Tag: The Conversation

Being healthy in your later years.

This is a key article!

Now this has nothing to do with dogs. Well not directly but the longer we humans live the longer we can have dogs as pets.

I was having an email ‘conversation’ with Jon over in England and he pointed me to Professor Tim Spector. Prof. Spector writes on his website that he:

Tim Spector is a Professor of Genetic Epidemiology and Director of the TwinsUK Registry at Kings College, London and has recently been elected to the prestigious Fellowship of the Academy of Medical Sciences. He trained originally in rheumatology and epidemiology.

In 1992 he moved into genetic epidemiology and founded the UK Twins Registry, of 13,000 twins, which is the richest collection of genotypic and phenotypic information worldwide. He is past President of the International Society of Twin Studies, directs the European Twin Registry Consortium (Discotwin) and collaborates with over 120 centres worldwide.

He has demonstrated the genetic basis of a wide range of common complex traits, many previously thought to be mainly due to ageing and environment. Through genetic association studies (GWAS), his group have found over 500 novel gene loci in over 50 disease areas. He has published over 800 research articles and is ranked as being in the top 1% of the world’s most cited scientists by Thomson-Reuters.

He held a prestigious European Research Council senior investigator award in epigenetics and is a NIHR Senior Investigator. His current work focuses on omics and the microbiome and directs the crowdfunded British Gut microbiome project.

Together with an international team of leading scientists including researchers from King’s College London, Massachusetts General Hospital, Tufts University, Stanford University and nutritional science company ZOE he  is conducting the largest scientific nutrition research project, showing that individual responses to the same foods are unique, even between identical twins.

You can find more on https://joinzoe.com/ He is a prolific writer with several popular science books and a regular blog, focusing on genetics, epigenetics and most recently microbiome and diet (The Diet Myth). He is in demand as a public speaker and features regularly in the media.

That is quite a CV!

Then I came across an essay on The Conversation website about being healthier in one’s old age.

Read it!

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Keen to be healthier in old age? Tend your inner garden

By

Clinical Senior Lecturer, King’s College London

Professor of Genetic Epidemiology, King’s College London

January 29, 2016

Grub’s up. Lunch by Shutterstock

The world’s oldest man, Yasutaro Koide recently died at the age of 112. Commentators as usual, focused on his reported “secret to longevity”: not smoking, drinking or overdoing it. No surprises there. But speculation on the basis of one individual is not necessarily the most helpful way of addressing this human quest for the Philosopher’s Stone.

The “very old” do spark our interest – but is our search for a secret to longevity actually misguided? Wouldn’t you rather live healthier than live longer in poor health? Surely, what we really want to know is how do we live well in old age.

Clearly as scientists we try to illuminate these questions using populations of people not just odd individuals. Many previous attempts have approached this question by looking for differences between young and old people, but this approach is often biased by the many social and cultural developments that happen between generations, including diet changes. Time itself should not be the focus – at least, in part, because time is one thing we are unlikely to be able to stop.

Yasutaro Koide made 112. Kyodo/Reuters

The real question behind our interest in people who survive into old age is how some manage to stay robust and fit while others become debilitated and dependent. To this end, recent scientific interest has turned to investigating the predictors of frailty within populations of roughly the same age. Frailty is a measure of how physically and mentally healthy an individual is. Studies show frailer older adults have an increased levels of low grade inflammation – so-called “inflammaging”.

New research published in Genome Medicine by Matt Jackson, from our group at King’s College London, investigated this question in an unlikely place – poo. Recent evidence indicates that our immune and inflammatory systems are trained and educated in our gut, through key interactions with gut bacteria. So we asked if changes in our gut bacteria could be part of the process of inflammation driving frailty.

Our recent work found that the frailer an individual, the lower the diversity of gut bacteria they have. We looked at stool samples from more than 700 healthy British twins and found that a group of bacteria belonging to the species with a tricky and slightly unpleasant name, Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, were found in higher amounts in the healthier twins. This is a particularly interesting microbe as it has been linked with good health in many other diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease and is believed to reduce inflammation of the gut. Could this bug help protect against frailty?

Putting in the research. Paper by Shutterstock

There were other microbes seen in increased amounts within the frailer twins. One was Eubacterium dolichum, which has been seen to increase in unhealthy Western diets. We found the same picture when comparing frailer, more elderly, individuals from the ELDERMET study, by the University of Cork. This suggests that dietary changes might be an easy way to encourage healthy ageing.

Our study does not yet clarify whether the changes to the gut bacteria are a cause of poor ageing itself or are just a consequence of frailty – longitudinal studies that follow people over several years will be needed to sort this out. But these results are exciting for researchers in the ageing field and suggest that if you want to age well you should perhaps do fewer crosswords and spend more time looking after your microbial garden, for example by eating plenty of plant fibre, for example in a Mediterranean-type diet.

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Well this essay was published nearly 5 years ago and one wonders if more information has come to light.

Certainly Jeannie and me are heavily into a plant-based diet with a small selection of fish from time to time.

I will do more research and see if there are any updates that may be published.

In the meantime stay as healthy and as happy as you can be!

 

The Queen’s Christmas message.

Can the Queen save Christmas?

Learning from Dogs is going to take a break. For a week. We will be back ‘on air’, so to speak, on January 1st, 2021.

The Queen has been broadcasting a Christmas message since 1952. I was just eight-years-old when she first broadcast her own message.

How very much has changed over those years. Beyond imagination.

