weird science

A Fish Out of Water May Not be That Weird

We’ve all heard that old saying, “A fish out of water”. Unusually meant to describe something that makes you feel uncomfortable, completely out of your environment, etc. Though it was previously believed that fish had evolved to survive, at least briefly, on land once or twice it is know believed, thanks to a new study, that they can survive dozens of times. Link

Though the transition between water and land is extreme, it is not necessarily difficult. Well, what does this mean?

Well, it means something else prevent fish from becoming full-time, land-swelling creatures. The authors of the study, published in Evolution in August, ask a fundamental question: “How do species establish themselves in new environments?”

It can be gathered that most species fail to establish themselves in new environments…most of the time. For fish, there are many hurdles to overcome such as breathing, moving, and metabolizing. All of these things, and even more bodily functions, have to be modified in a way that accepts radically increased gravity and seriously decreased wetness.

Authors of the study, Terry Ord and Georgina Cooke of the University of New South Wales, had a few theories, as summarized below.

  • Fish that live in the intertidal zone would be more likely to have contact with land and away from their water due to their twice-daily transformation of the tides. Similarly, fish that live in ponds, puddles, or creeks that shrink and grow face a similar challenge.
  • Fish that live in water that is prone to heating up are known to lave it because warmer water means less oxygen, which leads to suffocating. In these cases, air/land provide some relief.
  • Fish that live on the bottom of their body of water also seem like better candidates for land-dwelling due to the fact that they have certain adaptations that make them more suited to the ground, such as flattened bodies that make walking easier and fins that are limb-like.
  • Since getting around on land is difficult for any fish, it might be easier for those whose diets don’t depend on seeking out mobile prey.

Based on these, they began a deep dive of all fish species that fit the above parameters. They found amphibious behavior in about 130 fish, from 33 different families that reach the oldest and youngest branches of the fish family tree. Many of these 33 families have a great evolutionary chance to transition from water to land.

But let’s get back to the question at hand – why have so few fish pioneered into the terrestrial world, because breathing, walking, and reproducing do not seem to pose huge barriers.

The authors theorize that, at the root of the issue, is staying wet. Fish drying out is the real challenge, especially the desiccation gills. Gills must remain moist in order for a fish to breathe, and without that guaranteed moisture…they’re doomed.


The above picture comes from Flickr user Alan Levine and is licensed under creative commons.

The Permafrost is Melting...and Life Forms are Waking Up

Sound like an episode of the X-Files? It might as well be. After several millennia dozens of ancient viruses, bacteria, plants, and yes, even animals are being 'woken up' after being (naturally) cryogenically frozen. link

For a quick refresher, what the heck is cryofreezing any way? Well, it's a little more than what science fiction makes it out to be. It is a real, natural processes that has unbelievable preservative powers. And the results are stunning. Scientists have had success in the last few years, even bringing and budding flowers that were cryogenically frozen.

Cryogenically frozen organic material acts like an interesting window into the world of the past. But, unlike a window, they're not just for looking out of. Through analyzing these ancient remnants, scientists may be able to learn about how species will cope with change in the future. Not to mention, the melting of the permafrost has helped created a new field of  science: resurrection ecology.

It may even give the ability to recreate evolution and evolutionary processes in years or months instead of thousands of years and millennia. Being able to compare current structures to their permafrost cousins could allow for this to happen.

Not to mention, through this, we may be able to help endangered or near-endangered species gain a genetic upper-hand through the study of evolutionary processes.

This photo comes from Flickr user Gabriel Caparó and is licensed under creative commons.

Rosetta's Comet is Getting Seriously Strange

For a quick update for those uninitiated on the awesomeness that is Rosetta's comet, it is a comet believed to contain the building blocks of life, creates its own weather, and hasn't really changed in thousands upon thousands of years. The Rosetta itself is a space probe (built by the European Space Agency) and is currently completing a detailed study of comet 67P (aka Rosetta's Comet). It was launched in 2004. link

In early June, scientists established a theory as to why Rosetta's comet has two distinct 'lobes'. These 'lobes' are actually two distinct comets which, for eternity, are doomed to break up, then orbit one another, and smash back together again...and again.....oh yeah, and again.

A new modeling study of comet evolution, conducted by researchers at Purdue and U of Colorado Boulder first established this theory based on seeing two large cracks (notably, each longer than a football field). They surmise it is possible that this process of break-up and rearrangement has happened through the Rosetta's comet lifetime and that in actually may be a feature of many 'bilobed' comets.

However, over time (a lot of time) these repeated breakups might accelerate the comet's demise. Daniel Scheeres, a key researcher in the study comments, "“If a comet nucleus goes through this process a number of times it may eventually make one of the two lobes small enough so that it can escape once it spins to disruption again.”

The study will continue and will include other imaged comets. They are extending it to see if other bilobed comets (like Halley's) share this perpetual breakup and re-adjoining. It is possible our solar system is full of perpetually shapeshifting space rocks and that space is even more dynamic than we imagined.


