June 23, 2009

language shapes the way we think

One obvious consequence of speaking such a language is that you have to stay oriented at all times, or else you cannot speak properly. The normal greeting in Kuuk Thaayorre is “Where are you going?” and the answer should be something like “Southsoutheast, in the middle distance.”

Edge: HOW DOES OUR LANGUAGE SHAPE THE WAY WE THINK? By Lera Boroditsky, my new hero. I’ve long been fascinated by the question, but I had no idea there was a history of debate about this — I was plain shocked to learn that most people thought language does not affect the way we think. It just seems so obvious to me, and I love the research Lera Boroditsky has done to demonstrate the many ways it’s true. See also: NPR: Shakespeare Had Roses All Wrong.

August 30, 2008

andrew weil on healing

One woman with a violent allergy to citrus gets giant hives on consuming citrus, but one of her personalities is not allergic. If that personality can emerge within fifteen minutes of consuming a citrus fruit, there is no allergic response. We have seen reports of insulin-dependent diabetics with different insulin requirements for different personalities. A woman with multiple personality was studied by a friend of mine. They were having dinner together. They had wine with dinner, they had a before-dinner drink and she ordered an after-dinner drink, and he said “You know, we have to drive home” and she said, “Don’t worry, I’m not the one who is going to be driving.”

Dr. Andrew Weil on healing medicine.

August 1, 2008

I could tell they were marijuana plants. I’ve seen pictures of the leaves before. I’ve actually seen marijuana plants before, too…

Slow and Steady Gets the Bust As Turtle’s Trail Leads to Drugs

December 18, 2007

Neil deGrasse Tyson

I may have been the very first black person — certainly the first black person I ever noticed — to appear on TV as an expert on something that had nothing to do with being black. This was 1988. That’s tragic.

Heir to Carl Sagan’s role as explainer of the universe, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is director of New York’s Hayden Planetarium.
Star Power -

December 5, 2007

hadrosaur mummy may contain muscles, organs

When I first saw it in the field: ‘Shiiiit, that’s a really well preserved dinosaur.’

Wired Science: Rare Mummified Dinosaur Unearthed: Contains Skin, and Maybe Organs, Muscle

November 20, 2007

an exceptionally simple theory of everything?

What I think is that the universe is pure geometry — basically, a beautiful shape twisting around — and this shape is described by mathematics. This is a slightly different view than believing the universe IS mathematics, but it’s close. Since E8 is perhaps the most beautiful structure in mathematics, is very satisfying that nature appears to have chosen this geometry.

FQXi Forum: An Exceptionally Simple FAQ

See also: Backreaction: A Theoretically Simple Exception of Everything

August 30, 2007

Rewilding North America?!

Elephants might graze upon the Great Plains, stalked again by lions. Camels might wander parts of the American Southwest. And cheetahs might once again chase after pronghorn antelope.

While I realize that monkeys might also fly out of my butt, I do so love the notion that we might one day be able to trade our global fear of imminent ecological collapse for the much more personal, rational, and managable fear of being eaten.

Recall of the wild, San Diego Union-Tribune

April 15, 2007

I don’t see anything when I close my eyes

August 17, 2006


“But now there won’t be any pickles,” she said. “That was weird, anyway. To have someone send you pickles.”

Washington Post: Pluto, Soon to Orbit in a Less Important Circle?

May 13, 2006


These findings are consistent with other studies that demonstrated increased thickness of music areas in the brains of musicians, and visual and motor areas in the brains of jugglers. In other words, the structure of an adult brain can change in response to repeated practice. Meditation Found to Increase Brain Size

April 12, 2006

a very small shell script

Most of us humans pretend our entire lives that we are something other than animals, and as a result we think our "animal nature" is something you can just ignore or somehow transcend — preferably while ignoring it. We enter the false dichotomy of "man or beast", when the truth is actually "man and beast." We are not one — we are two. And the one of us who thinks he's running things is really just a recent software upgrade that runs atop a highly sophisticated operating system that's already had millions of years of performance tuning — and can run just fine without you.

The Multiple Self ( I first read this a few months ago. I'm still not sure exactly what it means, but I'm sure it's important.

March 18, 2006

dark star

Are we living inside a giant dark energy star?

November 15, 2005

Nuclear Power: it's a motherfvcker, don't you know

After a few hours at Yucca Mountain, it becomes clear why, despite a desperate need for a solution to the nuclear waste problem (there is already enough waste in temporary storage to fill it), the site has not opened: No one is absolutely sure what will happen if it does. If all the regulatory hurdles are cleared, if Nevada loses its political battle and Yucca Mountain’s license — which Benson says will be measured in “linear feet,” not pages — is finally approved, the waste that goes into it will last for hundreds of thousands, even millions of years. “We don’t know what will happen in 10,000 years,” Benson admits. “Will people speak English? There probably won’t be a United States.”

