Tag Archives: Human Nature

Awesome awe

I was struck by an article in the New Scientist (paywalled) on the effects of the experience of awe, such as being stopped in our tracks by a stunning view, gobsmacked by the vastness of the night sky or being transported by soaring music, or a grand scientific theory.

The article says that such experience can dissolve our sense of self, making us more open to other people and bring benefits to mind and body including lowering stress and boosting creativity.

Here’s a photo of Californian Redwoods: Continue reading Awesome awe

Emotional style: the concept

When I looked up the word “emotion” in my Australian Oxford Dictionary the explanation referred to strong feelings. The word “feeling” has several meanings, but the relevant one gave an explanation in terms of emotions. So we all know what it means, right? In our binary habits of thinking we know that it is pretty much the opposite of reason, that emotions disrupt rational thought, that reasoning takes place in the pre-frontal and cerebral cortex while emotion bursts forth from the limbic system and the hypothalamus.

Wrong, says brain researcher Richard Davidson, who with help from science writer Sharon Begley has written a book The emotional life of your brain.

Charting the progress of Sapiens

Vivek Menezes puts the question:

    In 1974, a grey-haired indigenous leader of Papua New Guinea asked a visiting American ornithologist something like, “How come you people dominate the world, while we have so little?”

Jared Diamond has been answering that question ever since. Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari has moved into the space opened up by Diamond, essentially asking why a seemingly inconsequential ape that divided from chimpanzees some six million years ago ended up with a species of Homo, namely Sapiens, which has come to dominate the planet. Harari’s book Sapiens: A Brief History Of Humankind concentrates on the last 70,000 years, which as Galen Strawson points out, is more than enough for a mere 400 pages. Continue reading Charting the progress of Sapiens

Climate clippings 71b

This post was written in October 2012 trialling the site. I’ve decided to leave it in time sequence and fiddle the numbering.

1. Did climate change shape human evolution?

There’s no evidence yet that it did according to Richard Leakey.

I’m not sure about his four key questions, though. Yes, bipedalism seems to be important as does using tools to make tools. But I can’t see the importance of migration out of Africa as important to our evolution. Apart from picking up some Neanderthal genes presumably in a palm grove somewhere in the Middle East, which did boost our immune system, those of us who left Africa are much the same genetically as those who stayed behind.

I’d say the development of language was important. If you want a fourth I’d suggest our patterns of social organisation – how we interact and how we co-operate within groups. But I don’t know how much of that is in our genes.

2. Aid for climate refugees

Speaking of climate and migration, displacement by extreme weather events does not qualify you as a refugee under present UN arrangements. The International Organisation of Migration (IOM) hopes this will change at the annual United Nations climate change summit to be held in Qatar later this year, gaining access to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and other sources. It seems that 42 million people were displaced by storms, floods and droughts in Asia and the Pacific during 2010 and 2011.

3. Ocean heat content update

Skeptical Science recently posted on an update by Levitus et al on ocean heat content, which increases apace. Around 93% of additional warming goes into the ocean which is truly vast with, for example, an average depth of around 3,790 metres. This graph indicates the changing heat content within bands of the upper 2000m:

4. Southern Ocean research shows decrease in dense Antarctic bottom water

Antarctic Bottom Water is a massive current of super dense salty water which used to be which used to occupy the bottom mile of the Great Southern Ocean. Used to. Researchers are now able to report that the current is diminished by 60% compared to what it was in 1970.

Antarctic Bottom Water is colder than the normal freezing point and is a vast store of CO2. Understanding changes in this deep ocean current are crucial to understanding the likely future of global climate patterns as the planet warms. The researchers have not only been able to make direct observations, they have distributed buoys which should be able to provide data at times of the year when field work is impossible.

5. Plants flower faster than climate change models predict

For years scientists have been doing experiments to find out how much earlier plants will flower and leaf with global warming. A new study using field observations has found that plants are responding much faster than they had thought. Their research suggests that that spring flowering and leafing will continue to advance at the rate of 5 to 6 days per year for every degree celsius of warming.

What surprises me is that they thought they could model natural conditions in the lab.

It seems they will have to rethink the impacts of global warming on ecosystems and food production.

See also Science Daily.

6. Climate change experimentation goes bush

Another approach is to manipulate the environment on a large scale and monitor what happens. Researchers are using to control the amount of CO2 available to plants.

The idea is explore the role of “Australia’s large tracts of undeveloped land, known as bush” in storing carbon. They will be able to add carbon or take it away.

I’m not sure it doesn’t suffer from the same problems as experiments with plants, where only one variable was controlled, neglecting changes in precipitation patterns and cloudiness, for example.

7. Wind farms do not cause global warming

There has been a raft of articles in the MSM suggesting that wind farms cause global warming, mainly in the headlines, it seems.

In fact a study of some large wind farms in remote areas of Texas found local warming. The authors don’t know what’s going on but the suggestion is that thermal energy is being redistributed, perhaps by pulling down warmer air from higher altitudes during the nights.

For the spinning blades of wind turbines to increase the overall temperature of the planet some basic laws of physics would need to be rewritten.