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  • February 20, 2011
  • 10:30 PM

Is Romantic Love a Western, Heterosexual Construct?

by The Neurocritic in The Neurocritic

ROMANTIC LOVE WAS INVENTED TO MANIPULATE WOMEN-Jenny Holzer, TruismsDoes romantic love manipulate women into providing free domestic labor and sexual favors for men? Some feminist views of romantic love [and the institution of marriage] portray it as controlling and oppressive (Burns, 2000):‘STOP HUMAN SACRIFICE. END MARRIAGE NOW.’ ‘IT STARTS WHEN YOU SINK IN HIS ARMS AND ENDS WITH YOUR ARMS IN HIS SINK.’ From a feminist perspective, romantic love was, and is, seen to obscure or disguise gender inequality and women’s oppression in intimate heterosexual relationships.But some in the men's movement see romantic love as dangerous for men as well as women, because it prevents men from being vulnerable (Bloodwood, 2003):...historically, romantic love has been a highly gendered but workable deal in which men provide women with social status and material goods while women provide men with sex/affective labour. Thus romantic relationships not only reinforce women’s second class status but also reinforce men’s lack of sex/affective autonomy, so that romantic love is equally dangerous for women and for men.Furthermore, romantic love is often portrayed as a relatively recent construct that is specific to Western societies. A cross-cultural study by Jankowiak and Fischer (1992) claimed that:The anthropological study of romantic (or passionate) love is virtually nonexistent due to the widespread belief that romantic love is unique to Euro-American culture. This belief is by no means confined to anthropology. The historian Philippe Aries (1962), for example, argues that affection was of secondary importance to more utilitarian ambitions throughout much of European history.However, their own analysis of the ethnographic literature found that romantic love (however ill-defined) could be observed in 147 out of 166 societies, including 77% in Sub-Saharan Africa and 94% in East Eurasia (Jankowiak & Fischer, 1992). Likewise, evolutionary anthropologist Helen Fisher and colleagues suggest that romantic love evolved as one of three motivational brain systems for mating, reproduction, and parenting (Fisher et al., 2002).The biological concept that romantic love (or attraction) is an emotional/motivational system in the human brain has prompted some neuroimaging investigators to search for its elusive neural correlates. How do you measure long-term intense romantic love in an fMRI experiment? Researchers have adopted the practical (yet flawed) strategy of examining the hemodynamic response to viewing pictures of a partner with whom participants were "madly in love".Previous studies on the "neural correlates of romantic love" have focused on recently attached heterosexuals from the UK (Bartels & Zeki, 2000) or US (Aron et al., 2005). One of the main findings from these studies is that the expected dopamine/reward areas [including ventral tegmental area (VTA), substantia nigra (SN), and caudate nucleus] showed greater activation when looking at the pictures of the partner, compared to pictures of a close friend or neutral acquaintance. And in the previous post on Posterior Hippocampus and Sexual Frequency, we saw a similar response in a specifically recruited group of participants still "madly in love" after 21 years of marriage (Acevedo et al., 2011).So are the "neural correlates of romantic love" the same in non-Western, non-heterosexual participants? Two recent papers attempted to spread the love to include diverse "others" (Xu et al., 2010; Zeki & Romaya, 2010). Is the simple act of asking if the Chinese and teh gays are "just like us" when it comes to love offensive? I'll let you be the judge.Although the original study of Bartels and Zeki (2000) recruited an ethnically and culturally diverse group of subjects, all were heterosexual. Zeki and Romaya (2010) wanted to extend this work to include romantically involved gay participants. This time, they included 12 females (6 in straight and 6 in lesbian relationships) and 12 males (6 in straight and 6 in gay relationships) in their fMRI experiment. I won't belabor the methods [and the critiques thereof] here, but will refer the reader to Posterior Hippocampus and Sexual Frequency.1Fig. 2 (Zeki & Romaya, 2010). Illustration of the t statistic for the contrast Loved > Neutral showing selected activations superimposed over averaged anatomical sections. Random effects analysis with 24 subjects. Background threshold p uncorrected < 0.001. (A) Medial sagittal plane (x = 0) showing activations in the tegmentum [VTA], hypothalamus and [cerebellar] vermis. (B) Sagittal plane x = −12 (LH) showing activation in the caudate head, anterior cingulate and parietal cortex. (C) Horizontal plane z = −30; right cerebellum. (D) Horizontal plane z = −9; mid insula, left hemisphere. As for differences between the groups, there were none: no main or interactive effects of gender or sexual orientation. The results were the same for gay and straight, male and female participants [but remember that the numbers were very low, n=6 for each of the four cells]. So this particular [underpowered] study suggests that "the romantic love brain circuit" (i.e., familiarity, attention, memory, reward, etc. activity associated with looking at your partner's face) is not restricted to heterosexuals. Did they really expect anything different? Actually not, Zeki and Romaya predicted a null effect.However, the authors themselves note the difficulties inherent in their entire endeavor:We begin by emphasizing that any study of so complex and overpowering a sentiment as love is fraught with difficulties. Chief among these is that the sentiment itself involves many components – erotic, emotional, and cognitive – that are almost impossible to isolate from the overall sentiment of love. ... While acknowledging this difficulty, we tried as best we could to circumvent it, by applying a uniform criterion – that of a loved face – for studying the brain's love system. Another problem is the difficulty of controlling the mental processes that occur when subjects view their lovers' faces. The only way to address this is through the statistical methods we have used to analyze our results. We have employed a random effects analysis using the summary st... Read more »

