WBEZ | Brain Candy http://www.wbez.org/tags/brain-candy Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Banishing Wrinkles With Botox May Make You Miss Others' Emotions http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-04-25/banishing-wrinkles-botox-may-make-you-miss-others-emotions-85657 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/npr_story/photo/2011-April/2011-04-25/eyes_custom.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>A few well-placed <a href="http://www.botoxcosmetic.com/home.aspx">Botox</a> injections can erase your hard-won character lines. But that may also make you less likely to pick up on <em>other </em>people's emotions.</p><p>That's because the botulinum toxin, which reduces wrinkles by temporarily paralyzing small muscles in the face, can make it hard to furrow the brow or make other expressions that convey emotion. And our own facial expressions, researchers now <a href="http://spp.sagepub.com/content/early/2011/04/21/1948550611406138.abstract" target="_self">show</a>, may be essential to recognizing the feelings of others.</p><p>This unexpected Botox effect is a fascinating window on how we understand what other people are feeling. A good part of that process requires unconscious mimicry of the other person's facial expression.</p><p></p><p>Think about it. Don't you often smile when someone smiles at you? Put on a worried or dismayed face when a friend looks troubled? Tear up when someone else cries?</p><p>"The tendency to mimic facial expressions is rapid, automatic and highly emotion-specific," write <a href="http://psychology.usc.edu/people/faculty_display.cfm?person_id=1027134">David Neal</a> and <a href="http://psychandneuro.duke.edu/people?subpage=profile&Gurl=%2Faas%2Fpn&Uil=tanya.chartrand">Tanya Chartrand</a> in an intriguing paper just published online by <em>Social Psychological and Personality Science.</em></p><p><em> </em></p><p>Neal and Chartrand say the subtle contraction of our facial muscles when we mirror a friend's happiness or woe generates a feedback signal to our brains. Those incoming signals from facial nerves help the brain interpret how the other person is feeling.</p><p>It's all part of neuroscientists' recent focus on so-called "<a href="http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/ramachandran06/ramachandran06_index.html">mirror neurons</a>" – the brain cells that give us the power to empathize (to "feel with") someone else.</p><p>It's not easy to prove the existence of what psychologists call "<a href="http://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/getArticle.cfm?id=2606">embodied cognition</a>" – the idea that the body influences the mind as well as the other way around.</p><p>Botox gave the researchers the opportunity to dampen the neural feedback from study subjects' facial muscles without introducing any drugs to the brain (Botox injected into the face does not get into the brain), or asking them to make a conscious effort to remain expressionless.</p><p>In one experiment, the researchers recruited 31 women who were already having either Botox treatments or injections of a <a href="http://www.dermanetwork.org/information/dermalfillers.asp">dermal filler</a>, which plumps up wrinkles but doesn't paralyze muscles. After the treatment, the women were shown a series of images that showed people's eyes embodying different emotional states. Study subjects were asked to judge, as quickly as possible, what emotion the eyes conveyed.</p><p>The Botox patients scored significantly worse than those who got a dermal filler. That meant the Botox patients' ability to make fast judgments about another person's emotions was blunted. (The Botox didn't eliminate their ability to judge emotion. They still were about 70 percent accurate.)</p><p>Neal and Chartrand then tested the opposite of the Botox effect. That is, they looked at how people judged emotive expressions when the feedback from their own facial muscles was amplified, rather than damped-down.</p><p>To do this, they painted one of those face-mask gels on subjects' temples and foreheads. When the gel dried and tightened, it provided resistance to subjects' facial muscles whenever they smiled, frowned or furrowed their brows. That amplified the neural feedback from muscles to brain.</p><p>Sure enough, people wearing the gel masks did better in judging other people's expressions than controls, who had the gel painted on their forearms. But when the researchers played audio clips of people expressing different emotions in their voices, there was no difference. That meant the improved performance was due to muscle mimicry, not just any emotive input.</p><p>The cognitive implications go well beyond Botox users. But the findings do make Neal and Chartrand wonder if prolonged use of Botox would hobble people's ability to perceive others' emotions and give others empathetic facial feedback.</p><p>"Mimicry promotes liking and emotional sharing," the researchers say, "and may contribute to long-term relationship satisfaction."</p><p>Having a Botox mask may undermine those bonds. </p> Mon, 25 Apr 2011 15:21:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-04-25/banishing-wrinkles-botox-may-make-you-miss-others-emotions-85657 The man who dreamed he was a beetle http://www.wbez.org/story/animals/2011-04-06/man-who-dreamed-he-was-beetle-84832 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/npr_story/photo/2011-April/2011-04-06/beetles_wide.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>A sweet, sweet man died the other day and I'd like to think that beetles everywhere, big ones, little ones, speaking many different beetle languages, paused for a second and thought, "Oh, dear. That guy. He was our guy."</p><p>Tom Eisner loved bugs. He loved them as an infant, seeking them, "according to my parents, when I first stood on my feet." He was among the first scientists to notice that insects communicate not only by touching and dancing and by the markings on their bodies, they also send chemical signals. Bugs talk in chemicals. And Tom, with his Cornell colleague Jerrold Meinwald, helped invent a field called Ecological Chemistry that cracked the chemical codes that drive bugs to court each other, fight each other, and give each other gifts.</p><p>Bugs were his protectors. He was shy. Born Jewish in Germany, he and his family fled to Spain, then to France, then on to Uruguay. In Montevideo, where he grew up, bullies stalked him, but then he figured out he could safely put a particularly poisonous caterpillar on his hand because it had no poisons on its belly. He plopped two of them on his little fists and displayed them like boxing gloves. The tough kids (and in tropical Uruguay, boys know their toxic insects) were amazed. Suddenly, Tom remembered, "I was in command."</p><p>Years later, in Massachusetts, he was searching under a rock and heard beetles making strange hissing sounds. Tom, wondering what they were, but with hands full, popped one in his mouth and was startled when it suddenly hurled a hot wad of something against his inner cheek. Turns out he had met his first Bombardier beetle — the same one Darwin had popped in <em>his </em>mouth many years before. Tom, checking closely, discovered this beetle was manufacturing a kind of rocket fuel (a boiling combination of hydrogen peroxide and hydroquinone at 212 degrees Fahrenheit) which it fired from a machine gun like rotating turret mounted on the tip of its abdomen.