Posts filed under “Science”

Ten Questions Science Must Answer

For 350 years, the Royal Society has called on the world’s biggest brains to unravel the mysteries of science. Its president, Martin Rees, considers today’s big issues, while leading thinkers describe the puzzles they would love to see solved.

The 10 big questions

What is consciousness?

What happened before the big bang?

Will science and engineering give us back our individuality?

How are we going to cope with the world’s burgeoning population?

Is there a pattern to the prime numbers?

Can we make a scientific way of thinking all pervasive?

How do we ensure humanity survives and flourishes?

Can someone explain adequately the meaning of infinite space?

Will I be able to record my brain like I can record a programme on television?

Can humanity get to the stars?

The full discussion, at The Guardian, is fascinating.


Ten questions science must answer
Martin Rees, with interviews by Alok Jha and John Crace
The Guardian, Tuesday 30 November 2010

Category: Science, Weekend

Your Brain is Beautiful (And Your Neurons Are Particularly Attractive)

From the NYT, these electron microscopy photos are strangely beautiful: The last few decades have produced an explosion of new techniques for probing the blobby, unprepossessing brain in search of the thinking, feeling, suffering, scheming mind. But the field remains technologically complicated, out of reach for the average nonscientist, and still defined by research so…Read More

Category: Science, Weekend

Solar Furnace Research Facility

Fun with Science: Jem Stansfield travels to the Solar Furnace Research Facility in Southern France. He witnesses the incredible power generated by highly concentrated sunlight.

Category: Science, Weekend

New Elementary Particle Discovered (maybe)

Physics: Where we learn that the possible discovery of a fourth neutrino could help explain dark matter.


“Physicists working with a Fermilab neutrino experiment may have found a new elementary particle whose behavior breaks the known laws of physics. If correct, their results poke holes in the accepted Standard Model of particles and forces, and raise some interesting questions for the Large Hadron Collider and Tevatron experiments. The new particle could even explain the existence of dark matter.

Working with Fermilab’s MiniBooNE experiment — the first part of the larger planned Booster Neutrino Experiment — physicists found evidence for a fourth flavor of neutrino, according to a new paper published in Physical Review Letters. This means there could be another particle we didn’t know about, and that it behaves in a way physicists didn’t expect.

-Popular Science

Laws of Physics were made to be broken! (More Sciencey stuff after the jump)

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Category: Science, Weekend

Animators of Life: Where Cinema and Biology Meet Dr. Lue is one of the pioneers of molecular animation, a rapidly growing field that seeks to bring the power of cinema to biology. Building on decades of research and mountains of data, scientists and animators are now recreating in vivid detail the complex inner machinery of living cells. The field has spawned a…Read More

Category: Science, Weekend

My Brilliant Brain

From National Geographic:

Part 1 – Born Genius

Part 2 – Make Me A Genius

Category: Psychology, Science, Video

Steven Johnson: Where Good Ideas Come From

I love that he lifted RSI’s animated approach: Beginning with Charles Darwin’s first encounter with the teeming ecosystem of the coral reef and drawing connections to the intellectual hyperproductivity of modern megacities and to the instant success of YouTube, Johnson shows us that the question we need to ask is, What kind of environment fosters…Read More

Category: Science, Weekend

How Aliens View Our Solar System

Hat tip Icanhasinternets

Category: Humor, Science, Weekend

Italian Landslide Captured on Video

Visually astonishing This February 2010 landslide is an example of liquefaction — the earth, rock and soil flow like a river. If you have never witnessed this, it is quite amazing to see . . . Italy Calabria About 200 residents have been evacuated from their homes after a landslide split a hillside apart in…Read More

Category: Science, Weekend

What Are the Limits of Sapient Judgment?

George Mobus teaches computer science to undergraduate and graduate students at the Institute of Technology, Computing & Software Systems at the University of Washington, Tacoma.

His background is quite broad: He has a PhD in Computer Science, an MBA in Decision Science, and a baccalaureate in Zoology (with substantial coursework in math, chemistry, and oceanography) from UW Seattle. His academic focus has been Biology: Specifically, evolutionary, cognitive, neuro-psychology — how the brain works to produce the mind and how did it come about through evolution.

He blogs at Question Everything, where this piece was originally published.



Sapient Judgment Has Weaknesses

In my working papers on sapience I describe one of the components of sapience as judgment and provide a brief overview of what role it plays in wisdom. I briefly mentioned some weakness or limitations to ordinary human judgment in that work, but left it a little vague. In this paper I want to go into more detail about how judgment works in the making of decisions and especially what some of the remaining problems with it are with respect to the current state of sapience in Homo sapiens.

Sapient vs. Pre-sapient Judgment

Sapience involves the capacity to influence good decisions (and give good advice) by applying judgment to complex situations. Decision making processing is the main job of intelligence as indicated in the working papers. Decisions need to be made regarding what action or behavior to take given the situation in the immediate environment. While the actual decision processing looks more continuous in nature, this discretized version will hopefully help to illustrate what happens in the brain*. The central circle in the below diagram can be considered a decision node in a decision tree structure (actually more of a web structure than a tree). The job that the intelligence processor has is, given the situation in which the animal finds itself, the “state of the environment”, to make a decision on which of many actions to take.


Figure 1. Sapient decision making depends on tacit memory models that influence intelligent decision making. See text for description.

Immediately surrounding the current decision point is additional information stored in working memory forming the context of the situation, how it came to be, factors that relate directly with the decision to be made. This context along with the current state that activated this particular decision point are fed into the intelligence processor’s causal model of the world. This model has been learned from past experience and represents the best estimate of what cause (from a selected action) and effect (on the future state of the environment as a result) to expect. The model actually contains the decision web along with several background influences such as affective valence marking that helps weight decisions when emotional considerations are operative (curved green arrow).

The learning component of intelligence is responsible for monitoring the actual outcomes of decisions vis-à-vis and building or refining the model over time. Then it uses the model to make selections for actions. The selections are always provisional or heuristic in nature. Intelligence processing is prone to several kinds of errors that might cause a misstep. Also, though not shown here, the creative function of the brain might intercede to suggest a different selection just in case it might lead to a better outcome and that could be the basis for modifying the model.

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Category: Psychology, Science