Learning Sciences of Change

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Archive for February 2012

The myth of the eight-hour sleep

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We often worry about lying awake in the middle of the night – but it could be good for you. A growing body of evidence from both science and history suggests that the eight-hour sleep may be unnatural.

In the early 1990s, psychiatrist Thomas Wehr conducted an experiment in which a group of people were plunged into darkness for 14 hours every day for a month.

It took some time for their sleep to regulate but by the fourth week the subjects had settled into a very distinct sleeping pattern. They slept first for four hours, then woke for one or two hours before falling into a second four-hour sleep.

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Written by learningchange

28/02/2012 at 14:30

Posted in Sleep

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Babies know what’s fair

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We think children are born with a skeleton of general expectations about fairness,” explains Sloane, “and these principles and concepts get shaped in different ways depending on the culture and the environment they’re brought up in.” Some cultures value sharing more than others, but the ideas that resources should be equally distributed and rewards allocated according to effort are innate and universal.

Other survival instincts can intervene. Self-interest is one, as is loyalty to the in-group — your family, your tribe, your team. It’s much harder to abide by that abstract sense of fairness when you want all the cookies — or your team is hungry. That’s why children need reminders to share and practice in the discipline of doing the right thing in spite of their desires.

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Read also: Babies Show Sense of Fairness, Altruism as Early as 15 Months

Are Humans Hardwired For Fairness?

Written by learningchange

28/02/2012 at 13:00

Posted in Baby, Fairness, Humans

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The Need for “Wild” Play: Let Children Be the Animals They Need to Be

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We’re big-brained altricial mammals, born helpless and requiring extensive adult care, who learn a wide variety of skills through different sorts of play. Much of what applies to the social development of nonhuman mammals and other animals also applies to us.

Basically, we can learn about the various reasons why animals play (why it has evolved and develops as it does) including its vital role in social development and socialization, physical exercise, cognitive development, and also for learning social skills concerning fairness, cooperation, and moral behavior. For example, the basic rules for fair play in animals also apply to humans, namely ask first, be honest, follow the rules, and admit you’re wrong. When the rules of play are violated, and when fairness breaks down, so does play.

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Written by learningchange

27/02/2012 at 16:01

Posted in Play

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How the brain works to select what we want to see

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If you are looking for a particular object — say a yellow pencil — on a cluttered desk, how does your brain work to visually locate it?

Neuroscientists has identified how different neural regions communicate to determine what to visually pay attention to and what to ignore. “With so much information in the visual world, it’s dramatic to think that you have an entire system behind knowing what to pay attention to,” said Marlene Behrmann, professor of psychology at CMU and an expert in using brain imaging to study the visual perception system. “The mechanisms show that you can actually drive the visual system — you are guiding your own sensory system in an intelligent and smart fashion that helps facilitate your actions in the world.”

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Written by learningchange

27/02/2012 at 15:27

Posted in Brains, Neuroscience

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The Kitchen as Laboratory: Reflections on the Science of Food and Cooking

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Eating is a multisensory experience, yet chefs and scientists have only recently begun to deconstruct food’s components, setting the stage for science-based cooking. In this global collaboration of essays, chefs and scientists advance culinary knowledge by testing hypotheses rooted in the physical and chemical properties of food. Using traditional and cutting-edge tools, ingredients, and techniques, these pioneers create, and sometimes revamp, dishes that respond to specific desires and serve up an original encounter with gastronomic practice.

From the seemingly mundane to the food fantastic—from grilled cheese sandwiches, pizzas, and soft-boiled eggs to Turkish ice cream, sugar glasses, and jellified beads—the essays in The Kitchen as Laboratory cover a range of creations and their history and culture. They consider the significance of an eater’s background and dining atmosphere and the importance of a chef’s methods, as well as the strategies used to create a great diversity of foods and dishes.

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Written by learningchange

24/02/2012 at 17:00

Posted in Food

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Neurogastronomy – How the Brain Creates Flavor and Why It Matters

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Leading neuroscientist Gordon M. Shepherd embarks on a paradigm-shifting trip through the “human brain flavor system,” laying the foundations for a new scientific field: neurogastronomy.  Challenging the belief that the sense of smell diminished during human evolution, Shepherd argues that this sense, which constitutes the main component of flavor, is far more powerful and essential than previously believed.

Shepherd begins Neurogastronomy with the mechanics of smell, particularly the way it stimulates the nose from the back of the mouth. As we eat, the brain conceptualizes smells as spatial  patterns, and from these and the other senses it constructs the perception of flavor. Shepherd connects his research to trends in nutrition, dieting, and obesity, especially the challenges that many face in eating healthily. He concludes with human perceptions of smell and flavor and their relationship to the neural basis of consciousness.

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Written by learningchange

24/02/2012 at 16:00

Rediscovering the uses of ancient plants in modern medicine

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Researchers and historians band together to create novel treatments for illnesses. Dr. John Riddle, a professor of history, actually started off with an education in medicine, eventually earning an MD. He became interested in history through studying traditional medicinal plants–plants he said were just laughed at and dismissed when people wrote papers on their pharmaceutical uses.These plants first caught his eye when a close friend of his was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer. “I looked up to see what he was taking… I found out those two chemical compounds for chemotherapy where from a plant–a Vinca plant — periwinkle is the English word,” Riddle said.

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Written by learningchange

24/02/2012 at 14:43

Posted in Medicine

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Probing for principles underlying animal flock patterns

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“Self-organization phenomena surround us on all levels of our lives,”

For the casual observer it is fascinating to watch the orderly and seemingly choreographed motion of hundreds or even thousands of fish, birds or insects. However, the formation and the manifold motion patterns of such flocks raise numerous questions fundamental to the understanding of complex systems.

A team of physicists from Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM) and LMU Muenchen has developed a versatile biophysical model system that opens the door to studying these phenomena and their underlying principles. Using a combination of an experimental platform and theoretical models, more complex systems can now be described and their properties investigated.

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Written by learningchange

22/02/2012 at 17:30

Posted in Flocks

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What scientific concept will improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit?

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Every year for more than a decade, intellectual impresario and Edge editor John Brockman has been asking the era’s greatest thinkers a single annual question, designed to illuminate some important aspect of how we understand the world. In 2010, he asked how the Internet is changing the way we think. In 2011, with the help of psycholinguist Steven Pinker and legendary psychologist Daniel Kahneman, he posed an even grander question: What scientific concept will improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit? The answers, featuring a wealth of influential scientists, authors, and thought-architects, were recently released in This Will Make You Smarter: New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking – a formidable anthology of short essays by 151 of our time’s biggest thinkers on subjects as diverse as the power of networks, cognitive humility, the paradoxes of daydreaming, information flow, collective intelligence, and a dizzying, mind-expanding range in between. Together, they construct a powerful toolkit of meta-cognition — a new way to think about thinking itself.

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Read also: This Will Make You Smarter: New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking

Written by learningchange

22/02/2012 at 17:00

Life on Earth: The Infinite Variety

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It traces the dramatic history of life on earth from its very beginnings, some 3.5 billion years ago, to the final emergence of man and the array of animals that share the world with us today.

Life On Earth began a new era in television, looking at the incredible variety of the world’s wildlife and its evolution. David Attenborough and his talented team of cameramen, producers and scientific advisers bring to the screen some quite remarkable images, which have a lasting impact on any audience. This series was the biggest ever undertaken by the Natural History Unit at the time, using over a million feet of film and 100 locations.

Part I Part II Part III  -  Part IV  -  Part V  -  Part VI

Written by learningchange

22/02/2012 at 16:30

Posted in Evolution, Life

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