Arquivo da tag: Corpo

Study of 3.5 Million People Finds Human Hormones Change With The Seasons (Science Alert)

Carly Cassella, 7 FEBRUARY 2021

A review of millions of blood tests has shown a whole host of human hormones that fall into clear seasonal patterns, although these changes are small in magnitude.

Hormones from the pituitary gland, which help control reproduction, metabolism, stress and lactation, were mostly found to peak in late summer.

Peripheral organs under the control of the pituitary, like those that produce our sex hormones or the thyroid hormone, also showed seasonality. Instead of peaking in summer, however, these hormones hit their stride in winter.

Testosterone, estradiol, and progesterone, for instance, reached their pinnacle in late winter or spring.

The findings provide the strongest evidence to date that humans possess an internal seasonal clock, which somehow impacts our hormones in a way that lines up with the seasons.

“Together with a long history of studies on a winter−spring peak in human function and growth, the hormone seasonality indicates that, like other animals, humans may have a physiological peak season for basic biological functions,” the authors write

The underlying mechanism that drives this circannual clock is still unknown, but the authors suggest there is a natural, year-long feedback circuit at play between the pituitary gland and peripheral glands in the body.

The pituitary hormones, which are uniquely tuned to sunlight, could be feeding these other organs over the course of a year, allowing them to grow in functional mass in a way that aligns with the seasons.

“Thus, humans may show coordinated seasonal set-points with a winter−spring peak in the growth, stress, metabolism, and reproduction axes,” the authors write.

As the paper mentions, it’s not too different from what we find in other mammals, where fluctuations in certain hormones lead to seasonal changes in an animal’s reproduction, activity, growth, pigmentation, or migration.

Mammals like arctic reindeer, for instance, show a decrease in a hormone called leptin when winter days become shortest, and this helps lower their energy consumption, decreasing their body temperature and inhibiting their ability to reproduce.

Even primates closer to the equator show sensitivity to subtle seasonal changes. For instance, Rhesus macaques ovulate significantly more during the post-monsoon season so that their offspring are born just before the monsoons hit in summer.

Whether or not human hormones also fluctuate with the seasons remains unclear.

Most datasets that have been analysed so far are not very large and do not cover all human hormones, which makes drawing conclusions very challenging. Studies have either examined only human sex hormones, or they have focused on stress and metabolic hormones. Results have also been quite varied and inconsistent.

While some studies on human sex hormones suggest seasonal changes should be considered, other studies conclude seasons are an unimportant source of variability. 

Meanwhile, research on salivary cortisol levels – aka the stress hormone – finds there is some seasonal variability, and a big data study on the thyroid-stimulating hormone found higher levels of this hormone in summer and winter.

The new research is the largest of the lot and includes a massive dataset of Israeli health records covering 46 million person-years. It also analyses all human hormones.

Controlling for changes throughout a single day, the authors found humans do show seasonal patterns in their hormone levels, although not as strongly as other mammals.

The physiological effects of these hormonal shifts are still not clear, but some of the changes to the thyroid hormone, T3, and the stress hormone, cortisol, do align with previous findings.

For example, the thyroid hormone, which was found to peak in winter, has been tied to thermogeneration.  The seasonal timing of cortisol, which was found to peak in February, also agrees with past studies spanning the northern and southern hemispheres.

The seasonal changes are small in magnitude, but as the authors point out, from a clinical perspective, “even a small systematic effect can cause misdiagnosis if the normal ranges are not adapted to the seasons, with associated costs of extra tests and treatment.”

More studies on a similarly large scale and in various parts of the world will need to be done to verify the results further. But the findings suggest we are not so different from other mammals after all.

If our hormones really do ebb and flow with the seasons, even just a little bit, it could be important for our health that we know. 

The study was published in PNAS.

The Skeleton Trade: Life, Death, and Commerce in Early Modern Europe (Objects in Motion: Material Culture in Transition)

JULY 9, 2015

Anita Guerrini, Horning Professor of the Humanities and Professor of History at Oregon State University, discusses the fascinating research which she presented at Objects in Motion: Material Culture in Transition.

Although the human skeleton was well known as a symbol before 1500, the articulated skeleton does not seem to have come into its own as an object – scientific and artistic as well as symbolic – until the time of Vesalius. Curiously ubiquitous, since everyone has one, but yet largely invisible, anatomists revealed the skeleton to view. The well-known illustrations of Vesalius were plagiarized over and over for two centuries after their publication in 1543.

Vesalius, "De humani corporis fabrica", 1543. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Vesalius was the first to give detailed instructions on how to make a skeleton, for although it was a natural object, it was also a crafted object whose construction entailed a lot of work. The human body became an object in motion as it travelled from the scaffold to the dissection table to the grisly cauldron where the bones were boiled to remove their flesh. While artists and anatomists employed skeletons for instruction, little evidence of their collection appears before the mid-seventeenth century, when they begin to appear in cabinets and collections. Both the Royal Society and the Paris Academy of Sciences owned several. At the Paris Academy, André Colson, described as an “ébeniste” or furniture maker, was charged with the making and maintenance of the skeleton room, while the physician Nehemiah Grew, who catalogued the Royal Society’s collections in 1681, may also have made its skeletons. By the end of the seventeenth century, a vigorous skeleton trade flourished across Europe, and they often appear in auction catalogues alongside books, works of art, and scientific instruments. At the same time, relics, both old and new, retained their potency in both Catholic and Protestant countries.

After Vesalius, detailed instructions for making a skeleton appeared in many anatomical texts and manuals as part of the education of a physician or surgeons; in the eighteenth century, William Hunter took it for granted that each of his students would need to construct a skeleton for his own use and in addition procure “several skulls.” While such a process would seem to confer anonymity to the finished skeleton, provenance and even identity often clung to the bones along with religious resonances. Most skeletons were of executed criminals, some of them widely known. The skeleton of the “Thief-taker General” Jonathan Wild, executed in 1725, still hangs in the gallery of the College of Surgeons in London, and Hogarth’s famous 1751 “Fourth Stage of Cruelty” shows the skeletons of other malefactors on display in niches at Surgeons’ Hall while a cauldron awaits the bones of Tom Nero, who is being dissected by the surgeons after his conviction for murder.

William Hogarth's "The Fourth Stage of Cruelty", 1751. Credit: Wikimedia.

Widespread demand and changing scientific contexts expanded the market for skeletons (as well as skulls) beyond Europe to encompass much of the known world by the mid-eighteenth century. The prodigious collector Hans Sloane received skulls and bones from contacts throughout the world, including native bones that his Jamaican contacts apparently stumbled across in caves. Sloane’s meticulous catalogues of his collections allow one to trace the provenance of many of his human specimens though other collectors and agents. Such catalogues, along with account books, advertisements, and illustrations, reveal this worldwide commerce in skeletons alongside a continued trade in skeletal relics. Traveling across time and place, skeletons embodied beauty and deformity, crime and punishment, sin and sanctity, science and colonial power, often simultaneously.

18th-century trade card for the skeleton seller and preparator Nathaniel Longbottom of London. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

12 Reasons To Love Nudity And Celebrate NYC Bodypainting Day July 18 (NSFW) (Huff Post)

 Posted: 07/16/2015 8:15 pm EDT  Updated: 07/20/2015 1:59 pm EDT 

You don’t have to strip down to your birthday suit to celebrate NYC Bodypainting Day, but it’s something you might want to consider. Here’s why:

  • 1
    It’s Free
    Michael Loccisano via Getty Images
    Just come down to Dag Hammarskjold Plaza (47th Street at 2nd Avenue) on July 18. Full details at Bodypainting Day 2015.
  • 2
    All Are Welcome
    Andy Golub
    You can volunteer to be a model, artist, volunteer or just enjoy the show.
  • 3
    People Of All Races And Colors Will Be All Colors
    Andy Golub
  • 4
    It’s Clothing Optional (Sort Of)
    Andy Golub
    If you want to model, you have to take it all off. But if you just want to enjoy the show, you’ll need to put something on. Your choice.
  • 5
    It’s A Great Way To Enjoy New York City
    Once the models are painted, they’ll parade from Dag Hammarskjold Plaza (47th and 2nd Avenue) to the United Nations.
  • 6
    It’s About Free Artistic Expression
    TIMOTHY A. CLARY via Getty Images
    Artist Andy Golub didn’t change New York City nudity laws, but he did influence how they were enforced. If you’re naked in a public space because you’re creating art, it’s legal. Thanks, Andy!
  • 7
    It’s About Body Acceptance
  • 8
    It’s A Great Way To Meet People
  • 9
    You’ll Definitely Fit In
    Andy Golub
  • 10
    It’s Art
    Andy Golub
  • 11
    And, of course, The Body Is Beautiful
    Michael Loccisano via Getty Images
  • 12
    . . . In All Its Forms
    Buck Wolf

Listen to the Weird News Podcast for a full conversation with Golub, Aponte and Alston-Owens.

Change your walking style, change your mood (Science Daily)

Date: October 15, 2014

Source: Canadian Institute for Advanced Research

Summary: Our mood can affect how we walk — slump-shouldered if we’re sad, bouncing along if we’re happy. Now researchers have shown it works the other way too — making people imitate a happy or sad way of walking actually affects their mood.

Man walking (stock image). Subjects in this study who were prompted to walk in a more depressed style, with less arm movement and their shoulders rolled forward, experienced worse moods than those who were induced to walk in a happier style. Credit: © connel_design / Fotolia

Our mood can affect how we walk — slump-shouldered if we’re sad, bouncing along if we’re happy. Now researchers have shown it works the other way too — making people imitate a happy or sad way of walking actually affects their mood.

Subjects who were prompted to walk in a more depressed style, with less arm movement and their shoulders rolled forward, experienced worse moods than those who were induced to walk in a happier style, according to the study published in theJournal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry.

CIFAR Senior Fellow Nikolaus Troje (Queen’s University), a co-author on the paper, has shown in past research that depressed people move very differently than happy people.

“It is not surprising that our mood, the way we feel, affects how we walk, but we want to see whether the way we move also affects how we feel,” Troje says.

He and his colleagues showed subjects a list of positive and negative words, such as “pretty,” “afraid” and “anxious” and then asked them to walk on a treadmill while they measured their gait and posture. A screen showed the subjects a gauge that moved left or right depending on whether their walking style was more depressed or happier. But the subjects didn’t know what the gauge was measuring. Researchers told some subjects to try and move the gauge left, while others were told to move it right.

“They would learn very quickly to walk the way we wanted them to walk,” Troje says.

Afterward, the subjects had to write down as many words as they could remember from the earlier list of positive and negative words. Those who had been walking in a depressed style remembered many more negative words. The difference in recall suggests that the depressed walking style actually created a more depressed mood.

The study builds on our understanding of how mood can affect memory. Clinically depressed patients are known to remember negative events, particularly those about themselves, much more than positive life events, Troje says. And remembering the bad makes them feel even worse.

“If you can break that self-perpetuating cycle, you might have a strong therapeutic tool to work with depressive patients.”

The study also contributes to the questions asked in CIFAR’s Neural Computation & Adaptive Perception program, which aims to unlock the mystery of how our brains convert sensory stimuli into information and to recreate human-style learning in computers.

“As social animals we spend so much time watching other people, and we are experts at retrieving information about other people from all sorts of different sources,” Troje says. Those sources include facial expression, posture and body movement. Developing a better understanding of the biological algorithms in our brains that process stimuli — including information from our own movements — can help researchers develop better artificial intelligence, while learning more about ourselves in the process.

Journal Reference:

  1. Johannes Michalak, Katharina Rohde, Nikolaus F. Troje. How we walk affects what we remember: Gait modifications through biofeedback change negative affective memory bias. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 2015; 46: 121 DOI: 10.1016/j.jbtep.2014.09.004

Guy Debord e a clandestinidade da vida privada. (Prólogo de “O Uso dos Corpos” de Giorgio Agamben) (Obeissance est morte)

Outubro 13, 2014

Foi este mês lançado em Itália “L’Uso dei Corpi” de Giorgio Agamben. Com este volume Agamben termina a sua série “Homo Sacer”, iniciada em 1995 com a publicação de “Homo Sacer: O Poder Soberano e a Vida Nua”. Deixamos aqui uma tradução apressada do seu prólogo, um olhar extremamente lúcido sobre a figura de Guy Debord. 


1. É curioso como em Guy Debord uma consciência lúcida da insuficiência da vida privada era acompanhada pela mais ou menos consciente convicção de que existia, na sua própria existência ou na dos seus amigos, algo de único e de exemplar, que exigia ser recordado e comunicado. Já em Critique de La séparation Debord evoca, enquanto algo de certo modo intransmissível, “essa clandestinidade da vida privada sobre a qual nunca temos mais do que documentos derisórios”; E todavia nos seus primeiros filmes e ainda em Panégyrique não cessam de desfilar os rostos dos seus amigos um após outro, o de Asger Jorn, o de Maurice Wyckaert, o de Ivan Chtcheglov, e finalmente a sua própria cara, junto às das mulheres que amou. E não só, em Panégyrique surgem também as casas que habitou, o nº 28 da via delle Caldeie em Florença, a casa de campo em Champot, o Square des missions étrangères em Paris (na verdade o nº 109 da rue du Bac, o seu último endereço parisiense, na sala do qual uma fotografia de 1984 o retrata sentado num divã de couro inglês que parecia agradar-lhe).

Dá-se aqui uma contradição central, que os situacionistas não conseguiram superar e, simultaneamente algo de precioso que exige ser retomado e desenvolvido: talvez a obscura e inconfessada consciência de que o elemento genuinamente político consiste exactamente nesta incomunicável e quase ridícula clandestinidade da vida privada. Já que mesmo essa – a vida clandestina, a nossa foma-de-vida – é tão intima e próxima, que se a tentamos capturar nos deixa nas mãos apenas a impenetrável e tediosa quotidianidade. E todavia talvez seja mesmo esta homónima, promíscua e sombria presença a custodiar o segredo da política. A outra face do arcanum imperii na qual naufraga toda a biografia e toda a revolução. E Guy, que era tão hábil e perspicaz quando tinha de analisar e descrever as formas alienadas da existência na sociedade espectacular, é então assim tão cândido e impotente quando tenta comunicar a forma da sua vida e quando tenta olhar na cara e explodir a clandestinidade com a qual partilhou a viagem até ao último momento.

