Summary of “New evidence about the human occupation of Asia is cascading in”

When my research team and I dated the flowstones – rock that forms from precipitation inside a cave – directly above and below the location of the two human teeth using an absolute dating method called uranium-series, we found that the human teeth dated to between 70,000 and 126,000 years ago; a situation clearly impossible if modern humans moved out of Africa only 60,000 years ago.
So what happened with humans? Some researchers have suggested that population density increased to the point where smaller human foraging groups were forced to explore new lands.
Whom did modern humans meet upon arriving in Asia? A plethora of new studies coming out of Central Asia and Siberia suggest that Neanderthals did not stay put in Europe and the Levant.
The genetics suggest that the Denisovan population might have been widespread in Southeast Asia, as attested to by the evidence that a low percentage of Denisovan DNA is present in modern-day human populations in Melanesia and even northern Australia.
What’s strange is that the earliest modern humans to appear in Asia before the great dispersal from Africa 60,000 years ago have no associated evidence of symbolic behaviour.
This raises the question: who left these artifacts? Was it the Denisovans, the Neanderthals, or were modern humans also present in the cave? If one of the former groups left these artifacts, does that mean they were capable of symbolic behaviour? If it was modern humans, does this mean that the cave was intermittently occupied by all three groups? The second point is that, as the later spread of modern humans included carrying with them these symbolic behaviours, why is there a paucity of perforated artifacts, red ochre and behaviours such as that in mainland Southeast Asia? Indeed, the rock art from Sulawesi in Indonesia aside, little to no evidence exists of symbolic behaviour from Late Palaeolithic sites in the region.
One component of the so-called modern human behaviour argument – which posits that these behaviours are restricted to modern humans – that continues to receive attention is the ability for us to build sturdy watercraft and navigate to points that are not visible from the place of departure.
The increasing number of contributions coming out of Asia is forcing scholars to rethink how they view various modern human origin models.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Wes Anderson’s cultural tourism undercuts the heart of ‘Isle of Dogs'”

Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs has something to say about the ugly allure of xenophobia, the sin of standing by while atrocities are committed, and the importance of protecting the most vulnerable members of society.
Isle of Dogs takes place in a near-future dystopian Japan, where the fictional city of Megasaki has just passed an ordinance exiling all dogs to Trash Island – ostensibly to stop the spread of disease, but really just because Mayor Kobayashi has it in for the entire species.
If there’s some reason Isle of Dogs had to be set in Japan, if there’s something specifically Japanese about the story Anderson is trying to tell or the message it’s trying to send, I don’t know what it is.
Isle of Dogs seems to go out of its way to remove its Japanese trappings from their real-world context.
Watching Isle of Dogs, it’s hard not to think that the U.S. is maybe the last country on earth that should be preaching about how awful it would be if the Japanese carted off an unfairly maligned American-coded population to an internment camp.
Up until Tracy appears, Atari is the closest thing Isle of Dogs has to a relatable human character.
Isle of Dogs insists on the humanity of its dogs at the cost of the humanity of its humans.
In treating Japanese culture like superficial embellishments, Japanese people like unknowable others, and Japan itself like an endearingly quirky playground for yet another white American narrative, Isle of Dogs’ messaging about protecting the vulnerable falls flat.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Losing weight by restricting eating times seems to work, at least in mice”

A researcher at the Salk Institute in San Diego, Panda argues that eating within a certain time window each day can help people lose weight and may help prevent illnesses including diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Peterson and others say, some of the benefits of TRF may stem from decreased consumption due to the shortened eating window: It’s not really surprising that cutting out the after-dinner drink and the late-night sundae is good for weight loss and overall health.
Studies in humans and animals have found that TRF helps both mice and people eat fewer calories.
Using the same model – two groups eating an equal number of calories, but on different feeding schedules – he found that TRF mice had normal blood sugar levels, while the unlimited-schedule animals developed Type 2 diabetes.
Mice restricted to an eight- or nine-hour eating window could run for twice as long as those that ate on a normal schedule.
Overall, he says, the evidence indicates that eating most of your food earlier in the day is probably healthier than eating most of your food later in the day.
Together, these mechanisms allow the body to generate more energy and metabolize calories more efficiently than unscheduled eating.
Scientists are also looking at intermittent fasting, which typically involves eating every other day, or eating for five days and then fasting for two.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Could the brain produce its own psychedelic compound?”

