Category: Science

“I have a dream”.

The Golden Circle.

This, again, is not about our beloved animals; in other words, this is not about our dogs.

But it is about something of supreme importance: The role of innovation. That’s innovation in all aspects of our human lives. Think of it as a process of innovation.

There was the Diffusion of Innovation (DOI) Theory developed by E.M. Rogers in 1962. There is a comprehensive explanation of DOI here, from where I take the following diagram, but before explaining, from that same site, the meanings behind the definitions, I would like to emphasize one important point: “It works better with adoption of behaviors rather than cessation or prevention of behaviors.“.

So here is that diagram:

Distribution.png

Here are the meanings of those terms (my emboldening):

Adoption of a new idea, behavior, or product (i.e., “innovation”) does not happen simultaneously in a social system; rather it is a process whereby some people are more apt to adopt the innovation than others.

Researchers have found that people who adopt an innovation early have different characteristics than people who adopt an innovation later. When promoting an innovation to a target population, it is important to understand the characteristics of the target population that will help or hinder adoption of the innovation.

There are five established adopter categories, and while the majority of the general population tends to fall in the middle categories, it is still necessary to understand the characteristics of the target population. When promoting an innovation, there are different strategies used to appeal to the different adopter categories.

  1. Innovators – These are people who want to be the first to try the innovation. They are venturesome and interested in new ideas. These people are very willing to take risks, and are often the first to develop new ideas. Very little, if anything, needs to be done to appeal to this population.
  2. Early Adopters – These are people who represent opinion leaders. They enjoy leadership roles, and embrace change opportunities. They are already aware of the need to change and so are very comfortable adopting new ideas. Strategies to appeal to this population include how-to manuals and information sheets on implementation. They do not need information to convince them to change.
  3. Early Majority – These people are rarely leaders, but they do adopt new ideas before the average person. That said, they typically need to see evidence that the innovation works before they are willing to adopt it. Strategies to appeal to this population include success stories and evidence of the innovation’s effectiveness.
  4. Late Majority – These people are skeptical of change, and will only adopt an innovation after it has been tried by the majority. Strategies to appeal to this population include information on how many other people have tried the innovation and have adopted it successfully.
  5. Laggards – These people are bound by tradition and very conservative. They are very skeptical of change and are the hardest group to bring on board. Strategies to appeal to this population include statistics, fear appeals, and pressure from people in the other adopter groups.

Now there’s a TED Talk that I hadn’t seen, and yet nearly 51 million people had! It came to me as an email from TED and yesterday, while we were sitting up in bed  early in the morning, I watched it. It ‘spoke’ to me and I felt that I just had to share it with you.

Because so many of the problems that face our society today are global issues and if humans are to have a future on this planet then we need great leaders who will inspire us.

Now watch the following video, it’s just over 18 minutes long, but it says it all.

Continue reading ““I have a dream”.”

Long may he have a happy retirement!

A treat for an explosive detection dog!

This is another story from The Dodo blogsite. And, yes, about a dog. But not any old dog; he used his sense of smell to protect us humans. He has, in my opinion, an unusual name but it is still his name: TTirado. TTirado was an explosive detection dog at Indianapolis Airport and after eight years of service he was retired.

Here’s the full story!

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TSA Detection Dog Gets A Huge Surprise Before He Retires

His last find was a good one 😁

By Lily Feinn
Published on the 18th June, 2020

As an explosive detection canine, TTirado isn’t always allowed to play with tennis balls like normal pets. Tennis balls — his favorite toy — are used as a reward for a job well done at the Indianapolis Airport.

So when it came time for TTirado to retire after eight long years of service, his handler came up with the perfect way to celebrate — with a massive ball drop.

Keith Gray

“It’s a coveted item during their career,” Keith Gray, TTirado’s handler, told The Dodo. “They know that they have to work for it to get it and that’s what keeps them going and keeps their motivation up.”

Keith Gray

TTirado is top of the class when it comes to detection, and has passed every single evaluation and test. For TTirado, scent detection is a game, and he’s always been happy to go into work with his dad.

“He was the first dog that was assigned to me and the dog I kept my entire career,” Gray said. “He’s a black Lab, so he’s a fantastic, lovable pup. He’s been such a great dog to work with and I’ve learned so much from him over the years.”

Keith Gray

To surprise the pup on his special day, Gray ordered 200 tennis balls online and set up a special final search for him.

“We had a couple of handlers that were behind the scenes ready to drop the balls when he showed up,” Gray said. “The handlers knew what to do when the dog alerts, which is basically him coming around the corner, sniffing that bag like he’s supposed to and dropping his butt to sit down.”

Keith Gray

When TTirado signaled to his dad that he had found something, all 200 tennis balls dropped from the sky. TTirado was in heaven.

TTirado loves to play fetch, and everyone joined in throwing balls for the senior dog to chase.

After putting in countless 40-hour workweeks, TTirado is finally learning to enjoy his retirement. While TTirado was always part of the family, Gray has officially adopted him and plans on taking the pup on lots of fun trips in the future.

But perhaps the biggest change for TTirado is that he gets to hang out on the couch with his favorite toy every single day: “Now that he’s retired, he can have all the toys and tennis balls he wants and play around with them at home,” Gray said.

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It’s a wonderful story about a great dog. TTirado, you have a fantastic retirement and may you live happily for a long time to come!

More on the dog’s nose!

A new sense recently discovered in the dog’s nose.

I subscribe to AAAS and their last email newsletter contained this fascinating information.

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An infrared photo of a golden retriever in a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner reveals the cold temperature of a dog’s nose versus its glowing, warm body.
Anna Bálint

New sense discovered in dog noses: the ability to detect heat

Dogs’ noses just got a bit more amazing. Not only are they up to 100 million times more sensitive than ours, they can sense weak thermal radiation—the body heat of mammalian prey, a new study reveals. The find helps explain how canines with impaired sight, hearing, or smell can still hunt successfully.

