Friday, January 21, 2011

The Anthro Reader, Vol. 24

There's a lot to report on since our last Anthro Reader. I'm still trying to get myself sorted out from ScienceOnline, but I can see the beginnings of my old routine taking shape so hopefully things will be back to normal soon. Incidentally, if you're interested in learning a bit more about the conference, you can find a fairly comprehensive list of media responses here.

The latest edition of the anthropology blog carnival known as Four Stone Hearth is currently being hosted at The Prancing Papio. Raymond has put together an interesting mix of anthropology from around the web. (And he's also included my Penn Station post!)

Elsewhere on the web, Kristina Killgrove of Bonegirl discusses a controversy surrounding the preservation of an infant cemetery in Tuscany. She reports that more has been done to conserve the pottery recovered from the site than the skeletons, and local archaeologists are concerned. Kristina raises some questions about the timing of this public discussion, asking:
That is, does this piece represent simply a simmering (perhaps interpersonal) issue in the (bio)archaeology of Tuscany? Or are Mallegni and Zecchini capitalizing on the worldwide news coverage of Pompeii to shed light on other caches of archaeological material that need better funding and better oversight? What is their eventual goal in writing this, and whom do they need to convince?
Kristina also shares an update from one of the archaeologists trying to raise the public consciousness. This will definitely be an interesting story to follow.

Jonah Lehrer of Wired investigates the neuroscience of music—why does music touch us the way it does? Music that we really connect to can give us chills. Why? Anticipation. The variation in patterns keeps us intrigued, and it seems that we really enjoy the mental stimulation:
One way to answer these questions is to zoom out, to look at the music and not the neuron. While music can often seem (at least to the outsider) like a labyrinth of intricate patterns – it’s art at its most mathematical – it turns out that the most important part of every song or symphony is when the patterns break down, when the sound becomes unpredictable. If the music is too obvious, it is annoyingly boring, like an alarm clock. (Numerous studies, after all, have demonstrated that dopamine neurons quickly adapt to predictable rewards. If we know what’s going to happen next, then we don’t get excited.) This is why composers introduce the tonic note in the beginning of the song and then studiously avoid it until the end. The longer we are denied the pattern we expect, the greater the emotional release when the pattern returns, safe and sound. That is when we get the chills.
One of my first research projects investigated the connection between mood and academic performance, and I used music as a mood mediator. I'm always interested in reading more about the ways music can influence our mental state.

Matt Shipman touches on an issue that is totally relevant to urban life: traffic. He suggests that the idea of a superstreet can help reduce traffic concerns:
a superstreet is a surface street (not a highway) where the left-hand turns from side streets are re-routed, as is traffic from side streets that needs to cross the thoroughfare (see the diagram at the top of this post). In both instances, drivers are first required to make a right turn and then make a U-turn around a broad median. While this may seem time-consuming, the study shows that it actually results in a significant time savings since drivers are not stuck waiting to make left-hand turns or for traffic from cross-streets to go across the thoroughfare.
If anyone lives near a superstreet, let us know how it's been working for local traffic patterns.

And finally, I'm sort of jealous that Ephemeral New York has some awesome shots up of the old City Hall subway station. The New York Transit Museum occasionally takes tours down into the tunnel—which unfortunately I seemed to have missed. Thanks for sharing these! The Bowery Boys also has an interesting special explaining the names of New York City bridges that will surely make for some entertaining morning reading.

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