Showing posts from January, 2014

Are We Hard-wired to Believe in Immortality? Science Suggests, Yes

I came across this study four days ago, and haven't posted it because it really surprised me, and I wanted to think it through a little.  In short, this innovative research finds that our brains appear to be hardwired to believe in life before birth and after death.  Not based on evidence or religious belief, mind you.  But an intuition present in the youngest of us, children.

I like to think I'm rational, but. . .
For years I scoffed at stories friends told of seeing ghosts, until I had two experiences with something that made me wonder what I had plainly seen and heard.I've always thought ESP and precognitive recognition where, well, questionable at best.  Until, I had several experiences that shook my skepticism.These experiences haven't changed my thinking as much as opened me up to other possibilities or explanations.  To at least consider them.

After all, physicists and mathematicians tell us there is convincing evidence that there are eleven dimensions to our unive…

Nightmares Create Feelings of Sadness, Confusion, Guilt, and Disgust ~ Not Fear

According to a new study by researchers at the University of Montreal, nightmares have greater emotional impact than bad dreams do, and fear is not always a factor. In fact, it is mostly absent in bad dreams and in a third of nightmares. What is felt, instead, is sadness, confusion, guilt, disgust, etc. For their analysis of 253 nightmares and 431 bad dreams, researchers obtained the narratives of nearly 10,000 dreams.

"Physical aggression is the most frequently reported theme in nightmares. Moreover, nightmares become so intense they will wake you up. Bad dreams, on the other hand, are especially haunted by interpersonal conflicts," write Geneviève Robert and Antonio Zadra, psychology researchers at the Université de Montréal, in the last issue of Sleep.

"Death, health concerns and threats are common themes in nightmares," says Geneviève Robert, first author of the article, which formed part of her doctoral thesis. "But it would be wrong to think that they ch…

How Our Stone Age Ancestors Lived & Hid

No, I'm not obsessing about our human ancestors.  Reading the scientific press I've notice that stories seem to run in cycles, and for the last few days most of the research reports that a writer might find interesting have been about our most ancient ancestors.

To see or to be seen?

This is the question that humans inhabiting the Cantabrian coast of Spain during the Palaeolithic era had to ask themselves.

"We discovered that the nomad hunters and gatherers that inhabited these lands between 17,000 and 10,700 years ago swapped caves and refuges in the middle of hillsides or at high altitude for others in the depths of valleys and at the bottom of hills," explains Alejandro García Moreno from the University of Cantabria, the main author of the study.

The oldest sites tend to be located on conical mountains, such as El Castillo in Cantabria and Santimamiñe in Biscay. They stand out in the scenery; in other words, not only do they offer a good vantage point, but they ar…

The Quest for Fire, Revisited

Humans, by most estimates, first used fire over a million years ago*. But when did we really begin to control fire and use it for their daily needs? That question -- one which is central to the subject of the rise of human culture -- is still hotly debated.

A team of Israeli scientists recently discovered in the Qesem Cave, an archaeological site near present-day Rosh Ha'ayin, the earliest evidence -- dating to around 300,000 years ago -- of unequivocal repeated fire building over a continuous period. These findings not only help answer the question, they hint that those prehistoric humans already had a highly advanced social structure and intellectual capacity.

Excavations in Qesem Cave have been ongoing since 2000. The team is headed by Profs. Avi Gopher and Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University. Dr. Ruth Shahack-Gross of the Kimmel Center for Archeological Science at the Weizmann Institute has been involved in this archaeological research since excavations began, and she collects s…

Dear Jean Auel: Ayla and Jondular had blue eyes, but were black

January 26, 2014Dear Ms. Auel:We all know what a stickler you are for thorough and accurate research, so I think it appropriate to drop you a (public) note about new research out of Spain that concludes:  7,000 Years Ago European hunter-gatherers had Blue Eyes but Dark Skin.So the Cro-Magnon characters in your series, Earth's Children, which is set 25,000 years ago, may have had blue eyes, but today, they would probably be described as black as the DNA that controls color of their skin is African.  Not to say that this changes anything but the descriptions of the Cro-Magnon folks, a minor point really.Who knows what color the Neandertals were.  Probably black as well, but until this is proved, we can only speculate.  I enjoy your books and marvel at the detail while you carried on an interesting story line.Just thought you'd want to know.