“It’s a fascinating discovery,” says Marc Bekoff, an ethologist, expert on canine sniffing, and professor emeritus at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who was not involved in the study. “[It] provides yet another window into the sensory worlds of dogs’ highly evolved cold noses.”

The ability to sense weak, radiating heat is known in only a handful of animals: black fire beetles, certain snakes, and one species of mammal, the common vampire bat, all of which use it to hunt prey.

Most mammals have naked, smooth skin on the tips of their noses around the nostrils, an area called the rhinarium. But dogs’ rhinaria are moist, colder than the ambient temperature, and richly endowed with nerves—all of which suggests an ability to detect not just smell, but heat.

To test the idea, researchers at Lund University and Eötvös Loránd University trained three pet dogs to choose between a warm (31°C) and an ambient-temperature object, each placed 1.6 meters away. The dogs weren’t able to see or smell the difference between these objects. (Scientists could only detect the difference by touching the surfaces.) After training, the dogs were tested on their skill in double-blind experiments; all three successfully detected the objects emitting weak thermal radiation, the scientists reveal today in Scientific Reports.

Next, the researchers scanned the brains of 13 pet dogs of various breeds in a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner while presenting the pooches with objects emitting neutral or weak thermal radiation. The left somatosensory cortex in dogs’ brains, which delivers inputs from the nose, was more responsive to the warm thermal stimulus than to the neutral one. The scientists identified a cluster of 14 voxels (3D pixels) in this region of the dogs’ left hemispheres, but didn’t find any such clusters in the right, and none in any part of the dogs’ brains in response to the neutral stimulus.

Together, the two experiments show that dogs, like vampire bats, can sense weak hot spots and that a specific region of their brains is activated by this infrared radiation, the scientists say. They suspect dogs inherited the ability from their ancestor, the gray wolf, who may use it to sniff out warm bodies during a hunt.

“The study is consistent with other research that describes the combined dog nose and brain as a sophisticated platform for processing a broad range of signals,” says Gary Settles, an emeritus professor of mechanical engineering at Pennsylvania State University, University Park, who has studied dogs’ sniffing abilities. He doubts, however, “that the dog rhinarium can distinguish patterns of hot and cold objects at a distance,” suggesting dogs’ thermal detection skills may not be useful for long distance hunting. “[T]hat needs further study.”

If nothing else, the work suggests the extraordinary skills of the sled dog Buck, who tracked prey “not by sight or sound or smell, but by some other and subtler sense” in Jack London’s Call of the Wild, aren’t completely fictional after all.

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Dogs are in the news again. For their incredible noses; this time we are learning how they track heat.

Brilliant animals!

Alexandra Horowitz

Alexandra is a writer about dogs!

I can’t remember how long ago it was that I came across Alexandra Horowitz but the name stuck. For Alexandra is an author of many titles although many of them are about dogs.

But here’s a quote from someone who reviewed her book, On Looking: A Walker’s Guide to the Art of Observation.

“Horowitz writes like a poet, thinks like a scientist, and ventures like an explorer. Her book will have you looking in a new way at the world around you, and make you glad you did.” – Susan Orlean, author of Rin Tin Tin

If you haven’t already read some of her books then don’t delay!

Now I want to introduce a different side of Alexandra. That of her being a broadcaster, for want of a better description.

This is not a short video, it is 49 minutes long. But that’s a reason to sit down and thoroughly immerse oneself in her talk.

It is introduced thus:

To a dog, there is no such thing as “fresh air.” Every breath is full of information—in fact, what every dog knows about the world comes mostly through their nose. Dogs, when trained, can identify drugs of every type, underwater cadavers, cancer, illicit cell phones in prison, bed bugs, smuggled shark fins, dry rot, land-mines, termites, invasive knapweed, underground truffles, and dairy cows in estrous. But they also know about the upcoming weather, earthquakes before they happen, how “afternoon” smells, what you had for breakfast, and whether a cat touched your leg yesterday. And of course, they sniff their way home and know the distinctive odor of each spot of sidewalk as you travel there.
Alexandra Horowitz is a research scientist in the field of dog cognition and the New York Times bestselling author of “Inside of a Dog”. Her new book “BEING A DOG: Following the Dog into a World of Smell” explores in even greater depth what dogs know, delving into all of these remarkable abilities and revealing a whole world of experiences we miss every day. Alexandra visited Google Seattle to share her research and open eyes (and noses!) of pet parents everywhere.
Get the book here: https://goo.gl/cWJCfN

It’s a really fascinating and interesting talk and, I suspect, you will learn things about your dog’s nose that you didn’t know before.

If you want more news on Alexandra then go here!

And, forgive me, I can’t resist showing you a picture I took yesterday of Sheena!

 

Summer solstice 2020.

As old as time itself!

holding-the-sunThe point at which the sun reaches its farthest point north of the equator is the Summer Solstice, well it is for the Northern Hemisphere. This occurs annually on June 20 or June 21, depending on your time zone.

Here in Southern Oregon, the moment of the Summer Solstice will be at 2:43 PM or 14:43 PDT on Saturday, i.e. today! For the United Kingdom it will be at 22:43 BST on the same day or 21:43 GMT/UTC.

A quick web ‘look-up’ finds that the word solstice is from the Latin solstitium, from sol (sun) and stitium (to stop), reflecting the fact that the Sun appears to stop at this time, albeit momentarily.

At the ancient stone circle of Stonehenge in Southern England, the prehistoric monument that took Neolithic builders an estimated 1,500 years to erect, for many years the Druids have celebrated the Solstice and, undoubtedly, will be doing so again.