</p><p><strong></strong>When humor columnist Dave Barry read about Tom's discovery, he said if he was ever elected president, he would name Tom his Entomologist General. "An engraving of a Bombardier beetle emitting a blast from his butt would look great on a coin," he proclaimed. The Bombardier never got coined, but it did become a U.S. postage stamp. Tom, modestly, kept a low profile, collecting science honors instead.</p><p>Tom had an extraordinary eye for beetles in the wild. They aren't big animals. They often avoid sunshine and sneak about hoping not to be noticed. But Tom somehow knew where to find them. When he was a young Ph.D. student in the 1950s, he and his friend E.O. Wilson (yup, <em>that </em>E.O.Wilson, the ant guy) decided to take a road trip across America to discover as many different insects as they could. They wanted, they later said, to get a feel for the diversity and the different insect neighborhoods, high, low, wet, dry, across the country. The plan was to take Tom's car (he had a 1942 Chevy with 160,000 miles on it) in a slow meander, hoping, said Tom, "to learn two insect families a day." Tom had a license. Ed Wilson didn't.</p><p><strong>Two Hundred Bucks Goes A Long Way</strong></p><p>They'd gotten a $200 grant, which wasn't a bad deal, gas being about 20 cents a gallon and even less in Arizona (13 cents!). "We lived on cans of condensed milk, corned beef and eggs and spent less than a dollar fifty a day for food," (for two!) and things worked out well, except for flat tires. "We had 13 flats in the first 800 miles," Tom said. They also lost a hood in a sandstorm, got robbed, had their front window smashed and had to finish the trip with wind and rain hitting their faces, but the experience, Tom said, was "fabulous, absolutely fabulous." Ed remembers that his friend would, as usual, be changing a tire, when suddenly he'd stop, drop his tools and wander off chasing some little dot of a thing into a meadow or off the side of a road. It was another new (to science) bug. Ed was jealous. Eisner kept finding treasures every time they stopped.</p><p><strong>How Did He Do It?</strong></p><p>One time, on stage at the 92<sup>nd</sup> Street Y in New York, I asked him about his insect obsession. Did he ever dream of insects?</p><p>"Yeah," he said quietly. "I tend to dream that I <em>am</em> an insect."</p><p>"Really?" I said.</p><p>"Not always, but here and there," he said, looking down as though embarrassed.</p><p>"What does that mean? That you're scurrying around, walking upside down on the ceiling?"</p><p>"Indeed. Even escaping swattings."</p><p>"Wow."</p><p>In a whisper he went on, "Um...the weirdest situation that I ever got into in a dream was...I dreamed that I was an insect and I was telling another insect that I occasionally dream that I'm a human."</p><p>This was a very unusual man. I asked him if he ever, in some rudimentary way, "talked" to these animals. He said no. "I don't presume to read responses on the part of the insects. But the older I get, the more difficult I find it to experiment with them in ways that kill them. Bombardier beetles can live 1, 2, up to 3 years in your lab. You become very attached to them. You give them names and when they die it's an event. So you must somehow have moments where you feel that there are things going on in their tiny little brains, that they have secrets hidden up their sleeves that they might reveal...if you found a common language."</p><p>Tom Eisner couldn't talk to his beetles. But I bet no one's gotten closer.</p><p><hr /></p><p><em>Tom Eisner's memoir</em>, "For Love of Insects" <em>(Harvard University Press, 2003) includes many of his extraordinary photographs, taken with his wife, Maria. </em>The New York Times <em>has an Eisner <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2006/10/09/science/20061010_EISNER_SLIDESHOW_1.html">photo slideshow</a></em><strong>.</strong></p><p><em>He described his insect dreams on </em><a href="http://www.radiolab.org/blogs/radiolab-blog/2011/mar/28/man-who-loved-insects/">Radiolab</a> <em>and if you'd like to hear about the day Mira Sorvino, the </em>"Mighty Aphrodite"<em> actress, taught his class at Cornell, there's a <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=px__Hab19CY">video</a>.</em> Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit <a href="http://www.npr.org/">http://www.npr.org/</a>.<img src="http://metrics.npr.org/b/ss/nprapidev/5/1302116424?&gn=The+Man+Who+Dreamed+He+Was+A+Beetle&ev=event2&ch=5500502&h1=Krulwich+Wonders%E2%80%A6,Animals,Brain+Candy,Humans,Commentary,Opinion,Environment,Science,Home+Page+Top+Stories&c3=D%3Dgn&v3=D%3Dgn&c4=135144305&c7=1057&v7=D%3Dc7&c18=1057&v18=D%3Dc18&c19=20110406&v19=D%3Dc19&c20=1&v20=D%3Dc20&c31=5500502&v31=D%3Dc31&c45=MDA0OTc2MjAwMDEyNjk0NDE4OTI2NmUwNQ001"/></p></p> Wed, 06 Apr 2011 06:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/animals/2011-04-06/man-who-dreamed-he-was-beetle-84832 Flamingos drop from Siberian sky http://www.wbez.org/story/animals/2011-03-06/flamingos-drop-siberian-sky-83392 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/russian_flamingo.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>We're in Siberia, shivering. It's November, November 11, 2003, and two boys, Kolya and Maksim Muravyev, are ice fishing along the Lena River, where it's 13 below zero. All of a sudden, up in the sky, they see what looks like a flamingo. "We thought it was a swan or a stork," Kolya says, a flamingo being so preposterously improbable.</p><p>It was large, and made ever lower circles in the sky. It seemed to be losing energy until finally it fell and lay quietly on the snow. The two boys ran over, called their father, Vasily, who picked up the bird and took it home. It was still alive. "[This is the ] first time I see a bird like this," he told a TV reporter.</p><p>They fed the flamingo fish and buckwheat saturated in water (not normally flamingo food) and pretty soon it was up, active and knocking around the Muravyev's apartment. Here it is, head in a feeding bucket.</p><p>And here it is again, posing in front of the television. (It appeared on several news programs, that's where we got the quotes from above.)</p><p>The Muravyevs have a dog. Dogs and flamingos don't cohabit easily in living rooms, so the flamingo was eventually moved to a local greenhouse and then to the zoo in nearby Krasnoyarsk.</p><p>That should be the end of the story. Except that one year later, also in November and also in Siberia, it happened <em>again. </em>Another flamingo flew out of the sky, landed by another Siberian river, was also brought to the greenhouse, then sent to the zoo and the locals began to wonder, "Where are these birds coming from? What are they doing here?"</p><p>This tale appears in Ian Frazier's new and wonderful travelogue, <em>Travels in Siberia</em> and when I read it, I called up my buddy (and sleuth-on-tap) Ezra Block and said, "Let's see if we can solve this puzzle."