Apollo 17 landed on the moon on December 1, 1972. It was the last manned trip to the moon (Apollo 18isn’t real!). The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera has shot new images of the landing site of Apollo 17, from a height of 22 kilometers. On the photos the landing site of the Challenger Lunar Module, some test equipment and the Lunar Roving Vehicle can be seen:
Arthur C. Clarke, the inventor of the communications sattelite and author of the novel 2001: A Space Oddysey, gave his thoughts on what the future would look like in the year 2000, on a t.v. show in 1964. Many of his predictions have become reality. Al Gore eat you heart out:
We could be in instant contact with each other, wherever we may be, where we can contact our friends anywhere on earth, even if we don’t know their actual physical location. It will be possible in that age, perhaps only 50 years from now, for a man to conduct his business from Tahiti or Bali just as well as he could from London…. Almost any executive skill, any administrative skill, even any physical skill, could be made independent of distance. I am perfectly serious when I suggest that one day we may have brain surgeons in Edinburgh operating on patients in New Zealand.
One day, when we’ve discovered countless planets filled with water, nature and lifeforms, we’ll probably look back and wonder what the fuss of this dead, dry planet was all about. But right now, it’s all we got: the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has revealed what looks like flowing water on Mars! It was already known that Mars in some spots harbors ice, but flowing water hadn’t been found yet.
It seems a seasonal thing though: the water only appears from the Martian spring to winter. An extremely important finding nonetheless; time to send some people there! From the NASA press conference:
Observations from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have revealed possible flowing water during the warmest months on Mars.
“NASA’s Mars Exploration Program keeps bringing us closer to determining whether the Red Planet could harbor life in some form,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said, “and it reaffirms Mars as an important future destination for human exploration.”
Dark, finger-like features appear and extend down some Martian slopes during late spring through summer, fade in winter, and return during the next spring. Repeated observations have tracked the seasonal changes in these recurring features on several steep slopes in the middle latitudes of Mars’ southern hemisphere.
“The best explanation for these observations so far is the flow of briny water,” said Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona, Tucson. McEwen is the principal investigator for the orbiter’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) and lead author of a report about the recurring flows published in Thursday’s edition of the journal Science.
Some aspects of the observations still puzzle researchers, but flows of liquid brine fit the features’ characteristics better than alternate hypotheses. Saltiness lowers the freezing temperature of water. Sites with active flows get warm enough, even in the shallow subsurface, to sustain liquid water that is about as salty as Earth’s oceans, while pure water would freeze at the observed temperatures.
These results are the closest scientists have come to finding evidence of liquid water on the planet’s surface today. Frozen water, however has been detected near the surface in many middle to high-latitude regions. Fresh-looking gullies suggest slope movements in geologically recent times, perhaps aided by water. Purported droplets of brine also appeared on struts of the Phoenix Mars Lander. If further study of the recurring dark flows supports evidence of brines, these could be the first known Martian locations with liquid water.
Impressive: a robot that follows your movements and can create lightwriting.
The future of fabrication lies in the ability to fuse precision machines with an intuitive, creative process. Our built environment will become radically different when standardization is replaced with robotic customization. This project is designed to generate a collaborative space for humans and robots by offering a unique design process. ABB4400 will mimic. ABB4400 will interpret + augment. You + ABB4400 will share and create together.
In the 1970′s philosopher Terence McKenna developed the “Stoned Ape Theory”of human evolution. McKenna argued that the evolution from Home erectus to Homo sapiens was facilitated by the addition of the mushroom psilocybe cubensis (magic mushroom) to the diet of our ancestors. According to McKenna the improved visual acuity caused by the mushrooms gave an evolutionary advantage to Home erectus. It also helped developed linguistic thinking among humans, he explained.
Will Carsola and Duncan Trussell were inspired by McKenna and created a “trailer” for an animations series called Thunderbrain, based on the “Stoned Ape Theory. Can’t wait for this series to air!:
A nice educational video from NASA from the 1970s; the time when it was still expected that around the year 2000, people would live in space stations. Now we don’t even have Space Shuttles anymore.
The start looks kinda like the Lost’s DHARMA Initiative, by the way…
A NASA video from a time of great optimism about space exploration. The Apollo missions were completed and the Space Shuttle program was underway. How soon before cheap and frequent flights to space would allow the construction of O’Neal colonies and mining camps on the Moon? This visionary approach calls for tiered greenhouses in space and unlimited solar power beamed back to Earth… all before the year 2000!