2. In Girum imus nocte et consumimur igni (1978) abre com uma declaração de guerra contra o seu tempo e prossegue com uma análise inexorável das condições de vida que a sociedade mercantil no estádio supremo do seu desenvolvimento instaurou sobre a totalidade do planeta. Inesperadamente a meio do filme a descrição detalhada e impiedosa cessa para dar lugar à evocação melancólica e quase débil das memórias e eventos pessoais que antecipam a intenção declaradamente autobiográfica dePanégyrique. Guy recorda a Paris da sua juventude, que já não existe, em cujas ruas e cafés tinha partido com os seus amigos em obstinada busca desse “Graal nefasto, que ninguém deseja”. Embora o Graal em questão, “fugazmente vislumbrado”, mas nunca “encontrado”, tivesse indiscutivelmente um significado político, já que os que o procuravam “se encontraram capazes de compreender a vida falsa à luz da verdadeira”, o tom da comemoração, marcado por citações da Eclisiastes, de Omar Khayyan, de Shakespeare e de Bossuet, é no entanto indiscutivelmente nostálgico e sombrio: “a meio do caminho da verdadeira vida, fomos rodeados por uma melancolia escura, expressa por palavras tristes e de escárnio, no café da juventude perdida”. Desta juventude perdida, Guy recorda a desordem, os amigos e os amores (“como não recordar os bandidos charmosos e as prostitutas orgulhosas com quem habitei esses ambientes duvidosos”), enquanto no ecrã surgem imagens de Gil J. Wolman, de Ghislain de Marbaix, de Pinot-Gallizio, de Attila Kotanyi e de Donald Nicholson-Smith. Mas é no fim do filme que o impulso autobiográfico reaparece com mais força e a visão de Florença quando era livre se entrança com as imagens da vida privada de Guy e das mulheres com quem viveu nessa cidade na década de setenta. Veem-se depois passar rapidamente as casas onde Guy viveu, o Impasse de Clairvaux, a rue St Jacques, a rue St. Martin, uma igreja em Chianti, Champot e, mais uma vez, os rostos dos amigos, enquanto se escutam as palavras da canção de Gilles em Les Visiteurs du soir: “Tristes enfants perdus, nous errions dan la nuit…”. E, poucas sequências antes do final, os retratos de Guy aos 19, 25, 27, 31, e 45. O nefasto Graal, do qual os situacionistas partiram em busca, concerne não apenas a política, mas de certo modo também a clandestinidade da vida privada, da qual o filme não hesita em exibir, aparentemente sem pudor, os “documentos ridículos”.

3. A intenção autobiográfica estava, de resto, já presente no palíndromo que dá nome ao filme. Logo após invocar a sua juventude perdida, Guy acrescenta que nada expressa melhor o dispêndio do que esta “antiga frase construída letra após letra como um labirinto sem saída, de modo a recordar perfeitamente a forma e o conteúdo da perda: in girum imus nocte et consumimur igni ‘Andamos em circulo pela noite e somos devorados pelo fogo’”.

A frase, definida por vezes como o “verso do diabo”, provém, na verdade, segundo uma cursiva indicação de Heckscher, da literatura emblemática e refere-se às traças inexoravelmente atraídas pela chama da vela que as consumirá. Um emblema é composto por uma impresa – uma frase ou um mote – e por uma imagem; nos livros que pude consultar, a imagem da traça devorada pelo fogo surge frequentemente, nunca associada ao livro em questão mas sim a frases que se referem à paixão amorosa (“assim o prazer vivo conduz à morte”, “assim de bem amar porto tempestuoso”) ou, em casos mais raros, à imprudência na política ou na guerra (“non temere est cuiquam temptanda potentia regis”, “temere ac periculose”). Nos Amorum emblemata de Otto van Veen (1608), a contemplar as traças que se precipitam em direção à chama da vela está um amor alado e a impresa diz: brevis et damnosa voluptas.

É provável, então, que Guy, escolhendo o palíndromo enquanto título, paragonasse a si próprio e aos seus companheiros às traças, que amorosamente e temerariamente atraídas pela luz estão destinadas a perder-se e a consumir-se no fogo. Na Ideologia Alemã – uma obra que Guy conhecia perfeitamente – Marx evoca criticamente a mesma imagem: “e é assim que as borboletas noturnas, quando o sol do universal se põe, procuram a luz de lâmpada do particular”. Tanto mais singular é que, apesar desta advertência, Guy tenha continuado a seguir esta luz, a espiar obstinadamente a chama da existência singular e privada.

4. No final dos anos noventa, nas bancas de uma livraria parisiense, o segundo volume dePanégyrique, contendo a iconografia, estava exposto – por acaso ou por intenção irónica do livreiro – ao lado da autobiografia de Paul Ricouer. Nada é mais instrutivo do que comparar o uso das imagens em ambos os casos. Enquanto as fotografias do livro de Ricoeur retratam o filósofo exclusivamente no decurso de convénios académicos, como se ele não tivesse tido outra vida fora deles, as imagens de Panégyrique pretendiam um estatuto de verdade biográfica que observava a existência do autor em todos os seus aspectos. “A ilustração autêntica”, adverte a curta promessa, “ilumina o discurso verdadeiro… saberemos finalmente então qual a minha aparência em diferentes idades; e que tipo de rostos sempre me rodearam; e que lugares habitei…”. Uma vez mais, não obstante a evidente insuficiência e banalidade dos seus documentos, a vida – a vida clandestina – está em primeiro plano.

5. Uma noite, em Paris, Alice, quando lhe disse que muitos jovens em Itália continuavam interessados nos escritos de Guy e que esperavam dele uma palavra, repondeu: “Existimos, deveria ser-lhes suficiente”. Que queria dizer “existimos”? Nesses anos viviam isolados e sem telefone entre Paris e Champot, de certo modo com os olhos postos no passado, e a sua “existência” estava, por assim dizer, totalmente achatada na “clandestinidade da vida privada”.

No entanto, ainda um pouco antes do seu suicídio em novembro de 1994, o titulo do seu último filme preparado para o Canal Plus: Guy Debord, son art, son temps não parece – apesar do esse son art realmente inesperado – de todo irónico na sua intenção biográfica e, antes de se concentrar com extraordinária veemência no horror do “seu tempo”, esta espécie de testamento espiritual reitera com o mesmo candor e as mesmas velhas fotografias a evocação nostálgica da vida transcorrida.

O que significa então “existimos”? A existência – este conceito fundamental na primeira filosofia do ocidente – terá talvez constituitivamente a ver com a vida. “Ser”, escreve Aristóteles, “para os vivos significa viver”. E, alguns séculos depois, Nietzsche precisa: “ser: não temos outra representação que viver”. Trazer à luz – fora de qualquer vitalismo – o intimo cruzamente de ser e existir: esta é certamente hoje a tarefa do pensamento (e da política)

6. A Sociedade do Espectáculo abre com a palavra “vida” (“Toda a vida das sociedades nas quais reinam as condições modernas de produção se anuncia como uma imensa acumulação de espectáculos) e até ao último momento as análises do livro não cessam de pôr em causa a vida. O espectáculo, onde “tudo o que era directamente vivido se distancia numa representação”, é definido enquanto uma “inversão concreta da vida”. “Quanto mais a vida do homem se torna no seu produto, tanto mais ele é separado da sua vida”. A vida nas condições espectaculares é uma “falsa vida”, uma “sobrevivência” ou um “pseudo-uso da vida”. Contra esta vida alienada e separada, é postulado algo que Guy chama “vida histórica”, que surge logo no renascimento como uma “ruptura alegre com a eternidade”: “na vida exuberante das cidades italianas… a vida é conhecida enquanto um disfrute da passagem do tempo”. Anos antes, em Sur le passage de qualques personnes e em Critique de la séparation, Guy afirma de si e dos seus companheiros que “queriam reinventar tudo todos os dias, tornar-se patrões e donos da sua própria vida”, e que os seus encontros eram como “sinais provenientes de uma vida mais intensa, que nunca foi verdadeiramente encontrada”.

O que fosse esta vida “mais intensa”, o que era arruinado ou falsificado no espectáculo ou simplesmente o que deve ser entendido por “vida na sociedade” não é esclarecido em qualquer momento; e no entanto seria demasiado fácil censurar ao autor incoerência ou imprecisão terminológica. Guy não faz que repetir uma postura constante na nossa cultura, na qual a vida não é nunca definida enquanto tal, mas é recorrentemente dividida em Bios e Zoè, vida politicamente qualificada e vida nua, vida pública e vida privada, vida vegetativa e vida de relação, num modo em que nenhuma das partições é determinável senão na sua relação com a outra. E é talvez em última análise exactamente o indecidível da vida que faz com que ela seja sempre de novo decidida singular e politicamente. E a indecisão de Guy entre a clandestinidade da sua vida privada – que, com o passar do tempo, devia parecer-lhe mais fugidia e indocumentável – e a vida histórica, entre a sua vida individual e a época obscura e irrenunciável na qual ela esteve inscrita, traduz uma dificuldade que, pelo menos nas condições presentes, ninguém se pode iludir de ter resolvido de uma vez por todas. De qualquer modo, o Graal obstinadamente procurado, a vida que inutilmente se consome na chama, não era reduzível a nenhum dos termos opostos, nem à idiotez da vida privada nem ao incerto prestígio da vida pública, revogando assim a questão da própria possibilidade de as distinguir.

Ivan Illich observou que a noção corrente de vida (não “uma vida”, mas “a vida” em geral) é percecionada enquanto “facto científico”, que não tem já qualquer relação com a experiência do vivente singular. A vida é algo anónimo e genérico, que pode designar tanto um espermatozoide, uma pessoa, uma abelha, um urso ou um embrião. Deste “facto científico”, tão genérico que a ciência renunciou a procurar-lhe uma definição, a Igreja fez o último recetáculo do sagrado, e a bioética o termo chave da sua impotente absurdez.

Assim como nessa vida se insinuou um resíduo sacro, a outra, a clandestina, que Guy seguia, tornou-se ainda mais indescritível. A tentativa situacionista de restituir a vida à política esbarra com uma dificuldade posterior, mas não é por isso menos urgente.

O que significa que a vida privada nos acompanhe enquanto uma vida clandestina? Acima de tudo, que está separada de nós como está um clandestino, e do mesmo modo que é de nós inseparável no modo como, enquanto clandestino, partilha subrepticiamente a vida connosco. Esta cisão e inseparabilidade definem tenazmente o estatuto da vida na nossa cultura. A vida é algo que pode ser dividido – e no entanto sempre articulado e reunido numa máquina médica, filosófico-teológica ou biopolítica. Assim não é apenas a vida privada que nos acompanha enquanto clandestina na nossa breve ou longa viagem, mas a própria vida corpórea e tudo o que tradicionalmente se inscreve na esfera da chamada “intimidade”: a nutrição, a digestão, o urinar, o defecar, o sono, a sexualidade… E o peso desta companheira sem cara é tão forte que todos o procuramos partilhar com um outro – e todavia a estranheza e a clandestinidade nunca desaparecem e permanecem irresolúveis até na mais amorosa das convivências. A vida aqui é verdadeiramente como a raposa roubada que o rapaz esconde sob as suas roupas e não pode confessar ainda que lhe dilacere atrozmente a carne.

É como se cada um sentisse obscuramente que a própria opacidade da vida clandestina encerra em si um elemento genuinamente político, e como tal por excelência partilhável – e todavia, se o tentamos partilhar, foge obstinadamente à sua prisão e não deixa senão um resíduo ridículo e incomunicável. O castelo de Silling, no qual o poder político não tem outro objecto que a vida vegetativa dos corpos é neste sentido a figura da verdade e, do mesmo modo, o fracasso da política moderna – que é na verdade uma biopolítica. Ocorre mudar a vida, levar a política ao quotidiano – e no entanto, no quotidiano, o político não pode senão naufragar.

E quando, como sucede hoje, o eclipse da política e da esfera pública não deixa subsistir senão o privado e a vida nua, a vida clandestina, que se torna a única dona do campo, deve, enquanto privada, publicitar-se e tentar comunicar os seus próprios já não risíveis (e todavia ainda tais) documentos que coincidem agora imediatamente com ela, com as suas jornadas indistintas filmadas ao vivo e transmitidas pelos ecrãs aos outros, uma após a outra.

E, no entanto, apenas se o pensamento for capaz de encontrar o elemento político que se escondeu na clandestinidade da existência singular, apenas se para lá da cisão entre público e privado, política e biografia, zoè e bios, for possível delinear os contornos de uma forma de vida e de um uso comum dos corpos, a política poderá sair do seu mutismo e da biografia individual da sua idiotez.

Amputees discern familiar sensations across prosthetic hand (Science Daily)

Date: October 8, 2014

Source: Case Western Reserve University

Summary: Patients connected to a new prosthetic system said they ‘felt’ their hands for the first time since they lost them in accidents. In the ensuing months, they began feeling sensations that were familiar and were able to control their prosthetic hands with more — well — dexterity.

Medical researchers are helping restore the sense of touch in amputees. Credit: Image courtesy of Case Western Reserve University

Even before he lost his right hand to an industrial accident 4 years ago, Igor Spetic had family open his medicine bottles. Cotton balls give him goose bumps.

Now, blindfolded during an experiment, he feels his arm hairs rise when a researcher brushes the back of his prosthetic hand with a cotton ball.

Spetic, of course, can’t feel the ball. But patterns of electric signals are sent by a computer into nerves in his arm and to his brain, which tells him different. “I knew immediately it was cotton,” he said.

That’s one of several types of sensation Spetic, of Madison, Ohio, can feel with the prosthetic system being developed by Case Western Reserve University and the Louis Stokes Cleveland Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Spetic was excited just to “feel” again, and quickly received an unexpected benefit. The phantom pain he’d suffered, which he’s described as a vice crushing his closed fist, subsided almost completely. A second patient, who had less phantom pain after losing his right hand and much of his forearm in an accident, said his, too, is nearly gone.

Despite having phantom pain, both men said that the first time they were connected to the system and received the electrical stimulation, was the first time they’d felt their hands since their accidents. In the ensuing months, they began feeling sensations that were familiar and were able to control their prosthetic hands with more — well — dexterity.

To watch a video of the research, click here:

“The sense of touch is one of the ways we interact with objects around us,” said Dustin Tyler, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Case Western Reserve and director of the research. “Our goal is not just to restore function, but to build a reconnection to the world. This is long-lasting, chronic restoration of sensation over multiple points across the hand.”

“The work reactivates areas of the brain that produce the sense of touch, said Tyler, who is also associate director of the Advanced Platform Technology Center at the Cleveland VA. “When the hand is lost, the inputs that switched on these areas were lost.”

How the system works and the results will be published online in the journal Science Translational Medicine Oct. 8.

“The sense of touch actually gets better,” said Keith Vonderhuevel, of Sidney, Ohio, who lost his hand in 2005 and had the system implanted in January 2013. “They change things on the computer to change the sensation.