La Braña 1, the name given a 7,000 years old individual from the Mesolithic, whose remains were recovered at La Braña-Arinter…

The Last Meal Test of Innocence

Those who deny guilt are 2.7 times more likely to decline a last meal than those who admit guilt. Can last meals reveal more about individuals on death row than their taste preference? Some have argued there is significance embedded in death row last meal decisions. Famously, Ricky Ray Rector asked to save his untouched pecan pie for after his execution. This request sparked significant discussion about Rector's competency -- on the basis of his food request.

Similarly, in a documentary film about last suppers, Swedish artists Bigert and Bergstrom claimed a connection between whether or not an individual chooses to have a last meal and his or her guilt. In each case, there is an assertion that last meals are relevant to the legitimacy of an execution. It is these signals that Cornell University researcher Kevin Kniffin examined in this self-funded study. In particular, he studied whether an individual who has accepted guilt -- by apologizing or confessing -- is more likely to indu…

A Step Toward Understanding Arabic Language and Culture

Is the English term alcohol and and the Arabic word kohl related? Yes.  Our word is a direct adoption from the Arabic al-kuhl.  Now a major project is underway to create an etymology of the language.As a reader I've noticed a change in where many popular works are set - you've probably seen this as well.  Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the growth of terrorist groups, more and more western literature takes place in the Arabic speaking world.  I've often wondered how much many of these authors actually know about that part of the world. A key to understanding any culture is to study the language, something difficult at best since, unlike English and many other world-wide languages, there is no standard etymology of  Arabic, no single source one could visit for definitions and history of the language.  That is now changing.  More below:

The culture and history of Arabic speakers are hidden in their words.

Arabic is one of the world's most widely spoken languages, w…

Men MUCH More Forgetful Than Women. Much, much more.

Men forgetting anniversaries or birth dates is a cliché of cliché's in life as in fiction.  Unlike many givens based on common experience, this tendency is now validated by research out of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.  To put it in simplest terms, whether due to hereditary or enculturation, men are far more forgetful than women.  Much more forgetful.  Much, much more.  All  men.  Across the board.

This explains why we men can never find our keys.  It's a wonder that we can find our way home after work.  Yet I can tell you who threw the key block on Cowboy's defensive tackle Jethro Pugh that sprang Packer quarterback Bart Starr for the winning touchdown in the historic 1966 Ice Bowl football game.  Center Kenny Bowman and right guard Jerry Kramer.  Go figure.  Where are my car keys?  Another question.

What were we talking about?  


Forgetfulness in men.  Here's the research report:

If your husband is absent-minded, forgets your wedding anniver…

True Crime: Who Died in 1930's Blazing Car Murder?

When Dorothy Sayers wrote the Lord Peter story, "In the Teeth of Evidence," published in 1939, she used a similar plot, which, of course, Lord Peter solves with the help of dental records, a fairly new technique at the time.  This real mystery has lingered for 83 years.  Not of who committed the crime, but who the victim was.  This report details the latest, published January 20th.
*  *  *  *  *
A forensic team from the University of Leicester and Northumbria University has spearheaded an investigation to try and identify the victim of a gruesome murder case from 1930.

Results from DNA analysis have confirmed that William Briggs, a man who disappeared at around the same time that the crime was committed, has been excluded as the victim of the 'Blazing Car Murder'.

In addition, the results show that the DNA from the tissue sample is that of an uncontaminated profile, opening the possibility that a match could still be identified.

A team from the University of Leicester…

To Cut Teen Smoking, Rate Films with Smoking R

Investigators show that adolescent smoking would be reduced by 18 percent if smoking in PG-13 movies is eliminated. I can hear some of my screenwriter friends responding, "but smoking is a part of this character.  It shows this, that and the other thing about. . ."

That may be true.  But as authors and screenwriters, don't we also have some social responsibility for how we frame our characters and the actions we have them take?  I could take the stance that if you don't how to make a character or your story interesting without stooping to violence, drinking, drugging, and smoking, how good a writer are you?  These are unnatural activities that project a wrong message. (Relationships, including sex, are natural, and are fair game for exploration.)

Here's the story
The connection between smoking in films and its influence on adolescent behavior is well established by research and its impact was listed today in consumer materials accompanying the Surgeon General'…

How to Tell if the Magazine You Write for can Survive Digital Competition

Much has been written about the competition between print and digital media, and how difficult it is for magazines to compete and even survive.

As it is work, often a lot of work, to find a magazine that will print your fiction, non-fiction or poetry, wouldn't it be nice if you, the writer, had a simple way to judge whether a print magazine will survive?