For the last time in history, a Space Shuttle will be launched today in T minus 10 minutes. That is, at 11.26 EST. Watch it happening, if weather permits, live here!
- Update: The weather risk is deemed ‘acceptable’, so they’re gonna pull of!
- Update: Succesful lift-off! What a sight.
At approximately 11:26 ET today, if weather permits, space shuttle Atlantis will embark on the final mission of NASA’s space shuttle program.
Atlantis is scheduled to go on a 12-day mission, carrying only four astronauts (compared to the usual crew of six or seven). During the mission, it will visit the International Space Station, drop off about 9,500 supplies and spare parts and conduct an experiment to test new refueling and repair technology for satellites in orbit.
The weather forecast is far from optimal though — showers and thunderstorms could be present in the launch area, and NASA says there’s a 70% chance of delay. If that happens, NASA will have another opportunity for launch on Saturday and Sunday, when the weather forecast is slightly better.
Space shuttle Endeavour, which successfully ended its last mission on June 1, was to be the last aircraft in NASA’s space shuttle program, but another mission was approved in October 2010.
Vijf van de acht soorten tonijn in onze oceanen staan op het punt uit te sterven. Als er geen onmiddellijk wereldwijd vangverbod komt, is hun lot nu al bezegeld. De drie andere soorten doen het niet veel beter.
De International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) schrijft dit in een rapport waarvan de resultaten zijn gepubliceerd in het gerenommeerde blad Science. De kans dat supermarkten in 2020 nog tonijn verkopen is, als er niet snel iets verandert, klein volgens de IUCN.
De visserij van de soorten blauwvintonijn staat volgens het rapport op instorten. De kans op herstel is minimaal, want blauwvintonijnen leven lang en planten zich pas op latere leeftijd voort. Deze soort tonijn is nu al een peperdure delicatesse die voornamelijk door Japanners wordt opgekocht en gegeten. Onlangs werd op een visveiling 300.000 euro neergeteld voor één blauwvintonijn.
Met de grootoogtonijn, geelvintonijn en albacore, de soorten die veelal in onze winkelkarretjes en tussen onze salades en sandwiches belanden, gaat het niet veel beter. Als er niet onmiddellijk een quotum wordt ingesteld voor de vangst van deze soorten is het tegen 2020 gedaan.
The Atlantic once again has a wonderful and gorgeous picture collection, this time about the history of the Space Shuttle. The picture above is the original Star Trek crew attending the first presentation of the first Shuttle, named Enterprise, in 1976.
Check out this amazing video of an orangutan rescuing a young bird from the water. A demonstration of intelligence, thoughtfulness and empathy. I think some animals are highy underestimated and capable of much more than we think, and this video only proves that.
A visitor to US zoo, captured moment when a 15 stone ape mounted a delicate rescue of the young bird, tenderly lifting it from the water using a leaf.
The curious ape was in its enclosure, when it noticed the bird’s struggle in the pond.
It yanked a leaf from a nearby bush and extended its arm out to the bird, beckoning to the chick in the hope that it will latch onto the leaf.
Onlookers cheered as orangutan managed to get the bird to grip the leaf for a split second only to have the bird drop again.
In a last-ditch attempt to rescue the chick, the orangutan gently waved the leaf in front of the bird which managed to latch on to it.
The ape plucked the bird from the water to the delight of the crowd. During the clip, one woman can be heard exclaiming: “Oh my God look, that is unbelievable, he’s got him.”
The massive ape carried the chick back to the main part of its enclosure, where it tenderly placed it down on the grass and proceeded to gently stroke the bird.
Cathy Smith, from the Orangutan Foundation, said: “They are very intelligent animals and can be very inquisitive.
“This shows how chilled out and good at problem solving these amazing creatures are.
“It’s hard to say whether he knew he would be saving the chick but you never know. I have never heard of anything like this before.”
Also check out those recent scientific studies showing that elephants are just as intelligent as great apes, have a better short term memory than humans, and are very good at path finding and discussing that among each other. I think it shows that the school textbook distinction between ‘intelligence’ and ‘intuition’ is very outdated; animals have a less developed sense of intelligence, but intelligence nonetheless, only differing from humans in degree.
Interesting stuff. This is probably more on a linguistic or conceptual level – of course these people will have the sense of a sequence of events occurring, of past, present, future and memory – but apparently they lack a separate word referring to “time” as, well, a concept. Neither do they portray time as something linear through the use of spatial terms, like we do (saying that something is “ahead” or “past” you).