  • February 19, 2011
  • 02:06 PM

The Web of Morgellons

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A fascinating new paper: Morgellons Disease, or Antipsychotic-Responsive Delusional Parasitosis, in an HIV Patient: Beliefs in The Age of the Internet“Mr. A” was a 43-year-old man...His most pressing medical complaint was worrisome fatigue. He was not depressed...had no formal psychiatric history, no family psychiatric history, and he was a successful businessman.He was referred to the psychiatry department by his primary-care physician (PCP) because of a 2-year-long complaint of pruritus [itching] accompanied by the belief of being infested with parasites. Numerous visits to the infectious disease clinic and an extensive medical work-up...had not uncovered any medical disorder, to the patient’s great frustration.Although no parasites were ever trapped, Mr. A caused skin damage by probing for them and by applying topical solutions such as hydrogen peroxide to “bring them to the surface.” After reading about Morgellons disease on the Internet, he “recalled” extruding particles from his skin, including “dirt” and “fuzz.”During the initial consultation visit with the psychiatrist, Mr. A was apprehensive but cautiously optimistic that a medication could help. The psychiatrist had been forewarned by the PCP that the patient had discovered a website describing Morgellons and “latched onto” this diagnosis.However, it was notable that the patient allowed the possibility (“30%”) that he was suffering from delusions (and not Morgellons), mostly because he trusted his PCP, “who has taken very good care of me for many years.”The patient agreed to a risperidone [an antipsychotic] trial of up to 2 mg per day. [i.e. a lowish dose]. Within weeks, his preoccupation with being infested lessened significantly... Although not 100% convinced that he might not have Morgellons disease, he is no longer pruritic and is no longer damaging his skin or trying to trap insects. He remains greatly improved 1 year later.(Mr A. had also been HIV+ for 20 years, but he still had good immune function and the HIV may have had nothing to do with the case.)"Morgellons" is, according to people who say they suffer from it, a mysterious disease characterised by the feeling of parasites or insects moving underneath the skin, accompanied by skin lesions out of which emerge strange, brightly-coloured fibres or threads. Other symptoms include fatigue, aches and pains, and difficulty concentrating.According to almost all doctors, there are no parasites, the lesions are caused by the patient's own scratching or attempts to dig out the non-existent critters, and the fibres come from clothes, carpets, or other textiles which the patient has somehow inserted into their own skin. It may seem unbelievable that someone could do this "unconsciously", but stranger things have happened.As the authors of this paper, Freudenreich et al, say, Morgellons is a disease of the internet age. It was "discovered" in 2002 by a Mary Leitao, with Patient Zero being her own 2 year old son. Since then its fame, and the reported number of cases, has grown steadily - especially in California.Delusional parasitosis is the opposite of Morgellons: doctors believe in it, but the people who have it, don't. It's seen in some mental disorders and is also quite common in abusers of certain drugs like methamphetamine. It feels like there are bugs beneath your skin. There aren't, but the belief that there are is very powerful.This then is the raw material in most cases; what the concept of "Morgellons" adds is a theory, a social context and a set of expectations that helps make sense of the otherwise baffling symptoms. And as we know expectations, whether positive or negative, tend to be become experiences. The diagnosis doesn't create the symptoms out of nowhere but rather takes them and reshapes them into a coherent pattern.As Freudenreich et al, doctors may be tempted to argue with the patient - you don't have Morgellons, there's no such thing, it's absurd - but the whole point is that mainstream medicine couldn't explain the symptoms, which is why the patient turned to less orthodox ideas.Remember the extensive tests that came up negative "to the patient’s great frustration." And remember that "delusional parasitosis" is not an explanation, just a description, of the symptoms. To diagnose someone with that is saying "We've no idea why but you've imagined this". True, maybe, but not very palatable.Rather, they say, doctors should just suggest that maybe there's something else going on, and should prescribe a treatment on that basis. Not rejecting the patient's beliefs but saying, maybe you're right, but in my experience this treatment makes people with your condition feel better, and that's why you're here, right?Whether the pills worked purely as a placebo or whether there was a direct pharmacological effect, we'll never know. Probably it was a bit of both. It's not clear that it's important, really. The patient improved, and it's unlikely that it would have worked as well if they'd been given in a negative atmosphere of coercion or rejection - if indeed he'd agreed to take them at all.Morgellons is a classic case of a disease that consists of an underlying experience filtered through the lens of a socially-transmitted interpretation. But every disease is that, to a degree. Even the most rigorously "medical" conditions like cancer also come with a set of expectations and a social meaning; psychiatric disorders certainly do.I guess Morgellons is too new to be a textbook case yet - but it should be. Everyone with an interest in the mind, everyone who treats diseases, and everyone who's ever been ill - everyone really - ought to be familiar with it because while it's an extreme case, it's not unique. "All life is here" in those tangled little fibres.Freudenreich O, Kontos N, Tranulis C, & Cather C (2010). Morgellons disease, or antipsychotic-responsive delusional parasitosis, in an hiv patient: beliefs in the age of the internet. Psychosomatics, 51 (6), 453-7 PMID: 21051675... Read more »

