In the pre-Columbian Andes, the use of hallucinogens during the Formative period (900–300 BC) often supported exclusionary political strategies, whereas, during the Late Horizon (AD 1450–1532), Inca leaders emphasised corporate strategies via the mass consumption of alcohol. Using data from Quilcapampa, the authors argue that a shift occurred during the Middle Horizon (AD 600–1000), when beer made from Schinus molle was combined with the hallucinogen Anadenanthera colubrina. The resulting psychotropic experience reinforced the power of the Wari state, and represents an intermediate step between exclusionary and corporate political strategies. This Andean example adds to the global catalogue documenting the close relationship between hallucinogens and social power.

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Efforts to date the oldest modern human fossils in eastern Africa, from Omo-Kibish1,2,3 and Herto4,5 in Ethiopia, have drawn on a variety of chronometric evidence, including 40Ar/39Ar ages of stratigraphically associated tuffs. The ages that are generally reported for these fossils are around 197 thousand years (kyr) for the Kibish Omo I3,6,7, and around 160–155 kyr for the Herto hominins5,8. However, the stratigraphic relationships and tephra correlations that underpin these estimates have been challenged6,8. Here we report geochemical analyses that link the Kamoya’s Hominid Site (KHS) Tuff9, which conclusively overlies the member of the Omo-Kibish Formation that contains Omo I, with a major explosive eruption of Shala volcano in the Main Ethiopian Rift. By dating the proximal deposits of this eruption, we obtain a new minimum age for the Omo fossils of 233 ± 22 kyr. Contrary to previous arguments6,8, we also show that the KHS Tuff does not correlate with another widespread tephra layer, the Waidedo Vitric Tuff, and therefore cannot anchor a minimum age for the Herto fossils. Shifting the age of the oldest known Homo sapiens fossils in eastern Africa to before around 200 thousand years ago is consistent with independent evidence for greater antiquity of the modern human lineage10.

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A newly discovered snail species is the smallest yet found on land. Angustopila psammion, discovered in cave sediment in northern Vietnam, has a shell just 0.48 millimetres high and a shell volume of only 0.036 cubic millimetres. This makes the species so small that you could fit about five individuals inside the average grain of sand.

Aversive emotional reactions to real or imagined social harms infuse moral judgment and motivate prosocial behavior. Here, we show that the neurotransmitter serotonin directly alters both moral judgment and behavior through increasing subjects’ aversion to personally harming others. We enhanced serotonin in healthy volunteers with citalopram (a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) and contrasted its effects with both a pharmacological control treatment and a placebo on tests of moral judgment and behavior. We measured the drugs’ effects on moral judgment in a set of moral ‘dilemmas’ pitting utilitarian outcomes (e.g., saving five lives) against highly aversive harmful actions (e.g., killing an innocent person). Enhancing serotonin made subjects more likely to judge harmful actions as forbidden, but only in cases where harms were emotionally salient. This harm-avoidant bias after citalopram was also evident in behavior during the ultimatum game, in which subjects decide to accept or reject fair or unfair monetary offers from another player. Rejecting unfair offers enforces a fairness norm but also harms the other player financially. Enhancing serotonin made subjects less likely to reject unfair offers. Furthermore, the prosocial effects of citalopram varied as a function of trait empathy. Individuals high in trait empathy showed stronger effects of citalopram on moral judgment and behavior than individuals low in trait empathy. Together, these findings provide unique evidence that serotonin could promote prosocial behavior by enhancing harm aversion, a prosocial sentiment that directly affects both moral judgment and moral behavior.

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Almost two decades of research produced mixed findings on the relationship between celebrity worship and cognitive skills. Several studies demonstrated that cognitive performance slightly decreases with higher levels of celebrity worship, while other studies found no association between these constructs. This study has two aims: (1) to extend previous research on the association between celebrity worship and cognitive skills by applying the two-factor theory of intelligence by Cattell on a relatively large sample of Hungarian adults, and (2) to investigate the explanatory power of celebrity worship and other relevant variables in cognitive performance.

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Dec 19, 2021

The latest measurements with the Hubble Space Telescope suggest the universe is expanding faster than scientists’ models predict—a hint that some unknown ingredient could be at work in the cosmos.

Dec 10, 2021

One of the biggest difficulties with wind or solar energy is finding a good way to store it. Lithium-ion batteries are too expensive and need frequent replacing. Molten salt is a more efficient solution — but it tends to be better for storing heat rather than power. If you want both heat and power — for a low price — there have been few good options. Until now.

Seaborg, a small next-generation nuclear startup based in Copenhagen, has discovered a better molten salt storage solution using sodium hydroxide. Hydroxides can contain more heat per salt unit, making it more efficient and reducing the amount of salt needed. It s also about 90% cheaper than the cost of the salts currently used.

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Dec 10, 2021

An ambitious project that set out 8 years ago to replicate findings from top cancer labs has drawn to a discouraging close. The Reproducibility Project: Cancer Biology (RP:CB) reports today that when it attempted to repeat experiments drawn from 23 high-impact papers published about 10 years ago, fewer than half yielded similar results.

