Wednesday, January 11, 2006


NPR's excellent science reporter Richard Harris did a entertaining story today from the American Astronomical Society meeting in DC. It dealt with an effort by Brad Schaefer of LSU to use gamma-ray bursts as standard candles in order to determine whether the cosmological "constant" is really constant. This is a promising approach, but the systematics aren't well-understood. "Heavyweight" pundit Michael Turner was quoted:

"It's very intriguing," says Turner, "but I don't think it rises to the level of me being able to issue Schaefer a ticket to Sweden."

Schaefer presents details here.
More at Cosmic Variance, the New York Times, and the Washington Post.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Mirror neurons

Humans, it turns out, have mirror neurons that are far smarter, more flexible and more highly evolved than any of those found in monkeys, a fact that scientists say reflects the evolution of humans' sophisticated social abilities.

The human brain has multiple mirror neuron systems that specialize in carrying out and understanding not just the actions of others but their intentions, the social meaning of their behavior and their emotions.

"We are exquisitely social creatures," Dr. Rizzolatti said. "Our survival depends on understanding the actions, intentions and emotions of others."

He continued, "Mirror neurons allow us to grasp the minds of others not through conceptual reasoning but through direct simulation. By feeling, not by thinking."

The discovery is shaking up numerous scientific disciplines, shifting the understanding of culture, empathy, philosophy, language, imitation, autism, and psychotherapy.

(from The New York Times and 3 Quarks Daily)

Also see this Nova broadcast.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Too bad this was an April Fools' joke

Welcome To The Washboard Jungle (Hydra Head) cd 13.98

It was only a matter of time. There's been rap metal, and there's been funk metal, but as far as we know, nobody has combined black metal and dub, at least in a way that was at all palatable (we're definitely not counting the Bill Laswell produced Cradle Of Filth remix record or that abominable Tolkien-dub Prince Far Isengard record from a few years back). But now we've got the brilliantly monickered Black Ark Oaken Saw, a grim troupe of ganja smoking, washboard stroking, corpse painted Dandys in tight trousers. Huge swaths of murky buzzsaw guitars, howled demonic David Lee Roth-like vocals, wrapped in loads of reverb and delay, but instead of blast beats, or precise triggered drums, the dark abyss is framed by spare super blissed out, dubbed out echoplexed dub rhythms, snares crack and then repeat endlessly into the blackened void, while shrieks are snipped mid phrase and then recycled into haunting otherworldy echoes of blackened dub. Weird weird weird, it seems like this sort of thing wouldn't work at all, but surprisingly it's an absolutely perfect fit. Imagine Emperor with Sly and Robbie occupying the rhythm section or Lee Perry fronting Lugubrum. And we can't forget the un-named frontman who indeed plays the amplified washboard, but it too is run through a bank of effects and emerges a totally dubbed out barely recognizable version of itself. Hopefully, Hydra Head's interest in the fringes of black metal will continue to unearth more unholy treasures like the mighty Black Ark Oaken Saw!


The father of LSD turns 100

Rounding a century, Mr. Hofmann is physically reduced but mentally clear. He is prone to digressions, ambling with pleasure through memories of his boyhood, but his bright eyes flash with the recollection of a mystical experience he had on a forest path more than 90 years ago in the hills above Baden, Switzerland. The experience left him longing for a similar glimpse of what he calls "a miraculous, powerful, unfathomable reality."

"I was completely astonished by the beauty of nature," he said, laying a slightly gnarled finger alongside his nose, his longish white hair swept back from his temples and the crown of his head. He said any natural scientist who was not a mystic was not a real natural scientist. "Outside is pure energy and colorless substance," he said. "All of the rest happens through the mechanism of our senses. Our eyes see just a small fraction of the light in the world. It is a trick to make a colored world, which does not exist outside of human beings."