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Bloggers

 

Reciprocal Awareness

Reciprocal Awareness

posted by:
September 6, 2012 - 7:05am

Gifts of the CrowSeattle wildlife scientist John Marzluff partners with illustrator-naturalist Tony Angell to create Gifts of the Crow: How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans. While absorbing and fascinating, this is not the usual natural history of another species that shares our environment. Instead, the authors take an approach that delves deep into the neurological similarities between crows and humans, and look at numerous studies of the birds’ behavior that show how our noisy neighbors have adapted to our lives.

 

These birds share many characteristics of humans. In a chapter that discusses the emotional lives of crows and ravens, anecdotes describe these birds’ approaches to injured comrades, and particularly their grieving rituals. While crows often eat the dead of other species, they rarely if ever even touch their own, but instead come close and linger in a sort of respect-paying process. Also considered in great detail is the way that crows approach play. Scientists consider species that have incorporated play into their lives as highly advanced. The “social brain network” of these evolved mammals and birds is shown to be complex, and indicates multifaceted consideration of decision and realization. Crows have been observed playing “ring-around-the-rosy” with themselves and with unwitting humans who suddenly realize they too are part of the bird’s game.

 

Humans and crows have been watching each other for generations: cultures that laud crows as our forebears are plentiful worldwide, from India, to the American Southwest, and most famously the Canadian Pacific coast.  While we have learned much about crows and their relatives through scientific and neurological study, there is still much more to understand. Our mutual ecologies and simultaneous evolution will continue to shape both our species moving forward.

Todd

 
 

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

DreamlandImagine waking up in the middle of the night on the floor, disoriented, clutching your leg in pain. How did you get there? Why aren’t you still asleep in bed? And what happened to your leg? After actually living through this frightening sleepwalking scenario, David K. Randall, a journalist for Reuters, decided to investigate his personal nightmare, determined to find out  how he could prevent it from happening again. His book, Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep, leads us into the mysterious and occasionally bizarre corners of neurobiology, psychology, and sociology that deal with how and why we sleep.

 

Each chapter in this fascinating book deals with a different sleep conundrum, from sleep exhaustion in the military to the effect of artificial light on circadian rhythms to whether you can commit murder while sleeping. Over the course of the book a deceptively simple formula emerges—what you do while you are awake affects your sleep, and how you sleep affects your mind and body while you are awake. Intriguing tidbits of information sneak their way into the pages with such frequency that the reader marvels at how little she seems to know about such a vital bodily function. 

 

Though not a scientist himself, Randall’s forays into the realm of sleep science are well backed by an abundance of research, as evinced by the lengthy bibliography he includes at the back of the book.  His prose remains accessible, captivating, and often humorous while still keeping science at its core.  Dreamland provides an enigmatic taste of the often unsolved mysteries of sleep science that is sure to satisfy both the curious and the casual reader. 

 

Rachael

 
 

Take a Moment

Take a Moment

posted by:
August 6, 2012 - 9:01am

WaitFrank Partnoy’s Wait: the Art and Science of Delay is a fascinating look into the various ways decisions are made. According to the author, the crux of delay is not only in deciding what we should do or how it should be done, but as importantly, when. This provides the thesis of this groundbreaking look into the timing of our decisions.

 

Partnoy frames the studies by first looking at decisions that must be made in a split-second, and as the book goes on, he looks at decisions that take longer and longer to make--some that could be termed procrastinations. Starting with athletes who must perform in what he calls “superfast sports”, the author breaks down the manner in which baseball and tennis players must react to a pitch or serve. These decisions are made in a matter of milliseconds. As fast as a tennis serve is hit, the returner’s preconscious skills kick in, combining visual and muscle acuity. The player who is able to wait the longest and still effectively return the serve has the greatest chance of success.

 

The decision-making of animals is also discussed. It was long thought that only humans could make future decisions. But recent studies have shown that many animals, including dogs, pigeons, monkeys, and rats have all shown that considering the future is within their abilities. Retaining a small bit of food knowing that they can trade it in for more in the future, storing food where it will be found later, and building tools not instantly needed are examples of how animals are aware of delay, and use it to their benefit. Wait is a thought-provoking yet accessible read, and is certain to be of interest to fans of Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink and Dan Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow.    

Todd

 
 

Inside the Information Highway

Tubes: a Journey to the Center of the InternetHave you ever wondered how your email travels all the way from your computer to your mother’s laptop half way across the country in a few milliseconds?  Or how a sports fan with a smartphone in LA can know the outcome of the World Cup in Spain moments before the live TV broadcast?  Andrew Blum, author of Tubes: a Journey to the Center of the Internet, explores how the Internet works as a physical system, full of buried connections, rivers of wires, humming servers, and fiber optic transoceanic cables. 

 

Blum journeys on a pilgrimage to the Internet’s most important data centers and information hubs in an effort to find ‘pieces of the Internet’, and to view the Internet as both a virtual and physical place.  Along the way, he meets with many of the Internet’s unsung heroes and follows his nose to ferret out just where all our data goes when we press ‘send’.  Through his surprisingly personal trek across the world in search of the Internet, Blum grapples with conflicting definitions and perceptions of the Internet that in the end help illuminate its many facets.  With the emergence of cloud storage and wireless everything, it’s refreshing and relieving to realize that even something as amorphous as the Internet is grounded in the physical, real world. 

 

A little bit history, a little bit philosophy, a little bit spiritual, Tubes is great for readers who are curious about the behind the scenes action of the largest connected interface in the world.  Fans of James Gleick’s The Information: a History, a Theory, a Flood and Tim Wu’s The Master Switch will certainly enjoy this thought-provoking new title. 

Rachael