SGU Episode 920
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|SGU Episode 920|
|February 25th 2023|
Ghost hunting devices & gadgets you can use to track paranormal activity 🤦♂️
|S: Steven Novella|
B: Bob Novella
C: Cara Santa Maria
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
|Quote of the Week|
Of the many other so-called "disciplines" taught here, Divination is perhaps the most feeble, especially in its nonsensical practice of Astrology. Do not confuse Astronomy and Astrology: one is concerned with mysteries stellar and lunar, the other is mere lunacy.
Professor Satyavati Shah
S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Today is Wednesday, February 22nd, 2023, and this is your host, Steven Novella. Joining me this week are Bob Novella...
B: Hey, everybody!
S: Cara Santa Maria...
S: Jay Novella...
J: Hey guys.
S: ...and Evan Bernstein.
E: Good evening everyone.
S: How is everyone this unseasonably warm February?
E: Yeah, New England-wise.
J: Yeah, I mean, it's remarkable that how much I am outside, but with a t-shirt on, I'm wearing t-shirts outside in the dead of winter.
E: It makes no sense.
B: I will say I've lived in the northeast my whole life. It is the most unseasonably warm winter ever that I have experienced. We had one in my area, we had one reason why I had a shovel, and it was only a few inches. That's it. That's it.
C: I can't even.
B: It's crazy.
C: I walked towards it and it was like 85 degrees. I was like melting on the way to work today.
E: Cara, in a typical winter up here, the ground will freeze at some point. It will get to the point where you couldn't put a shovel into the dirt in the ground in the winter.
C: That's nuts.
E: But it is never, it is not really even, we've had a couple cold days, but it's not even close to the ground freezing at any point at all in this winter. It's so unusual.
S: Yeah, the question now is are we going to make it to spring or is it going to have the revenge?
E: A couple weeks, less than a month right now to spring.
S: Yeah, but the last couple of years we had a mild winter in a long cold spring.
E: Yeah, here's my concern. We have no snow. There's no runoff, and that runoff feeds the water table. And unless we're going to have a very wet spring, we're going to have a drought problem is coming summer if we don't make it up in the form of rain this coming spring.
B: But it has rained a lot the past couple of months and where we are, where I am. It has rained.
E: But I think we are way on, I mean, there's no way, how can we, how can we're supposed to have the melt, the snow melt, it doesn't exist. So all that water we do not currently have. And so we're going to have a problem if we don't get a lot of rain in the coming weeks and a couple months.
S: And it's also going to exacerbate the deer problem that we're having.
C: You guys have a deer problem?
S: Well, I mean, the country has a deer problem, I don't know if you're paying attention, but they are really a significant menace. I've read an article about it.
S: Oh, yeah, yeah. It's not just that there's a lot of deer around. So there's really two big ways that there are menace. One is they're voracious. They just, because there's so many of them and they eat the usual food that they eat. But then food gets low because they're overpopulated. So they start to expand their diet. They're essentially eating all of the underbrush in the woods, which is devastating the ecosystem for smaller animals and birds that nest or rely upon to the underbrush. And also they eat small trees before they have a chance to become big trees. So they're really are being, they're just devastating to the environment. The second big way is that there are menace to car drivers.
C: Yeah, there's a number one most dangerous, I think animal in the US. That cause the most deaths.
B: Yeah, I've had like four in my day.
E: Uuuh, I've never hit one thank goodness and come close a couple times, but no, I've never actually had a deer collision.
S: I hit one as a passenger. I wasn't driving, my wife was driving. And it was perfect, was twilight, go around a corner. They're deer running across the road.
E: Yeah, what can you do?
J: I saw a deer jump over a car.
E: Oh, yeah.
J: It was remarkable.
S: And this is part of the reason why mountain lions are expanding eastward in the United States because they're following the food. And some people are starting to say, you know what, we should just let them and they'll eat some of the deer. You know, it's not going to be-
E: But then do we get a mountain lion problem?
C: Also, what do we mean let them what?
S: Well, in other words, we don't try to keep them from spreading east.
C: How the hell are we supposed to do that?
S: Well, we could hunt them.
C: We should not be hunting or culling mountain lions whose populations are absolutely dwindling and like so inbred at this point, we should absolutely let them eat the deer. We should also be hunting deer.
S: Yeah, that's the other thing is that we should-
C: We have to hunt deer.
S: We need to expand the hunting season.
C: And we need to change the laws so that we can sell venison in this country. It's like ludicrous that venison is not, you can't buy it in the stores.
S: Yeah, well, most of it is if it's not consumed by the hunter, it's donated to food shelters and stuff because you can't do that, but you can't. Yeah, though, it's a bit state by state.
C: But like why? Why can't we eat deer in this country the same way we eat beef?
S: Yeah, they do need to-
C: It makes no sense.
S: Yeah, you're right. Right, they should expand the market for venison.
S: In fact, they, one of the articles I was reading said in previous decades there was a huge venison market and it significantly reduced the deer population, right?
C: Of course, and there's huge market in that. In other countries, it just makes no sense. And deer is delicious. Like venison is legit good.
S: I've never had it.
E: Isn't it gamey?
C: I mean, gamey compared to what?
B: It doesn't have to be.
C: I mean, all meat is gamey.
E: I get that, but-
S: Some is more gamey than others.
C: I guess. I don't find it. I don't find venison overly gamey and there's ways, you got it, like know how to cook it.
E: Can we CRISPR that out of these?
S: Yeah, right. And also, there's a third way in which deer are a menace is they're increasing the deer tick population and Lyme disease.
C: Right. And that's specifically like a Northeastern thing, right?
S: Yeah, but that's going to spread probably. The issue with, well, certainly the deer injure, damaged property and kill more people than the mountain lions would. So that's a good tradeoff. Somebody occasionally being eaten by a mountain lion would be undesirable, but a lot lower in number.
C: That's so rare.
S: It's very rare. I think the number was like 12 in the last century in the United States.
C: And deer kill 200 people a year from auto-collisions, 200 people a year. And I've read injure like tens of thousands in auto-collisions. Yeah. They're the deadliest animal in the US.