Look for print magazines with companion websites
New research from the University of Toronto Scarborough offers just such a method.  As researchers conclude, there is a ray of hope for magazines that do it right. While print media continue to suffer at the hands of their online counterparts, researchers conclude that print magazines with companion websites are able to attract more advertising dollars.

"Targeting is as important as ever," says Ambarish Chandra, Assistant Professor at UTSC's Department of Management. In a study of magazines in Germany, Prof. Chandra and Prof. Ulrich Kaiser of the University of Zurich f…

The Potential Upside of Drones

In the not too distant future you may hear the hum of a drone's rotors as it descends upon you and be filled with a sense of relief, not panic.

After all, it's coming to save you, not harm you.

Research at the University of Cincinnati could soon enable unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) -- similar to U.S. military drones patrolling the skies of Afghanistan -- to track down missing persons on search-and-rescue missions, to penetrate curtains of smoke during wildfire suppression or possibly even to navigate urban landscapes on delivery runs for online retailers like Amazon. And it all could be done autonomously with a human acting only as a supervisor.

"Drones have gotten a very bad rap for various reasons," says Kelly Cohen, associate professor of aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics at UC. "But our students see that unmanned systems can have a positive impact on society."

In this study, researchers used special software to develop an autopilot for a…

Kill One or Kill Five? How People Respond to Moral Dilemmas

The brakes of your car fail suddenly and on your path are five people who will certainly be hit and killed. You can steer, but if you do another pedestrian will find himself on your course. Just one. What do you do: do you take action and kill one person or do you do nothing and cause five people to die?

This is an example of a "moral dilemma," the type of problem cognitive psychologists use for studying the cerebral foundations of moral behavior. Obviously, such experiments can only be conducted in a hypothetical manner, and not "in the field," but could this limitation have led cognitive psychologists to incorrect theoretical interpretations? An alternative to "real" reality is virtual reality: a group of researchers has carried out experiments involving virtual reality and found that human behavior might be very different from what is seen in conventional tests relying on moral dilemmas.

In fact, with virtual reality the subjects' behavior appears…

Writing Crime Fiction: How Visiting High Crime Neighborhood Effects People

"A very short visit to (a high crime) neighborhood appeared to have much the same effects on trust and paranoia as long-term residence there."
In real life, members of the police such as detectives and other people who visit high crime neighborhoods on a regular basis seem more cynical and even a little paranoid compared to those of us who rarely enter the seedier parts of our cities, a fact mirrored in fiction and film.

Now research in the UK demonstrates that anyone spending as little as 45 minutes in a high-crime, deprived neighborhood has measurable effects on people's trust in others and their feelings of paranoia.  If anyone's attitudes can change with as little as 45 minutes exposure, then the effect on regular visitors will be greater.

Researchers in the UK studied two neighborhoods of the same city only a few kilometres apart, one economically deprived and relatively high in crime, and the other affluent and relatively low in crime. They initially surveyed …

Are We Addicted to Our Cell Phones?

Cell phone and instant messaging addictions are driven by materialism and impulsiveness and can be compared to consumption pathologies like compulsive buying and credit card misuse, experts say
Wow, really?  Have we become addicted to our cell phones?  Can it really be?  Oops, gotta a call coming in.  Just a moment. . .

Okay,  Just a friend asking what I'm doing right now.

Where were we?  Oh, cell phone addiction.  According to a 2012 study out of Baylor University, we are and more to the point, this is driven by "materialism and impulsiveness."

Worse yet, this addiction can be "compared to pathologies like compulsive buying and credit card misuse."  Pathologies.  Whoof.

"Cell phones are a part of our consumer culture," said study author James Roberts, Ph.D., professor of marketing and the Ben H. Williams Professor of Marketing at Baylor's Hankamer School of Business. "They are not just a consumer tool, but are used as a status symbol. They…

The Day of the Cyborg is Here. Be Afraid?

"What Hath Man Wrought?" is the question of the moment, based on the message Samuel F.B. Morse sent to his assistant, "What hath God wrought?" a phrase he sourced from the Christian Bible,  (Numbers 23:23).

According to a newly published review of the scientific literature, researchers from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany conclude that the day of the cyborg is upon us, a day long predicted by novelists and scriptwriters.  Is it to be as some predict, a disaster?  Or a boon?

Cyborgs range from medical implants, complex interfaces between brain and machine to remotely controlled insects: Recent developments combining machines and organisms have great potentials, but also give rise to major ethical concerns. In a new review, KIT scientists discuss the state of the art of research, opportunities, and risks.

Cyborgs that combine technical systems with living organisms are reality
They are known from science fiction novels and films -- technically …