How long should one wait until an idea like string theory, seductive as it may be, is deemed unrealistic?
- How far should we defend an idea in the face of contrarian evidence?
- Who decides when it's time to abandon an idea and deem it wrong?
- Science carries within it its seeds from ancient Greece, including certain prejudices of how reality should or shouldn't be.
Plato used the allegory of the cave to explain that what humans see and experience is not the true reality.
Credit: Gothika via Wikimedia Commons CC 4.0<p>When scientists and mathematicians use the term <em>Platonic worldview</em>, that's what they mean in general: The unbound capacity of reason to unlock the secrets of creation, one by one. Einstein, for one, was a believer, preaching the fundamental reasonableness of nature; no weird unexplainable stuff, like a god that plays dice—his tongue-in-cheek critique of the belief that the unpredictability of the quantum world was truly fundamental to nature and not just a shortcoming of our current understanding. Despite his strong belief in such underlying order, Einstein recognized the imperfection of human knowledge: "What I see of Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility." (Quoted by Dukas and Hoffmann in <em>Albert Einstein, The Human Side: Glimpses from His Archives</em> (1979), 39.)</p> <p>Einstein embodies the tension between these two clashing worldviews, a tension that is still very much with us today: On the one hand, the Platonic ideology that the fundamental stuff of reality is logical and understandable to the human mind, and, on the other, the acknowledgment that our reasoning has limitations, that our tools have limitations and thus that to reach some sort of final or complete understanding of the material world is nothing but an impossible, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01K2JTGIA?tag=bigthink00-20&linkCode=ogi&th=1&psc=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">semi-religious dream</a>.</p>
Their ear structures were not that different from ours.
- Neanderthals are emerging as having been much more advanced than previously suspected.
- Analysis of ear structures indicated by fossilized remains suggests they had everything they needed for understanding the subtleties of speech.
- The study also concludes that Neanderthals could produce the consonants required for a rich spoken language.
Long-standing questions<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTcwNzYwNS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MTI4OTY1NX0.xg5rA6RdbPSDXtDMIqfoEXbhVNfjKcVzpuBJgk1Hazw/img.jpg?width=980" id="501b1" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="12fc9e428649a525444e5b65278ce3a6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="953" />
Neanderthal reconstruction (right), 2014
Credit: Cesar Manso/Getty Images<p>"For decades, one of the central questions in human evolutionary studies has been whether the human form of communication, spoken language, was also present in any other species of human ancestor, especially the Neanderthals," says co-author <a href="https://carta.anthropogeny.org/users/juan-luis-arsuaga" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Juan Luis Arsuaga</a>.</p><p>The key to answering these questions, say the researchers, has to do first with Neanderthals' physical ability to hear in the frequency ranges typically involved in speech. In addition, while it's known that these ancient people had the physiological capacity for producing vowel sounds, the new research adds consonants to the Neanderthal repertoire, greatly expanding the possibilities for conveying a wide variety of meaning through the production of more types of sounds.</p>
Neanderthal hearing<p>The authors made high-resolution CT scans of fossilized Neanderthal skulls—and skulls from some of their ancestors—found at <a href="https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/989/" target="_blank">UNESCO's archaeological site</a> in northern Spain's Atapuerca Mountains. These scans served as the basis for virtual 3D models of the fossils' ear structures. Similar models of modern human ear structures were also created for comparison purposes.</p><p>Auditory bioengineering software assessed the hearing capabilities of the models. The software is capable of identifying sensitivity to frequencies up to 5 kHz, the midrange and low-midrange frequencies at which <em>homo sapien</em> speech primarily occurs. (We can hear much higher and lower frequencies, but that's where speech lies.) </p><p>Of particular importance is the "occupied bandwidth," the frequency region of greatest sensitivity, and therefore the spectrum most capable of accommodating enough different audio signals to represent a multitude of meanings. The occupied bandwidth is considered a critical requirement for speech since being able to produce and hear many different sounds—and understand their many different meanings—is the cornerstone of efficient communication. </p><p>Compared to their ancestors, the Neanderthal models turned out to have better hearing in the 4-5 kHz range, making their hearing more comparable to our own. In addition, the Neanderthals were found to have a wider occupied bandwidth than their predecessors, again more closely resembling modern humans. </p><p>Lead author of the study Mercedes Conde-Valverde says, "This really is the key. The presence of similar hearing abilities, particularly the bandwidth, demonstrates that the Neanderthals possessed a communication system that was as complex and efficient as modern human speech."</p>
Consonants<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTcwNzYxMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NDkxNzQ1M30.SRvXBjmAt1gq3gu42-NXoR21JdH9l8pkSKXKvZhlEI8/img.jpg?width=980" id="f5501" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dc0a1c901383180dfef07dc33942176d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="796" />
Credit: sakura/Adobe Stock/Big Think<p>The study also suggests that Neanderthal vocalization were more advanced than previously thought. Says Quam: "Most previous studies of Neanderthal speech capacities focused on their ability to produce the main vowels in English spoken language."</p><p>However, he says, "One of the other interesting results from the study was the suggestion that Neanderthal speech likely included an increased use of consonants."</p><p>This is important, since "the use of consonants is a way to include more information in the vocal signal and it also separates human speech and language from the communication patterns in nearly all other primates. The fact that our study picked up on this is a really interesting aspect of the research and is a novel suggestion regarding the linguistic capacities in our fossil ancestors."</p>
