Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Human evolution: Oldest hand-crafted flute so far is 35,000 years old

The pieces of the ancient flute
comprise a 22-centimetre instrument with five holes and a notched end. Conard said the flute is 35,000 years old.

“It’s unambiguously the oldest instrument in the world,” said Conard. His findings were published online Wednesday by the journal Nature.

Other archeologists agreed with Conard’s assessment.
Well, that's reassuring.

The Hohle Fels flute is more complete and appears slightly older than bone and ivory fragments from seven other flutes recovered in southern German caves and documented by Conard and his colleagues in recent years.
Now, here's the interesting part:
Roebroeks said it’s difficult to say how cognitively and socially advanced these people were. But the physical trappings of their lives — including musical instruments, personal decorations and figurative art — match the objects we associate with modern human behaviour, he said.

“It shows that from the moment that modern humans enter Europe ... it is as modern in terms of material culture as it can get,” Roebroeks said.
That's the thing about the evolution of human culture. It never actually seems to happen. Someone just makes a flute and starts playing it, and soon every tribe has a flute.

A bit like the history of mathematics, I suppose. Someone just invents an idea like the Pythagorean theorem or zero, and everyone just picks up from there.

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Meditation: Research scientist learns benefits personally

In "What Inspired A Scientist To Open A Meditation Center At UCLA?" (Huffington Post, July 15, 2009), Patricia Fitzgerald interviewed Susan Smalley, a research scientist who ended up creating a centre for mindfulness research.
I was fascinated with the gene mapping studies. I thought that if you found all the genes that influence human behavior, you could solve the world's problems. I thought that once we understood the biology, we would be able to map out what are the environments that interact with those genes and we could cure everything. I thought that was the solution to end suffering.

I did autism research for ten years, and ADHD research for 13 years. As I really started studying ADHD, it became clear that, like every other psychiatric and behavioral condition, there's not a single gene involved. There are many genes that interact. It's not something you're going to treat by altering genes; it will require a variety of approaches. I see ADHD as a way of brain processing that impacts many dimensions, not only attention but also working memory, probably personality, and other domains.
Then she got sick, and, while struggling with her disorder,
... had what I now call a "mystical experience" - I had a huge shift in consciousness. And it wasn't one that was incremental, day after day, increasing and increasing, but one of those, bam! Wow! The world, we're all interconnected, I'm part of the oneness of the universe. I discovered this sense of deep interconnectedness of our dependent nature and posted a blog about it.

It was so profound that I couldn't harm anything, and it was like all of a sudden. It wasn't choosing not to eat meat anymore or choosing not to harm an insect because I thought it was a nice thing to do. It was because I felt to harm another animal, insect, even plants was like hurting a part of myself, as if I was chopping off my own left arm. I saw us all as one interconnected thing.

It was a really profound state, and along with this heightened state of consciousness, this incredible state of compassion, came a flood of rushing joy, bliss, calmness, happiness. I couldn't even muster the old feelings I had that included the negative feelings of jealously, greed, anger ... all of those things I couldn't find in myself.
Of course, that state dissipated, but she saw another way to live, that may be much healthier for her.

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose


Neuroscience: Reducing minds to brains a deep dark rabbit hole?

At Medical Humanities blog, we read of a new paper in Neuroethics critiquing reductionism in neuroscience: Abstract:
Arguments for the importance of neuroscience reach across many disciplines. Advocates of neuroscience have made wide-ranging claims for neuroscience in the realms of ethics, value, and law. In law, for example, many scholars have argued for an increased role for neuroscientific evidence in the assessment of criminal responsibility. In this article, we take up claims for the explanatory role of neuroscience in matters of morals and law. Drawing on our previous work together, we assess the cogency of neuroscientific explanations of three issues that arise in these domains: rule following, interpretation, and knowledge. We critique these explanations and in general challenge claims as to the efficacy of the neuroscientific accounts.

Keywords: rule following, interpretation, knowledge, ethics, morals, mens rea, insanity, lie detection, deception

Accepted Paper Series
Here's a Medical Humanities discussion:
If in fact the mind is not the brain -- with which I absolutely agree -- then a very large portion of neuroscientific practice is immediately headed down a long, dark rabbit hole. But note again my insistence that the proposition that the mind is not (merely) the brain hardly means neuroscience itself is infirm or weak. Quite the contrary; as Pardo and Patterson emphasize, there is still a great deal of important work to be done on the brain that can best be demonstrated through neuroscientific methods. But the work is just that -- on the brain, and the constant leap from brain to mind cannot be sustained, if Pardo and Patterson are correct. The consequence is not that neuroscience is unimportant or not worth doing, but simply that neuroscientific modalities are not totalizing; they cannot explain or account for all of what it means to be conscious, to have mind, and ultimately, to be a person.

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose

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Book review and online vids: The Mind and the Brain

Here's a review of The Mind and the Brain by Jeff Schwartz and Sharon Begley,
Schwartz explains, in detail, how "mental force" enable to change the neural connections and structure of the brain; in other words, showing that mental force has a causal power. And this knowledge enabled Schwartz to develop a therapeutical strategy to help his patients to overcome Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

The steps of this therapeutical approach are explained in this website; and discussed in these videos too:
The review is a good resource for online vids on the use of non-materialist neuroscience in treating addiction and obsessive compulsive disorder.


Animal minds: Humans project guilt feelings onto their dogs?

In "Dogs' 'guilty' behavior may be owners' projection" (Seattle Times, July 3, 2009), Rob Stein reports that the ""guilty look dogs display may not be evidence that the dog is aware of guilt:
Horowitz asked each owner to show the dog a biscuit, instruct the dog not to eat it and leave the room. While the owner was gone, Horowitz either allowed the dog to eat the treat or removed it. The owner returned and was told the dog had obeyed the command or had been disobedient and had eaten the biscuit. Owners scolded the disobedient dogs. But half the time, the owners were told the truth about whether their dog had misbehaved while the other half were misled.

And this is the surprising thing: The dogs that had obeyed were just as likely as the ones that did not to exhibit one of nine behaviors associated with the "guilty look": dropping their head, pulling their ears back, avoiding eye contact, rolling over onto their side or back, dropping their tails, quickly wagging a lowered tail, licking their lips, offering a paw or slinking away.

Horowitz found that the pooches were most likely to show such behaviors when their owner believed they had disobeyed and scolded them.

"The most guilty look was when the owner scolded an innocent dog," she said. "It was a bit surprising."
Really, it's not all that surprising if we keep one thing in mind: The dog's primary concern is to stay in good with his people. He lets them make the rules about life with humans. And he is never going to feel more guilty than when he doesn't even know what he did wrong.
Horowitz stressed that her experiment "doesn't mean dogs don't feel guilty. When they are playing together, they have a code of behavior and can distinguish right from wrong. ... But I can't claim to know what they are feeling."
Horowitz concluded that such behavior is most likely the result of subtle cues that dogs picked up from their owners that make them anticipate punishment, rather than the dogs feeling guilty.
I always suggest that people who think there's no trick to understanding animal minds begin with "What is it like to be a bat?" by philosopher Thomas Nagel, if only to get some sense of the questions we want to know the answers to.

Other animal mind stories:

Rooks in captivity show more tool using feats, and many other animal minds stories at The Hack.