Summary of “There May Be a Biological Reason Why You Can’t Give Up on a Difficult Task”

In the 2018 paper, a team of University of Minnesota researchers show that the more time humans, rats, and mice sink into a task without receiving a reward, the harder they’ll stick with it.
The idea of a sunk cost cognitive bias in humans is old news, but the fact that it shows up elsewhere in the animal kingdom is a big deal because it suggests that our irrationality could be the result of a decision-making system that humans share with rats and mice.
In each chamber, there was an “Offer zone,” in which the mouse or rat would hear a fixed-pitch tone that indicated how long they would have to wait for a reward, which could range from one to 30 seconds.
They could leave at any point during the waiting period, which would end the trial and give them a chance to check out another chamber.
The longer the mice and rats spent in the “Wait” zone in Restaurant Row, the more likely they were to stick it out for the entire wait period.
Despite the ticking clock, the longer the rats and mice spent in the wait zone, the more likely they were to stay there until they got their reward.
Importantly, the researchers note that the countdown didn’t begin until the rodents moved from the offer zone to the wait zone.
Sure enough, the humans showed the same pattern as the mice and rats: The longer they waited for the video to load, the more likely they were to wait the full time and watch it.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Why don’t rats get the same ethical protections as primates?”

Follow-up studies found that rats would press a lever to lower a rat who was suspended from a harness; that they would refuse to walk down a path in a maze if it resulted in a shock delivered to another rat; and that rats who had been shocked themselves were less likely to allow other rats to be shocked, having been through the discomfort themselves.
In 2011, the issue of rats’ empathy resurfaced when a group of scientists found that rats will reliably free other rats who are trapped inside a tube.
The results of these studies are compelling, but they don’t show us much more than what we already suspected from the work done in the 1950s and ’60s – that rats are empathic; meanwhile, the studies have inflicted, and continue to inflict, significant fear and distress on the rats.
A recent article in the online magazine The Conversation raised the concern that rat-population management strategies might be unintentionally creating rats that are extremely fit or unusually prone to disease, but the logic was purely anthropocentric – the worry was that we might be creating rats that are even more dangerous and difficult to eliminate.
Rats need an ambassador, a Jane Goodall figure who can present rats as individuals.
Perhaps what rats need is an ambassador, a Jane Goodall figure who can tell the stories of their lives, and present rats as individuals, rather than as the referent of a generic-count noun.
‘ The rats are hand-raised by humans from infancy and trained to expect a treat when they smell TNT. The African giant pouched rats that APOPO works with are too light to set off the landmines, and they have suffered no losses in their work.
While the free use of rats in research might be less ethically controversial than the use of primates – given the relative lack of rat ambassadors – it is not more ethically justifiable.

The orginal article.

Summary of “The Unnatural Ethics of AI Could Be Its Undoing”

If you’ve ever taken an undergraduate philosophy class, or just seen enough episodes of The Good Place, you’ll almost certainly be familiar with the ‘Trolley Problem:’ the classic dilemma in which you must ask yourself, in a split-second situation, should you, the station master, allow a runaway train to kill five people – or is it better to switch the tracks, intentionally killing one? Typical classes on the Trolley Problem gauge students’ intuitions about what would be the ethically right thing to do in a bunch of different scenarios – for instance where the one person who would die is young and the five people are old, or the one person who would die is a “Very fat man” who you have to push off a bridge to stop the train.
The article came to a lot of people’s attention as the result of an utterly chilling chart, shared in a tweet by the World Economic Forum.
The Nature article doesn’t actually argue that self-driving cars should be encoded solely with the moral intuitions of the people who’ve answered the quiz, just that these intuitions should be taken into account.
People favor the “Athletic” over the “Large”; high-status individuals over the homeless.
Just how exactly is an AI supposed to recognize a “Criminal” anyway? Eye mask, stripey top, big bag with a dollar sign on it? Would it be surprising if the algorithm ended up falling back on, you know, racism? Will black people have to walk everywhere with strollers to avoid self-driving cars trying to ram into them deliberately?
Clearly the tech industry, the sources of which continue to dominate coverage of AI, wants people think that AI is going to turn out to be a brilliant solution for all sorts of problems, from drug discovery to the provision of coffee.
This optimism is even echoed by some people on the political left: see the utopian vision of “Fully automated luxury communism” in which AI technology allows us to almost completely eliminate labor.
If all six people worked together to switch off the AI, then perhaps none of them would need to die after all.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Scientists Reveal the Number of Times You’re Actually Conscious Each Minute”

