Monday, 28 May 2018

Bonobo Midwives

They have noticed the bonobo's girth
And they know what a friendship is worth
So the midwives come round
Good advice they expound
And they help, with great care, at the birth

My research means I am always interested in the social life of animals and how it relates to how our own species behaves.  This week's limerick is based on the behaviour of bonobos when one of them is giving birth. Birth is clearly a social event where female attendants provide protection and support for the mother-to-be, including manual gestures directed at holding the infant as it is born.
I was alerted to this in an article in this week's New Scientist based on the paper "Is birth attendance a uniquely human feature? New evidence suggests that Bonobo females protect and support the parturient" by Elisa Demumu et al in Evolution & Human Behaviour.

Monday, 21 May 2018

Tides will get bigger over the next 10 million years

This week's New Scientist has an article "Tides will rise for the next million years" and I was moved to write another science-oriented limerick.

The Altantic's three thousand miles wide
And America westward will slide
And I have to divulge
That the size of the bulge
Will result in a much higher tide.

Several very different things are involved.

The science of continental drift tells us that the North Atlantic is getting wider by just over a centimetre a year.
The tides are caused as a result of the gravitational pull of the moon. This means that the part of the sea nearest to the moon is attracted by the moon to form a bulge. One the other side of the Earth the Earth is pulled away from sea, creating a matching bulge.

Because the Earth rotates the bulges move round the world once a day, causing the tides. This bulge can be considered to be a wave moving across the Atlantic and it has a particular wave length.

Resonance then comes into play - rather like a huge musical instrument whene the there is a relationship between the wavelength of the note and the length of the string or pipe generating the sound. The tidle bulge has a wave length and the size of the tides (equivalent to the loudness of the note) depends on the size of the boxslowly gets wider tha amplicifcation of the tides due to resonance will get bigger. However when the Atlantic gets even wider the resonance will decrease and the height of the tide will fall.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Is there a significant difference between the way human and animal brains work?

The following essay was written as a follow up to an article by Micheal Marshall quoted in the Futurelearn Course "Introducing Humanism"
"Ultimately, the human brain is capable of some remarkable achievements; it is also capable of a quite remarkable level of self deception. By questioning even the facts we want to be true, by striving to look for the bigger picture, and by making use of methods like tests and trials to remove as much of our bias and motivated reasoning as we can, we can find out what’s really going on. "
Michael Marshall
So let us question a deeply held belief and see where the questioning leads.
Surely everyone knows that we are more intelligent than animals. Universities all round the world have scientists studying different aspects of the human brain with more and more powerful tools to try and find out what it is - perhaps a very unusual gene - which is the source of our great intelligence. Even Michael Marshall seems to support the idea that there is something special when he says that "the human brain is capable of some remarkable achievements."