Friday, January 28, 2011

Meditation: It Changes You, Man

Not exactly yoga (though it is said that yoga is preparation for meditation), it appears that a daily meditation practice affects your brain. Today's New York Times has an article reporting that recent research on the brain demonstrates that it takes only eight weeks of meditation to physically alter your brain.

"The researchers report that those who meditated for about 30 minutes a day for eight weeks had measurable changes in gray-matter density in parts of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. ... M.R.I. brain scans taken before and after the participants’ meditation regimen found increased gray matter in the hippocampus, an area important for learning and memory. The images also showed a reduction of gray matter in the amygdala, a region connected to anxiety and stress. A control group that did not practice meditation showed no such changes."

So what has this to do with Anthropology? From an etic (and scientific) perspective, it long seemed that those who claimed that meditation had real physical benefits were just believers who had no evidence to support their case. At best, scientists argued, the reported benefits of meditation were due to some placebo effect.

This research demonstrates that the emic view, or what has been termed the indigenous traditional knowledge was right about meditation's physical impacts. While it seems jarring to our sensibilities when advocates of meditation or yoga argue that they are presenting a "scientific" system, they are not necessarily wrong.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Etic and Emic Continued

Here is the Joe Cocker Soramimi that I did not have spooled up for class yesterday. Again, notice how an etic or outsider view could leave you wondering about this performance.

For those who wanted to share the Avatar/Pocahantas mash-up that related to Cultural Models:

Also, check out this article by David Brooks on Avatar that nicely encapsulates the underlying White Messiah Fable.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Gompotheres in Mexico

In Mexico, archaeologists discovered gompothere bones together with Clovis era tools. We will discuss Clovis tools when we discuss human evolution, but this finding is the first time that we have evidence of humans hunting gompotheres in this part of the Americas. Prior to this discovery, it was believed that these creatures became extinct 30,000 years ago. Since these findings are from only 12,000 years ago, it indicates that humans and gompotheres lived together for a very long time.

To read the article Click Here

Friday, January 21, 2011

Alone Together

Dr. Sherry Turkle, who we saw last week in the video clip that spoke about how we are all distracted by technology (click here to see the entire Frontline episode) has just published a book on the subject called Alone Together.

As this article points out, she is a professor of the social studies of science at MIT and bases her work on the anthropological data collection method known as ethnography (which we will be talking about in class on Tuesday). As she points out in this interview, she is no Luddite, but feels that:

"Every technology becomes our partner, because we make it, and then it makes and shapes us in return, and it takes a little time for us to see how that process of mutual unfolding goes. Every technology gives us the opportunity to say, Is this technology serving our human values? And if not, the opportunity to make corrections. This book is meant to be part a conversation to make corrections. I think there are ways in which we're constantly communicating and yet not making enough good connections, in a way that's to our detriment, to the detriment of our families and to our business organizations."

Non-human Languages

Someone in class last Thursday suggested (excuse me for paraphrasing) that possibly non-humans were limited in their communication to their immediate needs such as, "I'm hungry" or "Go away!" However, tons of research shows that even squirrels have a basic theory of mind (See this article on how common grey squirrels deceive each other by sending false signals)

Elephants, for example, are long-lived social animals that communicate with each other through trunk signals, olfactory cues, and low-frequency vibrations that travels miles without being detectable by human ears. researchers from Cornell University are making strides in compiling an "Elephant dictionary." I bet many of you have heard of elephant funerals, wherein members of a family will linger by the body of a dead relative for days, even returning regularly to the same spot year after year to visit the bones of the deceased. With relationships that last for decades of their long lives, do you think it's possible that elephants could be communicating sentiments more complex than their physical needs? (Click here for CBS article)

And on one more note, sign-language studies on apes have shown that while non-human primates appear to lack the capacity to master the intricacies of human communication, like grammar and syntax, they are able to conceptualize and convey higher levels of communication such as lying, joking, regret, and anticipation. Check out chapter one of "The Education of Koko" on (Click Here) The rest of the site is cool too.

Chimpanzees play with "dolls"

When I was little, I played with a lot of toys handed down from my older brother: Pirate ships, Playmobil armies, cars, but my grandmother also provided me with three American Girl dolls. If you don't know about these, they are large high-quality girl-dolls from different periods of American history with plenty of historically-accurate outfits and accessories you can buy. My favorite was Kirsten, the Swedish immigrant.

There's an open debate about why girls plays with dolls and boys play with trucks, whether this is positive or negative behavior, and whether this is natural or socially induced (why, for example, did grandma buy me dolls and doll-dresses and doll furniture instead of toy microscopes and model airplanes?)

