Transcript: Oct 20, 2009

Kirsten: This show is brought to you by listeners like you and your contributions. We couldn’t do it without you. Thanks.

Justin: Disclaimer! Disclaimer! Disclaimer!

Irregardless of what you have regarded as reality up until now, no matter how indubitably you have debated without doubt, unfeathered by the faculty of your focus, irrespective of the precision of your perspective, it is still quite possible in terms of this very moment that you ain’t seen nothing yet.

To test this, take a moment – this very moment – to look around and see what is actually around you. What do you see? Is there more there than you thought? Take a little more time. Look at every thing but try not to stare. Blink a few times if you think it will help. Make a mental note of everything you are seeing.

Now, crumple that mental note into a ball. Throw it out of your ear and ask yourself, “What am I seeing? Is this the world as it truly is? Or is this snapshot of the world just my impression of the real information out there and interpretation by my my brain, an illusion of a world and a reflection – a convincing trick of light?”

And while the convincing trick of light of crumpled mental notes much like the following hour of programming – does not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the University of California at Davis, KDVS or its sponsors – we should remember that in the light of our potential for perceptive Ponzi scheming, it is advised that the eye remain skeptical, the mind critical and the ear tuned to This Week in Science. Coming up next.

You’re such a together person on most days. So, as Kirsten continues to fight with – you don’t need earphones. Hit the button. You don’t need to hear that, you know, hit the button.

Kirsten: What button?

Justin: The music button.

Kirsten: Okay. I did. I did. Here we go.

Justin: Good – oh, my goodness.

Kirsten: I just broke…

Justin: Somebody get this girl a cup of coffee.

Kirsten: I just broke everything.

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: Headphones, yeah.

Justin: Headphones, keyboard went flying. How did that happen?

Kirsten: You should see the keys, it’s like – it’s a keyboard explosion on the floor. Oh, my goodness.

Justin: Like – the keyboard, okay. So the keyboard comes off of the desk, which is right next to the sound board. And…

Kirsten: All I wanted was a chair that made me feel tall.

Justin: And then the keys…

Kirsten: That’s all I wanted.

Justin: …from the keyboard come loose off the keyboard and go flying around the room. Kirsten turns to pick up the keyboard, the chair swivels out from behind her, which apparently was connected to the headphones which ripped off of her head, pulled out of the board.

This is an amaze – I wish we had the video camera rolling for that one because this was really…

Kirsten: Does anyone need a space bar?

Justin: Oh! I do. I do. No, no. I need one for my car. That’s so I can launch. Although, seriously I’d glue it to the dashboard.

Kirsten: I’ll fix this in a minute.

Justin: Kids will love this.

Kirsten: No. No, it’s going to go back on the keyboard. We’re going to fix this at some point this morning.

Justin: This space. Space!

Kirsten: Welcome everybody to an explosive, explosive episode of This Week in Science. I am Kiki and Justin’s over there in the corner – calm and cool and collected as a cucumber compared to me.

I just want to thank everyone before we get started, who came out to the California Academy of Science…

Justin: Wooh!

Kirsten: …in this last Thursday night. How awesome.

Justin: That was very cool.

Kirsten: Awesome. We had a live audience. It was very, very, very, very cool. It was amazing. Tim Beauchamp, (John McKee) and his friends and lots of others who came out, thank you for coming out and making, you know, taking the time out of your lives to come experience TWIS live.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: It was great.

Justin: It was pretty frightening.

Kirsten: I know, it’s really frightening. It’s like, oh! There are people here.

Justin: Yeah, people with eyes staring at us while we talk.

Kirsten: While we talk. And there were people watching us on the internets. (Pamela Sue Taylor) watched us in Australia through uStream.

Justin: Oh, that’s cool.

Kirsten: That was pretty cool. I love modern technology. And we are going to – I think – who else, who else? (Rich Greenberg), he also watched. But we’re going to figure out the technology a little bit better. Get our entire act honed.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: Get it all figured out.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: So, we’re going to do it again.

Justin: Well, are we?

Kirsten: I don’t know when yet but we will do it again. So, everyone stay tuned.

Justin: Well, at least next time, I’ll know to use the restroom first.

Kirsten: That’s right.

Justin: Because I was…

Kirsten: It gives – it gives you a good intro.

Justin: Well, I was like – that was the one – my only – I mean, it’s a beautiful facility.

Kirsten: But we were going to go in to that – people, we’re going to release the pod -that we recorded.

Justin: So, they’ll get to hear Justin’s…

Kirsten: They’ll get to hear – you don’t have to talk about it now.

Justin: …issue with…

Kirsten: Yeah, that’s just something to go out there.

Justin: … Southern Cal Academy of Science’s restroom.

Kirsten: On this week’s show, today at the half hour, we have an interview with noted neuroscientist Mark Changizi, about the myths of vision. And also the super powers that you didn’t know you had.

Justin: Huh?

Kirsten:` And I’m going to ask him about belly buttons because I was looking at his blog and he has a really interesting theory of belly buttons.

Justin: I think I know where those come from.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: I’ve had a couple of kids. I’m pretty aware. But we’ll see, maybe there’s another opinion.

Kirsten: Yeah, we’re going to – I’m going to ask him about belly buttons. So, first, there’s just tons of science news for the first half hour. I have stories about ribbons and bands, the icing on the DNA and the bacterial proof of evolution. What do you have?

Justin: I’ve got bubbles, bubbles, bubbles, bubbles, bubbles, bubbles, bubbles – plenty of planets and couple of how the Earth got its bling back. Yeah. Maybe smart rats, they’ve invented a smarter rat than has ever been out there before.

Kirsten: Well, you get to start the show off. I’m going to sit back and relax and fix this keyboard while you talk for the next couple of minutes.

Justin: You look like you’re doing a puzzle over there. See this one goes here…

Kirsten: Key board jigsaw. Oh, man.

Justin: The solar system in which we are spinning is not what we assumed it was. You know what happens?

Kirsten: No.

Justin: No. You know what happens when you assume things, Kirsten?

Kirsten: You’re usually wrong.

Justin: And you make an astrophysicist out of you and me. It’s a…

Kirsten: Ha, ha, ha, astrophysicist.

Justin: News! News! New news from the edge of the known solar system is streaming in via data provided by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft to researchers at John Hopkins Applied Physics laboratory. And the data is turning our heliosphere on its helio ear.

