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Saturday, August 26, 2006

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Indonesian scientists and others claim the "Hobbit" was only an aberrant pygmy

Here is the article from PNAS.

Here is an interesting passage referring to the small size of the Hobbit (designated Homo floresiensis by some):

" Reduction in size on Flores is unsurprising in an ecosystem characterized by a humid climate, hilly topography, and abundant undergrowth of vegetation. Maintenance of body temperature alone can be a sufficient selective factor for small body size in such surroundings. Selection need only be sufficient to overcome limited levels of gene flow expected on an island separated by stretches of water constituting just filter barriers. Many of the surrounding regions (Peninsular Malaysia, the Andaman Islands, Sumatra, Java, Sulawesi, Papua, and Northern Australia) include populations relatively short in stature ... Diminutive body size does not in itself constitute convincing evidence for either isolation or speciation, because size fluctuations occur repeatedly in mammalian, including human, lineages. In living African pygmies, for example, spatial and genetic isolation manifestly is incomplete. "

In my view, the Hobbit was probably adapted to a rainforest environment, like most of the very short-statured peoples around the world. Also, as I have published, the most likely feature of the rainforest that is unique and probably results in a small skeletal size is low ultraviolet light, leading to low capacity for vitamin D production and development of bone mass.

(The Northern Australian pygmoids referred to in the quotation above are presumably the rainforest Aborigines of North Queensland. I measured ultraviolet light levels in the rainforest there some time ago. My report is here.)

It is interesting to see Australian Professors Thorne and Henneberg on the list of authors of the above paper. Professor Thorne is a noted physical anthropologist who lives here in Canberra and has been associated with the multiregional hypothesis of modern human origins, and Professor Henneberg is based in Adelaide and has presented his suggestion that the "Hobbit" individual was a case of microcephaly at a meeting of the Australasian Society for Human Biology (ASHB).

The above paper in PNAS argues that the Hobbit individual was an abnormal (microcephalic) person from a pygmoid population of modern humans. The suggestion that I made (from the floor) at the abovementioned meeting of the ASHB was that the Hobbit would turn out to be an extreme pygmoid type of Homo sapiens. This is close to the conclusion in the PNAS paper, except that I did not suggest that the individual was microcephalic, just an extreme type of pygmoid.

John Hawks has also discussed this new PNAS paper at his anthropology blog.

I await further developments with interest.

Julian

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The Tao of Mathematics

Terence Tao, an Australian of Chinese origin, has won a Fields Medal, the premier mathematics prize in the world. He is a proud Australian.

There have been claims that Professor Tao has an IQ of 221. This claim is found on the Polish version of Wikipedia, but not the English for some reason. An IQ of 221 would be at the extreme limit of recorded IQs.

Asian kids are doing very well in Australian education, and are well represented among Australia's top young chess players. (I notice that girls still have their own separate ratings in chess.)

Julian

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

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More on "walking trees", the science of miracles

Following on from my post below, I have found, via this blog, that yet another writer has made the same point about the miracle at Bethsaida. This time it is "D Keith Mano", who is apparently quite a well-known writer and associated with prominent conservative American magazine, National Review. Here is his article, entitled "The Bethsaida miracle - Jesus healing a blind man." Here is a quote:

" But, at Bethsaida, something quite different came about: a miracle that depends on science for its proof, that cannot be understood except by adducing modern medical data --quite unknown in 30 A.D. -- as evidence. And, when one miracle has been proved, it then at once becomes not just possible, but probable, that another miracle can also be proved true. "

Mr Mano makes the same point as Mr Grigg. I should clarify my earlier post by stating that, although I wrote about two New Testament miracles involving Christ curing blindness in my own article, I did not make explicit the point that Messrs Grigg and Mano have both made: namely how impressively believable the New Testament account of the miracle at Bethsaida has become in modern times, because of our modern understanding of the nature of vision and perception.

Julian

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Sunday, August 06, 2006

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In vino veritas

A brilliant post by Steve Sailer. But I have one quibble. I think it is arguable that Christianity has traditionally taught the equality of all humans at the level of the soul (although Aquinas, it is not widely remembered, seemed to believe that the souls of women were less exalted than those of men.) However, Christianity has always been a religion that accepted earthly hierarchies, and the existence of more and less gifted people (cf. the parable of the talents).

There is a difference between equality at the level of the soul and equality on the earthly plane.

In another post, Steve discusses the role of alcohol in shaking loose "real" beliefs in the case of Mel Gibson and (allegedly) Christopher Hitchens. Which raises the question in my mind - has any controlled psychological research been done on what effects ingestion of alchohol has on expressed opinions? Do people filling in attitude surveys, for example, give more extreme (and honest?) answers when they are partially drunk?

Julian

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Thursday, August 03, 2006

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"Walking Trees": The science of the miracle at Bethsaida

In 1994, I wrote about the perceptual psychology of the New Testament accounts of the curing of blindness in St Mark's Review, an Anglican journal based here in Canberra. The article was entitled “Seeing is perceiving" and appeared in No. 159, pp. 30-31. I have a copy on the Internet on this page (scroll down). I mentioned the case of the curing of "the Man Born Blind" and also the miracle at Bethsaida, in which case the blind man famously remarked after Jesus first attempted to cure him that he "saw men, like trees, walking"; after which Jesus completed the cure and the man saw clearly.

In 1995, famed neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks referred to the miracle at Bethsaida in a footnote to a chapter of his book "An Anthropologist on Mars". He had similarly written, in a 1993 essay in The New Yorker on which the chapter was based, that "There is a hint of it even in the Bible, in Mark’s description of the miracle at Bethsaida; for here, at first, the blind man saw 'men as trees, walking,' and only subsequently was his eyesight fully restored."

In 1999, Australian Creationist writer, Russell Grigg, wrote a good article on the same point in the journal "Answers in Genesis". He cited Professor Sacks, but not my article in St Mark's Review, which covers many of the same points made by Mr Grigg. While I am not a Creationist, I am pleased that Mr Grigg is as impressed as I am by the possibility that the New Testament account gains believability when we consider what modern medicine now knows about vision and perception. I think it is an exciting point, which deserves a lot more attention.

It is interesting that Professor Sacks (a secular Jew, I understand) simply alluded to the curious nature of the Bethsaida miracle story, with its hint of an optical cure followed by a separate perceptual cure. I, on the other hand, implied that the account of the miracle is made more believable by what we have learned since Biblical times about sight and vision. Finally, Mr Grigg stated this point very directly.

Julian

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