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Archive for ottobre 2011

          

This less-than-affable-looking sea monster reminds me of an old course in modeling I was involved in, laden with insights that have stayed with me ever since. (Please read “modeling” as “making conceptual/practical models of excellence”, not  as “wearing scant expensive designers’ clothes for a living”.)

At some point, we were studying the adaptive strategies of a blind man, Silvano – a very independent, capable music teacher. A couple of aspects of his perceptual world were astounding.

One, he was able to transform a plethora of disordered sensory stimuli – such as the overwhelming noises, thrusts and smells at a crowded road junction – into an enjoyable experience. He accomplished the feat by simply letting them in without resisting, allowing them to ‘stack’ or ‘pile up’  (his words), trusting they would eventually self-organize in an aesthetically pleasing way.

Two, he would navigate with ease and certitude through the world of the seeing thanks to a special kind of sensitivity he felt all along the sides of his body – a feature he learned much later fish are actually endowed with, fittingly called ‘lateral line’. But while the lateral line of acquatic creatures is wired to perceive mostly movement and vibration, Silvano claimed that the information processing abilities of his were more of an electrical nature.

So, here comes our monster (the picture shows a developing paddlefish). It is there to remind us that, as the article goes, ‘About 96 percent of vertebrates–30,000 land animals (including humans) and roughly an equal number of fish–descend from a common ancestor with a sixth sense: electroreception.’  Because ‘With as many as 70,000 electroreceptors in its snout and the skin of its head, the paddlefish has the most extensive electrosensory array of any living animal.’

In another article, http://www.futurity.org/top-stories/ancestor-with-an-electrifying-sixth-sense/  Willy Bemis, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, comments:  “The electrosensory organs also develop immediately adjacent to the lateral line, providing compelling evidence “that these two sensory systems share a common evolutionary heritage”.

Sturgeons have that, too. Music teachers. Blind people. Maybe alchemists, who suffer the presence of too much metal around, messing up with their electrically hypersensitive receptors.

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BTW: I’m presently reading a thoroughly enjoyable book about embodied phylogeny (or maybe the embodiment lies in the eye of the reader?). It’s called ‘Your Inner Fish’, by Neil Shubin. I’m not going into any details until I’ve finished it – in the meantime here you’ll find more about it http://tiktaalik.uchicago.edu/book.html.

Ancestor With An Electrifying Sixth Sense – Science360 News Service | National Science Foundation.

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To many of us, the brain looks a bit like a cauliflower. Yet the verb I most often use to describe the development of the neocortex is ‘flowering’, stark and simple. The advent of this amazing structure evokes in me a sense of beauty, exuberance, even fragrance. This remarkable research shows that it has also been a multidimensional flowering. The time span that marks the appearance of new genes in the mammalian lineage is the same that sees the emergence of our most advanced neurological feature – the prefrontal cortex. Here I quote Eric Vallender, a neurogeneticist at Harvard Medical School who was not involved in the research, and University of Chicago evolutionary geneticist Manyuang Long, who led the study.

 “We were very shocked that there were that many new genes that were upregulated in this part of the brain,” said Long, who added that he was also taken aback by synchronicity of the origin of the genes and the development of novel brain structures. It seems that around the same time that the neocortex and the prefrontal cortex arose, and then expanded in humans, a large collection of genes also popped up.

“You always have the correlation versus causation question,” Vallender cautioned. “But it’s very consistent that these genes were all arising at the same time as these new anatomical structures that we know are very important in cognition and behavior.”

Simply imagining to be a living cauldron where new genes and breathtaking form of organization are simultaneously concocted is kinda hot. Kinda cool. And definitely smells good.

New Genes, New Brain | The Scientist.

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In tutte le scuole di musica per bambini che conosco i quarti si leggono ritmicamente TA, e gli ottavi TI. Chissà se succede ovunque. Fatto sta che la cosa poggia su solide fondamenta neuro-linguistiche. 

Lo argomenta ben bene una ricerca condotta tra Italia, Gran Bretagna e Germania. Quel che dici è quel che vedi | Le Scienze Web News. “Ci sono dei vincoli naturali che legano il significato di un vocabolo ed il suo suono”, spiega uno degli autori dello studio, Cesare Parise, dell’Università di Oxford e del Max Planck Institute. “E’ il motivo per il quale la maggior parte delle persone del mondo concorderebbe immediatamente nell’affermare che qualcosa chiamato mal non può essere più piccolo di qualcosa chiamato mil”.

Il fenomeno vale anche per singoli fonemi, e coinvolge diverse variabili dell’immagine e del suono. Cito da un altro articolo che commenta la medesima ricerca: http://www.galileonet.it/articles/4e9d322572b7ab3b2800015e.

“Nel loro studio, i ricercatori hanno chiesto a un gruppo di persone di pronunciare la vocale “a” mentre venivano loro mostrate delle immagini. Analizzando la natura dei suoni emessi, gli studiosi hanno osservato una sorta di simbolismo dei suoni, ovvero che, a seconda delle caratteristiche dell’immagine, le vocalizzazioni cambiano in modo simile in tutte le persone: venivano pronunciate a un volume più alto se le immagini erano luminose, e con un tono più acuto se gli oggetti rappresentati erano spigolosi (a paragone, rispettivamente, con immagini scure e rotondeggianti).

L’articolo de Le Scienze però conclude con una nota piuttosto ingenua. “Inoltre, secondo gli autori dello studio, conoscere il suono giusto di un dato concetto potrebbe essere un potente strumento di marketing per trovare il nome più adatto ad un nuovo prodotto.”

Chi s’inventa il nome di un nuovo prodotto queste cose le sa benissimo, perlomeno a livello di sensibilità e intuizione – sennò non farebbe il creativo. E come creativo conosce altrettanto bene il rischio di essere prevedibili, meccanici, scontati. Creare novità e freschezza ha a che vedere con il tracciare legami e percorsi insoliti tra i paletti, non col chiudersi dentro il recinto che i paletti sembrano delimitare. Il rischio di applicare pedestremente la formuletta in odor di infallibilità resta invece appannaggio degli alfieri del marketing, quelli che sovente la creatività l’accoppano.

Ricordo un panzuto cumenda padano, proprietario di una grossa azienda che vende per corrispondenza cosmetici mediocri. Era rimasto folgorato da due o tre libri sul potere degli ancoraggi (un altro nome dei riflessi condizionati). Sognava di installare, nei suoi mailing alle casalinghe disperate, un innesco-bomba che risvegliasse in loro più volte al giorno un’associazione col suo marchio. L’operazione non poteva riuscire (per fortuna, e per l’impossibilità di caricare a sufficienza la connessione auspicata) ma lui al solo pensiero sbavava come un cane pavloviano. Per lui, l’ancoraggio denaro -> beatitudine funzionava, eccome.


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Inside the Secrets of Illusions & Memory – News Watch.

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Ghiaccio della cometa Hartley 2 simile ai nostri oceani | Gaianews.it.

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BEADED QUASICRYSTAL – Science News.

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