From part 2 of Judith Lewis’ timely and important article in the LA Weekly: Green to the Core? How I tried to stop worrying and love nuclear power.

July 12, 2005

burning love

When sounds first enter the brain, they activate a region near the ears called the primary auditory cortex that starts processing sounds at their most basic level. The auditory cortex then passes on signals of its own to other regions, which can recognize more complex features of music, like rhythm, key changes and melody.

These music-processing regions may be continually looking for signals in the brain that they can interpret. When no sound is coming from the ears, the brain may still generate occasional, random impulses that the music-processing regions interpret as sound. They then try to match these impulses to memories of music, turning a few notes into a familiar melody.

For most people, these spontaneous signals may produce nothing more than a song that is hard to get out of the head.

Research into musical hallucinations is illuminating the phenomenon of the song that gets stuck in your head. My four-year-old was afflicted recently — he looked up from a construction project to say, in a bewildered tone, "Now all I can think about is Elvis."

June 28, 2005

colorblind medicine is racist

If you have an African American patient presenting with elevated paranoia, that has been referred to in some quarters as healthy paranoia based on how they perceive society. If you base your diagnosis on that symptom, you can be misled.

Washington Post: Racial Disparities Found in Pinpointing Mental Illness.

June 23, 2005

vitamins up close

Extraordinary photomicrographs of vitamins and beer (photos taken through a microscope), via Kolbász Bajnok ("sausage champion"), an excellent Hungarian blog all about sausage.

April 13, 2005

We're all going to die.

According to the BBC, we're in trouble.

It is only a matter of time before a major outbreak of potentially deadly flu, according to scientists. Could the world cope?

There have been three flu pandemics during the past 100 years.

The 1918 Spanish flu is estimated to have killed up to 50m people worldwide.

The Asian flu of 1957 was caught much earlier but still claimed one million lives. The Hong Kong flu of 1968 was responsible for a similar number of deaths.

It has been 37 years since the last major outbreak and scientists, health professionals and some governments are getting twitchy.

I saw Mike Davis give a talk a few weeks back about Avian, which he's written on. He's got a book coming out on later this year.

It was nice knowing you.

originally posted by zagg

March 25, 2005

my gosh, this is amazing

Octopuses walk.

March 2, 2005


Animal/bird/fish/insect names. A pail of wasps? A murmuration of starlings? I think some of these are made up. Well, I guess they're all made up.

February 1, 2005

who you calling a . . .

Some birds can play games in which they intentionally tell lies. New Caledonian crows design and make tools. Scrub jays can recall events from specific times or places -- a trait once thought unique to humans. And perhaps most impressive, parrots, hummingbirds and thousands of other species of songbirds are able to teach and learn vocal communication -- the basic skill that makes human language possible. That's a variant of social intelligence not found in any mammal other than people, bats, and cetaceans such as dolphins and whales.

Heed the Avian Brain Nomenclature Consortium, and please begin using more accurate terminology when describing bird brains.

January 6, 2005

meditation studies

"What we found is that the longtime practitioners showed brain activation on a scale we have never seen before," said Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the university's new $10 million W.M. Keck Laboratory for Functional Brain Imaging and Behavior. "Their mental practice is having an effect on the brain in the same way golf or tennis practice will enhance performance." It demonstrates, he said, that the brain is capable of being trained and physically modified in ways few people can imagine.

How meditating can change your brain.

October 2, 2004

red alert

NYT: Scientists monitoring Mount St. Helens, which erupted with a minor explosion for the first time in 18 years on Friday, said on Saturday that they were expecting a more powerful and possibly life-threatening explosion within a day or so.

September 18, 2004


AlterNet: EnviroHealth: Shrooms: Not Just For Salad Anymore

Mushrooms graduated through evolution to become acute survivors that recycle life after devastation. About 250 million years ago, after a massive extinction from a meteorite, Stamets says fungi inherited the Earth and "recycled the post-cataclysmic debris fields."

August 24, 2004

the smog blog

U.S. Air Quality: The Smog Blog

USAQ is a daily diary of air quality in the U.S. using information from NASA satellites, ground-based lidar, EPA monitoring networks, and other monitors. Interpretation and analysis is provided by the staff of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County Atmospheric Lidar Group.