</p><p><strong>Flamingos Aren't Always Warm </strong></p><p>Ezra checked and discovered that while we normally associate flamingos with tropical lagoons, they are not always warm weather birds. Marita Davison, who studies flamingos at Cornell University, says she regularly sees Bolivian flamingos up in the Andes Mountains. And at that high up — 16,000 feet — the lakes freeze around their feet. She sent us this video of flamingos stuck in ice. There are two on the right trying to get free.</p><p>"It's really an amazing sight to see," she told us. "They'll just wait for it to thaw and then go on [with] their business." So, we asked her, were you surprised to hear about flamingos in Siberia?</p><p>She was. First of all, Siberia in November is much colder than Bolivia. Then she pointed out, flamingos are social animals. They always travel in flocks. To have two single flamingos drop from the sky suggests that there were more flamingos up there, that the two who fell were part of larger groups. (Meaning, there could be <em>flocks </em>of Siberian flamingos flying over Siberia! )</p><p>Where did they come from? There are Asian flamingos. The nearest live and nest in Kazakhstan, so perhaps those birds came from there. It's a long way, as you see here:</p><p>So what brought them so far north and east? Davison isn't sure, but she has a notion. (We discussed it on <strong>NPR's Morning Edition</strong>. Push the "listen" button on this page to hear her theory.)</p><p>Checking the library, she discovered that 100 years ago scientists also reported multiple sightings of flamingos, again deep in Siberia, and again it was November.</p><p>November is the month when flamingos normally fly south from their nests in Kazakhstan to Iran. So, she thought, maybe this is an example of "reverse migration", a behavior known in migrating birds but not – thus far — in flamingos.</p><p>Here's the idea. Suppose a bird is wired to fly one direction every fall and for some reason the wiring screws up so the animal goes 180 degrees the wrong way, <em>exactly the opposite direction.</em> This happens to a few birds in migrant populations every year. <em> </em>When she looked on a map, she noticed that the village of Vernemarkovo in Siberia, where the first bird landed, was roughly the opposite distance and the opposite direction from the flamingo's normal winter quarters in Iran.</p><p>So maybe what happened is a bunch of birds in 2003 and 2004 got turned around on their way to Iran, and flew exactly where they didn't want to go. By this logic, they weren't the first flamingos in Siberia and they won't be the last.</p><p>So this may not be a global warming story or a one-in-a-billion story or a winter miracle. It may be just a statistically predictable case of faulty wiring that brightened up the winter for two sets of boys in Siberia.</p><p>As for the birds, they got names: Phila and Phima, and a warm place to live at the Krasnayarsk Zoo, which they shared with a bunch of (imported) zoo flamingos. Until one of them got sick. We called the zoo and a spokesman told us that one of the birds died "after a long illness". One imagines the surviving flamingo quietly dreaming of warm nights in Persia, sipping pond-scum, their favorite food. The flamingos we know don't care much for borscht.</p><p><hr /></p><p><em>Ian Frasier, while researching his</em> "Travels in Siberia" (2010, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux) <em>recorded an interview with Marina Tabakova, who took care of both flamingos at the Winter Garden in Severobaikalsk in Siberia. He generously allowed us to use his recordings.</em> Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit <a href="http://www.npr.org/">http://www.npr.org/</a>.<img src="http://metrics.npr.org/b/ss/nprapidev/5/1299519944?&gn=Flamingos+Drop++From+Siberian+Sky%3A+Locals+Mystified&ev=event2&ch=5500502&h1=Krulwich+Wonders%E2%80%A6,Animals,Brain+Candy,Commentary,Opinion,Nonfiction,Books,Environment,Science,Home+Page+Top+Stories,News&c3=D%3Dgn&v3=D%3Dgn&c4=134229725&c7=1057&v7=D%3Dc7&c18=1057&v18=D%3Dc18&c19=20110307&v19=D%3Dc19&c20=1&v20=D%3Dc20&c21=3&v21=D%3Dc2&c31=5500502&v31=D%3Dc31&c45=MDA0OTc2MjAwMDEyNjk0NDE4OTI2NmUwNQ001"/></p></p> Sun, 06 Mar 2011 23:01:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/animals/2011-03-06/flamingos-drop-siberian-sky-83392 I sniff, therefore I am. Are dogs self-conscious? http://www.wbez.org/story/animals/2011-03-03/i-sniff-therefore-i-am-are-dogs-self-conscious-83314 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/dogsniffing2_wide.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Can you recognize yourself in a mirror? Of course you can. When you were 9 months old, you couldn't. If your mom had plopped you in front of a mirror, you'd see the baby in front of you, but you wouldn't know that baby was you.</p><p>The science experiment that proves this is elegant and simple. I'm going to show it to you, but before I do, I want to warn you: some dog lovers think this test is unfair to dogs. But let's do humans first.</p><p>If you smear a big, colored mark (using erasable magic marker) on a baby's forehead, little babies don't react. They just gaze at the reflection as if it belonged to some other baby. But when they are around two years old, they will look at their reflection and then touch the mark on their face, as if to say, "What's that thing doing on my face?" Proof, psychologists say, that the baby knows that its face and the face in the mirror are one in the same. That's self recognition. Here's the experiment for you to see.</p><p>Who else can do this? Self-recognizers in the animal kingdom are a small, exclusive group. Chimps pass the mirror test. <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJFo3trMuD8&t=2m1s">Here's a baby being tested as its mom looks on.</a></p><p></p><p>Same for the other great apes, gorillas, bonobos, orangutans, but not monkeys. Elephants can. This one is looking at herself in the mirror and will use her trunk to fiddle with the X mark above her left eye.</p><p>Amazingly, dolphins do it. Since they don't have hands to point with, a Dutch team placed a mirror in an aquarium pool and watched the dolphin assume and hold poses that almost certainly meant the dolphin was checking the odd marking on her neck. The same dolphin, when unmarked, did not assume those poses. There's a video of this <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AHUuX_rBuJE">experiment</a>.</p><p>Magpies do it. (Crows and ravens, the intellectuals of the bird set, surprisingly can't.) Magpies see the mark in the mirror and peck at it with their beak.</p><p>There may be other animals on this list, but it doesn't include dogs.</p><p>Dogs have been mirror tested and dogs don't pass. Because they're not smart enough to recognize themselves in a mirror, the presumption is they can't think of themselves as unique individuals, so aren't part of the self-conscious elite in the Animal Kingdom.</p><p>Enter, howling, emeritus professor Marc Bekoff of the University of Colorado. Bekoff thinks a test that uses sight to determine self recognition is unfair to animals who depend on their noses. Dog brains are much better at smelling than ape brains, so Bekoff decided to design a self-recognition test that would make sense to a dog.