B: I hit one at like 50 miles an hour on the highway and did like $3,000 with a damaged car.
S: So we have to teach people in the east, east of the Mississippi, how to live safely with mountain lions roaming in the wilderness.
C: Well, you should say east and north because we've had panthers in Florida for a long time.
S: Yeah, that's right. It's basically the west and Florida, but now it's going to be the rest of the east. And there's a few simple rules like the mountain lions are like black bears in that if you're noisy, they probably will just leave you alone.
C: But also, I'm sorry. Like mountain lions are, yes, you're right. That is true, but mountain lions are nothing like black bears in that they are ghost cats that you won't see them.
C: They don't want to be seen. They don't want to be anywhere near people.
S: They're ambush hunters. They might, they do, they may, they may, they might ambush on you. If you see a mountain lion, you're probably okay. It's the one you don't see that you have to worry about. If you're being noisy, don't worry. If you're being noisy, they're not going to come near you.
C: If they have deer, they don't want people.
S: That's true.
C: They're not a good snack to them.
S: That's true. Deer are much better target for them. But you know, there's always, there's enough of them. There's going to be occasional, rare events. But and also bear spray is effective against mountain lions. So it's, that's a, that's a more effective defense than, than having a gun.
S: I think because for most people, it's easier to use probably and you just have to sort of spray it in the general direction and you're probably be okay. Whereas we talked about this with the bear thing. If you, unless you're a trained hunter with a proper rifle, if you shoot a grizzly bear, you're probably just going to piss them off.
S: Right. And your chance of getting killed may even go up. But bear spray is effective. So it might be like, if you go hiking in certain regions, once they become populated by mountain lions, bring your bear spray. But you probably should do anyway.
E: You should, yeah, you probably should.
C: But I'm telling you, I've lived amongst mountain lions for a long time. The best defense is to not have an offense. They are not interested in you and you will never cross paths with them. I promise you. You will not see them. Don't go looking for them. If you see a den, if you find a den of mountain lion kittens, do not go anywhere near it.
C: That is not your role, you know what I mean?
B: Can't I just play with them for a few minutes?
S: But they're so cute, Cara.
C: They are incredibly cute. They are like, like look up mountain lions.
J: But they're not cute enough to get your face ripped off.
C: Nope. No, they are not.
J: Run away.
E: You still have to fight that initial urge, though.
S: They go for the back of the neck. My entire experience with mountain lions is limited to Red Dead Redemption 2, which has of actually a very, very accurate nature simulator, basically in it. And basically, if the mountain lion sees you before you see it, you're dead. That's it. You are dead.
C: But again, that's like all, like, scare tactic. My experience with mountain lions is pretty extensive. And I know a lot of people who work in like the wildlife service in California. And there are people whose job it is to track mountain lions who have never seen a mountain lion.
C: Because they, it's like-
B: Are they bad at their job?
C: No, they're tracking them on these collars. And you know, you don't see them. They don't want to be seen. It's very, very rare. And when you do see mountain lions, it's usually a sign that the mountain lion is very sick.
C: Yeah. Or that there's something going on within that population. A wild mountain lion has no interest in getting anywhere near humans.
E: They're smart that way.
C: They're very smart. They're literally called ghost cats.
C: That's their nickname.
S: Yeah. Because they hide. All right.
Quickie with Steve (10:06)
S: Going to do a Quickie before we go on to the news items. This is really going to be very, very quick. Did you guys heard of the serial dependence bias?
C: Not like breakfast cereal? (laughter) Which kind of cereal?
B: Reese's Puffs, man.
S: S-E-R-I-A-L. Serial as in sequential.
E: Oh, books like novels, little those, what?
C: In a row, like a row.
S: In a row, yeah.
E: Oh, that kind, like a serial number.
S: Yeah. So, very quickly, it's a, I love different types of cognitive biases. It basically means that your perception and your evaluation is biased by what you recently saw. Yeah? So there's a quick experiment recently that, that demonstrated this. And it was done in Japan. So they showed people of like a half a second image of a jumble of Japanese coins. And then they said, how many coins were there in that picture? And what was their total value? And people would then estimate to a number of coins and their total value. And then they would do it. They would do it again. They do it, a couple of hundred times. And they, they asked them every other time to estimate their value. So what they were testing was what would have more of an effect on their later guess? Is it what they saw or what they said? Does that make sense? Because each time they're seeing a picture and then they're seeing another picture. But only half the time are they asked to, to estimate the number of coins and the total value. What do you think would have had the bigger effect?
J: What they said for sure.
S: Yeah, what they said. The most recent guess had a greater influence on subsequent estimates than the most recent image. So even if you made a guess two images ago had more of an influence on the one image that you saw, but didn't guess.
C: Do you think that's simply, I mean, I get that it's this like, recency bias. But do you think that it's also simply because they're encoding more? They're literally encoding it when they say it out loud.
S: Yeah. I mean, we don't know, the study didn't look at why it was just saying.
C: But it's like, that's how you study.
C: You know, talk about it out loud, write it down on note cards. If you just read it, it's going to fall out of your brain. You have to like, you have to then transduce it into like another sense. And you have this multi-modal learning.
S: Right. So this study had one question. Is it what you see or is it what you think about what you see? Because even like if you overestimated the previous one, then you were biased by your overestimation, not the actual image that you saw. Does that make sense? So it's interesting. Again, just one of the, there's an infographic I found when I was researching this for this piece, 188 documented cognitive biases were in this one infographics just to show you, these are all the ones that we use that are in the literature, 188 different ones. So we'll be talking about more in the future, but this is a fun one. All right. Let's go on to some full news items.
The 4-Day Work Week (13:09)
S: Jay, you're going to tell us about a recent study looking at the four day work week.
