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  • August 3, 2010
  • 04:50 PM

Which is more safe: home birth or hospital birth?

by Kate Clancy in Laboratory for Evolutionary Endocrinology

An anthropologist's take on the current AJOG article and Lancet editorial on home birth and infant mortality... Read more »

Editorial staff. (2010) Home birth--proceed with caution. Lancet, 376(9738), 303. PMID: 20674705  

  • August 3, 2010
  • 02:19 AM

Old Corn

by teofilo in Gambler's House

One important line of evidence in understanding the climatic history of Chaco Canyon, a subject of considerable interest given the harsh aridity of the current climate and the incongruous grandeur of the archaeological remains, has been the study of packrat middens.  These are collections made by packrats of materials found near their nesting locations, which [...]... Read more »

Hall, Stephen A. (2010) Early maize pollen from Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, USA. Palynology, 34(1), 125-137. info:/10.1080/01916121003675746

  • August 1, 2010
  • 11:10 PM

Multilingualism 2.0

by Ingrid Piller in Language on the Move

The social networking market research site Inside Facebook has some intriguing language stats. In July, the fastest-growing languages on Facebook were Portuguese, Arabic, Spanish and French. The Portuguese growth rate was a staggering 11.8%. Arabic grew by 9.2%, Spanish by … Continue reading →... Read more »

Otsuji, E., & Pennycook, A. (2010) Metrolingualism: fixity, fluidity and language in flux. International Journal of Multilingualism, 7(3), 240-254. DOI: 10.1080/14790710903414331  

  • July 30, 2010
  • 04:00 PM

Does drinking beer increase your attractiveness .... to mosquitoes?

by Greg Laden in Greg Laden's Blog

The anopheles mosquito, Anopheles gambiae, is the primary vector for human malaria. Mosquitoes in general, the A. gambiae included, find their prey by tracking body odor exuded from the breath and skin. Apparently, the composition of body odor determines A. gambiae's preference for one individual over another. It has been known for some time now that A. gambiae preferentially seek out and draw blood from pregnant women (Linsay et al 2000; Ansell et al 2002; Himeidan, Elbashir and Adam 2004), preferring pregnant over none pregnant women at about a 2:1 ratio.

Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

Lefèvre, T., Gouagna, L., Dabiré, K., Elguero, E., Fontenille, D., Renaud, F., Costantini, C., & Thomas, F. (2010) Beer Consumption Increases Human Attractiveness to Malaria Mosquitoes. PLoS ONE, 5(3). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0009546  

  • July 30, 2010
  • 03:30 PM

Koreans, not quite the purest race?

by Razib Khan in Gene Expression

PLoS One has a paper out on Korean (South) population genetics and phylogeography, Gene Flow between the Korean Peninsula and Its Neighboring Countries:
SNP markers provide the primary data for population structure analysis. In this study, we employed whole-genome autosomal SNPs as a marker set (54,836 SNP markers) and tested their possible effects on genetic ancestry [...]... Read more »

Jung J0, Kang H, Cho YS, Oh JH, & Ryu MH. (2010) Gene Flow between the Korean Peninsula and Its Neighboring Countries. PLoS ONE. info:/10.1371/journal.pone.0011855

  • July 30, 2010
  • 02:41 PM

It’s all in the toes – Why Old World monkeys change their limb posture to run

by Laelaps in Laelaps

Just by looking at its limbs, you can tell that a cheetah is born to run. Not only does this felid have non-retractable claws which act like cleats on a runner's shoe - a unique feature among big cats - but it also has the familiar tip-toe limb posture which allows the carnivore to reach [...]... Read more »

  • July 30, 2010
  • 02:28 PM

What Makes Humans Unique ?(III): Self-Domestication, Social Cognition, and Physical Cognition

by Michael in A Replicated Typo 2.0

In my last post I summed up some proposals for what (among other things) makes human cognition unique. But one thing that we should bear in mind, I think, is that our cognitive style may more be something of an idiosyncrasy due to a highly specific cognitive specialization instead of a definitive quantitative and qualitative advance over other styles of animal cognition. In this post I will look at studies which further point in that direction.... Read more »

Hare, B., & Tomasello, M. (2005) Human-like social skills in dogs?. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 9(9), 439-444. DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2005.07.003  

