Is Religion Good For Your Brain?

When you think of religion does your body get invigorated? Do you feel your soul flutter? Does your brain reach a higher state of functioning? In answer to the last question, Jeffrey Anderson, assistant professor of nueroradiology at the University of Utah states that,

We think we have the tools now to do a study of brain activity during the really profound and deep types of emotional and social interactions associated with religion, and we’re really excited to try and understand more.

religion science god

Religion constantly falls under the close scrutiny of science.

Anderson and other researchers are launching a new study that will examine exactly how religion and spiritual rituals impact the human brain. The study will consist of participants between the age of 20 and 30 who are currently active in their faith. An MRI scan will be performed while the participants are surrounded by faith oriented activities, such as listening to spiritual music, listening to proclamations from their religion, and acting out religious rituals associated with their particular faith. Very interesting indeed, but it will take some time before the results of the study are posted. If you believe your self to be a prime candidate for the study, and of course as long as you are in the immediate area of the University of Utah, you can apply to be a participant on the Religious Brain Project website.

Related ArticleMorals or More Rails (to guide us)

The study does beg another set of questions however: can religion and belief be measured by science? Or rather, should science be used to gauge religion? Is it morally correct to accept religion over science, or vice versa? Essentially we arrive at a very pertinent question: should religion be completely replaced by science within the school system as a more viable teaching strategy?

Bill Nye (yes, the science guy) and Ken Ham (Answers in Genesis, supporting the side of religion and creationism) squared off in a debate last night about religion which addressed these issues directly. The overarching question of the debate was : Is creation a viable model of human origins in today’s modern scientific era? Both sides had their own opinions as well as evidence to back up their claims.

religion creation science

Which Religion is right? Which book do your prefer?

In the debate, Ken Ham defends religion by stating that science should be split into two separate categories. The first would pertain to observational science (a science based on models). This category involves what we experience now and how the world works today. The second category involves historical science (a type of theoretical science of origin) which is used to define our origins and makes sense of the world around us from a historical perspective. He stresses the importance of separating the two to help with the confusion that children are being exposed to. He gives the example that by only teaching evolution, which to most starts with a random beginning for no reason other than “it happened,” we limit children to thinking that science is just as random. This randomness can crate incredible confusion when making conclusions about existential quandaries children are trying to work through. Ken Ham asserts that instead, children should be taught religion and to embrace the idea of God because it empowers them to think they are indeed special, as they are made in the image of God.

Related ArticleIn 1610 God Was a Binary, Fractal, Self-Replicating Algorithm

Bill Nye on the other hand focuses on accepted scientific evidence to disprove Ham’s assertions regarding religious truth. For example, he refers to the different layers in stone and snow that have been compressed to form ice which would take far longer than the amount of time Creationism allows for. He talks about the allotted four thousand years since the Great Flood and the improbability of the amount of species we see today to exist with the limited time that Creationists claim elapsed since then. He stresses the idea that we need to depend on natural law and orders, not religious or divine laws, to predict practical and accurate future theories and laws. He asserts that the basis of scientific education must be information derived through the scientific process, such as evolution, in order for children and future scientists to make reasonable scientific predictions in the future. In essence, he is claiming that one must understand and accept theories like evolution which have been supported with scientific evidence in order to understand why a fish can come to walk on land, why there are over 8.7 million different species on Earth, why layers in rocks and trees and ice exist, and so on.  He stresses that by allowing religion and Creationism to thrive in academic settings we are impeding the scientific literacy of future generations and essentially stifling the United States in future scientific breakthroughs.

Related Article: Watching Evolution Occur

The debate finished with questions and rebuttals, but the underlying theme of the debate, I fear, was lost. Instead of trying to prove why one or the other is wrong in the school system, it turned into a contest of ego and the denouncing of each others ideals.

religion science stats

Some surprising statistics about religion and science.

I wonder, why not accept both ideas? Why not teach every child in every classroom the idea of science, and then, on your own time, teach your children your worship, your religion, and your belief. Allow for both religion and science to be taught in their own settings (in schools and at home/place of worship respectively) and allow for the child to then choose which idea they support and believe. What is with this unyielding hatred between the two schools of thought? What ever happened to being free and allowing for choice? Most importantly though: can’t we all just get along?

In the end, much of the issue is largely based on opinion, some opinions stemming from facts, others stemming from observed information. One thing is for certain, all this debate and speculation on religion is definitely causing your brain to function at an elevated level. Maybe you’ve been unintentionally participating in Anderson’s experiment this whole time!

