From biology class to “C.S.I.,” we are told again and again that our genome is at the heart of our identity. Read the sequences in the chromosomes of a single cell, and learn everything about a person’s genetic information. But scientists are discovering that […] it’s quite common for an individual to have multiple genomes. Some people, for example, have groups of cells with mutations that are not found in the rest of the body. Some have genomes that came from other people. […] In 2012, Canadian scientists performed autopsies on the brains of 59 women. They found neurons with Y chromosomes in 63 percent of them. The neurons likely developed from cells originating in their sons. […] Last year, forensic scientists at the Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory Division described how a saliva sample and a sperm sample from the same suspect in a sexual assault case didn’t match. [NY Times]
First Genetic Evidence That Humans Choose Friends With Similar DNA. The discovery that friends are as genetically similar as fourth cousins has huge implications for our understanding of human evolution, say biologists. [The Physics arXiv Blog]
For a common affliction that strikes people of every culture and walk of life, schizophrenia has remained something of an enigma. Scientists talk about dopamine and glutamate, nicotinic receptors and hippocampal atrophy, but they’ve made little progress in explaining psychosis as it unfolds on the level of thoughts, beliefs, and experiences. Approximately one percent of the world’s population suffers from schizophrenia. Add to that the comparable numbers of people who suffer from affective psychoses (certain types of bipolar disorder and depression) or psychosis from neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. All told, upwards of 3% of the population have known psychosis first-hand. […] There are several reasons why psychosis has proved a tough nut to crack. First and foremost, neuroscience is still struggling to understand the biology of complex phenomena like thoughts and memories in the healthy brain. Add to that the incredible diversity of psychosis: how one psychotic patient might be silent and unresponsive while another is excitable and talking up a storm. Finally, a host of confounding factors plague most studies of psychosis. Let’s say a scientist discovers that a particular brain area tends to be smaller in patients with schizophrenia than healthy controls. The difference might have played a role in causing the illness in these patients, it might be a direct result of the illness, or it might be the result of anti-psychotic medications, chronic stress, substance abuse, poor nutrition, or other factors that disproportionately affect patients. [Garden of the Mind]
Language is not the only vehicle for many aspects of thought. Many assume that without language it is impossible to think, to remember, to communicate, to have categories/plans/procedures, to have culture and to even have consciousness. Slowly it is being shown that other animals can do many of the things that used to be classed as only-with-language skills. We just do them more effectively with language. [Thoughts on Thoughts]
The Five Cognitive Distortions of People Who Get Stuff Done [Stanford | PDF]
According to surveys of art books and exhibitions, artists prefer poses showing the left side of the face when composing a portrait and the right side when composing a self-portrait. Smartphones Reveal a Side Bias in Non-Artists.
When I eventually returned to my desk at Keele University School of Psychology I wondered why it was that people swear in response to pain. Was it a coping mechanism, an outlet for frustration, or what? […]
Professor Timothy Jay of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in the States [...] has forged a career investigating why people swear and has written several books on the topic. His main thesis is that swearing is not, as is often argued, a sign of low intelligence and inarticulateness, but rather that swearing is emotional language. [The Pyschologist]
Human skin is inhabited and re-populated depending on health conditions, age, genetics, diet, the weather and climate zones, occupations, cosmetics, soaps, hygienic products and moisturizers. All these factors contribute to the variation in the types of microbes. Population of viruses, for example, can include a mixture of good ones - like bacteriophages fighting acne-causing Propionibacterium - and bad ones - as highly contagious Mesles. Bacterial communities include thousands of species of Actinobacteria, Bacteroidetes, Cyanobacteria, Proteobacteria, and fungi Malassezia. […] The major odor-causing substances are sulphanyl alkanols, steroid derivatives and short volatile branched-chain fatty acids. Most common sulphanyl alkanol in human sweat, 3-methyl-3-sulfanylhexan-1-ol is produced by bacteria in several ways. […] Besides being a major descriptor of human sweat odor, is also present in beers. [Aurametrix]