AMESBURY, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 21: A man stands on top of Stonehenge as the sun rises over Salisbury Plain on June 21, 2006 in Amesbury, England. Police estimated around 17,000 people travelled to watch the sun rise ove the 5,000 year old stone circle to start the longest day of the year. The all-night party to celebrate the Summer Solstice passed with only four arrests being made. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)
AMESBURY, UNITED KINGDOM – JUNE 21: A man stands on top of Stonehenge as the sun rises over Salisbury Plain on June 21, 2006 in Amesbury, England. Police estimated around 17,000 people travelled to watch the sun rise over the 5,000 year old stone circle to start the longest day of the year. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

There’s a good article over at EarthSky on this year’s Solstice. I would like to quote a little from it:

At the June solstice, Earth is positioned in its orbit so that our world’s North Pole is leaning most toward the sun. As seen from Earth, the sun is directly overhead at noon 23 1/2 degrees north of the equator, at an imaginary line encircling the globe known as the Tropic of Cancer – named after the constellation Cancer the Crab. This is as far north as the sun ever gets.

All locations north of the equator have days longer than 12 hours at the June solstice. Meanwhile, all locations south of the equator have days shorter than 12 hours.

and

Where should I look to see signs of the solstice in nature? Everywhere. For all of Earth’s creatures, nothing is so fundamental as the length of the day. After all, the sun is the ultimate source of almost all light and warmth on Earth’s surface.

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, you might notice the early dawns and late sunsets, and the high arc of the sun across the sky each day. You might see how high the sun appears in the sky at local noon. And be sure to look at your noontime shadow. Around the time of the solstice, it’s your shortest noontime shadow of the year.

If you’re a person who’s tuned in to the out-of-doors, you know the peaceful, comforting feeling that accompanies these signs and signals of the year’s longest day.

Is the solstice the first day of summer? No world body has designated an official day to start each new season, and different schools of thought or traditions define the seasons in different ways.

In meteorology, for example, summer begins on June 1. And every schoolchild knows that summer starts when the last school bell of the year rings.

Yet June 21 is perhaps the most widely recognized day upon which summer begins in the Northern Hemisphere and upon which winter begins on the southern half of Earth’s globe. There’s nothing official about it, but it’s such a long-held tradition that we all recognize it to be so.

It has been universal among humans to treasure this time of warmth and light.

For us in the modern world, the solstice is a time to recall the reverence and understanding that early people had for the sky. Some 5,000 years ago, people placed huge stones in a circle on a broad plain in what’s now England and aligned them with the June solstice sunrise.

We may never comprehend the full significance of Stonehenge. But we do know that knowledge of this sort wasn’t limited to just one part of the world. Around the same time Stonehenge was being constructed in England, two great pyramids and then the Sphinx were built on Egyptian sands. If you stood at the Sphinx on the summer solstice and gazed toward the two pyramids, you’d see the sun set exactly between them.

How does it end up hotter later in the summer, if June has the longest day? People often ask:

If the June solstice brings the longest day, why do we experience the hottest weather in late July and August?

This effect is called the lag of the seasons. It’s the same reason it’s hotter in mid-afternoon than at noontime. Earth just takes a while to warm up after a long winter. Even in June, ice and snow still blanket the ground in some places. The sun has to melt the ice – and warm the oceans – and then we feel the most sweltering summer heat.

Ice and snow have been melting since spring began. Meltwater and rainwater have been percolating down through snow on tops of glaciers.

But the runoff from glaciers isn’t as great now as it’ll be in another month, even though sunlight is striking the northern hemisphere most directly around now.

So wait another month for the hottest weather. It’ll come when the days are already beginning to shorten again, as Earth continues to move in orbit around the sun, bringing us closer to another winter.

And so the cycle continues.

Indeed, so the cycle continues as it has for time immemorial!

Once again, dogs and humans!

Serendipity, or just coincidence?

Yesterday, (it was actually the 22nd February, 2014!) I published a post and called it Dogs and wolves – fascinating research. Then blow me down in yesterday’s online BBC News, there was an article headlined: Dogs’ brain scans reveal vocal responses This is how it opened.

Dogs’ brain scans reveal vocal responses

By Rebecca Morelle, Science reporter, BBC World Service

Pet dogs took part in the MRI scanning study.
Pet dogs took part in the MRI scanning study.

Devoted dog owners often claim that their pets understand them. A new study suggests they could be right.

By placing dogs in an MRI scanner, researchers from Hungary found that the canine brain reacts to voices in the same way that the human brain does.

Emotionally charged sounds, such as crying or laughter, also prompted similar responses, perhaps explaining why dogs are attuned to human emotions.

The work is published in the journal Current Biology.

Lead author Attila Andics, from the Hungarian Academy of Science’s Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, said: “We think dogs and humans have a very similar mechanism to process emotional information.”

Eleven pet dogs took part in the study; training them took some time.

Going across to that Current Biology link, one reads:

Summary

During the approximately 18–32 thousand years of domestication [1], dogs and humans have shared a similar social environment [2]. Dog and human vocalizations are thus familiar and relevant to both species [3], although they belong to evolutionarily distant taxa, as their lineages split approximately 90–100 million years ago [4]. In this first comparative neuroimaging study of a nonprimate and a primate species, we made use of this special combination of shared environment and evolutionary distance. We presented dogs and humans with the same set of vocal and nonvocal stimuli to search for functionally analogous voice-sensitive cortical regions. We demonstrate that voice areas exist in dogs and that they show a similar pattern to anterior temporal voice areas in humans. Our findings also reveal that sensitivity to vocal emotional valence cues engages similarly located nonprimary auditory regions in dogs and humans. Although parallel evolution cannot be excluded, our findings suggest that voice areas may have a more ancient evolutionary origin than previously known.

