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Parasite fills cicadas with amphetamines and mind-altering drugs

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Matt Kason, a fungi researcher at West Virginia University, has discovered that cicadas whose bodies have been corrupted by the fungus Massospora keep flying around, have tons of energy and get really horny, because the fungus is doping them with meth and shrooms.

Via the Atlantic:

I asked Kasson if it’s possible to get high by eating Massospora-infected cicadas. Surprisingly, he didn’t say no. “Based on the ones we looked at, it would probably take a dozen or more,” he said. But it’s possible that earlier in the infections, before the conspicuous saltshaker stage, the fungus might pump out higher concentrations of these chemicals. Why? Kasson suspects that the drugs help the fungus control its hosts.

Infected cicadas behave strangely. Despite their horrific injuries, males become hyperactive and hypersexual. They frenetically try to mate with anything they can find, including with other males. They’ll even mimic the wing-flicking signals of females to lure males toward them. None of this does them any good—their genitals have either been devoured by the fungus or have fallen off with the rest of their butts. Instead, this behavior only benefits the fungus, allowing its spores to find new hosts.

Kasson suspects that cathinone and psilocybin are responsible for at least some of these behaviors. “If I had a limb amputated, I probably wouldn’t have a lot of pep in my step,” he said. “But these cicadas do. Something is giving them a bit more energy. The amphetamine could explain that.”

Psilocybin’s role is harder to explain. The drug might make humans hallucinate, but no one knows if cicadas would similarly trip. There is, however, a theory that magic mushrooms evolved psilocybin to reduce the appetites of insects that might compete with them for decaying wood. Perhaps by suppressing the appetites of cicadas, Massospora nudges them away from foraging and toward incessant mating.

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kerray
46 days ago
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Brno, CZ
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Happy 21st Century!

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Here's the shape of a 21st century I don't want to see. Unfortunately it looks like it's the one we're going to get, unless we're very lucky.

Shorter version is: there will be much dying: even more so than during the worst conflicts of the 20th century. But rather than conventional wars ("nation vs nation") it'll be "us vs them", where "us" and "them" will be defined by whichever dehumanized enemy your network filter bubble points you at—Orwell was ahead of the game with the Two Minute Hate, something with which all of us who use social media are now uncomfortably, intimately, familiar.

People will be die in large numbers, but it will happen out of sight. It'll be "soft genocide" or "malign neglect", and the victims will be the climate change refugees who are kept out of sight by virtual walls. On land there may be fences and minefields and debatable ground dominated by gangs, and at sea there may be drone-patrolled waters where refugees can be encouraged to sink and drown out of sight of the denizens of their destination countries. This much we already see. But the exterminatory policies will continue at home in the destination zones as well, and that's the new innovation that is gradually coming online. There will be no death camps in this shiny new extermination system. Rather, death by starvation and exposure will be inflicted by the operation of deliberately broken social security systems (see also universal credit), deportation of anyone who can be portrayed as an un-citizen (the Windrush scandal is an early prototype of this mechanism), and removal of the right to use money (via electronic fund transfers, once cash is phased out) from those deemed undesirable by an extrapolation of today's Hostile Environment Policy and its equivalents.

You don't need to build concentration camps with barbed wire fences and guards if you can turn your entire society into a machine-mediated panopticon with automated penalties for non-compliance.

The Nazis had to leave their offices in order to round people up and brutalize or murder them. They had to travel to the Wannsee Conference to hammer out how to implement Generalplan Ost. Tomorrow's genocides will be decentralized and algorithmically tweaked, quite possibly executed without human intervention.

Why?

The people who buy into the idea of eugenics and racial supremacy—the alt-right and their fellow travellers—will sooner or later have to come to terms with the inevitability of anthropogenic climate change. Right now climate denialism is a touchstone of the American right, but the evidence is almost impossible to argue against right now and it's increasingly obvious that many of the people who espouse disbelief are faking it—virtue signalling on the hard right. Sooner or later they'll flip. When they do so, they will inevitably come to the sincere, deeply held belief that culling the bottom 50% to 90% of the planetary population will give them a shot at survival in the post-greenhouse world. (That's the "bottom 50-90%" as defined by white supremacists and neo-Nazis.) They'll justify their cull using the values we're seeing field-tested today racism, religious and anti-religious bigotry, nationalism, sexism, xenophobia, white supremacism. These are values with tested, proven appeal to [petty authoritarians](https://theauthoritarians.org who feel that their way of life is under threat.

