Jan 12, 2008

science odds and ends

Some semi-random notes and observations.

1. I'm late on this, but it's still good. Edge Magazine's yearly question for scientists: What have you changed your mind about? I'm perpetually amused by the number of completely contradictory answers, usually in the most interesting fields, like neuroscience and artificial intelligence.

2. One answer that caught my eye, and got me thinking: Linda Stone's thoughts on breathing.
In observing others — in their offices, their homes, at cafes — the vast majority of people hold their breath especially when they first begin responding to email. On cell phones, especially when talking and walking, people tend to hyper-ventilate or over-breathe....

The parasympathetic nervous system governs our sense of hunger and satiety, flow of saliva and digestive enzymes, the relaxation response, and many aspects of healthy organ function.... Shallow breathing, breath holding and hyper-ventilating triggers the sympathetic nervous system, in a "fight or flight" response.

The activated sympathetic nervous system causes the liver to dump glucose and cholesterol into our blood, our heart rate increases, we don't have a sense of satiety, and our bodies anticipate and resource for the physical activity that, historically, accompanied a physical fight or flight response. Meanwhile, when the only physical activity is sitting and responding to email, we're sort of "all dressed up with nowhere to go."
This clicked: the recent research linking sleep deprivation and diabetes could be pointing to poor breathing as an underlying cause.

3. A miracle cure for Alzheimers? Maybe. It's a limited study, and short-term. Back in the 1960s, L-Dopa, when first administered to Parkinson's patients, provided the same sort of wonderful transformation, but over time, its effects would fade and symptoms would return.

There's hope, though. [via The Speculist]

4. Parasitic butterflies trick ants into raising their young. Some call it day care.

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