In 2002, a study on Vervet monkeys presented the possibility that these gender-roles are more natural than many would like to admit. In the study, female vervets preferred "feminine" toys like dolls, while males went for trucks and cars, with no clear difference in "gender neutral" toys which I guess are like blocks or something. (Click for article)

HOWEVER! Field data collected from wild chimpanzees in Kibale National Park suggests that juvenile chimps play with sticks in a way very similar to how human children play with dolls, cradling them and building nests for them to "sleep" in at night. Furthermore, both males and females play in this manner. (HERE) Does this have implications for human behavior?

Looks like the debate is still open to interpretation.

Language, Culture, and Empathy in Chimpanzees

This is a cool overview article on the complexity of chimpanzee social and cognitive behavior. One of the more interesting points is that chimpanzees are able to outperform humans in some memory tests, about recalling series of numbers, which might suggest that a trade-off for language is immediate memory.

They also talk about tool use and empathy, such as for Knuckles the chimp with cerebral palsy (above) who is treated with consideration even by the high-ranking males of his social group.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Eating Dogs in Texas

In our last class I spoke about cultural differences with regards to food preferences and mentioned that certain Native American groups not only ate dogs, but bred them for eating. Today it was announced that a researcher studying fossilized human waste from a Texas cave has conclusive evidence that dogs were domesticated and eaten as early as 9400 years ago.

“This is an important scientific discovery that can tell us not only a lot about the genetic history of dogs but of the interactions between humans and dogs in the past,” Samuel Belknap III, who made the discovery, was quoted as saying in the press release. “Not only were they most likely companions as they are today, they served as protection, hunting assistants, and also as a food source.”

Read about it HERE

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Evolution in Progress

We aren't going to start talking about evolution until later in the course, and this one isn't even about humans, but it's an interesting study on speciation in progress for two populations of Australian skinks.

Check it out on the National Geographic Website

Monday, January 17, 2011

Is Tiger Mom the Best Mom?

This article on parenting Chinese style appeared a week ago in the Wall Street Journal and has elicited literally thousands of responses and numerous counter articles. The author begins her piece by stating that:

A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it's like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I've done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

Erin Patrice O'Brien for The Wall Street Journal

Amy Chua with her daughters, Louisa and Sophia, at their home in New Haven, Conn.

• attend a sleepover

• have a playdate

• be in a school play

• complain about not being in a school play

• watch TV or play computer games

• choose their own extracurricular activities

• get any grade less than an A

• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama

• play any instrument other than the piano or violin

• not play the piano or violin.


Hanna Rosin responded to this article: See here

As did Ayelet Waldman: See here

UPDATE: Tiger Mom's daughter comes to her defense: See here

Neanderthals not Adapted to the Cold

New research into Neanderthal skulls suggests that facial features believed for over a century to be adaptations to extreme cold are unlikely to have evolved in response to glacial periods after all.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Dance Lest we All Fall Down

About an one anthropologist's work in Brazilian shanty towns.

"Instead of using a top-down reform model that came in with assumptions of what was best for poor people, they decided to ask shantytown residents themselves about what changes they wanted. Overwhelmingly, the people they talked to said they wanted education for their girls.

That was the beginning of the Bahia Street project. It started small - with a commitment to put one 11-year-old orphan through school, while tutoring four other girls to prepare them for the rigors of a formal education."

To Read More

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Poles in Lithuania want their 'w' back

Here is an interesting article about the intersection of language and identity. Though Lithuania is a small country the size of West Virginia, it has always been ethnically diverse and parts of it were previously under Polish rule. Under Lithuanian law people must use the Lithuanian alphabet to write their names and street names can only be in Lithuania. This is a problem for the Polish minority that uses letters such as "w" that don't exist in the Lithuanian language. Combine that with tension over an oil and gas refinery and you have the makings of ethnic tensions.

To read more about this, CLICK HERE

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Killing Us Softly

When I was an undergraduate student studying anthropology at the University of Arizona, I was shown Jean Kilbourne's "Killing Us Softly" in three different anthropology classes. This video left an impression on me that is hard to understate, affecting the way I see the world, even today. In "Killing Us Softly," Kilbourne offers insight into how gender roles are socially constructed by the media and the effects of this for both male and female identity formation. She does this by examining the links between advertising and rampant public health issues such as violence against women, eating disorders, and addiction.

I recommend this video to men and women, as Kilbourne points out, the effects of media images shapes us all. This is because media representations influence not just our own individualized identity formations, but the way in which we relate to each other.