The Conversation has an article about the Queen’s broadcast and it is shared with you all.

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Can the Queen save Christmas?

December 21, 2020

By

Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, Aston University

At 3pm UK time on Christmas day, the Queen’s Christmas message is broadcast across the Commonwealth. Each year the format is largely the same, with the Queen giving her own account of the main personal, national and international events of the year and reflecting on the meaning of Christmas. As such, it has become an important part of the festivities for many families in the UK and beyond.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, fresh restrictions imposed and Brexit rapidly approaching, this year’s broadcast has taken on new significance as a source of stability and comfort, a constant in these difficult and uncertain times. Therefore, it is worth examining how the language used in the broadcast creates this sense of reassurance.

Since 1952, the Queen’s Christmas message has performed three ideological functions through rhetorical appeals based on faith and family.

Identification

The Queen shares personal anecdotes, which she often links to ordinary people’s experiences through the pronouns “we” and “us”.

On Christmas Day 1964, for instance, she told viewers that: “All of us who have been blessed with young families know from long experience that when one’s house is at its noisiest, there is often less cause for anxiety”. As most new parents would recognise this truism, it conveys the message that – in this respect at least – the royals are like any other family.

The first televised Royal Christmas message, 1957. The Royal Family/YouTube

The Queen is also aware that some families will be separated during the festive season and regularly expresses empathy for them. As she said in 1956: “I would like to send a special message of hope and encouragement to all who […] cannot be with those they love today: to the sick who cannot be at home”.

This message is made more poignant because of COVID-19, as the Queen recognised in her special address on April 5 2020. Indeed, it is almost inevitable that this year’s Christmas broadcast will include similar words of consolation for those who have been separated from their loved ones during the pandemic.

Continuity

Uncertainty is another recurring theme in the Queen’s Christmas broadcast, as she tries to make sense of the year’s events for the benefit of her audience. She gives her personal responses to national and global problems, which frequently involve the enactment of supposedly timeless (but predominantly Christian) values. On Christmas Day 1980, amid issues such as the Soviet-Afghanistan war and UK unemployment, she said:

We know that the world can never be free from conflict and pain, but Christmas also draws our attention to all that is hopeful and good in this changing world; it speaks of values and qualities that are true and permanent and it reminds us that the world we would like to see can only come from the goodness of the heart.

Among these values are faith, charity and compassion and, by praising them as a source of stability and the means for creating a better world, the Queen is perhaps seeking to strengthen adherence to them. Not only that, her appeals to Christian values and her emphasis on the family provide a sense of security for those who are disoriented by the rapid pace of social change. In turn, this sustains the monarchy by establishing the Queen as “a permanent anchor, bracing against the storms and grounding us in certainty”, as former British prime minister David Cameron said in 2012, marking her Diamond Jubilee.

Unity

The Queen’s rhetoric of unity is based primarily on the metaphor of the Commonwealth as a family, which recurs throughout the Christmas broadcasts. In 1956, for instance, she observed that:

We talk of ourselves as a “family of nations”, and perhaps our relations with one another are not so very different from those which exist between members of any family. We all know that these are not always easy, for there is no law within a family which binds its members to think, or act, or be alike.

Despite these differences, in 2011 the Queen described the Commonwealth as “a family of 53 nations, all with a common bond, shared beliefs, mutual values and goals”. As the head of the Commonwealth, it is perhaps no exaggeration to say that the Queen is the matriarch of this family of nations, whose primary role is to keep the unit together and uphold its values. Indeed, the Christmas broadcast has been an important source of soft power since the end of Empire. As Sonny Ramphal, a former Commonwealth secretary general, put it: “without her presence, the Commonwealth will feel it is missing the captain from the bridge”.

With the UK government having tightened Christmas COVID-19 restrictions, as well as the introduction of bans on UK travel in numerous countries, this festive season will be very different. Perhaps more than ever, as families face separation or the disruption of their traditional plans, people will seek solace in the ritual of the Queen’s Christmas broadcast.

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I can’t find a copyright-free photograph of the Queen’s Corgis but this one will do. It is from Pexels.

Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich from Pexels

So her Majesty The Queen is 94! Wow!

That makes her the oldest monarch to have reigned in Britain. Ever!

Queen Victoria was Queen of the United Kingdom and Ireland from 20 June 1837 until her death, in 1901. That makes Queen Victoria the second longest monarch to have reigned.

So with that, it’s time for a small break.

See you in 2021!

The most common human infrastructure.

Is the fence!

I saw this article yesterday on The Conversation and thought it was very significant and, as a result, worthy of sharing with you.

But first a picture of the Australian dingo.

By Henry Whitehead – Original photograph, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Taken from an article on WikiPedia.

Here is that article from The Conversation.

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Fences have big effects on land and wildlife around the world that are rarely measured

November 30, 2020

By , Postdoctoral Researcher, University of California Santa Barbara,

and

, Ph.D. Candidate in Environmental Science, Policy and Management, University of California, Berkeley,

and

, PhD Candidate in Environmental Science, Policy and Management, University of California, Berkeley.

What is the most common form of human infrastructure in the world? It may well be the fence. Recent estimates suggest that the total length of all fencing around the globe is 10 times greater than the total length of roads. If our planet’s fences were stretched end to end, they would likely bridge the distance from Earth to the Sun multiple times.

On every continent, from cities to rural areas and from ancient to modern times, humans have built fences. But we know almost nothing about their ecological effects. Border fences are often in the news, but other fences are so ubiquitous that they disappear into the landscape, becoming scenery rather than subject.