According to the researchers, this has to do with the fact that these people haven’t developed “time technology” – that is, stuff like calendars to ‘measure’ time in. That kinda seems to me like a chicken and egg question though, for how could they have developed calendars if they didn’t have an abstract idea of time first? Or does an abstract idea of time indeed arise out of the use of such technology, which is in essence merely practical?
One caveat though: according to one critic of the study, the tribe may well use these concepts, but the language they use may not reflect it. If I understand his ideas correctly, this has to do with the confined locale in which these people live (which is interesting in itself). Because they don’t see too many rivers or other multiple, similar things to abstract into one category, but rather “the river” that they know well, they don’t use generic words for stuff. This also disables the use of general spatial terms, and therefore the application of these terms in respect to time. Or something like that.
Anyway, very interesting, because “space” and “time” are the most fundamental categories to position oneself in relation to everything else, and these people apparently think, or talk, in another way.
An Amazonian tribe has no abstract concept of time, say researchers.
The Amondawa lacks the linguistic structures that relate time and space – as in our idea of, for example, “working through the night”.
The study, in Language and Cognition, shows that while the Amondawa recognise events occuring in time, it does not exist as a separate concept.
The idea is a controversial one, and further study will bear out if it is also true among other Amazon languages.
The Amondawa were first contacted by the outside world in 1986, and now researchers from the University of Portsmouth and the Federal University of Rondonia in Brazil have begun to analyse the idea of time as it appears in Amondawa language.
“We’re really not saying these are a ‘people without time’ or ‘outside time’,” said Chris Sinha, a professor of psychology of language at the University of Portsmouth.
“Amondawa people, like any other people, can talk about events and sequences of events,” he told BBC News.
“What we don’t find is a notion of time as being independent of the events which are occuring; they don’t have a notion of time which is something the events occur in.”
The Amondawa language has no word for “time”, or indeed of time periods such as “month” or “year”.
The people do not refer to their ages, but rather assume different names in different stages of their lives or as they achieve different status within the community.
But perhaps most surprising is the team’s suggestion that there is no “mapping” between concepts of time passage and movement through space.
Ideas such as an event having “passed” or being “well ahead” of another are familiar from many languages, forming the basis of what is known as the “mapping hypothesis”.
But in Amondawa, no such constructs exist.
“None of this implies that such mappings are beyond the cognitive capacities of the people,” Professor Sinha explained. “It’s just that it doesn’t happen in everyday life.”
When the Amondawa learn Portuguese – which is happening more all the time – they have no problem acquiring and using these mappings from the language.
The team hypothesises that the lack of the time concept arises from the lack of “time technology” – a calendar system or clocks – and that this in turn may be related to the fact that, like many tribes, their number system is limited in detail.
(…)These arguments do not convince Pierre Pica, a theoretical linguist at France’s National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), who focuses on a related Amazonian language known as Mundurucu.
“To link number, time, tense, mood and space by a single causal relationship seems to me hopeless, based on the linguistic diversity that I know of,” he told BBC News.
Dr Pica said the study “shows very interesting data” but argues quite simply that failing to show the space/time mapping does not refute the “mapping hypothesis”.
Small societies like the Amondawa tend to use absolute terms for normal, spatial relations – for example, referring to a particular river location that everyone in the culture will know intimately rather than using generic words for river or riverbank.
These, Dr Pica argued, do not readily lend themselves to being co-opted in the description of time.
“When you have an absolute vocabulary – ‘at the water’, ‘upstream’, ‘downstream’ and so on, you just cannot use it for other domains, you cannot use the mapping hypothesis in this way,” he said.
In other words, while the Amondawa may perceive themselves moving through time and spatial arrangements of events in time, the language may not necessarily reflect it in an obvious way.
What may resolve the conflict is further study, Professor Sinha said.
“We’d like to go back and simply verify it again before the language disappears – before the majority of the population have been brought up knowing about calendar systems.”
Of all the objects in the Solar system, the dozens of moons of Saturn and Jupiter are probably the most interesting. Here you have ice moons with crazy red spores on them, like Europa; moons littered with volcanoes and a magma ocean, like Io; moons with an underground salt-water sea, like Ganymede; moons that emit giant plumes, like Enceladus; and possibly the most fascinating and promising of all, the Earth-like moon Titan, orbiting Saturn.
