Very old cave art shows how technology drives science

The exciting science news in this week’s issue of Science is that some cave art in Europe is much, much older than previously thought, dating back to the earliest humans in Europe. The new dates make it more plausible that some of this art was created by Neanderthals, although that is speculative.

While old cave art is cool, you may be wondering, why are they just now getting around to figuring out these old dates? The answer is, the technology finally got good enough to do it. The Uranium-thorium dating was done by scraping off a few milligrams of calcite deposits that had formed over the cave art. Since the calcite deposits formed on top of the art, dating those deposits gives you a minimum age for the art.

When Uranium Thorium dating was first invented, you needed tens of grams of sample, but the sensitivity of the technology has now improved 10,000-fold. You can take tens of grams of sample out of priceless cave art, but you can take a few milligrams.

And so, the new dates are not the result of some brilliant new, abstract, deep insight – they’re the result of amazing improvements in technology. Science is driven at least as much by technology as it is by ideas.

Study shows multi-taskers are fooling themselves

This study may be old news to many of you, but I don’t remember encountering it. From my university’s teaching newsletter:

The findings of the third, laboratory-based, study further illuminate the relationship between the use of devices and the potential for distraction. The researchers in this study set out to test whether undergraduates who are “heavy media multi-taskers” might have an improved ability, relative to peers who are “light media multi-taskers,” to filter out distracting information. The researchers defined “media multi-tasking” or simultaneously engaging with different media—including print, television, computer-based video, music, text messaging, instant messaging, web-surfing, email. Their findings were precisely the opposite of what they had expected to find: heavy media multi-tasking was related to a reduced ability to ignore distractions and focus on pertinent information—even after accounting for potential differences in academic aptitude, personality and performance on standard creativity and memory tasks. Continue reading “Study shows multi-taskers are fooling themselves”

The latest evolutionary developments have passed me by

“Geolocating Tweets”:

As the rising generation replaces us, with their seemingly inborn familiarity with all things IT, does this make them in effect a new species? A species possessing the solution to the riddle of existence, the answers to all the questions which have plagued us — the old Hominids — for the last two million years? Continue reading “The latest evolutionary developments have passed me by”