Monday, 25 June 2012

Cheering up bird - 25: The Atlantic Puffin

Puffins, (c) Dr J. Meade, all rights reserved

Welcome (back) to Weirdbeautiful. Happy Monday.

Cheering up bird today is the Puffin: or- more accurately, the Atlantic Puffin, Fratercula arctica: a ridiculous little creature, if ever I saw one. Sometimes called the "penguin of the northern hemisphere", puffins are in fact a small species of Auk. The picture above is by the research zoologist Dr Jessica Meade and used here with permission- thank you, Jess.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Happy Birthday, Alan Turing

Welcome (back) to Weirdbeautiful!

Today marks the 100th Anniversary of the birth of Alan Turing, so links-of-the-week are to articles about him. The first, by computer scientist Vint Cerf summarises Turing's acheivements and points out that his should be a house-hold name:

the second is  a link to "The Alan Turing Year" project's homepage and the articles it contains-

Looking back, over history, it is easy to find examples of geniuses who suffered personally on account of the climate of the times in which they lived. The persecution and house arrest of Galileo Galilei for heresy is perhaps the most obvious example, but it seems to remiss to write about Alan Turing without noting that he- too- was treated appalingly by the authorities and the state for whom he worked. In a mere 41 years of life and just over 20 years of working-life, Alan Turing laid the foundations for much of modern computing and work into artifical intelligence, so it is hard not to wonder what else he might have devised and how mankind might have benefitted, had he lived in kinder times and lived out his natural life-span.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Dogs, Wolves, Foxes and Psychopaths

Recently, the news seems to be a depressing parade of real-life horror stories of cannibalism and psychopaths. Clearly, there is very little in any of this that could be decribed as remotely beautiful, but the mindset of a psychopath is certainly very weird. In recent years, though, advances in our understanding of human and animal brains are finally giving hope of understanding the "causes", or, at least, the neuroanatomy of psychopathy. What the legal system chooses to do with this information, of course, is an entirely different issue. In any case, one of the better articles on the brains of psychopaths online is this piece: Anatomy of a Psychopath..: by Dr Jonathan T. Pararajasingham-->

For a long time, it has been known that it is possible to breed "tameness*", even "empathy" (apparently empathetic behaviour), into animals (compare the average golden retriever with a wolf...), which strongly implies a genetic component to tame and apparently affectionate behaviour. In this case, can "we" find a genetic component to the lack of empathy and shallowness of emotions that characterise psychopaths?


*The most famous experiments on this subject were Dmitri Belayeav's studies on the domestication of silver foxes-