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Hey Bill Nye! Is Human Empathy an Evolutionary Advantage?
A young Norwegian has a burning question about evolution and human feelings. Is it only our bodies that evolve, or do our emotions adapt to the world, too?
Bill Nye, scientist, engineer, comedian, author, and inventor, is a man with a mission: to help foster a scientifically literate society, to help people everywhere understand and appreciate the science that makes our world work. Making science entertaining and accessible is something Bill has been doing most of his life.
In Seattle Nye began to combine his love of science with his flair for comedy, when he won the Steve Martin look-alike contest and developed dual careers as an engineer by day and a stand-up comic by night. Nye then quit his day engineering day job and made the transition to a night job as a comedy writer and performer on Seattle’s home-grown ensemble comedy show “Almost Live.” This is where “Bill Nye the Science Guy®” was born. The show appeared before Saturday Night Live and later on Comedy Central, originating at KING-TV, Seattle’s NBC affiliate.
While working on the Science Guy show, Nye won seven national Emmy Awards for writing, performing, and producing. The show won 18 Emmys in five years. In between creating the shows, he wrote five children’s books about science, including his latest title, “Bill Nye’s Great Big Book of Tiny Germs.”
Nye is the host of three currently-running television series. “The 100 Greatest Discoveries” airs on the Science Channel. “The Eyes of Nye” airs on PBS stations across the country.
Bill’s latest project is hosting a show on Planet Green called “Stuff Happens.” It’s about environmentally responsible choices that consumers can make as they go about their day and their shopping. Also, you’ll see Nye in his good-natured rivalry with his neighbor Ed Begley. They compete to see who can save the most energy and produce the smallest carbon footprint. Nye has 4,000 watts of solar power and a solar-boosted hot water system. There’s also the low water use garden and underground watering system. It’s fun for him; he’s an engineer with an energy conservation hobby.
Nye is currently the Executive Director of The Planetary Society, the world’s largest space interest organization.
Trym: Hi Bill. This is Trym from Norway. I was wondering how come us humans have empathy? Is it normal for species to have empathy — I was just starting to read about Richard Dawkins' take on it. I was wondering how you would explain it? I love the way you explain things by the way. Thanks.
Bill Nye: You said your name with an accent that I will interpret Trym — I believe your name is? Trym, takk for your question. Thank you for your question. This is cool. So why are we empathetic? Just consider what a tribe of humans would be like without empathy, without ability to feel what someone else is feeling, without an ability to see it from another person’s point of view. It probably wouldn’t be a very successful tribe. You wouldn’t take care of each other. You probably wouldn’t divide up tasks. You do this and I’ll do that. I know that’s hard for you; I'll do this. I know you’re good at that, so you do that and I’ll do this. Imagine a tribe without empathy. So my claim, which is extraordinary at first, is not only are size and shape determined by a process of evolution, but so are our feelings. And empathy is part of that. Our ancestors without empathy were not as successful. And furthermore, while you’re on Richard Dawkins, look into primate behavior. Our ancestors — gorillas, bonobos, chimpanzees — they exhibit empathetic behavior.
They mourn. They take care of each other. They interact in a way that’s very much like and very similar to the way we interact. So check them out. Check out our primate buddies and you’ll see that I think empathy is deep within us. And as to its origins, that’s a great one. I’m not sure where it came from. Like dogs like to hang out together. I’ve seen gerbils, mice, and hamsters hang out together or seem to prefer each other’s company. So I think whatever that thing is that makes you — leads you to prefer one another’s company must be connected with the ability to feel what someone else, another organism is feeling. It’s a great question and it gets back to this deep thing, the nature of consciousness. Are we that different from other animals that we seem to be able to know that we are aware of our surroundings. We seem to be able to know that we’re going to die. We seem to be able to know what another one of our fellow humans is feeling or thinking. Where did that come from? These are deep neurological questions that perhaps you will be the neuroscientist who answers this problem and we could then create ways to help each other live better lives. And I’m not kidding. If we pass laws consistent with our understanding of empathy, our understanding of how the human brain works and then ultimately if you made artificial intelligence computers that had this empathetic quality, it really could do great things. Now in science fiction, you know, whenever you create anything artificial and things go bad, but that’s science fiction. We don’t have to do everything badly. We can make things great. That’s a great question, man. Takk. Tusen takk.