</p><p><strong>"The Yellow Snow Test"</strong></p><p>For his subject, Marc chose his own dog, Jethro. The plan was to take Jethro for daily winter walks on snowy paths, and every time Jethro stopped to smell another dog's pee, Marc would note the location and (out of Jethro's sight) scoop up the sample and redeposit it further down the path. He called this his "Yellow Snow Test." Snow, he explained, made "pee relocation" easy and portable. "For some reason," he says, "passers-by thought I was strange and generally left me alone."</p><p>Marc then describes what happened next. The key, he said, was to see if Jethro would react differently when, later in the walk, he had a second encounter with not only the other dogs' pee, but (surprise!) his own.</p><p>The study lasted five winters. ("This was a labor of love," he says.) Professor Bekoff timed the sniffs and discovered "that Jethro spent less time sniffing his own urine than that of other males or females," suggesting that Jethro recognized himself when encountering his own yellow deposits.</p><p>Does this amount to a test of true self recognition?</p><p>Well, not exactly. Recognizing yourself in a mirror seems more telling than smelling traces of yourself in the snow. Bekoff cautiously describes his finding as evidence that dogs have a "sense of mine-ness", that they know this pee belongs to them.</p><p>Stanley Coren, in his popular book <em>How Dogs Think, Understanding the Canine Mind</em>, wonders whether "mine-ness" equals a "sense of I-ness (as when Tarzan is saying "Me Tarzan. You Jane.") He doesn't think so.</p><p>"The experimental test for that quality of self awareness in dogs does not yet seem to have been worked out," he says.</p><p>Dogs will have to wait till someone invents a better test before scientists can declare them self-conscious. Not that they seem all that bothered. Maybe they've achieved a higher level of consciousness already. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit <a href="http://www.npr.org/">http://www.npr.org/</a>.<img src="http://metrics.npr.org/b/ss/nprapidev/5/1299181018?&gn=I+Sniff%2C+Therefore+I+Am.+Are+Dogs+Self-Conscious%3F&ev=event2&ch=5500502&h1=Krulwich+Wonders%E2%80%A6,Animals,Brain+Candy,Humans,Commentary,Opinion,Environment,Science,Home+Page+Top+Stories&c3=D%3Dgn&v3=D%3Dgn&c4=134167145&c7=1057&v7=D%3Dc7&c18=1057&v18=D%3Dc18&c19=20110303&v19=D%3Dc19&c20=1&v20=D%3Dc20&c31=5500502&v31=D%3Dc31&c45=MDA0OTc2MjAwMDEyNjk0NDE4OTI2NmUwNQ001"/></p></p> Thu, 03 Mar 2011 09:23:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/animals/2011-03-03/i-sniff-therefore-i-am-are-dogs-self-conscious-83314 On 'Jeopardy!' It's man vs. this machine http://www.wbez.org/story/brain-candy/2011-02-13/jeopardy-its-man-vs-machine-82314 <p><p>The greatest <em>Jeopardy!</em> champions of all time are returning to the TV screen, and this time they're not playing just for money — they're playing for all of humanity.</p><p>That's because they'll be competing against Watson, a computer system built by IBM to prove that machines can master the kind of tricky human language featured on the quiz show, where confusing clues often involve puns, jokes and wordplay.</p><p>Computer experts say this competition is the "natural language processing" equivalent of the 1997 chess match between IBM's Deep Blue supercomputer and world chess champion Garry Kasparov.</p><p>Back then, some people downplayed the Deep Blue's victory, saying that chess basically all boils down to math — so it's right up a computer's alley, says Oren Etzioni, director of the Turing Center at the University of Washington in Seattle.</p><p>"People said, 'OK, that's amazing, but ultimately, look, this is chess, this is something that is very precise, it is very constrained,' — black and white, if you will," Etzioni says.</p><p><em>Jeopardy!</em> is a different story. The game is full of the kind of playful human language that has traditionally baffled literal-minded computers. A computer that converses naturally with people has long been an elusive goal for artificial intelligence researchers.</p><p>That's what made <em>Jeopardy!</em> such an enticing challenge for IBM. About two dozen of its researchers spent four years building Watson. David Ferrucci, the team's leader, says that while figuring the answer to <em>Jeopardy!</em> questions can be hard, the first hurdle for the computer is figuring out the question itself — something that's effortless for a human.</p><p>"I mean, the computer has to find out, you know, where are the individual words and then how do the words group together," Ferrucci says. "What's the verb? What's the subject? What's the object? What's the preposition? What's the object of the preposition?"</p><p>Even after doing that, he says, Watson still doesn't understand a word's meaning in the same way that a human with real-world experience can.</p><p>"When we hear language, we bring so much context to interpreting the question that we come up with sensible and reasonable answers," Ferrucci says. "The computer struggles with that."</p><p><strong>How Watson Works</strong></p><p>To aid in this struggle, Watson's creators gave it awesome speed and memory. It searches through some 200 million pages of reference material — everything from the Bible to encyclopedias to novels — looking for the words or phrases in the <em>Jeopardy!</em> clue and seeing what other words are frequently associated with them on these pages. This produces a lot of potential answers. But which one is most likely to be correct?</p><p>"It reads other things and says, does this passage support this as the answer?" Ferrucci explains. Watson simultaneously performs many different forms of analysis and weighs the evidence using experience it previously gained by studying thousands of <em>Jeopardy!</em> clues plus their correct solutions, he says.</p><p>In mere seconds, Watson comes up with a list of possible answers and ranks them. The top choice is the one it has the most confidence in, and if that confidence reaches a certain threshold, it buzzes in. This fall, the computer system played dozens of sparring matches against former <em>Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions </em>contestants to get ready for its big day.</p><p>Watson does make mistakes, and Ferrucci says the errors can be funny and revealing.</p><p>"One of my favorites is, 'What do grasshoppers eat?' and it came back and said 'kosher,' " Ferrucci says, noting that grasshoppers are apparently a kosher food and Watson made connections between the two words without comprehending the real point of the question.</p><p><strong>What's The Future Of Artificial Intelligence?</strong></p><p>Artificial intelligence experts say that even with the occasional error, Watson has what it takes to perform very well against humanity's best. Etzioni expects to see a Watson win in the competition, which will air Feb. 14, 15 and 16.</p><p>"Does that mean that it's 'Game Over' for humans, that robots will keep us as pets? Absolutely not," Etzioni says. "But it does mean it's a demonstration that we've significantly expanded the envelope of what computers can really achieve."