  • July 30, 2010
  • 09:55 AM

Driven By Coffee: Creating a Culture of Productivity

by Krystal D'Costa in Anthropology in Practice

Today's post is the last in a three-part series on coffee. Monday's post investigated how coffee came to be such an integral part of everyday life. Wednesday's post provided a history of the coffee bean's travels around the globe. And today's discussion considers the social place of coffee in our lives. Be sure to go back and read the others if you've missed them!_________________________________

... Read more »

Ryan L, Hatfield C, & Hofstetter M. (2002) Caffeine reduces time-of-day effects on memory performance in older adults. Psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society / APS, 13(1), 68-71. PMID: 11892781  

  • July 29, 2010
  • 12:08 PM

The Left Hand of Obama

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Voters in the 2008 Presidential election didn't have a meaningful choice. Whichever box they ticked, they were voting for a lefty.Yes, Obama and McCain are both sinistral, a rather unlikely occurrence since just 7-10% of adults are left handed. Netherlands-based neuroscientists Casasanto and Jasmin decided to make use of this coincidence to test the hypothesis that people tend to make "good" gestures with their dominant hand and "bad" ones with their off-hand, in a new PLoS paper: Good and Bad in the Hands of Politicians.They analyzed the final televised debates from the '04 and '08 elections, in which the candidates discussed various topics, both positive i.e. their own policies, and negative i.e. their opponent's Vietnam War records, choice of running-mate, and association with dodgy preachers. They also examined the gestures that the speakers made to accompany their positive or negative points, and recorded which hand they used. George W. Bush and John Kerry are both right-handed, by the way.Here's what they found:Both lefty candidates tended to use their left hands for good gestures and their right hands for bad ones, while the right-handed showed the opposite pattern. The data also reveal some interesting facts about the overall number of gestures: Obama had a hands-off approach with only 119 gestures in total, while McCain was gesticulating all over the shop (259). Bush and Kerry, however, were essentially equal (192 vs 193). Maybe Kerry's one extra gesture was just one too many for the electorate, thus costing him the Presidency.Anyway, does this prove that we use our dominant hands to make "good" gestures - supporting the notion that we unconsciously associate positive ideas with our dominant side of space, and negative ideas with our non-dominant side? Well, this study includes a large amount of data: it is, statistically, very likely that Obama really does tend to use his left hand over his right hand for positive gestures, i.e. this is unlikely to be due to random chance.But does this mean that there's a correlation between handedness and good-gesture-lateralization? We actually only have 4 data points relevant to that question: Obama, McCain, Kerry and Bush. We have a lot of information on each of those people, but there are only 4 independent sets of data.Suppose that everyone has a hand-they-use-for-good-gestures, and that it's 50/50 whether it's left or right - that is to say, suppose it has nothing to do with your general handedness. Clearly, there's then a 50% chance that any given person's good-gesture-hand will match their handedness, just by coincidence. There's a 1 in 4 chance that, for any two people, both will have a match; it's 1 in 8 for three people and 1 in 16 for four people. Which implies that there's a 1 in 16 chance that these results would have happened purely by chance.Maybe we need to look back to the Clinton / Dole debates to get some more data...Daniel Casasanto and Kyle Jasmin1 (2010). Good and Bad in the Hands of Politicians: Spontaneous Gestures during Positive and Negative Speech PLoS ONE... Read more »

Daniel Casasanto and Kyle Jasmin1. (2010) Good and Bad in the Hands of Politicians: Spontaneous Gestures during Positive and Negative Speech. PLoS ONE. info:/

