Learning Sciences of Change

Learning Change Project

Archive for November 14th, 2011

How Humans Became Social

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Look around and it’s impossible to miss the importance of social interactions to human society. They form the basis of our families, our governments, and even our global economy. But how did we become social in the first place? Researchers have long believed that it was a gradual process, evolving from couples to clans to larger communities. A new analysis, however, indicates that primate societies expanded in a burst, most likely because there was safety in numbers.

It’s a controversial idea, admits anthropologist and study author Susanne Shultz of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. “We’re likely going to cause a bit of trouble.”

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November 14, 2011 at 10:16 pm

Posted in Humans, Social

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How crowdsourcing is changing science

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But a few months ago, the papyrologists tried something bold. They put up a website, called Ancient Lives, with a game that allowed members of the public to help transcribe the ancient Greek at home by identifying images from the papyrus. Help began pouring in. In the short time the site has been running, people have contributed 4 million transcriptions. They have helped identify Thucydides, Aristophanes, Plutarch’s “On the Cleverness of Animals,” and more.

Ancient Lives is part of a new approach to the conduct of modern scholarship, called crowd science or citizen science. The idea is to unlock thorny research projects by tapping the time and enthusiasm of the general public. In just the last few years, crowd science projects have generated notable contributions to fields as disparate as ecology, AIDS research, and astronomy. The approach has already accelerated research in a handful of specialized fields. And it may also accomplish something else: breaking down some of the old divisions between the highly educated mandarins of the academy and the curious amateurs out in the world.

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Written by learningchange

November 14, 2011 at 10:02 pm

Posted in Crowdsourcing, Science

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Rethinking Thinking – How a lumpy bunch of tissue lets us plan, perceive, calculate, reflect, imagine—and exercise free will

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A brain in good working order is, of course, a necessary condition of every aspect of human consciousness, from basic perception to the most complex constructed sense of self. It does not follow that this is the whole story of our nature—that we are just brains in some kind of working order. Many aspects of everyday human consciousness elude neural reduction. For we belong to a boundless, infinitely elaborated community of minds that has been forged out of a trillion cognitive handshakes over hundreds of thousands of years. This community is the theater of our daily existence. It separates life in the jungle from life in the office, and because it is a community of minds, it cannot be inspected by looking at the activity of the solitary brain.

Biologism commands acceptance in the humanities because it is promoted or endorsed by scientists whose prowess in their chosen field seems to qualify them to pronounce on what are essentially philosophical questions. Thus it is notable when two books written by neuro-biologists of the greatest distinction are nonetheless critical of the simplifications—both scientific and philosophical—of biologism. Both authors look outside the conceptual frameworks upon which biologism depends.

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Written by learningchange

November 14, 2011 at 9:55 pm

Posted in Brains

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Brains come wired for cooperation, neuroscientists discover

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That is because the brain was built for cooperative activity, whether it be dancing on a reality television show, constructing a skyscraper or working in an office, according to a study led by Johns Hopkins behavioral neuroscientist Eric Fortune and published in the November 4 issue of the journal Science.

“What we learned is that when it comes to the brain and cooperation, the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts,” said Fortune, of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. “We found that the brain of each individual participant prefers the combined activity over his or her own part.”

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November 14, 2011 at 9:17 pm

Posted in Brains

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The NeuroSocial Network

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Social neuroscience is a rapidly growing discipline that examines the relationship between the brain and social behavior. The “social brain hypothesis” posits that, over evolutionary time, living in large, social groups favored the physical growth of brain regions important for social behavior. In non-human primates, some evidence indicates that the size of the amygdala is related to social behavior. Little is known, however, about this relationship in humans. A provocative new study finds that the volume of a key component of the social brain, the amygdala, is directly related to the size and complexity of social networks in adult humans.

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Written by learningchange

November 14, 2011 at 12:09 pm