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Wed, 27 Oct 2021
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


At just 16 months old, toddlers will reward someone for acting fairly

Although we often think of young children as rather selfish, research has shown that babies and toddlers have a surprisingly strong sense of what is fair. At one year old, kids already expect resources to be divided fairly and for people to be helpful towards others. By two, they themselves tend to distribute resources equally, and would rather play with a fair adult than an unfair one.

But at what point do young kids actually intervene when they see someone else acting fairly or unfairly? According to a series of studies in Cognition, before they're even one and a half years old children will reward someone for being fair — though they don't yet punish unfair behaviour.

The team, led by Talee Ziv from the University of Washington, first trained a group of 16-month-olds to use a touch screen to produce audio clips. Touching one side of the screen resulted in negative feedback (e.g. "She was bad") while touching the other side produced positive feedback (e.g. "She was good").

The kids then saw four video clips, each showing a woman distributing crackers or Lego blocks to two other people. In two of the clips, the "distributor" divided up the resources fairly, but in the other two she gave one person more than the other (a different actor played the role of distributor in each of the four clips). After watching these videos, the toddlers were again shown the faces of the four distributors, and after seeing each one had 60 seconds to touch the screen as many times as they wanted.

Comment: See also: Babies are willing to give up food, showing altruism begins in infancy, study says


Untreated psychiatric illness is behind many mass shootings, a new study says

newspaper stephen paddock
© Hadrian/Shutterstock.com
A newspaper shows stephen Paddock, the perpetrator of the 2017 Las Vegas strip shooting.
The first five months of 2021 saw over 240 mass shootings in the US. That's according to the Gun Violence Archive, which defines a mass shooting as one with four or more people injured or killed, not including the perpetrator. In fact, the recent spate of mass shootings seen over the past three months since the US "re-opened" from lockdown is said to be one of the worst in US history.

While no single factor can explain this broad range of tragic events, a new study argues that one factor can be linked to the majority of mass shooters: untreated and unmedicated psychiatric illness.

This finding is far from definitive — earlier this year, a separate study concluded that mental illness isn't a factor in most mass shootings. This latest piece of research, just like those before it, is simply a snapshot of this deeply complex issue that continues to defy a full explanation.

Comment: It seems to be a forgone conclusion that anyone who would engage in a mass shooting has something wrong with their brain, whether it conforms to a psychiatric diagnosis or not.

See also:


Puppies are born with 'human-like' social skills, wired to communicate with people

© University of Arizona
In news that's sure to start plenty of new conversations between people and "man's best friend," a new study finds puppies are born with "human-like" social skills. Simply put, scientists say these adorable canines are able to communicate with people from birth.

Generally, dogs need little-to-no training in order to follow directions thanks to their innate genes which have been developing for centuries. In fact, researchers at the University of Arizona say more than 40 percent of the variation in a puppy's ability to follow a human's finger-pointing is due to their inherited genes.

"We found that there's definitely a strong genetic component, and they're definitely doing it from the get-go," says study co-author Evan MacLean in a university release.

Dogs love when humans lead the way

Study authors tested 375 eight-week-old puppies training to become service dogs in the future. The group consisted of 98 Labrador retrievers, 23 golden retrievers, and 254 Labrador golden crosses from 117 different litters. They all had an extremely similar rearing history and a pedigree going back multiple generations.


I act; therefore I am. Dear trans kids: Stop feeling and start thinking

A few weeks ago, a teacher at my kid's school shared a bit of wisdom that has rocked my world. She taught the kids that there are four mental stages; feeling, thinking, planning, and doing. People can only be in one stage at a time, and people get frustrated when others are in different stages than they are. If you've ever had to bite your tongue while you listened to someone vent, you know this is true. If you've ever been married, you know this is true. If you've ever parented, you know this is true.

Recently, I joined the twitter world to exchange ideas (that's the "thinking" stage, there) about the concept of Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD) and the impact of this on teen boys. While many people have shared insights and resources, I've observed a typical accusation that certain trans-identified people toss out: "You are saying we don't exist!"

At first, this struck me as a bewildering non-sequitur. Are they really saying because I have different ideas about transgender theories or gender identity, that I must think their bodies aren't present in the world? How would I explain that their typed grievances are popping up on my screen? Must I subscribe to a complex superstition of phantoms in the machine? Debating the points of trans identity in fact implies the opposite: I don't spend time arguing about the Loch Ness Monster or fairies or unicorns, because they do not exist.