The heliosphere is a sort of solar wind magnetic field particle field atmosphere that emanates from and surrounds the sun and all the planets in our solar system. And it – well it actually defines what we consider to be the region and boundaries of our solar system.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: Right. Then the heliosphere, you can call it also – it’s the atmosphere and then there’s this sort of outer edge of it where the particles from the sun are sort of bumping up against the empty space.

Kirsten: The empty space.

Justin: The empty space out there.

Kirsten: Which is considered the galaxy.

Justin: Well, yeah, in our galaxy, right. The empty space…

Kirsten: The interstellar medium.

Justin: Interstellar medium, which is the – which is probably still got its own, you know, ours – our whole galaxy probably has its own sort of helio-type sphere thing.

Well, scientists have long modeled the heliosphere as having a comet-like shape as our solar system zips around its galactic hub.

A paper published October 15th in Science is putting forward a different view based on images from MIMI, the Magnetospheric Imaging Instrument; and INCA, the Ion and Neutral particle Camera aboard Cassini.

“These images have revolutionized what we thought we knew for the past 50 years. The Sun travels through the galaxy not like a comet but more like a big, round bubble,” says Stamatios Krimigis, principal investigator for MIMI, which is now orbiting Saturn.

“It’s amazing how a single new observation can change an entire concept that most scientists had taken is true for nearly 50 years.”

So, this is a pretty – pretty big change. The solar wind…

Kirsten: Right, well, it’s one of those – it’s – it’s this idea of we are on one of the arms of the Milky Way and it’s just like…

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: …swinging us through space. And so, even as we rotate around – orbit around the Sun, the entire solar system is just like – like a baseball bat, swinging through space. And this idea that we’re like a comet that we would have this trailing end…

Justin: The foreshortened nose and the direction that we’re moving in the solar system and then like sort of elongated tail.

Kirsten: Tail, right, because of the drag of the interstellar medium…

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: …on us. Like we’re just…

Justin: Which is also…

Kirsten: …pulling through the water.

Justin: Is it 50 years? Because this is again, this is like a luminiferous – what do you call it?

Kirsten: Aether?

Justin: Aether kind of an idea that…

Kirsten: You think?

Justin: …that there’s – that there’s a medium that you are traveling through which is – and then they sort of changed that 100 years ago.

Kirsten: No, I don’t know if they’ve ever gotten rid of the idea that, I mean, that there’s – that we’re traveling through space. And I mean, it’s not – it was – I don’t know if it was ever considered completely empty nothing there.

Justin: Right, but the idea that still that there’s this – that it will be causing drag. Like, that we will be causing drag with the materials, I think was – I guess it’s – well.

Kirsten: I don’t know if it’s necessarily aether. I don’t know.

Justin: Anyways, we’ve been thinking this for at least the last 50 years.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: But yeah, now, it looks more like it’s controlled by a particle pressure magnetic field energy density. I don’t know how that – what that – what changes that makes exactly, except for, now we’re a bubble!

Kirsten: Yey! We’re a bubble.

Justin: Making bubble boy and bubble girl out of all of us.

Kirsten: Excellent. So, we can be the giant solar system PR trick? I don’t know.

Justin: We’re on a – we’re on a nice little bubble.

Kirsten: I like being in a bubble. That’s nice.

Justin: I am, too.

Kirsten: It’s so good. But in addition to being in a bubble, there’s another story out this week from IBEX, the Interstellar Boundary Explorer. It’s a spacecraft that orbits Earth. It goes out to about the orbit of the moon around the Earth and it comes back in a bit. It’s – so, it’s in its nice little orbit around the Earth.

And what it does is it measures emissions of what are called neutral particles from the interstellar boundary. So, the interstellar boundary is that area where the heliosphere comes into contact with the interstellar medium. And at that point, there are galactic – there are intergalactic particles coming in from the interstellar medium and interacting with particles that are in the heliosphere.

And there’s – there’s a shifting of – of charged particles. So, that what ends up coming in are these neutral particles that have no charge. There’s – it’s like one charged particle bumps up against the neutral particle, gives – gives them their charge and then it keeps going as this neutral particle.

Yay! Neutral things flying through the air. And so, we’re able to measure that. And Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 have been traveling since like the 70s and both of them have – are now in this interstellar boundary region. And neither of them have – have gotten anything really exciting or seen any major emissions from – from where they are.

So, as they’re traveling and passing through this boundary region, there’s just kind of small, gradual emission spectra. There’s a little bit of change but it’s really not – not that dynamic I guess, in the amount of emission of these neutral particles.

Now, IBEX and also the one of the instruments on Cassini that you were talking about…

Justin: INCA.

Kirsten: … INCA. So, IBEX and Cassini have been measuring these neutral particles. And what both of them have seen is this like a river of – I mean, in the news, you’ll see it reported as a ribbon, that’s a thin, thin ribbon that IBEX has seen. And then Cassini, looking at even higher emission – higher energy particles has seen like a band. So, it’s kind of – it’s more like – it’s this band-like river across the interior of the heliosphere.

And looking – and it’s exactly in between Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. So it’s like…

Justin: So, they have no data from this.

Kirsten: They have – Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 missed it completely, you know.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: It’s like – it’s like – you know, two people going out, walking in the dark and there’s a river in between them and they don’t even know it’s there and both of them say, “Yeah! I had a nice stroll in the meadow.”

Justin: There’s nothing out here to see.

Kirsten: “There’s nothing out here.” But meanwhile, there’s this amazing canyon in between them that, you know, they just haven’t seen it because it’s in the dark. And so that’s what IBEX and Cassini have seen is this amazing emission of high – high energy particles. And – and the interesting thing is the way that it’s positioned with relation to the magnetic field of the galaxy.

So, if you think of us swinging on our Milky Way arm, you know, we’re – we’re traveling through space – space with this ball – that you just came – you just…

Justin: A bubble.

Kirsten: …reported, we’re in a bubble traveling through – hurtling through space. So if you imagine there’s a baseball flying through space.

This band of emission is exactly perpendicular to the magnetic field of the galaxy. And so, they think that the galaxy – they never thought that the galaxy’s magnetic field had a really significant impact on the heliosphere. And the way that the particles in the heliosphere lined up or the way that they grouped, how they worked.

But now, all of a sudden, they’re having to rethink all of their ideas about how the heliosphere and the – all of the stuff that’s in here interacts with the interstellar medium.

Justin: So is it like our bubble has got magnetic flow going down – going down it?