“One time,” he said, “it felt like water running across the back of my hand.”

The system, which is limited to the lab at this point, uses electrical stimulation to give the sense of feeling. But there are key differences from other reported efforts.

First, the nerves that used to relay the sense of touch to the brain are stimulated by contact points on cuffs that encircle major nerve bundles in the arm, not by electrodes inserted through the protective nerve membranes.

Surgeons Michael W Keith, MD and J. Robert Anderson, MD, from Case Western Reserve School of Medicine and Cleveland VA, implanted three electrode cuffs in Spetic’s forearm, enabling him to feel 19 distinct points; and two cuffs in Vonderhuevel’s upper arm, enabling him to feel 16 distinct locations.

Second, when they began the study, the sensation Spetic felt when a sensor was touched was a tingle. To provide more natural sensations, the research team has developed algorithms that convert the input from sensors taped to a patient’s hand into varying patterns and intensities of electrical signals. The sensors themselves aren’t sophisticated enough to discern textures, they detect only pressure.

The different signal patterns, passed through the cuffs, are read as different stimuli by the brain. The scientists continue to fine-tune the patterns, and Spetic and Vonderhuevel appear to be becoming more attuned to them.

Third, the system has worked for 2 ½ years in Spetic and 1½ in Vonderhueval. Other research has reported sensation lasting one month and, in some cases, the ability to feel began to fade over weeks.

A blindfolded Vonderhuevel has held grapes or cherries in his prosthetic hand — the signals enabling him to gauge how tightly he’s squeezing — and pulled out the stems.

“When the sensation’s on, it’s not too hard,” he said. “When it’s off, you make a lot of grape juice.”

Different signal patterns interpreted as sandpaper, a smooth surface and a ridged surface enabled a blindfolded Spetic to discern each as they were applied to his hand. And when researchers touched two different locations with two different textures at the same time, he could discern the type and location of each.

Tyler believes that everyone creates a map of sensations from their life history that enables them to correlate an input to a given sensation.

“I don’t presume the stimuli we’re giving is hitting the spots on the map exactly, but they’re familiar enough that the brain identifies what it is,” he said.

Because of Vonderheuval’s and Spetic’s continuing progress, Tyler is hopeful the method can lead to a lifetime of use. He’s optimistic his team can develop a system a patient could use at home, within five years.

In addition to hand prosthetics, Tyler believes the technology can be used to help those using prosthetic legs receive input from the ground and adjust to gravel or uneven surfaces. Beyond that, the neural interfacing and new stimulation techniques may be useful in controlling tremors, deep brain stimulation and more.

Journal Reference:

  1. D. W. Tan, M. A. Schiefer, M. W. Keith, J. R. Anderson, J. Tyler, D. J. Tyler. A neural interface provides long-term stable natural touch perception. Science Translational Medicine, 2014; 6 (257): 257ra138 DOI:10.1126/scitranslmed.3008669

*   *   *

Mind-controlled prosthetic arms that work in daily life are now a reality (Science Daily)

Date: October 8, 2014

Source: Chalmers University of Technology

Summary: For the first time, robotic prostheses controlled via implanted neuromuscular interfaces have become a clinical reality. A novel osseointegrated (bone-anchored) implant system gives patients new opportunities in their daily life and professional activities.

For the first time, robotic prostheses controlled via implanted neuromuscular interfaces have become a clinical reality. Credit: Image courtesy of Chalmers University of Technology

For the first time, robotic prostheses controlled via implanted neuromuscular interfaces have become a clinical reality. A novel osseointegrated (bone-anchored) implant system gives patients new opportunities in their daily life and professional activities.

In January 2013 a Swedish arm amputee was the first person in the world to receive a prosthesis with a direct connection to bone, nerves and muscles. An article about this achievement and its long-term stability will now be published in the Science Translational Medicine journal.

“Going beyond the lab to allow the patient to face real-world challenges is the main contribution of this work,” says Max Ortiz Catalan, research scientist at Chalmers University of Technology and leading author of the publication.

“We have used osseointegration to create a long-term stable fusion between man and machine, where we have integrated them at different levels. The artificial arm is directly attached to the skeleton, thus providing mechanical stability. Then the human’s biological control system, that is nerves and muscles, is also interfaced to the machine’s control system via neuromuscular electrodes. This creates an intimate union between the body and the machine; between biology and mechatronics.”

The direct skeletal attachment is created by what is known as osseointegration, a technology in limb prostheses pioneered by associate professor Rickard Brånemark and his colleagues at Sahlgrenska University Hospital. Rickard Brånemark led the surgical implantation and collaborated closely with Max Ortiz Catalan and Professor Bo Håkansson at Chalmers University of Technology on this project.

The patient’s arm was amputated over ten years ago. Before the surgery, his prosthesis was controlled via electrodes placed over the skin. Robotic prostheses can be very advanced, but such a control system makes them unreliable and limits their functionality, and patients commonly reject them as a result.

Now, the patient has been given a control system that is directly connected to his own. He has a physically challenging job as a truck driver in northern Sweden, and since the surgery he has experienced that he can cope with all the situations he faces; everything from clamping his trailer load and operating machinery, to unpacking eggs and tying his children’s skates, regardless of the environmental conditions (read more about the benefits of the new technology below).

The patient is also one of the first in the world to take part in an effort to achieve long-term sensation via the prosthesis. Because the implant is a bidirectional interface, it can also be used to send signals in the opposite direction — from the prosthetic arm to the brain. This is the researchers’ next step, to clinically implement their findings on sensory feedback.

“Reliable communication between the prosthesis and the body has been the missing link for the clinical implementation of neural control and sensory feedback, and this is now in place,” says Max Ortiz Catalan. “So far we have shown that the patient has a long-term stable ability to perceive touch in different locations in the missing hand. Intuitive sensory feedback and control are crucial for interacting with the environment, for example to reliably hold an object despite disturbances or uncertainty. Today, no patient walks around with a prosthesis that provides such information, but we are working towards changing that in the very short term.”

The researchers plan to treat more patients with the novel technology later this year.

“We see this technology as an important step towards more natural control of artificial limbs,” says Max Ortiz Catalan. “It is the missing link for allowing sophisticated neural interfaces to control sophisticated prostheses. So far, this has only been possible in short experiments within controlled environments.”

More about: How the technology works

The new technology is based on the OPRA treatment (osseointegrated prosthesis for the rehabilitation of amputees), where a titanium implant is surgically inserted into the bone and becomes fixated to it by a process known as osseointegration (Osseo = bone). A percutaneous component (abutment) is then attached to the titanium implant to serve as a metallic bone extension, where the prosthesis is then fixated. Electrodes are implanted in nerves and muscles as the interfaces to the biological control system. These electrodes record signals which are transmitted via the osseointegrated implant to the prostheses, where the signals are finally decoded and translated into motions.

More about: Benefits of the new technology, compared to socket prostheses

Direct skeletal attachment by osseointegration means:

  • Increased range of motion since there are no physical limitations by the socket — the patient can move the remaining joints freely
  • Elimination of sores and pain caused by the constant pressure from the socket
  • Stable and easy attachment/detachment
  • Increased sensory feedback due to the direct transmission of forces and vibrations to the bone (osseoperception)
  • The prosthesis can be worn all day, every day
  • No socket adjustments required (there is no socket)

Implanting electrodes in nerves and muscles means that:

  • Due to the intimate connection, the patients can control the prosthesis with less effort and more precisely, and can thus handle smaller and more delicate items.
  • The close proximity between source and electrode also prevents activity from other muscles from interfering (cross-talk), so that the patient can move the arm to any position and still maintain control of the prosthesis.
  • More motor signals can be obtained from muscles and nerves, so that more movements can be intuitively controlled in the prosthesis.
  • After the first fitting of the controller, little or no recalibration is required because there is no need to reposition the electrodes on every occasion the prosthesis is worn (as opposed to superficial electrodes).
  • Since the electrodes are implanted rather than placed over the skin, control is not affected by environmental conditions (cold and heat) that change the skin state, or by limb motions that displace the skin over the muscles. The control is also resilient to electromagnetic interference (noise from other electric devices or power lines) as the electrodes are shielded by the body itself.
  • Electrodes in the nerves can be used to send signals to the brain as sensations coming from the prostheses.

Journal Reference:

  1. M. Ortiz-Catalan, B. Hakansson, R. Branemark. An osseointegrated human-machine gateway for long-term sensory feedback and motor control of artificial limbs. Science Translational Medicine, 2014; 6 (257): 257re6 DOI:10.1126/scitranslmed.3008933

Doing math with your body (Science Daily)

Date: October 2, 2014

Source: Radboud University

Summary: You do math in your head most of the time, but you can also teach your body how to do it. Researchers investigated how our brain processes and understands numbers and number size. They show that movements and sensory perception help us understand numbers.

In this example the physically largest number (2) is the smallest in terms of meaning. It was harder for test subjects to identify a 2 as the physically largest number then it was for them to identify a 9 as the largest number. Credit: Image courtesy of Radboud University

You do math in your head most of the time, but you can also teach your body how to do it. Florian Krause investigated how our brain processes and understands numbers and number size. He shows that movements and sensory perception help us understand numbers. Krause defends his thesis on October 10 at Radboud University.

When learning to do math, it helps to see that two marbles take up less space than twenty. Or to feel that a bag with ten apples weighs more than a bag with just one. During his PhD at Radboud University’s Donders Institute, Krause investigated which brain areas represent size and how these areas work together. He concludes that number size is associated with sizes experienced by our body.

Physically perceived size

Krause asked tests subjects to find the physically largest number in an image with eighteen numbers. Sometimes this number was also the largest in terms of meaning, but sometimes it wasn’t. Subjects found the largest number faster when it was also the largest in terms of meaning. ‘This shows how sensory information about small and large is associated with our understanding of numbers’, Krause says. ‘Combining this knowledge about size makes our processing of numbers more effective.’

More fruit, more force

Even very young children have a sensory understanding of size. In a computer game, Krause asked them to lift up a platform carrying a few or many pieces of fruit by pressing a button. Although the amount of force applied to the button did not matter — simply pressing it was adequate — children pushed harder when there was a lot of fruit on the platform and less hard when there was little fruit on the platform.

Applications in education

Krause believes his results can provide applications in math education. ‘If numerical size and other body-related size information are indeed represented together in the brain, strengthening this link during education might be beneficial. For instance by using a ‘rekenstok’ which makes you experience how long a meter or ten centimeter is when holding it with both hands. This general idea can be extended to other experiencable magnitudes besides spatial length, by developing tools which make you see an amount of light or hear an amount of sound that correlates with the number size in a calculation.’

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola (Slate)

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Photo by John Moore/Getty ImagesSuspected Ebola patient Finda “Zanabo” prays over her sick family members before being admitted to the Doctors Without Borders Ebola treatment center on Aug. 21, 2014, near Monrovia, Liberia. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

As the Ebola epidemic in West Africa has spiraled out of control, affecting thousands of Liberians, Sierra Leonians, and Guineans, and threatening thousands more, the world’s reaction has been glacially, lethally slow. Only in the past few weeks have heads of state begun to take serious notice. To date, the virus has killed more than 2,600 people. This is a comparatively small number when measured against much more established diseases such as malaria,HIV/AIDS, influenza, and so on, but several factors about this outbreak have some of the world’s top health professionals gravely concerned:

  • Its kill rate: In this particular outbreak, a running tabulation suggests that 54 percent of the infected die, though adjusted numbers suggest that the rate is much higher.
  • Its exponential growth: At this point, the number of people infected is doubling approximately every three weeks, leading some epidemiologists to projectbetween 77,000 and 277,000 cases by the end of 2014.
  • The gruesomeness with which it kills: by hijacking cells and migrating throughout the body to affect all organs, causing victims to bleed profusely.
  • The ease with which it is transmitted: through contact with bodily fluids, including sweat, tears, saliva, blood, urine, semen, etc., including objects that have come in contact with bodily fluids (such as bed sheets, clothing, and needles) and corpses.
  • The threat of mutation: Prominent figures have expressed serious concerns that this disease will go airborne, and there are many other mechanisms through which mutation might make it much more transmissible.

Terrifying as these factors are, it is not clear to me that any of them capture what is truly, horribly tragic about this disease.

The most striking thing about the virus is the way in which it propagates. True, through bodily fluids, but to suggest as much is to ignore the conditions under which bodily contact occurs. Instead, the mechanism Ebola exploits is far more insidious. This virus preys on care and love, piggybacking on the deepest, most distinctively human virtues. Affected parties are almost all medical professionals and family members, snared by Ebola while in the business of caring for their fellow humans. More strikingly, 75 percent of Ebola victims are women, people who do much of the care work throughout Africa and the rest of the world. In short, Ebola parasitizes our humanity.

More than most other pandemic diseases (malaria, cholera, plague, etc.) and more than airborne diseases (influenza, swine flu, H5N1, etc.) that are transmitted indiscriminately through the air, this disease is passed through very minute amounts of bodily fluid. Just a slip of contact with the infected party and the caregiver herself can be stricken.

The images coming from Africa are chilling. Little boys, left alone in the street without parents, shivering and sick, untouchable by the throngs of people around them. Grown men, writhing at the door to a hospital, hoping for care as their parents stand helplessly, wondering how to help. Mothers and fathers, fighting weakness and exhaustion to move to the edge of a tent in order to catch a distant, final glimpse of a get-well video that their children have made for them.

If Ebola is not stopped, this disease can destroy whole families within a month, relatives of those families shortly thereafter, friends of those relatives after that, and on and on. As it takes hold (and it is taking hold fast), it cuts out the heart of family and civilization. More than the profuse bleeding and high kill rate, this is why the disease is terrifying. Ebola sunders the bonds that make us human.

Aid providers are now working fastidiously to sever these ties themselves, fighting hopelessly against the natural inclinations that people have to love and care for the ill. They have launched aggressive public information campaigns, distributedupdates widely, called for more equipment and gear, summoned the military, tried to rein in the hysteria, and so on. Yet no sheet of plastic or latex can disrupt these human inclinations.

Such heroic efforts are the appropriate medical response to a virulent public health catastrophe. The public health community is doing an incredible job, facing unbelievable risks, relying on extremely limited resources. Yet these efforts can only do half of the work. Infected parties—not all, to be sure, but some (enough)—cannot abide by the rules of disease isolation. Some will act without donning protective clothing. Some will assist without taking proper measures. And still others will refuse to enter isolation units because doing so means leaving their families and their loved ones behind, abandoning their humanity, and subjecting themselves to the terror of dying a sterile, lonely death.

