Friday Science Ragamuffin, September 20, 2013

This week we are doing the Top Ten Science Stories Of The Week! (there was just too much cool stuff to cut it down tot he usual 6 or 7!)

10. and 9. An extraterrestrial twofer??

Not one but two stories claiming, independently of one another, that extraterrestrial life has been discovered.

There is this one from a Professor Wainwright in the UK which claims that they found extraterrestrial life by harvesting particles from the very edge of space.

The claim is that these particles are definitely life forms but like absolutely no other life forms on Earth, suggesting they came from space.

If so, does that mean we are constantly bombarded with life? Panspermia indeed!

And then there’s this story, also from the UK, where a Chandra Wickramasinghe claims to have found extraterrestrial life inside a meteorite found in Sri Lanka.

It’s not quite a slam dunk, but it’s a good shot. They have confirmed the sample is definitely meteoric in origin and there appears to be an algae-like substance inside it, looking for all the world like it grew there.

Did we pass some invisible point of maturity and now suddenly the alien overlords are letting us know there really is life out there?

8. Viral Or Bacterial?

Is your illness viral or bacterial? It can make a big difference in course of treatment, and now there is a fast safe test to find out.

The test is based on certain genetic markers that are present in the body in response to specific infections (more epigenetics in action!), and can give a 90 percent accurate result within 12 hours.

This could have a whole host of benefits, but primarily, it is intended to cut down on the amount of antibiotics given to people who have viral infections, and hence slow the evolution of antibiotic-resistant strains.

And now… the Phantom Zone.

7. A New Geometry of Physics

Physicists have discovered a new geometry of particle physics that vastly simplifies the whole field and goes a long way towards finally tweaking quantum theory into something less downright messy.

It might even open the door for a way to finally integrate that fickle bitch-goddess gravity into quantum theory and integrate the world we see at the quantum level and macroscopic world we all live in and perceive.

I will just note in passing that I have been predicting that the whole bizarre quantum mess would some day be revealed to be far simpler and more sensible than we thought.

6. Did a hyper-huge black hole collapse create the universe?

Hell if I know.

But these folks seems to think so. This is one of those cases where I feel I don’t know enough about the subject to even have a layman’s opinion on it.

I confess, when things get to that scale, my mental pinball machine goes TILT.

But I like this quote :

“For all physicists know, dragons could have come flying out of the singularity,” says Niayesh Afshordi, an astrophysicist at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada.

Well, so much for the first half. You know what comes next, right?

Brain science, of course!

5. Brain science, of course!

In this case, small animal brain science.

A new study has shown that small animals process visual information far more rapidly than larger ones, and hence live in a slow-motion world compared to us big clumsy critters.

Anyone who has tried to catch a cat has at least suspected this.

I wonder if they compensated for the very different way human beings see int heir comparisons. We pre-process raw visual info more than any other animal species.

4. Can Animals Think?

That is the question that this Time magazine article asks.

Loaded question. Define “think”, please. Sorry, I am a philosopher first, scientist second, because you can’t get useful result from wrong thinking.

We will never know if they “really” think, just like we cannot definitely prove anyone else thinks but us. Direct observation is not possible. You can’t walk around in someone else’s skull.

And considering how we treat animals, there will always be a strong incentive for doubt.

But animals can care, worry, scheme, help, hinder, play politics, have favorites, make friends, solve problems, and even fall in love.

I would say we have as much evidence of their consciousness as we have of our own.

3. Creativity Is Messy

Studies are showing that there is a correlation between messiness and creativity.

Subjects asked to do a fake consumer survey in either a messy room or a neat one. The ones in the neat room tended to choose the “classic” choice, the others the “new” choice.

This fits neatly with my theories regarding the ordering mind versus the creative mind.

Plus, full disclosure, I am a highly creative person in a very messy room.

I might be biased.

2. Finding the Imagination

Scientists Dartmouth think they may have found out just where the imagination lies in the human brain.

However, their answer is that it is a “widespread neural network”, so big frigging deal.

That is seriously not much of an answer. They might as well have just pointed to someone’s head and said “It’s all over the place in there!”

The problem is that “imagination” is far too broad and ill-defined a term, and when you combine that with our need to be able to point at something and say “There it is!” leads to trouble.

Maybe it’s everywhere in the brain.

And finally, the Big Story….

1. Making a Memory

And this being the FSW, you just know those memories aren’t being created by Hallmark moments.

Scientists at the University of California at Irvine have successfully created a specific new memory in rats.

That’s right… they created a memory in the rats’ brains. You can see why this story won the “creepy science” race. Today it’s creating new memories in rats, tomorrow it’s Total Recall city.

Go to your local equivalent of Rekall, Inc, and get yourself memories of whatever you want.

Or, the government could simply give you new memories like you were Wolverine.

Seriously, if it wasn’t for his mutant healing factor, his brain would look like a bowl of soggy cauliflower that had been shot up with an Uzi by now.

See you next week, folks!

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