Kirsten: Yeah, well, if you can think about the magnetic field being lined up, you know, like vertical lines…

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: …compared to – so, if we’re a baseball and we’re traveling – we’re traveling forward and if you can imagine, just like vertical lines up and down, the way that the – the particles are getting lined up is horizontally.

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: You know, this is all relative to – to, you know, whatever.

Justin: The center of the galaxy.

Kirsten: The center of the galaxy. But that’s – that’s basically a way that – that we can think about it. And – and nobody understands exactly why or how that’s happening but now this is a completely new way to think about it.

And I think it’s kind of interesting to think that, as we’re traveling, it’s like – there’s also like a shock that’s occurring at the – because it’s like a – like a shock wave…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: …because of the pressure of the movement of our galaxy through – through the interstellar medium. There’s like a bow wake in front of us. And so…

Justin: And…

Kirsten: …we’re pushing things aside. I don’t know there’s…

Justin: Yeah. It’s we’re – apparently we’re moving at – let’s see. There’s an outgoing solar wind that’s blowing outwards from our Sun that’s going outwards at about 900,000 miles per hour, I think?

Kirsten: Wow.

Justin: It’s crashing into a 60,000 mile an hour breeze of interstellar gas. And that combination – yeah, is quite an impact.

Kirsten: Quite an impact. Quite an impact. And I – I love just thinking that we’re just traveling through in this little bubble. Where in our little – our sun’s little protective bubble.

Justin: I’ve got my own little protective bubble that I travel through society and it makes sense…

Kirsten: It’s called personal space, personal space.

Justin: Yeah, our planet has one. The solar system has one. Our galaxy, you know, has one as well. It just makes sense, it’s a good way to go.

Kirsten: That’s right. If you just tuned in, you’re listening to This Week in Science.

Justin: And if you just tuned in, you’re about to hear that 32 new alien planets have been found.

Kirsten: Thirty two?

Justin: What?

Kirsten: I thought there’s fist in the air on the back of the room here.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: People are celebrating.

Justin: This is the latest batch of extra-solar planets to come out. Thirty-two new discoveries across a range of star types which is important because it’s previously they were looking for similar types of stars…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: …out there to look for this. They did a range of stars, found 32 new planets, all of sorts. The astronomers from the European Southern Observatory who made yesterday’s announcement used a spectrograph they built called the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher or HARPS.

Kirsten: HARPS.

Justin: HARPS. And – yeah, by measuring the back-and-forward motions of stars, detecting small changes in the star’s radial velocity to a precision of about two miles per hour. Huh?

Kirsten: What?

Justin: That’s…

Kirsten: That’s pretty precise.

Justin: It’s extremely precise. The small changes in the radial velocity of the stars that wobbles slightly under the gentle gravitational push-pull from an extra-solar planet has been the most prolific method in the search for alien worlds.

So now, a new spectrograph is under development known as ESPRESSO or Echelle Spectograph for Rocky Exoplanet and Stable Spectroscopic Observations, which is going to be – is being designed to speed up the search for more Earth-like planets that are around solar’s type stars.

So, that’s – within the next five to ten years, that should be in play. And when that gets going, then we’re going to be track – because mostly what we’re finding is larger gas giants, big things that make a…

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: …a bigger impact on their – on their stars…

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: …that are – and they’ve actually – some of the things they’ve also found is they found one around a system they thought was non-metal. Non – like it didn’t have a lot of a mineral content in it. And one of the places where they expected that probably, if there’s – if there’s stars that don’t have planets, this will be the one that wouldn’t have it. This is most likely…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: …there’s no planets in this kind of – around this kind of a star. And they found them. So, they – as many planets as people have been hypothesizing could be out there, it’s actually could be even more.

Kirsten: More.

Justin: So we’re up to like 400 planets other than the Earth outside of our solar system now and the number is going to just keep going up.

Kirsten: It’s just going to skyrocket, as we get more instruments staring out into space that ever – ever increasing…

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: …resolutions, it’s just going to – to explode our understanding of our small place in the universe is – I love…

Justin: Kind of puts too much daring perspective on things in one way. So, I kind of just ignore how big things are and just, you know.

Kirsten: Just focus on the now, people.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Focus on the now. Scientists have been hunting the illusive epigenome. What’s the epigenome?

Justin: It’s the one that’s – get that breakfast meal?

Kirsten: Right. “Epi” means above or over the genome. It’s like, somewhere over the genome.

Justin: It’s the part of the genome that we didn’t get the book on. Because we got the genome…

Kirsten: We didn’t get the book.

Justin: …and we’re like, “Aha!” It’s the technical manual for life and now we can figure everything out.

Kirsten: But there is more.

Justin: It’s going to have a troubleshooter and everything. And we got to troubleshoot and every other page, it’s like, see…

Kirsten: See appendix 1-C.

Justin: See appendix Epigenetics.

Kirsten: That’s what?

Justin: But that’s not in, it’s a whole separate book you have to buy. And we didn’t even know we needed it.

Kirsten: Right, but now we do.

Justin: And now we do.

Kirsten: And so the epigenome, there are two specific parts of what we consider the epigenome that can be looked at. There’s one that wraps up DNA and keeps it – it’s like a tie that wraps DNA up and there are these histones that keep DNA knotted up so that it can’t be translated, transcribed unless it needs to be.

And then, there are these other things that occur that are called methylations, they’re these methyl groups that get added to particular bases. And – so these researchers at the genetic – Genomic Analysis Laboratory at the Salk Institute and also the San Diego Epigenome Center have decided to map these methylations on DNA.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: And so, the exciting that they did is they looked at stem cells – pluripotent stem cells, which had not differentiated yet – versus differentiated cells. And then looked to see what the difference or if there was any difference in the pattern of this methylation.

This paper has been published in Science. I think, it’s a big science week this week. And they found that methylations normally occur on the C, the cytosine base in DNA and it’s usually a CG methylation. So, if it’s a C followed by a G, there’s a methyl group.

And in previous experiments, people have noticed the CG methylation. And they kind of thought it was an artifact and didn’t really think it was of much important. And they found that in fibroblast cells, so, in cells that are differentiated to be a connective tissue in the lungs, the majority of Cs followed by a G, carried a methyl group.

And in embryonic stem cells, a quarter of the methylation occurred differently, so it was not CG methylation. And so it was completely different. And so they looked at a bunch of different cell types, they checked it out and they find that both – so, they looked at several regions in a second embryonic stem cell line, as well as in fibroblast cells that have been reprogrammed into pluripotent stem cells.