Bottom line<p>The study concludes that Neanderthals had the physiological hardware to produce a complex range of vocalizations, and the ability to understand them through ear structures not very unlike our own. This fits neatly with other recent insights as to the sophistication of the Neanderthals, a people who now seem to have been developing an expansive set of advanced capabilities simultaneously.</p><p>The authors of the study have been investigating the Neanderthals for almost 20 years, and others have been at it even longer. The work continues, and the study's publication marks a significant milestone in the much longer journey.</p><p>"These results are particularly gratifying," says co-author <a href="http://orcid.org/0000-0002-1835-9199" target="_blank">Ignacio Martinez</a>. "We believe, after more than a century of research into this question, that we have provided a conclusive answer to the question of Neanderthal speech capacities."</p>
In-depth research suggests BDSM practitioners can experience altered states of consciousness that can be therapeutic.
- BDSM is an acronym encompassing a variety of sexual practices that include: bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism. The practice of BDSM usually consists of partners taking on specific roles in which one partner is dominant and the other is submissive.
- BDSM practitioners (individuals who frequently engage in BDSM play) can experience various mental health benefits from engaging in their scenes.
- According to the research, subspace is often characterized by the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, the release of epinephrine and endorphins, and a subsequent period of non-verbal, deep relaxation.
The psychology of BDSM<p><a href="https://www.ohsu.edu/womens-health/benefits-healthy-sex-life" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Many experts</a> have weighed in on the significant mental and physical health benefits of sex:</p><ul><li>Lower blood pressure</li><li>Stronger immune system</li><li>Better heart health </li><li>Improved self-esteem</li><li>Decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety </li><li>Better sleep routines </li></ul><p>However, there is an increasing interest in studies that explore the specific mental and physical health benefits of BDSM practices. BDSM practitioners (individuals who frequently engage in BDSM play) can experience various mental health benefits from engaging in their scenes. For example, <a href="https://bigthink.com/sex-relationships/bdsm-work-ethic" target="_self">one study</a> suggests that being dominant in the bedroom can boost your work ethic. <a href="https://www.verywellmind.com/how-bdsm-might-benefit-your-health-and-your-relationship-4846462#:~:text=Improves%20Mental%20Health&text=The%20participants%20in%20the%20BDSM,less%20sensitive%20to%20others'%20perceptions." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Other research</a> in this area has suggested engaging in BDSM activities can boost your mental well-being and increase awareness of your attachment style in partnerships, which can ultimately lead to healthier relationships. Additionally, <a href="https://bigthink.com/sex-relationships/bdsm-psychology-trauma" target="_self">unhealthy stereotypes and misconceptions</a> about BDSM have also been addressed by experts. </p><p>A natural starting point for more research surrounding the mental health impact of BDSM practices is to explore what happens in a person's mind and body when they experience intense sexual activity. While physical reactions (such as arousal and climax) are quite typical, there is something unique that happens to individuals who participate in intense BDSM scenes. </p><p><strong>What is "subspace" in BDSM play? </strong></p><p><a href="https://sofiagray.com/blog/an-intro-to-bdsm-subspace-what-every-submissive-should-know/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Subspace</a> is defined as a state of transcendence reached by submissives through intense physical or psychological experiences with their partner. This can happen through sensory triggers (the use of paddles, blindfolds, restraints) or through emotional triggers (certain words or phrases, meaningful expressions).</p><p>This space, while experienced differently for many, can be described as a nearly-hypnotic feeling that takes over when the submissive partner is highly engaged in their role. </p><p><strong>What is "domspace" in BDSM play? </strong></p><p><a href="https://sofiagray.com/blog/an-intro-to-domspace-what-every-dominant-should-know/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Domspace</a> is defined as an altered, elevated state of mind that Dominants (during BDSM scenes) experience through intense physical or psychological experiences with their submissive partner. This can happen through sensory triggers (using paddles or restraints on your partner) or through emotional triggers (expressing certain words or phrases to your partner, meaningful expressions, the notion that your submissive trusts you enough to be vulnerable with you). </p><p>While subspace can be described as a "hazy" or "blurry" trance-like state, domspace is often described (by individuals who experience it) as an intense, euphoric, and focused state of mind.</p>
Are there therapeutic benefits to submission?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTY1MDkyNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMDc3OTgxOH0.ku49neryuoVZiLTFY2vmIzE2H7ufWjiOm6C2TX8CmK0/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C385%2C0%2C386&height=700" id="32e18" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f3a51bbf36ed5d823af33eb15fc38f4f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="submissive male submissive man male sub BDSM therapy" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
Experts weigh in: there may be therapeutic and relational benefits to being a submissive person in BDSM scenes.