To feed your own opinions further, or for the sake of debate itself, check out the Bill Nye and Ken Ham debate on Creationism vs. science in the video below!



Religious Brain Project

Deseret News: What’s the effect of religion on the brain? U. launches new study

University of Utah

Youtube: Bill Nye Debates Ken Ham

Youtube: Bill Nye: Creationism Is Not Appropriate for Children

Youtube: Ken Ham Responds to Bill Nye “the Humanist Guy”

Answers in Genesis – Creationism

Wikipedia: Genesis flood narrative

Backreaction: Models and Theories

Models, Theories, and Laws

How many species on Earth? 8.7 million


Wondergressive: Watching Evolution Occur

Wondergessive: Morals or More Rails (to guide us)

Wondergressive: In 1610 God Was a Binary, Fractal, Self-Replicating Algorithm

Ancient Human DNA Found: Old World Similar to Lord of the Rings

ancient humans

Humanity is just starting to get interesting . ancient humans

Scientists have discovered a femur that contains 400,000 year old DNA from an as yet undiscovered ancestor of modern day humanity.  It was discovered at Sima de los Huesos, or “the pit of bones,” in Spain. This same pit has offered 28 other samples of ancient humans. The femur contains DNA that is similar to that of Denisovan, an eastern Eurasian sister group to Neanderthals, and a being which shares a common ancestor with you and I.

The only other evidence of the elusive Denisovan, the ancient human sub species, is DNA from a finger bone and tooth dated to 41,00 years ago, which was found in Siberia, 4,000 miles away. How did this type of DNA get all the way to Spain, and which hominid does the ancient human DNA actually belong to?

Related Article: Women Who Give Birth to Men Have Male DNA in Brain for Life


Humans mated and spread like rabbits all over the globe.

Humans mated and spread like rabbits all over the globe.

Scientists are able to answer far more questions regarding our origins and early migration patterns out of Africa due to the constant improvements in DNA reading technology and genomic sequencing. According to Juan Luis Arsuaga, a paleoanthropologist at Universidad Complutense de Madrid and a co-author of the paper,

This would not have been possible even a year ago.

One of the reasons this study is so profound is due to how far back it allows us to peer into our past.  In 1997, scientists made a breakthrough by sequencing 40,000 year old Neanderthal DNA. In 2006 the record became 100,000 years. Only 7 years later the record has quadrupled to nearly 400,000 years. That is incredible progress.

Of course, more progress means more questions, and it seems that the more accurate our view of the past becomes, the stranger history turns out to be. Our ancient human predecessors were not so similar to us as imagined.

Related Article: Watching Evolution Occur

What we know about modern humanity is that it left Africa in 3 migrations, with each migration separated by two hundred thousand years or more. This theory as a whole is dubbed the “out of Africa hypothesis,” and is generally accepted by the anthropological community.  The theory is based on a near endless amount of archaeological studies, genetic, and anatomical studies, and works like this:

  • Around 4 – 8 million years ago (still debated)  humans, chimpanzees and bonobos began evolving as separate lineages from a common ancestor. This common ancestor shares an older common ancestor with gorillas, orangutans, and gibbons.
  • This separated lineage evolved into  homo habilis 2.3 million years ago. This is the first early human species to use tools, and walk on the ground on only two legs, instead of living in trees and depending on all 4 limbs for transportation.

    That is one weird looking tree!

    That is one weird looking tree!

  • Around 1 million years later, ancient humans evolved into homo erectus (or maybe habilis and erectus lived side by side?) Homo erectus had double the cranial size of its ancestors and was the first human species to walk fully upright. It was also the first species to leave the nest: Africa. Homo erectus left Africa between 1.3 and 1.8 million years ago, and spread through Africa, Asia and Europe. This was the first major migration out of Africa.
  • The second major migration involved an evolved form of homo erectus that had remained in Africa called homo heidelbergensis. This migration occured around 600,000 years ago.  Homo heidelbergensis is the direct ancestor of neanderthals, denisovan, and homo sapiens.
  • Around 200,000 years ago humanity, still in Africa, had evolved into homo sapiens. Homo sapiens left Africa in the third major migration around 125,000 years ago and spread all around the world.  Homo sapiens evolved into homo sapien idaltu, now extinct, and homo sapien sapien, commonly referred to as cro magnon. Homo sapien sapien is the only species of human alive today; congratulations, we made it.

This is a very simple, linear explanation, and the truth is that nothing in life, especially when it concerns ancient humanity, is ever that simple. Studies like the first one we discussed have proven that our past is far less linear and extremely complex, leaving anthropologists in constant debate.

