Your appendix and your eyes
That little time-bomb inside us, and morals for the advancement of science.
This week there has been press about new research suggesting that our appendix might actually have a purpose. It is unclear why this was ever in doubt: if the role of the appendix was only to occasionally rupture and put its host at lethal risk, then it surely would have been strongly selected against long ago. There almost surely is a good reason for it, something worth the risk of carrying this toxic bomb inside us. Current conjectures suggest that it is a holding cell for certain useful bacteria.
Our appendix is by no means the only part of our bodies we have been slow to discover a function for. Organs have the uncooperative tendency of not displaying their functions on their sleeves. Although reductionistic science is good at disassembling our hunks of meat, in order to understand the mechanisms of an organ one must understand what those mechanisms are *trying* to do. And comprehending the "why" of biology and brain -- why a biological structure is there -- doesn't get nearly as much attention as it should. In addition to reductionistically understanding the genome and the detailed anatomy and physiology of our brain, what we really need is gobs of attention paid to the opposite end of science. To the "phenome", or the set of functions the biology and brain manages to carry out. This will be orders of magnitude more difficult than finding the "genome" level details.
For example, my research described in THE VISION REVOLUTION (Benbella, 2009) has provided evidence that our eyes have functions nobody had yet noticed. Color is well optimized for sensing skin color modulations, for the purpose of sensing socio-sexual signals -- color is an "empathic" sense. Our forward-facing eyes are not for three-dimensional stereo vision, but for seeing efficiently in leafy habitats. And the illusions we have all seen are not an unfortunate error in rendering geometrical stimuli, but a consequence of mental software designed to foresee the near future, so that by the time the perception occurs it is of the present.
My point is that fundamental functions of our visual system are only recently coming to light. My suspicion is that MOST of our powers (i.e., functions our body is capable of) have not yet been noticed. ...because few scientists are looking for them, focusing instead on the mechanisms.
The appendix was long relegated to the appendices of science. But no more. And the appendix had something going for it: we could at least see that it was an organ. Many of our powers are carried out by meat with no easy-to-see boundary, and, worse than being buried in the appendices of science, have not even found their way into the book. That's what we need to change.
Researchers discover a link between nonverbal synchronization and relationship success.
- Scientists say coordinating movements leads to increased intimacy and sexual desire in a couple.
- The improved rapport and empathy was also observed in people who didn't know each other.
- Non-verbal clues are very important in the development stages of a relationship.
Humans evolved to live in the cold through a number of environmental and genetic factors.
- According to some relatively new research, many of our early human cousins preceded Homo sapien migrations north by hundreds of thousands or even millions of years.
- Cross-breeding with other ancient hominids gave some subsets of human population the genes to contend and thrive in colder and harsher climates.
- Behavioral and dietary changes also helped humans adapt to cold climates.
The comics titan worked for more than half a century to revolutionize and add nuance to the comics industry, and he built a vast community of fans along the way.
- Lee died shortly after being rushed to an L.A. hospital. He had been struggling with multiple illnesses over the past year, reports indicate.
- Since the 1950s, Lee has been one of the most influential figures in comics, helping to popularize heroes that expressed a level of nuance and self-doubt previously unseen in the industry.
- Lee, who's later years were marked by some financial and legal tumult, is survived by his daughter, Joan Celia "J.C." Lee.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.