Of course there will, as time goes on, be fewer and fewer members of the murdering class, as climate insecurity causes periodic crop collapses, automation reduces the need for human labour is required to keep things running, and capital accumulation outstrips labour value accumulmation (leading to increased wealth concentration and societal stratification and rigidity).

Who are the murderers? I'll give you a clue: they're the current ruling class and their descendants. A while ago Bruce Sterling described the 21st century as "old people, living in cities, who are afraid of the sky". I'm calling it "wealthy white people, living in cities, who are afraid of the rising seas (and the refugees they'll bring)".

As for what this soft genocide will look, right here at home in Brexitland ...

Forget barbed wire, concentration camps, gas chambers and gallows, and Hugo Boss uniforms. That's the 20th century pattern of centralized, industrialized genocide. In the 21st century deep-learning mediated AI era, we have the tools to inflict agile, decentralized genocide as a cloud service on our victims.

Think in terms of old age homes where robots curate the isolated elderlies (no low-paid immigrant workers needed) and fail to identify their terminal medical conditions until they're too advanced to treat. People fed by vertical farms where solar/battery powered robots attend to the individual plants (thank you, Elon Musk's younger brother), food delivered by self-driving vehicles from lights-out warehouses, an end to high street shopping and restaurants and a phasing out of cash money.

Think in terms of a great and terrible simplification of our society that cleans out all the niches the underclass (which by then will include the struggling middle class) survive within.

Think in terms of policing by ubiquitous surveillance and social scoring and behavior monitoring. Think in terms of punishment by "community service"—picking up litter on starvation wages (and I mean, wages calculated to induce death through slow starvation), where if you fail to comply your ability to purchase the essentials of life using e-cash will simply stop working. Prisons where extensively drug-resistant TB runs rife as a discipline on the community service peons (as in: if you receive the sanction of an actual prison sentence, they won't need to execute you: 50% will be dead within 6 months).

There's no state censor in this regime. Just a filter bubble imposed through your social media and email contacts that downranks anything remotely subversive and gently punishes you if you express an unconvenient opinion or show signs of noticing what's missing—the way you don't see people with dark skins or foreign accents any more, for example. The corporate social media will of course comply with state requirements for a safe and secure internet—if they want to stay in business, that is.

We're getting a glimpse of the way this future is shaped, thanks to Trump and Brexit and, to a lesser extent, China today. Trump has discovered that in times of insecurity, the spectacle of cruelty provides a shared common focus for his supporters. This is nothing new: the Romans were there millennia ago with their festivities at the Coliseum.

What's new is the speed and specificity with which the cruelty can be applied, and the ability to redirect it in a matter of hours—increasing the sense of insecurity, which in turn drives social conservativism and support for violent self-defense.

There is a feedback loop in play. It may already be established globally. And it's going to kill billions of us.

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kerray
118 days ago
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Brno, CZ
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The Pygmalion Effect: Proving Them Right

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The Pygmalion Effect is a powerful secret weapon. Without even realizing it, we can nudge others towards success. In this article, discover how expectations can influence performance for better or worse.

How Expectations Influence Performance

Many people believe that their pets or children are of unusual intelligence or can understand everything they say. Some people have stories of abnormal feats. In the late 19th century, one man claimed that about his horse and appeared to have evidence. William Von Osten was a teacher and horse trainer. He believed that animals could learn to read or count. Von Osten's initial attempts with dogs and a bear were unsuccessful, but when he began working with an unusual horse, he changed our understanding of psychology. Known as Clever Hans, the animal could answer questions, with 90% accuracy, by tapping his hoof. He could add, subtract, multiply, divide, and tell the time and the date.

Clever Hans could also read and understand questions written or asked in German. Crowds flocked to see the horse, and the scientific community soon grew interested. Researchers studied the horse, looking for signs of trickery. Yet they found none. The horse could answer questions asked by anyone, even if Von Osten was absent. This indicated that no signaling was at play. For a while, the world believed the horse was truly clever.