  • July 28, 2010
  • 09:42 PM

The First New Zealanders and their rats

by David in The Atavism

Crispin Jago has made a very cool thing, a periodic table of irrational nonsense. Rolling my eyes over the groups, wondering how people can believe some of these things, made me think about New Zealand's unique ecosystem of kooky ideas. We don't have to suffer creationists in any organised sense and I don't think anyone is too into ear candelling, but those TV psychics have found themselves a niche to exploit and most people seem think chiropratric and homeopathy are normal parts of medicine. Then I was reminded about our very own, home grown cranks. There are people who believe that New Zealand was settled by Celts several hundred years before it was discovered by the ancestors of modern Māori. It probably goes without saying that these people are nuts, but the idea of a pre-Māori civilization in New Zealand is one of our culture's enduring myths. It's worth talking about why people who are serious about studying our country's prehistory have discarded it.People coming to this question for the first time my want a little bit of background. The settlement of the Pacific is one of the most interesting stories in our species' history. I did the field work for my PhD (on landsnails, and not people) in the Cook Islands and you get a feel for the enormity of that achievement when you travel around that group. To fly from one island to another you walk out across the tarmac and meet your pilot, who is almost invariably sitting on the steps to his 12 seater plane, reading the paper through massive aviator glasses. Once you're safetly stowed you get your safety briefing ("it's gonna be pretty fine all the way, should be a good flight") and you take off. The pilots don't close the door to the cockpit, so you can see out the windscreen, but all you see is ocean and sky. You can fly for an hour without seeing land in front of you or out your window. Then an island looms. A few minutes later you land, and, even among the Cook Islands, you're in a new culture. The Polynesian people who discovered and settled these tiny islands separated by such vast distances were master navigators. Without metal tools or written records, let alone maps and compasses, they very deliberately settled islands (taking livestock and crops with them), maintained trading relationships between island groups and almost certainly made it to South America (very likely beating Columbus in the process).Schematic of the settlement of the Pacfic (this one is taken from a study of the evolution of Austronesian languages)The "mainstream" view on the settlement of New Zealand fits nicely into what's known about the settlement of the Pacific. There is good evidence that the bulk of Polynesia was settled in a stepwise fashion, moving west to east with the prevailing winds. Eastern Polynesia was settled by about 800 AD. The far reaches reaches of Polynesian - Hawai'i, Rapanui and New Zealand would require a different pattern of migration (upwind, or over vast distances) and remained, with Antartica, as the last uninhabited lands on earth for hundreds of years.The first evidence for humanity in the New Zealand archeological record comes from the Wairau bar, where artifacts similar to those from contemporaneous sites in the Society Islands and the Southern Cooks have been dated to about 1280 AD. At the same time the pollen record shows New Zealand's first wide scale deforestation, trees being replaced by bracken, scrub and charcoal. A few hundred years later the much sparser record of sub-fossil animals shows its first mega-faunal extinctions. Combined with evidence for "sattelite" settlements in the Kermadec islands (on the edge of the tropical Pacfic) you have exactly the pattern of evidence you'd expect to see with the settlement of islands as remote as Te Wai Pounamu and Te Ika a Māui - settlement as an extension of an ongoing process with clear evidence for human impacts starting from a date that makes sense in that frameworkCompare that with the Celtic NZ people. The idea of Celts arriving in New Zealand without leaving any real evidence of their presence anywhere else outside of Europe hardly needs talking about. When we look within New Zealand, almost all the evidence supposed to support a pre-Maori celtic civilization amounts to big rocks that form, if you just imagine they used to be arranged slightly differently, a giant surveying network. Or astronomical observatories. Proponents of the Celtic NZ hypothesis spend very little time trying to find any evidence for the populations that must have lived, died, eaten, built, dug, farmed, and buried their dead in New Zealand to support these mad priests' plans to move megaliths across the country. And when they do the results are less are less than convincing By all accounts they treat the historical method with about as much respect as the scientific one, so academics don't take them very seriously. In fact, you'd think these claims are so kooky that there was really no need to rebut them. Sadly, the Celtic NZ people seem to have convinced at least a few people that they are on to something. I'm sure part of the reason for that is New Zealanders were once taught that the ancestors of modern Māori did meet another people when they came to New Zealand.Up untill about the 1960s school textbooks said the Moriori were a Melanesian people that were driven off the New Zealand mainland by Māori, with a few survivors taking refuge on the Chatham Islands (called Rekohu in their language). That idea had been rejected by every scholar who's addressed it since the 1920s because it's clear that the Moriori descended from mainland Māori and the unique aspects of their culture were acquired during their subsequent isolation. Part of the reason the Moriori myth came about in the first place is that it fitted into a Victorian narritive view of history - a chain of never ending progress It was only right that Moriori hunter-gatherers were replaced my the adventurous and noble Māori, just as the advanced British settlers would in turn assimilate the Māori. We might have given up that story, but the Moriori myth is still tied to politics in New Zealand. For people who think the New Zealand government shouldn't make reparations for its breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi the idea that Maori themselves were once colonisers looks like a get out of jail free card. Russel Brown quoted one example in 2004:Leaders and academics that hark back to the pre-European days of Maori domination of New Zealand have driven this opportunism. They appear to conveniently forget that Maori violently conquered the Moriori, the original settlers, and their claims of tangata whenua status and demands for compensation for historical grievances appear to many to be ill informed.Ignoring the gaps in the logic (the Treaty is between Maori and the crown, and is not contingent on Maori being the original inhabitants of New Zealand) such claims also face a pretty big evidence gap. The piece Brown picked up was from then Member of Parliament Muriel Newman. Dr Newman is no longer and MP, but she has set up a think tank (which shows about as much evidence for thought as any group with that name) and it seems she hasn't given up on her politically motivated brand of crypto-history. Here's her latest, in which she tries to argue New Zealand has no indigenous people: Archaeologists agree that humans first settled in New Zealand well over 1,000 years before the main Maori migration, which is estimated to have arrived around 1200 AD. Their evidence is based on the exhaustive forensic examination of historic plant and animal remains. They believe that the settlement of New Zealand was most likely a continuous process, a view that is certainly consistent with early settler journal accounts (from the proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand) which indicate that not only did Moriori precede Maori, but that when they arrived in the... Read more »