Related Article: DNA Ancestry Checking Is as Cheap as $99

The above explanation doesn’t take into account the countless as yet unnamed ancient human sub species that DNA tests have discovered, nor does it take into account other sub species that existed between the several hundred thousand year gaps between the major evolutionary stepping stones. Examples include homo antecessor , homo ergaster, or homo floresiensis, which scientists have dubbed ‘hobbits’ due to their incredibly small stature yet fully developed brains.


Human Mark II and Mark V

As a clearer picture of our past is revealed, the name ‘hobbit’ becomes increasingly more apt.  According to Mark Thomas, an evolutionary geneticist at University College London,

we’re looking at a Lord of the Rings-type world … there were many hominid populations.

Dozens, maybe even hundreds of undiscovered ancient human sup species may have lived side by side, some with a culture and anatomy similar to modern day humans, and others markedly strange. So far, evidence shows that at least 5 different sub species of ancient humans spread throughout Africa, Europe, and Asia, and lived on the planet at the same time. Scientists even found denisovan, neanderthal, and modern human bones all in the same cave.

Related Article:Deep Storage Project

Probably the most interesting part of our history is that all of the different ancient human sub species interbred like British royalty, with mystery human sub species spicing up the sex life of our great human ancestors. This is why the DNA of many modern humans is actually a mix,

All modern humans whose ancestry originates outside of Africa owe about 2% of their genome to Neanderthals. Certain populations living in Oceania, such as Papua New Guineans and Australian Aboriginals, share about 4% of their DNA with Denisovan.

These sub species of ancient human were so close that there is 500,000 year old neanderthal and denisovan viruses in modern human DNA.  

Skulls of: 1. Gorilla 2. Australopithecus 3. Homo erectus 4. Neanderthal (La Chapelle aux Saints) 5. Steinheim Skull (Archaic Homo sapiens) 6. Anatomically modern Homo sapiens

Skulls of: 1. Gorilla 2. Australopithecus 3. Homo erectus 4. Neanderthal (La Chapelle aux Saints) 5. Steinheim Skull (Archaic Homo sapiens) 6. Anatomically modern Homo sapiens

Ancient human history is far more complex, and incidentally, contains far more inter-sub-species-sex than anthroplogists and historians ever gave it credit for.  The recent research discussed above represents the very tip of the iceberg regarding the incredible potential that improved DNA testing has. It’s only a matter of time before we reveal the full truth of our origins and ancient human history.

Related Article: Bonobo Makes Tools Similar to Early Humans

Hopefully we will find out all of the answers one day, but for now, Matthias Meyer, a geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany thinks that,

We’ve basically generated a big question mark.



Ancient humans were more awesome than any of us imagined.



Sexual Frustration Leads to Accelerated Aging: Sex is the Answer

No more sexual frustration here

Wow baby, I feel 10 years younger already! No more sexual frustration here!

The University of Michigan has given the world a new reason to never be a sexual tease: causing sexual frustration is tantamount to murder! In a study involving fruit flies, scientists found that the key to a long and healthy life might be sex.

The scientists placed normal male fruit flies in a tank flooded with genetically modified male fruit flies. These particular male fruit flies were genetically altered to release a female pheromone. As far as the normal fruit flies knew they were surrounded by beautiful female fruit flies ready and rearing to aid in the compost bin colony’s plan of colonial expansion. The only problem is that they couldn’t  see, hear, or feel the females. They couldn’t at all perceive the fruit fly goddesses that were surely laying all around them (which is probably for the best since fruit flies have toxic sperm). Needless to say, this situation has ‘sexual frustration’ written all over it.

Related Article: Aging Process is Similar to Replicating CDs: The Story of Telomeres 

The male fruit flies, perceiving the sexual pheromone but unable to mate, experienced

more stress and rapid decreases in fat stores and resistance to starvation. The sexually frustrated flies lived shorter lives. Mating, on the other hand, partially reversed the negative effects on health and aging.

So, let’s review:

Or fruit flies surrounded by untouchable mates!

Or fruit flies surrounded by untouchable mates!

Abstinence leads to stress, a skinny frame, a short life, and possible starvation.  Sex on the other hand leads to none of that and comes with a bonus pleasure surge. Tough choice.

Ladies and gentlemen, in conclusion, all of us are responsible for causing as little sexual frustration as possible. I’m glad that’s settled.

Another study using fruit flies found that in many instances, due to a toxin in the pheromone, just being around the opposite sex can cause a shortened lifespan in both sexes.  According to the study,

Their movements slowed, their bodies deteriorated, and their lifespans shortened by some 20 percent.