Titan is Earth-like because it is bigger than the planet Mercury, has a stable atmosphere, and has the only large, stable bodies of surface liquid in the Solar system outside of the Earth. There are hydrocarbon, methane and ethane seas, rivers and lakes, as well as methane clouds, creating a fully-fledged weather system. This makes Titan the primary candidate in the Solar system to harbor extraterrestrial microbial life.
So, scientists of the Open University are planning to build a robot boat to surf the methane seas of Titan, taking measurements of waves and chemicals! And that is pretty cool.
Space engineers are planning to build the first extraterrestrial boat. They want to launch the craft towards Titan – Saturn‘s largest moon – and parachute it on to the Ligeia Mare, a sea of methane and ethane on its surface.
The robot ship would sail around this extraterrestrial sea for several months, exploring its coastline and measuring the winds and waves that sweep its surface. “Waves on Titan’s seas will be far larger, but much slower, than on earthly oceans, according to our calculations,” said Professor John Zarnecki, of the Open University. “That suggests Titan is the best spot in the solar system for surfing. The only trouble is that the temperature there is -180C (-290F). Either way you look at it, it is clear the place is pretty cool.”
The mission to Titan – the only moon in the solar system with a thick atmosphere, of nitrogen and methane – would be the first exploration of a sea beyond Earth and could provide evidence about the possible existence of complex organic chemicals, the precursors of life.
According to her plans, the TiME probe would be fired at Titan on a billion-mile journey across the solar system. Once it enters the moon’s thick atmosphere the craft would parachute down towards the surface and then drop into the 300-mile-wide Ligeia Mare. It would then spend several months afloat on an oily sea taking measurements of waves, chemicals and other variables.
Titan is also thought to have an ocean of water deep underground. Complex organic chemicals, created on its surface, could be seeping down through fissures so that primitive lifeforms could have evolved in relatively warm waters beneath the moon’s surface. Hence scientists’ interest in studying Titan.
Everybody wants to be creative these days. By being creative you can convince the world that you are indeed a unique individual. But can a person’s creativity be improved? You could try to be creative in the way you dress, get a funky haircut, grow a sophisticated beard, take a class in clowning, or get stoned. Or you could do everything at the same time. It probably won’t permanently boost you creativity though.
What will do the trick is a newly discovered method, explained in this article by Art Markman. What it comes down to is that during the creative process you have to imagine you are doing the work, solving the problem, or drawing the picture, for somebody else. That will enable you to “escape the curse of your specific knowledge” and “avoid simply repeating the solutions you already know about”. If that still sounds a little vague, just read the article, I think it makes sense:
A paper by Evan Polman and Kyle Emich in the April 2011 issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin provides just this kind of straightforward demonstration.
One of the factors that often prevents people from doing something really creative is their existing knowledge. If you are writing a song, it is hard to come up with something that is very different from what other people have written, because you are reminded of melodies that you have heard before. If you are solving a problem at work, there is a tendency to focus on solutions that people have used in the past to solve similar problems.
So how do you break away from the influence of the past?
Polman and Emich make use of construal level theory. This theory, developed by Yaacov Trope, Nira Liberman and their colleagues, suggests that we think about things that are near to us in space or time in specific terms, but we think about things that are far from us in space or time in more abstract terms. For example, when thinking about a trip you might take to Paris next summer, you might focus on how much fun it would be or how great it would be to sit in a café and watch the world go by. When thinking about a trip to Paris you are going to take next week, though, you focus on what you are going to wear, how you are going to exchange money and what you will do when you encounter Parisians who speak no English.
Polman and Emich reason that if you are trying to think creatively, then generating some distance between you and the problem you are solving might enhance your creativity. Indeed, some research by Jens Forster, Ron Friedman and Nira Liberman in a 2004 paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that this might be true.
To create a sense of psychological distance, Polman and Emich had people perform a variety of tasks that tap creativity. They either performed these tasks while thinking about themselves or when thinking about someone else.
In one study, people were asked to draw aliens. Tom Ward has done research on creativity and has shown that most people who draw aliens give them lots of properties that exist in animals on earth: they often have two eyes and are symmetric, with similar limbs on each side of their bodies. In other words, most people do not draw creative aliens. They are stuck using their knowledge of animals, even when they are trying to do something really novel.
In one of Polman and Emich’s studies, people were asked to draw an alien for a story they would write later, or they were asked to draw an alien for a story that would be written by someone else. A group of independent raters then looked to see how many properties the aliens had that are not typical of animals on earth. The people who drew aliens for themselves used many fewer novel properties than the people who drew aliens for someone else to use. That is, people were less creative when drawing for themselves than when drawing for someone else.
