Archive for 'Arts and science'

The ten-percenters: The hot, hot men who pinch copper

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

For young and youngish men of a certain disposition (regarding copper), these are exciting times, as this medical report attests.

The report is: “Electrical burn injuries secondary to copper theft,” J.A. Dunne, D. J. Wilks, D.P. Mather, and J.M. Rawlins, European Journal of Trauma and Emergency Surgery, epub 2015. The authors, at St George’s Hospital, London, Leeds General Infirmary, Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield, and Royal Perth Hospital, Perth, Australia, report:

We would like to highlight copper theft as an international cause for high voltage electrical injury, with an illustration of cases over a 5-year period from the Yorkshire regional burns unit in the United Kingdom (UK)….

Copper price has risen dramatically in recent years, with a six-fold increase over the past decade and a large demand from booming economies such as China. Metal theft is one of the fastest rising crimes in the UK…

The risk of burns in this activity is significant, and may account for up to 10% of electrical burns presenting to a regional unit…

All cases were males, aged 22, 25 and 42 years, sustaining burns of 32, 45 and 16.5 % total body surface area (TBSA), respectively. All patients survived, and there was a mean length of stay of 47 days (range 32–59) and all patients were involved in theft from 11,000 V electrical substations.

(Thanks to investigator Adrian Smith for bringing this to our attention.)

Here’s a video news report of a case of possible copper theft in a different country:

Conceivabilism, inconceivabilism and someone with 200 arms and legs

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

Dr-ElsterSometimes, philosophers like to construct highly exaggerated imaginary scenarios in order to test the validity of theories – conjuring up, for example, human bodies with a pair of spare eyes in their shoulders. Since there’s  no  very little limit on how exaggerated such propositions might be, some take on outlandish proportions. Such ideas can push the boundaries of what philosophers call ‘Conceivabilism’ (which considers that which can be reasonably conceived) and stray into the territory of what Improbable calls ‘Inconceivabilism’ (that which can’t).

Some examples are presented in a paper by Dr. Jakob Elster (pictured) from the University of Oslo, Norway in the Journal of Applied Philosophy, Vol. 28, No. 3, p. 201 entitled : How Outlandish Can Imaginary Cases Be?

Dr. Elster cites the work of professor Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen of Aarhus University, Denmark, specifically the paper ‘Against Self-Ownership: There Are No Fact-Insensitive Ownership Rights over One’s Body’ in: Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 36, No. 1, 2008, p. 86-118. which he says, is “a cornucopia of outlandish cases.” e.g.:

“Let us consider an eye redistribution scheme in which half the population is born with two pairs of eyes and the other half with no eyes. In sighted individuals, one pair of eyes is located normally and fulfills the usual function. The other pair is located inside the human body, say, in the shoulder. Although this latter pair would enable those who have them to see if they were surgically moved to the eye sockets, they play no role where they are. Indeed they cannot perform any visual or other bodily function without being moved. Suppose further that the body of a person born with two pairs of eyes will expel the spare pair when that person reaches twenty years of age. The pair can then easily be reabsorbed into the shoulder of its owner, or the owner can transfer his spare eyes to a blind person.”

Or, instead, or additionally :

“Suppose, for instance, that people are born with huge bodies they can barely move, bodies with two hundred legs and arms. At any given moment, they can at best sense and control 1 percent of their bodies, although they can readily determine which percent that is. Since their bodies heal very easily, their ability to control their lives is promoted best if 99 percent of each body is removed in such a way that these abnormal individuals end up with what are, for us, normal human bodies.”

Are such outlandishisms justified, or indeed helpful? Dr. Elster concludes his paper thus :

“I have argued that we do sometimes need to consider outlandish cases in order to arrive at the true moral principles which we need for this world. But if we are, as I have suggested, unable to imagine these outlandish cases, we might never be able to identify the true moral principles we need. So even if we adopt a ‘method of avoidance’, bracketing general scepticism for the purpose of developing a sound ethical methodology, a new form of scepticism reappears as the result of this methodological discussion. How this new scepticism can be dealt with is an issue for further investigation.”

Logic Puzzle: How many logic assumptions in this press release?

Sunday, February 22nd, 2015

This week’s Expert Logic Puzzle is simple.

How many leaps of faith are necessary to make a sturdy chain of logic that ties together the parts of a single press release? Count the number of logic assumptions in the text of the press release [to see the entire press release, click on the link].

Start point of the chain of logic: The chain of logic begins in the middle of the press release, with this phrase:

“With this study, conducted on genetically modified mice…”

Penultimate link in the chain of logic (presented at the very start of the press release!):

“Might living a structured life with regularly established meal times and early bedtimes lead to a better life and perhaps even prevent the onset of mental illness? That’s what’s suggested in a study led by Kai-Florian Storch, PhD, of the Douglas Mental Health University Institute and McGill University, which has been published in the online journal eLife.