  • February 18, 2011
  • 08:00 PM

Y chromosome reveals more about the Filipinos

by nath in Imprints of Philippine Science

“There is a great difference of opinion among ethnologists who have seen these Negritos, as to the race to which they belong”, S. Kneeland writing in 1883 for Science [1]. He further adds that “they are not far above such an ape as might have been the ancestors of man, with the cerebral convolutions of the orang, [...]... Read more »

Delfin F, Salvador JM, Calacal GC, Perdigon HB, Tabbada KA, Villamor LP, Halos SC, Gunnarsdóttir E, Myles S, Hughes DA.... (2010) The Y-chromosome landscape of the Philippines: extensive heterogeneity and varying genetic affinities of Negrito and non-Negrito groups. European journal of human genetics : EJHG. PMID: 20877414  

Reich D, Green RE, Kircher M, Krause J, Patterson N, Durand EY, Viola B, Briggs AW, Stenzel U, Johnson PL.... (2010) Genetic history of an archaic hominin group from Denisova Cave in Siberia. Nature, 468(7327), 1053-60. PMID: 21179161  

  • February 17, 2011
  • 09:30 AM

Flooding and the Great Barrier Reef (and my 1st article)

by Linda Lin in Oz Blog No. 159

It's been a few weeks now since the historic flood in Australia. Pretty much all that water has now gone into the oceans, with various effects on the wild life there. The impact of floodwaters isn't as extensive as you...... Read more »

De'ath G, & Fabricius K. (2010) Water quality as a regional driver of coral biodiversity and macroalgae on the Great Barrier Reef. Ecological applications : a publication of the Ecological Society of America, 20(3), 840-50. PMID: 20437968  

Anthony, K., Kline, D., Diaz-Pulido, G., Dove, S., & Hoegh-Guldberg, O. (2008) Ocean acidification causes bleaching and productivity loss in coral reef builders. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105(45), 17442-17446. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0804478105  

  • February 16, 2011
  • 10:25 PM

Kayenta Warfare

by teofilo in Gambler's House

I’ve written quite a bit here about warfare in the prehistoric Southwest, but I’ve only said a little about one of the areas where it has been most carefully documented and studied: the Kayenta area of northeastern Arizona.  This is partly because this area seems to have had very little contact with or influence from [...]... Read more »

  • February 16, 2011
  • 04:49 PM

Prehistoric Brits made the world’s earliest skull-cups

by Ed Yong in Not Exactly Rocket Science

“The skull of Wynric Lance, failed claimant to the throne of Eirea, does not make as good a wine goblet as Lord Shryke had imagined, the despot revealed Monday. “This damn thing is practically impossible to drink out of,” said Shryke at a banquet celebrating the defeat of the Army Of Light… Shryke concluded that [...]... Read more »

Bello, S., Parfitt, S., & Stringer, C. (2011) Earliest Directly-Dated Human Skull-Cups. PLoS ONE, 6(2). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0017026  

  • February 16, 2011
  • 10:23 AM

The Psychology of Killing and the Origins of War

by Dan Bailey in Smells Like Science

Has warfare been handed down to us through millions of years of evolution? Is it part of who we are as a species? At the heart of this question is whether humans have a natural capacity to kill other humans. Some social scientists have concluded that evolution has in fact left us with this unfortunate ability.

Primatologist Richard Wrangham, a major proponent of this idea, developed the “Imbalance of Power Hypothesis” to explain how evolution could produce a propensity for warfare in humans. The idea is that our primate ancestors could have gained access to additional food and other resources by attacking and killing their neighbors. Of course, these deadly attacks would have only been worthwhile if the attackers could ensure their own safety. So, Dr. Wrangham reasons, our ancestors would have carried out deadly attacks only when they severely outnumbered their victims. The conclusion is that our ancestors who were psychologically predisposed to cooperatively pick off their neighbors would have had a distinct evolutionary advantage. Or, in Dr. Wrangham’s words, ”there has been selection for a male psyche that, in certain circumstances, seeks opportunities to carry out low-cost attacks on unsuspecting neighbors.” This trait would have been amplified and passed down through the generations until it was eventually inherited by modern humans, who presumably took this predisposition and ran with it, inventing more and more efficient ways to kill each other.