In a recently published study, our team sought to change this situation by offering a set of findings, frameworks and questions that can form the basis of a new discipline: fence ecology. By compiling studies from ecosystems around the world, our research shows that fences produce a complex range of ecological effects.

Some of them influence small-scale processes like the building of spider webs. Others have much broader effects, such as hastening the collapse of Kenya’s Mara ecosystem. Our findings reveal a world that has been utterly reorganized by a rapidly growing latticework of fences.

Connecting the dots

If fences seem like an odd thing for ecologists to study, consider that until recently no one thought much about how roads affected the places around them. Then, in a burst of research in the 1990s, scientists showed that roads – which also have been part of human civilization for millennia – had narrow footprints but produced enormous environmental effects.

For example, roads can destroy or fragment habitats that wild species rely on to survive. They also can promote air and water pollution and vehicle collisions with wildlife. This work generated a new scientific discipline, road ecology, that offers unique insights into the startling extent of humanity’s reach.

Our research team became interested in fences by watching animals. In California, Kenya, China and Mongolia, we had all observed animals behaving oddly around fences – gazelles taking long detours around them, for example, or predators following “highways” along fence lines.

We reviewed a large body of academic literature looking for explanations. There were many studies of individual species, but each of them told us only a little on its own. Research had not yet connected the dots between many disparate findings. By linking all these studies together, we uncovered important new discoveries about our fenced world.

Early advertisement for barbed wire fencing, 1880-1889. The advent of barbed wire dramatically changed ranching and land use in the American West by ending the open range system. Kansas Historical Society, CC BY-ND

Remaking ecosystems

Perhaps the most striking pattern we found was that fences rarely are unambiguously good or bad for an ecosystem. Instead, they have myriad ecological effects that produce winners and losers, helping to dictate the rules of the ecosystems where they occur.

Even “good” fences that are designed to protect threatened species or restore sensitive habitats can still fragment and isolate ecosystems. For example, fences constructed in Botswana to prevent disease transmission between wildlife and livestock have stopped migrating wildebeests in their tracks, producing haunting images of injured and dead animals strewn along fencelines.

Enclosing an area to protect one species may injure or kill others, or create entry pathways for invasive species.

One finding that we believe is critical is that for every winner, fences typically produce multiple losers. As a result, they can create ecological “no man’s lands” where only species and ecosystems with a narrow range of traits can survive and thrive.

Altering regions and continents

Examples from around the world demonstrate fences’ powerful and often unintended consequences. The U.S.-Mexico border wall – most of which fits our definition of a fence – has genetically isolated populations of large mammals such as bighorn sheep, leading to population declines and genetic isolation. It has even had surprising effects on birds, like ferruginous pygmy owls, that fly low to the ground.

Australia’s dingo fences, built to protect livestock from the nation’s iconic canines, are among the world’s longest man-made structures, stretching thousands of kilometers each. These fences have started ecological chain reactions called trophic cascades that have affected an entire continent’s ecology.

The absence of dingoes, a top predator, from one side of the fence means that populations of prey species like kangaroos can explode, causing categorical shifts in plant composition and even depleting the soil of nutrients. On either side of the fence there now are two distinct “ecological universes.”

Our review shows that fences affect ecosystems at every scale, leading to cascades of change that may, in the worst cases, culminate in what some conservation biologists have described as total “ecological meltdown.” But this peril often is overlooked.

The authors assembled a conservative data set of potential fence lines across the U.S. West. They calculated the nearest distance to any given fence to be less than 31 miles (50 kilometers), with a mean of about 2 miles (3.1 kilometers). McInturff et al,. 2020, CC BY-ND

To demonstrate this point, we looked more closely at the western U.S., which is known for huge open spaces but also is the homeland of barbed wire fencing. Our analysis shows that vast areas viewed by researchers as relatively untrodden by the human footprint are silently entangled in dense networks of fences.

Do less harm

Fences clearly are here to stay. As fence ecology develops into a discipline, its practitioners should consider the complex roles fences play in human social, economic and political systems. Even now, however, there is enough evidence to identify actions that could reduce their harmful impacts.

There are many ways to change fence design and construction without affecting their functionality. For example, in Wyoming and Montana, federal land managers have experimented with wildlife-friendly designs that allow species like pronghorn antelope to pass through fences with fewer obstacles and injuries. This kind of modification shows great promise for wildlife and may produce broader ecological benefits.

Another option is aligning fences along natural ecological boundaries, like watercourses or topographical features. This approach can help minimize their effects on ecosystems at low cost. And land agencies or nonprofit organizations could offer incentives for land owners to remove fences that are derelict and no longer serve a purpose.

Nonetheless, once a fence is built its effects are long lasting. Even after removal, “ghost fences” can live on, with species continuing to behave as if a fence were still present for generations.

Knowing this, we believe that policymakers and landowners should be more cautious about installing fences in the first place. Instead of considering only a fence’s short-term purpose and the landscape nearby, we would like to see people view a new fence as yet another permanent link in a chain encircling the planet many times over.

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This is something that I hadn’t hitherto thought about. I suspect that I am not alone.

There are many aspects of the fence that warrant more careful thought. I will close by repeating what was said just a few paragraphs above:

There are many ways to change fence design and construction without affecting their functionality. For example, in Wyoming and Montana, federal land managers have experimented with wildlife-friendly designs that allow species like pronghorn antelope to pass through fences with fewer obstacles and injuries. This kind of modification shows great promise for wildlife and may produce broader ecological benefits.