Both 2018 studies – one on humans by a team at the University of California Berkeley, and another on macaques done by scientists at Princeton University – sought to pin down how many times the human brain oscillates in and out of focus per minute.
Four times every second, explains Princeton Neuroscience Institute Ian Fiebelkorn, Ph.D., to Inverse, the brain stops focusing on the task at hand.
“We focus in bursts, and between those bursts we have these periods of distractibility, that’s when the brain seems to check in on the rest of the environment outside to see if there’s something important going on elsewhere. These rhythms are affecting our behavior all the time.”
The scene presents far more sensory information than one human brain is capable of sorting through, and so, the brain deals with all of the information in two ways.
The teams behind both studies analyzed data from both human and macaque brains during a series of tasks to understand how the brain stitches together a coherent narrative when it’s only got snapshots to work with.
About four times every second, the brain stops taking snapshots of individual points of focus – like your friend on the corner in Times Square – and collects background information about the environment.
Without you knowing it, the brain absorbs the sound of the crowd, the feeling of the freezing December air – which it later uses to stitch together a narrative of the complete Times Square Experience.
The brain’s natural tendency to “Zoom out” and become distracted by the environment, even for just a few milliseconds, could have allowed them the time to detect the presence of a threat and react accordingly.

The orginal article.

Summary of “The Case For Leaving City Rats Alone”

Prior to Himsworth’s work the sum total knowledge of Canada’s wild rats could be boiled down to a single study of 43 rats living in a landfill in nearby Richmond in 1984.
In terms of the bare necessities, “Rats need only a place to build a burrow, access to fresh drinking water, and around 50 grams of moderately calorie-rich food each day,” according to Matthew Combs, a doctoral student at Fordham University who is studying the genetic history of rats in New York City.
Even in the still-remote mountain habitats of New Guinea, says Aplin, “You tend to find rats living in landslides or along creek systems where natural disturbance is going on.” Walk into a lush, primary, intact forest, “And they’re pretty rare.” It’s not that rats have become parasitic to human cities; it’s more correct to say they have become parasitic to the disturbance, waste, construction, and destruction that we humans have long produced.
Rats live in tight-knit family groups that are confined to single city blocks, and which rarely interact.
Exotic rats can be more of a threat than those adapted to the region because each rat community evolves with its own suite of unique pathogens, which it shares with the other vertebrates in its ecosystem.
If the local rat population is suppressed, if you’re actively getting rid of it, then you’re also actively opening up niches for these foreign rats to enter.
Traveling Rats: International trade brings new rats with exotic diseases to port cities such as Vancouver.
In one of Himsworth’s earlier studies, she found mites on the ears of rats that live by the port and compared them to rats that take up residence around V6A. Port rats had malformed ears full of a strange breed of mite previously unknown to Canada-“an exotic species that’s found in Asia,” Himsworth says, which happens to be where Vancouver gets the majority of its imports.

The orginal article.

Summary of “We Are Nowhere Close to the Limits of Athletic Performance”

Athletic performance follows a normal distribution, like many other quantities in nature.
Doping is enough to win any given competition, but it does not stand up against the long-term trend of improving performance that is driven, in part, by genetic outliers.
Because complex traits are controlled by so many variants, we know that there is a huge pool of untapped potential that no human-not Shaq, Bolt, or anyone else-has come close to exhausting.
No living human has anywhere near all of the possible positive versions of the relevant genetic variants.
Its approach has been to passively wait for random recombinations to produce those variants, and hope that athletic programs find the best individuals.
As our understanding of complex traits improves, genetic engineers will be able to modify strength, size, explosiveness, endurance, quickness, speed, and even the determination and drive required for extensive athletic training.
Individual choices by parents are likely to increase the overall frequency in the general population of variants that boost athletic ability.
Human athletic ability might follow a similar trajectory.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Are Humans the Only Musical Species?”

Charles Darwin assumed that all animals can detect and appreciate melody and rhythm simply because they have a nervous system comparable to that of humans.
My journey began in 2009 when, together with a group of Hungarian researchers, I discovered that human infants have beat perception, a prerequisite for being able to dance or make music together.
After more than a year of setbacks and new insights, we had had to conclude that rhesus macaques do not have beat perception.
Primatologist Yuko Hattori’s initial findings suggested that chimpanzees have beat perception, thus allowing us to date the origins of human beat perception to the common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees, some five to ten million years ago.
Her initial findings suggested that chimpanzees do indeed have beat perception, thus allowing us to date the origins of human beat perception to the common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees, some five to ten million years ago.
The “Vocal learning as precondition for beat perception” hypothesis predicts that, rather than sharing beat perception with other mammals, such as horses, dogs, and rhesus macaques, humans may share it with specific bird species, such as cockatoos, budgerigars, and zebra finches.
The publication compellingly demonstrated that Ronan, a California sea lion, had beat perception, whereas this species is believed not to be a vocal learner.
While not all animals appear to have musical skills like beat perception or relative pitch, it has become increasingly likely that musicality has a biological basis and a long evolutionary history.