They took those cells that had differentiated and then they turned them back into stem cells, which is something we can do now – kind of exciting. And they found that they both had the same level of this non-CG methylation.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: So, they think this methylation now, the CG methylation, is something that gets turned on or that occurs when cells differentiate. So that this non-CG methylation is important for the – a stem cell to be a stem cell; to be a cell that could potentially be any other stem cell this – that they don’t have a lot of what we call the CG methylation.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: It’s kind of interesting.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Kind of – and so understanding how this methylation works is going to give us, you know, potentially insight into how cancers – cancer cells continue to divide and divide and divide and divide. It might give us a place to look for particular changes, instructions that are taking place, telling cells that, “Hey! You’re a stem cell. Or, hey! You’re not a stem cell.”

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: Yeah. Yeah.

Justin: We got a – yeah, the controller behind the blueprints.

Kirsten: Yeah, and this story – I don’t know. It’s got – it’s gotten some attention but it’s gone more under the radar than what you would – than what I would expect. I mean, the epigenome is something that I guess, it’s just so big. It’s so – it’s what we consider to be so complicated.

And even in this study, they looked at two – the differences between two individuals.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: And so there’s two – you know, two cells from two people. And so, that – yeah, you’re going to find differences but what about the cells of – what about many, many different people? Is this epigenome, if we think it works the way that we – that it does, we’re dealing with so much variation between individuals just based on environment.

Because the epigenome is supposed to be the thing that gets affected by the environment that we live in and can change more rapidly than the normal mutation, natural selection, effects of evolution.

Justin: That – well, I think I’ve been saying that for years but…

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: …not in the terms that would actually help science. Just in this sort of general speculative sort of way.

Kirsten: Yeah, I know. This – I think this is a big story.

Justin: It is.

Kirsten: It’s very big. The first peek into the epigenome.

Justin: Geologists! I’m going to bring it back down to the Earth. Or, well, I guess we were …

Kirsten: Back down the Earth?

Justin: …up to the Earth. Geologists at the University of Toronto and the University of Maryland are reporting that some of the precious metals, if not all, buried beneath the Earth’s surface may be extraterrestrial in origin.

Kirsten: What?

Justin: While it is true that every ounce of Earth dust was stardust at some point in its history, the story these geologists have unearthed finds that in the early forming of Earth’s core, some 4 billion plus years ago, we – we would have pulled all the precious metals from a rocky crust and held them down there in our super heated core.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: So, the quote there is, “So, the next question is why are there detectable, even mineable concentrations of precious metals…”

Kirsten: That this serves as…

Justin: “…such as platinum and rhodium in the rocky portion of the Earth today?” says James Brenan of the Department of Geology at the University of Toronto, co-author of the study published in Nature Geoscience.

“Our results indicate they could not have ended up there by any known internal process and instead must have been added back, likely by a rain of extraterrestrial debris, comets and meteorites.”

Wow. So…

Kirsten: It’s an interesting idea.

Justin: … geologists have long speculated that four and a half plus billion years ago, the Earth was a cold mass of rock with a mix of iron metals that was melted by the heat generated from impacts with other massive planet-sized objects. So, this allowed the iron to separate from the rock and formed the Earth’s core.

And they ran some experiments where they took rocks that had iron in them, metals in them. They’ve – they heated them up to 2,000 degrees Celsius.

Kirsten: That’s hot.

Justin: Which is extra hotter than…

Kirsten: Extra hot.

Justin: Yeah. And measured and they found – yeah, the resulting rock and iron were separate. The rock was void off metals from this process and so if they think, the same thing would have occurred to the – when the Earth formed. And that some external source from off planet, such as rain of extraterrestrials’ minerals contributed to the presence of the – the precious metals.

So that, you know…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: …you can think of that next time, if you’re thinking about…

Kirsten: That’s a lot.

Justin: …gold or platinum as being just a precious rare metal on Earth, it’s really from out of this world.

Kirsten: That’s very – that’s exciting.

Justin: Oh! And…

Kirsten: I love it.

Justin: And this notion of the extraterrestrial rain may also explain another mystery, which is how the rock portion of the Earth came to have hydrogen, carbon and phosphorous – the essential ingredients for life were very likely lost during Earth’s violent beginning.

So, that’s kind of a – if that’s one of the hold backs of figuring out how life got started…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: …because the formation of a planet that’s like ours, kind of uses up all that stuff and you know, now we know that. Well, it can just rain down and that’s plenty.

Kirsten: It just – but to think of how much like, how many impacts there must have been to be able to leave the amount…

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: …of – the amount of minerals, the amount of atoms, molecules or hydrogen, et cetera that would have been destroyed during formation – that’s a pretty dynamic violent era of…

Justin: It’s a pretty – yeah, and you have to…

Kirsten: ..that would have been…

Justin: …realize the solar system used to be a pretty messy place.

Kirsten: …crazy, messy.

Justin: I mean, there were asteroids and rocks, there was stuff floating around all over the place.

Kirsten: Yeah. Oh, it’s time to go to the break but I didn’t get to get to my evolution story. A 21-year old Michigan State University experiment recently published in Nature magazine, all about their following bacteria – bacterial evolution for over 40,000 bacterial generations and actually seeing mutations take place and make – and allow changes in the abilities and behaviors of the bacteria to occur over time. It’s an amazing study showing the progress of mutation and natural selection.

So, just to put it out there before the break. This study is wonderful, wonderful proof of natural selection. Richard Lenski has been working on this project for…

Justin: Of natural selection?

Kirsten: …twenty-one years.

Justin: Wait a second. Of evolution, yes.

Kirsten: No, no.

Justin: Natural selection.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: Natural selection?

Kirsten: Natural selection in the lab. So the lab – they did different things to different groups of bacteria, you know, to see what happen. But anyway, we don’t have time to discuss that right now.

Justin: I’m going to argue.

Kirsten: I don’t think this…

Justin: This fight is going to break out any second now, right here on the air.

Kirsten: Dude.

Justin: Don’t look. Oh no, I’m just kidding. No, she’s now – I’m not going to – forget it.

Kirsten: Yeah. We’re going to the break. We’re going to the break and we’ll be back in just a few moments, with more on This Week in Science and Mark Changizi.

Justin: Thank you for listening to TWIS. If you rely on this show for weekly science-y updates, please understand that we rely on your support to keep bringing those to you. Donate. Keep the science-y goodness on the air. We’ve made it very easy for you, go to our website, Click on the button that will allow you to donate $2, $5, $10 or if you like, you can donate any amount of money you choose as many times as you like.