End point of the chain of logic (presented as the headline atop the press release):

Deconstructing mental illness through ultradian rhythms“.

Possible hints, for logic-puzzle-solving beginners: The press release contains two sub-headlines. One sub-headline says:

A novel hypothesis

The other sub-headline says:


BONUS (just for fun, not directly connected to this week’s puzzle): Here’s video of a man trying, in a mere nine minutes, to identify the logical assumptions in a different, shorter chain of text:

Dr. NakaMats discusses his ideas for better ideas

Saturday, February 21st, 2015

Dr. NakaMats, possibly the greatest man in the world, granted an interview to Jack Preston of Virgin Entrepreneur.

Dr. NakaMats was awarded the 2005 Ig Nobel Prize for nutrition, for photographing and retrospectively analyzing every meal he has consumed during a period of 34 [now, in 2015, 44] years (and counting). Next month (March), in the company of several other Ig Nobel Prize winners, he will be the star of stars on the upcoming Ig Nobel tour of Europe, sharing his ideas with audiences in London, Aarhus, Copenhagen, and Stockholm.

Here are excerpts from the Virgin Entrepreneur interview:

Better ideas with Dr NakaMats

Yoshiro Nakamatsu, or Dr NakaMats as he is more widely known, is one of the world’s leading inventors with over 3,500 patents to his name. We sat down with the cult hero to find out how we can all come up with better ideas.

It’s not easy to forget Dr NakaMats’ most famous invention, the Floppy Disk, with the entrance to his Tokyo residence set inside a door-sized replica of the idea which he claims to have come up with in 1952, before later licensing it to IBM in the late 1970s. Since then he has worked tirelessly to cement his positon as one of the world’s most prolific inventors, with his list of patents including a self-defence wig, a cigarette for activating the brain, jumping shoes, the ‘Enerex System’ for generating hydrogen and oxygen along with a condom that comes with an embedded magnate for “improving sensitivity in the female organs”.

With a lifetime of weird and wonderful inventions behind him Dr NakaMats is now facing his biggest challenge to date, having recently being diagnosed with prostate cancer….


…To help with the recording of ideas during this time, Dr NakaMats has even invented waterproof paper and pencils, claiming “an idea comes instantly and disappears instantly”.

By getting as close to death as possible, Dr NakaMats believes we will have our greatest ideas. Let us hope that his theory is proven to be correct as he continues his mission to find his most important invention to date.


Liszt is on the list (of musical chill inducers)

Friday, February 20th, 2015

LizstA good number of scholarly studies have examined the enigmatic ability of music to sometimes induce ‘The Chills’ in humans, See, for example : ‘Musical Piloerection’, (by Björn Vickhoff, PhD, Rickard Åström, MFA, Töres Theorell, MD, PhD, Bo von Schéele, PhD, and Michael Nilsson, MD, PhD) in Music and Medicine, April 2012 vol. 4 no. 2 82-89. For those who wish to experiment (possibly even self-experiment) with such things, another group of researchers, from the Centre of Interdisciplinary Research on Music Media and Technology (CIRMMT) of McGill University, US (Valorie N. Salimpoor, Mitchel Benovoy, Gregory Longo, Jeremy R. Cooperstock, and Robert J. Zatorre) have compiled a list of musical excerpts which they found can sometimes induce The Chills (listed here in ascending order of chilliness)

• Holst, First Suite in E Flat, Classical, score 9:07
• Shostakovich, Symphony No. 11 – Mov. 4,Classical, score 10:00
• Phish, You Enjoy Mylsef, Jazz Fusion, score 10:50
• Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Static, Post-Rock, score 11:20
• Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 4 – Mov. 1, Classical, score 12:32
• Mahler, Symphony No. 2 – Mov. 1, Classical, score 13:00
• Shostakovich, 11th Symphony – Mov. 2, Classical, score 13:45
• Mahler, Symphony No. 1 – Mov. 1, Classical, score 14:00
• Shostakovich, Symphony No. 11 – Mov. 2, Classical, score 14:00
• Copland, Appalachian Spring Suite, Classical, score 20:00
… and, at number 1, chillwise,
• Shostakovich, Symphony No. 4 – Mov. 3, Classical, score 20:30

See: ‘The Rewarding Aspects of Music Listening Are Related to Degree of Emotional Arousal’, PLOS | ONE, October 16, 2009.

Note: The list included Liszt, whose ‘Danse Macabre’ (a.k.a. Totentanz), scored a relatively low 0.27

Also see (and hear): Kiss On My List’ (which may or may not induce The Chills)