science

how emotional pain becomes physical

I'm going to hope that the opening sentences of this Telegraph story about research into a genetic link between physical and emotional pain reflects the dullness of the reporter, not the opinion of the scientists:

Researchers have found a genetic link between physical pain and social rejection, which means that breaking up with a partner really can be painful.

I hope that the researchers are cluefull enough to understand that an experience of pain is real regardless of our understanding of genetic or neurological mechanisms. Any scientist who thinks that reductionist explanations validate or invalidate the existence of the phenomenon they are trying to explain, needs a good smack. I don't need a neurologist to tell me that getting dumped can be painful, I have my own direct experience, thank you very much. The physiological correlates are not the experience.

Anyway, the research itself is very interesting, especially the evidence that people who are more sensitive to physical pain are also sensitive to social rejection.

Spanking play 'brings couples together'

New Scientist reports on a study of hormonal changes associated with BDSM play:

Brad Sagarin at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb and colleagues measured levels of the stress hormone cortisol in 13 men and women at an S&M party in Arizona, before, during and after participating in activities. During S&M scenes, cortisol rose significantly in those receiving stimulation, but dropped back to normal within 40 minutes if the scene went well. There was no change in those inflicting the activity.

At an S&M event in Colorado, testosterone was measured in 45 men and women. It increased significantly in receiving women only. Donatella Marazziti of the University of Pisa, Italy, says the boost may help women cope with the aggressive nature of S&M activities, or that it could be another sign of stress. In both studies, couples who said the party went well also reported increases in relationship closeness

...

Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire in Hatfield, UK, adds that almost any shared activity is likely to promote interpersonal closeness. "It doesn't have to be tying up your partner or placing clamps on their nipples, it could be something as simple as cooking a meal together or even doing the housework as a duo," he says.

How to run a con

From Psychology Today blogs, Paul J. Zak discusses the anatomy of con job:

The key to a con is not that you trust the conman, but that he shows he trusts you. Conmen ply their trade by appearing fragile or needing help, by seeming vulnerable. Because of THOMAS, the human brain makes us feel good when we help others--this is the basis for attachment to family and friends and cooperation with strangers. "I need your help" is a potent stimulus for action.

Also see this video of Michael Shermer running the "pigeon drop" on the streets of Westwood, California:

it's - sort of - alive!

LiveScience reports that researchers at the Scripps Research Institute have created molecules that bump right up against the boundaries of what we consider "alive". They synthesized RNA enzymes that replicate, mutate, and evolve:

Lincoln's advisor, professor Gerald Joyce, reiterated that while the self-replicating RNA enzyme systems share certain characteristics of life, they are not life as we know it.

"What we've found could be relevant to how life begins, at that key moment when Darwinian evolution starts," Joyce said in a statement.

Joyce's restraint, clear also on an NPR report of the finding, has to be appreciated. He allows that some scientists familiar with the work have argued that this is life. Another scientist said that what the researchers did is equivalent to recreating a scenario that might have led to the origin of life.

Joyce insists he and Lincoln have not created life: "We're knocking on that door," he says, "but of course we haven't achieved that."

RIP Majel Barrett Rodenberry

Majel Barrett Roddenberry has left us.

Majel played the Enterprise's first officer in the original pilot "The Cage" (later recut with a frame story as the TOS two-parter "The Menagerie"), then Nurse Christine Chapel in the original series. Then in TNG she played Councilor Troi's mother, Lwaxana, as well as providing the ubiquitous computer voice in TNG and later series. In fact, she has recenntly finished voice work on the forthcoming Trek movie.

She and Gene Roddenberry married two months after the final episode of Star Trek was aired. (According to Memory Alpha, they were in Japan and has a "Shinto-Buddhist" wedding!)

After Gene's death she did a lot to preserve the Star Trek legacy, and also worked as executive producer on two shows based on ideas from his archives, Earth: Final Conflict and Andromeda.

nature of matter and the history of the universe

Two science stories to tickle your big-thought imagination:

the latest on Bisphenol-A

Back in February 2006, I posted about the dangers of the ubiquitous chemical Bisphenol-A (BPA), a synthetic hormone that is the building block of polycarbonate.

More attention has been focused on BPA of late. Time reports on the latest data and the latest regulatory action:

Why the renewed uproar over plastic? Since the FDA completed its original analysis in August, additional data on the potential health effects of BPA have emerged, linking high levels of BPA exposure to increased risk of heart disease and diabetes and even a decreased sensitivity to chemotherapy in cancer patients. The compound is also linked to developmental and brain effects in infants; BPA is known to mimic the hormone estrogen in the body, which can cause changes in developing fetuses and infants. "There is enough evidence today for the FDA to take the precaution and to certainly get BPA out of infant products," says Urvashi Rangan, senior scientist and policy analyst at Consumers Union. "Even more, consumers should not be ingesting this substance while the science is being figured out."

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