Notably, the psychiatrist Rick Strassman has championed the pineal gland as a possible source of the powerful psychoactive compound DMT. Struck by the ‘blinding light of pineal DMT’, Strassman has suggested in his 2001 best-seller, DMT: The Spirit Molecule, that the mammalian pineal gland could be a gateway between life and death.
These reports triggered Strassman’s provocative proposition that the pineal gland, under stress, could release enough DMT into the brain to cause extraordinary transpersonal experiences.
While researchers were successfully deciphering the purpose of serotonin in the function of the brain, the status of DMT remained notoriously complicated and unclear.
The research vacuum was an absurdity to the ethnobotanist and stand-up philosopher Terence McKenna, not least since DMT was found naturally in the human brain.
While these findings boosted Strassman’s theories, the debate over whether the human pineal gland could manufacture DMT in psychedelic quantities still rages on.
With neuroscientist Andrew Gallimore at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Japan, he recently published a pharmacological model for administering DMT to volunteers through ‘target-controlled intravenous infusion’, a technology that can maintain a stable concentration of the drug in the brain.
If what some call the ‘DMT machine’ gets off the ground, it could stretch a 20-minute experience to as much as five hours, enabling a generation of psychedelic Magellans prophesied by McKenna.
As for the pineal? New rumours come from Strassman himself: elevated levels of DMT found in a dying rat’s brain are set to trigger fresh secretions of debate over the spirit gland.

The orginal article.

Summary of “What Will Our Society Look Like When Artificial Intelligence Is Everywhere?”

Hedge funds are using AI to beat the stock market, Google is utilizing it to diagnose heart disease more quickly and accurately, and American Express is deploying AI bots to serve its customers online.
This AI “Takeoff,” also known as the singularity, will likely see AI pull even with human intelligence and then blow past it in a matter of days.
“AIs will colonize and transform the entire cosmos,” says Juergen Schmidhuber, a pioneering computer scientist based at the Dalle Molle Institute for Artificial Intelligence in Switzerland, “And they will make it intelligent.”
As a novelist, I wanted to plot out what the AI future might actually look like, using interviews with more than a dozen futurists, philosophers, scientists, cultural psychiatrists and tech innovators.
Once you made the decision to leave him, your AI negotiated with your soon-to-be ex-husband’s AI, wrote the divorce settlement, then “Toured” a dozen apartments on the cloud before finding the right one for you to begin your single life.
You read a fresh Austen work every month, then spend hours talking to your AI about your favorite characters-and the AI’s.
There will be Christian, Muslim and Orthodox Jewish districts in cities such as Lagos and Phoenix and Jerusalem, places where people live in a time before AI, where they drive their cars and allow for the occasional spurt of violence, things almost unknown in the full AI zones.
In Lagos, “Civil rights” drones fly over police pods as they race to the scene of a crime-one AI watching over another AI, for the protection of humankind.

The orginal article.

Summary of “In the 1950s everybody cool was a little alienated. What changed?”

In the modern era, ‘alienation’ really came into its own as a talismanic term in the 1950s and ’60s. At the time, the United States was becoming increasingly affluent, and earlier markers of oppression – poverty, inequality, social immobility, religious persecution – appeared to be on the wane.
Why? Does the lexical decline of alienation suggest that the condition itself has been conquered – or merely that the context in which it made sense has now changed beyond recognition?
After the Second World War, alienation came to betoken a near-universal spiritual and psychological malaise.
In his so-called Paris Manuscripts, written in 1844 but only discovered between the two world wars, Marx developed a three-pronged critique of the alienation of labour – the source, he claimed, of all other alienations in the capitalist world.
In Marx’s taxonomy of alienation, first came the worker’s loss of control over the product of his or her labour, which was sold as a commodity in the marketplace for the profit of the capitalist.
Alienation could suggest, among other things, the domination of the subject by the object, the self by the other, the organic by the mechanical, and the living by the dead. Understood psychologically, socially, religiously or philosophically, it was a painful obstacle to feeling whole or at one with the world.
Such arguments were still rooted in the idea that alienation was a pathological condition, one that ultimately needed to be redressed.
In short, alienation in the second decade of the 21st century has not actually faded away as a descriptor of human distress.

The orginal article.