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Kirsten: Justin wrote a book. Amazing, right? It’s called Ome. And you can go to to buy yourself a copy of Ome. Buy one for yourself. Buy one for a friend. Buy one for a complete stranger. Justin’s book, Ome. Go to Buy Justin’s book. Buy it!

Justin: And we’re back with more of This Week in Science.

Kirsten: Yes, we are. And on the line, we have Mark Changizi!

Justin: Mark Changizi!

Kirsten: He’s a scientist with expertise in theoretical neurobiology vision, cognitive science and language.

Justin: And belly buttons.

Kirsten: And belly buttons. He works currently at the Renssealaer Polytechnic Institute in their Department of Cognitive Science as an Assistant Professor. He has currently written – he has recently written a book called The Vision Revolution.

And he thinks we all have super powers. He thinks that what we believe about vision is mostly myths.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: And he also has an interesting take on belly buttons as we have said. So, without further ado, let’s bring Mark on the line.

Justin: Mark, welcome to This Week in Science!

Mark Changizi: Oh, glad to be here.

Kirsten: Yeah, it’s wonderful to have you here. You have some really quite interesting ideas about vision and an interesting take on how to study humanity, who we are. But before we get into the vision stuff, I’d like to talk about belly buttons.

I took a look at your blog and you had – you have a fascinating – I guess it’s a navel-gazing contemplation of why we have belly buttons. The function of…

Mark: Yeah, I’m in a three-step program of trying to stop thinking about navels.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Mark Changizi: I don’t have any real idea, you know, figuring out what it’s been selected for is really right now beyond me. But there’s, you know, several sort of suspicious hints that – that it’s not just an accidental leftover, which is the standard just-so story, the sort of anti-adaptation kind of arguments would be.

And, you know, and one is that it’s not morphologically visible. That is if you rub the tummy of your dog, you’ve probably never felt it.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Mark Changizi: And it’s because although it’s there if you shaved it and it’s very difficult to feel and difficult to see even once you’ve have shaved it. And lots and lots of things that are part of your development, I mean, the standard story is that it has to be there because, of course, you have your umbilical cord but there’s lots and lots of stuff that we go through during development that disappears completely.

It’s got entirely tapered over and there’s no sign and – or trace of it whatsoever.

Kirsten: Right, like our gills.

Mark Changizi: So – that’s right. So, it could go away. And in fact, it has effectively gone away in other kinds of animals, like your dog.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Mark Changizi: But it hasn’t gone away for us and for other apes, like chimps, you can see it in chimps. And the question is, is there potentially some reason for it? And my – there’s a – we are the upright apes and we’re naked and it’s, you know, we’re – it’s more visible in principle on us than it would be for the hairy – hairier mammals.

And one wonders whether somehow sexual signaling is involved in this. But I can’t for the life of me think of any good – certainly not a good adaptation reason.

Justin: Well, belly rings are pretty hot. You know, little belly button ring, that’s pretty cute. So maybe that’s – maybe that was tied in there.

Kirsten: And there is something to be said. I mean, there – there have been some science-fiction television programs and movies where they have people without belly buttons. And it’s always a bit weird-looking.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Mark Changizi: But then again, I mean, if you take – if you remove anything we’re used to – I mean, these are interesting arguments but they are not very satisfying…

Kirsten: Right.

Mark Changizi: …because if you remove anything, people are going to be really freaked out by it. And I would be one of the least freaked out looking – I mean, when you remove the mouth…

Justin: Oh!

Mark Changizi: …that is even more freaky looking, for example than the belly button. But no one’s on the experiment where you remove the belly button and you see how long the person survives or what happens to them.

Kirsten: Or what happens to their ability to have offspring.

Mark Changizi: You could just – as I’ve said, they could be dead in 15 minutes so no one’s ever checked.

Kirsten: No one’s ever tried to get rid of the belly button.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: I don’t know. So, but these are questions, things like, what function does the belly button serve? These are questions that you think about a lot. I looked at – there’s a nice review – there’s a story about you on your university’s newspaper or university’s publication says you have notebooks filled with questions.

Mark Changizi: That’s right. I mean, I’m a theorist so I move from area to area, always on the search of a new idea. And not a theorist in the sense that I only theorize but I got to empirically test these things.

But in terms of these notebooks, you know, you have to come up with a hundred ideas before any one of them may hope, you know, hope to be a good idea that’s actually testable, that’s actually of interest to people.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Mark Changizi: So – so yeah, I have a philosophy of sort of just keep on moving forward, keep on swimming. Keep on swimming in the hope of finding another idea. My MO, it tends to be the focus on these kinds of why questions.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Mark Changizi: Very often, you know, what is it for, rather than how does it actually work.

Kirsten: Right.

Mark Changizi: And understanding what it’s for is of course, part and parcel of understanding how something works. Because you can’t understand how something works, unless you also know what it’s trying to in fact do. If you drop a stapler into – in the middle of a tribe who’s never seen modern technology and they start trying to figure out how a stapler works.

Well, there’s lots of things staplers do that are irrelevant to pushing pieces of paper together or, you know, there’s – you can make it shoot staples out. You can bend it in a way that actually is considered breaking by us but maybe they consider that part of the actual mechanism of how a stapler works.

They might be opening up and then closing it like a V and thinking of that most, I mean, it’s the most salient motion it undergoes, it’s something for hitting people on the head and working out all these kinds of irrelevant mechanisms.

And if you don’t realize that wait a second, it’s just for the simple thing of squishing these available things…

Justin: Mm hmm.

Mark Changizi: “…so that it keeps a piece of paper together. That’s the only part or aspect of the mechanism that counts and you can only that by virtue of understanding the function that it’s intended for.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Mark Changizi: So, it’s part and parcel of understanding a branch of science and the how is understanding the why. And you can’t understand the why without understanding the ecology, the environment that it was selected for. You can’t just take the animal out of the – in a vacuum.

Justin: And I really enjoyed – we did – we reported on a story a little while ago about the sort of connection between the way the brain forms connections in the way that cities grow. So I thought that that was a pretty neat insight.

Mark Changizi: Right. So, you know, in each case of course, there’s some fairly obvious differences between city and brains. One of them is inside, the other I suppose – the most obvious difference.

Kirsten: Right.

