Unrelated to all that, 11/8 edition

The Beauty of the Network in the Brain and the Origin of the Mind in the Control of Behavior

Behavior is not adequately described as a stimulus-response process. It is initiated by the animal and is generated because of its expected outcome in the future. The outcome can be good or bad for the animal. The brain is in charge of the selection process. This is the basic function of the brain. Taking Drosophila as a study case, this paper discusses initiating activity, several examples of outcome expectations, trying out (the internal search for a suitable behavior), chaining of actions, and the functional roles of chance in action selection. It takes mental processes and states such as goals, intentions, feelings, memories, cognition, and attention as higher levels of behavioral control that have their origin in biological evolution.

Why female ants battle for foreign sperm

Yet males that hook up with the wrong queens don’t realize that they’ve made a bad choice until they begin to copulate, say the scientists who studied these pairings in a series of closely controlled experiments. The males try to rectify their error by reducing the rate at which they transfer sperm, but the queens respond by holding on. The longer copulation forces the male to continue releasing his sperm, until he’s given the same amount as he would to a gal of his own kind. Sexual bondage may seem a strange evolutionary tactic, but if the female ants weren’t “sperm parasites,” the scientists say, the harvester ant colonies would collapse.

A Better Way to Think About the Genre Debate

Last month, when the fiction finalists for the National Book Awards were announced, one stood out from the rest: “Station Eleven,” by Emily St. John Mandel. While the other nominated books are what, nowadays, we call “literary fiction,” “Station Eleven” is set in a familiar genre universe, in which a pandemic has destroyed civilization. The twist—the thing that makes “Station Eleven” National Book Award material—is that the survivors are artists…

“Station Eleven,” in other words, turns out not to be a genre novel so much as a novel about genre. Unlike Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” which asked what would remain after the collapse of culture, “Station Eleven” asks how culture gets put together again. It imagines a future in which art, shorn of the distractions of celebrity, pedigree, and class, might find a new equilibrium. The old distinctions could be forgotten; a comic book could be as influential as Shakespeare. It’s hard to imagine a novel more perfectly suited, in both form and content, to this literary moment. For a while now, it’s looked as though we might be headed toward a total collapse of the genre system. We’ve already been contemplating the genre apocalypse that “Station Eleven” imagines.


So it’s okay to be genre, so long as it is about literature… The genre debate is really just about pretension: what is “okay” to like.

Women Having A Terrible Time At Parties In Western Art History

Undercover Robot Baby Penguins Are the Future of Ecology

Both the adult and baby replicants roving around the colony are expected to produce a wealth of observations, with a much reduced impact on the quality of life of the birds. “Our next project is to use rovers to understand how penguins are located into their colony according to their own individual history,” Le Maho told me. That will include “the role of vocalizations in this structuring.”
Le Maho’s study is the latest of a number of experiments involving camouflaged reconnaissance robots. Earlier this year, for example, I reported on a Carnegie Mellon University study that sent cameras disguised as crocodiles into Kenya’s Mara River to study hippopotamus dung. In addition to extravagantly spraying their poop around with their tails, hippos apparently were dropping so many deuces that they were causing mass die-offs of fish downstream.

Bow before your new robopenguin overlords

Today’s World

10. Don’t advertise you’ve got something, that you’re any better than the hoi polloi, then the hoi polloi will judge you for having it. Don’t say you went to Harvard, they were the son of a single mother who couldn’t go to college. Don’t say you took a vacation, they haven’t been on one in years. Don’t say you have any money, otherwise the unwashed masses will excoriate you. Don’t confuse this with the ignorant rich who believe they’re better than everybody else. Just call it poor on poor crime, or middle class on middle class crime. People don’t want you movin’ on up, because that means they’ve got to look at their situation, and they don’t want to. The end result is those with wealth and power seal their lives off from those who don’t have these things. They live behind gates, fly private and vacation in places you’ve never heard of and they don’t talk about it. If someone is talking about their wealth, bragging about their lifestyle, you know they’re nouveau riche and not accepted by the upper class and might not have money for long.

25  things about today’s world

Europeans Mutate Differently

How did English become the language of science?

“The first major shock to the system of basically having a third of science published in English, a third in French, and a third in German — although it fluctuated based on field and Latin still held out in some places — was World War I, which had two major impacts,” Gordin said. After World War I, Belgian, French and British scientists organized a boycott of scientists from Germany and Austria. They were blocked from conferences and weren’t able to publish in Western European journals…

The second effect of World War I took places across the Atlantic in the United States. Starting in 1917 when the US entered the war, there was a wave of anti-German hysteria that swept the country. “At this moment something that’s often hard to keep in mind is that large portions of the US still speak German,” Gordin said. In Ohio, Wisconsin and Minnesota there were many, many German speakers. World War I changed all that. “German is criminalized in 23 states. You’re not allowed to speak it in public, you’re not allowed to use it in the radio, you’re not allowed to teach it to a child under the age 10,” Gordin explained. The Supreme Court overturned those anti-German laws in 1923, but for years that was the law of the land. What that effectively did, according to Gordin, was decimate foreign language learning in the US.

“In 1915, Americans were teaching foreign languages and learning foreign languages about the same level as Europeans were,” Gordin said. “After these laws go into effect, foreign language education drops massively. Isolationism kicks in in the 1920s, even after the laws are overturned and that means people don’t think they need to pay attention to what happens in French or in German.”

Life is quantum

What does this have to do with life? Well, Schrödinger was particularly interested in the question of heredity. In 1944, a decade before James Watson and Francis Crick, the physical nature of genes was still mysterious. Even so, it was known that they must be passed down the generations with an extraordinary high degree of fidelity: less than one error in a billion. This was a puzzle, because one of the few other known facts about genes was that they were very small – far too small, Schrödinger insisted, for the accuracy of their copying to depend on the order-from-disorder rules of the classical world. He proposed that they must instead involve a ‘more complicated organic molecule’, one in which ‘every atom, and every group of atoms, plays an individual role’.


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