... Read more »

  • February 15, 2011
  • 09:55 AM

Primate vaccines: help you to help me?

by SeriousMonkeyBusiness in This is Serious Monkey Business

"Help me to help you"--or is it the other way around with the new vaccines to help great apes avoid Ebola? Regardless, there are some reasons to be skeptical about the idea of vaccinating wildlife.... Read more »

Rouquet P, Froment JM, Bermejo M, Kilbourn A, Karesh W, Reed P, Kumulungui B, Yaba P, Délicat A, Rollin PE.... (2005) Wild animal mortality monitoring and human Ebola outbreaks, Gabon and Republic of Congo, 2001-2003. Emerging infectious diseases, 11(2), 283-90. PMID: 15752448  

  • February 15, 2011
  • 09:23 AM

Why You Can't Cure a Plague of Olbermanns With An Infusion of O'Reillys

by David Berreby in Mind Matters

Do left-leaning social sciences need an influx of conservatives to open their collective minds? So argues Jon Haidt, but I wonder. As I read this study in this month's Journal of Risk Research, adding another ideology to social psychology would more likely lead to a lot of pointless yelling and a ...Read More
... Read more »

Kahan, D., Jenkins-Smith, H., & Braman, D. (2011) Cultural cognition of scientific consensus. Journal of Risk Research, 14(2), 147-174. DOI: 10.1080/13669877.2010.511246  

  • February 14, 2011
  • 10:44 AM

Is a Kiss Ever Just a Kiss? Decoding the Art of Flirtation

by Krystal D'Costa in Anthropology in Practice

A lingering look. A coy smile. Standing just a bit too close. An accidental brush.
Flirtation is an art. It is also a deftly employed social tool. It marks an exploratory, transformative stage—in a first meeting or an existing relationship—when interested parties look toward a tantalizingly unknown future. We flirt to establish a connection, and to gauge the interest of others in reciprocating that connection. While not all flirting is done with the aim of establishing a romantic or sexual encounter, it does help us determine the social investment potential for romantic relationships.
However, flirtation is not without challenges. Communicating and determining romantic interest in social-sexual encounters are often masked by uncertainty—which is actually a key component of flirtation. Both the message and the interpretation are intentionally vague: uncertainty serves to protect the interests and reputations of participants, and adds an element of anticipation that makes the act seem more like a game, prolonging the excitement and extending the mystery of the encounter.
Despite this uncertainty, are there universals to flirting strategies? Does a lingering glance mean the same in all social-sexual encounters? So much of flirting is dependent on non-verbal cues: a glance, a touch, a seemingly casual movement—can these actions really be interpreted differently across cultures and contexts?
Researchers have identified five distinct styles of communicating romantic interest, arguing that the ways a message is communicated is key to the way that message is interpreted (1). The styles are as follows:
Traditional: In this style, women can signal responsiveness, but men initiate contact and next steps, thereby maintaining gender roles. For example, men are expected to make the first verbal move (e.g., men request the date or offer to buy a drink). Men are expected to lead the interaction once engaged, and make requests for future engagements (2).

Women who are traditional flirts tend to be less likely to flirt with partners and to be flattered by flirting, and may report having trouble getting men to notice them in social-sexual settings. It is a bit of a cyclic effect: Women who are traditional flirts have a limited role in flirtatious encounters, and often have fewer options for attracting a partner (3). Men who fit this category tend to know their partners for longer periods of time before approaching them romantically. They often proceed slowly, developing non-romantic relationships before acting on desires. Overall, individuals who are traditional flirts are introverted and uncomfortable in social settings.
Physical: The physical style hints at sexual contact through verbal messages. This style often involves suggestive banter, and individuals are more comfortable expressing their desire and sexual interest to potential partners.

Individuals who fit this style claim to be able to detect the interest of others. They engage in private and personal conversation, which they use to establish the possibility of a relationship. Relationships generated by this style tend to develop at a faster rate, and are characterized by more sexual chemistry and emotional connection than the other styles (4).
Sincere: The sincere style is marked by a desire to create an emotional connection with a potential romantic partner. These individuals look to develop intimacy by eliciting self-disclosure and showing personal interest in a partner, however, this style is not an effective means of communicating sexual interest.

Sincere communicators view the emotional connection as tantamount to the relationship. They are more likely to approach potential partners, find flirting flattering, and to believe others are flirting with them.
Playful: These communicators view flirting as fun and not tied to relationship development. They enjoy the act itself, and will flirt even in the absence of long-term romantic prospects. Flirting is a self-esteem booster for this group.

Polite: Individuals who practice the polite style take a rule-governed and cautious approach, exhibiting no overtly sexual behaviors. Individuals characterized by this style are more likely to seek an emotional and sincere connection and less likely to be playful. The challenge of this style is that often the individual’s partner may not think he or she is interested in pursuing a romantic encounter.