Then psychologist Oskar Pfungst turned his attention to Clever Hans. Assisted by a team of researchers, he uncovered two anomalies. When blinkered or behind a screen, the horse could not answer questions. Likewise, he could respond only if the questioner knew the answer. From these observations, Pfungst deduced that Clever Hans was not making any mental calculations. Nor did he understand numbers or language in the human sense. Although Von Osten had intended no trickery, the act was false.

Instead, Clever Hans had learned to detect subtle, yet consistent nonverbal cues. When someone asked a question, Clever Hans responded to their body language with a degree of accuracy many poker players would envy. For example, when someone asked Clever Hans to make a calculation, he would begin tapping his hoof. Once he reached the correct answer, the questioner would show involuntary signs. Pfungst found that many people tilted their head at this point. Clever Hans would recognize this behavior and stop. When blinkered or when the questioner did not know the answer, the horse didn’t have a clue. When he couldn't see the cues, he had no answer.

The Pygmalion Effect

Von Osten died in 1909 and Clever Hans disappeared from record. But his legacy lives on in a particular branch of psychology.

The case of Clever Hans is of less interest than the research it went on to provoke. Psychologists working in the decades following began to study how the expectations of others affect us. If someone expected Clever Hans to answer a question and ensured that he knew it, could the same thing occur elsewhere?

Could we be, at times, responding to subtle cues? Decades of research have provided consistent, robust evidence that the answer is yes. It comes down to the concepts of the self-fulfilling prophecy and the Pygmalion effect.

The Pygmalion effect is a psychological phenomenon wherein high expectations lead to improved performance in a given area. Its name comes from the story of Pygmalion, a mythical Greek sculptor. Pygmalion carved a statue of a woman and then became enamored with it. Unable to love a human, Pygmalion appealed to Aphrodite, the goddess of love. She took pity and brought the statue to life. The couple married and went on to have a daughter, Paphos.

False Beliefs Come True Over Time

In the same way Pygmalion’s fixation on the statue brought it to life, our focus on a belief or assumption can do the same. The flipside is the Golem effect, wherein low expectations lead to decreased performance. Both effects come under the category of self-fulfilling prophecies. Whether the expectation comes from us or others, the effect manifests in the same way.

The Pygmalion effect has profound ramifications in schools and organizations and with regard to social class and stereotypes. By some estimations, it is the result of our brains’ poorly distinguishing between perception and expectation. Although many people purport to want to prove their critics wrong, we often merely end up proving our supporters right.

Understanding the Pygmalion effect is a powerful way to positively affect those around us, from our children and friends to employees and leaders. If we don’t take into account the ramifications of our expectations, we may miss out on the dramatic benefits of holding high standards.

The concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy is attributed to sociologist Robert K. Merton. In 1948, Merton published the first paper on the topic. In it, he described the phenomenon as a false belief that becomes true over time. Once this occurs, it creates a feedback loop. We assume we were always correct because it seems so in hindsight. Merton described a self-fulfilling prophecy as self-hypnosis through our own propaganda.

As with many psychological concepts, people had a vague awareness of its existence long before research confirmed anything. Renowned orator and theologian Jacques Benigne Bossuet declared in the 17th century that “The greatest weakness of all weaknesses is to fear too much to appear weak.”

Even Sigmund Freud was aware of self-fulfilling prophecies. In A Childhood Memory of Goethe, Freud wrote: “If a man has been his mother’s undisputed darling he retains throughout life the triumphant feeling, the confidence in success, which not seldom brings actual success with it.”

The IQ of Students

Research by Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson examined the influence of teachers’ expectations on students’ performance. Their subsequent paper is one of the most cited and discussed psychological studies ever conducted.

Rosenthal and Jacobson began by testing the IQ of elementary school students. Teachers were told that the IQ test showed around one-fifth of their students to be unusually intelligent. For ethical reasons, they did not label an alternate group as unintelligent and instead used unlabeled classmates as the control group. It will doubtless come as no surprise that the “gifted” students were chosen at random. They should not have had a significant statistical advantage over their peers. As the study period ended, all students had their IQs retested. Both groups showed an improvement. Yet those who were described as intelligent experienced much greater gains in their IQ points. Rosenthal and Jacobson attributed this result to the Pygmalion effect. Teachers paid more attention to “gifted” students, offering more support and encouragement than they would otherwise. Picked at random, those children ended up excelling. Sadly, no follow-up studies were ever conducted, so we do not know the long-term impact on the children involved.