It is tempting, at these times, to focus on the absurd and senseless actions of a few. One of the primary vectors in Sierra Leone is believed to have been a traditional healer who had been telling people that she could cure Ebola. In Monrovia a few weeks back, angry citizens stormed a clinic and removed patients from their care. “There is no Ebola!” they are reported to have been shouting. More recently, the largest newspaper in Liberia published an article suggesting that Ebola is a conspiracy of the United States, aimed to undermine Africa. And, perhaps even more sadly, a team of health workers and journalists was just brutally murdered in Guinea. It is easy, in other words, to blame the spread on stupidity, or illiteracy, or ritualism, or conspiracy theories, or any number of other irrational factors.

Photo by John Moore/Getty ImagesA man checks on a very sick Saah Exco, 10, in a back alley of the West Point slum on Aug. 19, 2014, in Monrovia, Liberia. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

But imagine: You are a parent whose child has suddenly come ill with a fever. Do you cast your child away and refuse to touch him? Do you cover your face and your arms? Stay back! Unclean! Or do you comfort your child when he asks for you, arms outstretched, to make the pain go away?

Imagine: You live in a home with five other family members. Your sister falls ill, ostensibly from Ebola, but possibly from malaria, typhoid, yellow fever, or the flu. You are aware of the danger to yourself and your other family members, but you have no simple means to move her, and she is too weak to move herself. What do you do?

Imagine: You are a child of 5 years old. Your mother is sick. She implores you to back away. But you are scared. What you need, more than anything, is a hug and a cry.

Who can blame a person for this? It is a terrible, awful predicament. A moral predicament. To stay, comfort, and give love and care to those who are in desperate need, or to shuttle them off into an isolation ward, perhaps never to see them again? What an inhumane decision this is.

What makes the Ebola virus so terrifying is not its kill rate, its exponential growth, the gruesome way in which it kills, the ease of transmission, or the threat of mutation, but rather that people who care can do almost nothing but sit on the sidelines and watch.

* * *

Many have asked whether Ebola could come here, come West. (The implication, in its way, is crass—as if to suggest that we need not be concerned about a tragedy unless it poses a threat to us.) We have been reassured that it will never spread widely here, because our public health networks are too strong, our hospitals too well-stocked. The naysayers may be right about this. But they are not right that it does not pose a threat to us.

For starters, despite the pretense, the West is not immune from absurd, unscientific thinking. We have our fair share of scientific illiteracy, skepticism, ritualism, and foolishness. But beyond this, it is our similarities, not our differences, that make us vulnerable to this plague. We are human. Every mechanism we have for caring—touching, holding, feeding, playing, warming, comforting, caressing—every mechanism that we use to bind us to our families and our neighbors, is preyed upon by Ebola. We cannot seal each other into hyperbaric chambers and expect that once we emerge, the carnage will be over. We are humans, and we will care about our children and our families even if it means that we may die in doing so.

The lesson here is a vital one: People do not give up on humanity so very easily. Even if we persuade all of the population to forgo rituals like washing the dead, we will not easily persuade parents to keep from holding their sick children, children from clinging to their ailing parents, or children from playing and wrestling and slobbering all over one another. We tried to alter such behaviors with HIV/AIDS. A seemingly simple edict—“just lay off the sex with infected parties”—would seem all that is required to halt that disease. But we have learned over the decades that people do not give up sex so readily.

If you think curtailing sex is hard, love and compassion will be that much harder. Humans will never give this up—we cannot give this up, for it is fundamental to who we are. The more that medical personnel require this of people without also giving them methods to manifest care, the more care and compassion will manifest in pockets outside of quarantine. And the more humanity that manifests unchecked, the more space this virus has to grow. Unchecked humanity will seep through the cracks and barriers that we build to keep our families safe, and if left to find its own way, will carry a lethal payload.

The problem is double-edged. Ebola threatens humanity by preying on humanity. The seemingly simple solution is to destroy humanity ourselves—to seal everything off and let the disease burn out on its own. But doing so means destroying ourselves in order to save ourselves, which is no solution at all.

Photo by John Moore/Getty ImagesA medical worker in a protective suit works near Ebola patients in a Doctors Without Borders hospital on Sept. 7, 2014, in Monrovia, Liberia. Photo by Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images

We must find a method of caring without touching, of contacting without making contact. The physiological barriers are, for the time being, necessary. But we cannot stop people from caring about one another, so we must create, for the time being, mechanisms for caring. Since we will never be able to beat back humanity, we must coordinate humanity, at the family level, the local level, and the global level.

The only one way to battle a disease that affixes itself parasitically to our humanity is to overwhelm it with greater, stronger humanity. To immunize Africa and the rest of the world with a blast of humanity so powerful that the disease can no longer take root. What it will take to beat this virus is to turn its most powerful vehicle, our most powerful weapon, against it.

Here are some things we can do:

Donate to the great organizations that are working tirelessly to bring this disease under control. They need volunteers, medical supplies, facilities, transportation, food, etc. Share information about Ebola, so people will learn about it, know about it, and know how to address it when it comes. And inform and help others. It is natural at a time of crisis to call for sealing the borders, to build fences and walls that separate us further from outside threats. But a disease that infects humanity cannot easily be walled off in this way. Walling off just creates unprotected pockets of humanity, divisions between us and them: my family, your family; that village, this village; inside, outside.

* * *

One final thing.

When Prince Prospero, ill-fated protagonist of Edgar Allan Poe’s story “The Masque of the Red Death,” locked himself in his castle to avoid a contagion that was sweeping his country—a disease that caused “profuse bleeding at the pores”—he assumed mistakenly that the only reasonable solution to his problem was to remove himself from the scene. For months he lived lavishly, surrounded by courtiers, improvisatori, buffoons, musicians, and wine, removed from danger while the pestilence wrought havoc outside.

As with much of Poe’s writing, Prospero’s tale does not end well. For six months, all was calm. He and his courtiers enjoyed their lives, secure and isolated from the plague laying waste to the countryside. Then, one night during a masquerade ball, the Red Death snuck into the castle, hidden behind a mask and a cloak, to afflict Prospero and his revelers, dropping them one by one in the “blood-bedewed halls.” Prospero’s security was a façade, leaving darkness and decay to hold “illimitable dominion over all.” The eventual intrusion that would be his undoing foretells of a danger in believing that we can keep the world’s ills at bay by keeping our distance.

If we seek safety by shutting out the rest of the world, we are in for a brutally ugly awakening. Nature is a cruel mistress, but Ebola is her cruelest, most devious trick yet.

Benjamin Hale is associate professor of philosophy and environmental studies at the University of Colorado–Boulder. He is vice president of the International Society of Environmental Ethics and co-editor of the journal Ethics, Policy & Environment.

Your Brain on Metaphors (The Chronicle of Higher Education)

September 1, 2014

Neuroscientists test the theory that your body shapes your ideas

Your Brain  on Metaphors 1

Chronicle Review illustration by Scott Seymour

The player kicked the ball.
The patient kicked the habit.
The villain kicked the bucket.

The verbs are the same.
The syntax is identical.
Does the brain notice, or care,
that the first is literal, the second
metaphorical, the third idiomatic?

It sounds like a question that only a linguist could love. But neuroscientists have been trying to answer it using exotic brain-scanning technologies. Their findings have varied wildly, in some cases contradicting one another. If they make progress, the payoff will be big. Their findings will enrich a theory that aims to explain how wet masses of neurons can understand anything at all. And they may drive a stake into the widespread assumption that computers will inevitably become conscious in a humanlike way.

The hypothesis driving their work is that metaphor is central to language. Metaphor used to be thought of as merely poetic ornamentation, aesthetically pretty but otherwise irrelevant. “Love is a rose, but you better not pick it,” sang Neil Young in 1977, riffing on the timeworn comparison between a sexual partner and a pollinating perennial. For centuries, metaphor was just the place where poets went to show off.

But in their 1980 book, Metaphors We Live By,the linguist George Lakoff (at the University of California at Berkeley) and the philosopher Mark Johnson (now at the University of Oregon) revolutionized linguistics by showing that metaphor is actually a fundamental constituent of language. For example, they showed that in the seemingly literal statement “He’s out of sight,” the visual field is metaphorized as a container that holds things. The visual field isn’t really a container, of course; one simply sees objects or not. But the container metaphor is so ubiquitous that it wasn’t even recognized as a metaphor until Lakoff and Johnson pointed it out.

From such examples they argued that ordinary language is saturated with metaphors. Our eyes point to where we’re going, so we tend to speak of future time as being “ahead” of us. When things increase, they tend to go up relative to us, so we tend to speak of stocks “rising” instead of getting more expensive. “Our ordinary conceptual system is fundamentally metaphorical in nature,” they wrote.

What’s emerging from these studies isn’t just a theory of language or of metaphor. It’s a nascent theory of consciousness.

Metaphors do differ across languages, but that doesn’t affect the theory. For example, in Aymara, spoken in Bolivia and Chile, speakers refer to past experiences as being in front of them, on the theory that past events are “visible” and future ones are not. However, the difference between behind and ahead is relatively unimportant compared with the central fact that space is being used as a metaphor for time. Lakoff argues that it isimpossible—not just difficult, but impossible—for humans to talk about time and many other fundamental aspects of life without using metaphors to do it.

Lakoff and Johnson’s program is as anti-Platonic as it’s possible to get. It undermines the argument that human minds can reveal transcendent truths about reality in transparent language. They argue instead that human cognition is embodied—that human concepts are shaped by the physical features of human brains and bodies. “Our physiology provides the concepts for our philosophy,” Lakoff wrote in his introduction to Benjamin Bergen’s 2012 book, Louder Than Words: The New Science of How the Mind Makes Meaning. Marianna Bolognesi, a linguist at the International Center for Intercultural Exchange, in Siena, Italy, puts it this way: “The classical view of cognition is that language is an independent system made with abstract symbols that work independently from our bodies. This view has been challenged by the embodied account of cognition which states that language is tightly connected to our experience. Our bodily experience.”

Modern brain-scanning technologies make it possible to test such claims empirically. “That would make a connection between the biology of our bodies on the one hand, and thinking and meaning on the other hand,” says Gerard Steen, a professor of linguistics at VU University Amsterdam. Neuroscientists have been stuffing volunteers into fMRI scanners and having them read sentences that are literal, metaphorical, and idiomatic.

Neuroscientists agree on what happens with literal sentences like “The player kicked the ball.” The brain reacts as if it were carrying out the described actions. This is called “simulation.” Take the sentence “Harry picked up the glass.” “If you can’t imagine picking up a glass or seeing someone picking up a glass,” Lakoff wrote in a paper with Vittorio Gallese, a professor of human physiology at the University of Parma, in Italy, “then you can’t understand that sentence.” Lakoff argues that the brain understands sentences not just by analyzing syntax and looking up neural dictionaries, but also by igniting its memories of kicking and picking up.

But what about metaphorical sentences like “The patient kicked the habit”? An addiction can’t literally be struck with a foot. Does the brain simulate the action of kicking anyway? Or does it somehow automatically substitute a more literal verb, such as “stopped”? This is where functional MRI can help, because it can watch to see if the brain’s motor cortex lights up in areas related to the leg and foot.

The evidence says it does. “When you read action-related metaphors,” says Valentina Cuccio, a philosophy postdoc at the University of Palermo, in Italy, “you have activation of the motor area of the brain.” In a 2011 paper in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, Rutvik Desai, an associate professor of psychology at the University of South Carolina, and his colleagues presented fMRI evidence that brains do in fact simulate metaphorical sentences that use action verbs. When reading both literal and metaphorical sentences, their subjects’ brains activated areas associated with control of action. “The understanding of sensory-motor metaphors is not abstracted away from their sensory-motor origins,” the researchers concluded.

Textural metaphors, too, appear to be simulated. That is, the brain processes “She’s had a rough time” by simulating the sensation of touching something rough. Krish Sathian, a professor of neurology, rehabilitation medicine, and psychology at Emory University, says, “For textural metaphor, you would predict on the Lakoff and Johnson account that it would recruit activity- and texture-selective somatosensory cortex, and that indeed is exactly what we found.”

But idioms are a major sticking point. Idioms are usually thought of as dead metaphors, that is, as metaphors that are so familiar that they have become clichés. What does the brain do with “The villain kicked the bucket” (“The villain died”)? What about “The students toed the line” (“The students conformed to the rules”)? Does the brain simulate the verb phrases, or does it treat them as frozen blocks of abstract language? And if it simulates them, what actions does it imagine? If the brain understands language by simulating it, then it should do so even when sentences are not literal.

The findings so far have been contradictory. Lisa Aziz-Zadeh, of the University of Southern California, and her colleagues reported in 2006 that idioms such as “biting off more than you can chew” did not activate the motor cortex. So did Ana Raposo, then at the University of Cambridge, and her colleagues in 2009. On the other hand, Véronique Boulenger, of the Laboratoire Dynamique du Langage, in Lyon, France, reported in the same year that they did, at least for leg and arm verbs.

In 2013, Desai and his colleagues tried to settle the problem of idioms. They first hypothesized that the inconsistent results come from differences of methodology. “Imaging studies of embodiment in figurative language have not compared idioms and metaphors,” they wrote in a report. “Some have mixed idioms and metaphors together, and in some cases, ‘idiom’ is used to refer to familiar metaphors.” Lera Boroditsky, an associate professor of psychology at the University of California at San Diego, agrees. “The field is new. The methods need to stabilize,” she says. “There are many different kinds of figurative language, and they may be importantly different from one another.”

Not only that, the nitty-gritty differences of procedure may be important. “All of these studies are carried out with different kinds of linguistic stimuli with different procedures,” Cuccio says. “So, for example, sometimes you have an experiment in which the person can read the full sentence on the screen. There are other experiments in which participants read the sentence just word by word, and this makes a difference.”

To try to clear things up, Desai and his colleagues presented subjects inside fMRI machines with an assorted set of metaphors and idioms. They concluded that in a sense, everyone was right. The more idiomatic the metaphor was, the less the motor system got involved: “When metaphors are very highly conventionalized, as is the case for idioms, engagement of sensory-motor systems is minimized or very brief.”

But George Lakoff thinks the problem of idioms can’t be settled so easily. The people who do fMRI studies are fine neuroscientists but not linguists, he says. “They don’t even know what the problem is most of the time. The people doing the experiments don’t know the linguistics.”