Holdaway, R. (1996) Arrival of rats in New Zealand. Nature, 384(6606), 225-226. DOI: 10.1038/384225b0  

  • July 28, 2010
  • 12:32 PM

Paleo Diet and Diabetes: Improved Cardiovascular Risk Factors

by Steve Parker, M.D. in Diabetic Mediterranean Diet Blog

Compared to a standard diabetic diet, a Paleolithic diet improves cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetics, according to investigators at Lund University in Sweden. Researchers compared the effects of a Paleo and a modern diabetic diet in 13 type 2 diabetic adults (10 men) with average hemoglobin A1c’s of 6.6% (under good control, then).  Most [...]... Read more »

  • July 28, 2010
  • 09:36 AM

Past lives caught in the dust of trees

by Alun in AlunSalt

I’m currently working at the Annals of Botany to help out with their social media side. There’s a bit more to it than subtly dropping links to their site, like this one. At the moment I’m struggling with the Facebook integration, but there’s a fun side too. I wouldn’t have browsed AoB if I’d not... Read more »

Mercader, J., Bennett, T., Esselmont, C., Simpson, S., & Walde, D. (2009) Phytoliths in woody plants from the Miombo woodlands of Mozambique. Annals of Botany, 104(1), 91-113. DOI: 10.1093/aob/mcp097  

  • July 26, 2010
  • 10:49 AM

Manufacturing The Coffee Culture

by Krystal D'Costa in Anthropology in Practice

This week on AiP, I'm featuring a three-part series on coffee. Today's post investigates how coffee came to be such an integral part of everyday life. Look for additional posts on Wednesday and Friday for followup discussions.______________________________________________________________________
The idea of the morning person aside, morning commuters seem to fall into one of two categories: the

... Read more »

  • July 26, 2010
  • 08:37 AM

For Great Apes, Addressing Inequality is Child’s Play

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries in Exile

The #PDEx tour continues hosted by David Dobbs at Neuron Culture.Writing in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, researchers Edwin Van Leeuwen, Elke Zimmermann, and Marina Davila Ross have shown that gorillas demonstrate an understanding of inequality that they use to modify their behavior under changing social conditions. In more than 85% of the play bouts it was the tagger who made the first move to run as well as the one who ran away. This suggests that there was an implicit understanding that the act of tagging resulted in an unequal relationship and that a response from the individual tagged would therefore be expected. In this way, play teaches important social lessons about inequality and how to respond in a social group.Read the rest of the post here and stay tuned for next Monday's installment at Cocktail Party Physics.Van Leeuwen, E., Zimmermann, E., & Ross, M. (2010). Responding to inequities: gorillas try to maintain their competitive advantage during play fights Biology Letters DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2010.0482... Read more »