Back to the BBC news item.

The canine brain reacted to voices in the same way that the human brain does.
The canine brain reacted to voices in the same way that the human brain does.

“There were 12 sessions of preparatory training, then seven sessions in the scanner room, then these dogs were able to lie motionless for as long as eight minutes. Once they were trained, they were so happy, I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see it.”

For comparison, the team looked at the brains of 22 human volunteers in the same MRI scanners.

The scientists played the people and pooches 200 different sounds, ranging from environmental noises, such as car sounds and whistles, to human sounds (but not words) and dog vocalisations.

The researchers found that a similar region – the temporal pole, which is the most anterior part of the temporal lobe – was activated when both the animals and people heard human voices.

“We do know there are voice areas in humans, areas that respond more strongly to human sounds that any other types of sounds,” Dr Andics explained.

“The location (of the activity) in the dog brain is very similar to where we found it in the human brain. The fact that we found these areas exist at all in the dog brain at all is a surprise – it is the first time we have seen this in a non-primate.”

Emotional sounds, such as crying and laughter also had a similar pattern of activity, with an area near the primary auditory cortex lighting up in dogs and humans.

Likewise, emotionally charged dog vocalisations – such as whimpering or angry barking – also caused a similar reaction in all volunteers,

Dr Andics said: “We know very well that dogs are very good at tuning into the feelings of their owners, and we know a good dog owner can detect emotional changes in his dog – but we now begin to understand why this can be.”

However, while the dogs responded to the human voice, their reactions were far stronger when it came to canine sounds.

They also seemed less able to distinguish between environmental sounds and vocal noises compared with humans.

About half of the whole auditory cortex lit up in dogs when listening to these noises, compared with 3% of the same area in humans.

Commenting on the research, Prof Sophie Scott, from the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London, said: “Finding something like this in a primate brain isn’t too surprising – but it is quite something to demonstrate it in dogs.

“Dogs are a very interesting animal to look at – we have selected for a lot of traits in dogs that have made them very amenable to humans. Some studies have show they understand a lot of words and they understand intentionality – pointing.”

But she added: “It would be interesting to see the animal’s response to words rather than just sounds. When we cry and laugh, they are much more like animal calls and this might be causing this response.

For the full report, as it was posted on the BBC website, click here.

Plus, do watch this five-minute video abstract.

Published on Feb 20, 2014

The video presents the first study to compare brain function between humans and any non-primate animal. Scientists at MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group in Hungary found that dogs and humans use similar neural mechanisms to process social information in voices. The fact that dogs can be trained to lie motionless during fMRI tests opens up the space for a new branch of comparative neuroscience.

Paper in Current Biology: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2014….

Group home page: http://mta-etologia.elte.hu/

The first study to compare brain function between humans and any non-primate animal shows that dogs have dedicated voice areas in their brains just as people do. Dog brains, like those of people, are also sensitive to acoustic cues of emotion, according to a study in the Cell Press journal Current Biology.

The findings suggest that voice areas evolved at least 100 million years ago, the age of the last common ancestor of humans and dogs, the researchers say. It also offers new insight into humans’ unique connection with our best friends in the animal kingdom, perhaps explaining how our two species have lived and worked together so effectively for tens of thousands of years.

“Our findings suggest that dogs and humans not only share a similar social environment, but they also use similar brain mechanisms to process social information,” said Atilla Andics of MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group in Hungary. “This may help the successfulness of vocal communication between the two species.”

Andics and his colleagues trained eleven dogs to lay motionless in an fMRI brain scanner. That made it possible to run the very same neuroimaging experiment on dog and human participants — something that had never been done before. They captured both dogs’ and humans’ brain activities while they listened to dog and human sounds, ranging from whining or crying to playful barking or laughing.

The images show that dog and human brains include voice areas in similar locations. Not surprisingly, the voice area of dogs responds more strongly to other dogs, while that of humans responds more strongly to other humans. The researchers also noted striking similarities in the ways the dog and human brain processes emotionally loaded sounds. In both species, an area near the primary auditory cortex lit up more with happy sounds than unhappy ones. Andics said they were most struck by the common response to emotion across species.

There were some differences too: in dogs, 48 percent of all sound-sensitive brain regions respond more strongly to sounds other than voices. That’s in contrast to humans, in which only three percent of sound-sensitive brain regions show greater response to non-vocal versus vocal sounds.

The study is the first step to understanding how it is that dogs can be so remarkably good at tuning into the feelings of their human owners. “This method offers a totally new way of looking at neural processing in dogs,” Andics said. “At last we begin to understand how our best friend is looking at us and navigating in our social environment.”

Although this is the second time this has been shown it is so remarkable, and there may well be many who have not seen it!

These are very strange times!

A Grist article raises a core question.

On June 4th this year Grist published an article written by Eve Andrews. It is not about dogs at all. Yet, it seems to me to ask a fundamental question about us humans. The article speaks of America but certainly it applies to my old country, the U.K., and it probably applies to most of the countries in the world.

I recently wrote to Annelise McGough, the Growth and Engagement Editor at Grist asking if I could republish the article. She kindly said yes!

So here it is!

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Grist / Windy Kelly / EyeEm

Why is everything falling apart in 2020?

By on Jun 4, 2020

Dear Umbra,

Did any aspect of climate change cause the pandemic to happen this year (versus last year or next year)? Could pandemics happen more often?

— Which Oracle Read Rightly Imminent, Existential Doom?

