“Baboons recorded making key sounds found in human speech”

Baboons recorded making key sounds found in human speech (From New Scientist, via This Week In Sound

The team discovered that male and female baboons each produce four vowel-like sounds. Females produce one that males don’t, and vice versa, so in total there are five distinct vowels. They correspond to the second syllable in “roses”, and the vowel sounds in “you”, “thought”, “trap” and “ah” (PLoS One, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0169321).

The findings raise fresh doubts about the link between the position of the human larynx and the origin of speech, says Fagot. He thinks important features of spoken language may have originated as far back as the common ancestor of monkeys and humans, which lived about 25 million years ago.

One way to read this slowly unfolding thought (in my recent posts) about non-human intelligence is that evolution is slower than we can imagine. Yes, we became precisely human when our species popped up, but imprecise versions of human are still pretty close.

The mission of this blog is

This blog is an open notebook. I don’t know why I like having a public notebook that nobody reads, just that I do like it. It serves some purpose.

  • I am not seeking readers here. My guess at the readership is five people, all of whom know me well enough to send a direct email.
  • This blog is public. It is not for secrets. I expect that a little of this writing will be read by business connections.
  • It is indexed by search engines, but is low on the search results for my name. I don’t expect many business connections to find it.

Personal blogs like this one are a dead medium. In their 2000-2010 heyday I had enough readership here to think of it as a publishing platform, but that time has passed and isn’t coming back. Independent blogs are now for professional writing.

But the rock-bottom readership here allows me to do writing at low risk. This blog would be a better place than Facebook for damning party photos or abrasive politics.  I don’t have to worry about context collapse.

Until I started blogging around 2001 I filled up physical notebooks, Moleskine-style. My writing voice there was about the same as on this blog. Even this post could be one of those journal entries. They weren’t intensely personal. They weren’t confessional.  I wrote blue sky ideas, drew inventions, endlessly redrafted the same essay.

A blog that is read by few people is a social medium like any other. It’s a cowpath in the making.

 

SciAm on Octopus Intelligence

Scientific American: Eight smart limbs plus a big brain add up to a weird and wondrous kind of intelligence

Octopuses and their kin (cuttlefish and squid) stand apart from other invertebrates, having evolved with much larger nervous systems and greater cognitive complexity.

The majority of neurons in an octopus are found in the arms, which can independently taste and touch and also control basic motions without input from the brain.

Octopus brains and vertebrate brains have no common anatomy but support a variety of similar features, including forms of short- and long-term memory, versions of sleep, and the capacities to recognize individual people and explore objects through play.

MLK day

As a White person, I can take responsibility for doing stuff about racism. I don’t have to slack.

It’s Martin Luther King day today. Ordinarily it’s just another day off, like President’s Day or Columbus Day. Usually I work on meaningless holidays. This year I will observe the occasion.

What I’ll do will be small – take my kids to a teach-in. Anything is better than nothing.

“Neanderthals Were People, Too” (NYT)

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(NYT) Neanderthals Were People, Too. “New research shows they shared many behaviors that we long believed to be uniquely human. Why did science get them so wrong?

I think that understanding how much we share with neanderthals is only the beginning. I think we’ll extend this understanding to species that were close but different, like Homo heidelbergensis. We will see how little new there was in our own particular species, and that our experience is only different in subtle ways.

Obviously our daily lives at the height of the anthropocene are very different than those of our predecessors hundreds of thousands of years ago. Where our experience is similar is on a sensory and physical level. Things like smelling peanut butter, having an orgasm, breaking your leg, or feeling full after a meal.

Posthumanism

Is Humanism Really Human?

How might a posthumanist approach to undoing interspecies hierarchies intervene with structures of violence among humans themselves? Trump’s election reflects and emboldens white supremacy and misogyny to a frightening degree. Could a posthumanist intervention risk moving focus away from a direct and much-needed struggle against these things, or could it help?

Octopus intelligence

Just how smart is an octopus?

The cleft in the tree of life that separated the lineages that led to vertebrates and invertebrates happened 600 million years ago. One path, as Godfrey-Smith explains, led to progressively more complex intelligences, in the form of fish, reptiles, birds and mammals. The other path, while producing sophisticated means of sensing and surviving in a dangerous world, eschewed mental complexity. The cephalopods represent an island of intelligence in this invertebrate sea. They represent a separate experiment in the evolution of the mind.