That is to say, Lakoff explains, their papers assume that every brain processes a given idiom the same way. Not true. Take “kick the bucket.” Lakoff offers a theory of what it means using a scene from Young Frankenstein. “Mel Brooks is there and they’ve got the patient dying,” he says. “The bucket is a slop bucket at the edge of the bed, and as he dies, his foot goes out in rigor mortis and the slop bucket goes over and they all hold their nose. OK. But what’s interesting about this is that the bucket starts upright and it goes down. It winds up empty. This is a metaphor—that you’re full of life, and life is a fluid. You kick the bucket, and it goes over.”

That’s a useful explanation of a rather obscure idiom. But it turns out that when linguists ask people what they think the metaphor means, they get different answers. “You say, ‘Do you have a mental image? Where is the bucket before it’s kicked?’ ” Lakoff says. “Some people say it’s upright. Some people say upside down. Some people say you’re standing on it. Some people have nothing. You know! There isn’t a systematic connection across people for this. And if you’re averaging across subjects, you’re probably not going to get anything.”

Similarly, Lakoff says, when linguists ask people to write down the idiom “toe the line,” half of them write “tow the line.” That yields a different mental simulation. And different mental simulations will activate different areas of the motor cortex—in this case, scrunching feet up to a line versus using arms to tow something heavy. Therefore, fMRI results could show different parts of different subjects’ motor cortexes lighting up to process “toe the line.” In that case, averaging subjects together would be misleading.

Furthermore, Lakoff questions whether functional MRI can really see what’s going on with language at the neural level. “How many neurons are there in one pixel or one voxel?” he says. “About 125,000. They’re one point in the picture.” MRI lacks the necessary temporal resolution, too. “What is the time course of that fMRI? It could be between one and five seconds. What is the time course of the firing of the neurons? A thousand times faster. So basically, you don’t know what’s going on inside of that voxel.” What it comes down to is that language is a wretchedly complex thing and our tools aren’t yet up to the job.

Nonetheless, the work supports a radically new conception of how a bunch of pulsing cells can understand anything at all. In a 2012 paper, Lakoff offered an account of how metaphors arise out of the physiology of neural firing, based on the work of a student of his, Srini Narayanan, who is now a faculty member at Berkeley. As children grow up, they are repeatedly exposed to basic experiences such as temperature and affection simultaneously when, for example, they are cuddled. The neural structures that record temperature and affection are repeatedly co-activated, leading to an increasingly strong neural linkage between them.

However, since the brain is always computing temperature but not always computing affection, the relationship between those neural structures is asymmetric. When they form a linkage, Lakoff says, “the one that spikes first and most regularly is going to get strengthened in its direction, and the other one is going to get weakened.” Lakoff thinks the asymmetry gives rise to a metaphor: Affection is Warmth. Because of the neural asymmetry, it doesn’t go the other way around: Warmth is not Affection. Feeling warm during a 100-degree day, for example, does not make one feel loved. The metaphor originates from the asymmetry of the neural firing. Lakoff is now working on a book on the neural theory of metaphor.

If cognition is embodied, that raises problems for artificial intelligence. Since computers don’t have bodies, let alone sensations, what are the implications of these findings for their becoming conscious—that is, achieving strong AI? Lakoff is uncompromising: “It kills it.” Of Ray Kurzweil’s singularity thesis, he says, “I don’t believe it for a second.” Computers can run models of neural processes, he says, but absent bodily experience, those models will never actually be conscious.

On the other hand, roboticists such as Rodney Brooks, an emeritus professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have suggested that computers could be provided with bodies. For example, they could be given control of robots stuffed with sensors and actuators. Brooks pondered Lakoff’s ideas in his 2002 book, Flesh and Machines, and supposed, “For anything to develop the same sorts of conceptual understanding of the world as we do, it will have to develop the same sorts of metaphors, rooted in a body, that we humans do.”

But Lera Boroditsky wonders if giving computers humanlike bodies would only reproduce human limitations. “If you’re not bound by limitations of memory, if you’re not bound by limitations of physical presence, I think you could build a very different kind of intelligence system,” she says. “I don’t know why we have to replicate our physical limitations in other systems.”

What’s emerging from these studies isn’t just a theory of language or of metaphor. It’s a nascent theory of consciousness. Any algorithmic system faces the problem of bootstrapping itself from computing to knowing, from bit-shuffling to caring. Igniting previously stored memories of bodily experiences seems to be one way of getting there. And so may be the ability to create asymmetric neural linkages that say this is like (but not identical to) that. In an age of brain scanning as well as poetry, that’s where metaphor gets you.

Michael Chorost is the author of Rebuilt: How Becoming Part Computer Made Me More Human (Houghton Mifflin, 2005) and World Wide Mind: The Coming Integration of Humanity, Machines, and the Internet (Free Press, 2011).

Political attitudes derive from body and mind: ‘Negativity bias’ explains difference between liberals and conservatives (Science Daily)

Date: July 31, 2014

Source: University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Summary: Neither conscious decision-making or parental upbringing fully explain why some people lean left and others lean right, researchers say. A mix of deep-seated psychology and physiological responses are at the core of political differences.

Pictured are University of Nebraska-Lincoln political scientists Kevin Smith, left, and John Hibbing, right. Credit: University Communications, University of Nebraska-Lincoln/Craig Chandler

Do people make a rational choice to be liberal or conservative? Do their mothers raise them that way? Is it a matter of genetics?

Two political scientists from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a colleague from Rice University say that neither conscious decision-making nor parental upbringing fully explain why some people lean left while others lean right.

A growing body of evidence shows that physiological responses and deep-seated psychology are at the core of political differences, the researchers say in the latest issue of the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

“Politics might not be in our souls, but it probably is in our DNA,” says the article written by political scientists John Hibbing and Kevin Smith of UNL and John Alford of Rice University.

“These natural tendencies to perceive the physical world in different ways may in turn be responsible for striking moments of political and ideological conflict throughout history,” Alford said.

Using eye-tracking equipment and skin conductance detectors, the three researchers have observed that conservatives tend to have more intense reactions to negative stimuli, such as photos of people eating worms, burning houses or maggot-infested wounds.

Combining their own results with similar findings from other researchers around the world, the team proposes that this so-called “negativity bias” may be a common factor that helps define the difference between conservatives, with their emphasis on stability and order, and liberals, with their emphasis on progress and innovation.

“Across research methods, samples and countries, conservatives have been found to be quicker to focus on the negative, to spend longer looking at the negative, and to be more distracted by the negative,” the researchers wrote.

The researchers caution that they make no value judgments about this finding. In fact, some studies show that conservatives, despite their quickness to detect threats, are happier overall than liberals. And all people, whether liberal, conservative or somewhere in between, tend to be more alert to the negative than to the positive — for good evolutionary reasons. The harm caused by negative events, such as infection, injury and death, often outweighs the benefits brought by positive events.

“We see the ‘negativity bias’ as a common finding that emerges from a large body of empirical studies done not just by us, but by many other research teams around the world,” Smith explained. “We make the case in this article that negativity bias clearly and consistently separates liberals from conservatives.”

The most notable feature about the negativity bias is not that it exists, but that it varies so much from person to person, the researchers said.

“Conservatives are fond of saying ‘liberals just don’t get it,’ and liberals are convinced that conservatives magnify threats,” Hibbing said. “Systematic evidence suggests both are correct.”

Many scientists appear to agree with the findings by Hibbing, Smith and Alford. More than 50 scientists contributed 26 peer commentary articles discussing the Behavioral and Brain Sciences article.

Only three or four of the articles seriously disputed the negativity bias hypothesis. The remainder accepted the general concept, while suggesting modifications such as better defining and conceptualizing a negativity bias; more deeply exploring its nature and origins; and more clearly defining liberalism and conservatism across history and culture.

Journal Reference:

  1. John R. Hibbing, Kevin B. Smith, John R. Alford. Differences in negativity bias underlie variations in political ideology. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 2014; 37 (03): 297 DOI: 10.1017/S0140525X13001192




Pensando en el activismo encarnado y la relación con la experiencia, creo que puede ser enormemente útil algunos de estos fragmentos de Despret que traduzco para activar el debate…

La postura que caracteriza a Despret y su particular lectura de William James (en castellano véase también el texto “El cuerpo de nuestros desvelos: Figuras de la antropozoogénesis“, incluído en el volumen 1 de la compilación Tecnogénesis) fue resumida brillantemente por Latour en un texto conmemorativo de la postura de Stengers-Despret (titulado How to talk about the body?): “[…] tener un cuerpo es aprender a afectarse, esto es a ‘efectuarse’, a ser movido, puesto en movimiento por otras entidades, humanas o no humanas”(p. 205, traducción propia).

Despret, V., & Galetic, S. (2007). Faire de James un “lecteur anachronique” de Von Uexküll: esquisse d’un perpectivisme radical. In D. Debaise (Ed.),Vie et Expérimentation: Peirce, James, Dewey (pp. 45–76). Paris: Vrin.

“[…] apelamos a [William] James y le reclutamos como lector anacrónico del naturalista [Von Uexküll]: él nos permite prolongar el interés de la práctica de von Uexküll, seguir los actos que crean los accesos a los mundos, que tejen la continuidad de las experiencias, sin recurrir a principios que escaparían a toda experiencia. Al subjetivismo que parecía imponer en teoría lo sustituimos por lo que llamamos un perspectivismo radical” (p.53)

“[La perspectiva] es a la vez una manera de ser afectado –esto es, cómo el mundo me toca–, una disponibilidad a ‘hacerse afectar’ –esto es, las pasiones que tengo que acoger– y una afectación voluntaria –esto es, éste es el mundo que querría habitar–. Es del orden del sentir como del actuar; cada una de estas vías nos conducirían al mismo punto de convergencia: el mundo es una perspectiva del cuerpo” (pp.56-57)

“El perspectivismo se reencuentra con el mundo que el subjetivismo había extraviado: nuestro cuerpo merece nuestra confianza. Porque él confía en el mundo; porque las cosas del mundo no son inertes, sino que actúan sobre él, porque le tocan en lo más íntimo, porque reivindican una importancia y una significación; porque el cuerpo es, sin duda, el que más puede reconocer ‘esa vida pública de las cosas’, esa actualidad presente por la que ellas nos confrontan [cita a W. James]’” (p.59)

“[…] Es a partir de la construcción de una comunidad de experiencia que cada cosa que experimentamos puede convertirse en mundo común” (p.61)

“La perspectiva no puede confundirse con el punto de vista: lugar de paso, promontorio [surplomb] transitorio. Estamos en el interior de un domus, por lo que se plantea la cuestión de cómo amueblarlo; y son las puertas que nos hemos dejado abiertas las que constituyen la perspectiva. De ahí el rol que pudiéramos atribuir al conflicto: el de ser una pragmática de la perspectiva. Un rol doble, de hecho: por una parte el de multiplicar las perspectivas; por otra, el de discriminarlas en función de su capacidad de acogida – ¿Estaremos bien ‘en casa’? ¿Con qué seres? ¿Qué debemos dejarnos fuera? Entonces, multipliquemos las perspectivas: porque qué hace el conflicto si no poblar la escena de actores, naturalezas, fragmentos del universo y dejarlos desplegar sus propuestas” (pp. 66-67)

“Tantos afectos, tantos mundos. Con el conflicto [la polémique] no son tanto sistemas explicativos lo que se pone en juego, sino proposiciones de mundos a habitar, mundos afectados: perspectivas que están en conflicto [la polémique]” (p.68)

“[La perspectiva] es una actitud, es decir, una disposición a ser afectado y una manera de afectar. […] El mundo es una perspectiva del cuerpo. Porque es de él del que todo parte y al que todo vuelve. Él es a través del que el mundo nos toca. Él es el que, actuando, constituye un mundo común. Él es el garante de nuestra confianza. Una perspectiva […] es una manera de habitar el mundo” (p.70)

“[…] la perspectiva es el lugar a partir del cual el mundo se hace nuestro. […] Es a partir de las acciones, es decir, de las relaciones particulares que mantenemos con las cosas de la realidad, relaciones en las que esas cosas nos confrontan, que constituimos un mundo común” (p.71)

“El mundo común se constituye a la vez en el compartir y en la multiplicación de intereses o, más bien, debiéramos decir acción a acción” (p.74)

Insect diet helped early humans build bigger brains: Quest for elusive bugs spurred primate tool use, problem-solving skills (Science Daily)

Date: July 1, 2014

Source: Washington University in St. Louis

Summary: Figuring out how to survive on a lean-season diet of hard-to-reach ants, slugs and other bugs may have spurred the development of bigger brains and higher-level cognitive functions in the ancestors of humans and other primates, suggests new research.

An adult female tufted capuchin monkey of the Sapajus lineage using a stone tool and a sandstone anvil to crack a palm nut as her infant hangs on. Credit: E. Visalberghi

Figuring out how to survive on a lean-season diet of hard-to-reach ants, slugs and other bugs may have spurred the development of bigger brains and higher-level cognitive functions in the ancestors of humans and other primates, suggests research from Washington University in St. Louis.

“Challenges associated with finding food have long been recognized as important in shaping evolution of the brain and cognition in primates, including humans,” said Amanda D. Melin, PhD, assistant professor of anthropology in Arts & Sciences and lead author of the study.

“Our work suggests that digging for insects when food was scarce may have contributed to hominid cognitive evolution and set the stage for advanced tool use.”

Based on a five-year study of capuchin monkeys in Costa Rica, the research provides support for an evolutionary theory that links the development of sensorimotor (SMI) skills, such as increased manual dexterity, tool use, and innovative problem solving, to the creative challenges of foraging for insects and other foods that are buried, embedded or otherwise hard to procure.

Published in the June 2014 Journal of Human Evolution, the study is the first to provide detailed evidence from the field on how seasonal changes in food supplies influence the foraging patterns of wild capuchin monkeys.

The study is co-authored by biologist Hilary C. Young and anthropologists Krisztina N. Mosdossy and Linda M. Fedigan, all from the University of Calgary, Canada.

It notes that many human populations also eat embedded insects on a seasonal basis and suggests that this practice played a key role in human evolution.

“We find that capuchin monkeys eat embedded insects year-round but intensify their feeding seasonally, during the time that their preferred food — ripe fruit — is less abundant,” Melin said. “These results suggest embedded insects are an important fallback food.”

Previous research has shown that fallback foods help shape the evolution of primate body forms, including the development of strong jaws, thick teeth and specialized digestive systems in primates whose fallback diets rely mainly on vegetation.

This study suggests that fallback foods can also play an important role in shaping brain evolution among primates that fall back on insect-based diets, and that this influence is most pronounced among primates that evolve in habitats with wide seasonal variations, such as the wet-dry cycles found in some South American forests.

