105 amateur cyclist is more aerobically fit than most 50-year-olds

17 Feb

Another amazing story from The New York Times about the capacities of an aging athlete:

At the age of 105, the French amateur cyclist and world-record holder Robert Marchand is more aerobically fit than most 50-year-olds — and appears to be getting even fitter as he ages, according to a revelatory new study of his physiology.

You can read the research paper here.

Atypical neural oscillation as a cause of dyslexia?

15 Feb

Neural oscillation refers to the rhythmic activity of large numbers of the brains neurons. It is these oscillations that produce the brain waves that are measured on a EEG. Here’s a recent paper suggesting that dyslexia may be caused by abnormal neural oscillation in parts of the brain related to auditory and visual processing. Here is the abstract:

It has been proposed that atypical neural oscillations in both the auditory and the visual modalities could explain why some individuals fail to learn to read and suffer from developmental dyslexia. However, the role of specific oscillatory mechanisms in reading acquisition is still under debate. In this article, we take a cross-linguistic approach and argue that both the phonological and orthographic specifics of a language (e.g., linguistic rhythm, orthographic depth) shape the oscillatory activity thought to contribute to reading development. The proposed theoretical framework should allow future research to test cross-linguistic hypotheses that will shed light on the heterogeneity of auditory and visual disorders and their underlying brain dysfunction(s) in developmental dyslexia, and inform clinical practice by helping us to diagnose dyslexia across languages.


Raymond Smullyan

13 Feb

I am surrounded by the books of Raymond Smullyan and I was very sad to read of his death at age 97 in today’s New York Times. When time allows, I have been been very slowly working my way through his Set Theory and the Continuum Problem (co-authored with Melvin Fitting). For a more gentle introduction to his thought try Who Knows?: A Study of Religious Consciousness or his autobiography Some Interesting Memories: A Paradoxical Life.

Here is piece composed by Jeanell Carrigan in honor of Smullyan:

The bird has a mind of its own

10 Feb

When I saw this I though of this passage from Henry Beston’s The Outermost House

We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.

(Hat tip to BoingBoing)

Washington Post’s history of the treadmill

8 Feb

Sunday’s Washington Post tells the story of the treadmill. Fifty million Americans uses treadmills, but I was surprised that so many seem to hate it.

As the weather turns colder, Jen Forman will do what she’s always done to get her runs in: She’ll go to her treadmill in her home, press start and run until she’s done.

And she will hate every moment of it.

I think treadmill time is a great opportunity to learn. I use it to practice foreign languages and listen to podcasts.

Why do some songs become earworms?

6 Feb

Earworms are those annoying songs that can’t get out of your head. A more technical name for this phenomenon is Involuntary Musical Imagery (INMI).

A recent paper in Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts investigates the common melodic features of earworms:

The results of the present work indicate that features of a song’s
melodic structure, as well as measures of its popularity and recency,
can be useful in predicting whether a song becomes INMI.
These findings contribute to the growing literature on the INMI
experience and serve to increase our general understanding of why
certain songs are spontaneously recalled in the mind over others.

In sum, tunes that become INMI tend to be faster in tempo than
non-INMI tunes. If the melodic contour shape of a melody is
highly congruent with established norms, then it is more likely for
the tune to become INMI. If the melodic contour does not conform
with norms, then it should have a highly unusual pattern of contour
rises and falls to become an INMI tune.

The paper includes this helpful list of the most common earworms:

(1) “Bad Romance,” Lady Gaga

(2) “Can’t Get You Out of My Head,” Kylie Minogue

(3) “Don’t Stop Believing,” Journey

(4) “Somebody That I Used to Know,” Gotye

(5) “Moves Like Jagger,” Maroon

(6) “California Gurls,” Katy Perry

(7) “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Queen

(8) “Alejandro,” Lady Gaga

(9) “Poker Face,” Lady Gaga

“The Amazing Spider Brain”

3 Feb

Another interesting story about invertebrate brains, in this case the spider:

“Spiders are very smart, that’s why we’re studying them,” says Ronald Hoy, a professor of neurobiology and behavior at Cornell University. “They use visual cues to steer by, and the kind of mazes that they can solve is considered to be pretty impressive for an invertebrate.”

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