A. Dear WORRIED,

2020: what a year so far! As anyone who witnessed the crowds of face mask-clad people show up in the middle of a deadly pandemic to protest police violence this weekend can attest, a lot seems to be terrible all at once. You’re asking, in a sense, why now? It almost seems like it must be a rhetorical question. But it’s not — by understanding how we got into this mess, we might presumably be able to find our way out.

This doesn’t just apply to the pandemic.

Let’s start by taking your question at face (mask) value: There are multiple factors that have contributed to the rise of zoonotic illnesses — those of animal origin — over recent years, as my very sharp colleague Shannon Osaka delineated in an article and video earlier in the spring. Scientists believe COVID-19, like several other SARS viruses, likely originated in a bat. It turns out many strains of coronavirus can be traced back to bats! Who knew those little guys were such harbingers of destruction?

It’s not really on the bats, of course. Warmer temperatures (an established feature of climate change) and environmental degradation (often attributed to climate change, industrialization, or other products of human development) have driven a lot of animals to migrate out of their normal habitats and into human ones. Those factors have also contributed to different species coming into close contact with each other, which makes viruses normally contained to one species more likely to “spill over,” or jump to a new type of animal.

So clearly, the lead-up to the novel coronavirus’s outbreak was a gradual one. But perhaps 2019 was just warm enough to kill off enough of the insect population that some COVID-19-carrying bat depended on for food, and that drove it out to wreak some (unintentional) havoc on humanity. The bat’s habitat could have been destroyed by a new coal mine development. It could have woken up one morning and thought: This is my time to fuck shit up! Revenge on those humans that messed up my home! (OK, there was also probably a pangolin involved, but let’s keep things simple.)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 is the fourth major pandemic caused by a novel virus to hit the United States since the 1918 “Spanish flu” that killed 50 million people worldwide. And there are so many factors and variables that lead to the sprout of a pandemic that you could very well argue that, “Yes, of course it happened at this exact point in time” or “No, it could have happened at any point in time.” It’s impossible to know for sure. But climate change and habitat destruction are certainly working together to create circumstances more favorable to the spread of disease, and that means pandemics will likely become more common as the world grows warmer.

The thing is, highly contagious, devastating illnesses have always been a part of human life, even though a real pandemic is a few-times-per-century event. It’s a fact of sharing the Earth with other living things; it just happens. But humans are ostensibly equipped with the means to contain the spread of diseases and help heal those who become sick. At this moment, thanks to advances in medicine and information-sharing and communication, that’s more true than ever before!

And yet. The United States, an astonishingly wealthy nation with ostensibly the most advanced — certainly the most expensive! — medical system in the world, has lost around 100,000 people to COVID-19, with many more surely to come. That doesn’t even take into account the far-reaching hardship caused by an economic collapse as drastic, by some metrics, as the Great Depression. The current unemployment rate, for example, exceeds 20 percent.

The reality is that what some have referred to as “the lost spring” (and what could very well be “the lost year”) is not the product of a single infectious disease, but the boiling over of many long-standing crises, including structural forms of injustice. Like everything else in American society, the damage done by the coronavirus is unevenly distributed across race. The death rate of black Americans from COVID is three times that of whites, and 40 percent of black-owned businesses have shuttered due to social distancing measures. As of April, rates of black and Latino unemployment were 16.7 and 18.9 percent, respectively, compared to 14.2 percent for whites. These hardships continue to feed into the cycle of racial inequality in this country.

The devastation to American society that we are witnessing in real time, one could argue, could only have happened at the present moment. That’s due to the nightmarish confluence of horrific leadership, centuries of racial oppression, unprecedented wealth inequality, the erosion of the social safety net, privatization of medicine, a far-too-consolidated supply chain, politicization of science, a highly globalized economy, and one misguided or mischievous bat. Oh, and the climate change and environmental degradation that could have led to said bat’s misbehavior.

COVID-19 could have popped up at any time, as viruses do. The degree to which it’s ravaged American society, however, has little to do with the virus itself. Other countries such as New Zealand and South Korea, faced the same disease and came out the other side with far fewer deaths and less severe economic devastation. This is, to a significant degree, about governance and leadership.

It’s also a preview of what climate change can do. A very contagious respiratory virus is an unfortunate fact; it’s not going away, and it is a challenge to be dealt with. Climate change, just the same, is coming whether or not we pay attention to it. Communities, cities, and states are going to have to put measures into place to ensure that it doesn’t literally kill us all. That’s what adaptation means, and that’s why people talk about things like seawalls and tree cover and managed retreat.

But creating a climate-resilient society requires a lot more than just building or planting stuff! This is where I would normally tell you to vote for leaders who support all that building and planting and, more importantly, cutting carbon emissions in the first place. Yes, do that. And additionally, vote for leaders who will feed our starving public systems to make it so they actually support the people who need them. Vote for those who understand and want to change what non-white people experience, what poor people experience, what immigrants experience. Without all of these things, there cannot be a climate-resilient civilization.

If anything were made clear by the unique, mind-boggling suffering that the United States has seen in the past week, brought about by the collision of a viral pandemic and police brutality, it’s that voting is a necessary condition but it is not enough. You, WORRIED, wrote to me to ask why the pandemic happened right now, possibly because it seems like such a uniquely terrible moment for the country to have to deal with it. We not only have the worst possible leader, but also a general absence of leadership altogether.

Going back just a few months, I believe there was an opportunity for an alternate version of this moment in American history in which one incredibly dangerous virus did not kill as many people nor ruin as many lives. But even in that universe, it’s important to acknowledge that pre-pandemic life wasn’t so great for most people. Undoing this path and “restoring order” is a ridiculous hope, since the order that has existed for so long has created a society that is wholly unsustainable judging from almost any social, environmental, or economic perspective.

