Wednesday Round Up #56

The Commute: A four day paddle to work
Beau Miles at it again, finding adventure in his backyard while discovering broader patterns in our world. He drives to work in 75 minutes, but the river is much more: “Following two rivers, one drain, one sea and one creek, it turns out that paddling to work, which ends up being mostly a drag, over four full days, is bloody hard work.” His short film, Run the Line, is one of the best things on YouTube, imo, and something that many field researchers could emulate more.

Stewardship of global collective behavior

Collective behavior provides a framework for understanding how the actions and properties of groups emerge from the way individuals generate and share information. In humans, information flows were initially shaped by natural selection yet are increasingly structured by emerging communication technologies. Our larger, more complex social networks now transfer high-fidelity information over vast distances at low cost. The digital age and the rise of social media have accelerated changes to our social systems, with poorly understood functional consequences.

This gap in our knowledge represents a principal challenge to scientific progress, democracy, and actions to address global crises. We argue that the study of collective behavior must rise to a “crisis discipline” just as medicine, conservation, and climate science have, with a focus on providing actionable insight to policymakers and regulators for the stewardship of social systems.

What’s Behind the U.S. War on Science?

From 2012 to 2014, I lived in Helsinki. I was conducting anthropological fieldwork among experts developing what will likely become the world’s first deep geological repository for high-level nuclear energy waste. I often asked these experts how Finland was able to keep so closely to the disposal schedules it set back in the early 1980s. The United States’ now-defunct nuclear repository project at Yucca Mountain had, in contrast, been stymied by decades of fierce litigation, political stagnation, and scientific uncertainty.

The Finnish experts attributed their project’s comparatively smooth rollout to Finland’s broad public trust in the competence of their domestic engineers, technocrats, and scientists.

Finns from many walks of life told me of their country’s fondness of large, centralized, hierarchical organizations like public transport systems, government ministries, and the welfare state. They pointed me toward polls casting Finland as unique in its high levels of trust in its domestic civil servants, police officers, educators, journalists, and scientists. For sure, I met Finns who did not fit neatly with these generalizations. But on the whole, my findings lined up with the conclusions of Finnish social scientists: Finns generally “count on expertise, technology, and authorities.”

How to Make Your Arguments Stronger (Hint: Longer Is Not the Answer)

As it turns out, piling on the proof is an unwise approach, says Niro Sivanathan, a psychology researcher and associate professor of organizational behavior at London Business School in a TEDxLondonBusinessSchool talk. That’s because when we double down on our arguments, we’re setting ourselves up to be undone by the so-called “dilution effect”.

For humans, receiving too much information interferes with our ability to process it. Sivanathan explain that our minds deal with this by quickly sorting the input received into two types: diagnostic and non-diagnostic. He says, “Diagnostic information is information of relevance to the evaluation being made; non-diagnostic is information that is irrelevant or inconsequential to that evaluation. When both categories of information are mixed, dilution occurs.”

Michael Muthukrishna : Cultural Brain Hypothesis, Collective Brains & the Evolution of Intelligence

Large-Scale Intrinsic Functional Brain Organization Emerges from Three Canonical Spatiotemporal Patterns

The characterization of intrinsic functional brain organization has been approached from a multitude of analytic techniques and methods. We are still at a loss of a unifying conceptual framework for capturing common insights across this patchwork of empirical findings. By analyzing resting-state fMRI data from the Human Connectome Project using a large number of popular analytic techniques, we find that all results can be seamlessly reconciled by three fundamental low-frequency spatiotemporal patterns that we have identified via a novel time-varying complex pattern analysis.

Overall, these three spatiotemporal patterns account for a wide variety of previously observed phenomena in the resting-state fMRI literature including the task-positive/task-negative anticorrelation, the global signal, the primary functional connectivity gradient and the network community structure of the functional connectome. The shared spatial and temporal properties of these three canonical patterns suggest that they arise from a single hemodynamic mechanism…

The three principal components can be differentiated most clearly with reference to three cortical brain networks: the default mode network (DMN), the frontoparietal or ‘executive control’ network (FPN) and the sensorimotor and medial/lateral visual cortices (SMLV)

Neural representations of emotion are organized around abstract event features

Research on emotion attribution has tended to focus on the perception of overt expressions of at most five or six basic emotions. However, our ability to identify others’ emotional states is not limited to perception of these canonical expressions. Instead, we make fine-grained inferences about what others feel based on the situations they encounter, relying on knowledge of the eliciting conditions for different emotions.

