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Posts Tagged ‘evolution’

Creationism is Stupid

July 11, 2011 2 comments

And it’s being taught in schools. I know its an issue that has been around for awhile (and isn’t going away), but I think it’s good to remind people this is happening.

"Doonesbury" by Garry Trudeau

Skeptic Skills Review: Pareidolia; The Case of the Kate Middleton Jelly Bean

April 15, 2011 Leave a comment

I was prompted to write about pareidolia, the phenomenon of seeing shapes or patterns in everyday stuff, because of this facepalm-inducing story from The Telegraph.

Jelly bean resembling Kate Middleton to fetch £500

Kate Middleton and the jelly bean found by Wesley Hosie and Jessica White of Taunton Photo: SWNS

Yes, the bride in the upcoming Royal Wedding has been spotted in Jelly bean form. And its big news for the Brits.

The British really confuse me. Not only do they waste huge amounts of tax payer dollars so that the useless Monarchy can live a life of luxury, purely for being figureheads. It is an outdated form of government and I don’t understand it.

But a jellybean? Seriously?

This is a classic instance of pareidolia. Though pareidolia can occur for all types of shapes and patterns, it is especially strong for patterns that look like human faces.

People are seeing Kate Middleton’s face everywhere in buildup to this Royal Wedding. It is at the forefront of their minds. And when a random collection of food dye happens to look like a person with long hair, it HAS to be Kate Middleton! (Could also be Kurt Cobain if you ask me)

But it doesn’t just happen with jellybeans. People have claimed to see the Virgin Mary’s face in things from toast to soiled bed sheets. There was the infamous Face on Mars, which turned out to be just a big hill.

The infamous 'Face on Mars' taken by Viking 1 in 1976. Photo: NASA

The 'Face on Mars' photographed again in 2001 by the Mars Global Surveyor. Photo: NASA

So why does this happen to us?

Humans have evolved to rapidly recognize human faces as a safety mechanism. Being able to see in an approaching person is a friend or an enemy was quite advantageous to developing species.

A study in 2009

found that objects incidentally perceived as faces evoked an early (165ms) activation in the ventral fusiform cortex, at a time and location similar to that evoked by faces, whereas common objects did not evoke such activation

Our brains are hard-wired to quickly recognize face-like patterns, which is why this kind of story pops up so much. It is also why the ‘faces’ are always famous person or religious figures, instead of your brother Bob or my cousin Phil. They evoke an emotional response and so faces that we see photographed or on TV all the time are often the first ones our memories access.

But I’m sure someone will pay a lot of money for this delicious candy. I mean, have you seen some of the crap they’ve been selling with the happy couple’s faces on it?

Looking to Hook Up? Don’t Tell Them You’ve Been Dumped…

November 23, 2010 Leave a comment

Yup, science is your wing-man.

A study published online today in the journal Evolutionary Psychology tests how people react when they hear a potential mate has been dumped.

The study used 198 subjects (102 women and 96 men) with ages around 18-19. They brought them in groups into a computer lab and they did not interact with one another.

Instead, they were told to read the online profile of 3 potential mates. The profiles were set up to look like online dating ads, but did not have photos.

The subjects were then asked to grade, on a scale of 1 to 9, how much they would want to:

  1. Have a dating relationship
  2. Have a long-term relationship
  3. Have a sexual relationship

with the person in the profile. They rated the profile twice; once after reading the first half of the profile (i.e. I am easy-going, fun-loving etc). They rated the profile a second time after reading the second half of the profile, which contained information on how the person’s last relationship ended.

The two ratings were then compared to one another to see how perception changes after learning how the potential mate’s last relationship ended. And the results are…

As you might expect, when the subjects heard that their potential date had been dumped, their scores dropped significantly more than if they were the dumper, or if the information was not available. This was seen for all 3 types of relationships tested (dating, long-term, and sexual).

Additionally, the researchers found that

female participants reported an increased desire to have a sexual relationship with a potential partner after learning he had rejected his last partner. However, while men’s desire to have a sexual relationship with a target was not influenced by her having rejected her last partner, their desire to have a romantic relationship with her decreased significantly. On the other hand, both men and women were put off by a target failing to disclose the circumstances of his or her last break-up.
So if you’re a male, your chances with a new girl increase if you tell her that you dumped your last girlfriend. If you are a female and you want a romantic relationship, you should tell the guy that you were the one who was dumped.
 