Jean Kilbourne has been featured in numerous media outlets, such as Time, Newsweek, The New York Times, The Today Show, and Oprah Winfrey Show. In 1993, she was appointed U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Watch the trailer for her newest rendition:

Killing Us Softly 4: Advertising's Image of Women [Trailer]

Or preview the video in its entirety: Killing Us Softly 4

If you would prefer to watch the video on a larger screen, you can pick up a copy of "Killing Us Softly 3" from our very own UGA library:

Title: Killing us softly 3 [videorecording] : advertising’s image of women / with Jean Kilbourne ; producer/director/editor, Sut Jhally ; created by Jean Kilbourne.

Location: .Main Library Basement Media
Call Number: Media DVD


Opposite Of Tarzan

This American Life: "Act Two. Opposite Of Tarzan"

"Lucy was a chimpanzee raised in captivity, who adopted a surprising number of human traits. But this proved problematic—in quite unexpected ways—when her adoptive human parents decided that Lucy should be released in the wild. This story comes from WNYC's Radiolab, which is distributed by NPR. Radiolab hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich tell the story. (29 minutes.)"

This is a fascinating story of primate research that illustrates both the great similarities and the great differences between humans and chimpanzees. It also illustrates the possibility for unintended consequences when conducting primate research.

Nina Jablonski on the Evolution of Skin Color

Your Family May Once Have Been A Different Color

Paleontologist and primatologist Nina Jablonski gives a lively, concise explanation of the evolution of skin color. Listen to this as you study for the exam!

And, for a more in depth explanation, watch the video:

Nina Jablonski breaks the illusion of skin color

"Why you should listen to her:

"Much of what we consider our humanity is imbued in our skin," Nina Jablonski tells us. This insight came to her in 1981, as she observed a jittery anatomy class warm to a cadaver only after cutting through its skin. As it turns out, marvels abound of this sweaty, hardwearing, social -- and underappreciated -- organ. Many are collected in her book, Skin: A Natural History, a look at what makes our skin unique and, perhaps, more important than we realize.

Nina Jablonski says that differing skin colors are simply our bodies' adaptation to varied climates and levels of UV exposure. Charles Darwin disagreed with this theory, but she explains, that's because he did not have access to NASA."

Switched at Birth: Nature Vs. Nurture

In the popular media and in anthropology there has been an ongoing debate over the role of "nature" vs. "nurture" in the determination of human physiological and cultural traits. Studies of twins separated at birth can some light on this, as can the unusual occurrence of babies switched at birth. Listen to the fascinating story of two such babies at Switched At Birth. Below is a synopsis.

This American Life "Switched At Birth"

"On a summer day in 1951, two baby girls were born in a hospital in small-town Wisconsin. The infants were accidentally switched, and went home with the wrong families. One of the mothers realized the mistake but chose to keep quiet. Until the day, more than 40 years later, when she decided to tell both daughters what happened. How the truth changed two families' lives—and how it didn't."

This is an incredible story that is as entertaining as it is educational. Listen, I promise you'll be enthralled.

Also, if you are interested in twin studies see the following story:

'Identical Strangers' Explore Nature Vs. Nurture

"What is it that makes us who we really are: our life experiences or our DNA? Paula Bernstein and Elyse Schein were both born in New York City. Both women were adopted as infants and raised by loving families. They met for the first time when they were 35 years old and found they were "identical strangers."

Unknowingly, Bernstein and Schein had been part of a secret research project in the 1960s and '70s that separated identical twins as infants and followed their development in a one-of-a-kind experiment to assess the influence of nature vs. nurture in child development.

Now, the twins, authors of a new memoir called Identical Strangers, are trying to uncover the truth about the study."

To hear the story go to: 'Identical Strangers'

The Rap Guide to Evolution

"The Rap Guide to Evolution is a full-length rap album and one-man show that debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2009, winning the Scotsman Fringe First Award for outstanding new writing. It is a “peer-reviewed” hip-hop show, entertaining and accessible, with lyrics that have been scientifically fact-checked for accuracy".

Below are some links to a few of the rap songs from this album:

Artificial Selection

I'm A African

Worst Comes to Worst

Sexual Selection


Album and band name from The Rap Guide to Evolution by Baba Brinkman
For more information on this project go to: The Rap Guide to Evolution - Educational DVD

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Neanderthals in Siberia

A recent DNA study of remains found in Siberia reveal that a close relative of the Neanderthals were living there:

Oldest Modern Human?

Recent archaeological finds in Israel may rewrite the story of Human evolution.

But as this article points out, it is a bit controversial.