Mark Changizi: But, you know, each of them have been under selection pressure. In the case of cities, it’s less obvious where the selection pressure is but these complex economic and political forces over time that shape the cities – in particular, the highway systems, the organization of the highway systems over time.

There’s not one designer or engineer who has designed the city from scratch to have the highway system that it has except on a few cases. There’s a few cities that are famously like this over, you know, in the various part of the Earth.

And they’re notoriously, terribly designed and funny looking. Just really unlike the kind of cities that you find, that are selected, that sort of select themselves to have certain kind of shapes.

And under it’s – and I’ve been working on brain scaling for a number of years, as to how brains change from mice to whale. It turns out, you know, the wiring increases just proportionately quickly so that as, you know, our brains are mostly wired relative to what they are in mice. We become increasingly kind of eluded.

All these funny things happen as you get bigger brains such that our brains and it’s often brains don’t even look like a mouse brain. If you didn’t know…

Justin: Mm hmm.

Mark Changizi: …you found them, sort of – in the basement at a murder scene and it’s all mouse brain and dolphin brain, you’d think that it was some dolphin that was killed with some little – like a little – maybe an appendix. But it was the dolphin’s appendix.

Because it doesn’t look grown – it’s smooth, it’s, you know, even if you blew it up, you saw the same size, now they just look nothing like. And the reason they have to undergo these funny transformations is all about trying to maintain that high level of interconnectivity cheaply in an efficient way.

It turns out to be a difficult problem and once you understand what it’s trying to do, you can explain how it changes in the ways that it does, which was my research for brains. And I said, “Oh, wait a second. If highways are like white matter connection,” you know, these long range white matter connections or wires in the brain, and you have – the brain is largely a flat surface, in the sense that you could take off the gray matter and you can flatten it out. Then you have this white matter that sometimes leave the surface of the brain and goes out – out of the surface street, so to speak, and goes to far away regions.

Well, that’s like the surface streets of a city that are largely two-dimensional. And then, you have these highways which break out of the surface geometry – sort of the two-dimensional array – break out and go to far away places and link them together. And then the exits are like synapses.

And you can ask how does the number of highways increase as a function of the city’s surface area? The same question that you can ask of the brain, how does the number of white matter at connection scales the function of the surface area of the cortex.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Mark Changizi: How are the number of synapses and exit scale. And it turns out these things increase as the function of the sizes of these complex things – brain and city – in each case in very similar ways. And some cases with the same exponents or the same number that helps quantify how they’re scaling up.

So, it was quite a surprise to me. I expected them to be – have some similarities but they are really strikingly similar.

Justin: And we even have in the brain, you know, the regions that are sort of dedicated to judgment, as in others that are sort of memory. And then, if you look at the city, and we have like, well, you can call a library a memory depository or memory center. Or, you have areas where you have a lot of your city hall and your police department sort of close together. And another area which is your university for learning new things. I mean, it has…

Mark Changizi: Right, when – I’m not sure whether a library would be – maybe more like a neuron because it’s so small relative to the city. To the extent that I have a good analogies for specialization or regional, you know…

Justin: Mm hmm.

Mark Changizi: …similar to our cortical specialization of visual cortical areas and some other sensory and motor and so forth. It’s more – I was thinking more like the center of the city inside the very central ring of highways, you’ve got this typically high density business district and then you have a little bit wider ring. You have these sort of rings that go out in these cities that typically change their complexion and some sort of economy or the kind of function that they serve for the city.

And my brain is an entirely red light district as it turns out.

Kirsten: Do you think understanding or thinking of the brain in this way, looking at it in terms of how we develop cities, is it more helpful for our understanding of city planning or more helpful for understanding of how the brain wires itself?

Mark Changizi: Well, on the case of city planning, it – there’s two side. I mean, just showing these empirical laws, even in the absence of an underlying theory or an underlying analogy with the brain is interesting. Because one can then look at one zone, city or a particular city and say, “Look, you can see the scaling law, all these cities lie along this nice line as they increase in their surface area.

But look at this city, it’s way too low. It has way too few highways or too few exits or too few of something. Or, it’s too high, maybe there’s too many exits. I mean, I live in Albany and Albany was a real big outlier of way too many highways for the surface area you’d expect.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Mark Changizi: And it’s the center, you know, it’s the capital of New York. It’s probably had all this money thrown at highways for no particular reason for 50 years.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Mark Changizi: So, you can diagnose cities on the basis of where they lie, relative to where they ought to lie based on these empirical laws.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Mark Changizi: And under the assumption that we’re not – even if we’re not sure what these empirical laws are for somehow, they’ve been selected over time by the complex political economy – politics and economy and so forth – to do something efficient for these cities.

And so, when you’re out – away from that where you ought to be, you should get your city back there.

Kirsten: Moving on from the idea of cities and brains. Your book, The Vision Revolution or – yes. Yeah, The Vision Revolutions, to make sure I can get it right here. You think we have super powers.

Mark Changizi: Yeah.

Kirsten: Or at least that’s the way it’s been sold.

Mark Changizi: Well, I originally even had thought of the title, Super Human Vision – Super Space Human Vision, just – the stories really are about the evolution of vision. And the point is that we have – many of our capabilities are – we just don’t know anything about.

Not only do we personally not know about because they’re often under, you know, they’re going on below our conscious level.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Mark Changizi: And scientists don’t often, you know, much of science is focused on reductively looking at the mechanisms underlying the brain. And it can be very difficult to figure out what the meat is for.

So, you know, we’re just – there’s a recent story that the appendix might actually have a function, which – and much of what’s going on in the brain and a lot of the complex functions at the perceptual level are hard to – it’s not like we – at least for the appendix, you could actually see a piece of meat. You say, “Gosh, it ought to be for something but we can’t think of it.”

Much of our complexities of our brain at the software level are just – there’s no boundaries, you can’t see them and hold them in your hand and thus expect…

Kirsten: Right.

Mark Changizi: …that there’s a function. So, it’s very difficult to tease out the set of – like the user’s manual. The terminator, if you went back to the lab and you had that terminator robot, I’m sure there’s some user’s manual that says all the components inside him and a list of all the things he can do.

In fact, as you’re looking in the eyes of the terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger, it often say, “Body heat equipment sensor on” or something like this, so you actually know, you know, one of his – for us, the heart – even once we’ve understood our equipment, at sort of that level, the genome and the level of the neural anatomy, we still will have this huge slog of trying to figure out what are the set of things that we do. And that’s where I’m focusing more of my efforts. And this book is really about four of those stories.

