ReasonINC

Reason; as the supreme authority in matters of opinion, belief, or conduct

Category: Science

“A simple protagonist was a clear advantage, because it generated a firm connection between life-regulation and the profusion of mental images that the brain was forming about the world around it.” – Antonio Damasio from ‘Self Comes to Mind’

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“that which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence” – Christopher Hitchens

“Biggest obstacle to [drug policy] reform – prejudice, ignorance and irrational fear fuelled by parts of media.” – Professor David Nutt

“Better the hard truth, I say, than the comforting fantasy. And in the final tolling it often turns out that the facts are more comforting than the fantasy.” – Carl Sagan

Prisoner’s dilemma finally probed

Prisoner’s dilemma finally probed

Game theory has previously told us that, regrettably, the best strategy in the classic ‘prisoner’s dilemma’ problem is betrayal (‘prisoner’s dilemma’ offers two individuals the same choice: cooperate for an equal punishment, or betray. If you betray a cooperating partner, they are punished more severely and you less, but if you both betray you are both punished more harshly). Mathematically, then, our ‘selfish and aggressive instincts’ maximize our chances of survival or victory – unsurprising given the exquisite rigour of evolution in sorting variation for superiority.

For the dismayed rationalist wondering how humans can ever live sustainably and compassionately there is solace in the fact that our evolution moved into a crucial second phase where group selection ruled. Humans lived in packs, and the most successful packs dominated resources. This positively selected for packs that functioned well. Knowing this, it is easy to begin to dissect human behaviour all over again. We conform religiously to the accepted ‘truths’ of the group, to group ideals and values. We have amongst us a brotherhood; in certain circumstances we will transcend survival instincts or solipsistic practice to protect shared interests. Groups with these individuals were far superior to ones without. It is worth noting, of course, that we will, without hesitation, send a competitor group up the river (rival businesses or sports teams etc).

With this in mind, these surprising results from the University of Hamburg should be a little less surprising. Testing the ‘prisoner’s dilemma’ concept on actual prisoners, they found that there was more cooperation than a purely mathematical strategy would dictate. Fifty six per cent of prisoners opted to cooperate, yielding an end result of 30% of total pairs cooperating.

(http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167268113001522#)

Fascinating AMA (Ask Me Anything) with Cornell University’s Astronomy team

(http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1iuc2i/we_are_cornell_universitys_ask_an_astronomer_team/)

“I personally am constantly baffled by the size of space, every time you try to compress things by comparing them to smaller things you very quickly get back to a scale you can no longer comprehend. This is why astronomers have to rely so heavily on mathematics, because the scales involved are beyond comprehension by any other means. I study galaxies and to me they are the most beautiful objects in the Universe, they vary so much in shape, size and colour, making up formations that are almost beyond belief. Striving to explain these objects is a fascinating experience.”

Weakness feeds weakness

(http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S37/28/70Q72/index.xml?section=topstories)

A collaborative Princeton research team of psychologists and neuroscientists have shown that physical exercise increases, so to speak, a brain’s resilience to anxiety. The team have shone light on the underlying substrates which, with the endorsement of further confirmatory research, naturally pave the way for the concept’s incorporation into the rapidly widening landscape of mental health treatments – widening in terms of pending possibility, even if still restrained by fledgling capability. Aside from those that have survived by chance, or arrived by mutation, all an organism’s traits must have endowed it with an advantage at some time in its history. As such, the study discusses the concept in evolutionary terms. Both ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ rely on physical proficiency. Physical proficiency, further still, is always relative to that reliably bigger fish. It follows, then, that less physically fit individuals would benefit, in survival terms, from an innate inclination to avoid having to impart either response.

“We are the offspring of history, and must establish our own paths in this most diverse and interesting of conceivable universes – one indifferent to our suffering, and therefore offering us maximum freedom to thrive, or to fail, in our own chosen way” – Stephen Jay Gould

Speech to be given on moon-mission failure

Had there been a terminal problem during the moon landing in 1969, this speech had been prepared by Richard Nixon’s government:

Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.

These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.

These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.

They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.

In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.

In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.

Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.

For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.

(http://watergate.info/1969/07/20/an-undelivered-nixon-speech.html)

Unknown resolves prime questions

“There are a lot of chances in your career, but the important thing is to keep thinking” – Yitang Zhang

Yitang Zhang was unknown in the mathematical field, and contended with difficult years finding academic work before rising to receive international acclaim for a long overdue resolution to an age old conundrum concerning prime numbers.

(http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/05/twin-primes)