Comment: The above advice, while directed to those with gender dysphoria, may well be applied to anyone who is stuck in a reactive confluence of feelings and emotions. We'd all do better to learn to use our minds towards more nuanced thought - which can then be translated to action and some semblance of self-actualization/individuation. Perhaps after a time of this practice the 'answer' to gender dysphoria, ideological possession (or any other form of mental laziness) will come of its own accord.

Cloud Lightning

"This is not your father's creationism": Atheist Michael Shermer meets Stephen Meyer

michael shermer
"This is not your father's creationism," says skeptic and atheist Michael Shermer in a new podcast with Stephen Meyer about Return of the God Hypothesis. "This is far more serious." And Shermer shows it by going two hours with Meyer, placing every objection before him that he can think of. The case in Meyer's book is not creationism at all, of course, but I'll accept the compliment on Steve's behalf. Shermer has my admiration in return. This is not your father's village atheism, either. That a conversation like this is possible represents a hopeful sign for our culture. It's not a debate — it's a discussion between respectful, eminently thoughtful people, neither of whom is trying to "win." We could all trying practicing that more with people who disagree with us.

I don't see any evidence by the end that Shermer has changed his mind (which, again, was not the intent). But when biology, physics, and cosmology are weighed together, I don't know what objection to Steve Meyer's case he would hold onto. Every cosmology either has theistic implications, or ends up wrecking the basis for rational scientific investigation of nature. This may be the most interesting dialogue that Return of the God Hypothesis has sparked so far, and that is no small measure of praise. As a friend commented who heard it before I did, "Whoa! Must listen." Whoa, indeed. Now I would like to hear a follow-up with some of the other sophisticated advocates for atheism — Sam Harris, perhaps, above all.

Comment: It's nice to see that at least some in the New Atheist field have forgone their predecessors dismissive attitude in favor of actually making arguments against the points brought to light by the Intelligent Design camp. It leads to some high level discussion and debate that is otherwise sorely missing in today's academic atmosphere.

More from Stephen Meyer:

Airplane Paper

Dunning-Kruger Effect: New study shows overconfidence in news judgment

Man reading newspaper
A new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that individuals who falsely believe they are able to identify false news are more likely to fall victim to it. In the article published today, Ben Lyons, assistant professor of communication at the University of Utah, and his colleagues examine the concern about the public's susceptibility to false news due to their inability to recognize their own limitations in identifying such information.

"Though Americans believe confusion caused by false news is extensive, relatively few indicate having seen or shared it," said Lyons. "If people incorrectly see themselves as highly skilled at identifying false news, they may unwittingly be more likely to consume, believe and share it, especially if it conforms to their worldview."

Lyons and his colleagues used two large nationally representative surveys with a total of 8,285 respondents. Individuals were asked to evaluate the accuracy of a series of Facebook headlines and then rate their own abilities to discern false news content. Lyons used these two measures to assess overconfidence among respondents and how it is related to beliefs and behaviors.

"Our results paint a worrying picture. Many people are simply unaware of their own vulnerability to misinformation."

The vast majority of respondents — about 90 percent — reported they are above average in their ability to discern false and legitimate news headlines. Three in four individuals overestimated their ability to distinguish between legitimate and false news headlines and respondents placed themselves 22 percentiles higher than their score warranted, on average. About 20 percent of respondents rated themselves 50 or more percentiles higher than their score warranted.

Comment: For more understanding of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, watch the humorous video below by Thoughty2:


New microscopy method reaches deeper into the living brain

new imaging method
© Daniel Razansky, University and ETH Zurich
A new imaging method can capture images of vasculature deep in the brains of mice. A conventional widefield fluorescence image of the mouse brain taken non-invasively in the visible light spectrum is shown on the left, while the non-invasive localization-based DOLI approach operating in the NIR-II spectral window is shown on the right.
WASHINGTON — Researchers have developed a new technique that allows microscopic fluorescence imaging at four times the depth limit imposed by light diffusion. Fluorescence microscopy is often used to image molecular and cellular details of the brain in animal models of various diseases but, until now, has been limited to small volumes and highly invasive procedures due to intense light scattering by the skin and skull.