These communicator styles provide some insights into how people flirt, but determining meaning, or decoding flirting is a bit more challenging. Flirting is really a context dependent event. Even with these handy communication style charted, researchers are quick to note that humans adopt the strategies that are best suited to their situation and desired level of engagement (5). As a result, the meaning behind flirtatious gestures is personal. For example:A kiss does not have any primary meaning beyond what the lovers create together, even though an outside observer might ad secondarily to those meanings on the basis of empathy, social knowledge, or memory (6).Flirtation cannot be defined in any concrete way. Meaning is derived from the sequences in the act—and every response matters. The casually draped arm along the back of the sofa can lie there meaningless until the recipient reclines into that arm. Participants have to continuously indicate interest.
Naturally, these responses may be interpreted differently in social-sexual encounters. Non-verbal cues are most effective when there is a social understanding regarding meaning, however men and women tend to interpret flirtatious behaviors differently. For example, sixty-seven percent of individuals have reported that friendly behavior on their part has been wrongly viewed as a sexual invitation, with women reporting having experienced this misperception more frequently than men (7). It seems that men, more so than women, perceive partners as being more flirtatious, more seductive, and more promiscuous. They impart greater meaning to the act of flirtation. Why?
One possible explanation may be rooted in the evolutionary history of sexual selection. It would be beneficial, and minimally costly, for a man to overestimate a woman’s sexual interest and intent. If he incorrectly deduces that she interested, he doesn’t stand to lose much. However, if he misreads her signs and misses a mating opportunity, he pays a large evolutionary price (8). I find it curious though that women don't impart as great a meaning to flirting, however. One could argue, in counterpoint to the discussion above, that women might find meaning in flirtatious acts as frequently as men do because it could hint at greater investment from a partner in the long run.
... Read more »

Hall, Jeffrey A., Carter, S., Cody, M., and Albright, J. (2010) The Communication of Romantic Interest: Development of the Flirting Styles Inventory. Communication Quarterly, 58(4), 365-393. info:/10.1080/01463373.2010.524.874

  • February 13, 2011
  • 05:00 PM

Were ancient cities sustainable?

by Michael Smith in Wide Urban World

This post talks about the issue of urban sustainability as applied to ancient cities. Instead of defining sustainability in terms of values and practices, archaeologists use the perspective of longevity - how long did a city (or society) exist?... Read more »

  • February 12, 2011
  • 12:14 PM

Soul Beliefs, Grave Goods & Foxes

by Cris Campbell in Genealogy of Religion

In many books and articles addressing the origins of “religious” behavior, one will find the assertion that deliberate burials are indicative of soul beliefs and that because people began burying the dead approximately 100,000 years ago, this marks the beginning of what we today call religion. As I noted in this post, there are several [...]... Read more »

  • February 11, 2011
  • 03:00 PM

Nothing to plunder – the evolution of Somalia’s pirate nation

by Southern Fried Scientist in Southern Fried Science

The droughts that shook the west African nations in the mid-1970′s and again in the 1980′s decimated the traditional nomadic clans of Somalia, leaving them without live stock to feed their families. Tens of thousands of the dispossessed, primarily of the Hawiye clan, were relocated to coastal areas. Fishing communities took root and began [...]... Read more »

  • February 11, 2011
  • 11:11 AM

The Arched Metatarsal of Australopithecus afarensis

by Kambiz Kamrani in

Carol Ward1, William Kimbel, and Donald Johanson have published a paper in Science on the arch seen in a newly discovered fourth metatarsal of Australopithecus afarensis (AL 333-160). A lot of the popular press are publishing misleading headlines that this … Continue reading →... Read more »

  • February 11, 2011
  • 01:37 AM

Why Lucy, what sweet kicks you had

by zacharoo in Lawn Chair Anthropology

For decades people have debated whether Australopithecus afarensis was an obligate biped like us, or whether our ancestor was a little less lithe in life on land. They asked, sort of, "Would Lucy have rocked some sweet Air Jordans, or would she have put some flat-foot orthotics in her new kicks?"
Carol Ward and colleagues report on a new fourth metatarsal of Australopithecus afarensis from Hadar in Ethiopia, over 3.2 million years old. The foot bone shows that A. afarensis had the two foot arches that we humans enjoy today.
Metatarsals are the longbones comprising much of the foot right before your silly-looking toes. One exceptional thing about our metatarsals compared to our ape cousins is that they contribute to two arches, one running front-to-back and another side-to-side. The arches provide critical support to our foot for bipedal stance, and a little Fred-Astaire-springiness as our foot hits the ground and then lifts off again when walking and running and sashaying.
The new A. afarensis metatarsal (AL 333-160, right) shows that by 3.2 million years ago, our ancestors had these arches, too. The twisting and angulation of the shaft relative to the base show these arches are similar to humans and our later fossil ancestors, whereas apes' MT4s tend to be less twisted and angled. Such morphology was hinted at by the famous Laetoli footprints from Tanzania, around 3.7 million years ago, also attributed to A. afarensis. Other evidence from the skeleton suggested Lucy was a biped and nothing else, and so this new find from Hadar further solidifies the idea that some of our skeletal adaptations to bipedalism are ancient indeed. AL 333-160 image: Carol Ward and Kimberly Congdon ( PaperWard, C., Kimbel, W., & Johanson, D. (2011). Complete Fourth Metatarsal and Arches in the Foot of Australopithecus afarensis Science, 331 (6018), 750-753 DOI: 10.1126/science.1201463... Read more »

  • February 10, 2011
  • 04:37 PM

Swedes not so homogeneous?