“Capuchin monkeys are excellent models for examining evolution of brain size and intelligence for their small body size, they have impressively large brains,” Melin said. “Accessing hidden and well-protected insects living in tree branches and under bark is a cognitively demanding task, but provides a high-quality reward: fat and protein, which is needed to fuel big brains.”

But when it comes to using tools, not all capuchin monkey strains and lineages are created equal, and Melin’s theories may explain why.

Perhaps the most notable difference between the robust (tufted, genus Sapajus) and gracile (untufted, genus Cebus) capuchin lineages is their variation in tool use. While Cebus monkeys are known for clever food-foraging tricks, such as banging snails or fruits against branches, they can’t hold a stick to their Sapajus cousins when it comes to theinnovative use and modification of sophisticated tools.

One explanation, Melin said, is that Cebus capuchins have historically and consistently occupied tropical rainforests, whereas the Sapajus lineage spread from their origins in the Atlantic rainforest into drier, more temperate and seasonal habitat types.

“Primates who extract foods in the most seasonal environments are expected to experience the strongest selection in the ‘sensorimotor intelligence’ domain, which includes cognition related to object handling,” Melin said. “This may explain the occurrence of tool use in some capuchin lineages, but not in others.”

Genetic analysis of mitochondial chromosomes suggests that the Sapajus-Cebus diversification occurred millions of years ago in the late Miocene epoch.

“We predict that the last common ancestor of Cebus and Sapajus had a level of SMI more closely resembling extant Cebus monkeys, and that further expansion of SMI evolved in the robust lineage to facilitate increased access to varied embedded fallback foods,necessitated by more intense periods of fruit shortage,” she said.

One of the more compelling modern examples of this behavior, said Melin, is the seasonal consumption of termites by chimpanzees, whose use of tools to extract this protein-rich food source is an important survival technique in harsh environments.

What does this all mean for hominids?

While it’s hard to decipher the extent of seasonal dietary variations from the fossil record, stable isotope analyses indicate seasonal variation in diet for at least one South African hominin, Paranthropus robustus. Other isotopic research suggests that early human diets may have included a range of extractable foods, such as termites, plant roots and tubers.

Modern humans frequently consume insects, which are seasonally important when other animal foods are limited.

This study suggests that the ingenuity required to survive on a diet of elusive insects has been a key factor in the development of uniquely human skills: It may well have been bugs that helped build our brains.

Journal Reference:

  1. Amanda D. Melin, Hilary C. Young, Krisztina N. Mosdossy, Linda M. Fedigan.Seasonality, extractive foraging and the evolution of primate sensorimotor intelligenceJournal of Human Evolution, 2014; 71: 77 DOI:10.1016/j.jhevol.2014.02.009

Ancient Man Used “Super-Acoustics” to Alter Consciousness (… and speak with the dead?) (Phys.Org)

June 16th, 2014 Linda Eneix

Ancient Man Used “Super-Acoustics” to Alter Consciousness (... and speak with the dead?)

Research team members enter the “Oracle Room” of the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, Malta (ca. 3600 BCE)

A prehistoric necropolis yields clues to the ancient use of sound and its effect on human brain activity.Researchers detected the presence of a strong double resonance frequency at 70Hz and 114Hz inside a 5,000-years-old mortuary temple on the Mediterranean island of Malta. The Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum is an underground complex created in the Neolithic (New Stone Age) period as a depository for bones and a shrine for ritual use. A chamber known as “The Oracle Room” has a fabled reputation for exceptional sound behavior.

During testing, a deep male voice tuned to these frequencies stimulated a resonance phenomenon throughout the hypogeum, creating bone-chilling effects. It was reported that sounds echoed for up to 8 seconds. Archaeologist Fernando Coimbra said that he felt the sound crossing his body at high speed, leaving a sensation of relaxation. When it was repeated, the sensation returned and he also had the illusion that the sound was reflected from his body to the ancient red ochre paintings on the walls. One can only imagine the experience in antiquity: standing in what must have been somewhat odorous dark and listening to ritual chant while low light flickered over the bones of one’s departed loved ones.

Sound in a Basso/Baritone range of 70 – 130 hz vibrates in a certain way as a natural phenomenon of the environment in the Hypogeum, as it does in Newgrange passage tomb, megalithic cairns and any stone cavity of the right dimensions. At these resonance frequencies, even small periodic driving forces can produce large amplitude oscillations, because the system stores vibrational energy. Echoes bounce off the hard surfaces and compound before they fade. Laboratory testing indicates that exposure to these particular resonant frequencies can have a physical effect on human brain activity.

In the publication from the conference on Archaeoacoustics which sparked the study, Dr. Paolo Debertolis reports on tests conducted at the Clinical Neurophysiology Unit at the University of Trieste in Italy: “…each volunteer has their own individual frequency of activation, …always between 90 and 120 hz. Those volunteers with a frontal lobe prevalence during the testing received ideas and thoughts similar to what happens during meditation, whilst those with occipital lobe prevalence visualized images.” He goes on to state that under the right circumstances, “Ancient populations were able to obtain different states of consciousness without the use of drugs or other chemical substances.”

Hal Saflieni (ca. 3600 BCE)

Credit: Mediterranean Institute of Ancient CivilizationsWriting jointly, Anthropologist, Dr. Ezra Zubrow, Archaeologist and Psychologist, Dr. Torill Lindstrom state: “We regard it as almost inevitable that people in the Neolithic past in Malta discovered the acoustic effects of the Hypogeum, and experienced them as extraordinary, strange, perhaps even as weird and “otherworldly”.

What is astounding is that five thousand years ago the builders exploited the phenomenon, intentionally using architectural techniques to boost these “super-acoustics”. Glenn Kreisberg, a radio frequency spectrum engineer who was with the research group, observed that in the Hypogeum, “The Oracle Chamber ceiling, especially near its entrance from the outer area, and the elongated inner chamber itself, appears to be intentionally carved into the form of a wave guide.”

Project organizer Linda Eneix points to other features: “The carving of the two niches which concentrate the effect of sound, the curved shape of the Oracle Chamber with its shallow “shelf” cut high across the back, the corbelled ceilings and concave walls in the finer rooms are all precursors of todays’ acoustically engineered performance environments.” She says, “If we can accept that these developments were not by accident, then it’s clear that Ħal Saflieni’s builders knew how to manipulate a desired human psychological and physiological experience, whether they could explain it or not.”


It was demonstrated at the conference that special sound is associated with the sacred: from prehistoric caves in France and Spain to musical stone temples in India; from protected Aztec codexes in Mexico to Eleusinian Mysteries and sanctuaries in Greece to sacred Elamite valleys in Iran. It was human nature to isolate these hyper-acoustic places from mundane daily life and to place high importance to them because abnormal sound behavior implied a divine presence.

In the same conference publication Emeritus Professor Iegor Reznikoff suggests that Ħal Saflieni is a link between Palaeolithic painted caves and Romanesque chapels … “That people sang laments or prayers for the dead in the Hypogeum is certain, for a) it is a universal practice in all oral traditions we know, b) at the same period, around 3,000 BC, we have the Sumerian or Egyptian inscriptions mentioning singing to the Invisible, particularly in relationship with death and Second Life, and finally c) the resonance is so strong in the Hypogeum already when simply speaking, that one is forced to use it and singing becomes natural.”

Drs. Lindstrom and Zubrow hint at a more hierarchal purpose for the manipulation of sound. “The Neolithic itself was characterized by cultures focused on new invention…enormous collective collaborations over extended periods of time. For these large-scale projects of agriculture and building, social cohesion and compliance was absolutely necessary.”

The same people who created Ħal Saflieni also engineered a complete solar calendar with solstice and equinox sunrise alignments that still function today in one of their above-ground megalithic structures. There is no question that a sophisticated school of architectural, astronomic and audiologic knowledge was already in place a thousand years before the Egyptians started building pyramids. Eneix believes that Malta’s Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum is a remnant of a rich cultural tradition carried by the Neolithic migrations that spanned thousands of years and thousands of miles.

Nova partícula injetável de oxigênio acende a possibilidade de viver sem respirar (O Globo)

JC e-mail 4929, de 08 de abril de 2014

Após a injeção na corrente sanguínea, cápsulas colidem com as células vermelhas do sangue e fornecem o oxigênio

Um grupo de cientistas desenvolveu uma série de micropartículas cheias de oxigênio que podem ser injetadas na corrente sanguínea e manter as pessoas vivas, mesmo quando as entradas dos pulmões estão obstruídas. Tratam-se de minúsculas cápsulas (de 2 a 4 micrômetros) feitos com uma única camada de lipídio em torno de uma pequena bolha de gás oxigênio. A cápsula é suspensa em um líquido para que as bolhas não fiquem maiores (o que as tornaria mortais). A novidade foi divulgada pelo blog científico “from quarks to quasars” e publicada na revista científica “Pubmed”.

Após a injeção na corrente sanguínea, as cápsulas colidem com as células vermelhas do sangue, que fornecerão o oxigênio para as células. Em testes anteriores, cerca de 70% do gás injetado fez com sucesso seu caminho para a corrente sanguínea. Este método de injeção foi tão bem sucedido que os cientistas conseguiram manter vivos coelhos com a traqueia bloqueada por quinze minutos.

A novidade levanta a seguinte dúvida a ser respondida após testes seguintes: será que podemos manter um fluxo constante de respiração mesmo debaixo da água, podendo viver lá para sempre?

Esqueleto-robô da Copa usará técnica já criticada por criador (Folha de S.Paulo)

JC e-mail 4923, de 31 de março de 2014

Cientista Miguel Nicolelis muda método para fazer criança paraplégica dar chute inicial na competição

Na abertura da Copa do Mundo do Brasil, uma criança com lesão medular usando um exoesqueleto dará o pontapé inicial da competição. A demonstração pública será o primeiro resultado do projeto “Andar de Novo”, liderado pelo neurocientista brasileiro Miguel Nicolelis. Mas uma recente mudança na maneira como serão captados os sinais cerebrais que controlarão o exoesqueleto traz dúvidas sobre os avanços do projeto no campo da neurociência.

Em sua carreira, Nicolelis sempre fez uma defesa intransigente do implante de eletrodos dentro do cérebro para captar a atividade simultânea de neurônios individuais. Era crítico de métodos não invasivos, como a eletroencefalografia (EEG) –técnica desenvolvida no começo do século passado que usa eletrodos colocados no couro cabeludo para obter tais registros.

Até pelo menos maio do ano passado, Nicolelis ainda dava declarações públicas sobre o desenvolvimento de eletrodos para serem implantados. Mas a partir de outubro de 2013, passou a dizer que usaria sinais obtidos por EEG. Críticas a essa técnica estão em seu livro, em artigos e já rendeu até embates públicos.

Em artigo publicado em 2008 na revista “Scientific American Brasil” e assinado com John Chapin, Nicolelis diz: “Os sinais de EEG, no entanto, não podem ser usados diretamente em próteses de membros, pois mostram a atividade elétrica média de populações amplas de neurônios. É difícil extrair desses sinais as pequeníssimas variações necessárias para codificar movimentos precisos dos braços ou das mãos.”

Em um debate da Associação Americana para o Avanço da Ciência de 2013, o brasileiro dirigiu provocações a Todd Coleman, da Universidade da Califórnia em San Diego, que pesquisa a EEG para controlar próteses. Na ocasião, Nicolelis disse que “haverá aplicações de implantes invasivos porque eles são muito melhores do que dispositivos de superfície”.

Segundo Márcio Dutra Moraes, neurocientista da UFMG, a mudança de metodologia é uma modificação “conceitual em como abordar a questão”. Ele aponta que isso ocorreu não porque a EEG é melhor, mas porque a proposta original era “estupidamente mais complexa” e o uso da EEG simplifica muito as coisas, ainda que não traga nenhum avanço substancial. Segundo Moraes, a mudança “certamente se deu pela impossibilidade de resolver de forma satisfatória e ética o projeto inicial dentro do limite de tempo imposto pela Copa”.

Segundo um cientista com experiência internacional que não quis se identificar, o projeto atual, como será apresentado na Copa, não justificaria os R$ 33 milhões investidos pelo governo.

Edward Tehovnik, pesquisador do Instituto do Cérebro da UFRN, chegou a trabalhar com Nicolelis, mas rompeu com o cientista, que o demitiu. Ele questiona quanto da demonstração de junho será controlada pelo exoesqueleto e quanto será controlada pelo cérebro da criança.

“Minha análise, baseada nos dados publicados, sugere que menos de 1% do sinal virá do cérebro da criança. Os outros 99% virão do robô”. E ele pergunta: “Será mesmo a criança paralisada que vai chutar a bola?”.

Sergio Neuenschwander, professor titular da UFRN, diz que a opção pelo EEG é uma mudança muito profunda no projeto original. Ele diz que é possível usar sinais de EEG para dar comandos ao robô, mas isso é diferente de obter o que seria o código neural de andar, sentar, chutar etc.

“O fato de ele ter optado por uma mudança de técnica mostra o tamanho do desafio pela frente.”

(Fernando Tadeu Moraes/Folha de S.Paulo)

New ideas change your brain cells, research shows (Science Daily)


February 24, 2014

Source: University of British Columbia

Summary: An important molecular change has been discovered that occurs in the brain when we learn and remember. The research shows that learning stimulates our brain cells in a manner that causes a small fatty acid to attach to delta-catenin, a protein in the brain. This biochemical modification is essential in producing the changes in brain cell connectivity associated with learning, the study finds. Findings may provide an explanation for some mental disabilities, the researchers say.

UBC’s Shernaz Bamji and Stefano Brigidi have discovered how brain cells change during learning and memories. Credit: UBC

A new University of British Columbia study identifies an important molecular change that occurs in the brain when we learn and remember.

Published this month in Nature Neuroscience, the research shows that learning stimulates our brain cells in a manner that causes a small fatty acid to attach to delta-catenin, a protein in the brain. This biochemical modification is essential in producing the changes in brain cell connectivity associated with learning, the study finds.

In animal models, the scientists found almost twice the amount of modified delta-catenin in the brain after learning about new environments. While delta-catenin has previously been linked to learning, this study is the first to describe the protein’s role in the molecular mechanism behind memory formation.

“More work is needed, but this discovery gives us a much better understanding of the tools our brains use to learn and remember, and provides insight into how these processes become disrupted in neurological diseases,” says co-author Shernaz Bamji, an associate professor in UBC’s Life Sciences Institute.

It may also provide an explanation for some mental disabilities, the researchers say. People born without the gene have a severe form of mental retardation called Cri-du-chat syndrome, a rare genetic disorder named for the high-pitched cat-like cry of affected infants. Disruption of the delta-catenin gene has also been observed in some patients with schizophrenia.