In the present research, we provide convergent behavioral and neural evidence concerning the representations underlying these concepts. First, we find that patterns of activity in mentalizing regions contain information about subtle emotional distinctions conveyed through verbal descriptions of eliciting situations. Second, we identify a space of abstract situation features that well captures the emotion discriminations subjects make behaviorally and show that this feature space outperforms competing models in capturing the similarity space of neural patterns in these regions.

Together, the data suggest that our knowledge of others’ emotions is abstract and high dimensional, that brain regions selective for mental state reasoning support relatively subtle distinctions between emotion concepts, and that the neural representations in these regions are not reducible to more primitive affective dimensions such as valence and arousal.

The Good, The Bad, and the Scientists Who Don’t Know the Difference

So by 1870 the Darwinians were batting 0 for 2 in trying to explain the evolutionary relationship between savages and civilized people. Which brings us up to 1871 again, and the publication by John Murray of that very important two-volume work on human ancestry. Of course the author was Edward B. Tylor and the book was Primitive Culture.

What Tylor did in Primitive Culture (1871) was to give yet a third explanation for the difference between the savage and civilized person. It was not a distinction of biological evolution, as Haeckel had it in 1868. Nor was it a distinction of supernatural evolution, as Wallace had it in 1869. Nope, in 1871 it was a distinction of cultural evolution. That was the correct, and ultimately paradigmatic, answer.

Also, Darwin published The Descent of Man that year. And sadly, it doesn’t stand up much better under a modern reading than Tylor’s Primitive Culture does. They’re both quaint, insightful, and important in their time and place, and dated now. But what makes them all of those things? Graduate students should definitely try to find out with careful, critical readings…

Alas, there are some scientists out there who don’t countenance any critical reading of Darwin. Any criticism of Darwin is fodder for creationists, and therefore he must be defended at all costs. Which is is pretty much what the Darwinian All-Stars managed to splutter out in their angry letter to the editor…

So anything that we perceive as critical of Darwin must be suppressed, because it may aid the creationists. That is about the most pathetic admission of abject failure on the part of science educators that I have ever encountered. These scientists have been so unsuccessful in convincing the American public we evolved from apes, that they are going to respond by placing Darwin on a pedestal and reading his 19th century sexist and colonialist views uncritically. Good lord, could they possibly sound more like a cult?

How Industrialization Changed Childhood | Dorsa Amir | TEDxCambridge

You may think your childhood was normal: you had friends your age, attended school to learn from teachers, and maybe even slept in your own bedroom. Evolutionary anthropologist Dorsa Amir shows that these everyday occurrences in Western cultures are actually strange new experiences in human history that may have significant consequences for child development.

Heidi Larson, Vaccine Anthropologist

Larson spoke to the women through a Hausa interpreter. “Aside from the vaccine rumors, is there anything else you’re concerned about?” she asked.

Her question unleashed a torrent of answers. The women said they were frustrated by the government’s aggressive efforts on behalf of a single vaccine when their villages lacked reliable drinking water and electricity. They wondered why no one was knocking down their doors to rout diarrheal diseases, poverty, or starvation. They were infuriated by the condescending attitude of public-health officials toward their vaccine concerns; they were still haunted by a clinical trial for a meningitis drug, conducted by Pfizer, eight years earlier, which had left eleven Nigerian children dead and dozens disabled. Amid America’s “war on terror,” some found it entirely plausible that Western countries might be trying to sterilize Muslim children or infect them with H.I.V. Others were eager to vaccinate their kids but forbidden from doing so by their husbands.

Hermann Hesse on What Trees Teach Us About Belonging and Life

For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree.

Neuroscience (and a Tiny Dose of Emotional Intelligence) Reveals the Simple Trick to Break Nearly Any Bad Habit. Willpower not required.

Say I ask myself, “Should I have some ice cream?” My prefrontal cortex — the brain region responsible for planning, decision making, and supporting goal-oriented behaviors — would answer, “Nope. Your goal is to eat healthy.”

Great!

Except my orbitofrontal cortex — the brain region responsible for emotion and reward in decision-making — would answer, “Dude, you absolutely should! Ice cream is awesome. You love it. It makes you happy. Besides, you can always burn the calories off by working out a little extra tomorrow.”

And now I’m screwed.

Because while my prefrontal cortex is a logical and rational kind of guy, he’s fairly quiet and subdued. My orbitofrontal cortex? He’s a yeller. He’s insistent. He loves to get his way.

And he loves to create bad habits.

Or, as Wood explains in neuroscientific terms, “When our intentional mind is engaged, we act in ways that meet an outcome we desire — and typically we’re aware of our intentions. However, when the habitual mind is engaged, our habits function largely outside of awareness. We can’t easily articulate how we do our habits or why we do them. Our minds don’t always integrate in the best way possible.”

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