So what can we do with this knowledge? One, you should be angry. Be angry that leaders missed opportunities to fortify the nation beyond its military, to break down racist systems and promote equality, and to instate laws and policies designed to help prevent crises that, by all accounts, were utterly predictable.

Then I think you should show your anger, whether that’s through protesting, hurling money or your time or whatever you have at worthy organizations that will put it in the right hands, or just screaming and yelling, if you have to. And while voting might not feel like enough when so much feels so wrong, it’s a necessary condition for change — force people in power to know that they created that mess and that they are accountable for it.

Furiously,

Umbra

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Climate change or global warming is with us NOW. It is time to make fundamental changes to the way we live NOW. While many individuals are doing their bit we need international agreement, especially international support for the United Nations, for all the nations in the world NOW.

Thank you for reading this!

It breaks my heart.

Let me not stop with that. I want to hear from you. Are you worried? Or not quite as concerned as me and Umbra? Do you think it is in the hands of our leaders or is it an international problem?

Let’s have a bit of a discussion.

Other inhabited worlds, and the implications of finding one.

This is profoundly important.

Well it is to me and Jean and, I suspect, it will be to many other people.

I am an atheist. So is Jean. We have been all our lives. I think that many of you who follow this blog know that. The love that we have for our dogs, and all our animals, plus the beauty that is all around us in nature is enough. (Now I am not naive enough to realise that there are many, literally millions, that don’t have the same fortune in their lives.)

The Conversation recently republished an essay by David Weintraub that was first published in 2014. It is at the core of our existence and I am delighted to have the permission to republish it for you.

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Is your religion ready to meet ET

By
 Professor of Astronomy, Vanderbilt University

November 5th, 2014

Square away your personal philosophy now; proof of life beyond earth is coming. Stargazing image via http://www.shutterstock.com

How will humankind react after astronomers hand over rock-solid scientific evidence for the existence of life beyond the Earth? No more speculating. No more wondering. The moment scientists announce this discovery, everything will change. Not least of all, our philosophies and religions will need to incorporate the new information.

Searching for signs of life

Astronomers have now identified thousands of planets in orbit around other stars. At the current rate of discovery, millions more will be found this century.

Having already found the physical planets, astronomers are now searching for our biological neighbors. Over the next fifty years, they will begin the tantalizing, detailed study of millions of planets, looking for evidence of the presence of life on or below the surfaces or in the atmospheres of those planets.

And it’s very likely that astronomers will find it. Despite the fact that more than one-third of Americans surveyed believe that aliens have already visited Earth, the first evidence of life beyond our planet probably won’t be radio signals, little green men or flying saucers. Instead, a 21st century Galileo, using an enormous, 50-meter-diameter telescope, will collect light from the atmospheres of distant planets, looking for the signatures of biologically significant molecules.

Astronomers filter that light from far away through spectrometers – high-tech prisms that tease the light apart into its many distinct wavelengths. They’re looking for the telltale fingerprints of molecules that would not exist in abundance in these atmospheres in the absence of living things. The spectroscopic data will tell whether a planet’s environment has been altered in ways that point to biological processes at work.

What is our place in the universe? Woman image via http://www.shutterstock.com

If we aren’t alone, who are we?

With the discovery in a distant planet’s light spectrum of a chemical that could only be produced by living creatures, humankind will have the opportunity to read a new page in the book of knowledge. We will no longer be speculating about whether other beings exist in the universe. We will know that we not alone.

An affirmative answer to the question “Does life exist anywhere else in the universe beyond Earth?” would raise immediate and profoundly important cosmotheological questions about our place in the universe. If extraterrestrial others exist, then my religion and my religious beliefs and practices might not be universal. If my religion is not universally applicable to all extraterrestrial others, perhaps my religion need not be offered to, let alone forced on, all terrestrial others. Ultimately, we might learn some important lessons applicable here at home just from considering the possibility of life beyond our planet.

In my book, I investigated the sacred writings of the world’s most widely practiced religions, asking what each religion has to say about the uniqueness or non-uniqueness of life on Earth, and how, or if, a particular religion would work on other planets in distant parts of the universe.

Extrasolar sinners?

Let’s examine a seemingly simple yet exceedingly complex theological question: could extraterrestrials be Christians? If Jesus died in order to redeem humanity from the state of sin into which humans are born, does the death and resurrection of Jesus, on Earth, also redeem other sentient beings from a similar state of sin? If so, why are the extraterrestrials sinful? Is sin built into the very fabric of the space and time of the universe? Or can life exist in parts of the universe without being in a state of sin and therefore without the need of redemption and thus without the need for Christianity? Many different solutions to these puzzles involving Christian theology have been put forward. None of them yet satisfy all Christians.

Mormon worlds

Mormon scripture clearly teaches that other inhabited worlds exist and that “the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God” (Doctrines and Covenants 76:24). The Earth, however, is a favored world in Mormonism, because Jesus, as understood by Mormons, lived and was resurrected only on Earth. In addition, Mormon so-called intelligences can only achieve their own spiritual goals during their lives on Earth, not during lifetimes on other worlds. Thus, for Mormons, the Earth might not be the physical center of the universe but it is the most favored place in the universe. Such a view implies that all other worlds are, somehow, lesser worlds than Earth.

Bahá’í without bias

Members of the Bahá’í Faith have a view of the universe that has no bias for or against the Earth as a special place or for against humans as a special sentient species. The principles of the Bahá’í Faith – unifying society, abandoning prejudice, equalizing opportunities for all people, eliminating poverty – are about humans on Earth. The Bahá’í faithful would expect any creatures anywhere in the universe to worship the same God as do humans, but to do so according to their own, world-specific ways.

