fact that we cannot fully explain a mystery with natural means does not mean it requires a supernatural explanation. It [...]
MC Serch was right. It was a white guy that started all that. And that white guy's name was… Felix Unger! Scientific American reports on a recent study asserting that the metaphorical association of white with "good" and black with "bad" has at its roots the human desire for cleanliness: "The colors white and black have carried layers of moral meaning since long before Americans' infatuation with cowboys and automobiles. Indeed, some scientists believe that our conception of blackness and sin may be entangled with a fundamental and ancient fear of dirt and contagion that remains deeply wired in our neurons today."
"We could send senior-citizen volunteers to the Red Planet, where they could spend their final months conducting experiments, laying the groundwork for future permanent settlements and digging their own graves." That's from this great piece at Scientific American in response to the op-ed Lawrence Krauss (a Scientific American columnist) wrote in Monday's Times about sending astronauts on one-way trips to Mars. Apparently, the greatest obstacle to man's visiting the red planet lies not in launch capabilities or guidance systems or the threat of Martian attack, but rather in the dangers posed by exposure to the sun's powerful radiation on the return flight. Building a strong enough shield is [...]
"There was absolutely no link between a woman's relationship status, the number of times she'd been on the receiving end of a breakup, or her body esteem and the number of gay male friends in her life," observes Scientific American's Jesse Bering of a recent study which debunks myths about the type of lady he calls "the elusive fag hag." In the course of the discussion, research psychologist Bering cites an impressive number of other appellations with which I was previously unfamiliar. "The French refer to such women as soeurettes ('Little Sisters'), the German brand them as Schwulen-Muttis ('Gay Moms'), and the Mexicans know them as joteras ('jota' [...]
"That afternoon, Pansy had moved into her daughter Rosie's nest from the previous night. As Pansy's breathing became labored and her movements diminished, Rosie and Blossom sat with her, grooming her and watching her. Chippy arrived shortly before Pansy likely died. All three periodically inspected Pansy's face and limbs, with Chippy at one point touching her neck." -Katherine Harmon of Scientific American writes about a University of Stirling study of a family of chimpanzees' reactions to the elderly mother's death from natural causes. It's very interesting from a scientific perspective in that the chimps were… Oh… Oh, Jesus… I'm sorry… I… I can't…
"I was simply trying to find the way the olfactory tubercle responds to odors." That's neurologist Daniel Wesson, proving that science dorks are the very best kind of dorks, as he recalls the time he noticed that the clunk his coffee mug made on the counter in the lab registered a spike in the odor-receiving area of the brain in the mice he was studying. That kismet eureka moment at the Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research in Orangeburg, NY, led Wesson and his partner Donald Wilson to the discovery of what they believe may be a new category of sensory perception: the combination of smell and sound: [...]
Scientific American translates that terrifying letter abstract about shrimp eyes from Nature into English. "The compound eye of the peacock mantis, the new study's authors found, harbors a natural quarter-wave retarder, a sort of filter that converts circularly polarized light to linearly polarized light, which then activates receptors below." (Umm. Okay. And that's good, right?) Also, the peacock mantis shrimp are very strong. They range from 3 to 18 centimeters in length, but have been known to shatter thick aquarium glass with a blow from a forelimb. Says Roy Caldwell, a University of California, Berkeley, biologist: "We have had a couple cases where animals have hit a pane [...]