By about 1900, the need for child labour had declined, so children had a good deal of free time. But then, beginning around 1960 or a little before, adults began chipping away at that freedom by increasing the time that children had to spend at schoolwork and, even more significantly, by reducing children’s freedom to play on their own, even when they were out of school and not doing homework. Adult-directed sports for children began to replace ‘pickup’ games; adult-directed classes out of school began to replace hobbies; and parents’ fears led them, ever more, to forbid children from going out to play with other kids, away from home, unsupervised. There are lots of reasons for these changes but the effect, over the decades, has been a continuous and ultimately dramatic decline in children’s opportunities to play and explore in their own chosen ways. Over the same decades that children’s play has been declining, childhood mental disorders have been increasing. [Aeon]
If I offered evidence that jellyfish are displacing penguins in Antarctica—not someday, but now, today—what would you think? If I suggested that jellyfish could crash the world’s fisheries, outcompete the tuna and swordfish, and starve the whales to extinction, would you believe me? […] Japan’s nuclear power plants have been under attack by jellyfish since the 1960s, with up to 150 tons per day having to be removed from the cooling system of just one power plant. [The New York Review of Books ]
In 2012, real median household income was 8.3% lower than in 2007, the year before the most recent recession. [PDF]
What if someone told you the stock market crashed and spiked 18,000 times since 2006, and you had no idea? The secret financial market only robots can see.
In most parts of the world, the banking system is closely regulated and monitored by central banks and other government agencies. That’s just as it should be, you might think. But banks have a way round this kind of regulation. For the last decade or so, it has become common practice for banks to do business in ways that don’t show up on conventional balance sheets. Before the 2008 financial crisis, for example, many investment banks financed mortgages in this way. To all intents and purposes, these transactions are invisible to regulators. This so-called shadow banking system is huge and important. Indeed, many economists blame activities that took place in the shadow banking system for the 2008 crash. Davide Fiaschi, an economist at the University of Pisa in Italy, and a couple of pals reveal […] that the shadow banking system is vastly bigger than anyone had imagined before. And although its size dropped dramatically after the financial crisis in 2008, it has since grown dramatically and is today significantly bigger than it was even then. [The Physics arXiv Blog]
It could be time to bid the Big Bang bye-bye. The Universe formed from the debris ejected when a four-dimensional star collapsed into a black hole, theorists propose.
Physicists have discovered a jewel-like geometric object that dramatically simplifies calculations of particle interactions and challenges the notion that space and time are fundamental components of reality. The new geometric version of quantum field theory could also facilitate the search for a theory of quantum gravity that would seamlessly connect the large- and small-scale pictures of the universe. [Quanta]
The visible universe—including Earth, the sun, other stars, and galaxies—is made of protons, neutrons, and electrons bundled together into atoms. Perhaps one of the most surprising discoveries of the 20th century was that this ordinary, or baryonic, matter makes up less than 5 percent of the mass of the universe. The rest of the universe appears to be made of a mysterious, invisible substance called dark matter (25 percent) and a force that repels gravity known as dark energy (70 percent). Scientists have not yet observed dark matter directly. It doesn’t interact with baryonic matter and it’s completely invisible to light and other forms of electromagnetic radiation, making dark matter impossible to detect with current instruments. […] Dark energy is even more mysterious, and its discovery in the 1990s was a complete shock to scientists. [National Geographic]
Power outages caused by squirrels. [NY Times]
Q: You’ve written extensively on the post-PC period, when will we come to the post-phone period – if ever? A: I think less than 10 years. Maybe even five. A wristband today can have more processing power than the original iPhone. An iPhone has more power than a desktop did 4 years ago. The speed of change is incredible. [Interview with Horace Dediu]
In 1858, a stationer named Hymen Lipman patented a newfangled pencil with a rubber plug embedded in one end of its wood shaft. An entrepreneur named Joseph Reckendorfer guessed that the pencil-plus-eraser would become a blockbuster product and bought the patent from Lipman for $100,000, about $2 million in today’s dollars. [NY Times] Related: The best pen.