Triple-Decker Weekly, 31

In her 1996 book, The Corpse: A History, Christine Quigley documents many instances of premature burial and near-premature burial. Skeletons were outside their coffins, sitting up in the corner of their vault after being opened years later. Others were found turned over in their caskets, with tufts of their own hair in their hands. How might this happen? What conditions might make it look so much like you were dead that even your loved ones would let them plant you in the ground? The list is long and varied, but here are some of the more common things that can make you look dead: Asphyxiation […] Catalepsy […] Coma […] Apoplexy. [As Many Exceptions As Rules]

The ambient air in eight Italian cities has been found to contain low levels of cocaine and marijuana.

Kathryn Graham and her colleagues trained 148 observers and sent them out to 118 bars in early-hours Toronto where they recorded 1,057 instances of aggression from 1,334 visits. Where the majority of psychology research on aggression is based on laboratory simulations, Graham’s team collected real-life observational data to find out who gets aggressive and why. The researchers followed the Theory of Coercive Actions, according to which aggressive acts have one or more motives: compliance (getting someone to do something, or stop doing something); grievance; social identity (to prove one’s status and power); and thrill-seeking. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority (77.5 per cent) of aggressive acts were instigated by men. Men more than women were driven to aggression by identity and thrill-seeking motives; by contrast female aggression was more often motivated by compliance and grievance. This often had a defensive intent, as a reaction against unwanted sexual advances. […] The researchers found that greater intoxication led to more serious aggression in women, but not men – perhaps because the latter were emboldened enough already. [BPS]

Othello Syndrome is a type of delusional jealousy, marked by suspecting a faithful partner of infidelity, with accompanying jealousy, attempts at monitoring and control, and sometimes violence. The problem is named for Shakespeare’s Othello, who murdered his beautiful wife Desdemona because he believed her unfaithful. I came across Othello Syndrome because of a fascinating article at The Dana Foundation, When a drug leads to suspicions of infidelity. Here we have a mental illness induced as a side-effect in some patients as a result of taking dopamine to help with Parkinson’s disease. “In rare cases the treatment, which attempts to boost dopamine levels, brings on this stubborn delusion, which can transform a previously trusting relationship into a nightmare of suspicion, bitterness, and relentless accusations of infidelity.” [PLoS]

Once upon a time, a neurosurgeon named Eben Alexander contracted a bad case of bacterial meningitis and fell into a coma. While immobile in his hospital bed, he experienced visions of such intense beauty that they changed everything. […] Our current understanding of the mind “now lies broken at our feet”—for, as the doctor writes, “What happened to me destroyed it, and I intend to spend the rest of my life investigating the true nature of consciousness.” […] Well, I intend to spend the rest of the morning sparing him the effort. […] Everything—absolutely everything—in Alexander’s account rests on repeated assertions that his visions of heaven occurred while his cerebral cortex was “shut down,” “inactivated,” “completely shut down,” “totally offline,” and “stunned to complete inactivity.” The evidence he provides for this claim is not only inadequate—it suggests that he doesn’t know anything about the relevant brain science. [Sam Harris]

Neuroscientists from New York University and the University of California, Irvine have isolated the “when” and “where” of molecular activity that occurs in the formation of short-, intermediate-, and long-term memories. Their findings, which appear in the journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, offer new insights into the molecular architecture of memory formation and, with it, a better roadmap for developing therapeutic interventions for related afflictions. [NYU]

When humans evolved bigger brains, we became the smartest animal alive and were able to colonise the entire planet. But for our minds to expand, a new theory goes, our cells had to become less willing to commit suicide – and that may have made us more prone to cancer. When cells become damaged or just aren’t needed, they self-destruct in a process called apoptosis. In developing organisms, apoptosis is just as important as cell growth for generating organs and appendages – it helps “prune” structures to their final form. By getting rid of malfunctioning cells, apoptosis also prevents cells from growing into tumours. […] McDonald suggests that humans’ reduced capacity for apoptosis could help explain why our brains are so much bigger, relative to body size, than those of chimpanzees and other animals. When a baby animal starts developing, it quickly grows a great many neurons, and then trims some of them back. Beyond a certain point, no new brain cells are created. Human fetuses may prune less than other animals, allowing their brains to swell. [NewScientist]

Man made 6,000 calls saying his penis was stuck in household objects including a jam jar and a vacuum cleaner.