</p><p>That view is seconded by Henry Kautz, chairman of the department of computer science at the University of Rochester and president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, who says an answering machine like Watson really fulfills a kind of sci-fi vision of what a computer should be.</p><p>"You ask it a question, it gives you the answer," Kautz says. "It doesn't give you 100 pages of possible answers."</p><p>He thinks that even if Watson doesn't think exactly like a human, it's not totally alien, either, because the human brain is constantly taking in clues about the world and trying to make associations. "There's no contradiction between saying that Watson just looks at statistical associations and saying it's intelligent," Kautz says, "because I do think that a lot of human intelligence is the same way." Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit <a href="http://www.npr.org/">http://www.npr.org/</a>.<img src="http://metrics.npr.org/b/ss/nprapidev/5/1297708039?&gn=On+%27Jeopardy%21%27+It%27s+Man+Vs.+This+Machine&ev=event2&ch=1007&h1=Television,Brain+Candy,Humans,Pop+Culture,Technology,Science,Home+Page+Top+Stories,News&c3=D%3Dgn&v3=D%3Dgn&c4=133697585&c7=1007&v7=D%3Dc7&c18=1007&v18=D%3Dc18&c19=20110214&v19=D%3Dc19&c20=1&v20=D%3Dc20&c21=3&v21=D%3Dc2&c45=MDA0OTc2MjAwMDEyNjk0NDE4OTI2NmUwNQ001"/></p></p> Sun, 13 Feb 2011 23:01:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/brain-candy/2011-02-13/jeopardy-its-man-vs-machine-82314 Back from space, the Dragon hits D.C. http://www.wbez.org/story/art-amp-design/2011-02-11/back-space-dragon-hits-dc-82173 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/capsule1.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>You never know what you'll see on your lunch hour within a few blocks of the NPR headquarters here in D.C. Presidential motorcades make the rounds regularly, and we once saw the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile cruise by. But today was our first sighting of a commuter vehicle that had been to outer space and back. Last December the "<a href="http://www.spacex.com/dragon.php">Dragon</a>" (above) became the first commercial spacecraft to successfully return from orbit.</p><p>On Thursday, the vehicle's makers at <a href="http://www.npr.org/2010/12/08/131905206/we-have-liftoff-spacex-launches-test-spacecraft">SpaceX</a> were showing off the scorched capsule inside a party tent in city center. It's in town as part of the Federal Aviation Administration's Commercial <a href="http://www.faa.gov/news/conferences_events/commercial_space_2011/">Space Conference</a>. <em>— Deborah Franklin</em> Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit <a href="http://www.npr.org/">http://www.npr.org/</a>.<img src="http://metrics.npr.org/b/ss/nprapidev/5/1297446601?&gn=Back+From+Space%2C+The+Dragon+Hits+D.C.&ev=event2&ch=97635953&h1=Science,The+Picture+Show,Brain+Candy,Humans,Art+%26+Design,Space,Environment,Home+Page+Top+Stories&c3=D%3Dgn&v3=D%3Dgn&c4=133662988&c7=1026&v7=D%3Dc7&c18=1026&v18=D%3Dc18&c19=20110211&v19=D%3Dc19&c20=1&v20=D%3Dc20&c31=133680832,97635953&v31=D%3Dc31&c45=MDA0OTc2MjAwMDEyNjk0NDE4OTI2NmUwNQ001"/></p></p> Fri, 11 Feb 2011 09:11:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/art-amp-design/2011-02-11/back-space-dragon-hits-dc-82173 Teeny janitors attack Gulf spill, then vanish http://www.wbez.org/story/brain-candy/2011-02-09/teeny-janitors-attack-gulf-spill-then-vanish-82046 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/new-image_custom.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Last spring, a website called <a href="http://www.helium.com/items/1884179-oil-spill-in-the-gulf-and-the-doomsday-machine">Helium</a> reported breathlessly that BP's release of methane gas into the Gulf of Mexico would not only poison the water, the fish and the neighborhood, but it also very possibly could trigger "a world-killing event" — perhaps releasing a "mammoth undersea methane bubble" that would destroy much of life on Earth.</p><p>Nobody gulped. Yes, BP's oil and methane leak was gigantic. Dangerous amounts of methane were concentrating in Gulf waters. But "world-killing"? That silly story was largely ignored. Strangely, so was the story that broke a few weeks ago, which was just as surprising, just as improbable, just as astonishing — but this one was true.</p><p></p><p><strong>Where's The Gas?</strong></p><p>Last June, oceanography professor John Kessler of Texas A&M University visited the accident site and found methane concentrations below the surface that were, "on average about 100,000 times greater than background [usual]." He told <a href="http://www.loe.org/shows/segments.htm?programID=10-P13-00026&segmentID=4"><em>Living On Earth</em></a>, "We even saw a few locations that were starting to push the limits of a million times above background."</p><p>That's a lot of methane. Which is not a good thing. Because methane is a potent greenhouse gas, more potent than CO2. What's more, it's lurking everywhere, not just in the Gulf, but under the Arctic Ocean, the Black Sea. Should large quantities escape into the atmosphere, that would make our warming problems even worse.</p><p>And more concerning, as the Earth warms, what if methane trapped under ice loosens and rises to the surface? Alaskans see this. Their permafrost is softening. Often the methane is just below, as you can see here, when this gang from the University of Alaska pokes a hole in some ice and sets the gas on fire. It doesn't end well.</p><p>What can we do about the methane threat? Is there a way to get rid of the gas before it escapes? How much time do we have? Professor Kessler, reporters, almost everybody predicted that the Gulf methane (like the Alaska methane) would hang ominously below the surface for years, "like a massive planetary fart" (in the memorable phrase from one of my favorite <a href="http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/">bloggers, Ed Yong</a>).</p><p>But guess what happened?</p><p>In August, Kessler sailed out on the NOAA ship Pisces to check on the gas plume. Three months had passed. 120 days. He looked. He looked again. The gas was gone.</p><p>The enormous concentrations he'd seen in June had disappeared.</p><p>Where'd the gas go?</p><p><strong>They Came, They Cleaned, They Went</strong></p><p>Kessler was dumbfounded. But he now has an explanation. The gas, he thinks, was eaten.</p><p>There are ocean bacteria called "methanotrophs." They hang around, usually in smallish numbers, but because they love chewing on methane, when the accident happened, Kessler figures they got their chance to be fruitful and multiply — and multiply they did.</p><p>We should be careful. Kessler didn't witness the feast. He came back too late, so all he saw was the missing methane and a lower than normal amount of oxygen.