“Brain activity can change both the structure of this protein, as well as its function,” says Stefano Brigidi, first author of the article and a PhD candidate Bamji’s laboratory. “When we introduced a mutation that blocked the biochemical modification that occurs in healthy subjects, we abolished the structural changes in brain’s cells that are known to be important for memory formation.”

Journal Reference:

  1. G Stefano Brigidi, Yu Sun, Dayne Beccano-Kelly, Kimberley Pitman, Mahsan Mobasser, Stephanie L Borgland, Austen J Milnerwood, Shernaz X Bamji.Palmitoylation of δ-catenin by DHHC5 mediates activity-induced synapse plasticityNature Neuroscience, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/nn.3657

Language and Tool-Making Skills Evolved at the Same Time (Science Daily)

Sep. 3, 2013 — Research by the University of Liverpool has found that the same brain activity is used for language production and making complex tools, supporting the theory that they evolved at the same time.

Three hand axes produced by participants in the experiment. Front, back and side views are shown. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Liverpool)

Researchers from the University tested the brain activity of 10 expert stone tool makers (flint knappers) as they undertook a stone tool-making task and a standard language test.

Brain blood flow activity measured

They measured the brain blood flow activity of the participants as they performed both tasks using functional Transcranial Doppler Ultrasound (fTCD), commonly used in clinical settings to test patients’ language functions after brain damage or before surgery.

The researchers found that brain patterns for both tasks correlated, suggesting that they both use the same area of the brain. Language and stone tool-making are considered to be unique features of humankind that evolved over millions of years.

Darwin was the first to suggest that tool-use and language may have co-evolved, because they both depend on complex planning and the coordination of actions but until now there has been little evidence to support this.

Dr Georg Meyer, from the University Department of Experimental Psychology, said: “This is the first study of the brain to compare complex stone tool-making directly with language.

Tool use and language co-evolved

“Our study found correlated blood-flow patterns in the first 10 seconds of undertaking both tasks. This suggests that both tasks depend on common brain areas and is consistent with theories that tool-use and language co-evolved and share common processing networks in the brain.”

Dr Natalie Uomini from the University’s Department of Archaeology, Classics & Egyptology, said: “Nobody has been able to measure brain activity in real time while making a stone tool. This is a first for both archaeology and psychology.”

The research was supported by the Leverhulme Trust, the Economic and Social Research Council and the British Academy. It is published in PLOS ONE.

Journal Reference:

  1. Natalie Thaïs Uomini, Georg Friedrich Meyer. Shared Brain Lateralization Patterns in Language and Acheulean Stone Tool Production: A Functional Transcranial Doppler Ultrasound StudyPLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (8): e72693 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0072693

Depression Linked to Telomere Enzyme, Aging, Chronic Disease (Science Daily)

May 23, 2013 — The first symptoms of major depression may be behavioral, but the common mental illness is based in biology — and not limited to the brain. In recent years some studies have linked major, long-term depression with life-threatening chronic disease and with earlier death, even after lifestyle risk factors have been taken into account.

The first symptoms of major depression may be behavioral, but the common mental illness is based in biology — and not limited to the brain. In recent years some studies have linked major, long-term depression with life-threatening chronic disease and with earlier death, even after lifestyle risk factors have been taken into account. (Credit: © diego cervo / Fotolia)

Now a research team led by Owen Wolkowitz, MD, professor of psychiatry at UC San Francisco, has found that within cells of the immune system, activity of an enzyme called telomerase is greater, on average, in untreated individuals with major depression. The preliminary findings from his latest, ongoing study will be reported today at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in San Francisco.

Telomerase is an enzyme that lengthens protective end caps on the chromosomes’ DNA, called telomeres. Shortened telomeres have been associated with earlier death and with chronic diseases in population studies.

The heightened telomerase activity in untreated major depression might represent the body’s attempt to fight back against the progression of disease, in order to prevent biological damage in long-depressed individuals, Wolkowitz said.

The researchers made another discovery that may suggest a protective role for telomerase. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), they found that, in untreated, depressed study participants, the size of the hippocampus, a brain structure that is critical for learning and memory, was associated with the amount of telomerase activity measured in the white blood cells. Such an association at a single point in time cannot be used to conclude that there is a cause-and-effect relationship with telomerase helping to protect the hippocampus, but it is plausible, Wolkowitz said.

Remarkably, the researchers also found that the enzyme’s activity went up when some patients began taking an antidepressant. In fact, depressed participants with lower telomerase activity at baseline — as well as those in whom enzyme activity increased the most with treatment — were the most likely to become less depressed with treatment.

“Our results are consistent with the beneficial effect of telomerase when it is boosted in animal studies, where it has been associated with the growth of new nerve cells in the hippocampus and with antidepressant-like effects, evidenced by increased exploratory behavior,” Wolkowitz said. Wolkowitz cautions that his new findings are preliminary due to the small size of the study and must be confirmed through further research.

The researchers also measured telomere length in the same immune cells. Only very chronically depressed individuals showed telomere shortening, Wolkowitz said.

“The longer people had been depressed, the shorter their telomeres were,” he said. “Shortened telomere length has been previously demonstrated in major depression in most, but not all, studies that have examined it. The duration of depression may be a critical factor.”

The 20 depressed participants enrolled in the study had been untreated for at least six weeks and had an average lifetime duration of depression of about 13 years. After baseline evaluation and laboratory measures, 16 of the depressed participants were treated with sertraline, a member of the most popular class of anti-depressants, the serotonin-selective-reuptake-inhibitors (SSRIs), and then evaluated again after eight weeks. There were 20 healthy participants who served as controls.

The ongoing study still is accepting depressed participants who are not now taking antidepressants. Wolkowitz’s team also studies chronic inflammation and the biochemical phenomenon of oxidative stress, which he said have often been reported in major depression. Wolkowitz is exploring the hypothesis that inflammation and oxidative stress play a role in telomere shortening and accelerated aging in depression.

“New insights into the mechanisms of these processes may well lead to new treatments — both pharmacological and behavioral — that will be distinctly different from the current generation of drugs prescribed to treat depression,” he said. “Additional studies might lead to simple blood tests that can measure accelerated immune-cell aging.”

Wolkowitz’s research is funded by the National Institutes of Health. He is on the scientific advisory board of Telome Health, Inc., a private biotechnology company.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided byUniversity of California, San Francisco (UCSF). The original article was written by Jeffrey Norris.

Luta contra o racismo no Brasil passa por salão de beleza (Agence France-Presse/Yahoo News)

Por Por Laura BONILLA CAL | AFP – 23/05/2013

A rede se dedica aos cabelos no estilo afro

A rede se dedica aos cabelos no estilo afro

A presidente da empresa, Leila Velez

A presidente da empresa, Leila Velez

Nada como um bom penteado para combater o racismo arraigado na sociedade brasileira, usando como armas principais tesouras e hidratantes para o cabelo.

Na periferia do Rio de Janeiro, uma rede de salões de beleza que se dedica a atender a negras e mulatas majoritariamente da classe C faz um grande sucesso.

Qual é a fórmula do êxito desta empresa que transforma o “afro” em cachos suaves, e que nega categoricamente a crença popular de que o cabelo crespo é ruim? O crescimento econômico do Brasil, que na última década permitiu que 40 milhões de brasileiros integrassem a classe média por meio de programas sociais do governo.

Dos 194 milhões de brasileiros, 50,7% são negros ou mulatos, e os donos do Beleza Natural, esta peculiar rede de salões de beleza, estimam que 70% das mulheres brasileiras têm cabelo crespo.

“Você é linda porque é negra”

“Este salão é para a consumidora esquecida, invisível, para levantar a autoestima da cliente de baixa renda. Uma mulher acostumada a servir, que merece ser servida, e bem servida”, explica à AFP a presidente da empresa, Leila Velez, uma mulata de 38 anos que aos 16 era gerente de um McDonald’s no Rio.

Velez criou com dificuldades o Beleza Natural há 20 anos junto com familiares. Hoje dirige as 13 filiais da empresa e uma fábrica de produtos para os cabelos, que conta com 1.700 funcionários.

A fábrica produz 250 toneladas de produtos de uso capilar por mês, incluindo o “super relaxante” de cachos criado por sua cunhada Zica Assis, uma ex-empregada doméstica que fez experimentos durante dez anos com frutas, como o açaí, até chegar à fórmula do produto na varanda de sua casa, em uma favela.

Os lucros da rede, que tem salões localizados da periferia a áreas nobres da cidade, cresceram 30% anualmente nos últimos oito anos, segundo Velez, que não revela os resultados da empresa.

Seu sucesso é tamanho que caravanas com centenas de mulheres vindas de outros estados chegam a cada fim de semana para que as viajantes sejam atendidas nos salões.

“Acredito que 100% de seu sucesso esteja ligado à questão da raça. Existem no Brasil, devido a uma carga cultural, muitas mulheres negras que não aceitam seu cabelo porque não é liso, que é o ideal de beleza mais conhecido”, explicou à AFP Victor Cunha da Almeida, professor da escola de negócios da Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro e coautor de uma tese sobre o “Beleza” e sua aposta na “base da pirâmide” social, a classe C, que chega a 54% da população.

“Aí está a diferença do Beleza Natural, que não quer alisar o seu cabelo, quer domá-lo, suavizar os cachos. Diz a mulher: ‘você é linda porque é negra, é linda porque tem os cabelos assim'”.

Bruna Mara, uma cliente, confirma. “Sempre usava o cabelo liso; aqui me convenceram de que meus cachos poderiam ficar bonitos, e é mais natural”, confessa esta secretaria de 24 anos.


“Não havia locais onde uma mulher negra com cabelo crespo fosse tratada como princesa”, ressalta o professor Cunha.

Quando alguém entra no mundo do Beleza Natural, decorado em vermelho e rosa, cheio de espelhos e focos luminosos, com flores frescas e café, sente-se em qualquer bairro rico do mundo, ou em um cenário de novela.

“Temos espelhos de corpo inteiro, porque muitas clientes não têm isso em suas casas”, explica Velez.

José Jorge de Carvalho, antropólogo especialista em questões raciais da Universidade de Brasília, ressalta que, apesar de ser visto no exterior como um exemplo de diversidade, o Brasil “é um país muito racista”.

“Estes salões de beleza fazem parte de um esforço de combate ao racismo, para melhorar a auto-estima das mulheres negras de classes popular”, afirma Carvalho, que lamenta o elevado uso no Brasil de pranchas para alisar o cabelo, algumas delas esquentadas diretamente no fogo e que “fritam o cabelo”.

Uma nova classe média

Atualmente, a rede de salões atende 90.000 mulheres por mês.

“Esta é a nova classe média, produzindo para a nova classe média”, comemora Marcelo Neri, ministro interino de Assuntos Estratégicos, em declarações à AFP.

As rendas das populações negra e parda brasileira foram as que mais cresceram

entre 2001 e 2009, 43% e 48% respectivamente, contra 21% para os brancos, segundo Neri, especialista na classe média brasileira.

No entanto, as desigualdades ainda são enormes: 125 anos depois da abolição da escravatura, os brancos no Brasil recebem em média quase o dobro do que os negros.

Ser atendido no “Beleza” é acessível, mas não barato. Custa em média 80 reais (10% do salário mínimo), e para mantê-lo em casa são necessários produtos que custam 50 reais mensais.

Apesar disso, a maioria paga em dinheiro, outro sinal do aumento real de poder aquisitivo da nova classe média brasileira.

Political Motivations May Have Evolutionary Links to Physical Strength (Science Daily)

May 15, 2013 — Men’s upper-body strength predicts their political opinions on economic redistribution, according to new research published inPsychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The principal investigators of the research — psychological scientists Michael Bang Petersen of Aarhus University, Denmark and Daniel Sznycer of University of California, Santa Barbara — believe that the link may reflect psychological traits that evolved in response to our early ancestral environments and continue to influence behavior today.

“While many think of politics as a modern phenomenon, it has — in a sense — always been with our species,” says Petersen.

In the days of our early ancestors, decisions about the distribution of resources weren’t made in courthouses or legislative offices, but through shows of strength. With this in mind, Petersen, Sznycer and colleagues hypothesized that upper-body strength — a proxy for the ability to physically defend or acquire resources — would predict men’s opinions about the redistribution of wealth.

The researchers collected data on bicep size, socioeconomic status, and support for economic redistribution from hundreds of people in the United States, Argentina, and Denmark.

In line with their hypotheses, the data revealed that wealthy men with high upper-body strength were less likely to support redistribution, while less wealthy men of the same strength were more likely to support it.

“Despite the fact that the United States, Denmark and Argentina have very different welfare systems, we still see that — at the psychological level — individuals reason about welfare redistribution in the same way,” says Petersen. “In all three countries, physically strong males consistently pursue the self-interested position on redistribution.”

Men with low upper-body strength, on the other hand, were less likely to support their own self-interest. Wealthy men of this group showed less resistance to redistribution, while poor men showed less support.

“Our results demonstrate that physically weak males are more reluctant than physically strong males to assert their self-interest — just as if disputes over national policies were a matter of direct physical confrontation among small numbers of individuals, rather than abstract electoral dynamics among millions,” says Petersen.

Interestingly, the researchers found no link between upper-body strength and redistribution opinions among women. Petersen argues that this is likely due to the fact that, over the course of evolutionary history, women had less to gain, and also more to lose, from engaging in direct physical aggression.

Together, the results indicate that an evolutionary perspective may help to illuminate political motivations, at least those of men.

“Many previous studies have shown that people’s political views cannot be predicted by standard economic models,” Petersen explains. “This is among the first studies to show that political views may be rational in another sense, in that they’re designed by natural selection to function in the conditions recurrent over human evolutionary history.”

Co-authors on this research include Aaron Sell, Leda Cosmides, and John Tooby of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

This research was supported by a grant from the Danish Research Council and a Director’s Pioneer Award from the National Institutes of Health.

Journal Reference:

  1. M. B. Petersen, D. Sznycer, A. Sell, L. Cosmides, J. Tooby. The Ancestral Logic of Politics: Upper-Body Strength Regulates Men’s Assertion of Self-Interest Over Economic RedistributionPsychological Science, 2013; DOI: 10.1177/0956797612466415

Mind Over Matter? Core Body Temperature Controlled by the Brain (Science Daily)

Apr. 8, 2013 — A team of researchers led by Associate Professor Maria Kozhevnikov from the Department of Psychology at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences showed, for the first time, that it is possible for core body temperature to be controlled by the brain. The scientists found that core body temperature increases can be achieved using certain meditation techniques (g-tummo) which could help in boosting immunity to fight infectious diseases or immunodeficiency.