So what do sexual frustrations in  fruit fly studies have to with us genetically superior humans? Surprisingly, biological discoveries made in fruit flies carry over to other mammals like rodents and humans quite often. Scientists also use fruit flies because they only live for around 60 days. Due to their short lifespans scientists can view changes over hundreds of generations in a relatively short amount of time. Using the advantage of a short lifespan, scientists have even been able to view evolution take place before their eyes.

Related Article: The Loudest Penis on Earth

Sure, sex alone couldn’t make the fruit fly an immortal animal, but if a little love has even the slightest potential for extending our lives and keep us young, I say avoid unnecessary sexual frustration and find a friend to share some joy. Just be safe!

This study adds to the growing body of information concerned with finding a way to retain our youth into old age and extend our lives. It is a major human desire, ubiquitous across centuries of our past. The key could be anything, including technological advances, low-carb diets, fastingnuts, or the upcoming singularity. It’s time to add sex to that list and remove as much sexual frustration as possible.

I will live FOREVER!!!

I will live FOREVER!!!


Epigenetics: The Key to Overcoming Genetic Predisposition

epigenetic twins

No one can tell us apart in these disguises!

Despite epigenetics only recently gaining public awareness, it has been prevalent in society for some time. In the 1988 Hollywood classic Twins, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito star as fraternal twins Julius and Vincent Benedict. They are the result of a secret experiment carried out at a genetics laboratory to produce the perfect child. At the time the movie premiered, the idea of twins who have drastically different appearances was farfetched and absurdist. Fast forward twenty-five years, and you will see what once was considered Hollywood fiction, is now considered a scientific reality. This reality is described through epigenetics.

Related Article: The Aging Process, Story of Telomeres

Modern science now tells us that even if you start out as a Danny DeVito, you could end up as an Arnold Schwarzenegger, which is either an upgrade or a downgrade depending on your point of view. These new findings are brought to us by the revolutionary field of science known as epigenetics. Epigenetics is defined as the study of changes in gene expression caused by mechanisms other than changes in the underlying DNA structure. In other words, it is possible that environmental factors can alter the way our genes are expressed, making even identical twins look dramatically different.


The Epigenetic Process

epigenetic expression

Genetic expression is dynamic, not set in stone.

The key to understanding the basis of epigenetics is knowing that this field of study has emerged as a logical way to bridge the gap between nature and nurture. Epigenetics allows us to understand just how closely nature and nurture are linked and how this link affects us as individuals. In his book, The Biology of Belief, and Spontaneous Evolution, cellular biologist Dr. Bruce Lipton explains how emotions can regulate genetic expression. He says that,

Each cell membrane has receptors that pick up various environmental signals such as thoughts attitudes and perceptions.  Your cells can choose to read or not read specific genes depending on the signals being received from these environmental receptors.

Epigenetic science makes it possible for us to see that just because we are genetically programmed a certain way that does not mean our body will choose to run that genetic program. The environment we expose ourselves to and the lives that we lead determine gene expression and as a result, determine the people we become physically and emotionally. For example, my mom says I have her sparkling personality. I tell her that most people say I inherited her craziness. The epigenetic theory, however, says that prolonged exposure to my mom’s craziness could signal one of my genes to switch on or off, consequently altering that aspect of my personality. In addition, this “crazy trait” is now something I am more likely to pass onto my children.  To my future husband: my apologies.

Related Article: Watching Evolution Occur


The Effects of Epigenetic Gene Expression 

While all of us are equally susceptible to epigenetic change, twins who are not DeVito and Schwarzenegger can provide a unique perspective on physical change due to their identical DNA structure. In her essay, “Paramutation: From Maize to Mice”, Dr. Vicki Chandler explains the reason behind this saying,

Different cells in an organism express only the genes that are necessary for their own activity.

epigenetic grandkid dna

Smoking: so bad it will affect your grandkid’s DNA whether they are born or not.

So if each twin expresses only the genes necessary for their own activity, than the way each twin looks isn’t just based on their DNA sequence, but it is also based on how each one lives their life. This is how epigenetics reveal their effect. If you have one twin born and raised in the Austrian countryside that lives a healthy and active life, that twin will look different than the twin who moves away to dwell in the sewers of Gotham City.

Related Article: Kids May Have Three Biological Parents in the Future

In addition to twins, another way we can observe epigenetic change is through fossils. While there has been debate in the scientific community over the historical significance of epigenetic change, new evidence suggests that this process has been affecting physical development for longer than we thought.  According to Dr. Andrew Feinberg, Professor of Molecular Medicine at Johns Hopkins University,

DNA extracted from the bones of a 26,000 year old bison found in the Canadian arctic shows that the environment influenced the way the animal’s genes worked, even as far back as the ice age.