The above photo is part of the wikimedia commons and is licensed under Creative Commons.

Why Sentient Machines Might be Disappointing

Despite countless movies, books, and even scientific computers may forever be incapable of supporting human-like consciousness. link

It is well known that public expressions of the concern over the possible apocalyptic scenarios prompted by sentient machines are nothing new. But those worry-warts may not have anything to worry about. Consciousness is believed by many to be a biological phenomenon. Though, like a computer, neurons communicate with one another in a binary fashion by exchanging electrical signs but, unlike a computer, brains contain a host of analogue cellular, molecular, biochemical, and electrostatic processes, forces, and reactions.

However, there are still those who disagree with the idea of further pursuing sentient A.I. The big guns who are afraid aren't anyone to laugh at, either. The ranks include Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and even Bill Gates who believe that further research will yield self-aware A.Is all too eager to kill us.

Intentional behavior from A.I will, undoubtedly, require a mind. Intentionality stems from authentic beliefs, desires, motivations, and experience. A.I that includes these features are often known as 'Strong Artificial Intelligence' - an A.I that includes a full range of human cognitive abilities. On the other side of the spectrum, there is 'Weak Artificial Intelligence' which contains 'non-sentient' A.I. which run on digital computer programs and have no mind, subjective awareness, or even agency. Weak A.I. may seems to experience the world as we do, and they may even display intelligent behavior...but it is limited due to a lack of a mind and, thus, consciousness.

All current A.I. are Weak A.I.

The question is...can that change?

This picture is from Flickr User Dick Thomas Johnson and is licensed under Creative Commons.

Human-Animal Hybrids are Growing Organ Transplants

Currently, there are over 120,000 Americans alone who are on the list to get an organ transplant. To meet this high demand for organs such as liver and hearts, scientists have begun experimenting growing these organs inside animals via the addition of human stem cells. Mainly, the research has focused on pig and sheep embryos. Link

It is not leap of logic to guess that this research is extremely controversial. Not only that, but we don't know much about the effects of human organs grown in animals.

But the bigger worry is the instability of human stem cells. Human stem cells have the tendency to specialize and multiply and risk giving the animal human characteristics which could range from physical intelligence.

However, many research labs are moving forward with this research. New technologies are making it possible to genetically engineer pigs and sheep so that they can't develop certain tissue and organs. So what? Well that's how scientists would inject human stem cells into the embryos of such animals and allow the stem cells to grow into the missing human organ, which would then be harvested.

This picture is from the Flickr Account University of Liverpool Faculty of Health & Life Sciences and is licensed under Creative Commons.



How Constipation and Nostalgia (surprisngly) are Related.

A type of nostalgia has now been linked to pooping. Surprised? We were, too! Medical science doesn’t have one single ideal number for poop frequency - everyone is different, right? However, the general consensus is that anything from 3 times a day to 3 times a week is fine, depending on the person. Additionally, constipation is loosely defined as pooping less than three times in seven days. link

The “behavioral immune system” may be used to help explain the link between nostalgia and constipation. The behavioral immune system is the psychological mechanism that helps us detect and stay away from things that may carry disease, like corpses or bodily fluid. Thus, we’re programmed to be disgusted by feces, and, therefore, keen to get it out of, and away, from our bodies.

Maggie Koerth-Baker, a scientific journalist wrote, that innate sense of disgust has consistently propped up a rotating roster of medical “explanations” for constipation, additionally she's said: The ideas documented in the Ebers Papyrus, which dates to the 16th century B.C., persisted all the way through the 1930s, in the guise of “autointoxication” — accidental self-poisoning that begins in the bowels. Constipation, then, could literally cause any disease, from cancer to schizophrenia. And this emphasis on constipation as the cause of all disease got stronger in the late 19th century, after scientists began to understand the germ theory of disease, Whorton said. Suddenly, there was a scientific explanation for what everybody already thought to be true. Bacteria lived in your poop. Bacteria caused disease. Clearly, the longer your poop sat in your body, the more at risk you were of getting sick."

So, the cause of our constipation is linked to the vagueness of modern life...and a return to older, more wholesome (and decidedly less modern) practices may be the cure.

Overall happiness, too, may be a factor: A 1981 study on the link between personality and pooping habits found that “individuals who describe themselves in more favorable terms tend to produce more frequent stools.” (And people who were “more socially outgoing, more energetic and optimistic, [and] less anxious,” the study found, tended to produce bigger ones.) A bit weird, huh? But it makes you think...when were your happiest times? Were your bowel movements also frequent, happy, and large?

In conclusion, enjoying the present, in other words, may indirectly be a safeguard against constipation and a cure against it would be to move forward and avoid nostalgia when possible.

The photo comes from Flickr user Quinn Dombrowski and is licensed under Creative Commons.

Did the International Space Station just get Footage of a UFO?