HIV infections in Australia jumped 8% last year and 50% in the past decade.

Breast Cancer-Sensing Bra Detects Tumors Years Before Some Mammograms.

Link between creativity and mental illness confirmed.

How to diagnose a sexual addiction.

Evaluation of penile erection rigidity in healthy men using virtual touch tissue quantification..

Research suggests shared secrets can be beneficial.

Drug helps put bad memories to rest.

In response to Anthony Gottleib’s New Yorker article about the shortcomings of evolutionary psychology, three articles that defend the field of evolutionary psychology.

New work suggests that a hormone that makes the body think it’s starving could prolong life about as long as severely cutting calories does but without the denial. Fasting hormone helps mice live longer.

A new study examines the neurological basis for unpleasant noises—and finds exactly which sounds are the most irritating.

Generally, we think of children as having more supernatural beliefs. As they age and gain education and information (as well as brain development) they abandon the supernatural for science. Right? Apparently not. These researchers show that we retain both supernatural and scientific ideas–flexibly combining or interchanging them to explain various events. For example, “a person might explain AIDS using witchcraft in one instance, biology in another, or combine the two in a third instance.” Indeed, say the researchers, the tendency to invoke the supernatural explanation increases with age rather than decreases. [Keene Trial]

Usually people don’t agree with one another as much as they should. Aumann’s Agreement Theorem (AAT) finds “…two people acting rationally (in a certain precise sense) and with common knowledge of each other’s beliefs cannot agree to disagree. More specifically, if two people are genuine Bayesian rationalists with common priors, and if they each have common knowledge of their individual posteriors, then their posteriors must be equal.” The surprising part of the theorem isn’t that people should agree once they have heard the rationale for each of their positions and deliberated on who is right. The amazing thing is that their positions should converge, even without knowing how the other reached their conclusion. [OvercomingBias]

Is There a Reason to Keep Promises?

Cerebral cortex has a very large number of testosterone receptors, which could be a basis for sex differences in sensory functions. For example, audition has clear sex differences, which are related to serum testosterone levels. Of all major sensory systems only vision has not been examined for sex differences, which is surprising because occipital lobe (primary visual projection area) may have the highest density of testosterone receptors in the cortex. We have examined a basic visual function: spatial and temporal pattern resolution and acuity. […] Across the entire spatio-temporal domain, males were more sensitive, especially at higher spatial frequencies; similarly males had significantly better acuity at all temporal rates. […] We suggest that testosterone plays a major role, leading to different connectivities in males and in females. But, for whatever reasons, we find that males have significantly greater sensitivity for fine detail and for rapidly moving stimuli. One interpretation is that this is consistent with sex roles in hunter-gatherer societies. [Biology of Sex Differences/NCBI]

We examined the possible sex differences in color appearance of monochromatic lights across the visible spectrum. There is a history of men and women perceiving color differently. However, all of these studies deal with higher cognitive functions which may be culture-biased. We study basic visual functions, such as color appearance, without reference to any objects. […] There were relatively small but clear and significant, differences between males and females in the hue sensations elicited by almost the entire spectrum. Generally, males required a slightly longer wavelength to experience the same hue as did females. [Biology of Sex Differences]

In the US, as elsewhere, it is becoming more common to see queues where one can pay to get to the front. […] Some guests simply queue up for their rides. Those who purchase green-and-gold wrist bands – fitted with radio frequency technology – are able to swim in the pool or eat snacks before being alerted to their turn. Guests who pay an even higher fee – roughly double the price of admission – get the gold flash pass, cutting their waiting time in half. […] In October 2011, Atlanta created a priority lane on the highway for drivers with a Peach Pass – the price of driving in the lane changes depending on how much traffic there is. [BBC]