by Razib Khan in Gene Expression

Credit: David Shankbone
The more and more I see fine-scale genomic analyses of population structure across the world the more and more I believe that the “stylized” models which were in vogue in the early 2000s which explained how the world was re-populated after the last Ice Age (and before) were wrong in deep ways. I’m talking about the grand narratives outlined in works such as Bryan Sykes’ The Seven Daughters of Eve, the subtitle of which was “The Science That Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry.” If I had less faith in science to always ultimately right its course I’d probably become a post-modernist type who asserts that all these stories are fictions. Sykes’ model in particular seems to be very likely incorrect because of the utilization of ancient DNA to elucidate population movements past in Europe. From what we can gather it looks like coarse attempts to infer past distributions from current distributions (of specific lineages and their diversity) resulted in a great deal of false clarity. We’re not talking differences on the margins, but fundamental confusions. For example, Basques were always assumed to be a viable ...... Read more »

Salmela E, Lappalainen T, Liu J, Sistonen P, & Andersen PM. (2011) Swedish Population Substructure Revealed by Genome-Wide Single Nucleotide Polymorphism Data. PLoS ONE . info:/10.1371/journal.pone.0016747

  • February 9, 2011
  • 10:21 AM

Ezekiel's Merkabah | Knowing, Part 3

by Michael Lombardi in a New Life in the Sea

For this last installment of our review of the film 'Knowing', we will discuss the reference to Ezekiel's Chariot, and the prophecy that it conveys.
Some background - Ezekial is the author and central protagonist of the Book of Ezekial in the Hebrew Bible which goes on to discuss his prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalem. In 592 BCE, Ezekiel describes an encounter where is is visited by God appearing in "the likeness of man" who is riding a Chariot (or Merkabah in Hebrew) accompanied by cherubs. This vision is the cornerstone of the 'Chariots of the Gods' theory proposed by Erich von Daniken where this and many other encounters with God or 'the gods' are proposed as encounters with extraterrestrials in our ancient past.
This famous depiction, engraved by Matthäus Merian is a hugely controversial among Biblical scholars and extraterrestrial investigators, as there are broad implications in Ezekial's prophecy for both interpretations regarding the end of days.
In 'Knowing', an adult Lucinda Embry is possessed by the messages she had received as a child. In her secluded and abandoned adult home, the image of Ezekial's chariot encounter is discovered, fitting into the lineage of deterministic fate that has been progressively decoded throughout the film from Lucinda's childhood codex.
If we take a literal and futurist interpretation of the Ezekial Prophecy, we must also look at the Book of Revelations, as it pertains to THE END. In Revelations 21:1 (to be discussed here in depth later), St. John the Divine writes, "Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea." In the film, the world is discovered to come to an end by solar flares - excessive heat. This would not only vaporize life as we know it, but would dry up our oceans as well - just as described on this verse from Revelations.

In the movie, a boy and girl (both 'chosen' by the extraterrestrials) are taken by aliens appearing "in the likeness of man" on their ship (Chariot) and put on a new planet to start this whole mess over again - my suspicions are with the intent to get it right this time around in the eyes of our God or 'gods' and to preserve their own future sustainability.
Now back to today in the real world - these elements of our history such as Ezekial's Merkabah, Biblical prophecy from Revelations and elsewhere need to be taken so very seriously. The efforts taken thousands of years ago to write, document, and preserve knowledge were incredible feats as compared to today, where we only click 'save' and it's there forever. I know that I don't like to waste time, and I'd suspect that folks back then didn't either. Why go through such great lengths to preserve useless knowledge or information? They wouldn't have. Period.
The question is how to interpret this information, and in doing so, understand whether we are guiding humanity through its deterministic fate (read Knowing Part 1), unveiling a codex of our destiny (read Knowing Part 2), or coming to terms with a prophecy that underlines our fate here on Planet Earth.
So, for all of you 2012 fanatics out there - if it is the inevitable, then so be it. But, we should be careful what we wish for as we might very well be carving our own path to the end. Hopefully Nicholas Cage is working on this as we speak!
Stone, E. (2008). Chariots of the Gods in Old Babylonian Mesopotamia ( c. 2000–1600 BC) Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 3 (01) DOI: 10.1017/S0959774300000731

Kelly, B. (2008). D... Read more »

  • February 9, 2011
  • 10:20 AM

Smoke screen: new study sheds light on will power, anti-smoking ads and quitting cigarettes.

by richardfmasters in Elements Science

Are you giving up the fags? Richard Masters looks at why brain scans can show how likely you are to quit, whether you realise it or not.

Related posts:Smoking can be good for you
Research round up
Preventing lung cancer: a potential risk itself
... Read more »

Soon, C., Brass, M., Heinze, H., & Haynes, J. (2008) Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain. Nature Neuroscience, 11(5), 543-545. DOI: 10.1038/nn.2112  

