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Sat, 10 Apr 2021
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


A mind made out of silk?

graphic spider web books cognition
© Sin Eater/Quanta Magazine
The Thoughts of a Spiderweb
Spiders appear to offload cognitive tasks to their webs, making them one of a number of species with a mind that isn't fully confined within the head.

Millions of years ago, a few spiders abandoned the kind of round webs that the word "spiderweb" calls to mind and started to focus on a new strategy. Before, they would wait for prey to become ensnared in their webs and then walk out to retrieve it. Then they began building horizontal nets to use as a fishing platform. Now their modern descendants, the cobweb spiders, dangle sticky threads below, wait until insects walk by and get snagged, and reel their unlucky victims in.

In 2008, the researcher Hilton Japyassú prompted 12 species of orb spiders collected from all over Brazil to go through this transition again. He waited until the spiders wove an ordinary web. Then he snipped its threads so that the silk drooped to where crickets wandered below. When a cricket got hooked, not all the orb spiders could fully pull it up, as a cobweb spider does. But some could, and all at least began to reel it in with their two front legs.

Comment: Or perhaps cognition, at whatever scale, extends into a larger pool of information that is tapped at the level of need?

Arrow Up

Study shows stronger brain activity after writing on paper than on tablet or smartphone

Analog vs Digital
© Created using Canva.com, CC0
A study of Japanese university students and recent graduates has revealed that writing on physical paper can lead to more brain activity when remembering the information an hour later. Researchers say that the unique, complex, spatial and tactile information associated with writing by hand on physical paper is likely what leads to improved memory.

"Actually, paper is more advanced and useful compared to electronic documents because paper contains more one-of-a-kind information for stronger memory recall," said Professor Kuniyoshi L. Sakai, a neuroscientist at the University of Tokyo and corresponding author of the research recently published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. The research was completed with collaborators from the NTT Data Institute of Management Consulting.

Contrary to the popular belief that digital tools increase efficiency, volunteers who used paper completed the note-taking task about 25% faster than those who used digital tablets or smartphones.

Although volunteers wrote by hand both with pen and paper or stylus and digital tablet, researchers say paper notebooks contain more complex spatial information than digital paper. Physical paper allows for tangible permanence, irregular strokes, and uneven shape, like folded corners. In contrast, digital paper is uniform, has no fixed position when scrolling, and disappears when you close the app.

"Our take-home message is to use paper notebooks for information we need to learn or memorize," said Sakai.

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MindMatters: Stalking the Night Stalker: Richard Ramirez, Intraspecies Predator

richard ramirez
In 1985, greater Los Angeles and San Francisco were struck with an ever-growing list of brutal murders, rapes and robberies of dozens of individuals, including children. The crimes shocked and terrified not only the families of the victims and the communities where the crimes took place - but also captured national attention - as the viciousness and malevolence involved in these acts were made public. The range of victims, and multiple MOs, stumped investigators and suggested that the serial killer involved was capable of almost anything.

This week on MindMatters we discuss the chilling story of Richard Ramirez AKA 'The Night Stalker,' as told in a new documentary on Netflix titled Night Stalker: The Hunt For a Serial Killer. Was Ramirez 'born' or 'made' into the the monster he became, what influenced him psychologically, and what about his very biology may have helped shape him into the serial killer he became? We also look at the effects Ramirez's acts had on the families of the victims, the investigators involved in tracking him down, and the 'larger than life' strangeness that permeates the entire story. Though stories like the Ramirez's are rare, this tale is an awful reminder that individuals like him do exist, and we'd do well to remember that many of them, unlike Ramirez, appear to be quite normal on the surface. (Also discussed: What The Night Stalker Documentary Leaves Out About Richard Ramirez)

Running Time: 01:22:58

Download: MP3 — 76 MB

Eye 1

On the psychology of the conspiracy denier

conspiracy nut
Why is it that otherwise perfectly intelligent, thoughtful and rationally minded people baulk at the suggestion that sociopaths are conspiring to manipulate and deceive them? And why will they defend this ill-founded position with such vehemence?

