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friday :: september 29, 2006
chimpanzees culture

Transferring knowledge through a chain of generations is a behavior not exclusive to humans, according to new findings by researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center of Emory University and the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. For the first time, researchers have shown chimpanzees exhibit generational learning behavior similar to that in humans. Unlike previous findings that indicated chimpanzees simply conform to the social norms of the group, this study shows behavior and traditions can be passed along a chain of individual chimpanzees.

Using a research design that simulated transmission over multiple generations, researchers Victoria Horner, along with Frans B.M. de Waal, and Andrew Whiten, were able to more closely examine how chimpanzees learn from each other and the potential longevity of their culture. In doing so, they confirmed that a particular behavior can be transmitted accurately along a chain of up to six chimpanzees, representing six simulated generations equaling approximately 90 years of culture in the wild. A comparative benchmark study with three-year-old human children, conducted by Emma Flynn,revealed similar results, providing further evidence chimpanzees, like humans, are creatures of culture.

In the study, researchers began by introducing a foraging technique to two chimpanzees, one each from two separate social groups, to train them to open a special testing box one of two ways -- either by sliding or lifting the door -- to reveal fruit inside. Chimpanzees in a third social group, used as the control group, were allowed to explore the testing box but were given no instruction or training to open the testing box. Once each individual animal from the first two social groups proved successful, another animal from the same social group was allowed to observe the process before interacting with the testing box. Once the second animal succeeded, another chimpanzee would enter and observe the technique, and so on down the chain. In the two social groups trained to slide or lift the door, the technique used by the original animal was passed to up to six chimpanzees. The chimpanzees in the control group were able to discover both methods through individual exploration, suggesting the exclusive use of a single technique in the non-control groups was due to behavioral transmission from a previous animal.

"The chimpanzees in this study continued using only the technique they observed rather than an alternative method," said Horner. "This finding is particularly remarkable considering the chimpanzees in the control group were able to discover both methods through individual exploration. Clearly, observing one exclusive technique from a previous chimpanzee was sufficient for transmission of behavior along multiple cultural generations."

This research may contribute to a better understanding of how chimpanzees learn complex behaviors in the wild. "By conducting controlled cultural experiments with captive chimpanzees, we are able to learn more about wild population-specific behavioral differences, thought to represent a form of cultural variation," said Horner. "These findings also show great similarity between human and chimpanzee behavior, suggesting cultural learning may be rooted deep within the evolutionary process." >from *Chimpanzees can transmit cultural behavior to multiple 'generations'*. August 28, 2006

related context
how did our ancestors' minds really work?. september 5, 2006
> study uncovers 'chimp cross code'. september 5, 2006
> social imitation found in rhesus monkeys. september 5, 2006
> chimpanzees are social conformists. august 21, 2005
> orangutan culture, push back the origins of culture. january 21, 2003
> first chimpanzee archaeological dig. may 28, 2002
> abstract thought on non-human animals. october 16, 2001

cultivate + symbolically codify + communicate:
chimpanzees knowledge transfer

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friday :: september 22, 2006
how and why civilisation arose

Severe climate change was the primary driver in the development of civilisation, according to new research by the University of East Anglia.

The early civilisations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, South Asia, China and northern South America were founded between 6000 and 4000 years ago when global climate changes, driven by natural fluctuations in the Earth’s orbit, caused a weakening of monsoon systems resulting in increasingly arid conditions. These first large urban, state-level societies emerged because diminishing resources forced previously transient people into close proximity in areas where water, pasture and productive land was still available.

Dr Nick Brooks challenge existing views of how and why civilisation arose. He argue that the earliest civilisations developed largely as a by-product of adaptation to climate change and were the products of hostile environments.

“Civilisation did not arise as the result of a benign environment which allowed humanity to indulge a preference for living in complex, urban, ‘civilized’ societies,” said Dr Brooks.

