Wednesday Round Up #31

5 Don’ts For Better Fat Loss (Evidence Based)
Decent summary of how to start to create the long-term changes that sustain weight loss and healthy weight

‘Toxic Individualism’: Pandemic Politics Driving Health Care Workers From Small Towns

It also undermines the rural economy. Hospitals are often the biggest employers in small towns, according to Chris Merrett, director of the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs. And Merrett says health care workers are absolutely vital.

“They are really the lifeblood of any community and a rural community in particular,” Merrett says. “These are well-paid individuals who are the ones who are buying cars, buying homes, and really part of that economic anchor of your community.”

Merrett says towns that let pandemic politics drive medical professionals away are choosing what he calls “toxic individualism” over the common good.

Even If It’s ‘Bonkers,’ Poll Finds Many Believe QAnon And Other Conspiracy Theories

A significant number of Americans believe misinformation about the origins of the coronavirus and the recent presidential election, as well as conspiracy theories like QAnon, according to a new NPR/Ipsos poll.

Forty percent of respondents said they believe the coronavirus was made in a lab in China even though there is no evidence for this. Scientists say the virus was transmitted to humans from another species.

And one-third of Americans believe that voter fraud helped Joe Biden win the 2020 election, despite the fact that courts, election officials and the Justice Department have found no evidence of widespread fraud that could have changed the outcome.

Why Do We Dream? A New Theory on How It Protects Our Brains

What does brain flexibility and rapid cortical takeover have to do with dreaming? Perhaps more than previously thought. Ben clearly benefited from the redistribution of his visual cortex to other senses because he had permanently lost his eyes, but what about the participants in the blindfold experiments? If our loss of a sense is only temporary, then the rapid conquest of brain territory may not be so helpful.

And this, we propose, is why we dream.

In the ceaseless competition for brain territory, the visual system has a unique problem: due to the planet’s rotation, all animals are cast into darkness for an average of 12 out of every 24 hours. (Of course, this refers to the vast majority of evolutionary time, not to our present electrified world.) Our ancestors effectively were unwitting participants in the blindfold experiment, every night of their entire lives.

So how did the visual cortex of our ancestors’ brains defend its territory, in the absence of input from the eyes?

We suggest that the brain preserves the territory of the visual cortex by keeping it active at night. In our “defensive activation theory,” dream sleep exists to keep neurons in the visual cortex active, thereby combating a takeover by the neighboring senses.

Genetics Spills Secrets From Neanderthals’ Lost History

“If there were really only 1,000 Neanderthals in the whole world,” Rogers said, “it’s hard to believe there would be such a rich fossil record.”

But genetic evidence is exactly what Rogers and his colleagues have now cited to support their claim that the Neanderthals effectively numbered in the tens of thousands. They made their argument in a 2017 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The key to this new result lies in the researchers’ assumption that Neanderthals had a much more diverse gene pool, but that it was divided into small, isolated, inbred groups of genetically similar individuals. This kind of fragmentation would have skewed the earlier genetic results: Estimates like that 2-in-10,000 number described the local populations and their regional histories but missed the big picture.

Anthropology at the Crossroads

The art and science of anthropology is to recognize culture as a system that we humans use to act intentionally and to make sense of the world around us. We make and communicate meaning by utilizing culture. There must be an art or humanistic angle that is foundational to the study of culture, because there is an inherent opacity to the cultural concept in exactly the same way that Peter Carruthers (2011) argued the mind is opaque: we apprehend neither directly; we just infer them.

I think the theories of such famous scholars as Daniel Kahneman (2011), Daniel C. Dennett (1991), Ruth Garrett Millikan (2010), and even Paul Gilbert (2010) fail because they seek to understand the mind, and more specifically collective cognition, without taking culture into account! We anthropologists are better off because we do have a theory of collective thought. The mind is more subtle to have but two gears for thinking: slow and fast. Probably all mental states not produced by immediate sensory input, are infected with culture. To use Robert Levy’s theory of hypocognition and hypercognition, it is likely that the speed of thinking, except that which is reflexive (like pain or distress), depends on the degree to which perceptions are culturally hypocognized or hypercognized. One can see this as a continuum (not just emotions)—the more hypercognized, the more elaborate and the more cultural symbols can be infused into the thought, therefore the slower the thinking.

What Kahneman and other psychologists miss is a thoughtful well-developed theory of culture.

Antihero Care: On Fieldwork and Anthropology

Le Guin suggests we remake the hero. For inspiration she turns her attention to seed containers, which are round, soft, and capable of holding many different kinds of things. These sacks, used to collect food, do not command attention. Unlike the quick pointed arrows of the Hero’s story, audiences do not typically gather around to watch or listen to the slow work of filling them up. Seed containers are capable of taking objects in the world into them, folding or expanding as they respond to the weight of sustenance, but their appearance is often drab and unremarkable. In contrast to the single hunter’s perfectionistic bravado, filling seed containers often requires that people work together, through work that can be difficult or boring but also often gentle and full of quiet pleasure (brown 2019). One can be skillful with a seed container—seed collecting is not easy—but the labor that goes into filling them occurs without relentless competition to win or be the best.