In most countries it is illegal to buy or sell a kidney. If you need a transplant you join a waiting list until a matching organ becomes available. This drives economists nuts. Why not allow willing donors to sell spare kidneys and let patients (or the government, acting on their behalf) bid for them? The waiting list would disappear overnight. […] In romantic comedies, each man and woman marries their own true love. In real life, some people settle for second-best, which can lead to lots of trouble. If John and Mary love each other but are married to other people, they will be tempted to leave their current partner and marry each other. But if John loves Mary, while Mary loves her husband more than John, both will stay put. [The Economist]

Individuals who have their first sexual experience later than average may have more satisfying romantic relationships in adulthood, according to a new study from The University of Texas at Austin. […] “We still don’t understand precisely why delaying sexual intercourse is correlated with more satisfied adult relationships,” Harden said. […] Harden also explains that delaying sexual intercourse isn’t always associated with more positive outcomes. In her previous work, she found that teenagers who were sexually active in romantic dating relationships had fewer delinquent behavior problems. [University of Texas at Austin]

It was not until 1943, amid world war, that penicillin was found to be an effective treatment for syphilis. This study investigated the hypothesis that a decrease in the cost of syphilis due to penicillin spurred an increase in risky non-traditional sex. Using nationally comprehensive vital statistics, this study found evidence that the era of modern sexuality originated in the mid to late 1950s. Measures of risky non-traditional sexual behavior began to rise during this period. These trends appeared to coincide with the collapse of the syphilis epidemic. Syphilis incidence reached an all-time low in 1957 and syphilis deaths fell rapidly during the 1940s and early 1950s. Regression analysis demonstrated that most measures of sexual behavior significantly increased immediately following the collapse of syphilis and most measures were significantly associated with the syphilis death rate. Together, the findings supported the notion that the discovery of penicillin decreased the cost of syphilis and thereby played an important role in shaping modern sexuality. [PubMed }

Implicit in the rationalist literature on bargaining over the last half-century is the political utility of violence. Given our anarchical international system populated with egoistic actors, violence is thought to promote concessions by lending credibility to their threats. In dyadic competitions between a defender and challenger, violence enhances the credibility of his threat via two broad mechanisms familiar to theorists of international relations. First, violence imposes costs on the challenger, credibly signaling resolve to fight for his given preferences. Second, violence imposes costs on the defender, credibly signaling pain to him for noncompliance (Schelling 1960, 1966). All else equal, this forceful demonstration of commitment and punishment capacity is believed to increase the odds of coercing the defender’s preferences to overlap with those of the challenger in the interest of peace, thereby opening up a proverbial bargaining space. Such logic is applied in a wide range of contexts to explain the strategic calculus of states, and increasingly, non-state actors. From the vantage of bargaining theory, then, empirical research on terrorism poses a puzzle. For non-state challengers, terrorism does in fact signal a credible threat in comparison to less extreme tactical alternatives. In recent years, however, a spate of empirical studies across disciplines and methodologies has nonetheless found that neither escalating to terrorism nor with terrorism encourages government concessions. In fact, perpetrating terrorist acts reportedly lowers the likelihood of government compliance, particularly as the civilian casualties rise. [International Studies Quarterly]

In 1935, Erwin Schrödinger devised an insidious thought experiment. He imagined a box with a cat inside, which could be killed at any moment by a deadly mixture of radiation and poison. Or it might not be killed at all. Both outcomes were equally probable. But the consequence of thinking through this situation was much more shocking than the initial setup. According to quantum theory, there wasn’t just one cat inside the box, dead or alive. There were actually two cats: one dead, one alive—both locked into a state of so-called superposition, that is, co-present and materially entangled with one another. This peculiar state lasted as long as the box remained closed. Macrophysical reality is defined by either/or situations. Someone is either dead or alive. But Schrödinger’s thought experiment boldly replaced mutual exclusivity with an impossible coexistence—a so-called state of indeterminacy. But that’s not all. The experiment becomes even more disorienting when the box is opened and the entanglement (Verschränkung) of the dead and the live cat abruptly ends. At this point, either a dead or a live cat decisively emerges, not because the cat then actually dies or comes to life, but because we look at it. The act of observation breaks the state of indeterminacy. In quantum physics, observation is an active procedure. By taking measure and identifying, it interferes and engages with its object. By looking at the cat, we fix it in one of two possible but mutually exclusive states. We end its existence as an indeterminate interlocking waveform and freeze it as an individual chunk of matter. To acknowledge the role of the observer in actively shaping reality is one of the main achievements of quantum theory. [e-flux]

