science news

I have not had much energy for writing the past week; I will say that I have SAD-st, that is seasonal affective disorder-summertime type.  The DSM, the psychiatric diagnostic manual, has SAD-winter time for those who are affected by the lack of sunlight, but nothing for those of us affected by high heat, humidity, and long days.  Of course the old rock and rollers knew this as the ‘Summertime Blues.’  Anyway, I prefer cooler and shorter days.  That makes some sense as my ancestors retreated before the glaciers and then chased them back to the north.  Whenever someone refuses ice in their drinks by saying our ancestors did not have ice in theirs, I reply, “Mine did.”  I do not care whether you like ice in your drink or not, but i do care about your rationale and your generalizing it to me.

Enough of petulance (a prime symptom of SAD-st), I hope you subscribe to Science News, in which case you have no need to read more, but if you do not, I want to tell you that the July 11, 2015 edition speaks to our biological roots quite a bit.  First up, a genetic study of prehistoric remains shows that people in the bronze age, say 4000 years ago or 1000 years before Homer recorded the Iliad and Odyssey, migrated from the Balkans eastward to southern Russia and northwest to the rest of Europe.  They also were the first to use visual glyphs, i.e., writing. Most of these people raised cattle but did not have the capacity to digest lactose, so that appeared and spread quickly over the next 1500 years.  I find these genetic studies fascinating; we have had our genome analyzed through the National Geographic Society for our ancestry and it helps in understanding where my ancestors were back then.

Another story covers a topic I have written about before, the hardiness of musical memories in the face of Alzheimer’s.  This same issue covers some research that finds that the disease does not impact the areas  responsible for musical memories, i.e., the brain thins and accrues amyloid-beta in areas other than those for musical preferences.  So this is now documented quite well, that humans with dementia retain musical memory even  more than knowledge of their own identity.  My question is why?  What is special about these areas, about music, that preserves them from the ravages of dementia?  More to come here, I hope, soon.

Lastly, a story discusses research showing how chimps laugh, i.e., what muscles they use and when.  Darwin, what a keen observer he was, in 1872 used photographs to document the similarities in emotional expression between humans and other animals, and now some researchers have studied the musculature chimps use in laughing.  They laugh both silently, thereby showing again our proclivity for facial expression, and aloud.  Their laugh is different because our breath control is much more graduated and subtle.  They laugh in rough play and we laugh in a conversation, i.e., at a joke.  My questions there are what is the relationship between rough play and comedy and what promoted our breath control (And fine motor control in handedness for that matter)?  I hope much more later.  Travel on.

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