The seed container offers a lesson for the field of anthropology. Le Guin suggests we might turn our attention away from the “killer” story of the Hero, instead retelling our stories around these unheroic seed sacks that have, to little fanfare, been keeping us alive. Drawing from Le Guin, I propose a pathway of “antihero care”: care that does not seek adventure, that does not take it all upon its shoulders. This is care that rests, making space for an individual’s fallibility, and care that stops listening to the story of the Hero.

Why Chimpanzees Don’t Hold Elections: The Power of Social Reality

This neural process of compression runs at a massive scale throughout your brain and produces an incredible result. It enables to you think abstractly: to see things in terms of their function instead of their physical form. You have the ability to look at a painting by Picasso and perceive that the colorful shapes represent a face. You can view squiggles of ink on paper and grasp that they represent numbers, and moreover, that the numbers represent your spending for the month. Abstraction lets you view objects that look nothing alike — such as a bottle of wine, a bouquet of flowers, and a gold wristwatch — and understand them all as “gifts that celebrate an achievement.” Your brain compresses away the physical differences of these objects and in the process, you understand that they have a similar function. Abstraction also allows us to impose multiple functions on the same physical object. A cup of wine means one thing when your friends shout, “Congratulations!” and another when a priest intones, “Blood of Christ.”

Abstraction, together with the rest of the Five Cs, empowers your large, complex brain to create and share social reality. All animals pay attention to physical things that allow them to survive and thrive. We humans add to the world by collectively imposing new functions on physical things, and we live by them.

Each of the Five Cs is found in other animals to varying extents. Crows, for example, are creative problem-solvers who use twigs as tools. Elephants communicate in low rumbles that can travel for miles. Whales copy one another’s songs. Ants cooperate to find food and defend their nest. Bees use abstraction as they wiggle their bums to tell their hive-mates where to find nectar.

In humans, however, the Five Cs intertwine and reinforce one another, which lets us take things to a whole other level. Songbirds learn their songs from adult tutors. Humans learn not only how to sing but also the social reality of singing, such as which songs are appropriate on holidays.

Timnit Gebru’s Exit From Google Exposes a Crisis in AI

It was against this backdrop that Google fired Timnit Gebru, our dear friend and colleague, and a leader in the field of artificial intelligence. She is also one of the few Black women in AI research and an unflinching advocate for bringing more BIPOC, women, and non-Western people into the field. By any measure, she excelled at the job Google hired her to perform, including demonstrating racial and gender disparities in facial-analysis technologies and developing reporting guidelines for data sets and AI models. Ironically, this and her vocal advocacy for those underrepresented in AI research are also the reasons, she says, the company fired her. According to Gebru, after demanding that she and her colleagues withdraw a research paper critical of (profitable) large-scale AI systems, Google Research told her team that it had accepted her resignation, despite the fact that she hadn’t resigned. (Google declined to comment for this story.)

Google’s appalling treatment of Gebru exposes a dual crisis in AI research. The field is dominated by an elite, primarily white male workforce, and it is controlled and funded primarily by large industry players—Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, IBM, and yes, Google. With Gebru’s firing, the civility politics that yoked the young effort to construct the necessary guardrails around AI have been torn apart, bringing questions about the racial homogeneity of the AI workforce and the inefficacy of corporate diversity programs to the center of the discourse. But this situation has also made clear that—however sincere a company like Google’s promises may seem—corporate-funded research can never be divorced from the realities of power, and the flows of revenue and capital.

Dendritic Integration Theory: A thalamocortical theory of state and content of Consciousness

In what follows we elaborate on our theory of consciousness – the Dendritic Integration Theory (DIT) (Aru, Suzuki, & Larkum, 2020) and show how it reconciles the traditional separation between content vs. state of consciousness and cortex-based vs. thalamocortical foundations of consciousness. This theory takes the view that understanding the pyramidal neurons of the cortex and their dendritic trees is central to explaining the flow and control of information relating to conscious processing (Aru, Suzuki, & Larkum, 2020). In this endeavour, as the matter to be explained is how conscious experience emerges from the brain, our theory starts by describing the attributes and characteristics of conscious experience in order to find neural mechanisms capable of explaining how these subjective characteristics can be achieved by certain neurobiological mechanisms.

How to Write (Almost) Anything, From a Great Joke to a Killer Cover Letter

Whether you’re just looking to punch up your tweets or have ambitions to write the Great American Novel, we’ve got you covered with this collection of great articles about the craft of writing, well, just about anything.

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