Summary of “The Toba Volcano May Not Have Caused a Global Winter After All”

Around 74,000 years ago, the Toba supervolcano erupted on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.
In the 1990s, several scientists argued that Toba’s unprecedented outburst radically changed the world’s climate, blocking out sunlight and lowering global temperatures by several degrees for many decades.
The “Toba catastrophe theory” is highly controversial, and other researchers have argued that it greatly overestimates both the degree of climate change that the volcano inflicted, and its effect on our ancestors.
Known as cryptotephra, these shards are the products of Toba’s wrath, created when the volcano superheated the silica within its expunged rock.
“If Toba had triggered a major global climate event, Africa probably would have been affected, and they see no evidence of that,” says Britta Jensen, a tephra expert from the University of Alberta who wasn’t involved in the new study.
It’s harder to say what the shards tell us about the Toba catastrophe theory, and even the scientists who worked on the new study don’t entirely agree.
“The persistence of the Toba catastrophe hypothesis has essentially been perpetuated by bad data.”
Researchers have detected sulfates from the Toba explosion in ice cores from Greenland and the Antarctic-opposite sides of the planet.

The orginal article.

Summary of “The Case for Making Chimp-Humans”

As a result, it is not unreasonable to foresee the possibility-eventually, perhaps, the likelihood-of producing “Humanzees” or “Chimphumans.” Such an individual would not be an exact equal-parts-of-each combination, but would be neither human nor chimp: rather, something in between.
Haven’t we learned that Promethean hubris leads only to disaster, as did the efforts of the fictional Dr. Frankenstein? But there are also other disasters, currently ongoing, such as the grotesque abuse of nonhuman animals, facilitated by what might well be the most hurtful theologically-driven myth of all times: that human beings are discontinuous from the rest of the natural world, since we were specially created and endowed with souls, whereas “They”-all other creatures-were not.
Smith revealed a long-standing pattern whereby people, despite acknowledging that other human beings appear to be human, often maintain that in their essence-whatever that means-these others continue to be less than human.
More important-for any human being currently insistent upon his or her species’ specialness, to the ultimate detriment of literally millions of other individuals of millions of other species, such a development could well be a real mind expander and paradigm buster.
To be sure, his crude efforts at cross-species hybridization are at present no closer to fruition, simply because even though human and chimp DNA are overwhelmingly similar, humans have 46 chromosomes whereas chimps have 48, so getting sperm from either species to combine with eggs from the other to produce viable offspring is-to put it literally-inconceivable.
There have been many advances in biomedical research that not only emphasize the continuity between human beings and other animals, but that do so explicitly in the interest of human betterment.
A human skin cell, for example, can be biochemically induced to become a “Pluripotent stem cell,” capable of differentiating into any human tissue type.
Currently prohibited-and likely to remain so-is funding for studies that involve injecting human stem cells into embryonic primates, although inserting such cells into adults is permissible.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Sullivan: Things Are Better Than Ever. Why Are We Miserable?”

Deneen doesn’t deny any of the progress Pinker describes, or quibble at the triumph of the liberal order.
We’ve forgotten the human flourishing that comes from a common idea of virtue, and a concept of virtue that is based on our nature.
His response to the sixth great mass extinction of the Earth’s species at the hands of humans is to propose that better environmental technology will somehow solve it – just as pharmaceuticals will solve unhappiness.
Equally odd for an evolutionary psychologist, he sees absolutely no problem that humans in the last 500 years have created a world utterly different than the one humans lived in for close to 99 percent of our time on the planet.
Deneen sees paradox in human life, tragedy even; he respects the wisdom of the aeons that Pinker is simply relieved we have left behind; and he has a perspective that Pinker – despite his vast erudition and intelligence – doesn’t seem to grasp.
We have no common concept of human flourishing apart from materialism, and therefore we stand alone.
We have, after all, imperfectly controlled weapons of mass destruction, and humans have never invented a weapon we haven’t used.
There are times when an irrational and massive aberration in human history – mass circumcision – needs to be subjected to reason.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Waiting for Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment”

Is Steven Pinker a modern Enlightenment philosophe? In some ways, the comparison seems reasonable.
Like the French philosophes, but unlike most contemporary intellectuals, Pinker writes with enthusiasm about a wide range of human knowledge, from the humanities to the social sciences to physics and biology.
Enlightenment Now is only the most recent of his best sellers, following on the heels of his defense of evolutionary psychology in The Blank Slate and his argument that we are witnessing a centuries-long decrease of human violence in The Better Angels of Our Nature.
As Enlightenment Now clearly shows, Steven Pinker is no philosophe.
The great writers of the Enlightenment, contrary to the way they are often caricatured, were mostly skeptics at heart.
Like a TED Talk, Enlightenment Now is easy to summarize.
More specifically, human beings today lead longer, safer, healthier, wealthier, and indeed happier lives than at any point in recorded history, and they do so thanks to the Enlightenment.
Some of these terms he defines very broadly: Science is “The refining of reason to understand the world.” But by “Humanism” Pinker essentially means a rigid, Richard Dawkins-style atheism.

The orginal article.