Another option is aligning fences along natural ecological boundaries, like watercourses or topographical features. This approach can help minimize their effects on ecosystems at low cost. And land agencies or nonprofit organizations could offer incentives for land owners to remove fences that are derelict and no longer serve a purpose.

We are never too old to learn!

 

The dog world!

A fascinating account of the differences and similarities between dogs and ourselves.

I couldn’t believe it but three days ago The Conversation published a post about dogs that told me something that I didn’t know. That there was the similarity between dogs and humans when it came to the brain and love!

I can’t wait for you to read it!

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Your dog’s nose knows no bounds – and neither does its love for you.

By

Associate Professor of Psychology, Illinois Wesleyan University.

October 26th, 2020

I have discovered one positive amid the pandemic: I love working with two dogs at my feet.

As someone who studies dog cognition, I often wonder: What is Charlie learning when he stops to sniff the crisp fall air? What is Cleo thinking when she stares at me while I write? Are my dogs happy?

I’m not alone in finding myself suddenly spending more time with my pups and contemplating what’s on their minds. More people in the U.S. are working from home now than are working in the workplace, and many now share home offices with their canine companions. What’s more, many are finding their lives enriched with the addition of a new pet, as people started adopting dogs at massive rates during the pandemic.

This uptick in dog time means I have been fielding questions from new and experienced dog owners alike about their companions’ mentalities. Many questions center on the same themes I ponder: What is my dog thinking? Am I doing everything I can to ensure my pup is content?

Fortunately, research on dog cognition can help unravel what is on their minds and provide insight into what they need for psychologically fulfilling and happy lives.

Smelling superstars

Dogs are both familiar and yet fascinatingly alien. To appreciate their “otherness” all you need to do is consider their sensory world.

My dogs and I have very different experiences when we walk a trail. I marvel at the beautiful autumn day, but my dogs have their heads to the ground, seemingly ignoring the wonders around them.

However, they are appreciating something I can’t perceive: the scent of the fox who scampered through last night, the lingering odor of the dogs who’ve walked this way and the footsteps of my neighbor, who last wore her hiking shoes in woods my dogs have never visited.

You’ve probably heard about dogs who sniff out cancer, weapons or even coronavirus. These dogs are not special in their nose power: Your dog could do the same thing. In fact, the first dog to sniff out cancer sniffed a mole on his owner’s leg so frequently that she went to the dermatologist, where she was diagnosed with melanoma.

A dog’s sense of smell is estimated to be 10,000 to 100,000 times better than that of a human. This is due, in large part, to staggering differences in odor processing in humans and dogs.

While we have about 6 million olfactory receptors, dogs have a staggering 300 million. Their epithelium, or nasal tissue, is about 30 times larger than ours. And while people have between 12 million and 40 million olfactory neurons – specialized cells involved in transmitting odor information to the brain – dogs, depending on the breed, can have 220 million to 2 billion!

How can you even conceptualize this breathtaking difference in abilities? This disparity is like detecting one teaspoon of sugar in enough water to fill two Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Now that your mind has been blown about your dog’s incredible sense of smell, you can use this information to make your dog happier by taking it on the occasional “sniffy walk” – letting it lead the way and take as much time to smell as it would like. Such walks can make dogs happier by allowing them to gain lots of information about the world around them.

The love is mutual

While there are parts of a dog’s mind that are alien, there are also parts that feel very familiar. Chances are, your dog occupies a special place in your heart. Recent research suggests your dog feels the same way about you. Your dog adores you.

The average dog spends a lot of time gazing at its owner – creating a ‘love-loop.’ Murat Natan/EyeEm via Getty Images

Dogs attach to their owners in much the same way human infants attach to their parents. Like babies, dogs show distress when left with a stranger and rush to reunite upon their person’s return.

A recent study found that dogs that have been deprived of food and owners choose to greet their owners before eating. Further, their brain’s reward centers “light up” upon smelling their owners. And, when your eyes meet your dog’s, both your brains release oxytocin, also know as the “cuddle hormone.”

All of this research shows that you can make your dog happier with just one ingredient: you. Make more eye contact to release that cuddle hormone. Touch it more – dogs like pats better than treats! Go ahead and “baby talk” to your dog – it draws the dog’s attention to you more and may strengthen your bond.

Understanding your dog’s mind can not only satiate your curiosity about your companion, but can also help you ensure your pup lives a good, happy life. The more you know about your furry friends the more you can do to meet their needs.

And now I am off to gaze into Cleo’s bright blue eyes, give Charlie a belly rub, and then let them take me on a “sniffy” walk.

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How many of you also learnt something about our dogs when it comes to love?

This was a fascinating report of the research that was carried out by Illinois Wesleyan University.

When one quietly reflects on the span of time that dogs and humans have been together, something in the order of 40,000 years, it’s no surprise that dogs have evolved to be our closest companion. Indeed, the initial connection between man and wolf had a profound impact on man. We went from eating crops and nuts to eating meat. It was the first human-animal relationship, and it is still extremely special.

Yes, the dog’s nose and heart know no bounds!

A dog’s nose dominates its face for good reason. Capuski/iStock via Getty Images Plus

That ‘D’ word

And I don’t mean dog!

Still continuing with another dog-free day because this is a supremely important topic: Dementia.