The findings pose “challenges for the credibility of preclinical cancer biology,” says psychologist Brian Nosek, executive director of the Center for Open Science (COS), a co-organizer of the effort.

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Dec 5, 2021

Anyone following the aging research field over the past decade or more is probably familiar with the bold claims – human lifespan extension is within our grasp, within some arbitrary time-frame such as 20 years. Famously, such claims have been made by colorful characters such as Aubrey DeGrey (yes, that guy). On the scientific side of things, claims have been repeatedly made for the existence of “longevity genes”, most famously the sirtuins, with Glaxo-Smithkline eventually abandoning their $700m investment in David Sinclair’s company Sirtris once they realized the underlying science was unsound (the exit may have been accelerated by the minor issue of senior personnel selling resveratrol out the back door). I also had fun-and-games uncovering fraud by a senior post-doc’ in the lab of Leonard Guarente, whose lab the sirtuins were discovered in. Throw in a long-standing trend for anti-aging interventions being hawked as dietary supplements, with all manner of polyphenols and other plant-based nutri-ceuticals (resveratrolquercetin, curcumin, etc.) neatly side-stepping regulation by the FDA, and it’s easy to see how the field of longevity medicine has a reputation for selling “snake oil” based on not very rigorous science. Even such foundational principles as the free radical theory of aging have been largely debunked, and the entire concept that macromolecular damage is an underlying cause of aging has also been criticized. The fact that many aging studies are hugely influenced by survivorship bias is often overlooked, and this leads to an argument that oxidative stress may even be beneficial for aging, because the longest lived organisms have the most of it!

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The international Forward Search Experiment team, led by physicists at the University of California, Irvine, has achieved the first-ever detection of neutrino candidates produced by the Large Hadron Collider at the CERN facility near Geneva, Switzerland.

In a paper published today in the journal Physical Review D, the researchers describe how they observed six neutrino interactions during a pilot run of a compact emulsion detector installed at the LHC in 2018.

Nov 23, 2021

Finding cannibalism in the animal kingdom is not particularly shocking. Famously, female black widow spiders (Latrodectus spp.) sometimes consume males after mating, an example of so-called sexual cannibalism. Similarly, cannibalism in snakes has been documented, especially in king cobras and Lataste’s vipers. In these snakes it’s usually the male being consumed, either by a male competitor or by a female conspecific. In a research note published in Ethology on October 15, researchers report that some male snakes flip this script, dining on females of the same species—that is, potential mates.

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Nov 17, 2021

Research published in Brain, Behavior, and Evolution has identified decreases to encephalization levels in modern humans, with much of these declines being explained by increases in obesity.

Throughout the past 4 million years, hominin body size has increased, with the brain growing at a disproportionate rate in relation to the rest of the body. Increasing encephalization is believed to be the main driver of the higher cognitive ability observed in mammals. Contrasting millions of years of hominin evolution, brain mass of the anatomically modern (AM) Homo has significantly decreased in the last 50,000 year.

Study author, Jeff Morgan Stibel, argues that it is unclear “why human brain size has been declining since at least through the Late Pleistocene.” Relatedly, we do not know of its “impact, if any, to human cognition.”

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Nov 12, 2021

Cannabis is one of the oldest cultivated plants in East Asia, grown for grain and fiber as well as for recreational, medical, and ritual purposes. It is one of the most widely used psychoactive drugs in the world today, but little is known about its early psychoactive use or when plants under cultivation evolved the phenotypical trait of increased specialized compound production. The archaeological evidence for ritualized consumption of cannabis is limited and contentious. Here, we present some of the earliest directly dated and scientifically verified evidence for ritual cannabis smoking.

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Nov 3, 2021

In the latest work, Mikio Fukuhara of Tohoku University and colleagues in Japan and Canada propose that these lighter elements can also be produced deep inside the Earth. The inspiration for this idea comes from the evolution of Earth’s atmosphere. As the researchers point out, the atmosphere is thought originally to have been made up almost exclusively of carbon dioxide. But its composition then changed radically, resulting in the dominance of nitrogen – which today accounts for about 78% of the molecules in the atmosphere – as well as large amounts of oxygen (some 21%), while carbon dioxide is a mere 0.2%.

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Oct 12, 2021

Ignition is a key process that amplifies the energy output from nuclear fusion and could provide clean energy and answer some huge physics questions.

A new experiment appears to have triggered ignition for the first time, at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the US, recreating the extreme temperatures and pressures found at the heart of the Sun.

Oct 5, 2021

Psychedelics have shown great promise in treating mental-health conditions, but their use is severely limited by legal obstacles, which could be overcome.

Oct 5, 2021

An updated search for primordial gravitational waves has not found a signal, which implies that some popular early Universe models are becoming less viable.

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Created on Jun 17, 2020
By @gurlic
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