J: Yeah, exactly. So this study revealed that there are many reasons people and employers would benefit from making the change from the typical five day work week to the four day. So there was a trial in the UK that included 61 companies spanning many industries and there were approximately 2900 employees that were studied over a six month time period. The companies chose how they would implement the shorter work week. So some of them would like close on Friday, some would stagger days off, some would let them work at different shifts, whatever, whatever worked for that particular company. And it's important to note that this kind of study requires the test subjects to self-report and there was no way to really do a double blind test with that kind of, with that kind of study. We're relying on the quality of the self-reporting. But even still, there were some very decisive results from this that were pretty clear. So let's get into some of the results that they found. So first off, the results were positive. If you, meaning that I'm definitely a person that is for the four day work week. So when I say positive meaning, I think it's a definite benefit. And I think that people really need to consider that. And I'll tell you why. So 39% of employees that were in the study reported that they had less stress. 71% indicated that they had reduced levels of work burnout at the end of the six month test. And it was generally reported that anxiety, fatigue, and sleep issues decreased while mental and physical health improved. Again, this was all self-reported by the people in the test subject. Lower stress levels is completely subjective, which is part of the problem. But it seems to be a key reason employees showed the improvements that they were showing. Stress has a negative effect on sleep quality. Number one. And employees average fatigue score on a scale of one to four dropped from 2.56 to 2.12, which is, it's pretty significant. 46% of the employees reported less fatigue compared to the five day work week. 40% reported a reduction in sleep issues, 45% reported no change in 15% reported an increase in issues. The extra time off resulted in the employees having more time to sleep, right? I mean, what would you do with that extra day? And when your stress goes down, it's likely that you'll get better quality sleep, which they were reporting as well. Now this has a big health implication across the board. If you're not sleeping well, it can do damage to you physically, mentally, and in many different kinds of ways, right? So sleep is one of the most essential things that you get on a regular basis. Employees reported that they had more time to turn off, that's the whole, I, you don't want to think about work when you're home. You need to be away from work long enough to where you're not thinking about work. And a lot of people have a problem with that. And the four day work week was helping these employees to turn off work when they were home. So that gave them an increase in family and leisure time, which is another important thing that people need to have in their life. The companies reported that their revenues over the six month period, I'm curious, guys, what do you think from the company side, what was happening? Were the companies benefiting? Were they staying the same or were they not benefiting it? Were they having a negative consequence to a four day work week?
C: No it's all good.
B: For sure.
C: I mean, we saw this in Europe, like not only was efficiency and productivity increased, but they also like were spending less money on overhead.
C: Like their electric bills were lower.
J: Yeah. So here, there was a 1.4% increase in revenue at the companies that did the study during the same time period from the previous year, which is pretty interesting when you think about it, like they actually made more money because of this. And there was a lot less man hours. Is that a bad thing to say? Could we say man hours?
S: Person hours?
C: Yeah, I would say worker hours.
J: There was a lot less working hours during the average week, during the six month test. So the study concluded that there were two strong measurable outcomes from the study data. Comparing the five day work week to the four day work week, productivity was not reduced. And employees had both mental and physical well-being enhanced. More studies, of course, right? This is just one of a few of these studies that are out there. We need more studies to be done so we can sharpen the data that's being collected in our ability to really see what's happening. Now keep in mind, this was actually a sizable study. I mean, there was a lot of companies and a lot of people involved in this study. And the results seemed to be very clear. So if you-
C: And it's, every study that there has been done like this, like the big ones that they did do in Europe showed the same outcomes.
J: Yes, definitely. And every subsequent one that shows the same outcome makes all of them more valuable. So if you've your studies show more of the same less work hours with no negative impact on the company's bottom line. So we should expect more studies to come out. And I do think at this point, there's enough evidence for companies to start adopting some version of the four day work week. Now I found this pretty interesting, 56 of the 92 companies involved in the study decided to stick with the four day work week. That's pretty cool. The results of the study track with other previous studies like Cara said. So there was an average no decrease in productivity and a large increase in employee satisfaction. I mean, it's a win-win.
C: Is this Jay, is this the UK study?
J: Yes, it is.
C: Yeah. Okay. So you know what my favorite outcome of this study was?
C: My absolute favorite? Men ended up spending twice as much time watching their kids. Twice as much with a four day work week.
J: Yeah, there's a, with that extra day off, like they're not going to bring their kids into daycare. So they're, they're going to spend time or have more time with the kids for sure.
C: Like when you said there's more family time, that was, obviously they reported on like overall people, workers were able to spend more time with their families. But men specifically ended up doubling their face to face time with children.
J: Yeah, that's interesting. And there's other things. So there's a trickle down effect here. The first thing that you could think of if people aren't going to work five days a week, that gets dropped down to four days a week. Those of those people that need to be physically at the work facility, they're not driving that day. So there's less driving, which means less traffic, which means less CO2 emissions and less stress on all drivers on the road because there's less cars on the road. So more free time can also boost the economy because people, and the people said this in the study that they would have more time to shop. So the more shopping would be done, which is good for the economy overall, which I mean, I'm not a fan of more shopping because I think consumerism is completely out of control.
C: But that's, that's always how you sell it to the corporation.
J: Yeah, that is something that you would say to a company is, yeah, there's more shopping. So the five day work week, this, this I thought was interesting. Steve blogged about this and I thought that this point was very good. The five day work week doesn't mean anything. It wasn't decided on because they did a study and they said, hey-
S: It's arbitrary too.
J: Yeah, it's this, they literally plucked it out like, okay, there's seven days in a week and there's a weekend, like-
C: But even that's arbitrary. Like Saturday and Sunday being the week-end is arbitrary.
J: Yeah, I know it's all like plucked out of nothing. So there's no reason to think that there's anything special about the five day work week. It's not sacred in any way.
S: There's nothing special about the four day work week either. It's just, there's probably some optimal number of hours that people work in order to maximize their productivity and their mental health and physical well-being and life satisfaction and all those things. And that's also a moving target. It's going to be dependent on technology and the kind of job.
C: And also on the feet, yeah, the field that you work in.
S: Yeah, exactly. How hard you have to work? Absolutely. How draining is it? So one of the things that I think was emphasized in this study is that there was a lot of flexibility. That companies weren't forced into a cookie cutter four day a week like you have to close on Friday. They could be, they could stagger them. They could be, they could be seasonal, whatever they could do, whatever they want. It was really, really the one thing they sort of mandated was an average 32 hour work week. But you can get there anyway you want. Whatever, it was like over many different industries and it was significantly beneficial really across, across almost everyone that they studied.