Some interesting differences between the sexes there. One limitation of the study is that it only uses subjects around 18 or 19 years old. I would suspect that if you did the same experiment with an older crowd, the results would change. Specifically, I don’t think middle-aged persons would care as much how the potential mate’s last relationship ended.
 
Psychology is pretty interesting, and I regret not taking a couple of psych courses in university as electives.

The Physics of Carbon Dating

August 13, 2010 Leave a comment

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a hockey player. Then a doctor. Then a paleontologist. Then I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark and I wanted to be an archeaologist.

Well one thing led to another, and I ended up getting a Physics degree instead. Luckily for me though, studying physics gave me the tools and experience to understand all kinds of stuff from other scientific fields.

Take archeology and geology for example. One of the primary tools in this field for determining the age of a specimen is radio-carbon dating. But how does it work, and why do we place so much stock in its results?

Lets start at the beginning. Carbon is atomic element #6. The most abundant form of Carbon is Carbon-12, which has 6 protons and 6 neutrons in its nucleus (6 + 6 = Carbon-12).

We are Carbon-based life forms. Carbon has the ability to form huge molecules making our existence possible. (Silicon also has the ability to form big molecules, which Star Trek has taken advantage of to create some crazy looking Silicon-based aliens).

But there is another form of Carbon out there: Carbon-14 (C14 for short), which has 6 protons and 8 neutrons.

C14 is unstable. That extra neutrons cause problems in the nucleus so eventually Carbon-14 will decay into the happy and stable Nitrogen-14 (which actually makes up 78% of the air we breathe).

So how does this help us with dating stuff? Well C14 is naturally created in the atmosphere. So at any given time, there is a certain amount of C14 in the atmosphere. So when plants undergo photosynthesis, which is when plants take in Carbon dioxide and sunlight to make energy, they absorb some C14 at the same time. After this happens, animals will eat these plants and absorb some C14  themselves.

From: HowStuffWorks.com

Long story short, all living things will have a certain amount of C14 in their systems while they are alive.

But when plants or animals die, they stop taking in C14 from the environment. And since C14 is unstable, it will start to decay.

C14 has a half-life of 5730 years. This means that one half of C14 in a sample will decay after one half-life. For example, if you had 10 grams C14 atoms and waited 5730 years, 5 grams will have decayed, and you would have 5 grams of C14 left. If you waited another 5730 years, 2.5 grams will have decayed and you would have 2.5 grams left, and so on.

So scientists can take a fossilized sample of bone or plant, compare the amount of C14 in the sample to what should be in living tissue, and they can calculate how old the sample must be.

Granted, this is a simplified explanation I have given here, and there are other factors to consider. But calibration of the technique is very good, and we can get an accuracy of the age of a sample to with +/-16 years for a sample younger than 6000 years, and within 160 years for samples less than 50,000 years old.

After 50,000 years, C14 dating doesn’t work so well, because there just isn’t enough C14 to make an accurate measurement. But there are other elements with long half-lives that we can use to date much older stuff, and they all work on the same general principle as what I’ve explained here.

Many Intelligent Design proponents and Young Earth theorists will try and disprove these techniques. They may give arguments about how concentration of C14 has not been constant over the past 50,000 years. This is actually true, but we can account for it in our measurement.

So sorry IDers, the Earth was not created 6000 years ago. It was created roughly 4.5 billion years ago which, I think, is much more awesome.

Sweet Science Tattoos

July 12, 2010 Leave a comment

There is a blog published by Discover Magazine called The Loom. It is written by Carl Zimmer, who writes for the New York Times and is a columnist for Discover.

He has a section on his blog where people can send in photos of their science-related tattoos. Its pretty awesome so I thought I would share it with all of you. Below are a few of my favourites, but you can seem them all here.

(Hint: Click on the photos to see the explanation of the tattoo)

Quantum (ink) Dots

The Hominid Wheel

From a CERN Bubble Chamber to Epidermis

The Periodic Table