  • July 26, 2010
  • 05:40 AM

For Great Apes, Addressing Inequality is Child’s Play

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries

Writing in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, researchers Edwin Van Leeuwen, Elke Zimmermann, and Marina Davila Ross have shown that gorillas demonstrate an understanding of inequality that they use to modify their behavior under changing social conditions. In more than 85% of the play bouts it was the tagger who made the first move to run as well as the one who ran away. This suggests that there was an implicit understanding that the act of tagging resulted in an unequal relationship and that a response from the individual tagged would therefore be expected. In this way, play teaches important social lessons about inequality and how to respond in a social group.... Read more »

  • July 25, 2010
  • 10:10 AM

What Makes Humans Unique? (I): The Evolution of the Human Brain

by Michael in A Replicated Typo 2.0

Hello! This is my first post here at Replicated Typo and I thought I’d start with reposting a slightly modified version of a three-part series on the evolution of the human mind that I did last year over at my blog Shared Symbolic Storage.
So in this and my next posts I will have a look at how human cognition evolved from the perspective of cognitive science, especially ‘evolutionary linguistics,’ comparative psychology and developmental psychology.
In this post I’ll focus on the evolution of the human brain

Hello! This is my first post here at Replicated Typo and I thought I’d start with reposting a slightly modified version of a three-part series on the evolution of the human mind that I did last year over at my blog Shared Symbolic Storage.

So in this and my next posts I will have a look at how human cognition evolved from the perspective of cognitive science, especially ‘evolutionary linguistics,’ comparative psychology and developmental psychology.... Read more »

  • July 24, 2010
  • 12:09 PM

Are most experimental subjects in behavioral science WEIRD?

by Michael Meadon in Ionian Enchantment

My supervisor David Spurrett and I have a commentary on an important paper - "The weirdest people in the world?" (pdf) - in the most recent edition of Behavioral & Brain Sciences. The authors, Canadian psychologists Joseph Henrich, Steven Heine and Ara Norenzayan, argues that most experimental subjects in the behavioral sciences are WEIRD - Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic - and thus weird - not representative of most human beings. And this, if true, is a very serious problem indeed. Behavioral scientists (anthropologists, psychologists, behavioral economists and so on) are often interested in explaining the brains, minds and behavior of Homo sapiens as a species. (Some scientists, of course, are only interested in understanding specific cultures or what makes us different, but one important goal of the behavioral sciences has long been to explain universal human behavior). As evolutionary psychologists John Tooby and Leda Cosmides have put it, they "seek to characterize the universal, species-typical architecture of [the information-processing mechanisms that generate behavior]".

But... Henrich and his colleagues review a large body of literature that seems to show that, across several domains, Western undergraduates - the workhorses of the behavioral sciences - are extreme outliers. In other words, if they are correct, most of the data behavioral scientists have used to test hypothesis and drive theorizing have been derived from subjects who are possibly the least suited for generalizing about the human race. Take as an example the Müller-Lyer illusion. In the diagram below, the lines labeled "a" and "b" are exactly equal in length, but many subjects perceive "b" as longer than "a".

This finding (which goes back all the way to 1889) has been used to make deductions about how the human visual system works. The Wikipedia article on the illusion, for example, states that one possible explanation for the effect is that "the visual system processes that judge depth and distance assume in general that the 'angles in' configuration corresponds to an object which is closer, and the 'angles out' configuration corresponds to an object which is far away". Plausible enough. Except that for some people - San foragers, for example - the illusion does not exist, and in many other non-WEIRD societies the effect size is significantly smaller. Henrich and his colleagues cite the work of Segall et. al. (1996), who worked out the magnitude of the illusion across 16 societies by varying the relative lengths of "a" and "b" and then asking subjects to indicate when they thought the lines were equal. The percentage by which "a" must be longer than "b" before the lines are adjudged equal - what they call the "point of subjective equality" (PSE) - varies substantially between subjects from different cultures - and, importantly, WEIRD-subjects are extreme outliers. The results are summarized in the following graph:

Both WEIRD adults and children (aged 5-11) require "a" to be 18%+ longer than "b" before they're perceived as equal, but for the San and South African miners, the illusion simply does not exist - their PSEs are not statistically distinguishable from 0. Why this difference arises is unknown, but Segall et. al. claim it is due to WEIRD people's visual systems developing differently because modern environments expose them to ("unnatural") shapes like 'carpeted corners', thus calibrating their visual systems in a way that favors the emergence of the illusion. Whatever the true explanation, however, it is clear that it is not permissible to use the existence of the illusion among WEIRD subjects to make inferences about the visual system. This is especially true since the San subjects were hunter-gatherers, just like all people for the vast majority of human evolutionary history. Given that species-typical features of the visual system would have evolved in this period, it is particularly telling that PSE seems to be positively correlated with the 'modernity' of the societies in question. (Warning: this is an "eyeball" observation; I haven't done a proper statistical analysis. Caveat emptor).

This is one example from an extremely long paper, but it conveys a flavor of the kind of evidence the authors present. (For much more, see "We agree it's WEIRD, but is it WEIRD enough?" over at Neuroanthropology). Having read the article very carefully, and despite some concerns, I think Henrich, Heine and Norenzayan are right: the Western undergraduate is often unrepresentative of humanity, and the behavioral science literature needs a lot of fixing as a result. (Most obviously, we need far more large, highly-powered, globally representative, prospectively designed, cross-cultural studies). Serious as this is, unfortunately, it gets worse... Since David and I worked extremely hard to present our argument clearly and concisely in our commentary (pdf - our piece starts on p. 44 of the pdf, paginated by BBS as p. 104), and I doubt I could improve on it, what follows is a slightly edited - simplified and somewhat de-academicized - version of the meat of our argument. (Note: each issue of BBS consists of a "target article" - in this case, Henrich et. al. - and 20 or so short peer-commentaries).

Henrich et al. underplay – to the point of missing – that how the behavioural sciences research community itself is constituted introduces biases. That the subject-pool of behavioural science is so shallow is indeed a serious problem, but so is the fact that the majority of behavioural researchers are themselves deeply WEIRD. People in Western countries have, on average, a remarkably homogeneous set of values compared to the full range of worldwide variability (Inglehart & Welzel 2005), and the data Henrich and his colleagues present suggest similarly population-level homogeneity in cognitive styles. Moreover, academics are more uniform than the populations from which they are drawn, so it is likely behavioral scientists are even WEIRDer than their most common subjects. Henrich and his colleagues review a bunch of studies and experiments that did not strike those who designed and conducted them as focused on outliers. Intelligent scientists acting in good faith conducted, peer-reviewed, and published this research, in many cases honestly believing that it threw light on human nature. This forcefully illustrates the power of the biases on the part of researchers themselves. It also suggests that, besides widening the pool of subjects, there are significant gains to be made by broadening the range of inputs to the scientific process, including in the conception, design, and evaluation of empirical and theoretical work. Given that diverse groups are demonstrably better at some kinds of problem solving, as things stand, the WEIRD-dominated literature is robbed of potentially worthwhile perspectives, critiques, and hypotheses that a truly global research community could provide. Clearly, simply increasing the number of behavioural sciences&nbs... Read more »

Henrich, J., Heine, S., & Norenzayan, A. (2010) The weirdest people in the world?. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33(2-3), 61-83. DOI: 10.1017/S0140525X0999152X  

