Sunday, May 3, 2020

Readings: Human Evolution, Ice Ages, Brains In Digital Age

Some interesting articles to read:

1) How did Homo sapiens evolve in Africa? Did one population branch off and evolve all the traits of 'modern humans' in isolation or were there several populations spread across the continent which at times evolved in isolation but periodically met and exchanged genes and cultural practices, resulting in a gradual coming together of the constellation of traits we see in us? Recent findings based on the fossil and tool record is pointing to the latter process.

The search for Eden: in pursuit of humanity’s origins by Robin McKie.

2) How do variations in the earth's orbit influence the growth and decline of glacial and interglacial periods? Excellent review article on the factors controlling climate change over the past 2.5 million years.

Tying celestial mechanics to Earth’s ice ages by Mark Maslin.

3) How is the human brain coping with the information deluge of our times?


" Humans, of course, forage for data more voraciously than any other animal. And, like most foragers, we follow instinctive strategies for optimizing our search. Behavioral ecologists who study animals seeking nourishment have developed various models to predict their likely course of action. One of these, the marginal value theorem (MVT), applies to foragers in areas where food is found in patches, with resource-poor areas in between. The MVT can predict, for example, when a squirrel will quit gathering acorns in one tree and move on to the next, based on a formula assessing the costs and benefits of staying put — the number of nuts acquired per minute versus the time required for travel, and so on. Gazzaley sees the digital landscape as a similar environment, in which the patches are sources of information — a website, a smartphone, an email program. He believes an MVT-like formula may govern our online foraging: Each data patch provides diminishing returns over time as we use up information available there, or as we start to worry that better data might be available elsewhere.

The call of the next data patch may keep us hopping from Facebook to Twitter to Google to YouTube; it can also interfere with the fulfillment of goals — meeting a work deadline, paying attention in class, connecting face-to-face with a loved one.

There is some sensible advice at the end on how to build healthier habits and manage our dependencies on technology.

How Our Ancient Brains Are Coping in the Age of Digital Distraction by Kenneth Miller.

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