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Jaw-dropping theory of human evolution. Why Did Consciousness Evolve, and How Can We Modify It? Update 5/24/11: The conversation continues in Part II here.

Why Did Consciousness Evolve, and How Can We Modify It?

I recently gave a talk at the Directors Guild of America as part of a panel on the “Science of Cyborgs” sponsored by the Science Entertainment Exchange. It was a fun time, and our moderators, Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant from the HowStuffWorks podcast, emceed the evening with just the right measure of humor and cultural insight. In my twelve minutes, I shared a theory of how consciousness evolved. Rare Neurons Found In Monkeys’ Brains. The Evolution of Grief, Both Biological and Cultural, in the 21st Century. Three months ago, I received an email informing me that a high school friend, Pat, had died.

The Evolution of Grief, Both Biological and Cultural, in the 21st Century

I read his obituary and my body stopped functioning. I froze on the spot, limbs tense but trembling. My mouth went dry, my vision blurred. As I waited for my train in the packed station, I could barely stand as my muscles turned to jelly and legs folded beneath my body. I tried to maintain composure in the public space, but my contorted face betrayed my sorrow.

It was shocking to me: I felt real physical pain — a biological response brought about by stress hormones — in response to death. Evolutionary biologists think that grief is passed on not because it provides benefit in itself, but rather it is a side effect of having relationships. In more social animals, such as humans, those reciprocal relationships extend beyond parent-child. Fast-Evolving Brains Helped Humans out of the Stone Age. Just like our animal skin–clad ancestors, we gather food with zeal, lust over the most capable mates, and have an aversion to scammers.

Fast-Evolving Brains Helped Humans out of the Stone Age

And we do still wear plenty of animal skins. But does more separate us from our Stone Age forebears than cartoonists and popular psychologists might have us believe? At first blush, parsing the modern human in terms of behaviors apparently hardwired into the brain over eons of evolution seems like a tidy, straightforward exercise. And 30 years ago, when the field of evolutionary psychology was gaining steam, some facile parallels between ancient and modern behaviors lodged themselves in the popular conceptions of human evolution.

One gene helped human brains become complex - life - 03 May 2012. Read more: Click here to read a longer version of this story When it comes to brain development, slow and steady wins the race.

One gene helped human brains become complex - life - 03 May 2012

A single ancestral human gene that made two copies of itself may have helped the evolution of our large brains 2.5 million years ago, as our ancestors were diverging from australopithecines. Paradoxically, it seems the effect of the extra copies was to slow down individual brain development. This allowed time for neurons to develop more and better connections with one another. Gene duplications are rare in human history: only about 30 genes have copied themselves since we split from chimps 6 million years ago.

Climate and Human Evolution. Missing Lincs. Nearly everybody knows that Frank Lloyd Wright designed Fallingwater, the house in Pennsylvania that sits above and appears to cascade into a waterfall.

Missing Lincs

I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid at the Louvre in Paris is similarly famous. And Frank Gehry is widely known for the curvi­linear shining steel Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. Long strands of genetic material called lincRNAs (blue) may guide protein-DNA interactions, among other tasks. Sigrid Knemeyer A long noncoding RNA called XIST is responsible for coating one chromosome (red) in female mammals (mouse cell shown), turning off that chromosome. genecleaner/Wikimedia RNA DISTRACTORS MicroRNAs can glom on to the backs of messenger RNA and block protein production (left). SEEING PATTERNS | Researchers recently identified 30 lincRNAs that appear to act as barriers preventing an embryonic stem cell from turning into various tissue types.

Was humanity born in the mother of all plagues? - health - 04 June 2012. Around 100,000 years ago, the human race was on the brink of extinction.

Was humanity born in the mother of all plagues? - health - 04 June 2012

Confined to Africa, our population had fallen to less than 10,000. Yet within a few tens of thousands of years, we began spreading around the world. New genetic evidence suggests that one factor contributing to the population bottleneck was a massive epidemic of bacterial disease. The bacteria were exploiting two immune system genes, turning them against us. So the solution was simple: get rid of the traitorous genes.

Ajit Varki of the University of California, San Diego and colleagues looked at two genes called Siglec-13 and Siglec-17. Chinese human fossils unlike any known species - life - 14 March 2012. And so it begins.

Chinese human fossils unlike any known species - life - 14 March 2012

For years, evolutionary biologists have predicted that new human species would start popping up in Asia as we begin to look closely at fossilised bones found there. A new analysis of bones from south-west China suggests there's truth to the forecast. Evolution Takes Asian Refuge. New Ancestor Grasped At Walking. Field Notes: A Visit to an Early Human Death Trap [Videos and Slide Show] In late November 2011 I went to Johannesburg, South Africa, to meet the newest member of the human family, a nearly two million–year-old creature dubbed Australopithecus sediba.

Field Notes: A Visit to an Early Human Death Trap [Videos and Slide Show]

First of Our Kind: Could Australopithecus sediba Be Our Long Lost Ancestor? Ancient Walking Gets Weirder. You Have Grandpa's Chromosome Tips.