How did our legends really begin?
A new theory suggests that the similarities shared by many myths means that they have a common origin, passed down across thousands of generations. So, how did our stories really begin? Steve Connor reports
In the great mythological narrative of Homer’s Odyssey, the hero lands on the island of Sicily, the home of a race of one-eyed monsters, the Cyclopes. Finding a cave filled with a flock of sheep, the hero and his men feast on one of the animals until they are rudely interrupted by the cave’s furious owner. The Cyclops Polyphemus vents his anger by eating a couple of the intruders before blocking the cave’s entrance with a giant boulder. When Polyphemus returns to eat more of Odysseus’s men, the Greek hero manages to spear the eye of the Cyclops. Blinded, Polyphemus attempts to keep the men captive in the cave by feeling the backs of his sheep as they emerge each morning to graze. But Odysseus and his men hide beneath the bellies of the animals and so escape the monster’s grasp. Although Homer wrote the Odyssey in the 8th century BC, this particular part of his epic poem has a surprising resonance with other folklore and oral traditions spoken in the Swiss Valais of Central Europe, in the Basque country of northern Spain, in Russia, among the Saami of northern Scandinavia and the Apaches and other Native American tribes. They all speak of a fearsome master of animals, a hero who loses his way and is held captive but who escapes by hiding under the master’s own animals. The similarity of the narratives could be just coincidence. Each culture might just have devised its own folklore independently of the other, coming to surprisingly similar storylines. But many myths seem to share similar incidents, characters or narrative structures, whether they derive from classical Greece or the ancient mythologies of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Japan or India. (via How did our legends really begin? - Features - Books - The Independent)
“People like to say that we cannot witness evolution because it occurs over timescales immensely greater than our lifetime. That’s incorrect. We can witness evolution all we want, in our lifetime, by watching other things that change and morph freely – for example the evolution of sports, or the evolution of technology. Evolution in technology is the same as the evolution of a biological species. The ‘organism’ in this case is the human-and-machine species. Machines do not happen by themselves; they are created by humans, because of human needs, and it is humans that add the abilities of their creations to their own in order to improve them – to make their bodies move more easily, or more economically, more safely, or further over the earth. More technology tends towards more and better life. Evolution is about facilitating flow, the movement of one thing over or past another. Flow systems, the designs created by this evolutionary process, change freely over time. As such, evolution is a physical phenomenon, not just a biological one. The changing organisational structures that facilitate greater and better flow are physical objects, whether animate or inanimate.”
Read of the day: Where Animals Come From
For billions of years, single-celled creatures had the planet to themselves, floating through the oceans in solitary bliss. Some microorganisms attempted multicellular arrangements, forming small sheets or filaments of cells. But these ventures hit dead ends. The single cell ruled the earth. Then, more than 3 billion years after the appearance of microbes, life got more complicated. Cells organized themselves into new three-dimensional structures. They began to divide up the labor of life, so that some tissues were in charge of moving around, while others managed eating and digesting. They developed new ways for cells to communicate and share resources. These complex multicellular creatures were the first animals, and they were a major success. Soon afterward, roughly 540 million years ago, animal life erupted, diversifying into a kaleidoscope of forms in what’s known as the Cambrian explosion. Prototypes for every animal body plan rapidly emerged, from sea snails to starfish, from insects to crustaceans. Every animal that has lived since then has been a variation on one of the themes that emerged during this time. How did life make this spectacular leap from unicellular simplicity to multicellular complexity? Nicole King has been fascinated by this question since she began her career in biology. Fossils don’t offer a clear answer: Molecular data indicate that the “Urmetazoan,” the ancestor of all animals, first emerged somewhere between 600 and 800 million years ago, but the first unambiguous fossils of animal bodies don’t show up until 580 million years ago. So King turned to choanoflagellates, microscopic aquatic creatures whose body type and genes place them right next to the base of the animal family tree. “Choanoflagellates are to my mind clearly the organism to look at if you’re looking at animal origins,” King said. In these organisms, which can live either as single cells or as multicellular colonies, she has found much of the molecular toolkit necessary to launch animal life. And to her surprise, she found that bacteria may have played a crucial role in ushering in this new era.
keep on reading..
(via Did Bacteria Drive the Origins of Animals? | Simons Foundation)
Know thy selfie
If Narcissus were here he’d be busy on instagram. Can we have a virtuous sense of worth without the vanity of self-love?
People often seem to talk of self-respect, self-esteem, pride and vanity as if they are interchangeable, never mind the nuances of amour-propre, conceit, self-absorption and narcissism. We might talk about the ‘me’ generation, the addiction to selfies, or the overbearing politician in any of these terms. But this ignores their important differences, and threatens to flatten out all the interesting contours of the landscape of the self. The English poet John Milton offer a useful starting point for discussing these notions. He thought, rightly, that a ‘pious and just honouring of ourselves’ was essential to us – ‘the fountainhead whence every laudable and worthy enterprise issues forth’. Writing in an essay on church government in 1642, he called for sufficient self-respect or self-confidence to fit us for the undertakings that enrich our lives or those of others. Too little of it, and we would shrink away from things that we might well need to do. Too much, and we start doing things that we are not actually fit to undertake.