By making an organism more adaptable to environmental change, epigenetic factors play a crucial role in the process of natural selection. Since only the strong survive in the face of natural selection, we can rest assured that Arnold Schwarzenager and the fruits of his womb continue to thrive thanks to epigenetic changes in their DNA.

Related Article: Mothers Who Suffer Depression Have Shorter Kids

The field of epigenetics has the power to answer a lot of questions. It can tell us why we possess certain physical traits, certain aspects of our personality, and most importantly, how Arnold Schwarzenager was able to convincingly portray a pregnant man.


Epigenetics and Society 

Perhaps more important than appearance, personality, and pregnant men, is our susceptibility to factors that impact our health and behavior. Addiction, for example, can be exacerbated by epigenetic changes. According to William Renthal and Eric Nestler in their article “Epigenetic Mechanisms in Drug Addiction” published in the Journal of Trends in Molecular Medicine,

Epigenetic modifications have been observed in the studies of alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, amphetamines, and opiate use. These modifications increase the vulnerability of an individual to engage in repeated substance use. Increased substance use results in even greater epigenetic changes in the brain’s pleasure-reward areas.

epigenetic code

You were 1 epigenetic switch away from eating at McDonalds!

Pleasure-reward areas are part of what launch us into the vicious cycle of addiction, and what keep us addicted until we realize we need help. This information is important because epigenetic changes can be inherited. As a result, children could be more inclined to participate in the same risky behavior as their parents. It should be noted, however, that these effects are reversible. Epigenetic changes are a response to a stressful environment, and if that environmental stress is eliminated, then over time the DNA code will return to its original state. This means that even though my mom is a little crazy and getting crazier all of the time, that doesn’t mean I’m going to be crazy, too! On second thought, maybe I am overestimating the power of epigenetics.

Related Article: Tetrachromacy, Supervision Genes

The media isn’t done with epigenetics by the way. Last April, news broke that Universal Pictures is planning a sequel to the movie Twins. The sequel, which will be called Triplets, will revolve around DeVito and Schwarzenegger discovering that they have another long lost brother, who is set to be played by…Eddie Murphy. While this is a bit of a stretch in regards to how drastic of an effect environmental factors have on gene expression, it is clear that the field of epigenetics is set to have a major impact on our bodies and how we understand them.

Now that we have this information about epigenetics, I think I am going to go home and be nicer to my mom. You never know when your DNA will decide there is such a thing as Karma and bring a whole new meaning to the phrase, “like mother, like daughter!”



Mars, The First Frontier?!

In science news lately there has been quite a bustle about life on Mars. Not now, or rather, not about there being life on Mars right now, but about the likelihood of life on Earth originating from Mars. That’s right, our red brother could be responsible for the habitability of our mother Earth.

According to biochemist Steven Benner of the Westheimer Institute for Science and Technology in Florida, life came from a meteorite that originated from Mars. In essence, Mars has been deemed our creator. Let’s be serious for a second though, this is quite a discovery. Benner says that Earth was originally completely covered in water and that there was no room for life because of the corrosive effect water has on RNA. Why RNA you say? Without RNA there is no DNA and thus no life. So this meteorite, whether sent intentionally or sent due to a cataclysm on Mars, carried some RNA that helped spawn life on Earth. A little far-fetched, yet not all too unrealistic. To skeptics and critics Benner simply says:

Related Article: Sign Me Up For Mars!

It’s lucky that we ended up here nevertheless, as certainly Earth has been the better of the two planets for sustaining life, if our hypothetical Martian ancestors had remained on Mars, there might not have been a story to tell.

Now whether you are religious or you are completely for science in the explanation of human evolution/creation, this article still pertains to you! Is it so impossible to believe that maybe, just maybe we were created on Mars? That Mars, like Krypton, was in a state of panic and they sent out a ship to Earth to inhabit it? Or maybe we were expanding to Earth and some catastrophic events lead to the annihilation of life on Mars? Let us think about human history for a little; world wars, greed, power, resources, gain, want. We want and want and keep wanting, it is in our nature, and because of our wants and needs we destroy not only ourselves but everyone around us. Who says we aren’t just repeating some ancient history of ours that was completely forgotten due to complete, well almost complete, annihilation?

