Posts Tagged: science

Word of the Day: Vaticinate

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(v.);  to prophesy or foretell the future; from the Latin vati- (“seer”) + -cin-, combining form of canere (“to sing, prophesy”)

Louisiana, Louisiana, They’re tryin’ to wash us away. They’re tryin’ to wash us away.”

—Randy Newman, from “Louisiana 1927.”

Much has been written on the subject of the human race’s fear of the unknown: from speculating on what happens after we die to relentless attempts to predict the future, from the impact of technology to whether it’s going to rain tomorrow.

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From Metaphor to Consciousness

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Neuroscientists are examining metaphors and finding that they’re essential to language. Modern brain scanning has allowed scientists to look at brain activity as the brain employs metaphors from language. What has been found is that the brain interprets metaphors literally. For instance,  metaphors based on actions involving the body activate areas of the brain that normally activate when the body is in motion.

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The Unteachable Dark

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Writers Rivka Galchen and Zoë Heller, over at The New York Times, discuss the question that will never go away: can writing be taught? They raise valid points about whether teaching writing is fundamentally different from teaching something like science and the rigid way American high schools teach essay writing.

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The Science of Why You Can’t Read Good Literature

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Writer Michael Harris discusses digital distraction and reading War and Peace at Salon:

But there’s a religious certainty required in order to devote yourself to one thing while cutting off the rest of the world. We don’t know that the inbox is emergency-free, we don’t know that the work we’re doing is the work we ought to be doing.

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The Science of Creativity

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For the Atlantic, Cody C. Delistrarty ponders whether a person can learn to be creative, or if he or she is simply born with the trait. Framing his essay on Mary Shelley and her writing process for Frankenstein, Delistrarty presents several prevailing theories, among them that an “openness to experience” is often crucial for an artist’s work.

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Learning to Look Closer

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Over at Brain Pickings, Maria Popova talks with cognitive scientist Alexandra Horowitz about her new book On Looking, which is about the way sensory awareness impacts our perception of reality. The two discuss how “a writer is a professional observer” and how when you look at things more closely, you see—and imagine—them differently:

When you look closely at anything familiar, it kind of transmogrifies into something unfamiliar — the sort of cognitive version of saying your name again and again and again, or a word again and again and again, and getting a different sound of it after you’ve repeated it forty times.

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Man vs. Terrifying Gigantic Agribusiness

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…“grew up in world (S.C.) that wouldn’t accept him,” “needs adulation,” “doesn’t sleep,” was “scarred for life.”…“What’s motivating Hayes?—basic question.”

An actor’s notes for a role? A writer’s sketch of a character for a novel? Actually, these are observations by the communications manager of agribusiness giant Syngenta, as she and her colleagues try to figure out how to discredit the scientist who found one of their herbicides to cause “birth defects in humans as well as in animals.”

For the New YorkerRachel Aviv tells the story of the corporation’s relentless campaign against one biology professor—and his increasingly desperate attempts to fight back.

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How to Scientifically Predict a Novel’s Success

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It’s impossible to predict what will make a book sell well, but scientists at Stony Brook University think they might be on the right track.

After conducting statistical analyses of novels from several genres, they were able to predict with 84% accuracy whether a book was “highly successful” based on certain elements of style such as “discourse connectives” and “verbs that describe thought-processing.”

Of course, there’s a pretty large degree of subjectivity inherent in any study of this nature, but it’s still interesting stuff to think about.

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Reading Makes You Better At Life

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A degree in English may make your job search harder, but it makes empathy and social interaction easier, according to a study conducted by some people who had more practical majors.

The study, published in Science, found that literary fiction like Dostoevsky or Louise Erdrich enhanced subjects’ ability to read others’ emotions more than did popular fiction or “nonfiction that was well-written, but not literary or about people.”

Erdrich’s take on the matter: “This is why I love science….[They] found a way to prove true the intangible benefits of literary fiction….Thank God the research didn’t find that novels increased tooth decay or blocked up your arteries.”

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Science: Still Confusing, Still Important

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Some scientific experiments can sound ridiculous, especially to us writerly types—like, for instance, a study measuring mosquitoes’ attraction to limburger cheese.

There’s even a fake prize dedicated to mocking such studies: the “Ig Nobel,” which the aforementioned mosquito story won several years back.

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Tracking Quakes

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I’d lived in California for over six years and still hadn’t experienced a quintessential California quake, still hadn’t come close to what Schopenhauer might call the “dynamic sublime,” the encounter with something powerful enough to destroy you.

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The Blame Game

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Scientists have been putting the blame on almost everyone when it comes to climate change and subsequent natural disasters.

In L’Aquila, Italy, however, the tables have turned as six scientists and one government official potentially face six years in prison for charges of manslaughter after “lying” to the public about a deadly earthquake in 2006.

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Sending Vibes Through Squids

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BoingBoing documents the research of Backyard Brains, which, as of late, has consisted of monitoring how playing Cyprus Hill affects a squid’s chromatophores. The results look not unlike an iTunes Visualizer:

“Greg Gage of the DIY neuroscience company Backyard Brains stimulated the axons of a squid with the electrical signals coming out of a headphone jack plugged into an iPhone playing a Cypress Hill song.

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A History of Mars Exploration

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Last night, NASA’s Curiosity rover landed on the surface of Mars, beginning its year long exploration of the planet.

The Guardian has compiled a short history of Mars musing, which highlights scientists’ fascination with the planet. Since their first sightings in the 17th century, scientists argued about the planet’s capability for sustaining life:

“Lowell eventually ‘saw’ and published maps of not only canals but also vastly thick lines of cultivated vegetation, oases and cities, standing out against ‘one vast Sahara’.

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Look Closer

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Yesterday marked the fortieth anniversary of the launch of Landsat, America’s longest running Earth-imaging satellite program.

Since the NASA-run program began in 1972, Landsat has captured more than three million images of our planet. To look at some particularly stunning photographs taken by the satellite (pictures chosen through Nasa’s ‘Earth as Art’ contest), click here.

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‘The The Angels Angels’ & Other Astrophysicist Baseball Observations

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Neil deGrasse Tyson (Astrophysicist, American Museum of Natural History. Author: Space Chronicle, The Pluto Files. Host: StarTalk Radio) on Baseball:

> Tonight’s @AllStarGame compells me to Tweet what Baseball looks like through the lens of an astrophysicist…

> In the 1960s, when we still dreamed, we named a dome, a baseball team, and even the artificial turf they played on “Astro”

> If baseball reported averages to 4 decimal places instead of 3, then a three-hundred hitter would be batting “three thousand”

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