"Visualization of biological dynamics in an unperturbed environment, deep in a living organism, is essential for understanding the complex biology of living organisms and progression of diseases," said research team leader Daniel Razansky from the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich, both in Switzerland. "Our study represents the first time that 3D fluorescence microscopy has been performed fully noninvasively at capillary level resolution in an adult mouse brain, effectively covering a field of view of about 1 centimeter."

In Optica, The Optical Society's (OSA) journal for high impact research, the researchers describe their new technique, which is called diffuse optical localization imaging (DOLI). It takes advantage of what is known as the second near-infrared (NIR-II) spectral window from 1000 to 1700 nanometers, which exhibits less scattering.

"Enabling high-resolution optical observations in deep living tissues represents a long-standing goal in the biomedical imaging field," said Razansky. "DOLI's superb resolution for deep-tissue optical observations can provide functional insights into the brain, making it a promising platform for studying neural activity, microcirculation, neurovascular coupling and neurodegeneration."


Jane Goodall Meets the God Hypothesis

Jane Goodall
Last week, the Templeton Foundation announced Jane Goodall as its Templeton Prize laureate for 2021. The press release hails her as a "singular figure" and a pioneering researcher in the quest to answer "humanity's greatest philosophical question, 'What does it mean to be human as part of the natural world?'"

As Evolution News has covered before, Goodall's answers to that question leave behind a darker legacy than you would gather from Templeton's effusive encomium. Her "vision for a harmonious world" is cast in a rosy-golden hue, but Wesley Smith has rightly pressed the same point Chesterton once made, that "where animals are worshiped, humans tend to be sacrificed." Today, Louis Leakey's famous declaration that Goodall's research forced the scientific community to "redefine tool, redefine man, or accept chimpanzees as human" seems prophetic. Goodall's fellow GAP (Great Apes Personhood) activists such as Peter Singer and Richard Dawkins are famous for excusing selective abortion, even infanticide.

Yet Goodall herself does not present as an angry atheist. Indeed, spiritual language suffuses her speech as she accepts the award. She concedes that the truly "deep mysteries of life" lie "forever beyond scientific knowledge." She underlines this with a quote from the Apostle Paul's famous anticipation of heaven: "Now we see through a glass darkly; then face to face."


Scientists discover new link between personality and risk of death

Couple holding hands in sunlight
Ground-breaking research led by University of Limerick has revealed for the first time that the immune system directly links personality to long-term risk of death.

The study sheds new light on why people who are more conscientious tend to live longer.

Results from the new international study published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity have found that the immune system plays a previously unknown role in the link between personality traits and long-term risk of death.

"Personality is known to be associated with long-term risk of death, it is a well replicated finding observed across numerous research studies internationally," explained Principal Investigator on the study Dr Páraic Ó Súilleabháin, from the Department of Psychology and Health Research Institute at University of Limerick, Ireland.

"The critical question is 'how'. We wanted to find out if a biological pathway such as our immune system may explain why this happens.

"Our personality is critically important throughout our lives, from early stages in our development, to the accumulation of the impact of how we think, feel, and behave across our lives, and in the years preceding our death. It is also becoming increasingly apparent how important personality actually is for our long-term health and resulting longevity.


14 common types of cognitive biases and how they affect you and your relationships

Cognitive bias
© prevuemeetings.com
At birth, our minds are like blank sponges ready to absorb new information. Then, as we grow up, we may start to let some of what we've learned mess with how we take on new information.

This is known as cognitive bias, and it causes us to create our own subjective reality in which we may be ignoring rationality and fact.

There are many types of bias but each of these can impact the way we approach relationships and jobs, it can hinder how we form opinions or alter the way we access knowledge.

What is cognitive bias?

Cognitive biases are systematic errors in the thinking process that alter how we interpret information and make decisions.

Biases are like roadblocks and limitations in your brain. The brain wants to get to its destination quickly and easily so it may take some shortcuts and miss important road signs in order to get there.

"Our brains are programmed: 'wired' from birth based on our environment and experiences. Often, we take on the biases of those who raise us or influence us as small children," says life and career coach Christina Renzelli.M.Ed.

"Unless someone has the opportunity to notice the biases of their programming, they may not be conscious of them. This limits their access to the truth by keeping them in a small bubble of false information."

Career and life management consultant, Ruth Schimel, Ph.D., agrees. She says that biases are our way of finding comfort and predictability in the world. Sometimes, they are all we know.

Comment: See also: