Sacculina carcini

“Packed full of parasite, the crab will forgo its own needs to serve those of its master. It won’t molt, grow reproductive organs, or attempt to reproduce. It won’t even regrow appendages, as healthy crabs can. Rather than waste the nutrients on itself, a host crab will hobble along and continue to look for food with which to feed its parasite master.” Chris Connolly, on the jelly-like parasite known as Sacculina carcini

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The gay animal kingdom

“Male big horn sheep live in what are often called ‘homosexual societies.’ They bond through genital licking and anal intercourse, which often ends in ejaculation. If a male sheep chooses to not have gay sex, it becomes a social outcast. Ironically, scientists call such straight-laced males ‘effeminate.’ Giraffes have all-male orgies. So do bottlenose dolphins, killer whales, gray whales, and West Indian manatees… As this list of activities suggests, having homosexual sex is the biological equivalent of apple pie: Everybody likes it.” Jonah Lehrer on Stanford University biology professor Joan Roughgarden’s controversial book, Evolution’s Rainbow

Aggressiveness, sociopathic tendencies, and dishonesty

“Apparently one of the Enron CEOs was a big fan of Richard Dawkins’ book The Selfish Gene. He took Dawkins’ (in my opinion) overly reductionistic view of evolution and proceeded to even further reduce it in his own mind to social Darwinism… Basically, they would evaluate the traders and most other employees based on performance metrics and then fire the lowest 10-15% of the company population… So Enron was applying selection at the individual level according to metrics like individual trading performance to a group system whose performance was, like the henhouses, an emergent property of group dynamics as well as a result of individual fitness. The result was more or less the same. Instead of increasing overall productivity, they got mean chickens and actual productivity declined. They were selecting for traits like aggressiveness, sociopathic tendencies, and dishonesty.” Adam Ierymenko, on eugenics

Blink?

“The Nobel laureate, Francis Crick, is well known for his discoveries about the double helix of our genes, but he later worked in the field of neuroscience. He and his colleagues postulated that humans needed to develop what he termed ‘zombie thinking’ in order to deal efficiently with the massive sensory input we continuously receive about the external world. This mode of thinking is thus necessary to allow us to react rapidly to external events, so that these cognitive illusions are ‘built in’ to us, almost certainly for evolutionary reasons. None of us is immune to them, not even those trained as scientists or judges. Our capacity for rational thinking is limited. Propagandists and advertisers are all too well aware of this.” Neurologist Simon Gandevia

Greek for ‘remembering more than normal’

“Some people call me the human calendar while others run out of the room in complete fear. Most have called it a gift, but I call it a burden. I run my entire life through my head every day and it drives me crazy!!!” “AJ”, on her unique ability to perfectly and instantly recall details of her past, a condition researchers have dubbed “hyperthymestic syndrome”

Octopuses have trick elbows

“Researchers recorded muscle activity in octopus limbs, and found that an arm generates two waves of muscle contractions that propagate toward each other. When the waves collide, they form a part-time joint.” LiveScience, MSNBC.com

A better banana

“Given all the contributions Canada has made to the world, who would guess one of the biggest would be to help build a better banana… the fourth most important food staple in the world—after rice, wheat and corn.” Leslie Scrivener, Toronto Star

The Great Temptation

“The fundamental problem is that any evolved mind must pay attention to indirect cues of biological fitness, rather than tracking fitness itself. We don’t seek reproductive success directly; we seek tasty foods that tended to promote survival and luscious mates who tended to produce bright, healthy babies. Modern results: fast food and pornography. Technology is fairly good at controlling external reality to promote our real biological fitness, but it’s even better at delivering fake fitness—subjective cues of survival and reproduction, without the real-world effects… This is the Great Temptation for any technological species—to shape their subjective reality to provide the cues of survival and reproductive success without the substance.” Geoffrey Miller, Evolutionary Psychologist