Each one has little bit of a super hero angle in the sense that we have the beginnings of a little capability that has actually been included as a super power in stories, you know, of course, typically, we’re actually able to do much less than a super hero does. But it’s something that we have nevertheless not noticed that we could do.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: For instance, we do have x-ray vision. We can see through things.

Mark Changizi: Well, and again, that’s even more – that’s the most metaphorical. You know, when you’re – if you’re fixating on something far away and you’re holding up a nearby small object like your fingers, you end up with the perceptual stage of seeing your fingers, there they are. In fact, you see two copies of them, if you’re fixating on something far beyond.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Mark Changizi: But you perceive them as transparent through which you’re seeing the scene beyond and you missed nothing of the scene beyond.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Mark Changizi: That perceptual capability of rendering in your perceptual screen, thing as transparent through which you see other things is, you know, akin to x-ray vision, in terms of the feel of what it looks like. Of course, you’re not actually seeing through things, you’re seeing around things or probably simply, you know, seeing past up with both eyes and patching at the other.

A nice case of this is if you just – if you open both eyes and then hold up one hand, not entirely covering – basically, entirely covering one of your eyes but don’t make it like it’s – make it so that you can still see your hand but it’s covering – you’ll actually see – one eye will see just hand. And the other eye will see just world.

But you’ll actually see a transparent copy of your hand through which you’re seeing the world.

Kirsten: Justin’s – Justin’s doing exactly what you’re…

Mark Changizi: Right.

Justin: I have…

Kirsten: …what you’re recommending. He’s like, “I can do it.”

Justin: I can see through my hand.

Mark Changizi: So, ask yourself, why aren’t you seeing a transparent world through which you’re seeing a hand?

Justin: Mm hmm.

Mark Changizi: That is your – each – one eye is getting world, one eye is getting hand. How does your brain know how to render the hand as transparent through which you see the world?

Justin: Mm hmm.

Mark Changizi: Right, and the reason it does it turns out people have studied that if – it’s because it’s slightly out of focus – your hand. And it’s says, “Oh, that must be the nearby object through which I need to then render the thing beyond it as the real – so, the thing that’s not transparent.”

But, the general point is that…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Mark Changizi: …you have complicated mechanisms that allow for peeking of that kind, the ability to – and more complicate – if you would just hold up your hand out in front of your eyes and just put – stick your fingers up in all these random directions, you can see really well beyond it.

You may in fact have almost no occlusions if you’re fixating beyond it. Whereas if you close one eye, suddenly you’re only be able to see half of what’s beyond it.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Mark Changizi: So, that capability of – is crucial because typically, the forward-facing eyes is – people will tell the story that it’s about seeing the same stuff from two different positions on your head and thereby computing or determining…

Kirsten: Depths.

Mark Changizi: …relative distance.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Mark Changizi: But this is – what I – these examples of what I’m showing you is that you’re – each eye is seeing different stuff. Because when you’re holding your fingers – well, when you’re holding one hand in front of your head, left eye see a completely different stuff from the right eye.

And when you have your fingers poking out on all different directions in front you, once you’re beyond your fingers, each eye is typically sampling the environment different – sampling different parts of the environment. And yet, your brain can put it together into a single unified image despite getting patch work in different stuff.

It has this capability. My claim is that it’s because we have all been highly cluttered to our leafy environments. And so the hypothesis that I put forward is that the reason we have forward-facing eyes is not because we want more 3D-ness out in front of us, it’s because we just – it’s the way to see the most in habitats that are highly leafy when you’re big.

So that, you know, the most – when you’ve got eyes , the most important thing to do with them is see the most that you can see with two eyes.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Mark Changizi: For most animals when there’s no hap – there’s no clutter around, you should just have eyes on opposite sides of your head. That way you can see a left, right, front and…

Justin: See all directions.

Mark Changizi: …back in pretty much a panoramic vision. When you’re small and in the force in the highly leaf – you should still have sideways-facing eyes. Because your eyes are so close together that any of the leafy things are like the size of cars to us.

You can’t see around cars like you can see past your fingers. It’s just impossible, you’re not getting – basically, the view beyond the car from one eye is the same as the view from the other because your eyes are so close together relative to the occlusions.

But when you become really big and in the force, things change mathematically. Suddenly, your eyes – if your eyes become big relative to the size of the leaves, you get the ability to see twice as well beyond the first layer of clutter.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Mark Changizi: And now, you get this big payoff of having wherever your binocular region is, it’s like a little spotlight or little flashlight that can make you see much better beyond it. And it’s sort of a called probabilistic summation, you can – you suddenly can see enough – sufficiently well beyond that layer of clutter that you can just see the whole, you can – you’re…

Kirsten: Right.

Mark Changizi: …you see what the objects are. Now, you can see the most by forgoing what’s seeing what’s behind you, which at first seems like a really bad idea because we can’t see anything behind us. But the advantage is that you get to see so well in front that it over – outweighs the loss of seeing what’s behind you.

Kirsten: Yeah, is there evidence, say, like in rodents or something where they have – where there are many small representative species and then maybe rodents of unusual size as well…

Mark Changizi: I just – I just saw that movie with the kids, The Princess Bride.

Kirsten: Yeah, is there a change in the way the eyes are located on the head? Can we…

Mark Changizi: Right. So the main prediction of this – one of the main predictions is that animals outside of – in non-leafy habitats should have sideways-facing eyes that are pretty much just as sideways-facing no matter their body size.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Mark Changizi: Whereas when you’re in the – when you take animals that are or mammalian orders that are typically in leafy habitats and you look at how their forward-facingness changes with body size, you should find that the bigger animals have progressively more forward-facing eyes. And that’s what you find.

Kirsten: Mm hmm. So they…

Mark Changizi: And so there’s way of data from across 300 or more – mammals from across 15 or 20 mammalian orders. Orders being like carnivore, primates.

Kirsten: Right. So, looking at actual evidence from different species, this idea seems to hold up. Interesting. Now, what about color vision? There’s also the – you call it spirit reading or not – no, the emotion…

Mark Changizi: No, that’s not it.

Kirsten: …emotion sensing. The emotion sensing ability where vision scientists have always – have historically thought that the reason we have color vision the way that we do is to see colored fruit in the forest. So, hey, that’s a ripe one, that’s not.