These results suggest a simple way of helping yourself to be more creative. When you are in a situation where you need to escape the curse of your own specific knowledge, pretend that you are being creative on behalf of someone else. That will help you think about the problem more abstractly and avoid simply repeating the solutions you already know about.
I have no idea what this represents. It looks nice though.
Visualisation of the (countable) field of algebraic numbers in the complex plane. Colours indicate the leading integer coefficient of the polynomial the number is a root of (red = 1 i.e. the algebraic integers, green = 2, blue = 3, yellow = 4…). Points becomes smaller as the other coefficients and number of terms in the polynomial become larger. View shows integers 0,1 and 2 at bottom right, +i near top.
In his new book Soul Dust: The Magic of Consciousness, Nicholas Humphrey, a distinguished evolutionary psychologist and philosopher, claims to have solved two fairly large intellectual conundrums. One is something of a technical matter, about which you may have thought little or not at all, unless you happen to be a philosopher. This is the so-called “hard problem” of consciousness. The problem is how an entity which is apparently immaterial like the human consciousness – it exists, but you can’t locate it, much less measure it – can have arisen from something purely physical, like the arrangement of cells that make up the human body. The second problem Humphrey claims he has solved is a rather more everyday one, about which you may well have puzzled yourself. This is the problem of the soul. Does it exist? What sort of a thing might it be? Does everyone have one, even atheists?
His solution to both these problems is the same, because for him the strange properties of consciousness, the fact that for those of us that have it the world of dull matter is suffused with meaning, beauty, relevance and awe – means that it makes sense to think that we are permanent inhabitants of a “soul-niche” or “soul-world”. As the jacket blurb of his book has it, “consciousness paves the way for spirituality”, by creating a “self-made show” that “lights up the world for us, making us feel special and transcendent.” Consciousness and the soul are one and the same.
If this all sounds a little bit metaphysical or New Agey, too much like one of those tiresome attempts to bring religion and science into cosy alignment, hold fast. For what, on the face of it, looks like an attempt to validate spirituality using the language of science turns out to be a way to expand the domain of science by accounting for spirituality, and the soul, alongside consciousness in a fully materialist account. Soul Dust is nothing less than Humphrey’s attempt to sketch out a materialist theory of consciousness, and write a “natural history” of the soul.
With this I highly agree though:
The second half – less technical, more poetic and, as Humphrey admits, pretty speculative – is devoted to the question of why? What is it about consciousness, this “magical” ability to perceive and exult in beauty, meaning and a sense of awe, that confers an evolutionary advantage? His answer is simply that this magical show in our own heads which enchants the world is what makes life worth living: “For a phenomenally conscious creature, simply being there is a cause for celebration.” Consciousness infuses us with the belief that we are more than mere flesh, that we matter, that we might have a life after death, that we have a “soul”. All of these are illusions – the magic of his title – but they have real effects, by making us want to live. As for religion? In his book he argues, “Long before religion could begin to get a foothold in human culture human beings must already have been living in soul land.” “Yes,” he tells me, “I suggest that organised religion is parasitic on spirituality, and in fact acts as a restraint on it.”
While the book received a lot of positive reviews, some negative ones have also appeared. Here’s one from The Guardian, for example.
Today, it’s 50 years ago that the first human being was launched into space. Arguably one of the biggest single events in history. On April 12, 1961, farmer’s son Yuri Gagarin boarded the Soviet Union Vostok 1 spacecraft, was shot into the sky, and became the first human ever to witness the Earth as a blue globe, to experience weightlessness, and to experience the pitch-black universe first-hand. To be that kind of person, well, there are no words to describe what that must be.
I think it was the Dutch Volkskrant that this weekend had a nice story in the science pages about the events leading up to the mission. In classic Soviet style, everything was rushed and rambled on all sides, as rumor had it that the Americans would launch a man into space by the end of April. They really did not have much of an idea how the human body would react to the conditions of outer space -- weightlessness and cosmic radiation -- and although some animals, plants and pieces of human skin had been shot into orbit earlier on, it was still an epic gamble. Gagarin himself only knew three days beforehand that he was chosen to perform the mission, apparently in the end having been chosen by Chrustchev himself because of his peasant origins. And then they still had to fit the space suits and adjust the craft and everything. In other words, it was a ramshackle undertaking and Gagarin, I guess, is lucky to have survived, but it bloody worked: they shot a person into space!