</p><p><a href="http://www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2011/01/05/science.1199697.abstract">Kessler's new paper</a>, co-authored with David Valentine, points out that many methane eaters use oxygen to break down the gas, so, says blogger Ed Yong:</p><p><blockquote></p><p>Kessler reasoned that the microbes had done away with the methane. He even found the bacteria in question. In September, Kessler recovered several species of methane-eating bacteria from seven different sites. In some areas, these [methanotroph] specialists made up a third of the local bacteria. Back in June, the methane-eaters were nowhere to be found ...</p><p></blockquote></p><p>If Kessler's theory is right, this is very, very good news. Even if the world gets warmer, all of that methane gathered under the oceans, trapped under ice, may never make it to the surface and into our atmosphere. Instead, it could become lunch for the methanotrophs.</p><p><a href="http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2011/01/06/bacteria-ate-up-all-the-methane-that-spilled-from-the-deepwater-horizon-well/">Ed Yong quotes</a> a string of leading oceanographers who say Kessler's paper is surprising and persuasive. "[It's] likely to become a classic reference," says Richard Camilli of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.</p><p>But not everybody was celebrating. NPR's excellent <a href="http://www.npr.org/2011/01/06/132706612/study-finds-bacteria-ate-most-methane-from-bp-well">Richard Harris found</a> an oceanographer at Florida State University who says these ocean bugs don't usually eat so fast. Maybe, just maybe, says Ian MacDonald, a big ocean current just swept through the Gulf and carried the methane off to the Atlantic Ocean?</p><p>Maybe. But maybe this is just plain old good news, and a summer-long disaster has just taught us a happy secret about Mother Nature: that when bad stuff happens, She still has little friends in low places who will clean up our messes. Thank you, methanotrophs. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit <a href="http://www.npr.org/">http://www.npr.org/</a>.<img src="http://metrics.npr.org/b/ss/nprapidev/5/1297277519?&gn=Teeny+Janitors+Attack+Gulf+Spill%2C+Then+Vanish&ev=event2&ch=5500502&h1=Krulwich+Wonders%E2%80%A6,Energy,Brain+Candy,Humans,Commentary,Opinion,Environment,Science,Home+Page+Top+Stories&c3=D%3Dgn&v3=D%3Dgn&c4=133566035&c7=1130&v7=D%3Dc7&c18=1130&v18=D%3Dc18&c19=20110209&v19=D%3Dc19&c20=1&v20=D%3Dc20&c31=5500502&v31=D%3Dc31&c45=MDA0OTc2MjAwMDEyNjk0NDE4OTI2NmUwNQ001"/></p></p> Wed, 09 Feb 2011 09:09:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/brain-candy/2011-02-09/teeny-janitors-attack-gulf-spill-then-vanish-82046 Tools never die. Waddaya mean, never? http://www.wbez.org/story/brain-candy/tools-never-die-waddaya-mean-never <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/mw-cover_custom.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><strong><a href="#commentBlock">Submit your tool idea!</a></strong></p><p>Kevin Kelly should know better, but boldly, brassily, (and totally incorrectly, I'm sure), he said this on NPR:</p><p>"I say there is no species of technology that have ever gone globally extinct on this planet."</p><p>What does that mean? I asked him. (Kevin, among other things, is founding editor of <em>Wired Magazine</em> and runs a very popular blog, called <a href="http://www.kk.org/cooltools/">Cool Tools</a>, that reviews new gadgets.)</p><p>That means, he said, "I can't find any [invention, tool, technology] that has disappeared completely from Earth."</p><p>Nothing? I asked. Brass helmets? Detachable shirt collars? Chariot wheels?</p><p>Nothing, he said.</p><p>Can't be, I told him. Tools do hang around, but some <em>must </em>go extinct.</p><p>If only because of the hubris — the absolute nature of the claim — I told him it would take me a half hour to find a tool, an invention that is no longer being made anywhere by anybody.</p><p>Go ahead, he said. Try.</p><p>If you listen to our <em>Morning Edition</em> debate, I tried carbon paper (still being made), steam powered car engine parts (still being made), Paleolithic hammers (still being made), 6 pages of agricultural tools from an 1895 <em>Montgomery Ward & Co. Catalogue</em> (every one of them still being made), and to my utter astonishment, I couldn't find a provable example of an technology that has disappeared completely.</p><p></p><p>And Kevin continues to insist he is right. In his new book <em>What Technology Wants</em>, he says:</p><p><blockquote></p><p>A close examination of a supposedly extinct bygone technology almost always shows that somewhere on the planet someone is still producing it. A technique or artifact may be rare in the modern urban world but quite common in the developing rural world. For instance, Burma is full of oxcart technology; basketry is ubiquitous in most of Africa; hand spinning is still thriving in Bolivia. A supposedly dead technology may be enthusiastically embraced by a heritage-based minority in modern society, if only for ritual satisfaction. Consider the traditional ways of the Amish, or modern tribal communities or fanatical vinyl record collectors. Often old technology is obsolete, that is, it is not very ubiquitous or is second rate, but it still may be in small-time use.</p><p></blockquote></p><p>I know Kevin's wrong. There have to be prominent exceptions to his Technologies Never Die claim. Problem is, I'm the wrong person to prove him wrong. I'm just not tool-wise. Pens instantly dry up when I touch them, computers — don't even ask. So what I'm wondering is: Can you help me here?</p><p><strong>Help Me!</strong></p><p>If you honestly think there is a tool or invention from any century, any culture, any time (no science fiction please, we are trying to be real here) that has gone completely extinct, please send it in.</p><p>Just mention the tool in the <a href="#commentBlock">"comment" section</a>.</p><p>We will publish the most promising claims — and counter-claims — in the next <em>Krulwich Wonders... </em>blogpost which we will publish later today (Tuesday, February 1). We will call it, "Am I Extinct?"</p><p>We will keep this post open a couple of days and if, collectively, we come up with a list of plausibly extinct technologies, it's back to Kevin for Round Two of this colloquy.</p><p>I know I can count on you people. You always bite me when I say something wrong. Now it's time to bite Kevin.</p><p><hr /></p><p><em>Kevin Kelly's new book is called</em> What Technology Wants, <em>(Viking, 2010); He and I</em> <em>and the writer Steven Johnson debated some of these issues at the New York Public Library in October, 2010. That debate is on</em> <a href="http://fora.tv/2010/10/18/Steven_Johnson_and_Kevin_Kelly_at_the_NYPL#fullprogram">video</a><strong>.</strong> <em>A different, edited version that focuses on Kevin and Steven's ideas about how technology evolves (and, says Kevin, has a primitive "will") appeared on a </em><a href="http://www.radiolab.org/blogs/radiolab-blog/2010/nov/16/idea-time-come/">Radiolab podcast</a><strong>. </strong> Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit <a href="http://www.npr.org/">http://www.npr.org/</a>.<img src="http://metrics.npr.org/b/ss/nprapidev/5/1296583737?&gn=Tools+Never+Die.