Mark Changizi: Right, that’s, you know, one story is it’s fruit or leaves – it’s…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Mark Changizi: Another story that’s commonly out there amongst just being practicing vision scientist is just – it’s about just for helping us recognize the different kind of surfaces around us generally.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Mark Changizi: As what – even they don’t think about evolution very much, the average visual – vision scientist. And the third kind of reason that is often put forth is that it’s just an accidental mutation and we’re filled with – we’re just kludges and we sum – one of our ancestors just accidentally had a repeat of one of our cone sensitivities to a slightly different one. And we’ve – just we’re stuck with it, there’s no good reason for or against it so it just stuck around.

The – so the – this hypothesis is that – well, and let me back up, the funny thing about our kind of color vision, we have one low-wavelength sensitive cone, which is sensitive to low-wavelength lights. I don’t want to say blue because color can be confusing. It’s not …

Kirsten: Yeah.

Mark Changizi: Someone might be prone to call it blue light but it’s really long-wavelength sensitive light. And then, other mammals typically have – it’s around 550-year or so, another one that’s on the higher end. And what you ended up with was there was a split so that we now have two cones where the higher one was and they’re almost right next to each other.

And it seems like a terrible engineering design, which is why the – someone who is sort of prone to arguing that we’re not very well adapted says it was just a root mutation because it’s clearly a bad idea to have two cones that are nearly sensitive to the same spots on the spectrum, same wavelength sensitivity.

And in fact, it does seem like a bad idea, if you like at the kinds of cameras that we walk around with, they effectively have cones that are uniformly spread over the spectrum.

Kirsten: Right.

Mark Changizi: And if you look at birds and bees, they have four cones and not just three like us. And they’re uniformly spread over the spectrum, sort of in a nice rational engineering design. Whereas ours is again, one low one and then two that are almost side-by-side.

But that turns out to be where you have to have wavelength sensitivities for cones if you want to be sensitive to the oxygenation and deoxygenation of blood in your skin…

Justin: Mm hmm.

Mark Changizi: …which is one of the main modulations that skin undergoes or the blood undergoes when your skin is changing color, especially along the red-green, when you have red-green changes.

If you want to be – if you want to have an oximeter in your eye, the same kind of oximeter that you put on your baby’s feet when they’re born and they are in every hospital room, you – it turns out the spectrum of the hemoglobin of blood has this very subtle change. And it’s only sensitive – you can only be sensitive to it in the visual realm if you have the kinds of pair cones to be just where they are for us. And to still have the old sensitivity that we mammals had.

So, the idea is that…

Justin: That’s interesting.

Mark Changizi: …I was able to show that, “Wait a second, this exactly where you have to have these cones to be sensitive to the hemoglobin oxygenation, deoxygenation that’s occurring.”

Kirsten: Are people who are colorblind unable to respond to those changes or do they – is there a difference in the way they perceive it?

Mark Changizi: So that’s going back to Dalton, there’s a long history from a couple of hundred years of people – doctors complaining about what it’s like to be a colorblind doctor up until today. And being at the – it has always amazed me how much color diagnosis to this day – I mean, medical diagnosis to this day mentions color in the pallor of the skin and so forth…

Kirsten: Yeah.

Mark Changizi: …all over the place, right. So, you know, it does – I’m arguing here that our – we – our color vision is optimized to see the color modulations that happen on skin and it’s presumably for sexual, for social, for aggression, you know, the kind of social signaling that happens.

But to the extent that it seems to be really important for clinical – the relative importance of all these things, how much of it is clinical, how much of it should be sexual? I’m not sure.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Mark Changizi: But one of the biggest places where people have found – have complained where you hear the loudest complaints amongst colorblind people is in the medical field. And if you’ve ever had kids, you – as soon as, you know, these little babies, as soon as there’s any – even a second of them not breathing or clenching to do a poopoo or whatever, they’re purple – brilliant purple immediately.

So, you could imagine that little kids that could – just for, you know, they’re – exaggerate to their purpleness or their color changes as their state is changing…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Mark Changizi: …would be – better able to bring mom running fast to home.

Kirsten: Right. We’re coming to the end of our hour here. So, we’re going to have to wrap up the interview. This is really interesting. You’re working on another book right now, aren’t you, dealing with music in the brain?

Mark Changizi: That’s right, it’s called “Harness” to how language music mimic nature and transform the ape to man. And the writing chapter, which we didn’t talk about this, why writing is shaped as it is. It’s apt you know, writing a shape itself to look like nature and thereby harnesses are nature processing brain to do something it shouldn’t do and namely read.

The idea is to extend that kind of storage to how speech and music have shaped themselves to look – to sound like aspects of nature that are ancient non-linguistic, non-musical brains know-how to deal with. So, these things sound like nature and that’s how they get into our brains and make us who we are today.

Kirsten: Great. Well, hopefully, we’ll be able to get you back on the show to talk about all that stuff. This is really fascinating stuff. So, thank you very much for joining us.

Mark Changizi: Thank you.

Kirsten: Where can people find you if they’re interested in finding out more about what the way you think?

Mark Changizi: Well, they can email me at

Kirsten: Great. Thank you very much and…

Mark Changizi: Thank you.

Kirsten: …we hope you have a great day. Thanks for joining us.

Mark Changizi: Bye, bye.

Justin: Yeah, thanks for joining us today.

Kirsten: Bye.

Justin: And thank you everyone out there for listening.

Kirsten: Yeah, we have to wrap this up really fast. I wanted to say very quickly that thanks to Bora Zivkovic for giving us the heads up on Open Access Week. There’s stuff going on here at UC Davis today. If you’d like more information about open access in the scientific community, go to

And congrats to for recently being named to NASA’s top stars. Forget about looking for images in the clouds, what about the universe? Shoutouts to all the Twitterers, Ed Dyer, (Dusan Moll, Carraback) and many others who sent in story ideas. Wish we could get to them all.

And thanks to everyone who donated. We really truly appreciate your support.

Justin: Yes, TWIS is available via podcast, go to our website, and hit the Subscribe button or just go to the iTunes and search for This Week in Science.

Kirsten: And for more information on anything you’ve heard here today, show notes will be available on our website, We also want to hear from you, so email us at or

Justin: Put TWIS in the subject or you will get spam filtered. If there is a topic you would like us to cover, a suggestion for an interview or a problem you just can’t solve and don’t know where to turn, let us know.

Kirsten: And we will be back here on KDVS next Tuesday at 8:30 AM, Pacific Time. And we hope you’ll join us again for more great science news.

Justin: And if you’ve learned anything from today’s show, remember…

Kirsten: It’s all in your head.