A dapper young Norwegian wants Bill Nye's perspective on human evolution. Not just the evolution of our shape and size, but also the evolution of human feelings. Nye takes an empirical perspective, examining the ways chimps and bonobos care for their young — and mourn the loss of their fellows. He concludes that human consciousness may not be as unique as we suppose and that animals may share our feelings, if not our ability to articulate them in language. Science is making progress in our understanding of human and animal emotion. A greater neurological understanding of how feelings exist in the brain could lead to a series of beneficial changes in society: new laws that are consistent with a scientific understanding of empathy and an artificial intelligence that is kinder and gentler than the crazed, maniacal versions we see in sci-fi films.
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Health officials in China reported that a man was infected with bubonic plague, the infectious disease that caused the Black Death.
- The case was reported in the city of Bayannur, which has issued a level-three plague prevention warning.
- Modern antibiotics can effectively treat bubonic plague, which spreads mainly by fleas.
- Chinese health officials are also monitoring a newly discovered type of swine flu that has the potential to develop into a pandemic virus.
Bacteria under microscope
needpix.com<p>Today, bubonic plague can be treated effectively with antibiotics.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unlike in the 14th century, we now have an understanding of how this disease is transmitted," Dr. Shanthi Kappagoda, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care, told <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">Healthline</a>. "We know how to prevent it — avoid handling sick or dead animals in areas where there is transmission. We are also able to treat patients who are infected with effective antibiotics, and can give antibiotics to people who may have been exposed to the bacteria [and] prevent them [from] getting sick."</p>
This plague patient is displaying a swollen, ruptured inguinal lymph node, or buboe.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p>Still, hundreds of people develop bubonic plague every year. In the U.S., a handful of cases occur annually, particularly in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/plague/faq/index.html" target="_blank">where habitats allow the bacteria to spread more easily among wild rodent populations</a>. But these cases are very rare, mainly because you need to be in close contact with rodents in order to get infected. And though plague can spread from human to human, this <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">only occurs with pneumonic plague</a>, and transmission is also rare.</p>
A new swine flu in China<p>Last week, researchers in China also reported another public health concern: a new virus that has "all the essential hallmarks" of a pandemic virus.<br></p><p>In a paper published in the <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/06/23/1921186117" target="_blank">Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</a>, researchers say the virus was discovered in pigs in China, and it descended from the H1N1 virus, commonly called "swine flu." That virus was able to transmit from human to human, and it killed an estimated 151,700 to 575,400 people worldwide from 2009 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.</p>There's no evidence showing that the new virus can spread from person to person. But the researchers did find that 10 percent of swine workers had been infected by the virus, called G4 reassortant EA H1N1. This level of infectivity raises concerns, because it "greatly enhances the opportunity for virus adaptation in humans and raises concerns for the possible generation of pandemic viruses," the researchers wrote.
The word "learning" opens up space for more people, places, and ideas.
- The terms 'education' and 'learning' are often used interchangeably, but there is a cultural connotation to the former that can be limiting. Education naturally links to schooling, which is only one form of learning.
- Gregg Behr, founder and co-chair of Remake Learning, believes that this small word shift opens up the possibilities in terms of how and where learning can happen. It also becomes a more inclusive practice, welcoming in a larger, more diverse group of thinkers.
- Post-COVID, the way we think about what learning looks like will inevitably change, so it's crucial to adjust and begin building the necessary support systems today.
Scientists uncovered the secrets of what drove some of the world's last remaining woolly mammoths to extinction.
Every summer, children on the Alaskan island of St Paul cool down in Lake Hill, a crater lake in an extinct volcano – unaware of the mysteries that lie beneath.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the perception of selfishness among many.
- Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
- New research shows people may be wired for altruistic behavior and get more benefits from it.
- Times of crisis tend to increase self-centered acts.