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(via Can you have self-worth without self-love? – Simon Blackburn – Aeon)
See on Scoop.it - The future of medicine and health
A universal blood test screening for cancer is the goal of a lab at the University of Bradford, reducing unneeded and expensive biopsies.
Although many dread the prick of a blood test, most would find it a preferable testing method to invasive and expensive biopsies. That’s why a blood test for cancer is the goal of many research efforts, including one at the University of Bradford in the UK, where researchers are claiming to have devised a simple universal blood test for the disease that relies on the fact that white blood cells in cancer patients are already damaged from battling cancerous cells.
"White blood cells are part of the body’s natural defense system," says Professor Diana Anderson, who led the research. "We know that they are under stress when they are fighting cancer or other diseases, so I wondered whether anything measurable could be seen if we put them under further stress with UVA light."
To put her theory to the test, the University of Bradford team used a comet assay, which involves exposing DNA to UV light and applying an electric field to induce it to travel through an agar medium. The more damaged the DNA, the more elongated its comet-like tail, as the structure is no longer as tightly compressed together.
"We found that people with cancer have DNA which is more easily damaged by ultraviolet light than other people," says Anderson. "So the test shows the sensitivity to damage of all the DNA – the genome – in a cell."
See on gizmag.com
See on Scoop.it - The future of medicine and health
Study with Duke and Stanford Universities aims to revolutionise treatment of disease through the study of healthy people. By Samuel Gibbs
Google’s latest project from its Google X “moonshot” division is every bit as ambitious as some of its robotics and communications projects like Glass.
Google wants to map how the human body behaves when it’s healthy, which could dramatically improve modern medicine.What are they doing?
The Baseline study is a scientific investigation into what it means to be healthy. It will collect data from healthy individuals, crunch the numbers and define a healthy state for a human being from real-world people.Why study the healthy?
Why study someone who isn’t sick? Modern medicine is good at treating diseases with obvious symptoms. But at the point at which a disease is showing symptoms severe enough to send someone to the doctor, the disease has been running wild within that person’s body for a good while.
By defining a baseline of what it means to be healthy, it is a lot easier to detect changes and pick up serious, life-threatening diseases before they become dangerous. Catching illness much earlier can either diminish the impact or neutralise the disease before symptoms appear.Who’s being studied?
Google’s study will initially take 175 volunteers from various groups of ethnicity, habit and area and conduct testing of methods and practices to inform a much larger study later on. That small select group of people is expected to expand to around 400 or so by the end of the year.
See on theguardian.com
See on Scoop.it - Knowmads, Infocology of the future
Relief agencies go back to the future with $100,000 vehicles designed to carry vaccines and stretchers in conflict zones
Flying cars are being targeted at humanitarian organisations for use in a variety of missions, from delivering vaccines to transporting medics and patients.
Pégase, a flying car made by the French company Vaylon, is expected to be on the market next year, while a US-designed vehicle, the Maverick, is already on sale – both at about $100,000 (£60,000).
The cars are lightweight vehicles with a propeller at the back and an extendable parachute, rather than wings, which allow them to take off.
"The vehicle is a breakthrough technology," said Vaylon’s co-founder, Jérémy Foiche, who is aiming for three main uses for the car: military, humanitarian and leisure. "We are interested in working with the humanitarian sector to determine exactly how it could be used in the field," he added.
Both cars can carry two people and an additional load of about 300kg, with a flying range of almost 200km on a single tank of fuel. They can fly up to 3-5km high and need less than 100m to take off and land.
See on theguardian.com
Scientists say a part of the brain, smaller than a pea, triggers the instinctive feeling that something bad is about to happen. Writing in the journal PNAS, they suggest the habenula plays a key role in how humans predict, learn from and respond to nasty experiences. And they question whether hyperactivity in this area is responsible for the pessimism seen in depression. They are now investigating whether the structure is involved in the condition.
Money or shock
Animal studies have shown that the habenula fires up when subjects expect or experience adverse events, But in humans this tiny structure (less than 3mm in diameter) has proved difficult to see on scans.
Inventing a technique to pinpoint the area, scientists at University College London put 23 people though MRI scanners to monitor their brain activity.
Participants were shown a range of abstract pictures. A few seconds later, the images were linked to either punishment (painful electric shocks), reward (money) or neutral responses.
For some images, a punishment or reward followed each time but for others this varied - leaving people uncertain whether they were going to feel pain or not.
And when people saw pictures associated with shocks the habenula lit up.
And the more certain they were a picture was going to result in a punishment, the stronger and faster the activity in this area.
Scientists suggests the habenula is involved in helping people learn when it is best to stay away from something and may also signal just how bad a nasty event is likely to be.