I’m well into my 75th year and have poor recall. I do everything to fight the loss of memory. We are vegan, or technically pescatarian, we both go to the nearby Club Northwest twice a week and I ride my bike every other day.

In the current issue of The Economist magazine there is a special report on Dementia:

As humanity ages the numbers of people with dementia will surge

The world is ill-prepared for the frightening human, economic and social implications

Recently we took delivery of a REDjuvenator because it holds out hope, and is claimed, to offset the more disastrous aspects of ageing.

It’s early days but there are indications that it is doing some good.

So it was with great interest that I read the other day the following article and even more grateful that it comes with permission to republish.

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Does forgetting a name or word mean that I have dementia?

Your medical team should determine whether you have dementia or just normal memory loss due to aging.
Fred Froese via Getty Images

Laurie Archbald-Pannone, University of Virginia

The number of cases of dementia in the U.S. is rising as baby boomers age, raising questions for boomers themselves and also for their families, caregivers and society. Dementia, which is not technically a disease but a term for impaired ability to think, remember or make decisions, is one of the most feared impairments of old age.

Incidence increases dramatically as people move into their 90s. About 5% of those age 71 to 79 have dementia, and about 37% of those about 90 years old live with it.

Older people may worry about their own loss of function as well as the cost and toll of caregiving for someone with dementia. A 2018 study estimated that the lifetime cost of care for a person with Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, to be US$329,360. That figure, too, will no doubt rise, putting even more burdens on family, Medicare and Medicaid.

There’s also been a good deal of talk and reporting about dementia in recent months because of the U.S. presidential election. Some voters have asked whether one or both candidates might have dementia. But, is this even a fair question to ask? When these types of questions are posed – adding further stigma to people with dementia – it can unfairly further isolate them and those caring for them. We need to understand dementia and the impact it has on more than 5 million people in the U.S. who now live with dementia and their caregivers. That number is expected to triple by 2060.

First, it is important to know that dementia cannot be diagnosed from afar or by someone who is not a doctor. A person needs a detailed doctor’s exam for a diagnosis. Sometimes, brain imaging is required. And, forgetting an occasional word – or even where you put your keys – does not mean a person has dementia. There are different types of memory loss and they can have different causes, such as other medical conditions, falls or even medication, including herbals, supplements and anything over-the-counter.

Older people wonder and worry about so-called senior moments and the memory loss they perceive in themselves and others. I see patients like this every week in my geriatric clinic, where they tell me their stories. They forget a word, get lost in a story, lose keys or can’t remember a name. Details vary, but the underlying concern is the same: Is this dementia?

A doctor looks at images of a brain scan.
Your doctor may want to do a brain scan to determine if there are any issues.
Andrew Brookes via Getty Images

Normal memory loss

As we age, we experience many physical and cognitive changes. Older people often have a decrease in recall memory. This is normal. Ever have trouble fetching a fact from the deep back part of your “mind’s Rolodex”? Suppose you spot someone at the grocery store you haven’t seen in years. Maybe you recognize the face, but don’t remember their name until later that night. This is normal, part of the expected changes with aging.

What’s more of a potential problem is forgetting the name of someone you see every day; forgetting how to get to a place you visit frequently; or having problems with your activities of daily living, like eating, dressing and hygiene.

When you have troubles with memory – but they don’t interfere with your daily activities – this is called mild cognitive impairment. Your primary care doctor can diagnose it. But sometimes it gets worse, so your doctor should follow you closely if you have mild cognitive impairment.

You want to note the timing of any impairment. Was there a gradual decline? Or did it happen all of a sudden? This too you should discuss with your doctor, who might recommend the MoCA, or Montreal Cognitive Assessment test, which screens for memory problems and helps determine if more evaluation is needed.

Also, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists problems in these areas as possible signs of dementia:

  • Memory
  • Attention
  • Communication
  • Reasoning, judgment and problem solving
  • Visual perception beyond typical age-related changes in vision

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More severe issues

When memory loss interferes with daily activities, see your doctor about what to do and how to make sure you’re safe at home.

There are numerous types of severe memory loss. Dementia tends to be a slow-moving progression that occurs over months or years. Delirium is more sudden and can occur over hours or days, usually when you have an acute illness. Depression can also cause memory changes, particularly as we get older.

A computer illustration of amyloid plaques, characteristic features of Alzheimers disease.
A computer illustration of amyloid plaques among neurons. Amyloid plaques are characteristic features of Alzheimer’s disease.
Juan Gaertner/Science Photo Library via Getty Images

Dementia and other brain issues

Alzheimer’s dementia is the most common type of dementia, followed by vascular dementia. They have similar symptoms: confusion, getting lost, forgetting close friends or family, or an inability to do calculations like balance the checkbook. Certain medical conditions – thyroid disorders, syphilis – can lead to dementia symptoms, and less common types of dementia can have different kinds of symptoms. Alzheimer’s has a distinct set of symptoms often associated with certain changes in the brain.

Focusing on safety and appropriate supervision, particularly in the home, is critical for all people with dementia. Your doctor or a social worker can help you find support.

It’s also important to be aware of two other things that can lead to decreased mental functioning – delirium and depression.

Delirium, a rapid change in cognition or mental functioning, can occur in people with an acute medical illness, like pneumonia or even COVID-19 infection. Delirium can occur in patients in the hospital or at home. Risk for delirium increases with age or previous brain injuries; symptoms include decreased attention span and memory issues.