Godfrey-Smith is not a scientist but a philosopher. This is, he says, a philosophy book as well as a scientific one. The question with which he wrestles is that of consciousness: “Does it feel like something to be one of the large-brained cephalopods, or are they just biochemical machines for which all is dark inside?”

Trans-species-ism

I have a recurring thought about how little our species’ experience of life differs from others. I’m doing some ordinary thing like biting into a doughnut and I think “this feels pretty much the same to a monkey.”

Our physical sensations are probably the same as all other mammals. Things like physical pain, sleepiness, and hunger probably feel exactly the same to a cow or dog.

Our intellectual and emotional lives are probably little different than near-ish relatives, including not only humanoids like neaderthals and homo afarensis, but even primates like bonobo. These include the sensations of thinking, creativity, love, and mourning.

And not only close relatives. Dolphins have rich emotional, social, and intellectual lives.
Birds are cladistically far from us, but some are remarkably intelligent. Some live socially, can count, use tools, appear to mourn.

And the list goes on. How Smart Is An Octopus?

divers wanted to know whether octopuses—as suspected—steal fish from fishermen’s nets, so they set up a net complete with several fish, and settled back to watch. Sure enough, an octopus came and helped itself to the lot. Another octopus opened a jar containing food, while a third seemed disturbed by its reflection when shown a mirror.

I draw the line somewhere: hive beings. I think ant colonies are intelligent and have a sense of self interest, but their affective lives are truly alien.

In the long run there may be something like a Copernican revolution, but applicable to experience rather than astronomy. We may come to realize that our experience is hardly different than that of many others.

A Trans-Species Perspective on Nature

The human species has spent a lot of effort trying to find the “holy grail” that will confirm a qualitative difference and position of superiority above other animals. Neurobiological studies have failed to turn up a single property of the human brain that is qualitatively different from that of other species (i.e., that is not explainable within the common framework of comparative evolution). Specific focus has been placed on finding the basis for the uniqueness of the human brain among our closest primate relatives, that is, what separates us qualitatively from chimpanzees. But moving beyond the range of primates provides an important perspective on this effort. I have studied cetacean (dolphin, whale and porpoise) and primate brains for the past twenty years and there are compelling differences among them. Primate and cetacean brains are arguably two of the most different, morphologically, among the large mammals. These differences exist in cortical topography and cytoarchitecture and represent different ways of distributing and processing information in the brain. The cetacean brain not only possesses very unusual features but also a uniquely elaborated paralimbic lobe not found in primates. Despite these striking neuroanatomical differences driven by adaptation to different physical environments for tens of millions of years there is striking convergence in psychology across cetaceans and primates — not equivalence — but comparability and shared aspects of mind. To the point, cetacean and primate brains are vastly more different from each other than any two primate brains are. Yet, they are most validly understood as variations on a theme. Therefore, what would be the basis for arguing that there is a “bright line” between human brains and those of other primates? Compared to cetacean brains human and chimpanzee brains, for instance, are almost identical.

Try as we might we have yet to find any fundamental mechanism or principle unique to the human brain.

Next

It is the will of the people. The voters wanted to break shit, and thus shall it be broken.

The first thing each of us needs to do is take care of ourself.

The right wing can’t govern. They gave us Iraq and the Great Recession. They gave us epic national debt.

And that was on a good day, when they were firmly unified under the neoconservative cabal. They are not unified at all right now. It’s the alt-right that won this election. Reaganism lost almost as badly as liberalism.

The alt-right could care less about Reaganite ideology. It wants to express angst. It wants to share misery. It wants naked violence.

The neocons were incompetent. The alt-right is against competence.

The consequences of not being able to govern are severe. Trumpian incompetence at global scale. How do you start to visualize a bankruptcy of that size? Is trillions the right order of magnitude?

Liberals will want to defend our greater goals. Equality, fairness, liberty. But those are not an option during a crash. First take care of yourself alone. Before putting your child’s oxygen mask on, don your own. This plane is going down.

oxygen-mask


Predictions:

1. Nuclear Iran
2. Inflation
3. China gains influence over NATO
4. Annexation of former Soviet states by Russia
5. Further fragmentation of EU