  • February 8, 2011
  • 05:00 PM

The Social Network and Anorexia

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Could social networks be more important than the media in the spread of eating disorders?There's a story about eating disorders roughly like this: eating disorders (ED) are about wanting to be thin. The idea that thinness is desireable is something that's spread by Western media, especially visual media i.e. TV and magazines. Therefore, Western media exposure causes eating disorders.It's a nice simple theory. And it seems to fit with the fact that eating disorders, hitherto very rare, start to appear in a certain country in conjunction with the spread of Westernized media. A number of studies have shown this. However, a new paper suggests that there may be rather more to it: Social network media exposure and adolescent eating pathology in Fiji.Fiji is a former British colony, a tropical island nation of less than a million. Just over half the population are ethnic native Fijian people. Until recently, these Fijians were relatively untouched by Western culture, but this is starting to change.The authors of this study surveyed 523 Fijian high school girls. Interviews took place in 2007. They asked them various questions relating to, one the one hand, eating disorder symptoms, and on the other hand, their exposure to various forms of media.They looked at both individual exposure - hours of TV watched, electronic entertainment in the home - and "indirect" or "social network" exposure, such as TV watched by the parents, and the amount of electronic entertainment their friends owned. On top of this they measured Westernization/"globalization", such as the amount of overseas travel by the girls or their parents.So what happened? Basically, social network media exposure, urbanization, and Westernization correlated with ED symptoms, but when you controlled for those variables, personal media exposure didn't correlate. Here's the data; the column I've highlighted is the data where each variable is controlled for the others. The correlations are pretty small (0 is none, 1.0 would be perfect) but significant.They conclude that:Although consistent with the prevailing sociocultural model for the relation between media exposure and disordered eating... our finding, that indirect exposure to media content may be even more influential than direct exposure in this particular social context, is novel.The idea that eating disorders are simply a product of a culture which values thinness as attractive has always seemed a bit shaky to me because people with anorexia frequently starve themselves far past the point of being attractive even by the unrealistic standards of magazines and movies.In fact, if eating disorders were just an attempt to "look good", they wouldn't be nearly so dangerous as they are, because no matter how thin-obsessed our culture may be, no-one thinks this is attractive, or normal, or sane. But this, or worse, is what a lot of anorexics end up as.On the other hand, eating disorders are associated with modern Western culture. There must be a link, but maybe it's more complicated than just "thin = good" causes anorexia. What if you also need the idea of "eating disorders"?This was the argument put forward by Ethan Watters in Crazy Like Us (my review)... in his account of the rise of anorexia in Hong Kong. Essentially, he said, anorexia was vanishingly rare in Hong Kong until after the much-publicized death of a 14 year old girl, Charlene Chi-Ying, in the street. As he put it:In trying to explain what happened to Charlene, local reporters often simply copied out of American diagnostic manuals. The mental-health experts quoted in the Hong Kong papers and magazines confidently reported that anorexia in Hong Kong was the same disorder that appeared in the United States and Europe...As the general public and the region's mental-health professionals came to understand the American diagnosis of anorexia, the presentation of the illness in [Hong Kong psychiatrist] Lee's patient population appeared to transform into the more virulent American standard. Lee once saw two or three anorexic patients a year; by the end of the 1990s he was seeing that many new cases each month.Now it's important not to see this as trivializing the condition or as a way of blaming the victim; "they're just following a trend!". You only have to look at someone with anorexia to see that there is nothing trivial about it. However, that doesn't mean it's not a social phenomenon.It's a long way from the data in this study to Watters' conclusions, but maybe not an impossible leap. Part of Westernization, after all, is exposure to Western ideas about what is healthy eating and what's an eating disorder...Becker, A., Fay, K., Agnew-Blais, J., Khan, A., Striegel-Moore, R., & Gilman, S. (2011). Social network media exposure and adolescent eating pathology in Fiji The British Journal of Psychiatry, 198 (1), 43-50 DOI: 10.1192/bjp.bp.110.078675... Read more »

Becker, A., Fay, K., Agnew-Blais, J., Khan, A., Striegel-Moore, R., & Gilman, S. (2011) Social network media exposure and adolescent eating pathology in Fiji. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 198(1), 43-50. DOI: 10.1192/bjp.bp.110.078675  

  • February 8, 2011
  • 03:21 PM

If You Can't Say Something Nice ...

by Krystal D'Costa in Anthropology in Practice

Who you tawkin' to?
Yuh caen't pahk yuh cah heah.
Who drank da last o'da cawfee?
Whatsa matta wid you?
Ah, the sounds of New York City! I can identify a New Yorker in conversation in a heartbeat. And it's likely that the rest of the country can as well. Residents of New York City and western Long Island (or Lung Guylan as I am apt to pronounce it—a good friend of mine from the Midwest once told me that I was the only person she knew who could produce such a hard /g/ in front of an /i/) speak a distinct dialect. The elements of the dialect contained within these statements are fairly recognizable thanks to the likes of Robert De Niro and Bugs Bunny. It is often parodied and often in the vein of the extremes apparent in the examples above, even though relatively few New Yorkers have such a hard stereotypical accent. It is also interpreted as aggressive and confrontational. Still, whether these elements are subtle and make appearances in moments of passionate debate or inebriation, or so pronounced as to make the speaker almost unintelligible, the New York dialect is a readily identifiable marker.
New Yorkers are not alone in possessing a specific dialect. New Englanders also have a recognizable way of speaking, as do Southerners and people from the Midwest. Language and identity have a complicated relationship. There is a lot of information that can be passed on linguistically beyond etymology. Language can reflect our social and natural environments and thus reveal a great deal about our daily lives. Linguistic anthropologists are right to view languages as rich cultural resources—and this is one of the reasons the Endangered Language Alliance has been working to collect and preserve the many "dying" languages spoken by immigrants throughout New York City.