Meditation. (Credit: © Yuri Arcurs / Fotolia)

Published in science journal PLOS ONE in March 2013, the study documented reliable core body temperature increases for the first time in Tibetan nuns practising g-tummo meditation. Previous studies on g-tummo meditators showed only increases in peripheral body temperature in the fingers and toes. The g-tummo meditative practice controls “inner energy” and is considered by Tibetan practitioners as one of the most sacred spiritual practices in the region. Monasteries maintaining g-tummo traditions are very rare and are mostly located in the remote areas of eastern Tibet.

The researchers collected data during the unique ceremony in Tibet, where nuns were able to raise their core body temperature and dry up wet sheets wrapped around their bodies in the cold Himalayan weather (-25 degree Celsius) while meditating. Using electroencephalography (EEG) recordings and temperature measures, the team observed increases in core body temperature up to 38.3 degree Celsius. A second study was conducted with Western participants who used a breathing technique of the g-tummo meditative practice and they were also able to increase their core body temperature, within limits.

Applications of the research findings

The findings from the study showed that specific aspects of the meditation techniques can be used by non-meditators to regulate their body temperature through breathing and mental imagery. The techniques could potentially allow practitioners to adapt to and function in cold environments, improve resistance to infections, boost cognitive performance by speeding up response time and reduce performance problems associated with decreased body temperature.

The two aspects of g-tummo meditation that lead to temperature increases are “vase breath” and concentrative visualisation. “Vase breath” is a specific breathing technique which causes thermogenesis, which is a process of heat production. The other technique, concentrative visualisation, involves focusing on a mental imagery of flames along the spinal cord in order to prevent heat losses. Both techniques work in conjunction leading to elevated temperatures up to the moderate fever zone.

Assoc Prof Kozhevnikov explained, “Practicing vase breathing alone is a safe technique to regulate core body temperature in a normal range. The participants whom I taught this technique to were able to elevate their body temperature, within limits, and reported feeling more energised and focused. With further research, non-Tibetan meditators could use vase breathing to improve their health and regulate cognitive performance.”

Further research into controlling body temperature

Assoc Prof Kozhevnikov will continue to explore the effects of guided imagery on neurocognitive and physiological aspects. She is currently training a group of people to regulate their body temperature using vase breathing, which has potential applications in the field of medicine. Furthermore, the use of guided mental imagery in conjunction with vase breathing may lead to higher body temperature increases and better health.

Journal Reference:

  1. Maria Kozhevnikov, James Elliott, Jennifer Shephard, Klaus Gramann. Neurocognitive and Somatic Components of Temperature Increases during g-Tummo Meditation: Legend and RealityPLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (3): e58244 DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0058244

How Our Bodies Interact With Our Minds in Response to Fear and Other Emotions (Science Daily)

Apr. 7, 2013 — New research has shown that the way our minds react to and process emotions such as fear can vary according to what is happening in other parts of our bodies.

New research has shown that the way our minds react to and process emotions such as fear can vary according to what is happening in other parts of our bodies. (Credit: © sellingpix / Fotolia)

In two different presentations on April 8 at the British Neuroscience Association Festival of Neuroscience (BNA2013) in London, researchers have shown for the first time that the heart’s cycle affects the way we process fear, and that a part of the brain that responds to stimuli, such as touch, felt by other parts of the body also plays a role.

Dr Sarah Garfinkel, a postdoctoral fellow at the Brighton and Sussex Medical School (Brighton, UK), told a news briefing: “Cognitive neuroscience strives to understand how biological processes interact to create and influence the conscious mind. While neural activity in the brain is typically the focus of research, there is a growing appreciation that other bodily organs interact with brain function to shape and influence our perceptions, cognitions and emotions.

“We demonstrate for the first time that the way in which we process fear is different dependent on when we see fearful images in relation to our heart.”

Dr Garfinkel and her colleagues hooked up 20 healthy volunteers to heart monitors, which were linked to computers. Images of fearful faces were shown on the computers and the electrocardiography (ECG) monitors were able to communicate with the computers in order to time the presentation of the faces with specific points in the heart’s cycle.

“Our results show that if we see a fearful face during systole (when the heart is pumping) then we judge this fearful face as more intense than if we see the very same fearful face during diastole (when the heart is relaxed). To look at neural activity underlying this effect, we performed this experiment in an MRI [magnetic resonance imaging] scanner and demonstrated that a part of the brain called the amygdala influences how our heart changes our perception of fear.

“From previous research, we know that if we present images very fast then we have trouble detecting them, but if an image is particularly emotional then it can ‘pop’ out and be seen. In a second experiment, we exploited our cardiac effect on emotion to show that our conscious experience is affected by our heart. We demonstrated that fearful faces are better detected at systole (when they are perceived as more fearful), relative to diastole. Thus our hearts can also affect what we see and what we don’t see — and can guide whether we see fear.

“Lastly, we have demonstrated that the degree to which our hearts can change the way we see and process fear is influenced by how anxious we are. The anxiety level of our individual subjects altered the extent their hearts could change the way they perceived emotional faces and also altered neural circuitry underlying heart modulation of emotion.”

Dr Garfinkel says that her findings might have the potential to help people who suffer from anxiety or other conditions such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“We have identified an important mechanism by which the heart and brain ‘speak’ to each other to change our emotions and reduce fear. We hope to explore the therapeutic implications in people with high anxiety. Anxiety disorders can be debilitating and are very prevalent in the UK and elsewhere. We hope that by increasing our understanding about how fear is processed and ways that it could be reduced, we may be able to develop more successful treatments for these people, and also for those, such as war veterans, who may be suffering from PTSD.

“In addition, there is a growing appreciation about how different forms of meditation can have therapeutic consequences. Work that integrates body, brain and mind to understand changes in emotion can help us understand how meditation and mindfulness practices can have calming effects.”

In a second presentation, Dr Alejandra Sel, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Psychology at City University (London, UK), investigated a part of the brain called the somatosensory cortex — the area that perceives bodily sensations, such as touch, pain, body temperature and the perception of the body’s place in space, and which is activated when we observe emotional expressions in the faces of other people.

“In order to understand other’s people emotions we need to experience the same observed emotions in our body. Specifically, observing an emotional face, as opposed to a neutral face, is associated with an increased activity in the somatosensory cortex as if we were expressing and experiencing our own emotions. It is also known that people with damage to the somatosensory cortex find it difficult to recognise emotion in other people’s faces,” Dr Sel told the news briefing.

However, until now, it has not been clear whether activity in the somatosensory cortex was simply a by-product of the way we process visual information, or whether it reacts independently to emotions expressed in other people’s faces, actively contributing to how we perceive emotions in others.

In order to discover whether the somatosensory cortex contributes to the processing of emotion independently of any visual processes, Dr Sel and her colleagues tested two situations on volunteers. Using electroencephalography (EEG) to measure the brain response to images, they showed participants either a face showing fear (emotional) or a neutral face. Secondly, they combined the showing of the face with a small tap to an index finger or the left cheek immediately afterwards.

Dr Sel said: “By tapping someone’s cheek or finger you can modify the ‘resting state’ of the somatosensory cortex inducing changes in brain electrical activity in this area. These changes are measureable and observable with EEG and this enables us to pinpoint the brain activity that is specifically related to the somatosensory cortex and its reaction to external stimuli.

“If the ‘resting state’ of the somatosensory cortex when a fearful face is shown has greater electrical activity than when a neutral face is shown, the changes in the activity of the somatosensory cortex induced by the taps and measured by EEG also will be greater when observing fearful as opposed to neutral faces.

“We subtracted results of the first situation (face only) from the second situation (face and tap), and compared changes in the activity related with the tap in the somatosensory cortex when seeing emotional faces versus neutral faces. This way, we could observe responses of the somatosensory cortex to emotional faces independently of visual processes,” she explained.

The researchers found that there was enhanced activity in the somatosensory cortex in response to fearful faces in comparison to neutral faces, independent of any visual processes. Importantly, this activity was focused in the primary and secondary somatosensory areas; the primary area receives sensory information directly from the body, while the secondary area combines sensory information from the body with information related to body movement and other information, such as memories of previous, sensitive experiences.

“Our experimental approach allows us to isolate and show for the first time (as far as we are aware) changes in somatosensory activity when seeing emotional faces after taking away all visual information in the brain. We have shown the crucial role of the somatosensory cortex in the way our minds and bodies perceive human emotions. These findings can serve as starting point for developing interventions tailored for people with problems in recognising other’s emotions, such as autistic children,” said Dr Sel.

The researchers now plan to investigate whether they get similar results when people are shown faces with other expressions such as happy or angry, and whether the timing of the physical stimulus, the tap to the finger or cheek, makes any difference. In this experiment, the tap occurred 105 milliseconds after a face was shown, and Dr Sel wonders about the effect of a longer time interval.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided byBritish Neuroscience Association, via AlphaGalileo.

Primates, Too, Can Move in Unison (Science Daily)

Jan. 28, 2013 — Japanese researchers show for the first time that primates modify their body movements to be in tune with others, just like humans do. Humans unconsciously modify their movements to be in synchrony with their peers. For example, we adapt our pace to walk in step or clap in unison at the end of a concert. This phenomenon is thought to reflect bonding and facilitate human interaction. Researchers from the RIKEN Brain Science Institute report that pairs of macaque monkeys also spontaneously coordinate their movements to reach synchrony.

Monkey training (A), and experimental setting (B and C). (Credit: Image courtesy of RIKEN)

This research opens the door to much-needed neurophysiological studies of spontaneous synchronization in monkeys, which could shed light into human behavioral dysfunctions such as those observed in patients with autism spectrum disorders, echopraxia and echolalia — where patients uncontrollably imitate others.

In the research, recently published in the journal Scientific Reports, the team led by Naotaka Fujii developed an experimental set-up to test whether pairs of Japanese macaque monkeys synchronize a simple push-button movement.

Before the experiment, the monkeys were trained to push a button with one hand. In a first experiment the monkeys were paired and placed facing each other and the timing of their push-button movements was recorded. The same experiment was repeated but this time each monkey was shown videos of another monkey pushing a button at varying speeds. And in a last experiment the macaques were not allowed to either see or hear their video-partner.

The results show that the monkeys modified their movements — increased or decreased the speed of their push-button movement — to be in synchrony with their partner, both when the partner was real and on video. The speed of the button pressing movement changed to be in harmonic or sub-harmonic synchrony with the partners’ speed. However, different pairs of monkeys synchronized differently and reached different speeds, and the monkeys synchronized their movements the most when they could both see and hear their partner.

The researchers note that this behavior cannot have been learnt by the monkeys during the experiment, as previous research has shown that it is extremely difficult for monkeys to learn intentional synchronization.

They add: “The reasons why the monkeys showed behavioral synchronization are not clear. It may be a vital aspect of other socially adaptive behavior, important for survival in the wild.”

The study was partly supported by Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research on Innovative Areas ‘Neural creativity for communication’ (22120522 and 24120720) of MEXT, Japan.

Journal Reference:

  1. Yasuo Nagasaka, Zenas C. Chao, Naomi Hasegawa, Tomonori Notoya, Naotaka Fujii. Spontaneous synchronization of arm motion between Japanese macaquesScientific Reports, 2013; 3 DOI:10.1038/srep01151

Sociologists Find Similarities in Meanings Behind Protestant Work Ethic, Religious Tattoos (Science Daily)

Jan. 23, 2013 — When it comes to religious tattoos, two Texas Tech University sociologists say the reasoning and spirit behind them is strikingly similar to a 100-year-old theory about how the Protestant work ethic powered the Industrial Revolution.

Professors Jerry Koch and Alden Roberts recently published their findings in the peer-reviewed The Social Science Journal.

Both sociologists said the sentiment behind the tattoos is reminiscent of Max Weber’s famous 1905 sociological work “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.” Koch and Roberts’ research is part of a larger study called Religion and Deviance at Four American Universities, which expands their research from the previous five years to give more national context.

“This particular article came out of some data we gathered and started as an afterthought to a pilot study,” Koch said. “At the end of the questionnaire, we appended an essay question and gave respondents a chance to tell us, if they had one, the story of their religious tattoo. As we started reading through the essays they wrote for us, we started to hear what we knew Max Weber would have appreciated. That, in a sense, these respondents were telling us ‘I want everyone to know that I believe I’m one of God’s people; and here is the evidence of that.'”

Go back nearly 100 years ago, and Weber described in this founding text of economic sociology how Calvinist views on their purpose on the planet helped to drive the Industrial Revolution, Koch said. A person’s profession, no matter how grand or lowly, was seen as an addition to the greater common good, and thereby blessed by God as a sacred calling. Work, for these Protestants, became a visible expression of their faith, and consequently helped to drive the machinery of the unplanned Industrial Revolution of the 19th century.

“Weber argued that the diligence and integrity that we often associate with Protestant work ethic was in one sense a way for individuals to demonstrate to themselves and others that they must be one of God’s elect, otherwise why would they be doing so well,” Koch said. “We are making the parallel saying that the rationale behind and the energy it takes to get a religious tattoo is perhaps to show the same thing.”

In Koch and Roberts’ study, the two gathered tattoo survey data from about 70 undergraduates at four American universities. Two were large, state-supported public institutions, and the other two were highly selective, private religious universities.

Koch and Roberts both noted this same Weberian spirit of public expression as respondents to their last-minute questions repeatedly indicated that their religious tattoos were, for them, evidence of the permanence of their faith, outward signs of religious commitment, or memorials to those they’ve loved and lost and presumably who they hoped went to heaven when they died.

About 65 percent of the respondents with religious tattoos came from secular state schools, the two found. However, 44 percent of the Southern Baptist students that reported having tattoos indicated that at least one was religious.

“The reasons for the religious tattoos were some people wanted a permanent reminder, or permanent advertisement to others,” Roberts said. “There were some that were troubled by the idea the body being a temple, others were not as troubled by that. Those who got religious tattoos were more likely to overtly express religiosity.”

The permanence of a tattoo drew many to get one as a permanent insignia of their faith. Several indicated they got it in memory of someone that they loved, Koch said, while others got it as a way of telling themselves and others that their life had changed.

“One respondent explicitly said ‘I got this tattoo after I lost my virginity as a recommitment to purity,'” Koch said. “It was surprising and a happy accident that the information mirrored where Weber was coming from. I hadn’t anticipated that at the end of the day we would have what I think is a useful teaching tool for showing students what Weber was about using this new imagery.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Jerome R. Koch, Alden E. Roberts. The protestant ethic and the religious tattooThe Social Science Journal, 2012; 49 (2): 210 DOI: 10.1016/j.soscij.2011.10.001