When did the Neanderthals go extinct?

Why Evolution Is True

by Greg Mayer

In a recent paper in Nature (abstract only), Tom Higham of Oxford and several colleagues report on their effort to determine by radiocarbon dating when Neanderthals went extinct. Higham et al. conclude that it was about 40,000 years ago. It’s gotten a fair amount of media coverage—more on this below—but let’s look at the science first. What’s most interesting is that they strove very hard to get accurate dates not biased by contamination of their samples by younger carbon (developing new and refined methods along the way), and that they sampled a large number of sites across (mostly Western) Europe. Here’s the basic result.

a) Sites studied; b) dates of last occupation of the various sites (expressed as a probability distribution). a) Sites studied; b) dates of last occupation of the various sites (expressed as a probability distribution); c) detail of the overall estimate of the end of Neanderthal culture (the Mousterian).

You can see that latest dates range from about 49 to 40…

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New theory could be an alternative to the multiverse

It seems like there have been a number articles recently talking about the soul searching currently going on in the Physics community over the failure of the LHC to find evidence for super-symmetry (at least so far), a theory that had a lot of theoretical work resting on it.  This article discuses that and a new … Continue reading New theory could be an alternative to the multiverse

Is logic and mathematics part of science?

Last week was scientism week at Scientia Salon, and I reblogged a post by Coel Hellier on a defense of scientism, mostly by arguing that mathematics was actually part of science.  As I indicated in my comment on that reblog, while I agree with Coel that both logic and mathematics have foundations that are empirically … Continue reading Is logic and mathematics part of science?

Doctor Who: ‘Deep Breath’ – I like the new Doctor

The new Doctor Who season started Saturday and I just got around to watching the season opener.  I think Peter Capaldi is going to make an excellent Doctor.  I'm pretty pleased to see the show return to an older Doctor.  Since it was restarted in 2005, the Doctors have been getting younger and younger, but anyone … Continue reading Doctor Who: ‘Deep Breath’ – I like the new Doctor

Science is not a frog

Scientia Salon

enjoy_scienceby Steven Paul Leiva

I am the author of a science fiction novel, Traveling in Space, and there is a bit of an irony in that. When I was in high school and college I was lucky to achieve even a D in science courses, and to this day any math beyond the four basics — addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division — puts me into a cold sweat. Even the four basics would bother me if some kind strangers had not invented the hand held electronic calculator.

Granted there is no hard science in my novel and the only math involved was the word count, but still — a science fiction novel? I mean, any dummy can write a mystery, just create an amateur sleuth who has the same profession you have (so you can “write what you know”) and throw a dead body in their path. But science fiction?…

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Defending scientism: mathematics is a part of science

I have to admit to pretty much agreeing with Coel’s main points in this post, which anyone who read my recent post on logic probably won’t find too surprising.  The idea of math and logic resting on empirical foundations seems to be ferociously resisted, I think because those foundations don’t feel empirical, mainly because we don’t learn them empirically.  The human brain is not a blank slate.  It comes with pre-wiring for a number of capacities, including logic and some math.  We don’t always use it, but we evolved it, probably due to its survival advantages.

However, unlike Coel, I’m not insistent on mathematics being a part of science.  I’m content to leave science to endeavors that involve a heavy amount of empirical investigation, and the logical and mathematical consequences of that investigation.   Mathematics may have empirical foundations, but I think it’s pretty obvious that mathematicians aren’t doing empirical work, but finding interesting and (sometimes) useful tautologies.

Scientia Salon

1+12[Editor’s Note: This essay is part of Scientia Salon’s special “scientism week” and could profitably be read alongside other entries on the same topic on this site, such as this one by John Shook and this one by yours truly. My take on the issue is very different from that of the authors who contributed to this special series, and indeed close to that of Putnam and Popper — as it should be clear from a recent presentation I did at a workshop on scientism I organized. Also, contra the author of the third essay in this series (but, interestingly, not the author of the first two!) I think the notion that mathematics is a part of science is fundamentally indefensible. Then again, part of the point of the SciSal project is to offer a forum for a variety of thoughtful perspectives, not just to serve as an echo chamber…

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Why is there something rather than nothing? Why would there be nothing?

Amanda Gefter has an interesting article at Nautilus looking at a somewhat perennial question: How can something come from nothing? The Bridge From Nowhere - Issue 16: Nothingness - Nautilus. In science, explanations are built of cause and effect. But if nothing is truly nothing, it lacks the power to cause. It’s not simply that we … Continue reading Why is there something rather than nothing? Why would there be nothing?

A Dialog on Happiness – Existential Comics

What is happiness?  I think anyone who has ever given the question serious thought realizes that there is no one simple answer. Click though for the full version. via A Dialog on Happiness - Existential Comics. I would say that Amencia's first example is defective though.  If the man hooked up to the machine is watching … Continue reading A Dialog on Happiness – Existential Comics

Poseidon’s Children: a review of the first two books

I've recently read the first two books in Alastair Reynolds's new series, 'Poseidon's Children': 'Blue Remembered Earth' and 'On the Steel Breeze'.  I've mentioned before that I'm a fan of Reynolds's work, and these books fit his usual style: hard(ish) science fiction, a rich and interesting universe, and characters in interesting situations and dilemmas. The … Continue reading Poseidon’s Children: a review of the first two books