Depression can happen at any time, but it’s more common with aging. How can you tell if you’re depressed? Here’s one simple definition: when your mood remains low and you’ve lost interest or joy in activities you once loved.

Sometimes people have recurring episodes of depression; sometimes, it’s prolonged grieving that becomes depression. Symptoms include anxiety, hopelessness, low energy and problems with memory. If you notice signs of depression in yourself or a loved one, see your doctor. If you have any thoughts of harming yourself, call 911 to get help instantly.

Any of these conditions can be frightening. But even more frightening is unrecognized or unacknowledged dementia. You must, openly and honestly, discuss changes you notice in your memory or thinking with your doctor. It’s the first step toward figuring out what is happening and making sure your health is the best it can be.

And, as with any disease or disease group, dementia is not a “character flaw,” and the term should not be used to criticize a person. Dementia is a serious medical diagnosis – ask those who have it, the loved ones who care for them or any of us who treat them. Having dementia is challenging. Learn what you can do to support those with dementia in your own community.The Conversation

Laurie Archbald-Pannone, Associate Professor Medicine, Geriatrics, University of Virginia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Please, if you are of the age where this is more than an academic interest then read the article carefully and especially that piece of advice towards the end:

But even more frightening is unrecognized or unacknowledged dementia. You must, openly and honestly, discuss changes you notice in your memory or thinking with your doctor. It’s the first step toward figuring out what is happening and making sure your health is the best it can be.

As is said growing old is not for cissies.

None of us can put off the fateful day when we will die and in our case we do not believe in any form of afterlife, in other words we are confirmed atheists, so all we can do is to live out our remaining years as healthily as possible and loving each other and our precious animals.

But having said that I know that all of us want to live out our lives with healthy, active brains and it’s clear that we can’t leave it to chance.

In closing, I recently purchased the book Outsmart Your Brain written by Dr. Ginger Schechter (and others). It was just $9.99 and contains much advice regarding the best foods and exercise for a healthy brain. I recommend it!

What a nose, again!

Why should we not be surprised!

At the power of smell that a dog has.

I have written about the dog’s nose before. Or rather I have written about the dog’s sense of smell;

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.

But I wanted to draw your attention to an article in 2017; June 26th to be precise. In an article called What a nose!

Here’s how that post opened.

Two items that recently caught my eye.

The power of a dog’s nose is incredible and it is something that has been written about in this place on more than one occasion.

But two recent news items reminded me once again of the way we humans can be helped by our wonderful canine partners.

The first was a report that appeared on the Care2 website about how dogs are being used to search for victims in the burnt out ruins following that terrible Grenfell Tower fire. That report opened, thus:

By: Laura Goldman June 24, 2017
About Laura Follow Laura at @lauragoldman

Wearing heat-proof booties to protect their feet, specially trained dogs have been dispatched in London’s Grenfell Tower to help locate victims and determine the cause of last week’s devastating fire that killed at least 79 people.

Because they’re smaller and weigh less than humans, urban search-and-rescue dogs with the London Fire Brigade (LFB) are able to access the more challenging areas of the charred 24-story building, especially the upper floors that sustained the most damage.

Because I read recently, on the EarthSky website, about dogs in Australia that are being trained to detect Covid-19 in humans.

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These dogs are trained to sniff out the coronavirus

Posted by in Human World, August 10, 2020

Scientists have been working with professional trainers in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales to train dogs to sniff out Covid-19. Most of the dogs have a 100% success rate.

Image via Shutterstock/ The Conversation.

Susan Hazel, University of Adelaide and Anne-Lise Chaber, University of Adelaide

What does a pandemic smell like? If dogs could talk, they might be able to tell us.

We’re part of an international research team, led by Dominique Grandjean at France’s National Veterinary School of Alfort, that has been training detector dogs to sniff out traces of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) since March.

These detector dogs are trained using sweat samples from people infected with Covid-19. When introduced to a line of sweat samples, most dogs can detect a positive one from a line of negative ones with 100% accuracy.

Across the globe, coronavirus detector dogs are being trained in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Belgium.

In the UAE, detector dogs – stationed at various airports – have already started helping efforts to control Covid-19’s spread. This is something we hope will soon be available in Australia too.

A keen nose

Our international colleagues found detector dogs were able to detect SARS-CoV-2 in infected people when they were still asymptomatic, before later testing positive.

On average, dogs have about 220 million scent receptors. Image via Shutterstock/ The Conversation .

When it comes to SARS-CoV-2 detection, we don’t know for sure what the dogs are smelling.

The volatile organic compounds (VOCs) given off in the sweat samples are a complex mix. So it’s likely the dogs are detecting a particular profile rather than individual compounds.

Sweat is used for tests as it’s not considered infectious for Covid-19. This means it presents less risk when handling samples.

Covid-19 sniffing dogs in Australia

Here in Australia, we’re currently working with professional trainers of detector dogs in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. The most common breed used for this work so far has been the German shepherd, with various other breeds also involved.

We are also negotiating with health authorities to collect sweat samples from people who have tested positive for the virus, and from those who are negative. We hope to start collecting these within the next few months.

We will need to collect thousands of negative samples to make sure the dogs aren’t detecting other viral infections, such as the common cold or influenza. In other countries, they’ve passed this test with flying colors.

Once operational, detector dogs in Australia could be hugely valuable in many scenarios, such as screening people at airports and state borders, or monitoring staff working in aged care facilities and hospitals daily (so they don’t need repeat testing).