That's fucking awesome.

June 28, 2004

a great first mushroom

Morels appear throughout the continent in spring. Trees are just beginning to bud, so relatively unfiltered sunlight warms the earth directly. This triggers the appearance of a number of wildflowers: trillium, phlox, trout lily, Dutchmen's breeches, violets, wild strawberries and many more. Along with the temperatures, these flowers are indicators of when to look for morels.

The "where" isn't quite as simple. Where the spores fall, cross-pollinate and germinate is where morels will grow-after a five-year cycle of nutrient-gathering and storage. Black morels (which appear first) tend to be more exclusively in hardwood forests, but not around any particular type of tree. Finding them is often like a connect-the-dots game. When you find one, be still, and look nearby. When the spores that created the morel you just picked were jettisoned years ago, there likely was a wind pattern that blew the spores in a particular path. There may have been a nutrient source or environment (soil type, moisture, pH, etc.) that was conducive for growth. Look for the patterns.

Mother Earth News: Morel Mushrooms. randomWalks says don't eat unidentified mushrooms.

June 8, 2004

synchronicity Book Your Seat for Venus Transit.

Even more infrequent than the transit of Venus is a simultaneous visit by Brood X (17-year) cicadas. The last time these cicadas emerged concurrently with a Venus transit was May 22, 797, and the time before that was May 23, 921 BC.

May 26, 2004

key to many cuisines - Salsa herb holds health benefit - May 26, 2004 A compound isolated from cilantro (coriander) is extraordinarily effective against Salmonella bacteria.

May 15, 2004

bees are on the what now?

Psychedelic Culture : The Case Against DMT Elves, by James Kent — "an edited version of an e-mail conversation written during a bout of insomnia, in response to DMT, Moses, and the Quest for Transcendence, by Clifford Pickvoer."

May 13, 2004

Sweet Octopus Arms

With so little time left, J-1 wasn't going to let the sweet Aurora slip through his eight octopus arms.

Mary Pemberton is my new writing idol for getting that sentence published in a real news story.

originally posted by zagg

999 ways to die

The Earth, it seems, will be safe when its magnetic field falters during the next reversal of its magnetic poles.

A new model of the way the Earth interacts with the solar wind indicates that a replacement field will form in the upper atmosphere during the switch.

Scientists had previously thought that the planet would be left without a protective shield to stop lethal radiation from space reaching the surface.

New Scientist: Solar wind to shield Earth during pole flip. Not uncharacteristically, I've been really worried about this. I hope they're right.

May 7, 2004

updated: here they are

Experts say the emergence could begin in earnest as soon as this weekend. By next weekend, the din will likely commence as uncountable hordes of male cicadas click and shrill in their quest for a mate.

Washington Post: Riding the Buzz Before the Cicadas' Roar. Also from the Post:

Everybody is talking like there are going to be cicadas everywhere, but there are going to be places where there simply are no cicadas. There are places that will have 1,000 or 10,000 cicadas under one tree. It almost takes a neighborhood-by-neighborhood investigation. It can be very localized.

Heading Outdoors? Here's the Buzz. (The Post has compiled its cicada coverage on one page.)

May 6, 2004

Brood X, that is

Until the arrival of European settlers, most of the area the cicadas inhabit was forest — on the face of it, a good habitat for the insects. But Dr Clay's early research suggests that "suburban savannahs" (leafy avenues, lawns with the odd sapling growing in them, and golf courses) are actually better for the insects than the forests which preceded suburbanisation. Suburban trees tend to be younger and healthier. They also have to compete less fiercely for resources than trees in dense forests. And younger trees probably have tastier roots as well. The ancient forests of pre-Columbian America would not have provided such sumptuous dining.

Entomology: Invasion of the Brood (

Climate change too slow for Hollywood, too fast for the rest of us

Jon Stahl wants people to take advantage of the movie The Day After Tomorrow to raise concerns about climate change.

But he's afraid that "unnamed environmental activists" will squander the opportunity.

An article from Grist looks at the pros and cons of this approach

So should environmentalists be cheering the news that Hollywood has finally managed a green epic? Many are. Al Gore will speak at a special premier of the film. Jurgen Trittin, the German environment minister, lambasted the Bush administration last week for its failure to ratify the Kyoto treaty, saying, "[Our] challenge is that the reality of The Day After Tomorrow should not become reality." Plenty of political commentators predict the film will drive home an election-year message that the Bush administration has been ignoring a crisis.