History catalogues the machinations of liars, thieves, bullies and narcissists and their devastating effects. In modern times too, evidence of corruption and extraordinary deceptions abound.

We know, without question, that politicians lie and hide their connections and that corporations routinely display utter contempt for moral norms - that corruption surrounds us.

We know that revolving doors between the corporate and political spheres, the lobbying system, corrupt regulators, the media and judiciary mean that wrongdoing is practically never brought to any semblance of genuine justice.

We know that the press makes noise about these matters occasionally but never pursues them with true vigour.


Better way to measure consciousness found by researchers

© The Conversation
Millions of people are administered general anesthesia each year in the United States alone, but it's not always easy to tell whether they are actually unconscious.

A small proportion of those patients regain some awareness during medical procedures, but a new study of the brain activity that represents consciousness could prevent that potential trauma. It may also help both people in comas and scientists struggling to define which parts of the brain can claim to be key to the conscious mind.

"What has been shown for 100 years in an unconscious state like sleep are these slow waves of electrical activity in the brain," says Yuri Saalmann, a University of Wisconsin-Madison psychology and neuroscience professor. "But those may not be the right signals to tap into. Under a number of conditions — with different anesthetic drugs, in people that are suffering from a coma or with brain damage or other clinical situations — there can be high-frequency activity as well."

UW-Madison researchers recorded electrical activity in about 1,000 neurons surrounding each of 100 sites throughout the brains of a pair of monkeys at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center during several states of consciousness: under drug-induced anesthesia, light sleep, resting wakefulness, and roused from anesthesia into a waking state through electrical stimulation of a spot deep in the brain (a procedure the researchers described in 2020).

"With data across multiple brain regions and different states of consciousness, we could put together all these signs traditionally associated with consciousness — including how fast or slow the rhythms of the brain are in different brain areas — with more computational metrics that describe how complex the signals are and how the signals in different areas interact," says Michelle Redinbaugh, a graduate student in Saalman's lab and co-lead author of the study, published today in the journal Cell Systems.


Research shows that BSers are more likely to fall for BS

Man 'shush'
© Pixabay/CC0
People who frequently try to impress or persuade others with misleading exaggerations and distortions are themselves more likely to be fooled by impressive-sounding misinformation, new research from the University of Waterloo shows.

The researchers found that people who frequently engage in "persuasive bullshitting" were actually quite poor at identifying it. Specifically, they had trouble distinguishing intentionally profound or scientifically accurate fact from impressive but meaningless fiction. Importantly, these frequent BSers are also much more likely to fall for fake news headlines.

Shane Littrell, lead author of the paper and cognitive psychology Ph.D. candidate at Waterloo, stated:
"It probably seems intuitive to believe that you can't bullshit a bullshitter, but our research suggests that this isn't actually the case. In fact, it appears that the biggest purveyors of persuasive bullshit are ironically some of the ones most likely to fall for it."
The researchers define "bullshit" as information designed to impress, persuade, or otherwise mislead people that is often constructed without concern for the truth. They also identify two types of bullshitting — persuasive and evasive. "Persuasive" uses misleading exaggerations and embellishments to impress, persuade, or fit in with others, while 'evasive' involves giving irrelevant, evasive responses in situations where frankness might result in hurt feelings or reputational harm.

Black Cat

Unrelenting, omnipresent fear short circuits the human brain

woman in fear
As we rapidly approach the one year anniversary of Covid madness I'll freely admit I've been shocked by the millions upon millions of American's who appear so traumatized they are unable to think clearly. They clamor for an unproven, untested, hastily cobbled together DNA altering gene therapy mislabeled as a "vaccine".