  • July 23, 2010
  • 10:53 AM

The will and its freedom: biological evidence from invertebrates

by Björn Brembs in

A few weeks ago, Lars Chittka invited me to write an article "about free will in insects" for a Proceedings of the Royal Society B (Biological Sciences) Special Feature on 'Information processing in miniature brains' that he is editing. Given our work on spontaneity in flies and my mentor being Martin Heisenberg, how could I decline?I think I will first give a very brief overview of what people used to call "free will" and why it was such a controversy. I hope to get the gist across in about two paragraphs. Much of this info will be distilled from Bob Doyle's website and his article in William James Studies. Bob also published a letter to Nature in response to Martin Heisenberg's article there. Is it just coincidence that it was Heisenberg's father Werner Heisenberg who discovered the uncertainty principle?Then I plan to go on to argue that today the old, metaphysical free will of course does not exist in the almost 'spiritual' sense and that no prominent scholar has entertained that idea at least since Popper and Eccles' book "The self and its brain" in 1977. Instead, I will try and make the case that the term "free will" should be recast in biological terms, as a trait that evolved and keeps evolving to different degrees in different animals. I plan to use evidence from flies, leeches and other invertebrate animals to emphasize that even so-called 'simple' brains possess the capacity to behave unpredictably, i.e., freely. Any difference in freedom between animals is merely gradual.I probably should also spend a paragraph or so elaborating on the selection pressures leading to spontaneous behaviors and behavioral variability.Once the capacity for freedom has been shown, it will take less work convincing the readers of the capacity to 'will'.All of this should be couched in the notion that the dichotomy between indeterminism and determinism is a false dichotomy, because brains operate in the gray area between the two. This may be the most difficult concept to grasp, that indeterminism and determinism are not mutually exclusive, but delineate a spectrum of what one may call 'probabilism'. I may try and refer to evolution as also using both concepts of mutation (indeterminate) and selection (determinate) in a probabilistic process. I may even try and refer to Bayesian Statistics, although I know little more than the basic idea behind it. The main task of this section will be to argue that what we call freedom is more than just chance. Chance, or randomness is a prerequisite for freedom, a necessary component but it's not sufficient. Let me quote from our press release at the time: [co-author George Sugihara]"This nonlinear signature eliminates the two alternative explanations of spontaneous turning behavior in flies that would run counter to free will, namely complete randomness and pure determinism. These represent opposite and extreme endpoints in discussions of brain functioning which mirror the free will debate." To that, I'd only add that our subjective notion of 'Free Will' is essentially an oxymoron: we would not consider it 'will' if it were completely random and we would not consider it 'free' if it were entirely determined. Nobody would attribute any responsibility to our action if it had happened entirely coincidental. On the other hand, if our action was completely determined by external factors such that there was no alternative, again the person would not be held responsible. So if there is anything remotely close to free will, it must exist somewhere between chance and necessity - which is exactly where fly behavior comes to lie. George again finds the right words: "Our results address the middle ground between simple determinism and randomness that is currently not well understood or characterized. We speculate that if free will exists, it is in this middle ground." This leads me to believe that the question of whether or not we have free will appears to be posed the wrong way. Instead, if we ask 'where between chance and necessity are we located?' one finds that this is precisely where humans and animals differ. Humans may not have free will in the philosophical sense, but even flies have a number of behavioral options they need to decide between. Humans are less determined than flies and possess even more options. With this small reformulation, the topic of free will becomes the new biological research area of studying spontaneous behavior and can thus be discerned from the philosophical question.If after all that there's still room in the article, I'll review some of the data on the human default mode network and what they might contribute to the debate.Let's see, if enough people express interest in the comments, I may put a draft version online for comments and review. All commenters will at least be mentioned in the acknowledgements, of course.Heisenberg, M. (2009). Is free will an illusion? Nature, 459 (7244), 164-165 DOI: 10.1038/459164aDoyle, R. (2009). Free will: it's a normal biological property, not a gift or a mystery Nature, 459 (7250), 1052-1052 DOI: 10.1038/4591052cBriggman, K. (2005). Optical Imaging of Neuronal Populations During Decision-Making Science, 307 (5711), 896-901 DOI: 10.1126/science.1103736... Read more »

  • July 23, 2010
  • 04:15 AM

Looking for leimotifs in the early history of wheat and rice

by Jeremy in Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog

There are two papers out just now which review in detail archaeobotanical and genetic data to elucidate the early history of crops. Dorian Fuller and numerous co-authors do it for Asian rice (Oryza sativa), Hakan Özkan and others do it for emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccoides). And Fuller actually also comments on the emmer paper on [...]... Read more »

Fuller, D., Sato, Y., Castillo, C., Qin, L., Weisskopf, A., Kingwell-Banham, E., Song, J., Ahn, S., & Etten, J. (2010) Consilience of genetics and archaeobotany in the entangled history of rice. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, 2(2), 115-131. DOI: 10.1007/s12520-010-0035-y  

  • July 22, 2010
  • 04:18 PM

The Media Noose: Copycat Suicides and Social Learning

by Wintz in A Replicated Typo 2.0

I always remember 2008 as the year when the entire UK media descended upon the former mining town of Bridgend. The reason: over the course of two years, 24 young people, most of whom were between the ages of 13 and 17, decided to commit suicide. At the time I . . . → Read More: The Media Noose: Copycat Suicides and Social Learning... Read more »

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