Related Article: Imminent Western Intervention in Syria

Whew. Tangent. Anyway, you get the idea. For all the time Earth has been around and our universe has been around, we shouldn’t get conceded with the idea that our four thousand years of recorded history is all the life our universe has to offer. Open your minds, there is definitely life somewhere out there. In that ever expanding universe, somewhere, someone, or something, is waiting. Cheers to intelligent life!

Related Article: Life, It’s All Over the Place



Wikipedia: Steven Benner

Science Now: Earth Life Likely Came from Mars, Study Suggests

Wikipedia: Krypton

The Fall of Atlantis

Wondergressive: Sign Me Up For Mars!

Wondergressive: Imminent Western Intervention in Syria

Animals Evolve Too Slowly, Climate Change Too Fast


A new study on climate change and evolution shows that climate change is happening so fast that many vertebrate species can’t evolve fast enough to keep up with the pace. They would have to evolve ten thousand times faster than they currently are to keep up with the climate change that is expected for the next hundred years.

The study compared the past rates of adaptation to the modern rates of climate change.  Scientists analyzed 540 vertebrate species and the speed of their adaptation to climate change in the past. This included amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. The study concluded that land based vertebrates do not evolve anywhere near fast enough to adapt to the new trends of climate change, resulting in possible extinction if they are not able to migrate, acclimate, and eventually evolve. Each species has their own comfort zone when speaking about temperature, climate and environment, which is why you won’t see penguins in the Amazon or monkeys in Antarctica.

Related Article: Ask an Astrobiologist: Global Warming, and What to Expect

According to Wiens, who conducted the research along with another postgraduate research assistant at Yale University, findings show that on average, species evolve and adapt to climate changes at a rate of about 1 degree Celsius per million years. However, if the International Panel of Climate Change is correct and we should expect a rise of 4 degrees in the next hundred years, a vast number of species won’t be able to evolve quickly enough.

frog evolve climate

This little guy’s species can’t evolve fast enough to stick around.

These conclusions came from studying evolutionary family trees of vertebrates that show how species relate to each other through DNA. The data gathered from the trees was then compared with the data on the climatic niche of each species. This allowed the scientists to evaluate at what pace the species changed in their given climatic niche. Most sister species evolved to live in habitats whose temperature difference was just 1-2 degrees Celsius over the course of one to a few million years.

Related Article: Germany Sets Example for Global Climate Battle

Overall, most of the vertebrate groups contain some species that will be potentially endangered. It does’t have to be all that bad though. Species can acclimate but not truly evolve, or they could migrate to their preferred climate. Unfortunately, for some species this is not an option as they move very slowly or are required to go through habitats that are heavily influenced by humans.

It should be noted that most extinction cases are not a direct effect of the physiological burden of climate change, rather the changes in interaction with other species, as well as their food availability. For example, if an area experiences serious droughts and plants cannot grow causing low food availability for those animals, it would ultimately result in their migration or demise.

Although all life can evolve to meet the demands of a new environment, a necessary ingredient to evolution is time, something the world does not have.


Wondergressive: Ask an Astrobiologist

Wondergressive: Germany Sets Example

Immortality Formula: YOLF

Predicting the future is hard. At least that’s what Nostradamus tells me every time I’m on mescaline. But, damn it, if Ed McMann can do it, we might as well take a swing here at Wondergressive.

According to the calendar, it’s been 2013 for a little while now, and that means it’s probably safe to say we didn’t all explode in boiling hellfire at the end of 2012. It’s unfortunate, because, of all the dooms-day prophecies floating around, that Mayan prediction was especially promising. That means, though, if ever there was a time to plan for the future, it’s today.

While advancements in technology and medicine grow all the more futuristic with each passing moment and the internet is busy coalescing our collective hive unconscious into an unprecedented uber-mind, we wander ever closer to the upcoming singularity we’re so looking forward to. All these massive paradigm shifts coming at us exponentially quicker let us say one thing at least with near certainty:  “This is the era where man will possess immortality.”

It may come in the form of implanting our sentience into cyborgs, imprinting clones with a map of the alpha version’s memories, or just extending our stays on this plane to 6 or 700 years via sea turtle style metabolism manipulation. However events may unfold, Carpe Diem has never before been so pertinent.  (If immortality’s too big of a leap, just follow some of the previous links and see what we mean.)

So in the spirit of having oodles of time to do whatever the hell you want, we present you with part one of Qwizx’s guide to surfing oblivion.