However, languages do not constitute the whole of an identity. Languages change as we do; they are far from closed systems. In instances of colonialism and conquest, the language of the majority often absorbs any surrounding dialects or systems. There are hints of this process in the number system found on the Peruvian Magdalena document: The number system was of an unknown language but contained elements of nearby majority languages, suggesting serious contact. These traces of foreign influence tell us that the process of absorption does not occur overnight. During the periods of transition, there is a fair amount of identity negotiation that occurs among native speakers. 
New Yorkers aren't forced to speak the way they do. But what if they were? What if New Yorkers had to drop their /r/s so that others could recognize them? How would their relationship to language change? 
Shaylih Muehlmann (2008) investigated the threads of identity negotiation during language absorption among the Cucapa of El Mayor in northern Mexico. The Cucapa practiced a semi-nomadic subsistence pattern that followed the Colorado River's flood levels until the early 20th-century (1). They fished, hunted rabbits and deer, and grew corn, beans, and pumpkins. However government restrictions on these activities—particularly fishing—limited opportunities for traditional subsistence activities, and pushed the Cucapa into alternative economic systems. Instead of fishing and hunting, they went to work in factories and in construction, and pursued other similar sorts of work. And in the process, they learned to hide traces of their "Indianness" to avoid discrimination, which meant suppressing, and ultimately forgetting, the Cucapa language (2).
However, this forgetting became problematic when the government determined that language was a primary means of establishing Cucapa identity for state benefits:Whereas not speaking Spanish may have impeded their legal negotiations in the past, the Cucapa are now finding that a a lack of fluency in their indigenous language and traditions is increasingly delegitimizing their current legal claims. In battles for fishing rights and access to work programs and in appeals for general access to resources and support from the government, the Cucapa's claims are continually undermined on the basis of their purported lack of authenticity (3).Not surprisingly, they are viewed as incompetent in their own language, which was discouraged during assimilation. Yet, Meuhlmann reports that the Cucapa deploy their indigenous language in ways that simultaneously challenge this assessment and demonstrate that language is a superficial identity marker.

How do they do this? Simple: they employ curses, or groserias.
When the Cucapa meet a soldier or other outsider who demands that they prove their claim to indigenous identity, the Cucapa respond by swearing. Since outsiders do not speak Cucapa and cannot translate the words, the swearwords function as both a marker of Cucapa identity and a means of subversion. A Cucapa woman explained this tactic to Meuhlmann:Sometimes you go out in the sierra or in the desert and the soldiers are there and they won't let you pass. They stop you, pointing their guns at you and on your own land and they ask you your business. At times like this the chamacos (kids) simply say "Soy Indio" in Spanish and then in Cucapa they say "go screw yourself!" to which the soldiers say "oh," "pasale" (go ahead) (4).Swearwords have been consciously chosen for this performance of Cucapa identity:
When obscenity features in displays of anger, as insults, or in playful vulgarity among youth in El Mayor it is always expressed in Spanish, which is indeed the “native” language of the majority of residents in El Mayor. For the youth, the use of Cucapa swearwords is less about engaging in the sociality of the obscene than about negotiating claims to indigeneity.The Cucapa use the expectation that as indigenous people they must be able to speak a native language. It doesn't matter what is said—they could be naming colors—as long as it sounds like Cucapa, it's acceptable to the audience that just want to hear something that they believe is Cucapa. Although that's not entirely true: The Cucapa could be saying the names of colors, but by choosing swearwords the Cucapa are actually establishing the ignorance of the soldiers, officials, and any other demanding audience, and questioning their ability to authenticate identity (5). So the choice of swearwords as opposed to colors carries with it a significant meaning

Swearwords also allow Cucapa to establish boundaries of solidarity. Cursing is not the norm in speech, so a willingness to know and use these words identifies one as sympathetic to the contradictions embedded in claiming an indigenous identity. To know these words and understand the ways they are deployed means belonging to a covert group. Meuhlmann describes having to recite a number of Cucapa swearwords in order to prove that she could be trusted. Her language performance was neither a validation of identity but an expression of solidarity and a reminder that she is an outsider. The latter stems from her actual experience using the words, which generated a sense of discomfort and embarrassment as she fumbled through the recitation.

One interesting point to note that the elements of the Cucapa language that are being preserved through use are swearwords, so that in about twenty years when the last of the fluent Cucapa speakers have died, all that will remain to be transmitted to subsequent generations will be swearwords (6). The story that language can tell us is important, but we also need to consider how our categorization of languages generate meanings removed from the speakers:
The use of Cucapa swearwords also indicates how academic and state appeals arguing for the recovery of cultural wealth may sound to indigenous people. These appeals argue that cultures are important to "save," not just for the good of a specific community but also for the benefit of national patrimonies and, indeed, for all of humanity. From this perspective, it does not matter if saving the Cucapa language, for example, is a priority or even an interest in El Mayor, because it is in the interest of humanity, more generally. Neither is it relevant that people n... Read more »

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