The orginal article.

Summary of “‘Ghost’ DNA In West Africans Complicates Story Of Human Origins”

‘Ghost’ DNA In West Africans Complicates Story Of Human Origins Modern genomes from Nigeria and Sierra Leone show signals that scientists call “Ghost” DNA – from an unknown human ancestor.
About 50,000 years ago, ancient humans in what is now West Africa apparently procreated with another group of ancient humans that scientists didn’t know existed.
There aren’t any bones or ancient DNA to prove that theory, but researchers say the evidence is in the genes of modern West Africans.
The findings on ghost DNA, published in the journal Science Advances, further complicate the picture of how Homo sapiens – or modern humans – evolved away from other human relatives.
Sankararaman says they used a statistical model to flag parts of the DNA. The technique “Goes along a person’s genome and pulls out chunks of DNA which we think are likely to have come from a population that is not modern human.”
The unusual DNA found in West Africa isn’t associated with either Neanderthals or Denisovans.
The unknown group “Appears to have split off from the ancestors of modern humans a little before when Neanderthals split off from our ancestors,” he says.
He says there is likely evidence of other ghost populations in modern humans in other parts of the world.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Today’s Biggest Threat: The Polarized Mind”

As psychologists concerned with the social and psychological bases of human destructiveness, and as dedicated observers of history, we have arrived at the conclusion that so much of what we call human depravity seems to be based on a principle termed “The polarized mind.” The polarized mind is the fixation on a single point of view to the utter exclusion of competing points of view, and it has caused more human torment and misery than virtually any other factor.
As citizens of very different and sometimes clashing civilizations, the United States and Iran respectively, we also have a unique vantage point on the polarized mind.
While so many theories of human destructiveness are associated with regional customs, mores and histories, we have observed the polarized mind at work in widely divergent cultural, ethnic and economic circumstances.
We are in complete agreement that the polarized mind is one of the major threats to humanity, not just isolated parts of the world.
Our empirically based studies, for example, have indicated that mindlessness-a condition of narrowed perception and reactivity-is a chief and cross-cultural feature of the polarized mind; while mindfulness, an attitude of heightened awareness or presence, is a cardinal feature of the depolarized mind, associated with capacity for discovery, creativity and well-being.
What is the basis for the polarized mind? While there are many contributing factors, from family and cultural conditioning to scarcity of resources to availability of weapons to neuropsychological dispositions, the common denominators among all these factors appears to be fear and anxiety.
The polarized mind has thus become associated with a range of extremist behaviors from despotism to racism to xenophobia to the obsession with power and control.
Such cycles are evident in history: whenever people experience individual or collective trauma, such as wars, economic collapse and personal or cultural displacement, and they are unable to acquire the psychosocial support necessary to address these upheavals, the polarized mind is likely to predominate.

The orginal article.

Summary of “The Jaguar Is Made for the Age of Humans”

Many humans who visit the Peruvian rain forest are calmly watched by a jaguar or two.
The Ese’Eja, indigenous to this area of Peru, say that the jaguar only shows himself to you when you are ready to see him, and Panthera onca generally live in solitude and take great care to avoid conflict with humans.
The handful of other documented jaguar attacks on humans have primarily occurred when the cats are provoked by hunters and their dogs, are disturbed near a fresh prey carcass, or are protecting their cubs.
Of the more than 160 interactions Hoogesteijn has had with jaguars, he says he only felt truly threatened once, when a jaguar mock-charged him and his colleague Fernando Tortato.
Our jaguar who lives deep in a valley where humans are scarce, apparently never learned that curiosity can occasionally kill a cat.
The exact number of jaguars killed each year is not known-it’s illegal to kill the cats throughout their range, so data are scarce and unreliable-but biologists estimate the numbers to be in the hundreds, especially in countries like Brazil, where the bulk of the jaguar population lives.
While jaguars do need continuous corridors of habitat, Rabinowitz says that most of those spaces already exist, and are already being used by humans in ways that allow jaguars to disperse, rest, hunt, and survive.
Through its Jaguar Corridor Initiative, Panthera is working with governments from Mexico to Argentina to protect and maintain lands for jaguar survival, to convince Latin America governments that it’s important to enforce legislation protecting the cats.

The orginal article.