Light years from Mecca

The pillars of the faith for Muslims require the faithful to pray five times every day while facing Mecca. Because determining the direction of Mecca correctly could be extremely difficult on a quickly spinning planet millions of light years from Earth, practicing the same faith on another world might not make any sense. Yet the words of the Qu’ran tell us that “Whatever beings there are in the heavens and the earth do prostrate themselves to Allah” (13:15). Can terrestrial Muslims accept that the prophetically revealed religion of Muhammad is intended only for humans on earth and that other worlds would have their own prophets?

Astronomers as paradigm-shatterers

Philosophers and scientists have forced worldviews to adapt in the past.

At certain moments throughout history, astronomers’ discoveries have exerted an outsized influence on human culture. Ancient Greek astronomers unflattened the Earth – though many then chose to forget this knowledge. Renaissance scholars Copernicus and Galileo put the Earth in motion around the Sun and moved humans away from the center of the universe. In the 20th century, Edwin Hubble eliminated the very idea that the universe has any center at all. He demonstrated that what the universe has is a beginning in time and that, bizarrely, the universe, the very fabric of three-dimensional space, is expanding.

Clearly, when astronomers offer the world bold new ideas, they don’t mess around. Another such paradigm-shattering new idea may be in the light arriving at our telescopes now.

No matter which (a)theistic background informs your theology, you may have to wrestle with the data astronomers will be bringing to houses of worship in the very near future. You will need to ask: Is my God the God of the entire universe? Is my religion a terrestrial or a universal religion? As people work to reconcile the discovery of extrasolar life with their theological and philosophical worldviews, adapting to the news of life beyond Earth will be discomfiting and perhaps even disruptive.

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Now I don’t really want to open up the subject of religion but I will say that WikiPedia have a great entry about the subject. My own view is that a few hundred years ago, when life was a lot more mysterious and uncertain, believing in life after death made some sense.

But we know a lot better now despite death still being a certainty.

Brandy!

Dogs don’t need religion!

And what about mathematics?

Yet another revelation!

Fairly soon after publishing my post about music and the dog world I came across another article on dogs, and other animals, having a sense of numbers.

Now this post which was originally published by The Conversation is intricate in it’s deliberations but it is still clear. Try the article yourself.

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Animals that can do math understand more language than we think

May 28, 2020

By Erik Nelson, Phd Student, Philosophy, Dalhousie University

It is often thought that humans are different from other animals in some fundamental way that makes us unique, or even more advanced than other species. These claims of human superiority are sometimes used to justify the ways we treat other animals, in the home, the lab or the factory farm.

So, what is it that makes us so different from other animals? Many philosophers, both past and present, have pointed to our linguistic abilities. These philosophers argue that language not only allows us to communicate with each other, but also makes our mental lives more sophisticated than those that lack language. Some philosophers have gone so far as to argue that creatures that lack a language are not capable of being rational, making inferences, grasping concepts or even having beliefs or thoughts.

An illustration of a sulky chimpanzee from Charles Darwin’s 1872 book, ‘The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.’ (Wellcome Collection)

Even if we are willing to accept these claims, what should we think of animals who are capable of speech? Many types of birds, most famously parrots, are able to make noises that at least sound linguistic, and gorillas and chimpanzees have been taught to communicate using sign language. Do these vocalizations or communications indicate that, like humans, these animals are also capable of sophisticated mental processes?

The philosophy of animal language

Philosophers have generally answered this question by denying that talking parrots and signing gorillas are demonstrating anything more than clever mimicry. Robert Brandom, a philosopher at the University of Pittsburgh, has argued that if a parrot says “red” when shown red objects and “blue” when presented with blue ones, it has not actually demonstrated that it understands the meaning of those words. According to Brandom — and many other philosophers — understanding the meaning of a word requires understanding both the meaning of many other words and the connections that exist between those words.

Imagine that you bring your toddler niece to a petting zoo for the first time, and ask her if she is able to point to the rabbits. If she successfully does, this might seem like a good indication that she understands what a rabbit is. However, you now ask her to point to the animals. If she points to some rocks on the ground instead of pointing to the rabbits or the goats, does she actually understand what the word “rabbit” means? Understanding “rabbit” involves understanding “animal,” as well as the connection between these two things.

So if a parrot is able to tell us the colour of different objects, that does not necessarily show that the parrot understands the meanings of those words. To do that, a parrot would need to demonstrate that it also understands that red and blue fall underneath the category of colour, or that if something is red all over, it cannot, at the same time, be blue all over.

What sort of behaviour would demonstrate that a parrot or a chimpanzee did understand the words it was using? As a philosopher who focuses on the study of animal cognition, I examine both empirical and theoretical work to answer these types of questions.

In recent research, I argue that testing an animal’s arithmetical capabilities can provide insight into just how much they are capable of understanding. In order to see why, we need to take a brief detour through the philosophy of mathematics.

Counting animals

In the late 1800s, the German mathematician and philosopher Gottlob Frege tried to demonstrate that arithmetic is an objective science. Many philosophers and mathematicians at the time thought that arithmetic was merely an artifact of human psychology. Frege worried that such an understanding would make arithmetic entirely subjective, placing it on no firmer ground than the latest fashion trends.

In The Foundations of Arithmetic, Frege begins by logically analyzing what sorts of things numbers are. He thinks that the key to this investigation is figuring out what it takes to answer the question “how many?”

If I hand you a deck of cards and ask, “How many?” without specifying what I want counted, it would be difficult to even figure out what sort of answer I am looking for. Am I asking you how many decks of cards, how many cards all together, how many suits or any of the other number of ways of dividing up the deck? If I ask, “How many suits?” and you respond “four,” you are demonstrating not just that you can count, but that you understand what suits are.