+Waddaya+Mean%2C+Never%3F&ev=event2&ch=5500502&h1=Krulwich+Wonders%E2%80%A6,Brain+Candy,Humans,Commentary,Opinion,Environment,Technology,Science,Home+Page+Top+Stories&c3=D%3Dgn&v3=D%3Dgn&c4=133188723&c7=1130&v7=D%3Dc7&c18=1130&v18=D%3Dc18&c19=20110201&v19=D%3Dc19&c20=1&v20=D%3Dc20&c21=3&v21=D%3Dc2&c31=5500502&v31=D%3Dc31&c45=MDA0OTc2MjAwMDEyNjk0NDE4OTI2NmUwNQ001"/></p></p> Mon, 31 Jan 2011 23:01:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/brain-candy/tools-never-die-waddaya-mean-never Killer storks eat human babies (perhaps) http://www.wbez.org/story/animals/killer-storks-eat-human-babies-perhaps <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/chase_custom.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Go back 30,000 years and picture an island somewhere in the Indian Ocean. Deep in its tropical forests we find a small group of early humans, tool-making, cave dwelling, social people who live on fruits, fish and occasionally meat. Nothing unusual here — except, very recently, modern scientists made two back-to-back discoveries about this place.</p><p>First, it appears that the Neolithic people who lived on the Indonesian island of Flores were incredibly small, the adults three feet tall, their kids about the size of owls. These little people — dubbed "hobbits" — lived on this island for at least 70,000 years. Second, and just recently, in this same forest, scientists discovered the bones of a never-before-seen bird. Six feet tall, extra-heavy, long and sharp beaked, no longer able to fly, this animal prowled the forest looking for meat. It is an ancestor of today's storks.</p><p>The mind boggles. Imagine yourself bumping into a wild, meat eating stork that is literally twice your size.</p><p></p><p>When the discovery of those stork bones was reported last month, the British tabloids went carnivore-crazy. The headline writers assumed (why not?) these birds ate people. "<a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/indonesia/8193184/Giant-stork-preyed-on-Flores-hobbits.html">Giant Stork 'preyed on Flores hobbits</a>,'" cried The Telegraph. "<a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/stork-that-ate-babies-rather-than-delivering-them-2155948.html">Stork that ate babies</a>," said The Independent "rather than delivering them." The headlines suggested that human babies had been standard birdy breakfasts — a powerful image, for sure...</p><p>...but what do we know, really? Brian Switek, a science writer at Wired Science who specializes in paleontology in his blog, <a href="http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/laelaps">Laelaps</a>, took a rich, fascinating look at the fossil evidence and pointed out that Hanneke Meijer and Rokus Awe Due, the two scientists who described the stork bones, "did not mention the hobbits as prey for stork at all." No human skulls by the nesting sites, no telltale human bones in their guts.</p><p>That doesn't mean storks didn't eat hobbits. Those storks did eat dead animals, so says Switek, "it is not inconceivable that [the stork] L. robustus could have consumed young hobbits (or even scavenged dead adults)." Yet, with so little evidence, it's just as possible the menu could have gone the other way...</p><p>The more fascinating question, for scientists, is how these two creatures, the little hobbits and big storks, came to be on Flores.</p><p>The storks, obviously, flew in. Their height is not so surprising. Modern marabou storks can still be almost as tall. But once they landed and discovered an island with no lions, no tigers, no big bird eaters, they could run around and eat large rats (yum, yum). This, says Brian, was "paradise for a meat eating bird." They found so much food on the ground they lost their ability to fly and became ground-hunters.</p><p>The hobbits, on the other hand, probably arrived as full-statured bi-pedal descendants of Homo erectus but once they settled in, they began to get shorter. This happens on islands all the time. It's called the "Island Effect." As Brian describes it:</p><p><blockquote></p><p>For reasons not yet fully understood, large species which become isolated on islands often become dwarfed while smaller species increase in size over time. These changes are probably not attributable to any single cause, but rather to an array of pressures involving competition for resources and the absence of large carnivores which affect species in different ways.</p><p></blockquote></p><p>Like island-dwarf dinosaurs in Transylvania and island-dwarf mammoths in California and Siberia, gradually these island immigrants went through a dwarfing phase too. Partly to adjust to the local diet, they became smaller people.</p><p>Some paleontologists insist that the hobbits are not hobbits at all, but humans dwarfed by a brain disease. But more and more, scientists are buying the notion that these are the first known dwarf species of human. The hobbits have a name, Homo floresiensis.</p><p>Bottom line: what's new here is not that the storks were big, it's that the people were so surprisingly little. And vulnerable.</p><p>What was it like to be so little? One imagines that to a hobbit, 6 foot storks would seem invincible, like feathery giants stalking the landscape. Hobbits could hide from them. Maybe they would pray to them...</p><p>...or dream magical dreams about them...</p><p>...or demonize them. We don't know what the hobbits did. The last little people perished on Flores about 18,000 years ago. The storks died off as well.</p><p>But now that we know that tiny humans had to run from giant, bloodthirsty storks — that image, says Brian Switek, is going to stick in our modern heads, because, somewhere in our collective unconscious, we want to be scared, be chased, be enmeshed in the kingdom of animals...</p><p><blockquote></p><p>The Flores stork was just the latest creature to be added to the menagerie of monstrous prehistoric creatures that enthrall us. As David Quammen concluded in <em>Monster of God</em>, "Such creatures enliven our fondest nightmares. They thrill us horribly...They allow us to recollect our limitations. They keep us company...If we exterminate the last magnificently scary beasts on planet Earth, as we seem bent upon doing, then no matter where we go for the rest of our history as a species — for the rest of time — we may never encounter any others."</p><p></blockquote></p><p>We live in a world where there are no giant sloths, no saber tooth tigers, no terrifying dinosaurs, no monsters left. The ones we still have, the wild gorillas, the killer sharks, are disappearing. We keep a few of them in zoos and aquariums, where they are no longer threatening. That is why, Switek thinks, we need to go back in time to find new ones. "Prehistory is one of the few places where we can find monsters and let our imaginations run wild."</p><p>I'm not sure if big storks will ever thrill us the way dinosaurs do, but I imagine Steven Spielberg working on it right now, conjuring hungry-eyed storks, creeping through the underbrush, nearer and nearer to the darling baby hobbit cooing by the fire, their giant beaks dripping with fake blood...</p><p>You never know.