To properly train a dog to detect SARS-CoV-2, it takes:

– 6-8 weeks for a dog that is already trained to detect other scents, or
– 3-6 months for a dog that has never been trained.

Coronavirus cases recently peaked in Victoria, Australia. Having trained sniffer dogs at hand could greatly help manage future waves of Covid-19. Image via Daniel Pockett/ AAP/ The Conversation.

Could the dogs spread the virus further?

Dogs in experimental studies have not been shown to be able to replicate the virus (within their body). Simply, they themselves are not a source of infection.

Currently, there are two case reports in the world of dogs being potentially contaminated with the Covid-19 virus by their owners. Those dogs didn’t become sick.

To further reduce any potential risk of transmission to both people and dogs, the apparatus used to train the dogs doesn’t allow any direct contact between the dog’s nose and the sweat sample.

The dog’s nose goes into a stainless steel cone, with the sweat sample in a receptacle behind. This allows free access to the volatile olfactory compounds but no physical contact.

Furthermore, all the dogs trained to detect Covid-19 are regularly checked by nasal swab tests, rectal swab tests and blood tests to identify antibodies. So far, none of the detector dogs has been found to be infected.

Dogs are not susceptible to the negative effects of the novel coronavirus. Image via Eyepix/ Sipa USA/ The Conversation.

Hurdles to jump

Now and in the future, it will be important for us to identify any instances where detector dogs may present false positives (signaling a sample is positive when it’s negative) or false negatives (signaling the sample is negative when it’s positive).

We’re also hoping our work can reveal exactly which volatile olfactory compound(s) is/are specific to Covid-19 infection.

This knowledge might help us understand the disease process resulting from Covid-19 infection – and in detecting other diseases using detector dogs.

This pandemic has been a huge challenge for everyone. Being able to find asymptomatic people infected with the coronavirus would be a game-changer – and that’s what we need right now.

A Covid-19 detector dog enrolled in the NOSAIS program led by professor Dominique Grandjean and Clothilde Julien from the Alfort Veterinary School (France). Image via The Conversation.

A friend to us (and science)

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised about dogs’ ability to detect Covid-19, as we already know their noses are amazing.

Dogs can help detect hypoglycemia in diabetics, warn people who are about to have an epileptic seizure and have been used to sniff out some cancers.

Their great potential in dealing with the current pandemic is just one of myriad examples of how dogs enrich our lives.

We acknowledge Professor Riad Sarkis from the Saint Joseph University (Beirut) and Clothilde Lecoq-Julien from the Alfort Veterinary School (France) for first conceiving the idea underpinning this work back in March.

Susan Hazel, Senior Lecturer, School of Animal and Veterinary Science, University of Adelaide and Anne-Lise Chaber, One Health Lecturer, School of Animal and Veterinary Science, University of Adelaide

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Bottom line: Dogs are being trained to use their sense of smell to detect the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

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To be honest, we humans just cannot fathom out what it is like to have a sense of smell that is 100 million times more sensitive than us!

So I can republish articles, such as this one, and we can be amazed, or whatever. But in truth we don’t have a clue. Not a clue!

I hope those scientists down under have a smooth experience with their very clever dogs!

Dogs’ vision.

Do dogs see in black and white?

There was a recent post on The Conversation that was published for the kids among us. But I thought it would have an appeal far wider than just for our children, and it is republished here.

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Do dogs really see in just black and white?

By
Nancy Dreschel
Associate Teaching Professor of Small Animal Science, Pennsylvania State University.


Do dogs really see in just black and white? – Oscar V., age 9, Somerville, Massachusetts


Dogs definitely see the world differently than people do, but it’s a myth that their view is just black, white and grim shades of gray.

While most people see a full spectrum of colors from red to violet, dogs lack some of the light receptors in their eyes that allow human beings to see certain colors, particularly in the red and green range. But canines can still see yellow and blue.

Different wavelengths of light register as different colors in an animal’s visual system. Top is the human view; bottom is a dog’s eye view.

What you see as red or orange, to a dog may just be another shade of tan. To my dog, Sparky, a bright orange ball lying in the green grass may look like a tan ball in another shade of tan grass. But his bright blue ball will look similar to both of us. An online image processing tool lets you see for yourself what a particular picture looks like to your pet.

Animals can’t use spoken language to describe what they see, but researchers easily trained dogs to touch a lit-up color disc with their nose to get a treat. Then they trained the dogs to touch a disc that was a different color than some others. When the well-trained dogs couldn’t figure out which disc to press, the scientists knew that they couldn’t see the differences in color. These experiments showed that dogs could see only yellow and blue.

Light travels to the back of the eyeball, where it registers with rod and cone cells that send visual signals on to the brain.

Not only can dogs see fewer colors than we do, they probably don’t see as clearly as we do either. Tests show that both the structure and function of the dog eye leads them to see things at a distance as more blurry. While we think of perfect vision in humans as being 20/20, typical vision in dogs is probably closer to 20/75. This means that what a person with normal vision could see from 75 feet away, a dog would need to be just 20 feet away to see as clearly. Since dogs don’t read the newspaper, their visual acuity probably doesn’t interfere with their way of life.

There’s likely a lot of difference in visual ability between breeds. Over the years, breeders have selected sight-hunting dogs like greyhounds to have better vision than dogs like bulldogs.