Frege thought that the application of number labels depends on being able to grasp the connection between what is being counted and how many of them there are. Replying “four” to the question “How many?” might seem like a disconnected act, like parrots merely calling red objects “red.” However, it is more like your niece pointing to the rabbits while also understanding that rabbits are animals. So, if animals are able to reliably respond correctly to the question “How many?” this demonstrates that they understand the connection between the numerical amount and the objects they are being asked about.

Animal mathematical literacy

One example of non-human animals demonstrating a wide range of arithmetical capabilities is the work that Irene Pepperberg did with African grey parrots, most famously her subjects Alex and Griffin.

In order to test Alex’s arithmetic capabilities, Pepperberg would show him a set of objects on a tray, and would ask, “How many?” for each of the objects. For example, she would show him a tray with differently shaped objects on it and ask, “How many four-corner?” (Alex’s word for squares.) Alex was able to reliably provide the answer for amounts up to six.

Alex was also able to provide the name for the object if asked to look for a number of those objects. For example, if a tray had different quantities of coloured objects on it including five red objects, and Alex was asked, “What colour is five?” Alex was able to correctly respond by saying “red.”

Pepperberg’s investigations into the ability to learn and understand basic arithmetic provide examples that show that Alex was able to do more than simply mimic human sounds. Providing the right word when asked, “How many?” required him to understand the connections between the numerical amount and the objects being asked about.

Animal mathematical skills

While Pepperberg’s results are impressive, they are far from unique. Numerical abilities have been identified in many different species, most prominently chimpanzees. Some of these capabilities demonstrate that the animals understand the underlying connections between different words and labels. They are therefore doing something more than just mimicking the sounds and actions of the humans around them.

Animals that can do basic arithmetic show us that some really are capable of understanding the terms they use and the connections between them. However, it is still an open question whether their understanding of these connections is a result of learning linguistic expressions, or if their linguistic expressions simply help demonstrate underlying capabilities.

Either way, claims that humans are uniquely able to understand the meanings of words are a bit worse for wear.

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There’s little that I can add to the excellent summary in that penultimate paragraph;

Animals that can do basic arithmetic show us that some really are capable of understanding the terms they use and the connections between them. However, it is still an open question whether their understanding of these connections is a result of learning linguistic expressions, or if their linguistic expressions simply help demonstrate underlying capabilities.

but one thing is becoming clearer and clearer: dogs and other animals are a whole lot smarter than many (most?) of us think. Primarily on the back of research into the nature of our creatures and especially those creatures that are very close to us.

Music makes the (dog) world go round!

A Daily Dodo item that is just lovely!

Now this is a story about a specific event, taking Sadie to the vet. But there’s a more fundamental theme to this post and that is the role of music in our lives and in the lives of our dogs.

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Dog Is Terrified Of Vet — Until He Decides To Sing To Her

From the Daily Dodo, May 22nd, 2020

Photo Credit: Kaeley Simek

Sadie was rescued from a local shelter when she was around a year old, and when she joined her family, she was quick to let them know that she was always down to have fun.

“Her personality is SO sassy and playful,” Kaeley Simek, Sadie’s mom, told The Dodo. “Ever since we gave her her first toy, she loves to play as often as she can. She is very high-energy and pretty much up for anything.”

While Sadie is usually the life of the party, the one thing that doesn’t make her smile is having to go to the vet.

“Sadie was not scared of vets when first rescuing her, but once she realized that she always goes there to get shots or if she has pain, she quickly learned it is not a fun place to be,” Simek said.

Photo Credit: Kaeley Simek

Sadie didn’t have great vet experiences when she was first rescued, and after that, she was absolutely terrified every time she realized that’s where she was headed. Her mom desperately wanted to find a vet who would understand Sadie’s anxiety and try to work with her to overcome it — and that’s when they met Dr. Noah.

“We started going to Dr. Noah of Dr. Noah’s Ark in Shorewood, [Wisconsin], in September of 2019,” Simek said. “After the bad experiences, I researched heavily a vet who would take time to understand and accept scared/reactive dogs. He was very highly rated and I also saw many reviews that [said] he doesn’t wear the ‘white coat’ at appointments, which can be a huge trigger for dogs.”

At their first visit, Simek explained Sadie’s anxieties to Dr. Noah, and it wasn’t hard to see how scared she was. That’s when Simek learned that Dr. Noah’s secret trick was singing to his patients.

In order to try and calm them down and make them feel more comfortable, Dr. Noah serenades the dogs who are scared or nervous — and most of the time, it totally works.

Photo Credit: Kaeley Simek

“The first time we went to him, he sang to her and she ended up on the floor kissing him and he was able to give the two shots she needed,” Simek said. “He has sang to her ever since.”

Dr. Noah understands that going to the vet can be overwhelming for some pets, so he does his best to create a positive experience for them the best way he knows how — through music.

“He heavily believes that music can completely change the mood,” Simek said.

For Sadie, it’s definitely been working. Even though she’s still scared when she first gets there, she definitely trusts Dr. Noah more than any other vet she’s been to, and with his help and his music she’s slowly learning that the vet isn’t actually so scary after all.

“She still has a lot of fear about the vet but he takes the time to sit down with her and we go for happy vet visits weekly so she can have positive associations,” Simek said. “He has the biggest heart out of any vet I’ve ever seen.”

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It’s very clear, from this story and many others including our personal experience of dogs, that dogs’ emotional responses are advanced and in many ways their emotions are familiar to us humans.

I’m going to include two videos.

The first is from 2012 and is a very short extract from the BBC Horizon video: Can dogs sense emotion?

And the second is a longer video but still only 18 minutes.

That second video shows the remarkable qualities of the dog and the similarities between the dog’s brain and the human brain!

They are such gorgeous, beautiful creatures.