Bas Jan Ader (1942-1975) was a conceptual artist, performance artist, photographer and filmmaker. He lived in Los Angeles for the last 10 years of his life. […] Ader was lost at sea while attempting a single-handed west-east crossing of the Atlantic in a 13 ft pocket cruiser, a modified Guppy 13 named “Ocean Wave.” The passage was part of an art performance titled “In Search of the Miraculous.” Radio contact broke off three weeks into the voyage, and Ader was presumed lost at sea. The boat was found after 10 months, floating partially submerged 150 miles West-Southwest of the coast of Ireland. His body was never found. [Wikipedia |]
The bottles break only when filled still water and not when filled with the fizzy stuff or when empty. The question is: why?

Neither of us liked a recent paper on “genes for internet addiction” that got a lot of public press.

We now expect long life, a beautiful body, sexual and job satisfaction. But the idea that we can perfect ourselves dooms us to failure and misery.

Economists have found that the benefits of bank-robbing are on the decline, and they can explain why.

Do you think like a psychopath? It has been claimed that one quick way of telling is to read the following story and see what answer to its final question first pops into your head.

The sort of person who says “free speech” when they mean “I like doing creepy things to other people without their consent and you can’t stop me so fuck you ha ha ha ha” is pretty clearly a mouth-breathing asshole who in the larger moral landscape deserves a bat across the bridge of the nose and probably knows it. Which is why – unsurprisingly – so many of them choose to be anonymous and/or use pseudonyms on Reddit while they get their creep on. [John Scalzi/Gawker]

One evening last fall, the president of the Queer Chorus, a choir group she had recently joined, inadvertently exposed Ms. Duncan’s sexuality to her nearly 200 Facebook friends, including her father, by adding her to a Facebook Inc. discussion group. That night, Ms. Duncan’s father left vitriolic messages on her phone, demanding she renounce same-sex relationships, she says, and threatening to sever family ties. [WSJ]

When I wrote about the marshmallow test several years ago, it seemed so simple.

Godiva, often referred to as Lady Godiva, was an 11th-century Anglo-Saxon noblewoman who, according to legend, rode naked through the streets of Coventry in order to gain a remission of the oppressive taxation imposed by her husband on his tenants. The name “Peeping Tom” for a voyeur originates from later versions of this legend in which a man named Tom had watched her ride and was struck blind or dead. [Wikipedia]

One of his forgeries hung in a show at the Met. Steve Martin bought another of his fake paintings. Still others have sold at auction for multi-million-dollar prices. So how did a self-described German hippie pull off one of the biggest, most lucrative cons in art-world history? And how did he get nailed?

Why do people always look so serious in old pictures?

Sawing a woman in half is a generic name for a number of stage magic tricks in which a person (traditionally a female assistant) is apparently sawn or divided into two or more pieces. […] Magician Les Arnold is reported to have been the first to have devised a clear box sawing (known as the “Crystal Sawing”) as far back as 1976. The Pendragons performed a variation called “Clearly Impossible”, in which the box used is both particularly slim and also transparent. […] As a teenager Dorothy Dietrich became “distinguished as the first woman to saw a man in half” [she is also the first and only woman to have performed the bullet catch in her mouth]. [Wikipedia]

A Canadian patent was filed for the exclamation comma and the question comma in 1992, but it lapsed in 1995.


Fata morgana.