Photo by LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS on Adobe Stock<p>According to the author of the study, Dulcinea Pitagora: "Because the BDSM community has been historically vilified due to stereotypes reinforced by negative media exposure and inadequate education, relatively little is known about the phenomenon of subspace outside of the BDSM community."</p><p><strong>There is a proven connection between BDSM interactions and altered states of consciousness. </strong></p><p><a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/308575318_Consensual_BDSM_Facilitates_Role-Specific_Altered_States_of_Consciousness_A_Preliminary_Study" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">According to a 2016 study</a>, there is a direct link between BDSM interactions and ASCs (altered states of consciousness) - the significant one, in this case, being that engaging in a submissive role during BDSM play can lead to transient hypofrontality. </p><p><a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-edge-peak-performance-psychology/201703/the-transient-hypofrontality-edge#:~:text=Transient%20hypofrontality%2C%20then%2C%20means%20that,with%20the%20term%20transient%20hypofrontality." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Transient hypofrontality</a>, a term coined by <a href="https://www.arnedietrich.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Dr. Arne Dietrich</a>, is when the focused, thought-processing part of the brain is "shut off" by external triggers. An example of this is the difference between engaging in a competitive sport and running in a beautiful park. During a competitive sport, your brain will need to make a variety of complex decisions. While you're running a calmer path in a beautiful park, however, your mind can "let go" of that prefrontal engagement and you can experience an alternate (relaxed) state of consciousness. For a submissive, during BDSM scenes, this can result in reduced self-reported stress and increased sexual arousal.</p><p>Transient hypofrontality has also been used to describe severe "end-stage" addictions. This ability to <a href="https://www.practicalrecovery.com/prblog/biggest-lies-recovery-pt-vi-addiction-disease/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">"shut off" the thought-processing</a> function in your brain can actually cause "involuntary" cravings for this feeling. This can be why many submissive practitioners become reliant on their BDSM activities. </p><p>The study explains, <em>"In order to examine an alignment of transient hypofrontality with </em><em>subspace, the authors collected additional self-reported data describing experiences of </em><em>subspace; a comparison of these datasets confirmed that the characteristics of transient </em><em>hypofrontality were consistent with those of subspace."</em></p><p><strong>Experiencing subspace during BDSM play can activate the sympathetic nervous system. </strong></p><p><a href="https://journalofpositivesexuality.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/No-Pain-No-Gain-Therapeutic-and-Relational-Benefits-of-Subspace-in-BDSM-Pitagora.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">According to the research</a>, subspace is often characterized by the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, the release of epinephrine and endorphins, and a subsequent period of non-verbal, deep relaxation. This chain reaction can often lead the submissive in the scene to experience a temporary state of depersonalization and derealization (which are generally experienced as positive and pleasant in this context). </p><p><strong>The key to experiencing this trance-like state is having a partner you trust, research suggests.</strong></p><p>This state is highly sought after by individuals who identify as submissives in the BDSM context - and the key to achieving this state of being is having a dominant partner you can trust. This type of trust and reciprocal consent can provide an entry to subspace. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em>"Because the participant who identifies as the sadist, dominant [or top] in a given scene is generally charged with monitoring and protecting their partner, the [submissive] bottom in the scene might be better situated for achieving an altered state of consciousness and transcendence." </em>-<a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11133-010-9158-9" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> Rethinking Kink</a>, 2010</p><p><strong>BDSM could be used as a way to heal from trauma and benefit your relationships, experts suggest. </strong></p><p>While there is no research to date that has sought to capture the specific experiences of subspace and how they relate to relationships and healing, many experts believe BDSM can in fact provide therapeutic and relational benefits to those who engage in the practices. </p><p><em>"</em>Given the associations between ASCs and subspace described above, the authors' findings on ASCs can be extended to the analogous experience of subspace. The study suggested that symbolic action can have a profound effect on psychological processes and connected trance (a type of ASC) with the healing properties of the trance state."</p>
This small-scale study may have uncovered a new link between the peripheral nerve system and autism.