Prior to studying the effect on children, Rosenthal performed preliminary research on animals. Students were given rats from two groups, one described as “maze dull” and the other as “maze bright.” Researchers claimed that the former group could not learn to properly negotiate a maze, but the latter could with ease. As you might expect, the groups of rats were the same. Like the gifted and nongifted children, they were chosen at random. Yet by the time the study finished, the “maze-bright” rats appeared to have learned faster. The students considered them tamer and more pleasant to work with than the “maze-dull” rats.

In general, authority figures have the power to influence how the people subordinate to them behave by holding high expectations. Whether consciously or not, leaders facilitate changes in behavior, such as by giving people more responsibility or setting stretch goals. Like the subtle cues that allowed Clever Hans to make calculations, these small changes in treatment can promote learning and growth. If a leader thinks an employee is competent, they will treat them as such. The employee then gets more opportunities to develop their competence, and their performance improves in a positive feedback loop. This works both ways. When we expect an authority figure to be competent or successful, we tend to be attentive and supportive. In the process, we bolster their performance, too. Students who act interested in lectures create interesting lecturers.

In Pygmalion in Management, J. Sterling Livingston writes,

Some managers always treat their subordinates in a way that leads to superior performance. But most … unintentionally treat their subordinates in a way that leads to lower performance than they are capable of achieving. The way managers treat their subordinates is subtly influenced by what they expect of them. If manager’s expectations are high, productivity is likely to be excellent. If their expectations are low, productivity is likely to be poor. It is as though there were a law that caused subordinates’ performance to rise or fall to meet managers’ expectations.

The Pygmalion effect shows us that our reality is negotiable and can be manipulated by others — on purpose or by accident. What we achieve, how we think, how we act, and how we perceive our capabilities can be influenced by the expectations of those around us. Those expectations may be the result of biased or irrational thinking, but they have the power to affect us and change what happens. While cognitive biases distort only what we perceive, self-fulfilling prophecies alter what happens.

Of course, the Pygmalion effect works only when we are physically capable of achieving what is expected of us. After Rosenthal and Jacobson published their initial research, many people were entranced by the implication that we are all capable of more than we think. Although that can be true, we have no indication that any of us can do anything if someone believes we can. Instead, the Pygmalion effect seems to involve us leveraging our full capabilities and avoiding the obstacles created by low expectations.

Clever Hans truly was an intelligent horse, but he was smart because he could read almost imperceptible nonverbal cues, not because he could do math. So, he did have unusual capabilities, as shown by the fact that few other animals have done what he did.

We can’t do anything just because someone expects us too. Overly high expectations can also be stressful. When someone sets the bar too high, we can get discouraged and not even bother trying. Stretch goals and high expectations are beneficial, up to the point of diminishing returns. Research by McClelland and Atkinson indicates that the Pygmalion effect drops off if we see our chance of success as being less than 50%. If an endeavor seems either certain or completely uncertain, the Pygmalion effect does not hold. When we are stretched but confident, high expectations can help us achieve more.

Check Your Assumptions

In Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: A Practical Guide to Its Use in Education, Robert T. Tauber describes an exercise in which people are asked to list their assumptions about people with certain descriptions. These included a cheerleader, “a minority woman with four kids at the market using food stamps,” and a “person standing outside smoking on a cold February day.” An anonymous survey of undergraduate students revealed mostly negative assumptions. Tauber asks the reader to consider how being exposed to these types of assumptions might affect someone’s day-to-day life.

The expectations people have of us affect us in countless subtle ways each day. Although we rarely notice it (unless we are on the receiving end of overt racism, sexism, and other forms of bias), those expectations dictate the opportunities we are offered, how we are spoken to, and the praise and criticism we receive. Individually, these knocks and nudges have minimal impact. In the long run, they might dictate whether we succeed or fail or fall somewhere on the spectrum in between.

The important point to note about the Pygmalion effect is that it creates a literal change in what occurs. There is nothing mystical about the effect. When we expect someone to perform well in any capacity, we treat them in a different way. Teachers tend to show more positive body language towards students they expect to be gifted. They may teach them more challenging material, offer more chances to ask questions, and provide personalized feedback. As Carl Sagan declared, “The visions we offer our children shape the future. It matters what those visions are. Often they become self-fulfilling prophecies. Dreams are maps.”

