Geeta Dayal

31
Jan 06

Reasons I’m Glad I Don’t Eat Meat, #295835

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SOFIA — Bulgarian customs stopped a 75-ton shipment of beef meat from Ireland that may have been frozen since 1984, local media reported on Monday.

See here for more.

2
Jul 05

Infrasound

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Cool piece by Rod Smith in the Seattle Weekly this week on sub-bass frequencies and the military. This subject always makes me think of Throbbing Gristle–most notably the time that TG tried to force a band of transients off their property in Hackney with the power of sound. Monte was tantalizingly vague, but offered a few pearls of wisdom. (Pick up the book for more details.)

Rod discusses a lot of the bodily correlates of infrasound–that very low frequencies might have, shall we say, a laxative effect, and far worse. He doesn’t really have the room to get into the neurological correlates of infrasound. What’s happening on the level of the brain when you’re exposed to very low frequencies?

There was a cool scientific study published in the journal Physiological Behavior in the year 1978–or on the TG timeline, between Second Annual Report and 20 Jazz Funk Greats. Researchers exposed rats to infrasound, and found that the levels of a neurotransmitter called norepinephrine had been altered. That’s not too surprising, because your body releases norepinephrine when it’s under stress. But the study gave early credence to the idea that your brain chemistry could possibly be altered–temporarily, at least–in response to very low frequencies. Norepinephrine’s interesting because it’s not only involved in stress, but it’s also involved in creating new memories. (Another study two years later gave rats tranquilizers, and then exposed them to infrasound.)

Animal behavior is one area where infrasound gets studied a lot. In 1990, researchers in Frankfurt found that there were actually special infrasound-sensitive neurons in pigeons that respond to frequencies below 20 hertz, in a region called the cochlear ganglion. And one explanation why a tiger’s roar is so scary for other animals (including humans) to hear is that part of the sound of the roar lies in the netherworld of infrasound, below 20 hertz; parts of a tiger’s growl can be 18 hertz and lower. This was only substantiated pretty recently, in a 2000 study by a group of bioacousticians who measured the sounds that 24 tigers made over a period of time.

Another interesting thing: there’s a gender difference in how people respond to these sounds. Women are apparently more attuned to these sounds than men are. There could be evolutionary reasons why this might be so.

14
Jan 05

Interesting research on the music/brain front from the London Tube,

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Interesting research on the music/brain front from the London Tube, where, according to the Guardian, “tube bosses will use recordings of Pavarotti recitals, Vivaldi, and Mozart in a battle against anti-social behaviour at 35 stations in the District, East London, Metropolitan, and Hammersmith & City Lines.

The initiative, announced yesterday by Metronet, LU’s maintenance contractor, follows a trial at four east London stations which prompted a 33% drop in abuse against staff.

An LU spokeswoman said: “This is aimed at youths, mainly young teenagers who hang about at stations. The science seems to be that the music is unfamiliar to them and also that it’s considered uncool.””

This deserves a full-on Proven by Science shredding (“The science seems to be that the music is unfamiliar to them”?! Egads!) but here are a few quick thoughts. It’s interesting that the trial took place in East London; I’m immediately getting fanciful visions in my head of ragtag grime crews being forced to listen to Vivaldi and scowling. This is all a little suspect, isn’t it? The brief article quotes a psychologist–or rather, paraphrases a psychologist, putting any potential fragments of actual science into the most vague, general terms possible:

“Adrian North, a psychologist at Leicester University, said there was evidence from nightclubs, doctors’ surgeries and dentists’ waiting rooms that playing calming music could could have an impact on behaviour.”

“could have an impact on behavior” — everything has an impact on behavior! The question is, what kind of impact? What kind of behavior? What relationship is there between said impact and said behavior? Why the tenor bellowings of massive-lung’d Pavarotti, of all people–opera can be intrusive and oppressive, it’s hardly the most “calming” form of music, I would venture to say–along with the baroque stylings of Vivaldi and that bad boy Mozart, the unwitting father of the (almost entirely discredited) “Mozart effect”?