J: So I think it would be really cool if this starts to happen. You know, companies can get over themselves and realize that they don't actually need their employees to be there working like slaves. I mean, I worked for a company where, if you weren't in at 7 a.m. and if you weren't like fully working past dinner time, the CEO of the company just didn't think that you cared enough and you could forget about getting any kind of raise or movement in that company. You know what I mean?
C: Do you know what's a consideration that I worry about, Jay, like with regards to the implementation of this in America specifically is the number of state level laws because America doesn't have any universal healthcare, our insurance is directly tied to our employment. And as it is right now until you're like obviously laws are different in different states. But as it is right now, a lot of states you have to work full time to even qualify for insurance.
J: That's right. Yeah, lots of things are going to have to change.
C: And so I would worry that if 30 to wait is 32 hours full time now, do I qualify? So there's so much is baked into our system is a weird here that a study, even a doing study like this would be harder here than in the UK.
J: Well, we've changed so much since the pandemic. I mean, we've had-
J: Mass, employees, I'm sorry, employers realized that people don't actually have to be sitting at a desk in the same building in order to do their job. You know, it's become very normal to work from home. So I think, it's, it's a great time to, to have information like this come out and for companies to realize that the health of their employees is, is important, right? Because it will cost them less from an insurance perspective and they'll have an increase in production. I mean, how could they not, buy into it?
S: It seems like a win-win. This reminds me of, when I think what pretty sure was Henry Ford realized that if he paid his workers more, they would use that money to buy his stuff, and it was good for the company. And so that was the beginning of the shift away from, business needing to exploit workers maximally in order to maximize their, their profits to, oh, having a middle class with disposable income is actually a good thing for business and this is sort of the same thing, having people who can manage their lives, because they have some personal time and family time and whatever, it's probably going to be overall good for business like a rising tide, raising all ships sort of thing. Not only for the individual company, but just for the culture and everybody kind of benefits from that. So it's hard to get people to realize that.
C: Yeah, they, it's all, you got to settle it with the bottom line. Sadly.
J: Yeah, that'll work better than anything. I mean, it's so good into the system.
C: What's the ROI?
J: Yeah, any, any old school bosses out there, like I think a lot of people would have a very hard time accepting this.
Infants vs AI (24:55)
S: All right. So, Cara, tell us about infants going head to head with artificial intelligence.
E: Oh boy.
C: This is fascinating. There's also a part of me that's like, why did I choose to cover this story? It's so complicated. I'm going to try to keep it relatively simple, even though it's nowhere near a simple story. So there's an article that was just published in the journal Cognition. Actually, it's publication date is June. I do not understand online publishing. It's publication date is June 2023, which doesn't exist yet. But okay. And the article is Common Sense Psychology in Human Infants and Machines. And so what I did not realize in looking at this study is that there's this entire field called Common Sense Psychology, also known as Folk Psychology. And it's sort of like kind of contentious, but it's really interesting. It's basically the study of the human ability to predict the behavior or to kind of like utilize theory of mind when looking at other people. So we're not talking about the ability of a psychologist to do this. We're not talking about the ability of a structure to do this. We're talking about, everyday people without formal training, looking at somebody else doing something and explaining or predicting their behavior or their mental state. So what these researchers did is they said, I want to know how well an AI can do Common Sense Psychology. And how are we going to test that? We're going to literally pit them against infants.
C: We're going to take a paradigm. And the paradigm that they used was called the Baby Intuissions Benchmark, which is a suite of tasks that was actually designed, I think, to challenge both infants and machines. So it's like it was designed for infants to engage with it and for machines to engage with it. And it's basically like these lo-fi, really, really simplistic kind of like video things on a screen. It almost looks like a video game, but you don't actually play it where there are different paradigms. Six different tasks and what it's attempting to understand is how well the individual, either the infant, and they used 11 month old infants in this study, or the machines, and they used, as they call it, state of the art learning driven neural network models. It's basically trying to see how well either the infants or the machines make, as they say, high-level predictions about the underlying causes of the actions of agents. And they're saying agents here are not people because it's a model, right? So actually in these different tasks, these simple shapes move in ways that are somewhat predictable. And those are sort of like a modeling for how people might move. So basically, there's three different kind of things that they were looking at within these six different tasks. They called them highly minimal, but presentationally consistent tasks. So they were looking at these different principles within common sense psychology. Goal attribution, so can the infant or the machine attribute goals, like goal-driven behavior. Rationality attribution. So are they making a rational movement? And then instrumentality attribution, which I had to look up what that was, but instrumental is actually like a term in the literature. It was coined by a sociologist. So if something is instrumental or instrumentally rational, they're saying it's determined by expectations or conditions that are placed on the behavior. So it's in contrast to value driven or value rational action, which is action that somebody or something does for its own sake. Like because it's ethical, it's aesthetic, it's religious, it has some sort of intrinsic value. Instrumentality is basically, it will be successful. There's some sort of condition tied to it. It's going to improve a payout or an outcome. So those were the three things they were looking at. Goal attribution, rationality attribution, and instrumentality attribution. But of course, again, this is a model. So they are measuring whether a baby or whether a machine learning algorithm could identify or make decisions that kind of utilized these different, what they call common sense psychology principles. And here's what they found. Because I'm not going to get into how they showed this. Basically, they're really, really well established paradigms in like baby psychology research. That babies, you can measure their ability to notice novelty. You can measure their interest level. You can measure their understanding of things by seeing how long they look at stuff.
B: Yeah, gaze, direction.