For some time now I've been trying to figure out what it would take to reduce the behavior in the US that contributes to climate change. Currently, I have the pessimistic opinion that it will take nothing less than the occurrence of a cataclysmic, deadly heavy weather event inside the US itself.

[links via WorldChanging]

today's cicada update - Today's cicada update: Beilenson says it's not the end of the world. In addition to that reassurance, The Baltimore Sun offers an infographic, an audio clip, photos from 1987, 1970, and 1936, and an interactive Swat the Cicada game (which may be a bit more gratifying in a week or so). The special section on the periodic cicada features Sun articles from 1987 as well.


When her friend sounded the insect alert last fall, "I sort of blew it off. But all the news about them has made me think it's a bigger deal than I thought," says Beloud, 34, who is having her ceremony in Washington and reception in Warrenton, with cocktails outdoors. "Now I'm envisioning cicadas feasting on my rack of lamb, and I'm not sure."

Washington Post: Party Crashers--At Outdoor Celebrations, Cicadas Are in for A Chilly Reception.

loud love songs

Their slow, lumbering flight carries them into buildings, cars, people and ultimately into the six arms or legs of a receptive mate.

Spreading Calm Before the Swarm (

April 30, 2004

Erowid, they joke, is fueled by Mountain Dew

Inside the psychedelic, rave and harm-reduction communities, Earth and Fire are considered leaders, even heroes. But they insist they’re just a pair of librarians — archivists and "Internet dorks" who believe that better access to better information just makes for better decisions in the long run. "Basically, we act as if there isn’t prohibition," says Earth. "We are trying to publish this information as if the world were already making rational choices around this complicated area."

The LA Weekly explores the Vaults of Erowid in Don’t Get High Without It by Erik Davis.

April 27, 2004

For 17 years, they have nibbled together on tree roots.

Question: I was pulling the onion grass out of one of my beds and decided to pull up the weed barrier (the black meshy sheet that we laid under our mulch last year to stifle the weeds) and sure enough there were about 25 large, somewhat hibernating cicadas. I guess my question is, we laid that weed barrier all around our beds. Will the cicadas be trapped under there? Is that a bad thing?

Adrian Higgins: The cicadas will be trapped under your barrier. They have waited 17 years for this moment, and you are preventing them from attaining their destiny. For 17 years, they have nibbled together on tree roots, enduring the hardships with the knowledge that one day, they would smell the fresh air, feel the warmth of the sun on their bodies, experience the thrill of flight, and of true love. If you leave the weed block down, these cicadas will never live their dream. But you be the judge.

get ready

Bear with me, it's a good story: The buzz: Cicadas get ready to emerge

The Brood X bugs, red-eyed cousins of the larger annual black-eyed late-summer "Dog Day" green cicadas, will begin emerging from their underground holes in western North Carolina later this month. They don't devour vegetation the way locusts do, and they don't bite or sting. But they sure do sing.

Like many human adolescents, periodical cicadas spend umpteen years in their dirty rooms, indulging in sweet stuff and oblivious to much of the world outside themselves. Then, suddenly, as if a hormone switch were flipped, they emerge with a single-minded commitment to find favor with whatever peer they deem sexually appealing.

The bug nymphs live all that time on tender hardwood tree roots until they finally get the hots. Well, it's more like the "warms," because their signal to go forth and mate is a rise in the soil temperature to 64 degrees Fahrenheit.

Once in heat, millions of them push their way to the surface and climb onto new branch growth on nearby trees and shrubs, according to entomologist Stephen Bambara, who works with the N.C. State Cooperative Extension Service in Raleigh.

The males get together in choruses and harmonize in a unique doo-wop that strikes humans as a decidedly un-sexy metallic screeching. But cicada females respond to it with abandon, making clicking sounds and wing flips -- their version of an air kiss and a toss of the hair.

After 13 or 17 years of underground obscurity, periodical cicadas emerge to a multi-week Mardi Gras, a party thrown by nature solely to ensure that what goes around comes around, generation after generation. Like most such reveries, it's noisy, it's not pretty, and many participants meet violent fates from predators. But in this case, it gets the job done, according to Bambara, because the weird life cycle itself offers a form of protection for the species.

"Cicadas go 13 or 17 years between life cycles because it's to their advantage," said Bambara. "It throws possible predators off track. Seventeen years is a long time to wait between meals if that were your prey. So I think that's where they got their niche. A lot of them are consumed and die when they come out. But their sheer numbers also help ensure their survival. Even if a lot of them get eaten, a lot of others are still left to reproduce."

Birds are periodical cicadas' main predators, he said, plus other omnivorous ground-dwelling animals such as opossums, skunks, raccoons and foxes. Fish, too, eat cicadas that fall into the water.