The ’33% drop in abuse among staff’ figure is also suspect. How many numbers were used to create a 33% figure? If there were 3 incidents total, and it was curbed by 1, then the sample size is so small as to be totally meaningless and arbitrary. Meanwhile, I’m guessing that the ‘thugs’ in question will just turn up the volume on their headphones.

26
Dec 04

Mark S’ excellent experiments in cooking (see the post directly below this post) — especially his adventures in gingerbread-making and theories about raisins — remind me greatly of J.J. Thomson’s slightly bonkers

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Mark S’ excellent experiments in cooking (see the post directly below this post) — especially his adventures in gingerbread-making and theories about raisins — remind me greatly of J.J. Thomson’s slightly bonkers “plum pudding” model of the atom, which was always the atomic model I had the most fondness for. Boring old Rutherford and his ‘gold foil’ experiments (gold foil with NO CHOCOLATE INSIDE, i might add!) and the others never came up with an atomic model that was NEARLY as pleasing as Thomson’s.

Happy holidays, everyone, and eat lots of positively-charged pudding!

25
Nov 04

Economic Temple of Doom! Monkey Brains Solve Game Theory

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Economic Temple of Doom! Monkey Brains Solve Game Theory

I am wondering if this headline (loosely based in recent neuroscience, even!) beats Tom’s latest.

8
Nov 04

Huge article

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Huge article in the November issue of Scientific American asking (cue doodly synth music) “What is the secret behind music’s strange power?” I’m a sucker for music/brain articles–it’s one of my favorite subjects to obsess over–but for once, I’d like to see a piece that isn’t just a research summary. The article is a laundry list of studies, mostly focusing on neuroimaging (“Is there a center for music processing in the brain?” etc etc ad nauseum). I also get disappointed that so many of these experiments revolve around classical musicians or use classical music, and are done in lab settings that bear little or no resemblance to the environments where people actually experience music.

9
Sep 04

Mmmm…Legos.

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Mmmm…Legos.

An engineering experiment that pushes all of my buttons at the same time: chocolates, Legos, and totally geeky (i.e. awesome) DIY projects. You, too, can follow the progress of the 3D chocolate printer, built out of Legos.

16
Jul 04

Science proved what I’ve always suspected

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Science proved what I’ve always suspected — that humans have been eating cereal since the beginning of time. Well, not the beginning of time, but 23,000 years ago, which is, um, within some orders of magnitude of the beginning of time. What kind of cereal were they eating? Well, judging by the picture, it looks like they were big fans of Kelloggs Honey Smacks.

1
Jul 04

Tracer Hand requested that I post this

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Tracer Hand requested that I post this:

“It is very curious to see how science, that is, looking at and arranging the facts of a case with our own eyes and our own intelligence, without minding what somebody else has said, or how some old majority vote went in a pack of intriguing ecclesiastics,-I say it is very curious to see how science is catching up with one superstition after another.

There is a recognized branch of science familiar to all those who know anything of the studies relating to life, under the name of Teratology. It deals with all sorts of monstrosities which are to be met with in living beings, and more especially in animals. It is found that what used to be called lusus naturœ, or freaks of nature, are just as much subject to laws as the naturally developed forms of living creatures…

Thinking people are not going to be scared out of explaining or at least trying to explain things by the shrieks of persons whose beliefs are disturbed thereby…”

Oliver Wendell Holmes, “The Poet at the Breakfast Table,” J.M. Dent & Co., London. 1872.

26
May 04

The Russian army has rescued 10 tons of beer trapped under Siberian ice!!

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The Russian army has rescued 10 tons of beer trapped under Siberian ice!! “The lorry carrying the beer sank when trying to cross the frozen Irtysh River, and a rescue team of six divers, 10 workers and a modified T-72 tank have managed to save the load, but not the truck. The driver managed to jump to safety before the lorry sank.”

Go Team Russia!