C: Right, it's gaze. Yeah, so they're measuring gaze with the babies. Infants expected the agents actions. And again, the agents are the little squares on the screen to be directed toward objects, but not locations. So the babies, when the things were kind of floating around on the screen, they floated around on the screen that sort of made it seem like the objects were being retrieved intentionally. And the infants tended to notice and to recognize, I guess you can say, that the objects themselves were what the agent was interested in. Whereas the AI tended to "notice" or expect that the agents were focusing on the location of the objects on the screens. Like they kept going, oh, left corner, left corner. Whereas the babies gaze was telling them that they were processing, no, the person wants the square. Now the person wants the square. Now they still want the square, no matter where it is. I know that this is a little bit complicated, but basically what they're outcome from this, what they're trying to say is that there were default expectations about rational action, that the neural network was failing to capture, that they believe infants have, that's innate. And so they're like, how do we tap into this common sense innate psychological capability of infants? And how do we use that information to better program AI? So there's two examples in the write up that I think were helpful to at least help me understand from a metaphorical perspective. One of the example, maybe not examples, but quotes is one of the researchers said: "A human infants found" this is a quote from them, "A human infants foundational knowledge is limited, abstract, and reflects our evolutionary inheritance. Yet it can accommodate any context or culture in which that infant might live and learn." Like we evolutionarily intrinsically have certain pattern recognition capabilities and have certain abilities to look for agency and willful action, whereas it doesn't seem like we've managed to figure out how to make AI do that yet. The other thing that they said, which was really interesting, was an example. They said, okay, so infants use common sense psychology, they understand at a very basic and simple level, intention, goals, preferences, rationality, whereas AI often predicts actions directly. So the example they use in the write up in neuroscience news was quote: "This is why for example, an ad touting San Francisco as a travel destination will pop up on your computer screen after you read a news story about a newly elected city official in San Francisco." Like they're not getting the context. They're not getting that you're not interested in traveling to San Francisco, you're reading about local politics. But they're like San Francisco, San Francisco. You read San Francisco, you want more on San Francisco. And so they're saying that AI is lacking so far this flexibility in recognizing the contacts that seem to innately underlie human behavior, which ultimately guides complex decision-making skills, but seems to be present even in infants. There's a lot of assumptions that are being made here, but it's pretty interesting. And I don't think that the researchers are trying to say, hey, AI's never going to be able to be as sophisticated or capable as human beings. What they're actually trying to say is the way we're doing it right now isn't enough. So what can we learn about these fundamental psychological factors of what it means to be human and how do we then integrate that into our AI modeling?
C: Yeah. It's interesting and really complicated.
S: But it also shows it is a good overall, a good example of how intelligence is more than one thing. Even though AI may be super good at doing certain things in other things, infant humans can be that, you know?
C: Right. Because we do have these heuristics and these paradigms that we can sort of teach, but at the same time, what I love about this is it opens the door to a big conversation about all of the cognitive biases and errors that we commit that make us human and that sometimes actually serve us, but more often don't serve us and like AI doesn't have any of that.
C: You know what I mean?
C: And so it's like fundamentally not human almost because of the flaws, but that those very same things that are flaws ultimately, there's two sides of the coin, right? They ultimately also serve us in a really fundamental way.
S: All right. Things, Cara.
Black Holes and Dark Energy (34:47)
S: All right. So Bob, you're going to talk to us about black holes and dark energy, but I have to preface this by saying that this uses up your black hole quota for the year. (laughter)
C: But it's only February.
B: I wholly realized that this was like a special case because I covered supermassive black holes recently and this came, this news item came and like, I'm talking about this. I don't care.
B: So black holes, but I swear I will wait, a reasonable-
E: Two weeks.
B: Time period, reasonable. You know-
S: All right. Better be good. Go.
B: What that means. Okay. A new theory with observational evidence suggests that black holes could be linked to get this the cause of dark energy itself. That makes us a fast way of the universe, right? Lane and bad read in the news days ago and like, holy crap. What is this about? This was recently published in the extra physical journal. This news item really got my attention. This is one of those things that very quick they're realized, well, this is true. It's pretty obvious that that Nobel prizes will flow fast like within very like a few years. I would think that this would people would start getting a Nobel prize is very, very fast. If this was, of course, obviously the confidence levels were really, really high and they really proved it. Okay. So dark energy, not black holes, dark energy is no stranger to this podcast discovered in the late 90s. Huge Nobel winning discovery at the expansion of the universe was not slowly slowing down. In fact, it was, as it was expected, but speeding up more and more. The name dark energy was slapped onto this not because it's cool sounding, which is always a good way to name things, by the way, but essentially because we were totally in the dark as to what the house was, right? Dark energy at dark matter as well. So when it was actually embarrassing because all of a sudden we knew nothing about what literally composes nearly 70% of the energy in the entire observable universe, like all the mass and energy that we knew and loved and actually knew about suddenly was like relegated to the corner, the corner of the room.
E: We're so stupid.