They stand in long lines for hours to have this experimental cocktail injected into their bodies with the very real possibility of death as has already happened to hundreds of Covid Vaccine victims. At least 271 deaths, 9,845 adverse events after COVID vaccination so far: CDC data | News | LifeSite (lifesitenews.com) Who in their right mind would agree to risk their life by taking this concoction to hopefully protect themselves from a virus that according to the CDC is survivable by 99.74% of those exposed?

It doesn't make any sense does it?

Comment: See also:

2 + 2 = 4

'Decolonising Math' is rooted in a decades-old conflict

math problem pencil
© AdobeStock
For decades, a conflict has been simmering in the elementary school classrooms of the English-speaking world. On one side are those who place mathematics understanding above all else and whose teaching methods involve asking students to figure out ways to solve authentic mathematics problems, focusing on the process while de-emphasizing the importance of obtaining correct answers. On the other side, often painted as stuffy traditionalists, are those who assert the importance of explicit teaching, practice, and memorization. Welcome to the math wars.

The origins of the math wars stretch back to the educational progressivists of the 19th century. Drawing on the writing of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, while reviling the strict discipline and recitation of the school house of the 1800s, they demanded a new, reformed mode of education. Learning should proceed through experience. After all, kids can learn lots of things through pure immersion, from recognizing individual faces, to speaking their mother tongue, navigating their local area or sharing resources with friends. Why should they not learn math the same way? Why can't learning be more natural and joyful? The traditionalists, for their part, insisted that young children need to have math fully explained to them and that attention must be devoted to the task of memorizing "math facts" such as that 7 × 8 = 56.

Comment: See also:

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MindMatters: Joshua Slocum: We're Living in a Cluster B World

josh slocum
Joshua Slocum hosts Disaffected - the best new podcast on the market. Our society isn't just getting crazier - it's getting Cluster B crazy: borderline, narcissistic, histrionic, and antisocial personality disorders and their traits are off the charts. In the universities, media, social media, and the Democratic establishment - something is happening, but few can put their finger on it. Josh can and does, and he's not afraid to tell it like it is. He can see it because he has lived through it, and we can all learn from his hard-won experience and painful disillusionment at what his political party has become.

Disaffected liberals, horrified observers of the state of North American social trends and ideology, and those just wondering what is going on should tune in, and check out Josh's podcast and videos. Check him out on Twitter and subscribe to his show. You won't regret it.

Disaffected Podcast:

Running Time: 01:54:34

Download: MP3 — 105 MB


You're not trans. You're just weird

gender transgender choice
© Getty Images / Jamie Grill
My dear, sweet, son,I've got to break it to you: you're not trans, you're just weird.

This seems like a cruel thing to point out right now. Clearly, you are struggling and feeling pretty awful about things. I can see that you are in a rough patch, and one of the first rules of parenting is to not pile on. The world is pretty heavy on your shoulders. You're fifteen. There's a pandemic going on. But here I come anyway. I'm about to throw more on you.

When you were two ­- a happy, chubby, little tyke in pull-ups, you watched the world with wary eyes behind the thumb in your mouth. You leapt with joy in the rhythm of the toddle music classes. You chattered and shared stories about your stuffed animals. You loved your little sister. Enjoyed cookies and finger painting. That was all pretty normal.

But you also started to count to one thousand on our walks. And you started to call out the store names as we drove around. And you preferred reading books rather than playing with the other two-year-olds at preschool. And you hated sitting in the circle when instructed. And you hated the feel of blue jeans. And you threw big tantrums when you lost any kind of game. In other words, you started to show signs that you were... weird.

Comment: Most teens feel weird, out-of-place, or like they don't belong at some point or another. Some may feel this more intensely than others. The promise of social acceptance or finding some proposed meaning for awkwardness can draw a strong attraction for kids that might just be a bit weird. Such promises don't provide a way to actually develop real social relationships or connection, however. These are superficial draws that offer little in terms of actual development. Kids have a hard enough time as it is; they don't need activism or political influences messing with their personal lives.