Step 1: Shifting Perspectives (Introduction to the Avatar mindset)

Just change your mind a bit. The tools have been laid out already for those in the mood to adapt rather than shunt the burden off onto the next generation. Let’s take a moment and let some of the implications of prolonged life settle in…The ritual goes: same window, different visuals…

Instead of renting, or mooching off the parents, as immortals, we now own the property. Every perk and burden that comes with that. Global warming something you’re concerned about? You personally will be here in a few thousand years to experience the fall out. Think the country’s going to shit? You, yourself, will be witnessing the rise and fall of empires and shift of power regimes. Want to own your own continent? Spend a few hundred years amassing a fortune and learning all the skills you’ll need to rise to the top and control the ignorant populace. Want to topple a violent dictator?  Same thing, control the ignorant populace. The point is, you will have the time, so anything conceivable is not only within your grasp, it’s your responsibility to foresee. Congratulations, us.

Just pretend you know with certainty that you and all those you love will live forever, then jot it down.

I understand this has just been a tease, a bit of intellectual foreplay to ponder, but I hope you’re as titillated as I am. Over the next few weeks we’ll be covering a whole range of lessons for the up and coming demi-god, from the 10,000 hour mastery law to do-it-yourself propaganda to Napoleon Hill’s formula for becoming the next Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

In any case, let’s not waste the next millennia on boredom.



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The Evolutionary Leaps of Snails

Leaps in evolutionary development have often befuddled scientists in their goal towards discovering the answer to every last question. Though they have been extremely successful in answering those last questions, certain scientists struggle with some of the first questions: “Where did I leave my car keys?”, “Why is the ceiling above my bed different?”, and “what does love got to do, got to do with it?”

This time the folks over at the University of Tübingen in Germany dared to ask a question that lie hidden somewhere deep in between: What happens when we leave a little bit of platinum in a petri dish with a little bit of baby snails? The answer is definitely one shell off of a slug.

Snails are tiny slimey creatures. They are best recognized from their characteristic shells, strange ability to stick to anything, and the questionable ooze that they leave in their wake. The much more agile Slug, a relative in the incredibly large Gastropada family, is similar to the snail in many aspects with the main exception being it’s incredible lack of a Nautilis ShellMollusk

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Molusca
Class: Gastropada

Terrestrial gastropod mollusks are an extremely diverse grouping of animals. There is an incredible amount of different species all under the same classification. From the extremely tiny Daphniola eptalophos to the alarmingly large Giant African Land Snail (ALGALS). The ALGALS ranks in as one of Indiana’s “Most Unwanted Invasive Plant Pests.” Native Indiana-ites be wary of roaming hypnotoads!

The Giant African Land Snail is an unwanted visitor to the United States. Although it has been traded at flea markets and kept as a pet, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has never issued a permit to import the snails. All of the snails in the U.S. are here illegally.

Yikes. Almost as big as those Australian Golden Silk Orb Weavers. Golden Silk Orb Weavers are strangely famous in the creative community as they are incredibly adept at being used as a segue for others who have ridden the stream of  consciousness thought wave too far.

So what about that study involving Platinum and Snails? Were they making a new marvel character or what? 

Scientists reared Marisa snails, best known for cleaning up algae and other debris in home aquariums, in petri dishes containing varying concentrations of platinum. At certain exposures, all of the roughly 80 percent of snails that survived were shell-less

So the shell finally comes off but why does this even matter? Well it just so happens that a snail with out a shell is just a slug. Just a slug-that is- that evolved in one generation. One single generation. This sort of single generation evolution has likely happened multiple times in the Gastropada family.

So you had better be careful with your salt shakers or this conversation will get a bit bubbly.


Los caracole

Other Wondergressive Nature:

Dolphins Exhibit Unending Compassion
Belly Buttons: Bacteria Wonderland!

Modern Languages May Share Common, Ancient Ancestor

Reporting in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers claim to have found 23 words that they believe date back as far as 15,000 years. The words are still reflected in seven linguistic families that span from Europe to Asia, and may support the idea of a “proto-Eurasiatic” language from which almost all modern languages derive.

Several mainstays of language predictably make the list, however, there are a couple of surprises. The whole list:

thou, I, not, that, we, to give, who, this, what, man/male, ye, old, mother, to hear, hand, fire, to pull, black, to flow, bark, ashes, to spit, worm

The seven language families studied were: Indo-European (European languages, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Punjabi); Altaic (Turkish, Uzbek, Mongolian); Chukchi-Kamchatkan (northeast Siberia); Dravidian (south Indian languages); Inuit-Yupik (Arctic languages); Kartvelian (Georgian) and Uralic (Finnish, Hungarian). In the map below, the different colors show the distribution of these families. These families, however, do not account for every language in the world, notably Chinese and Japanese. Several African families and the aboriginal languages of Australia and the Americas are also not represented.