B: So that was just like a real slap smack in the face, which humanity needs some time to time anyway knocked off that pedestal. So the more, the more we looked at dark energy and how it caused this expansion, laughing at gravity, if you will, as it did, the more puzzling it became, most of all because it was the observation that dark energy did not dilute as space expanded, right? Its energy density stayed the same. So regular matter, radiation, neutrinos, even dark matter, doesn't do that, right? Dark energy is constant. So for example, if you went to beat this dead horse a little bit more, a cubic light year, for example, has an X amount of dark energy. Now if that expands 10 times, each little area then, each area still has the same amount of dark energy. The energy density does not change. So this made it seem like it was inherent to space itself, looking at similar to Einstein's cosmological constant from general relativity that he discarded as his biggest blender. So you often see dark energy and cosmological constant in the same sentence and it's kind of deserved. And you know, until new day it comes in to change that. So now the new hypotheses, guys, I'm sure we remember all the new hypotheses that came out to explain dark energy and they were all over the place and they required new fields, new physics, but there was no evidence. Now one explanation for dark energy that they came across here, I never had heard of it, physicists call it back reaction, a back reaction effect in which dark energy is essentially a reaction to something that happens within the universe. Now singularities within black holes might actually be related to this back reaction effect, meaning that it would cause that they could have a direct relationship to the dark energy. But it just doesn't make sense. I mean, superficially on a surface, it's like, wait, that doesn't make sense at all for various reasons, like for example, that black holes grow far more slowly than the universe expands. And there's also the binding energy of black holes is not sufficient at all to explain dark energy. All these reasons and it just, seems silly almost. Now what makes this most recent announcement even more compelling is that their evidence isn't mathematical equations, embedded in some esoteric theoretical calculations. It's observational. The foundation of it is kind of observational, which is a little surprising. So now the researchers looked at elliptical galaxies that were spread over time. All right. So you've got a sprinkling of elliptical galaxies all around you. There's ones that are close. They looked at close ones. They looked at some that were farther and farther away, six billion light years, seven billion, nine billion light years. So they, these galaxies also apparently were picked because they had little gas to feed their central black holes because they wanted to see what happened to the black holes if they didn't have a lot of gas to feed on. Okay? So based on these snapshots, they claim to have found that black hole growth is many times beyond what it should have been. And the real evidence, so the real evidence in their eyes for this fact is that the central black hole, if it had been growing by a creating gas, then the galaxy beyond the black hole, they also would have been birthing stars, right? Because if the black hole gets fatter, that means there's a lot of extra gas and you would see star formation over time, which they, which they weren't seeing. So there was no gas. But why is it getting bigger and bigger and bigger? It just seemed very anomalous. If however, if their model is correct, then their calculations of black hole growth can be explained by this, by black holes, this is their words: "cosmically coupling with the expansion rate of the universe and acting like dark energy". Okay? Like I say that in different ways. This is the crux here. They are, they are positing that somehow black holes are specifically linked to the ever faster expansion rate of the universe in such a way that it can partially or even perhaps wholly explain dark energy. That's it in a nutshell is what they're saying and that's incredible. Now they claim a 3.9 sigma statistical significance, which is pretty good, not gold standard, which is 5 sigma, but 3.9 is at least compelling, suggestive. But is their model right? Are their assumptions warranted? Astrophysicist, Niayesh Afshordi of their perimeter institute, theoretical physicist said: "I'm personally excited about this". And then there is also Robert Wald, who's a theoretical physicist, University of Chicago, who happens to specialize in general theory of relativity. He said: "what they are proposing makes no sense to me". And you kind of, if a guy who's an expert at general relativity says that, take that a little bit seriously. But that doesn't mean that this would truly be an amazing discovery, assuming that this is true. As big as any going back decades and decades, this would be massive in the astronomy community. Some claim that it would actually do away with singularities. The whole idea of singularities that are supposed to be at the center of black holes, and they just cause annoying infinities in your calculations. It's like, we need quantum gravity to even figure out if singularities are real because they make no sense with our math. And also, with this idea, with this theory, you don't need new fields, you don't need new particles, you don't need to do a major overhaul of physics. With this theory, you wouldn't need any new fields, you wouldn't need any new particles at all to explain dark energy. So that simplicity is also very, very compelling. But I'm skeptical, unfortunately, I agree with other physicists who believe that if this were true, that we would probably likely see other major hints about it within the universe, right? You'd be looking around, and there'd be some other anomalies going on that you couldn't explain that would be related to this. That just seems like a reasonable thing to expect. And also, also, don't forget this. They didn't see a supermassive black hole growing in these galaxies over billions of years. They didn't actually see that. Now, they used snapshots of different galaxies separated by billions of years, and they made, of course, what do they do? They make statistical inferences. And that's great. And a powerful technique, and you could learn a lot doing that. But they still don't have a full handle on what's going on with these supermassive black holes as they evolve. They did seriously consider all the different ways that black holes could gain math. They looked at mergers. They looked at different types of accretions, et cetera. So that's good that they did that, because my first thought was like, hey, it's just a creating matter in some way you're not expecting. But it's still despite all that. It seems likely to me that we don't have the whole picture yet of the evolution of supermassive black holes over billions of years. And that seems like that could be the more likely explanation for the growth of these black holes, and not this cosmic coupling to dark energy. But that said, I hope I'm wrong, and I'm definitely going to be tracking this theory. Because this is true, this would be a really amazing advance. Oh, geez.
S: Yeah. Well, it is interesting to think about like there may be something fundamentally wrong with how we're conceptualized in the universe. You know?
E: Oh boy.
B: Yeah, that's exciting. And I figured you would agree, Steve, that this was worthy of doing a supermet, like a black hole, too, for because of this news item. It seems something I had to talk about.
S: I guess. You're on notice for next week.
B: Okay. I guarantee.
Paranormal Gadgets (45:35)
S: All right, Evan, tell us what paranormal gadgets we need to do ghost hunting.
E: Yeah, well, if you were looking on the internet recently for a news item about that, you may have stumbled across one at a website called GIS user. GIS, of course, stands for Geographic Information System. This website has been around since 2004. They initially focused on GIS and mapping, of course. But as they say in there about us, the site is now focused on the broader technology sector, sharing news and articles that touch on the full spectrum of tech and tech business matters. And that is true. I was looking at a couple of their articles the other day. For example, they've got one. Blue Sky Geospatial launches Metro Vista 3D Aerial Mapping Program in the United States. Really need article about that. Here's another one. S3 releases new app to easily view and analyze global land cover changes, which could be very helpful for obviously scientists and people doing climate studies among other things. Oh, and yes, ghost hunting. Five devices and gadgets you can use to track paranormal activity. Okay. So, that's all I needed to see in order to say, or the record scratch. Or hit the brakes and pause here. So I had to read this. How could I not? It starts. "Have you ever wondered what equipment ghost hunters use to detect and communicate with the paranormal?" Why, yes, we do. And we've wondered about this for the better part of 30 years. It continues. "The world of ghost hunting is full of gadgets and devices that claim to enhance your ghost hunting experience. We have you covered if you want to add some high tech tools to your ghost hunting kit." Here's what it says. "Here are 10 devices that ghost hunters swear by" and they list five of them. So I don't know. Need an editing job there or something. So I'm going to David Letterman this thing. Here are the top 10 list of gadgets, ghost hunters used to communicate with the paranormal. Number five. Full spectrum camera. Steve, do you own a full spectrum camera?
B: It goes from gamma rays to radio waves.
B: Full spectrum.
