Monday, April 10, 2017

Calamari Editors

It seems that octopuses, squids and cuttlefish are really good at using RNA editing to produce proteins that their genes don't code for. This interesting article argues that this flexibility may be an important component of their intelligence. It would be interesting to see if this also plays a big role in the remarkable ability of these animals to change color and camouflage themselves. However, this comes at a price, since it slows down evolution. So yeah, you can open bottles and change colors like nobody's business, but you'll always have eight tentacles growing out of your head....

Your Snout is Showing...

Never forget that when you eat chicken, you're eating a dinosaur. Now some scientists are beginning to unmask the chicken and show us it true face - snout and all. Be very afraid....

One quibble with this piece: There was nothing "accidental" about what happened here. These scientists were out to do exactly what they did. Now if only they'd hatch some of these ugly devils.

Brain Hacking

Getting earworms into your head isn't enough any more. It appears that social media and other on-line businesses are hacking into our brains in quest of clicks, eyeballs and ka-ching. If you are holding your cell-phone, put is down and move away slowly until you can neither see the screen nor hear alerts. Sit down and breathe normally. You'll feel much better in an hour .... that is if you can survive the anxiety of being far from your phone for an hour. Good luck!

Emergent Art - the Reddit Version

This really cool experiment on Reddit demonstrates how complex order can emerge bottom up from relatively simple rules under constraints. While it isn't clear that says all that much about the genesis of art, it certainly provides very interesting insights into the self-organization process - and especially on the delicate balance between randomness and constraint that seems to be essential to produce truly non-trivial and useful order.


(via Yaneer Bar-Yam)

Fair Inequality

In an interesting review piece in Nature Human Behavior, Starmans et al argue that, in realistic settings involving large groups, people show a preference for "fair inequality" over "unfair equality" in economic terms. The studies with children are the most interesting because studies involving adults are probably too confounded by political leanings and social norms.

"There is immense concern about economic inequality, both among the scholarly community and in the general public, and many insist that equality is an important social goal. However, when people are asked about the ideal distribution of wealth in their country, they actually prefer unequal societies. We suggest that these two phenomena can be reconciled by noticing that, despite appearances to the contrary, there is no evidence that people are bothered by economic inequality itself. Rather, they are bothered by something that is often confounded with inequality: economic unfairness. Drawing upon laboratory studies, cross-cultural research, and experiments with babies and young children, we argue that humans naturally favour fair distributions, not equal ones, and that when fairness and equality clash, people prefer fair inequality over unfair equality. Both psychological research and decisions by policymakers would benefit from more clearly distinguishing inequality from unfairness."