</p><p><hr /></p><p><em>Brian Switek has written a book about fossils, </em>Written in Stone, Evolution, the Fossil Record and Our Place in Nature<em>, (Bellevue Literary Press, 2010); Brian's <a href="http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/laelaps">blog</a> is a regular compendium of Paleolithic scoops, gossip and elegant science. He also writes for </em>Smithsonian Magazine's <a href="http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/dinosaur/">Dinosaur Tracking</a><em>. Benjamin Arthur, who did the drawings for this story (and who shows every sign of having been a hobbit in a former life — since he imagined these scenes instantly and without any coaching) is an artist living in Santa Cruz, California. He most recently animated our story about </em><a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/krulwich/2010/11/03/131050832/a-mystery-why-can-t-we-walk-straight">Why Can't We Walk Straight</a>.<em> Benjamin's work can be found at his <a href="http://vocaleyes.com/benarthur/">website</a>.</em> Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit <a href="http://www.npr.org/">http://www.npr.org/</a>.<img src="http://metrics.npr.org/b/ss/nprapidev/5/1295976401?&gn=Killer+Storks+Eat+Human+Babies+%28Perhaps%29&ev=event2&ch=5500502&h1=Krulwich+Wonders%E2%80%A6,Animals,Brain+Candy,Humans,Commentary,Opinion,Environment,Science,Home+Page+Top+Stories&c3=D%3Dgn&v3=D%3Dgn&c4=133178380&c7=1130&v7=D%3Dc7&c18=1130&v18=D%3Dc18&c19=20110125&v19=D%3Dc19&c20=1&v20=D%3Dc20&c31=5500502&v31=D%3Dc31&c45=MDA0OTc2MjAwMDEyNjk0NDE4OTI2NmUwNQ001"/></p></p> Tue, 25 Jan 2011 08:59:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/animals/killer-storks-eat-human-babies-perhaps A physicist explains why parallel universes may exist http://www.wbez.org/story/arts-amp-life/physicist-explains-why-parallel-universes-may-exist <p><p>Our universe might be really, really big — but finite. Or it might be infinitely big.</p><p>Both cases, says physicist Brian Greene, are possibilities, but if the latter is true, so is another posit: There are only so many ways matter can arrange itself within that infinite universe. Eventually, matter has to repeat itself and arrange itself in similar ways. So if the universe is infinitely large, it is also home to infinite parallel universes.</p><p>Does that sound confusing? Try this:</p><p>Think of the universe like a deck of cards.</p><p>"Now, if you shuffle that deck, there's just so many orderings that can happen," Greene says. "If you shuffle that deck enough times, the orders will have to repeat. Similarly, with an infinite universe and only a finite number of complexions of matter, the way in which matter arranges itself has to repeat."</p><p>Greene, the author of <em>The Elegant Universe </em>and <em>The Fabric of the Cosmos</em>, tackles the existence of multiple universes in his latest book, <em>The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos</em>.</p><p>Recent discoveries in physics and astronomy, he says, point to the idea that our universe may be one of many universes populating a grander multiverse.</p><p>"You almost can't avoid having some version of the multiverse in your studies if you push deeply enough in the mathematical descriptions of the physical universe," he says. "There are many of us thinking of one version of parallel universe theory or another. If it's all a lot of nonsense, then it's a lot of wasted effort going into this far-out idea. But if this idea is correct, it is a fantastic upheaval in our understanding."</p><p><strong>How Quantum Mechanics And General Relativity Play A Part</strong></p><p><strong> </strong></p><p>Greene thinks the key to understanding these multiverses comes from string theory, the area of physics he has studied for the past 25 years.</p><p>In a nutshell, string theory attempts to reconcile a mathematical conflict between two already accepted ideas in physics: quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity.</p><p>"Einstein's theory of relativity does a fantastic job for explaining big things," Greene says. "Quantum mechanics is fantastic for the other end of the spectrum — for small things. The big problem is that each theory is great for each realm, but when they confront each other, they are ferocious antagonists, and the mathematics falls apart."</p><p>String theory smooths out the mathematical inconsistencies that currently exist between quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity. It posits that the entire universe can be explained in terms of really, really small strings that vibrate in 10 or 11 dimensions — meaning dimensions we can't see. If it exists, it could explain literally everything in the universe — from subatomic particles to the laws of speed and gravity.</p><p>So what does this have to do with the possibility that a multiverse exists?</p><p>"There are a couple of multiverses that come out of our study of string theory," Greene says. "Within string theory, the strings that we're talking about are not the only entities that this theory allows. It also allows objects that look like large flying carpets, or membranes, which are two dimensional surfaces. And what that means, within string theory, is that we may be living on one of those gigantic surfaces, and there can be other surfaces floating out there in space."</p><p>That theory, he says, might be testable in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research.</p><p>"If we are living on one of these giant membranes, then the following can happen: When you slam particles together — which is what happens at the LHC — some debris from those collisions can be ejected off of our membrane and be ejected into the greater cosmos in which our membrane floats," he says. "If that happens, that debris will take away some energy. So if we measure the amount of energy just before the protons collide and compare it with the amount of energy just after they collide, if there's a little less after — and it's less in just the right way — it would indicate that some had flown off, indicating that this membrane picture is correct."</p><p>Greene explains that when he began studying string theory and parallel universes, it wasn't because he could one day measure energy at CERN or develop new mathematical equations. He simply liked the idea, he says, of studying something on such a large scale.</p><p>"We're trying to talk about not just the universe but perhaps other universes — but all within a logical framework that allows us to make some definitive statements," he says. "To me, that's enormously exciting, to step outside the everyday and really look at the universe, within these mathematical terms, on its grandest scales." Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit <a href="http://www.npr.org/">http://www.npr.org/</a>.<img src="http://metrics.npr.org/b/ss/nprapidev/5/1295976409?&gn=A+Physicist+Explains+Why+Parallel+Universes+May+Exist&ev=event2&ch=1026&h1=Fresh+Air+Interviews,Brain+Candy,Commentary,Opinion,Nonfiction,Author+Interviews,Books,Space,Interviews,Arts+%26+Life,Science&c3=D%3Dgn&v3=D%3Dgn&c4=132932268&c7=1026&v7=D%3Dc7&c18=1026&v18=D%3Dc18&c19=20110124&v19=D%3Dc19&c20=1&v20=D%3Dc20&c21=13&v21=D%3Dc2&c31=125637934&v31=D%3Dc31&c45=MDA0OTc2MjAwMDEyNjk0NDE4OTI2NmUwNQ001"/></p></p> Mon, 24 Jan 2011 09:47:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/arts-amp-life/physicist-explains-why-parallel-universes-may-exist