E: Absolutely. Yeah. So here's the description they give you in the article. "Ghost hunting requires an eye for detail and the ability to capture evidence that may not be visible to the naked eye. Enter the full spectrum camera which can pick up a more comprehensive range of life frequencies including infrared and ultraviolet." This Bob just alluded to. "This makes it a powerful tool for paranormal investigators who want to capture any ghostly activity that might otherwise go unnoticed. With this device you'll be able to capture stunning images and videos in any light conditions and you'll be able to see things that most people can't. So right. So you're capturing images containing information that's otherwise invisible to regular human sight. How does that make those things ghost question mark? Right? I thought ghosts were was a phenomenon that was in some sense about the human eye. What is it I'm seeing in the dark at night or feeling. So what is it? Is it things I can see? Is it things I can't see? It basically makes it boundless. The boundaries extend beyond. It's the visible spectrum. It's the invisible spectrum. Ghosts are everywhere in all sorts of mediums.
S: Well, it's not coherent. So of course, like we talked with Ed and Lorraine Warren about this and they say, and this is like the pretty much the standard line. So when you take a picture and you see something on the photograph that you didn't see with your eyes, how does that happen? Well, the first day say that the reason you don't see is because the ghosts are spiritual. They're not physical. But then why does the camera see it?
S: So I'm sorry, is this a spiritual camera? It's just a ghost camera? I mean, and this is not even a full spectrum camera. This is like with any camera. But full spectrum cameras basically just increase the probability of an anomaly. So if you're anomaly hunting, which is all that they are doing, it just creates more possibilities for that to happen. And also it's more stuff that you won't recognize. And of course, that's their stock and trade. This is something weird. It's a ghost, you know. So they're just looking for weird stuff. They don't understand.
E: Yeah, that's right. And again, yeah, it just broadens the playing fields for them effectively. Instead of narrowing it down, which is what really science is supposed to do, it makes it a much wider open playing field. You can claim anything, anything at that point is a ghost. So yeah, there you go. There's your full spectrum camera. All right. Number four on the list, digital voice recorder. Something we have some experience with. When it comes to ghost hunting, it's not just about what you can see, but also about what you can hear. That's why a digital voice recorder is essential for any paranormal investigator. A compact device that allows you to record high quality audio, capturing any ghostly sounds that might be present in the environment. All right, translation. Digital audio recorders will be able to pick up noises that are sometimes not easily distinguishable, which can be then attributed to ghosts. That's basically what they're saying. Forget that what you're going to hear back later might be, oh, I don't know, the buildings, HVAC system, or electronics that are in the room with grounding issues, such as the electronic coils and monitors, things that are in the vicinity of the actual equipment that you're using, appliances running in adjacent rooms or floors, baby monitors, emitting radio frequencies. There's so many things out there.
S: Evan, when we were on that one, ghost hunt, with people who are recording for ghost voices, we could very clearly hear people talking on the street through the window.
S: But that's not the kind of thing you would think necessarily about, like, you're in the room and there was nothing in the room. Sometimes you can grossly underestimate how far voices can carry in the right physical setting. But also there could just be pranksters, saying stuff in your shot of the Digital Voice Recorder. The problem with voice only or sound only is that you have to be told what the source of it is at all. You can't. It's, it's worthless data.
E: Totally worthless. It's all, it's noise. You're just, you're just, you're just trying to make, trying to make sense of chaos effect.
S: And sometimes they literally do like the audio peridolia, like there's just background noise and they go, did you hear that? You know, it's like backward masking on record players.
E: All right. Number three, the EMF reader, electromagnetic field reader. Yep. And EMF says we know they're invisible to the naked eye, but they can impact our environment, which is true. Some paranormal investigators believe that they can also affect ghostly activity. And EMF readers device that measures electromagnetic radiation and given environment and ghost hunters believe that ghosts can cause fluctuation in EMF levels. When using these readers, you want to start by taking baseline readings of the environment to establish the normal levels of radiation. And then as you move through the location, you keep an eye on the readings and look for any spikes or fluctuations. And that might indicate ghostly activity. No. Wrong. Perhaps the person most famous, perhaps infamous for making these things popular as far as ghost hunters go. Grant Wilson, right? Of the ghost hunters. In fact, he recommends you use something called a K2 meter by a brand called Safe Range. And of course, that's like the most popular one on Amazon that you can purchase. In fact, if you go to Amazon and you look at it, they will refer to it as a ghost meter. I mean-
J: That's awesome.
E: -there's your marketing.
J: Oh my God.
E: I mean, really, these things are unshielded devices. It can be set off by cell phones, two-way radios, electric devices can give you all kinds of interference. Very localized, has no impact. False readings all over the place. And you can basically trick these things all day all night.
S: Yeah. And again, what frequency to ghosts emit their EMF in? Whatever the detector's detect. That's the answer. There's no rhyme or reason to it. And again, just looking for anomalies, they don't understand it and they summarily proclaim them ghosts. But there's absolutely zero reason for that.
E: That's right. There's no falsifying these methods or these devices in this scenario. So again, totally, totally worthless. We've got two more, folks. Number two, the Ouija board. Okay, perhaps this is my favorite one on this top 10 list of five items. The Ouija board, here's how they describe it. "A divination tool that's been used for centuries to try and communicate with the dead. It's a simple device consisting of a flat board marked with alphabets, numbers, and the words yes and no. Participants place their hands on a planchete, which moves over the board, spelling out messages from the spirit world. Now despite its popularity, the Ouija board has been the subject of much controversy and skepticism. Some people believe it's a harmless way to connect with the dead. Others believe it's a dangerous tool that can open up a portal to the spirit world and invite negative energy into the world."
S: You left something out there.
E: Did I?
S: Still others. They left something out. Still others think it's total bullshit. (laughter)
B: Others who have science on their side.
E: And Ouija board became a popular tool in a sense in the age of spiritualism that arose after the Civil War. There were a lot of people and families grieving because of the losses that a lot of them experienced. And some people ran to fill that niche to go to spiritualists, mediums, other people who wanted to communicate with the dead of the lost of the people that they lost, especially in that war. There was this real boom in a sense. That's when the Ouija board became very popular, marketed towards, unfortunately, those grieving section of society and just became available to lots of different people in the late 1800s and continued on.