The research was headed by Mark Pagel of the University of Reading’s School of Biological Sciences. He and his fellow researchers sifted through the modern lexicon and came up with 200 words that they agreed were shared by European and Asian languages. They eventually narrowed this list down into 23 root words that they found were fairly universal in sound and in meaning across modern languages.

Linguists have calculated the rate at which words are replaced in a language, in essence, how long words tend to exist before becoming extinct. By seeing what words are shared between the modern languages families and knowing roughly when those languages split, Pagel and his team worked backwards and estimated how long these proto-Eurasiatic words have existed.

The Washington Post has a really nifty tool where you can access audio readings of some of the root words and see how they sound alike…or not. Some take quite a bit of imagination to hear the link between them. It took me several listens to connect the dots, and in some instances it was difficult to imagine that there could possibly be any dots to connect at all.

Not everyone is convinced with the new study. Languages evolve and experience “weathering,” a sort of lingual erosion that constantly chips away old words as new ones are added to the vocabulary. Most researchers think that words can’t survive more than 9,000 years because of the effects of weathering. William Croft, a linguistics professor at the University of New Mexico says that the scientific community is “pessimistic” that these words could be 150 centuries old. He adds that “they basically think there’s too little evidence to even propose a [language] family like Eurasiatic.”

I am enamored with the idea that this research posits, that we can accurately trace the roots of modern languages to back before the advent of agriculture during the last Ice Age. However, I sadly think that it’s nothing more than an appealing narrative, a romantic notion of language and how we originated. Without any hard evidence it’s impossible to verify this theory, and none can possibly exist because written language wasn’t invented until  some 10,000 years after the supposed genesis of these 23 words.

Like Pagel and his team, journalists have also become intoxicated with wishful thinking. Discovery News reports:

What this means is that if an Ice Age person from 15,000 years ago could hear you speak today, he or she could probably understand you, so long as you used these handful of words.

People in Britain are often incapable of understanding each other due to their different accents. And they speak the same language. On the same tiny island, in the same point in time. And yet a person from the Ice Age could probably understand me if I used only these mostly monosyllabic words? The conductor booms out “All aboard!” to the Bullshit Express.

I find this linguistic theory to be an interesting possibility, though one that is completely unfalsifiable and impossible to measure. Although I’m profoundly skeptical of its validity, I think Pagel’s conclusion makes for a supremely fun coffee table topic of conversation, but barring further breakthroughs I’m afraid that’s all this study can be.


Further Reading:

Ultraconserved words point to deep language ancestry across Eurasia

15,000-Year-Old Words?

Linguists identify 15,000-year-old ‘ultraconserved words’

Interactive Washington Post Feature

Evolutionary Tooth Decay

Dentists have been around for thousands of years, presumably one of the oldest professions. They are also the most questioned and the most avoided by people because of their grueling and painful procedures. Well not really anymore; one quick tingly shot and you feel virtually nothing during a root canal or a filling of a tooth. However, if we floss daily and brush twice a day then we can avoid dentists altogether, or so I have been informed. There is also the saying that goes: an apple a day keeps the dentist away, supposedly by the exercise it causes for the jaw during the chewing motion and for the natural sugar substitute over candy. But could the crunchy apples also be better for your teeth than the mushy apples? Could it be that our comfort foods such as mashed potatoes and gravy drowned meatloaf (mmmm… meatloaf) are the cause of our teeth slowly decaying over time?

According to a new study, our light and mushy food may be causing a higher wear and tear on our teeth than our prehistoric counterparts’ diets! The study finds that through testing different artificially created teeth, food that is crunchier, like nuts, grains, and seeds, actually causes less stress on our molars, causing a lighter load on the teeth than softer foods. Does this have anything to do with our ancestors and how their diets were composed of raw foods and crunchy nuts?

The morphology of the crown might have been selected to maintain chewing efficiency throughout the life of the individual as the tooth wear increases

If our teeth evolved to complement harder foods, then by using them less on harder food and more on softer mushy food (yes the mushy-ness is beginning to gross me out too) have we perhaps doomed ourselves to an evolutionary decay in our teeth?

Ironically, it seems the lack of physiological wear may in fact lead to pathological conditions

Oh well, at least I can still eat my spinach salads with nuts to offset the, yes here it is again, mushy-ness of the spinach with a nice added salty CRUNCH! 



Evolutionary Paradox of Tooth Wear

Wondergressive: Dentistry

Wondergressive: Obese? Fatty Liver?


Homer Simpson says