“On the contrary, what we tend to think of today as ‘civilisation’ was in large part an accidental by-product of unplanned adaptation to catastrophic climate change. Civilisation was a last resort - a means of organising society and food production and distribution, in the face of deteriorating environmental conditions.”

He added that for many, if not most people, the development of civilisation meant a harder life, less freedom, and more inequality. The transition to urban living meant that most people had to work harder in order to survive, and suffered increased exposure to communicable diseases. Health and nutrition are likely to have deteriorated rather than improved for many. The new research challenges the widely held belief that the development of civilization was simply the result of a transition from harsh, unpredictable climatic conditions during the last ice age, to more benign and stable conditions at the beginning of the Holocene period some 10,000 years ago.

The research also has profound philosophical implications because it challenges deeply held beliefs about human progress, the nature of civilisation and the origins of political and religious systems that have persisted to this day. It suggests that civilisation is not our natural state, but the unintended consequence of adaptation to climatic deterioration - a condition of humanity ‘in extremis’.

Dr Brooks said: “Having been forced into civilized communities as a last resort, people found themselves faced with increased social inequality, greater violence in the form of organised conflict, and at the mercy of self-appointed elites who used religious authority and political ideology to bolster their position. These models of government are still with us today, and we may understand them better by understanding how civilisation arose by accident as a result of the last great global climatic upheaval.” >from *Climate change rocked cradles of civilisation*. September 7, 2006

related context
kardashev scale. a general method of classifying how technologically advanced a civilization is.
> the death and life of great american cities. the city preceded agriculture, jane jacobs argues.
> what comes after: cities, art and recovery. 'from sarajevo to new orleans, from kigali to beirut, artists have commented forcefully on their contemporary political and cultural predicament.' new york, september, 2006
> how does your city affect you?. november 4, 2005
> climate change. december 21, 2004
> oil peak: the most pivotal challenge facing modern civilization. june 23, 2004
> meteor impact collapse civilisations. november 7, 2001

time is running out!

sonic flow
increased social inequality [stream]
increased social inequality [download]

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friday :: september 15, 2006
new source of light

The 2006 Millennium Technology Prize has been awarded to Shuji Nakamura. Professor Nakamura has developed a new, revolutionary source of light – bright-blue, green and white LEDs and a blue laser. The technology is used in several applications which improve the quality of human life.

“The lighting applications now made possible by his achievement can be compared with Thomas Edison’s invention of the incandescent lamp. In the course of time, energy-efficient light sources based on Shuji Nakamura’s innovation will undoubtedly become predominant,”says Pekka Tarjanne, Chairman of the International Selection committee.

Professor Nakamura is known for his technological wizardry with semiconducting gallium nitrides and is widely recognized as the world pioneer in light emitters based on the wide-bandgap semiconductor gallium nitride (GaN). Nakamura’s breakthrough year was 1993, when he stunned the optoelectronic community with the announcement of very bright blue GaN-based light emitting diodes, LEDs. >from *Millennium Technology Prize awarded to inventor of new source of light*. September 9, 2006

The efficiency of white LEDs that use blue LEDs will become higher, almost close to 100%. Then, all of the conventional lighting, such as incandescent bulbs, fluorescent lamps, and others, would be replaced with the white LEDs in order to save energy and resources. Also, these white LEDs would be operated by a battery powered by a solar cell in the daytime. So, it means that this lighting would be operated with clean energy thanks to its high efficiency and low voltage operation.

The high efficiency of blue LEDs and white LEDs would save significant energy and resources. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that up to $98 billion USD in energy costs could be saved by 2020 if we switch to solid state lighting. Also, this would reduce the associated greenhouse gas emission, therefore it could reduce global warming effects dramatically. This would help all countries achieve reduced emissions in accordance with the Kyoto Protocol. >from *ten questions to the winner*.

