"No European who has tasted Savage Life can afterwards bear to live in our societies." — Benjamin Franklin

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Oh, Look, There's A Car Coming At Me While I Stand Here

I'm in the mood today to point out interesting news articles. Here's one about how we recognize the threats from animals like lions but don't realize the threats from things like speeding cars and electrical outlets. I've highlighted what I think are some important points. I think this could help explain why, when people are planning to move somewhere remote like Alaska or a jungle island somewhere, everyone says ridiculous things like, "But...you'll be eaten by a bear! YOU'LL DIEEEEEEEE!"

Modern Humans Retain Caveman's Survival Instincts
Jeanna Bryner
LiveScience.com Staff Writer

Like hunter-gatherers in the jungle, modern humans are still experts at spotting predators and prey, despite the developed world's safe suburbs and indoor lifestyle, a new study suggests.

The research, published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveals that humans today are hard-wired to pay attention to other people and animals much more so than non-living things, even if inanimate objects are the primary hazards for modern, urbanized folks.

The researchers say the finding supports the idea that natural selection molded mechanisms into our ancestors' brains that were specialized for paying attention to humans and other animals. These adaptive traits were then passed on to us.

"We're assuming that natural selection takes a long time to build anything anew and that's why this is left over from our past," said study team member Leda Cosmides, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB).

Ancestor's eyes

Immersed in a rich, biotic environment, it would have been imperative for our ancestors to monitor both humans and non-human animals. Predators and prey took many different forms—lions, tigers and bears—and they changed often, so constant eyeballing was critical.

While the environment has changed since then, with high-rises emerging where forests once took root and pampered pets taking the place of stalking beasts, our instinct-driven attention has not followed suit.

"Having this pop-out attentional bias for animals is sort of a vestigial behavior," said study team member Joshua New of Yale University's Perception and Cognition Lab.

In the study, groups of undergraduate students from UCSB, watched images displayed on computer monitors. The flashing images alternated between pairs of various outdoor scenes, with the first image showing one scene and the next an alternate version of that scene with one change. Participants indicated each time whether they detected a change.

The photographs included animate categories, such as people and other animals, as well as inanimate ones, such as plants, artifacts that can be manipulated (stapler or wheelbarrow) and fixed artifacts, such as landmarks (windmill or house).

Modern hunter-gatherers

Overall, the subjects were faster and more accurate at detecting changes involving all animals compared with inanimate objects. They correctly detected nearly 90 percent of the changes to "living" targets compared with 66 percent for inanimate objects.

In particular, the students spotted changes in elephant and human scenes 100 percent of the time, while they had a success rate of just over 75 percent for photos showing a silo and 67 percent for those with a coffee mug.

Though we are more likely to meet death via an SUV than a charging wildebeest, the results indicated subjects were slower and less successful at detecting changes to vehicles than to animals.

The researchers compare our attentional bias toward animals to the appendix, an organ present in modern humans because it was useful for our ancestors, but useless now [that bit about the appendix is debatable -- ed].

These results have implications for phobias and other behaviors that involve focus toward specific categories of objects over others.

"People develop phobias for spiders and snakes and things that were ancestral threats. It's very infrequent to have somebody afraid of cars or electrical outlets," New told LiveScience. "Those statistically pose much more of a threat to us than a tiger. That makes it an interesting test case as to why do tigers still capture attention."

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Cow Farts Are Destroying the World!

I just read this article and I'm flabbergasted. I've highlighted things that stuck out to me and added my comments next to them.

Eating less meat may slow climate change

By MARIA CHENG, AP Medical Writer Wed Sep 12, 9:06 PM ET

LONDON - Eating less meat could help slow global warming by reducing the number of livestock and thereby decreasing the amount of methane flatulence [We're seriously arguing over cow farts?! - ed] from the animals, scientists said on Thursday.

In a special energy and health series of the medical journal The Lancet, experts said people should eat fewer steaks and hamburgers. Reducing global red meat consumption by 10 percent, they said, would cut the gases emitted by cows, sheep and goats that contribute to global warming.

"We are at a significant tipping point," said Geri Brewster, a nutritionist at Northern Westchester Hospital in New York, who was not connected to the study.

"If people knew that they were threatening the environment by eating more meat, they might think twice [Twice? People don't even think once! - ed] before ordering a burger," Brewster said.

Other ways of reducing greenhouse gases from farming practices, like feeding animals higher-quality grains [Whew! Saved by monoculture and incorrect diet! - ed] , would only have a limited impact on cutting emissions. Gases from animals destined for dinner plates account for nearly a quarter of all emissions worldwide.

"That leaves reducing demand for meat as the only real option," said Dr. John Powles, a public health expert at Cambridge University, one of the study's authors.

The amount of meat eaten varies considerably worldwide. In developed countries, people typically eat about 224 grams per day. But in Africa, most people only get about 31 grams a day.

With demand for meat increasing worldwide, experts worry that this increased livestock production will mean more gases like methane and nitrous oxide heating up the atmosphere. In China, for instance, people are eating double the amount of meat they used to a decade ago.

Powles said that if the global average were 90 grams per day, that would prevent the levels of gases from speeding up climate change.

Eating less red meat would also improve health in general. Powles and his co-authors estimate that reducing meat consumption would reduce the numbers of people with heart disease and cancer. One study has estimated that the risk of colorectal cancer drops by about a third for every 100 grams of red meat that is cut out of your diet.

"As a society, we are overconsuming protein," Brewster said. "If we ate less red meat, it would also help stop the obesity epidemic [HAHAHAHAHA! *can't...breathe* HAHAHAHAHA! - ed]."

Experts said that it would probably take decades to wane the public off of its meat-eating tendency. "We need to better understand the implications of our diet, [You're damn straight you do! You're all confused right now! - ed] " said Dr. Maria Neira, director of director of the World Health Organization's department of public health and the environment.

"It is an interesting theory that needs to be further examined," she said. "But eating less meat could definitely be one way to reduce gas emissions and climate change."

I get more disgusted with modern people and society by the minute.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Wasps and Liverwurst

Eating lunch today on the patio of the coffeehouse, I saw the strangest thing: a yellow jacket wasp flew to the table, landed on my liverwurst, carved out a bit, rolled it into a ball, held onto it, and flew away. My partner and I were amazed. A few minutes later, the wasp returned. I let it land on the meat. It repeated the same process. We watched in awe. Then, we were done with lunch and cleaned the table.

The wasp came back as we walked away. The table was empty.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Telepathic Gorillas, and Lack of Doing

So, I'm reading "Ishmael" by Daniel Quinn. It's a good book and basically suggests adopting a paleolithic lifestyle. It's told as an interesting, somewhat warped, story taking place between a disgruntled man and an intelligent, telepathic gorilla. Worth a read.

And where does the author live? In Houston, Texas - in a city, living a neo-neolithic life.

Why don't people actually act upon their beliefs?