In honor of this historical event, film maker Christopher Riley, in cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the astronauts of the International Space Station (ISS), has made a movie recreating Yuri Gagarin’s space trip. Combined with historical footage, it documents what Gagarin must have seen and felt aboard that spaceship, and then rounding the planet for the first time.
To mark this historic flight we have teamed up with the astronauts onboard the International Space Station to film a new view of what Yuri would have seen as he travelled around the planet.
Weaving these new views together with historic voice recordings from Yuri’s flight and an original score by composer Philip Sheppard, we have created a spellbinding film to share with people around the World on this historic anniversary.
And the film’s free on YouTube! First Orbit. So here it is, enjoy! In remembrance of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.
If you’re interested, here’s more about the making-of. And via Nerdcore, here’s some more about Gagarin’s last words before lift-off. Apparently he was keen of making sure that he had enough sausage on the way back.
Gagarin at one point is told to rip off some adhesive tape and adjust a piece of equipment because “we forgot to tape that thing”.
He is later told that access hatch would have to be readjusted because “one of the contacts failed to light up” on the mission control panel.
Gagarin appeared to take everything in stride and began happily reporting all he saw once his spacecraft was finally aloft.
Various historians noted that one of the Soviet officials’ biggest fears was that their cosmonaut would lose consciousness once he became weightless.
“The sensation of weightlessness feels nice,” Gagarin reported to ground control at one point. “Everything is swimming.”
I’m pretty convinced that in the end, political attitudes are not determined based on rational choices or a weighing of evidence, but are derived from mentality, or ‘character’ (whatever that may be). You almost instinctively feel drawn to a certain strand of political thought, and have an inherent dislike to some others. I, for instance, am naturally freaked out by most versions of conservatism, particularly when they stress authority (and want to impose group beliefs). While I may have a lot of factual evidence or logical reasoning to ‘prove’ conservative or right wing prescriptions for society are wrong, ultimately it may come down to the fact that as a person, I don’t wish to be told what’s right by some group or authority, and value individual freedom and open-mindedness. That’s why I instinctively don’t like conservatism or ‘the right’.
But where does that come from? A while ago, we posted about cognitive neuroscientific research showing that conservatives or right-wingers have bigger amygdalas – the part of the brain that regulates fear and stress. Liberals or left-wingers, on the other hand, were shown to have bigger medial prefrontal cortexes, which suppresses fear. Science Daily now reports about a new article in Current Biology, demonstrating pretty much similarly that differences in political orientation may be tied to differences in brain structure.
Individuals who call themselves liberal tend to have larger anterior cingulate cortexes, while those who call themselves conservative have larger amygdalas. Based on what is known about the functions of those two brain regions, the structural differences are consistent with reports showing a greater ability of liberals to cope with conflicting information and a greater ability of conservatives to recognize a threat, the researchers say.
“Previously, some psychological traits were known to be predictive of an individual’s political orientation,” said Ryota Kanai of the University College London. “Our study now links such personality traits with specific brain structure.”
Kanai said his study was prompted by reports from others showing greater anterior cingulate cortex response to conflicting information among liberals. “That was the first neuroscientific evidence for biological differences between liberals and conservatives,” he explained.
There had also been many prior psychological reports showing that conservatives are more sensitive to threat or anxiety in the face of uncertainty, while liberals tend to be more open to new experiences. Kanai’s team suspected that such fundamental differences in personality might show up in the brain.
Pretty much ties in with what you already know about people from certain political persuasions, eh? In my experience it does, at least.
Some caveats though. First, the liberal-conservative divide is very much an Anglo-American construct. While I believe that - in terms of attitudes at least – it corresponds by and large to the ‘left’ and ‘right’-wing divide in continental Europe (which, despite nuances, pretty much exists, let’s be honest), it’s not exactly the same. Where does socialism fit the bill, for example? I may describe myself as left-wing, but definitely not as a socialist, while some other left-wingers would. The difference between us is probably how we value the role of the state in society and believe in the necessity of material equality. But how could that be fitted in the fear/non-fear conservative-liberal divide described above?
Secondly, and most obviously, there’s the question to what extent upbringing and life experiences play a part in determining political attitude (and may perhaps even affect brain structure).
Interesting research though. It may explain why, even though you know and like someone very well, you still can’t get exactly to the bottom of why that person has different attitudes about something. Trying to explain that in terms of character traits can, I think, deliver interesting results.