Articles to 2013-06-22

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First the link to this week’s complete list as HTML and as PDF.

Cacioppoa et al. is a typical example of a non-report not giving any of its results. That the differences in mean marital satisfaction scores (whatever that may be) look small doesn’t mean anything, but to evaluate those differences and to decide, whether they are meaningful or not, we’d need standard deviations and standard errors and none of those are given. Assuming it’s not all nonsense two results not commented on by the authors stand out: 1) The less pre-sorted the group to choose from, the better the result, i.e. school and social gathering versus work, friends, and discussion group, but with one big exception (albeit with a huge error margin), place of worship. 2) Nothing beats deep long-time knowledge, i.e. growing up together, versus short time first impressions.
This leads to an unasked and unanswered further question: How about second-hand deep knowledge, i.e. wise old women who’ve seen people grow up, i.e. arranged marriages. Experience seems to show them doing much better than the current founding on instant infatuation alone.

Austin et al. demonstrate a promising new method for determining the age of weaning applicable to very old fossils with no tissue preservation. Their single Neanderthal date may well be an outlier, indeed the abruptness makes that probable, so we should wait for more data before drawing any conclusions.

A modeling of equilibrium death rates by Wachter et al. cannot explain humans’ long survival after the end of reproduction. Something like the grandmother effect must exist as a driver of evolution.

I find it rather trying to follow the debates about consciousness, because I’ve never yet seen a definition of it I could understand. Searle has finally closed that gap: “[I]f you subtract consciousness, you subtract roughly speaking all of our life, except such basic unconscious processes as breathing. What would be lost if we all suddenly went into a coma or had always been in a coma? Roughly speaking, everything. [...] nothing would be the same. I could not get up from the bed in the morning, eat my food, make my way around the surface of the earth, and deal with other people.” So according to him even insects are fully conscious. Let’s move on to questions relevant in an anthropological context then.
Seyfarth and Cheney OTOH come close to Jaynes’s view that consciousness, i.e. self-reflection, comes from the reflection about others, fundamentally different from oneself. Unfortunately all their results fail the "If you caint see it it aint there" test. Perhaps a change from their obviously nonsensical choice of scale to a logarithmic one would help here, but if so we aren’t told.
In total contrast Mashour and Alkire demonstrate how to approach the same kind of question rigorously and reproducibly and they at least define their terms in a way one can understand.

For us, accustomed to straight rectangular walls accommodating straight rectangular furniture, archaeological finds with their bent and rounded walls joining at all kinds of angle look strange and my spontaneous reaction at least tends to be “couldn’t they even build straight?”. As Vartanian et al. demonstrate there may well have been a reason for that, more so the less urbanized their familiar surroundings were, and besides all his crackpot ideas Rudolf Steiner may have had a valid point here.

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