#NeuroThursday is back this week to talk about the #neuroscience of #synesthesia. What does it mean for a letter to have an intrinsic color, for a number to have a distance? And why the heck would this trait evolve in humankind?
Synesthesia is when "stimulation of one sense automatically provokes a secondary perception in another." The secondary perception can be direct ("9's are red") or associative ("9's make me think of red"), either counts.
Synesthesia comes in countless forms, but color-based are the most frequent. The most well-known is "grapheme-color" synesthesia, where a grapheme (written shape, e.g. letter or numeral) has a color - like the opening picture.
The Madness of Brains™ has been in the news this past week with the Yanny/Laurel effect. Let's use this as a #NeuroThursday peephole into the mysteries of human hearing – via something called the McGurk Effect.
First off, if you haven't dug the Yanny/Laurel thing, there's a great explanation and manipulation up at the New York Times. nytimes.com/2018/05/15/sci…
The upshot is: some researchers got a group of people who naturally write with 1 space or 2 space, and made them read both kinds of text. The two-spacer people read a tiny bit faster when they saw 2-space text. But.
Now, there's an easy answer why this article is wrong. Let me start there and get it out of the way so I can then tell you something more subtle & interesting.
Proprioception is the original "sixth sense." It's a major sensory apparatus spread across your body, telling you critical information, but it's all so smoothly integrated you almost never have to think about it consciously.
Alright, #SoCIA18 friends and followers. Next up is the conference's final act & second keynote: "Is there a sensible way to say Life is alive?" by Ford Doolittle of Dalhousie University!
Steps in the logic: 1. Life (capital L) = LUCA (Last Universal Common Ancestor) and her descendents. 2. Life and Life only (not lowercase-l) exists - see my tweets on yesterday's Carlos Mariscal talk...
...though the short version is that Life is better viewed as a cluster/individual than as an abstract natural category (which would be lowercase-l life). Anyways: 3. A Godfrey-Smithian approach to 'life' (whatever that means), 4.5.6.too fast.
At the #SoCIA18 panel discussion on space settlement. Based on room setup, I might be too busy engaging in discussion to livetweet, but we'll see!
Begins with everyone around the table summarizing their positions. 16 of us. Nice mix of "humans not worth saving" to "yes let's do it (sensibly)" to "will interfere with science" or "too muddled with Earth politics/elites."
I might've been the most radical sounding with "we should create aliens" angle, but I don't take that as an ethical conclusion - just a new vector people should add to the (serious) moral calculations.
Talking here about exploration (scientific) or exploitation (human). NASA has thus far been driven by search for extraterrestial life, NOT colonizing other planets. Is there any reason to change that priority? (Spoiler: she says no.)
My next #SoCIA18 talk will be "Being Here: The Significance of Human Place in the Light of Astrobiology," by Sarah Reynolds!
What does "learning about what's out there" teach us about ourselves, here on Earth?
"How are we shaped/influenced by our places of origin and habitation" is not a new question! Just a new context here. Though now we need to distinguish between habitable, habit-worthy, and hospitable. How do qualities of a place & its (native) life relate to position in universe?
Gonna try to stay focused here at #SoCIA18 with "The Value of Astrobiology with or without Specimens" by Gonzalo Munevar. What can this discipline tell us, even if we never find ETlife?
Ex: Earth life favors left-handed amino acids, right-handed sugars. Are these accidents of evolution, or are there reasons? Why does DNA use only 4 bases? Why do proteins use 20 amino acids? All these would be addressed by even N=2 origins of life.
ETlife would have evolved under different history, geology, accidents (meteorite strikes etc), so alien road to complexity would be different from ours.
Next up for me at #SoCIA18 is “The Time of Life” by Jason Howard. Temporal naturalism vs timeless naturalism? We'll explore those terms now. Forward!
Timeless Naturalism holds that experience of moments/passage is illusion. Doesn't deny the appearance of time, only its importance. If you unroll a carpet, the pattern is already set, the unrolling is not causative.
Apparent flow of time creates no novelty, complexty, or diversity. It all comes down to other physical laws.
It's the moment you've been waiting for! Tonight's #SoCIA18 keynote speaker is the science fiction author Elizabeth Bear (@matociquala) on "What Do We Owe The Galaxy? Ethical Considerations of Practical Astrobiological Research."
For the purpose of this talk, the definition of life will be based off Damon Knight's definition of science fiction: "Whatever I'm pointing at when I say 'life'."
What do we know about astrobiology? Baaasically nothing. All we have are theories and extrapolations, but that's enough to let us start building an ethical framework. In the absence of data, science fiction is fully qualified to explore this!
Two more #SoCIA18 talks today! Some confusion but I believe the next one is "What Lives? Life, Consciousness, and the Eco-Systemic Multiversity" by Kala Perkins. Ooh, she used to be an neuroscientist, might be my jam. (Extra jammy. It's all jamful here today.)
What is life? Why (don't we) respect it? Beyond the Last Common Ancestor, we share our origins with the entire universe from its original impulse, stellar atomic synthesis. A radically eco-systemic view.
There are things we co-exist with, intertwined with, than we know. Forex, we sure can't list all the bacteria that make our digestion possible. Bioethics require a better understanding of life/birth.
Bam! Rapid-fire #SoCIA18 talks! Next up, terraforming: Brian Green with "Ethics for Planetary-Scale Interventions on Earth and Beyond." Opens with the comment that we are currently un-terraforming Earth. Oops.
So, okay, we're already modifying our planet. Should we do this intentionally? If so, how? What are the underlying moral & ethical questions?
Different questions for terraforming our planet, lifeless planets, places with native life, etc? (Three of 8 questions, whoof things are fast.)
Next #SoCIA18 talk looks exciting: "Body Snatchers: What whole body hijacking reveals about our definitions of life," by Lucas Mix.
(Note that this is a 2-track conference, so I am missing at least 50% of talks.)
"What is life?" He thinks it's a process, not an object. Four useful/overlapping subcategories: Darwin (evolve by natural selection), Woese (uses SSU rRNA), Aristotle (perpetuate with nutrition), Haldane (self-regulation).
He's got a nonfic book (out or coming out?): "Life Concept from Aristotle to Darwin: On Vegetable Souls"