Courtesy chensiyuanGrand Canyon, could you please show us your birth certificate? A new theory that parts of the Grand Canyon were carved as far back as dinosaur days has geologists picking sides on a controversy. New research contends that the western end of the canyon might be up to 70 million years old, carved by an ancient river that flowed in the opposite direction of today's Colorado River. Conventional theories about the canyon had its aged pegged at 5 to 6 million years old.
So what do you think?
Courtesy Wikimedia CommonsThis story on NewScientist's Culture Lab blog suggests that, because we've invented technologies that can do some of our thinking for us, humans are losing the need for biological intelligence. Think about it (if you still can, har har): computers can think much faster and keep track of much more data than one person's brain can, but cognition-saving devices go back much further than that. Writing and number systems allowed us to store and calculate information through physical media instead of memorization, and devices like the abacus (and then the slide rule and the electronic calculator) allowed us to do arithmetic with our fingers. Be honest: when have you used those times-tables you had to memorize? With all this technology, why would we still need the ability to memorize and calculate inside our brains?
Interesting point, right? If everything we ever used our brains for could be done better by a computer, I'd agree. But another way to look at the situation is to say that because technology can do the grunt work for us, our brains are free for higher-level processes of creativity and analysis. If I want to make up a story, I don't have to keep repeating the beginning over and over in my head so I don't forget it--I can write it down and then spend my mental energy thinking up the rest of the story instead. Landing humans on the moon or a rover on Mars takes calculation and computer power, but it couldn't have happened without human imagination to conceive of, and human ingenuity to solve, the obstacles that those feats presented.
What do you think? Will "outsourcing" our thinking to technology make us dumber, or will it free our brains up for other, more advanced kinds of thought?
"Reporting in the journal Science, Paul Sereno, Ricardo Martinez and colleagues describe Eodromaeus murphi. This dinosaur was four feet long, fifteen pounds and lived 230 million-years-ago, just a few million years after dinosaurs first evolved. It looks similar to its contemporary Eoraptor, except for its long canine teeth, suggesting the newly-discovered dinosaur is an ancestor of the predatory dinosaurs, including T. rex.
"Australian brush turkeys (Alectura lathami) are what biologists call "super precocial," says Ken Dial of the University of Montana Flight Lab. The birds fly the day they hatch, and hatchlings can climb vertical ledges better than adults, according to Dial's latest research."
"New Caledonian crows are among only a handful of species on the planet that have been shown to use tools. They use twigs to fish out beetle larvae from dead trees. Reporting in Science, Christian Rutz and colleagues explore why the birds evolved to have this rare trait."
"Evolutionary psychologist Nick Neave filmed men dancing, converted the videos into dancing avatars and asked women to rate the avatars' dancing ability. The researchers found that the highly-rated male dancers had some moves in common. (Some advice: Shake that right knee.) Tracy Inman, co-director of The Ailey School, has trained thousands of dancers and responds to the findings.
This video shows the evolution of coordinated behavior of simulated robot soccer players. In the simulation, each soccer player is controlled by a neural network. The neural networks are evolved using an evolutionary algorithm, so generation after generation the strategy improves.
The corresponding paper "Evolving neural network controllers for a team of self-organizing robots" is available at http://www.demesos.tk
Courtesy wikimediaThe Smithsonian Institute will open a new exhibition hall tomorrow (March 17, 2010), the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins (this opening coincides with the institute’s 100-year anniversary). The 15,000-square-foot hall will focus on what it means to be human, examining how our defining characteristics emerged over time. One cool thing about the new exhibition (in addition to…everything) is the highlight (in the form of bronze statues) of a-typical hominid species. There’s a statue of Homo heidelbergensis, Paranthropus boisei, and even Homo floresiensis (the “hobbit” species). Now, I know what you’re thinking, “What?! Where’s the Australopithecus africanus?!!” Well, it’s not in this exhibition (at least not in the form of a shiny effigy). The reason for this is to emphasize that our ancestry is not a straight line (as A. africanus might imply because it is a possible direct ancestor of Homo sapiens). Instead, our lineage is much less tidy; there’s species overlap, some species die off… the diagrams are messy. The David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins is trying to get at the fact that we Homo sapiens are just another iteration in our branch-laden tree, not the pinnacle of evolutionary development. I think that’s a great point to remind people of.
Other features of the exhibition include forensically reconstructed life-sized faces of some of our ancestors, 75 skull reproductions, key events in humanity’s evolution (environmental changes, behavioral innovations, etc.), a human family tree, and virtual tours of important research sites. I haven’t had the chance to visit it yet, but the American Museum of Natural History in New York also has a relatively new human origins exhibition. I think it’s exciting that more and more museums are taking on this topic. In the past museums have shied away from it for fear of stirring up controversy. The Milwaukee Public Museum, for example has an exhibit about evolution- it’s on a tiny wall in a dark corner…but at least they have one. It’s important for museums to present scientific research, and the exciting exploration of human evolution is no exception. So if you’re in the D.C. area, be sure to check out the new Smithsonian Hall of Human Origins.
Courtesy University of OsloPerhaps taking advantage of the Darwin publicity last year (200th birthday), a scientific paper was published revealing Ida, a 47 million year old fossil classified Darwinius masillae.
The study's lead author, Jørn Hurum of the University of Oslo, variously called the fossil the holy grail of paleontology and the lost ark of archeology. A two-hour documentary called "The Link" was on the History Channel and a book with the same title hit bookstores.
How big money became mixed with science is described in the Guardian post titled Deal in Hamburg bar led scientist to Ida fossil, the 'eighth wonder of the world'.
Now that money has been made, it is time for the scientific process (peer review).
John Fleagle, a professor at Stony Brook University, in New York state, who reviewed the paper for the journal, agrees that the fossil is not a lemur. But Ida's full significance would not be known until other scientists had seen the paper. "That will be sorted out, or at least debated extensively, in the coming years."
In a paper in the Journal of Human Evolution, Chris Kirk strongly argue(d) that Darwinius is not one of our ancestors. Science blogger, Brian Switek, also explains why ... That "Ida" is Not Our Great-Great-Great-Great-Etc. Grandmother. Dissenting scientists are awaiting a response from Jørn Hurum.
I am reminded of another case where the media was used to hype a story before it was properly reviewed by others. I wrote about it here: Jesus and family found in tomb? What moral is to be learned here?
Don't announce discoveries through the media, but through the tried and tested peer-review process.
It's two of my great loves -- PBS science shows, and Auto Tune -- brought together by Symphony of Science and made accessible to everyone via YouTube.
Watch them all. Download the MP3s. And you might find yourself walking around all day, singing to yourself
"...the secrets of evolution are time and death..."
"...one of the great revelations of space exploration is the image of the earth, finite and lonely, bearing the entire human species through the oceans of space and time..."
"...matter flows from place to place and momentarily comes together to be you..."
"We are all connected...to each other, biologically...to the Earth, chemically...to the rest of the universe, atomically..."
And that, friends, would be awesome.
In fact, post your favorite "lyric" below.
"The Unbroken Thread"
"Our Place in the Cosmos"
"We Are All Connected"
"A Glorious Dawn"