When illiterate adults were taught to read, an imaging study led by Stanislas Dehaene in France showed that changes occurred in the brain as reading was acquired. But, as these adults developed skills for reading, they also lost their former abilities to process certain types of visual information, such as the ability to determine when an object is the mirror image of another. Learning to read therefore comes at a cost, and the ability to carry out certain types of visual processing are lost when people learn to read. This would suggest that the visual strengths in dyslexia are simply an artifact of differences in reading experience, a trade-off that occurs as a consequence of poor reading in dyslexia.
If this is indeed the case, given that attention affects perception in very general ways, any number of advantages should emerge. While people with dyslexia may tend to miss details in their environment that require an attentional focus, they would be expected to be better at noticing things that are distributed more broadly. To put this another way, while typical readers may tend to miss the forest because it’s view is blocked by all the trees, people with dyslexia may see things more holistically, and miss the trees, but see the forest.
Everything is a trade-off.
It’s funny how science fiction universes so often treat humans as a boring, default everyman species or even the weakest and dumbest.
I want to see a sci fi universe where we’re actually considered one of the more hideous and terrifying species.
How do we know our saliva and skin oils wouldn’t be ultra-corrosive to most other sapient races? What if we actually have the strongest vocal chords and can paralyze or kill the inhabitants of other worlds just by screaming at them? What if most sentient life in the universe turns out to be vegetable-like and lives in fear of us rare “animal” races who can move so quickly and chew shit up with our teeth?
Like that old story “they’re made of meat,” only we’re scarier.
HOLY SHIT THEY EAT CAPSAICIN FOR FUN
YOU GUYS I HEARD A HUMAN ONCE ATE AN AIRPLANE.
A HUMAN CAN KEEP FIGHTING FOR HOURS EVEN AFTER YOU SHOOT IT
humans are a proud warrior race with a pantheon of bloody gods: Ram-Bo, Schwarzenegger, etc.
REMOVING A LIMB WILL NOT FATALLY INCAPACITATE HUMANS: ALWAYS DESTROY THE HEAD.
WARNING: HUMANS CAN DETECT YOU EVEN AT NIGHT BY TRACKING VIBRATIONS THROUGH THE ATMOSPHERE
WARNING: HUMANS CAN REPRODUCE AT A RATE OF 1 PER SPACEYEAR. DESTROY INFESTATIONS IMMEDIATELY
THE HUMAN MOUTH HAS OVER THIRTY OUTCROPS OF BONE AND POWERFUL JAW MUSCLES.
HUMAN BITES CAN BE FATALLY INFECTIOUS EVEN TO OTHER HUMANS
WARNING: HUMANS CAN AND WILL USE IMPROVISED WEAPONS. SEE CLASSIFIED DATA LABELED J. CHAN.
HUMANS CAN PROJECT BIOWEAPONS FROM ALMOST EVERY ORIFICE ON THEIR BODY. DO NOT INHALE
OH GOD THE HUMANS FIGURED OUT DOOR HANDLES OH GOD OH GOD
More seriously, humans do have a number of advantages even among Terrestrial life. Our endurance, shock resistance, and ability to recover from injury is absurdly high compared to almost any other animal. We often use the phrase “healthy as a horse” to connote heartiness - but compared to a human, a horse is as fragile as spun glass. There’s mounting evidence that our primitive ancestors would hunt large prey simply by following it at a walking pace, without sleep or rest, until it died of exhaustion; it’s called pursuit predation. Basically, we’re the Terminator.
"We have instruments on board that will start sniffing for this gas and taste it, we will also be collecting some of this dust and touching the comet itself. Hopefully that will occur sometime this week."
Recall from my previous post how we have three wildly disparate time scales in play: millions, billions and trillions. Rounding to the nearest 20, we have:
- Time for intelligent life to fill a galaxy: super short 20 million years
- Time for intelligent life to evolve in a galaxy: moderate 20 billion years
- Time of universe to keep having stars: super long 20 trillion years
The first perspective shift is to step back in time, and realize the universe is very young. With 20 trillion years of star generation ahead, the universe has only covered 13.7 billion years or roughly .07% of its life span. Compare this to a person who expects to live 70 years, and you’d get .07% * 70 years = roughly 18 days. So in human terms the universe is a three week old baby. No wonder there’s not too much life out there yet.
[via daring fireball]
The WEIRD mind also appears to be unique in terms of how it comes to understand and interact with the natural world. Studies show that Western urban children grow up so closed off in man-made environments that their brains never form a deep or complex connection to the natural world. While studying children from the U.S., researchers have suggested a developmental timeline for what is called “folkbiological reasoning.” These studies posit that it is not until children are around 7 years old that they stop projecting human qualities onto animals and begin to understand that humans are one animal among many. Compared to Yucatec Maya communities in Mexico, however, Western urban children appear to be developmentally delayed in this regard. Children who grow up constantly interacting with the natural world are much less likely to anthropomorphize other living things into late childhood.