A perfect illustration is the case of James Sweeney and George Johnson, as described in Pygmalion in Management. Sweeney was a teacher at Tulane University, where Johnson worked as a porter. Aware of the Pygmalion effect, Sweeney had a hunch that he could teach anyone to be a competent computer operator. He began his experiment, offering Johnson lessons each afternoon. Other university staff were dubious, especially as Johnson appeared to have a low IQ. But the Pygmalion effect won out and the former janitor eventually became responsible for training new computer operators.

The Pygmalion effect is a powerful secret weapon. Who wouldn’t want to help their children get smarter, help employees and leaders be more competent, and generally push others to do well? That’s possible if we raise our standards and see others in the best possible light. It is not necessary to actively attempt to intervene. Without even realizing it, we can nudge others towards success. If that sounds too good to be true, remember that the effect holds up for everything from rats to CEOs.

The post The Pygmalion Effect: Proving Them Right appeared first on Farnam Street.

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kerray
120 days ago
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Brno, CZ
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Cartoonist Lucy Bellwood captures the ways inner demons sabotage in her latest comic book

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If there's anyone out there who's never felt like an imposter, or suffered from FOMO (fear of missing out), or struggled with self doubt, I sure would like to meet them.

Yet, just because these are common human experiences, it doesn't make it any easier to deal with when they happen to you. (Can I get an a-men?!)

In 2017, for the 100 Day Project, Portland-based cartoonist Lucy Bellwood penned her own demon in a series of 100 comics. Those illustrations have now become a book titled 100 Demon Dialogues.

In the forward she writes, "Back in 2012, entering my first year as a full-time freelance cartoonist, I hit an art rut. Trying to shake things up, I doodled a picture of a tiny, taunting inner imp who apparently believed I’d never make anything of myself."

"He cropped up time and time again over the next five years — when things were going well and I was worried I’d lose everything, or when things were going poorly and I thought it’d never get any better. Each comic I drew about him brought a little more humor or clarity to our relationship, but I still felt like I was at his mercy," she continues.

"Then, in April of 2017 I set out to complete my second 100 Day Project, a themed challenge in which participants do something creative every day for 100 days. Spanning just over three months, it seemed like the perfect chance to really dig into what was going on with this little jerk and get a handle on how to banish him for good."

Her project resonated with people of all walks of life. Here's a taste:

100 Demon Dialogues goes on sale June 19 but is available to pre-order now for $14.99 (paperback) or $7.99 (Kindle). Portlanders can meet Bellwood at the book's release party on June 4 at Ford Food & Drink.

In addition to the book, she's got some cool demon-themed schwag and prints including this plushie for $25. I suggest making poking it with pins like a voodoo doll when self doubt starts creeping in.

Previously: Sailor tattoos decoded and Comic about three weeks on an oceanographic research vessel

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kerray
127 days ago
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Brno, CZ
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Charlie Stross on the sorry state of science fictional worldbuilding

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Charlie Stross explains that he's more-or-less stopped reading science fiction, no longer capable of stomaching the paper-thin worldbuilding that refuses to contemplate the profound ways in which technology changes human relations and motivations. (more…)

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kerray
222 days ago
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Brno, CZ
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Sexist midcentury ads re-created, flipping gender roles

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Visual artist and photographer Eli Rezkallah has turned the tables on some of the most nauseatingly-sexist (and 100% real) midcentury ads in his latest project, In a parallel universe.

He writes:

Last Thanksgiving, I overheard my uncles talk about how women are better off cooking, taking care of the kitchen, and fulfilling “their womanly duties”. Although I know that not all men think that way I was surprised to learn that some still do, so I went on to imagine a parallel universe, where roles are inverted and men are given a taste of their own sexist poison. “In a parallel universe” is a series of fictional images, recreated from real ads in the mad men era, that question modern day sexism: showing it through a humorous light to spark a conversation through role play - a conversation that we need to have, uncles.

Click on each image to enlarge and take note of the cat litter scooper used in place of a plastic kids shovel in one of the Leggs' ads!:

photos by Eli Rezkallah, used with permission

(Bored Panda)

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kerray
242 days ago
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Brno, CZ
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