- Autism refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication. According to the CDC, autism impacts an estimated 1 in 54 children in the United States.
- An October 2020 study suggests that the peripheral nervous system may play a role in autism.
- The parameters of the study may not show the entire picture —more research is needed in this area.
The nerves that sense touch and pain may play a role in autism, new research suggests<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a41b00d7960f360bf4674a021f7480fd"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/QdhwsK7E6cc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>An October 2020 study suggests that the peripheral nervous system (the nerves that control our sense of touch, pain, and other sensations), may play a role in autism.</p><p>Study author Sung-Tsang Hsieh, M.D., Ph.D., of National Taiwan University Hospital in Taipei and a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology, <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/10/201014160516.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">explains to Science Daily</a>: <em></em>"More than 70% of people with autism have differences in their sensory perception. For some people, even a light touch can feel unbearable while others may not even notice a cut on their foot. If larger studies can confirm these results, it is possible that further insight into the peripheral nervous system could help us understand how this disorder develops and potentially light the way for treating these distressing sensory symptoms that most people with autism experience."</p><p>The study involved 32 men with autism (with an average age of 27). They were compared to 27 men and women (with an average age of 33) who did not have autism or any diseases that would impact their peripheral nerves. </p><p>The people with autism completed questionnaires on their sensory symptoms. All of the participants then had tests of their sensory nerves, including skin biopsies to look for damage to the small fibers of their nerves. Then, another test was administered, where heat pulses were applied to the skin so researchers could look at the electrical signals produced by the nerves to see how they responded to the heat.</p><p><strong>53 percent of people with autism had reduced nerve fiber density. </strong></p><p>The results of the skin biopsy tests showed 53 percent of people with autism had reduced nerve fiber density, while all of the people in the control group (participants without autism) had levels in the normal range. </p><p>"This indicates that the nerves have degenerated, similar to what happens for people with the condition of peripheral neuropathy, where the threshold for feeling heat and other sensations is higher than for other people," said Hsieh.</p><p><strong>The response to touch differed among people with autism according to whether or not they had nerve fiber damage. </strong></p><p>According to the results, people who had undamaged nerves were more likely to say they disliked being touched and were uncomfortable with some textures, while people with nerve fiber damage were more likely to say that they preferred going barefoot and could be unaware that they had gotten scratched or bruised. </p><p>"This indicates that the nerves have degenerated, similar to what happens for people with the condition of peripheral neuropathy, where the threshold for feeling heat and other sensations is higher than for other people," Hsieh <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/10/201014160516.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">explained in his interview</a>. </p><p>The parameters of the study may not show the entire picture—more research is needed in this area. </p>
A new study provides validation for the recently identified phenomenon.
- Aphantasia, a recently identified psychological phenomenon, describes when people can't conjure visualizations in their mind's eye.
- A new study published in Cortex compared the visual memories of aphantasic participants with a group of controls.
- Its results found experimental validation for the condition.
Changing our understanding of the mind's eye<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTI2NjM0Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0ODM2ODE5NX0.SWkNBfgO1uLsAMsetcmmwOHvJqzK1UsPMxc6tL6Je9k/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C228%2C0%2C873&height=700" id="2092d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="121c211fd751fb11eba0e9aa4ec53ef0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
Francis Galton was the first to describe a condition that would today be recognized as aphantasia.
Visualizing the difference<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTI2NjMzNS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMjAyMDk3M30.EYfZH3v5DRhu4ImOjpuuXdHiXbPkgTUCOxJsTQmDYA8/img.png?width=980" id="fed74" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="eb2d7c7f78e780fe09bc6d1635cdaad5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="598" data-height="245" />
On the left, an aphantastic participant's recreation of a photo from memory. On the right, the participant's recreation when the photo was available for reference.