All of Nakamura's impressive innovations depend on the use of GaN semiconductors. Current research developments based on this material appear to herald a revolution in which gallium nitride will replace gallium arsenide as the semiconductor material of choice. Although gallium is common to both materials, it is the move from its combination with arsenic to a combination with nitrogen that is key. Unlike the former, the latter is an environmentally-friendly element.

But the benefits of his LEDs are not just restricted to high-tech gadgets and bringing light to the world. The blue LED's ultraviolet properties could also provide a cheap and efficient way to clean water or counter pollution.

related context
millennium technology prize 2004 awarded to inventor of world wide web.
> state of the world 2005. january 14, 2005
> nobel prize in physics 2000. 'to scientists and inventors whose work has laid the foundation of modern information and communication technology, particularly through their invention of rapid transistors, laser diodes, and integrated circuits (chips).' october 10, 2000

from edison to nakamura: the ultimate light source

sonic flow
solid state lighting [stream]
solid state lighting [download]

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friday :: september 8, 2006
how paintings can be heard

We all link music and art, but only a tiny minority of us is aware of the crossover of senses in our brains, according to a UCL (University College London) neuroscientist. New research has found that vision and hearing are inextricably interlinked in everyone’s brain, but only synaesthetes, who have a rare condition in which the senses mingle, are conscious of it.

The results show that most of us prefer image and sound combined, rather than either in isolation. We also tend to agree on which images match particular sounds. This could have implications for how we understand art and develop art forms that combine visual images with sound – such as ballet, opera, visual jockeying and animation.

Dr Jamie Ward, of the UCL Department of Psychology, said: “Kandinsky wanted to make visual art more like music – more abstract. He also hoped that his paintings would be ‘heard’ by his audiences. This seems more achievable now that we have found such a strong link between vision and hearing.

“Although information from the world enters our heads via different sensory organs – the eyes and ears in this instance – once they are in the brain they are intimately connected with each other. Impressively, they are connected in non-random ways, so that some combinations of sound and vision go together better than others.”

During a series of experiments, Dr Ward asked six synaesthetes to draw and describe their visual experiences of music played by the New London Orchestra. A control group of six people without the condition were asked to do the same. Animated films, combining the music and drawn images were created by an animator, Sam Moore of the University of Wolverhampton, and shown to the public visiting London’s Science Museum. A hundred images were shown to over 200 people and these visitors were asked to choose the image that provided the best fit to the music. Respondents consistently chose the images drawn by synaesthetes over control images. This shows that while people without synaesthesia are not able to hear a painting or see a piece of music in a literal sense, they are able to sense the crossover and tend to choose the ‘correct’ image.

Dr Ward said: “While some synaesthetes can actually hear a Kandinsky in a very real way, the rest of us don’t have such a pronounced crossover of senses. But, this research shows that all of us have links between our hearing and vision – even if we don’t really realise it. We hope that understanding synaesthesia will enable us to understand more about how our senses are linked in our brains, and how this may help us create and appreciate works of art that combine music and sound.”

Describing ‘Composition VIII, 1923’ by Kandinsky, one synaesthete said: “The jumbled mass of lines gave various tones, which changed as my eyes travelled round the picture. When looking at the large multicoloured powerful circle at upper left, I get a pure tone which can be too much, so to relieve my mind of this I travel back to the cacophony of jumbled lines and shapes. This painting therefore is a good balance of contrasting noise – pure tones and cacophony – which was a delight to see. The more I looked at it, the more I came to appreciate the image and to like the ‘music’.”

The next stage of the research will use brain scans to look at what happens in the brain of synaesthetes when Kandinsky triggers sound or when sound triggers a Kandinsky-like vision. >from *Science says Kandinsky was right – paintings can be heard*. September 4, 2006

related context
sonic architecture. august, 2006
> how brain processes sound. august 4, 2006
> composer reveals musical chords' hidden geometry. july 6, 2006

listen kandinsky's pure tones and cacophony

sonic flow
... [stream]
... [download]

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friday :: september 1, 2006
direct proof of dark matter

Dark matter and normal matter have been wrenched apart by the tremendous collision of two large clusters of galaxies. The discovery, using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes, gives direct evidence for the existence of dark matter.

