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“Rabbit hole! It’s Paleoanthropology!” Now that’s a Find, ha (NPRs ‘Science Friday’) 04-06-12

April 6, 2012

NPRs Science Friday, with Ira Flatow 04-06-12

Great discussion on ‘Science Friday’ between Ira and guest, Ian Tattersall. Tattersall is a paleoanthropologist and the curator of anthropology at the American Museum of National History in New York, New York. His new book is, “Masters of the Universe: The Search for our Ancestors.” They discuss some interesting stuff about our long, strange trip through the course of hominid history as we know it! I love the history of humans. Exciting stuff people.

Some quick/short questions and answers w/ Ira, the crowd at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), and the Mad-Tatter (a.k.a. Ian Tattersall, hardy-har).

How do we know what these early humans, or humanish beings were doing and thinking 150,000 yrs ago?
– We have to use the artifacts they left; tools, etc. The fossils give us one piece to the puzzle from which to compare to younger and older fossils and infer things from similarities, differences, and environmental/contextual information. We’re lucky to have the ability to date the fossils using the incredible fotune of DNA/genome analysis. Slowly but surely, we’re solving the puzzle.

Paradoxical that complex culture is able to thrive in small, isolated group of species. When different types of the same species are combined, ‘nature/genetic’ and ‘nurture/internally-driven’ spheres and contexts even themselves out, per se. I’d like to learn more about this, it seems a little counter-intuitive to me on one level. Seems that combining resources/ideas/anything would always be a plus, but after a second to think about it, I can see how the ‘too-many-chefs-in-the-kitchen’ concept may relate. I actually study, retain, learn, etc., more and better when I’m doing said learning, etc., by myself. It’s funny, I think it was the Khan Academy’s, Sal Khan, and a piece ’60 Minutes’ did on him that touched on a striation of the sinew above on the singular vs. collective. As per the context of Khan and the Khan Academy, they’re using an educational model that uses the belief that the child learns best alone (most of the time, in most ways). For instance, they each have their own computer in class and use headphones to go at their own pace, with the teacher ready to help if/when they need. I could keep going on a lot of things in my dome right now, but got other things to do. I’ll address them later!

‘Culture’ is not confined to human species. But, hominid culture has been able to develop more breadth and depth and nuance compared to every other species.

When humans began to move across diverse environments (think map of human genome project migrating from northeast Africa) and fragment, the fragmentation and isolation spurred cultural growth. How? I’ll be bacccck!

– If we evolved from primates, how come there’s no evidence in primates?

– Not from monkeys — but we and monkeys are from a shared/common ancestor

Quadripedal vs. Bipedal

When forest cover in Africa started shrinking, they were already somewhat more used to having an upright trunk in the trees, so the bipedal divergence that srmeperates us to this day was in the offing before the tree-filled forest vanished (by climate, but also from hominoid mass travel/migration: think human genome project map).

About 10,000 yrs ago we became sedentary. Settled down in villages, cities, etc., and now we’re globally spread out en masse, a definite paradox for the paradox-humor/comedy crowd (me included).

Spontaneous fixation and development of innovative/evolutionary traits thrives in isolation: smaller, isolated groups
(but …)

As more time passes, our growing fossil records — that only grow with time — are becoming more and more accurate and reliable, and ‘our’ evolutionary history is fleshed out more and more, in varying way and form. New ways to manipulate and understand data gives us more ways to flesh out the fleshing out, lol. These new ways to analyze data is only becoming more and more accurate and reliable, a la a ‘J’ curve that seems to have flattened out, after exponential changes brought on by the creation and developmment of basic computing, which is able to run a massive amount of numbers in a massively quick amount of time. It seems that we’re passed the part of that cycle that would give us the greatest exponential amount of change (benefit, in this case), but we could be at an early point of the story. I think it’s very possible, and maybe with 5 minutes of googling, I could find that the mere creationary/big-bang moment that bestowed the massive explosion of computing possibility and power upon us is nothing to what leaps and bounds exist behind the door we’re knocking at. Evidence of the latter end of the example is literally in my hands, in the form of the iPhone I’m using to write these words. Size of the devices/products decreases/shrinks mostly because the size of the microprocessors/microchips has become exponentially micro, and at the same time, unbelievably, more powerful and capable. With ‘nano’-everything, who knows how far the reward (and decreasing size, or even ‘size’ whatsoever ~ existence of any object) can maintain the current/recent rates of function as reflected in the product’s growth/power/speed. The future of technology is, well, limitless now that I really think about it. Am reminded of the Nostradamus-ish philosopher/tech-wizard, Ray Kurzwell the last time he was on the Colbert Report. I’ll find, attach the link.

Oh, and I found out how to add; italics, bold, links/hyperlinks, tags, etc., on wordpress as I know and use it, I do everything via my iPhone: through the app! The app gives you all the options!

Around 3.5/4 million yrs ago, our ancestors all ate a very generalized diet. In this sense, ‘generalized’ means similar, unchanging, and unspecialized.

About 2 million yrs ago, brain size starts to grow (after flatlining for 4 million yrs), but brain growth is not solely a benefit — it’s also costly to a certain degree, and uses up to 25% of energy. So, perhaps we started cooking at that time, to increase nutrition efficiency, but there’s no evidence to support it. Some think cooking was a rather late onset in our history, around 400,000 yrs ago. Sans teflon, and/or propane (let it be duly noted that a one Henry Hill, from ‘King of the Hill,’ long ago proposed and lived by the revolutionary belief, “propane is the wave of the future, Bobby.”).

Nature in New York City: Concrete Jungle

People tend to think that nature is antithetical to any city, especially the city of cities, the Gotham of cities (drumroll…): New York City. Amy Sucoin is the head of NYC’s Urban Park Rangers, who try to connect people to the connections between the city and the plethora of biodiversity in the gotham milieu.

Change in different forms of genes over time, and genetic drift describes the simple change brought on by a population of a species in a certain area reproducing and possessing the random changes they pass on over time. What’s surprising is that out of all the parks and areas of natural flora and fauna around the city, Jason Munshi-South of Baruch College, and his team of students found that the life within every distinct natural area is highly specialized and unique. So, after collecting different species within different areas, they found that the differences between mice, for instance are almost entirely localized, illuminating that the species don’t travel from park to park (or natural environment, etc.). So, if you found a mouse, they would know where it came from. ‘Homebodies’, lol. And I thought I was a homebody, har-har.

Biodiversity increases value of the environment’s health ~ well, maybe but it’s not a proven, especially because the term ‘health’ is extremely subjective. Healthy to who? Healthy in terms of lifespan, or is quality of life more reflective of health, etc.? All in the red-eye-of-the-beholder, right. Moreover, difficulty is evident when trying to define and measure the ‘health’ of a context, e.g., a given area that includes multiple, if not an extremely high number of species, as well as the sum all entirety of the given ‘context/space’ (not to be redundant, but also including the sum of species, the collective health). Science, in some ways, is actually averse to such normative statements, that embed values and prejudices based on — shocker — human predominance. What I like to call the ‘manifest destiny doctrine.’

And, as a general rule of biodiversity thumb, the larger and less controlled use of natural space that exists the better.

NPR Science Friday

‘The Concrete Jungle’ (New York Magazine)
‘The Concrete Jungle’ (New York Magazine)

The New York Times, City Blog: Ask about Nature

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