Given that people living in WEIRD societies don’t routinely encounter or interact with animals other than humans or pets, it’s not surprising that they end up with a rather cartoonish understanding of the natural world. “Indeed,” the report concluded, “studying the cognitive development of folkbiology in urban children would seem the equivalent of studying ‘normal’ physical growth in malnourished children.”
Transmission Control Protocol, or TCP, is an algorithm that manages data congestion on the Internet, and as such was integral in allowing the early web to scale up from a few dozen nodes to the billions in use today. Here’s how it works: As a source, A, transfers a file to a destination, B, the file is broken into numbered packets. When B receives each packet, it sends an acknowledgment, or an ack, to A, that the packet arrived.
This feedback loop allows TCP to run congestion avoidance: If acks return at a slower rate than the data was sent out, that indicates that there is little bandwidth available, and the source throttles data transmission down accordingly. If acks return quickly, the source boosts its transmission speed. The process determines how much bandwidth is available and throttles data transmission accordingly.
It turns out that harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex barbatus) behave nearly the same way when searching for food. Gordon has found that the rate at which harvester ants — which forage for seeds as individuals — leave the nest to search for food corresponds to food availability.
A forager won’t return to the nest until it finds food. If seeds are plentiful, foragers return faster, and more ants leave the nest to forage. If, however, ants begin returning empty handed, the search is slowed, and perhaps called off.
Now that we’ve established that persistence hunting may be the key driving adaptation for Homo Erectus, we can start exploring the cognitive demands of persistence hunting. Here, I believe, we’ll find the evolutionary origins of mystical states of mind. From my reading of the literature, there seems to be three major cognitive developments required for persistence hunting:
- 1. an intrinsic reward for the action of running
- 2. a heightened awareness of the overall environment
- 3. ability to mimic the psyche of the animal prey
1) In studies of societies that undertake persistence hunting, it was found that hunters during the hunt often fall into a quasi-mystical state of euphoria. Running is considered effortless and enjoyable in itself. Considering that recorded hunts can last up to 8 hours, there is a tremendous delayed gratification involved. Thus, it is necessary to evolve an intrinsic reward for the running itself, in order to motivate our persistence hunter to carry out this otherwise exhausting activity. As such, our ancestor’s brains evolved natural endorphins that are released with the physiological markers of long-distance running, such as regular intense breathing, and rhythmic motion.
2) For persistence hunting to work, the hunters must isolate and chase down a single animal. If you get mixed up and chase after different animals, you will not be able to exhaust it to collapse. Thus, one of the crucial abilities of a successful hunter is to track an animal over the landscape during an entire 8 hour run. The hunter has to develop the cognitive ability to maintain awareness of the prey in the vast expanse of the landscape. This is different to other mammalian predators, who only need to maintain direct visual contact as they run down their prey directly. The Hunting Ape must have developed an expansion of consciousness that defocuses from what is in front of you, diffuse over the vast expanse of the landscape in order to locate the prey anywhere on the horizon over the many hours of a chase.
3) Over a given chase, the hunters often lose sight of the animal, and no clear tracks are discernible. In such instances, the advantage goes to the hunter who could figure out which way the animal was likely to have gone. Our ancestors had to do it without tools such as GPS, satellite tracking, or knowledge of evolution. Instead, our ancestors found a short circuit to this information by evolving the ability to be “possessed” by the animal, or cognitively inhabiting the mind and thinking of the animal. Indeed, this is how modern day persistence hunters operate to predict the movement of the prey even when the trail was lost completely.
In accounts of mystic states in formless traditions, an early precursor to a formless mystic experience is the experience of light. As the mind focuses on the origin of perceptions, defined perceptions are prevented from developing. This results in experiences of diffuse light, and music. This simplified perceptions are the results of blocking the development of perceptions received in our sense organs.
The formless mystical state occurs when all perceptions ceases. One is then conscious only of consciousness. Since there are no relative perceptions to keep track of time differences, time, for all and intents and purposes, stops. One steps out of the manifest universe. Meister Eckhart calls this the experience of the Godhead, the underlying fabric of existence. Buddhists call this Emptiness. From this vantage point, all perceptions, which belong to the manifest universe, is an illusion.
"Misconceptions like this are unavoidable," he said, "now that we’ve eaten of the tree of knowledge. But Paradise is locked and bolted, and the cherubim stands behind us. We have to go on and make the journey round the world to see if it is perhaps open somewhere at the back."
One of my favorite essays, I was sure that I posted this years ago but apparently not. Either way, it’s worth reading again.