This footage was captured by the International Space Station's base's cameras, where they released the  on Facebook - and theories abound to exactly what this could be. The slightly infamous UFO investigators, Secure Team 10, has posted a video on it that is quickly accruing views. However, spectators can't help but clash over whether or not the images show an alien craft. Tyler Glockner, from Secure Team 10, adds..."He [the person who sent him this video] says he sees what looks like a fireball of some sort streak in behind ISS."

The unidentifiable object comes out of the darkness of the feed, flies behind the ISS camera and gives us the briefest glance just before it disappears, shining some red lights on the ISS.

But how could it be a fireball in space? A place, by definition, does not contain any oxygen. In response, people are highlighting the fact that it may just be a meteor or other similar space event could explain the strange sight.

The video is at the top of this page, so you can decide for yourself.

The above picture is not related to the story and was provided by Wikimedia Commons.

There's a Bird that Thinks it's a Chainsaw

As we know from TV, movies, and the news, Australia is home to many strange creatures. But more than creepy crawlies, Australia is also home to a wide array of birds. The Superb Lyrebird is one of the greatest representatives of Australia's amazing animals. link

Scientifically known as 'Menura novaehollandiae' the Superb Lyrebird is one of the largest of the Passerines. The Passerines are a group of birds that comprises over 50% of all known bird species. The Passerines are commonly known as perching birds and, mistakenly, song birds.

Visually, the Superb Lyrebird looks like a cross between a pheasant and a peacock, due to their size and the fact that the males have an impressive plume. But it isn't any old plumage, in fact, it is two diftinct kinds of plumage: lace-like feathers and two outer-feathers that are curled, and resemble a greek lyre. But their plumage isn't the only impressive thing about them, their amazing ability to mimic sounds also makes them a notable species.

As young chicks, lyrebirds mainly imitate their parents’ vocalizations but as they continue to mature, their repertoire of sounds increases as they experience a broader environment. Their ability to mimic plays an important role in their ability to find a mate. During their mating season (June-August) males showcase their collection of sounds to put on a wonderful show for the females. His ability to mimic is parallel to his level of fitness, one of the main factors in finding a suitable mate.

So how does the bird sound like a chainsaw? Well,as tourism, humans, and construction begins to invade many of the the Superb Lyrebirds habitats their talents for mimicking have grown. Not only that, but the Lyrebirds have actually grown to include manufactured sounds they pick up into their mating rituals!

Sound a little nuts? Check out this video to hear it for yourself!

This picture is from Flickr User Dave Hosford and is licensed under Creative Commons.


Is A.I. Over-hyped?

Earlier this month, Google-DeepMind's AlphaGo AI program took a 2-0 lead in a 5 game match of GO, with Lee Sedol. GO is a game more complex Chess so this win was monumental, in fact, by the end of the month AlphaGo won all games but one. link

Arguments both for and against AI rile up any time a similar match is set up between human and AI. Matrix-like questions about enslavement emerge out of nowhere for some while others dream of some Jetson-like utopia. After the emotions cooled a bit, another argument emerged: Is AI being oversold?

Jaron Lanier, a computer scientist, makes us remember that Sedol wasn't just playing against one AI program. In fact, he was playing against the "aggregate of 30 million moves made during previous games by human players".  Lanier warns against a "premature mystery reduction" in which society, or at least some scientists, pretend that something works when it really doesn't.

Currently, most AI software today is programmed via massive datasets that represent all kinds of human activity. Lanier continues, "We want to pretend that there's this AI behind the curtain that's freestanding. But, actually, there's millions of people there, too.”

This picture is licensed under Wikimedia Commons.

Lucid Dreamers Could Unravel the Mystery of Consciousness

Roughly, we spend 6 entire years of our lives dreaming. Although we can be "aware" of what happens in our dreams, we're clearly not conscious in the same way as when we are awake. link

But some people, in particular lucid dreamers, have the ability to experience awareness while they dream by "re-awakening" aspects of their waking life consciousness. Like Leo in Inception, they can even control and act with intentionality in their dream world.

According to a study done by Discover Magazine, about 50% of people will experience at least one lucid dream during their lives. There is also some evidence that lucid dreaming can be induced and does not need to be regulated to an accidental anomaly.

Incredible studies have examined the difference between lucid and non-lucid dream, and what goes on in the brain during this time, by hooking people up to a brain scanner over night and comparing brain activity. They have developed a communication between lucid dreamer participants and the researchers themselves. Before going to sleep, the participant and the research agree on a specific eye movement in order to signal that they are currently lucid dreaming.

This way of testing has shown that the difference between non-lucid and lucid dreaming is associated with increased activity in the frontal areas of the brain, areas which are already associated with higher order cognitive functioning.

So, what does this have to do with consciousness? It has been established that there is a marked difference between the two states of dreaming, however, the overall brain state remains the same. By comparing these specific differences in brain activity, the features that facilitate awareness can be highlighted and examined.

The picture above is not related to the story and was taken by Flickr User Sean Hill. It is licensed under Creative Commons.