"This is the most energetic cosmic event, besides the Big Bang, which we know about," said team member Maxim Markevitch of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass.

These observations provide the strongest evidence yet that most of the matter in the universe is dark. Despite considerable evidence for dark matter, some scientists have proposed alternative theories for gravity where it is stronger on intergalactic scales than predicted by Newton and Einstein, removing the need for dark matter. However, such theories cannot explain the observed effects of this collision.

"A universe that's dominated by dark stuff seems preposterous, so we wanted to test whether there were any basic flaws in our thinking," said Doug Clowe of the University of Arizona at Tucson, and leader of the study. "These results are direct proof that dark matter exists."

In galaxy clusters, the normal matter, like the atoms that make up the stars, planets, and everything on Earth, is primarily in the form of hot gas and stars. The mass of the hot gas between the galaxies is far greater than the mass of the stars in all of the galaxies. This normal matter is bound in the cluster by the gravity of an even greater mass of dark matter. Without dark matter, which is invisible and can only be detected through its gravity, the fast-moving galaxies and the hot gas would quickly fly apart.

The hot gas in this collision was slowed by a drag force, similar to air resistance. In contrast, the dark matter was not slowed by the impact, because it does not interact directly with itself or the gas except through gravity. This produced the separation of the dark and normal matter seen in the data. If hot gas was the most massive component in the clusters, as proposed by alternative gravity theories, such a separation would not have been seen. Instead, dark matter is required.

This result also gives scientists more confidence that the Newtonian gravity familiar on Earth and in the solar system also works on the huge scales of galaxy clusters.

"We've closed this loophole about gravity, and we've come closer than ever to seeing this invisible matter," Clowe said. >from *NASA finds direct proof of dark matter* . August 21, 2006

related context
astronomers report first direct evidence for dark matter. 'there really is dark matter out there, now we just need to figure out what it is.' august 21, 2006
> dark matter observed. most direct measurement of dark matter allows study of its nature. august 21, 2006
> pioneer anomaly, pointing towards new physics. the spacecraft trajectories could be influenced by the presence of dark matter in the solar system. august 16, 2006
> are black holes at the center of galaxies?. 'bubbles of dark matter could be masquerading as supermassive black holes at the centres of galaxies. if so, they could explain the puzzling pattern of x-ray emissions from the heart of the milky way.' august 16, 2006
> 'dark matter' exhibition. a 'last painting', a zero point beyond which painting could not go, suggesting painting as an object instead of as a window onto another space. and yet it was also experienced as a kind of negative icon, representing a sacred transfiguration of the material into the immaterial. july 7 - september 9, 2006
> galaxies are born inside dark matter clumps. april 17, 2006
> only 4 percent of the universe is ordinary familiar atoms. another 22 percent is an as-yet unidentified dark matter, and 74 percent is a mysterious dark energy. march 16, 2006
> dark energy stars. 'dark energy and dark matter, two of the greatest mysteries confronting physicists, may be two sides of the same coin. a new and as yet
undiscovered kind of star could explain both phenomena and, in turn, remove black holes from the lexicon of cosmology.' march 9, 2006
> milky way vibrations and the galactic warp. 'most prominent of the milky way's satellite galaxies - a pair of galaxies called the magellanic clouds - appears to be interacting with the milky way's ghostly dark matter to create a mysterious warp in the galactic disk.' january 20, 2006
> dark matter candidate. 'mirror matter is an entirely new form of matter predicted to exist if mirror symmetry is a fundamental symmetry of nature.' november 18, 2002
> first 'map' of dark matter. 'while dark matter makes up at least 90% of the mass of the universe, both its composition and its distribution are unknown' march 7, 2000

matter vs. dark matter comprehensive cosmic event

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