But that’s not the end of the story. While people have a tough time seeing clearly in dim light, scientists believe dogs can probably see as well at dusk or dawn as they can in the bright middle of the day. This is because compared to humans’, dog retinas have a higher percentage and type of another kind of visual receptor. Called rod cells because of their shape, they function better in low light than cone cells do.

Dogs also have a reflective tissue layer at the back of their eyes that helps them see in less light. This mirror-like tapetum lucidum collects and concentrates the available light to help them see when it’s dark. The tapetum lucidum is what gives dogs and other mammals that glowing eye reflection when caught in your headlights at night or when you try to take a flash photo.

Dogs share their type of vision with many other animals, including cats and foxes. Scientists think it’s important for these hunters to be able to detect the motion of their nocturnal prey, and that’s why their vision evolved in this way. As many mammals developed the ability to forage and hunt in twilight or dark conditions, they gave up the ability to see the variety of colors that most birds, reptiles and primates have. People didn’t evolve to be active all night, so we kept the color vision and better visual acuity.

Before you feel sorry that dogs aren’t able to see all the colors of the rainbow, keep in mind that some of their other senses are much more developed than yours. They can hear higher-pitched sounds from farther away, and their noses are much more powerful.

Even though Sparky might not be able to easily see that orange toy in the grass, he can certainly smell it and find it easily when he wants to.

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Trust me, the dog’s nose is “much more powerful”. Upwards of fifty million times more so, as I wrote about here.

Plus, living with so many dogs as we do, there are instances when all the dogs start barking, frequently when they are all in our bedroom getting ready for the night. Jean and I cannot hear a thing but the dogs can, and Jean and I don’t have a clue!

They are incredible creatures and humans are so lucky to have them around us.

Thank you, Nancy!


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.

Out of the mouths of young people!

A young man aged eight asks a very deep question.

Now the answer, that I am about to republish, is written to Tristan, aged 8. But frankly I have no doubt that the answer will be keenly read by persons of all ages. Certainly, this 75-year-old found the answer of great interest.

But to the question:

How can a Big Bang have been the start of the universe, since intense explosions destroy everything? – Tristan S., age 8, Newark, Delaware

And the answer:

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How could an explosive Big Bang be the birth of our universe?

April 30, 2020
By Michael Lam, Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Rochester Institute of Technology

Pretend you’re a perfectly flat chess piece in a game of chess on a perfectly flat and humongous chessboard. One day you look around and ask: How did I get here? How did the chessboard get here? How did it all start? You pull out your telescope and begin to explore your universe, the chessboard….

What do you find? Your universe, the chessboard, is getting bigger. And over more time, even bigger! The board is expanding in all directions that you can see. There’s nothing that seems to be causing this expansion as far as you can tell – it just seems to be the nature of the chessboard.

But wait a minute. If it’s getting bigger, and has been getting bigger and bigger, then that means in the past, it must have been smaller and smaller and smaller. At some time, long, long ago, at the very beginning, it must have been so small that it was infinitely small.

Let’s work forward from what happened then. At the beginning of your universe, the chessboard was infinitely tiny and then expanded, growing bigger and bigger until the day that you decided to make some observations about the nature of your chess universe. All the stuff in the universe – the little particles that make up you and everything else – started very close together and then spread farther apart as time went on.

Our universe works exactly the same way. When astronomers like me make observations of distant galaxies, we see that they are all moving apart. It seems our universe started very small and has been expanding ever since. In fact, scientists now know that not only is the universe expanding, but the speed at which it’s expanding is increasing. This mysterious effect is caused by something physicists call dark energy, though we know very little else about it.

A visualization of tiny energy fluctuations in the early universe. ESA, Planck Collaboration, CC BY

Astronomers also observe something called the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation. It’s a very low level of energy that exists all throughout space. We know from those measurements that our universe is 13.8 billion years old – way, way older than people, and about three times older than the Earth.

If astronomers look back all the way to the event that started our universe, we call that the Big Bang.

Many people hear the name “Big Bang” and think about a giant explosion of stuff, like a bomb going off. But the Big Bang wasn’t an explosion that destroyed things. It was the beginning of our universe, the start of both space and time. Rather than an explosion, it was a very rapid expansion, the event that started the universe growing bigger and bigger.

This expansion is different than an explosion, which can be caused by things like chemical reactions or large impacts. Explosions result in energy going from one place to another, and usually a lot of it. Instead, during the Big Bang, energy moved along with space as it expanded, moving around wildly but becoming more spread out over time since space was growing over time.

Back in the chessboard universe, the “Big Bang” would be like the beginning of everything. It’s the start of the board getting bigger.

It’s important to realize that “before” the Big Bang, there was no space and there was no time. Coming back to the chessboard analogy, you can count the amount of time on the game clock after the start but there is no game time before the start – the clock wasn’t running. And, before the game had started, the chessboard universe hadn’t existed and there was no chessboard space either. You have to be careful when you say “before” in this context because time didn’t even exist until the Big Bang.

You also have wrap your mind around the idea that the universe isn’t expanding “into” anything, since as far as we know the Big Bang was the start of both space and time. Confusing, I know!

Astronomers aren’t sure what caused the Big Bang. We just look at observations and see that’s how the universe did start. We know it was extremely small and got bigger, and we know that kicked off 13.8 billion years ago.

What started our own game of chess? That’s one of the deepest questions anyone can ask.

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Before the Big Bang then there was “no space and there was no time.” Michael Lam says that is confusing. I think that’s a gigantic understatement.

There there’s Dark Energy!

I wonder if we humans will ever come to the point where it is all understood!