April 26, 2004


Cicata Field Guide:

Cicada ("Si-Kay-Duh")

Common Name: Periodical Cicada Scientific Name: Magicicada

Aliases: 13 or 17 Year Cicada; 13 or 17 Year Locust; Satan's Parakeets

April 22, 2004

normal, hungry people addicted to food - Study: Chocolate, BBQ addiction may be real - Apr 21, 2004

A brain scan study of normal, hungry people showed their brains lit up when they saw and smelled their favorite foods in much the same way as the brains of cocaine addicts when they think about their next snort.

Einstein Gravity Probe B

Among the most exotic of Einstein’s predictions was that massive bodies — planets, stars or black holes —actually twist time and space around as they spin, much like the winds of a tornado. Other tenets of general relativity have been tested, such as the warping of time and space by massive bodies, but the twisting effect, known as frame dragging, has never been put to the test, scientists said. If Einstein is right, scientists say, the satellite should detect that small bits of time and space are actually missing from each orbit, something indiscernible to orbiting astronauts but measurable nonetheless.

Nasa launches Einstein Gravity Probe B - The Times of India

I have two mommies

In a First for Mammals, Mice Are Created Without Fathers (

Lacking any paternal genes, all the mice born this way were females. But they are not clones, because each is a genetically unique animal developed from its own egg.

The feat does not suggest that men will soon become irrelevant for human reproduction. The extreme genetic manipulations used by the team are for now, at least, technically and ethically infeasible in humans.

The experiments produced far more dead and defective baby mice than normal ones.

April 21, 2004

animals like to get high

FT Reviews: Animals & Psychedelics

If even an ant can tell the difference between being straight and high, in this instance by sucking secretions from the abdomen of a lomechusa beetle, what does this tell us about the consciousness of something like a mandrill, which munches the intensely potent iboga root, then waits up to two hours for the effects to kick in before engaging in territorial battle with another mandrill? Equally fascinating is the fact that many animals appear to use psychedelics recreationally — and that not all individuals of a particular species will indulge, just as some humans are more partial to tripping out than others. One in the eye for the stark behaviourists, it would seem.

March 17, 2004



I know if I find you I will have to leave the earth
and go on out
   over the sea marshes and the brant in bays
and over the hills of tall hickory
and over the crater lakes and canyons
and on up through the spheres of diminishing air
past the blackset noctilucent clouds
           where one wants to stop and look
way past all the light diffusions and bombardments
up farther than the loss of sight
   into the unseasonal undifferentiated empty stark

And I know if I find you I will have to stay with the earth
inspecting with thin tools and ground eyes
trusting the microvilli sporangia and simplest
and praying for a nerve cell
with all the soul of my chemical reactions
and going right on down where the eye sees only traces

You are everywhere partial and entire
You are on the inside of everything and on the outside

I walk down the path down the hill where the sweetgum
has begun to ooze spring sap at the cut
and I see how the bark cracks and winds like no other bark
chasmal to my ant-soul running up and down
and if I find you I must go out deep into your
   far resolutions
and if I find you I must stay here with the separate leaves

--A. R. Ammons

March 15, 2004

brood x

This spring, 17-year cicadas will emerge from beneath the Washington, D.C., area and other parts of the eastern United States in "biblical proportions," according to bug experts. This particular consort of periodical cicadas is known as "Brood X," which gives them the swaggering air of genetically engineered minions of evil. The last time Brood X surfaced, their tymbals generated a remarkable collective whir, and my dog gobbled their shed skins as if they were popcorn. UPDATE: Unfortunately, it turns out that the "X" is the Roman numeral, not the letter. Thus the breed is "Brood Ten." Which is not as cool as "Brood X."

March 11, 2004

they got a pepper bar

Many of you are repulsed by the spongmonkeys, can't fathom how they would make you desire a sub, and worry that these ratlike creatures suggest an unsanitary sandwich-prep environment.

Those Quiznos beasts really are horrid.

OS X date display bug

Why do both WeatherPop and iPhoto display dates in the form "9:30 AMAM"?

March 4, 2004

novelty strikes

Cancer Anxiety Study - Easing the Anxiety of Death: "The Research & Education Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center is conducting a study designed to measure the effectiveness of the novel psychoactive medication psilocybin on the reduction of anxiety, depression, and physical pain."

March 3, 2004

MDMA study to proceed

Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies: "This is the first study of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy ever approved in the 18 1/2 years since MDMA was criminalized."

mars wiggles

Mars wiggles!