J: Yeah Ev, what you're basically saying is that people who are trying to make money found easy targets.
S: A great district of exploitation.
J: Grieving people are the number one person to sell pseudoscience to. We need to think about it. There's so many pseudosciences that were created to get money out of grieving people.
E: Yes. In this particular one stock, because it almost has, it's not just this tool that was being used for the spiritualist and purpose, it also had a game quality to it, so it appealed to younger, to children as well. They could market it to them. It was quite clever in a sense. Of course, in case you don't know, the entire effect of a Ouija board, if you can call it that, can be attributed to the idiom motor effect. It's something we've written about in our book, The Skeptics Guide to the Universe, and have talked extensively on this podcast.
S: Or Evan, cheating. How do you know one of the other people with their fingers on the plan shed are in cheating? You guys remember that husband and wife team that we investigated?
E: We tested for the million dollar.
E: Preliminary test for the Randy Million dollar challenge.
S: It was fun. They said they could use a Ouija board blindfolded. Like, okay, we can test that. Now you remember that the wife had a booboo on her finger and had to have a splint on one of her fingers. So they're like, if it doesn't work, it's because I got this little injury. I think this is my, well, I put my experience with that couple together. I think the husband believed and the wife was the one who was using the board. It was cheating.
J: And she was deceiving her husband.
E: She convinced him.
S: Yeah. And then when we did the test, we properly blinded them. And they, of course, they couldn't even keep it on the board, let alone spell anything out.
B: Yeah, right.
E: Yes. Yeah, it was a miserable one.
S: 100% failure, 100% failure.
J: And on top of that, these people, and I hate to generalize, but 99.9% of the time, they just rationalize it away. Like they don't actually go, oh, wow, I was blindfolded and it didn't work. So therefore, I got to rethink this. They just come up with an excuse and the excuse works.
B: Pride. Both down the pride and like, I can't handle the fact that I deceived myself so badly. So I'm going to continue to believe it.
E: It's powerful. I mean, that is very powerful, those emotions definitely is. All right, guys, now we're to it. The number one gadget ghost hunters used to communicate with the paranormal and ghosts and other things, the IR thermometer. Infrared thermometer. Used to measure temperature changes in the environment. It works by emitting a beam of infrared light that measures the temperature of an object from a distance. Now, in the ghost hunting context, IR thermometers can measure temperature changes in areas where paranormal activity is suspected. Its believe that ghosts can cause sudden temperature drops, creating a chill.
S: Evan, we call that ghost cold.
E: That's right. Ghost cold. I love it. That's one of our oldest sort of go-to little things. Oh my gosh. Cold spot in the area where they are present. Yes, ghost cold. I mean, that you think we're reading a children's fairy tale, which we are in a sense, but no, this is really, really what the believers believe. They say the reason behind this belief is that spirits are often thought to be the remnants of deceased individuals, and as such, they are often depicted as cold and lacking in warmth. These temperature changes can be used as evidence of their presence, and it works so much better than a rectal thermometer of course, especially when ghost hunters have tried and failed for centuries to look up the asses of ghosts, only to find nothing except their own heads. And that is the end of my news.
J: Well, you're listing that these cool gadgets and stuff, they're basically cosplaying and they don't know it.
J: You know? Like, you buy this cool stuff, this gear, and you can see infrared, and you got a special camera, and you've got, devices that can record things and see things. I mean, it's all cosplay. It's just fun.
E: It is, except they don't know that they're cosplaying.
J: But they are having fun though. You know, like, to me, all the ghost hunters that we've interacted with, they are so thoroughly entertained.
S: This is their entertainment, absolutely.
E: Oh, they are scratching an itch. There's no doubt about it. They're feeding their own belief system with it. I mean, it's a heck of a feedback system for themselves. I'll, I'll, we'll part with this, this website, GISuser, which I did read a couple of the other articles on, have some legitimate things on here. You got to be careful folks, these websites, you don't, you'll never know. I mean, they treated this truly honestly as legitimate. There was no, this was not parody. You know, this was not, this has no disclaimer in it saying, that this is, been signed, scientifically challenged, there's no, nothing of that. No disclaimers, no anything. Somebody wrote this article, put it up there as a technology piece with a bunch of other articles that have legitimate technology.
S: Yeah, no skepticism.
E: So, so that's a real bad fail by this website, GISuser, and sad to say.
S: Yeah, shame on them, promoting pseudoscience.
S: Let's talk about some real science technology.
S: Do you guys know what a super alloy is? I'm pretty sure we've talked about it on the show itself.
E: I know what an alloy is.
J: It sounds familiar.
B: Is it have equal, equal amounts of different alloys instead of one predominant over the others?
S: Yeah, that is a, that is usually a type of super alloy, super alloys, really just an alloy with super properties. What you're talking about Bob is called a multi principal element alloy. MPEA. The principal is the most common element, like steel, the principal is iron and is a little bit of carbon and other potentially other alloys. Multi principal means there's more than one main component. Many super alloys are multi principal element alloys, but I don't think they have to be, but they could potentially have superior properties to any existing metal. It's just sort of a new area of material science. When you think about it, there are, for example, 20 common elements that are used in different alloys, metal alloys, and they could be in any percentage, right, in the final product. Think of how many permutations there must be. Even if you just do the 20 elements without varying the amounts-
E: Infinite. It's practically infinite.
S: Yeah, it's more than we could test with just trial and error. There's a recent study which is a proof of concept and they created a super alloy using 3D printing. Now the 3D printing, one form of 3D printing, which is additive manufacturing, right, that you're building up layers of something. Then usually you have an extruder. Typically, that would either melt plastic or resin or even metals, and then they stick together and harden. You 3D print it like you would, like a regular printer, but you build up layers in the third dimension. What they did was they used a metal 3D printer in order to fuse these alloys together in the specific ratios that they wanted and also to control the structure of the alloys. That, controlling the internal structure is what generally makes super alloys super alloys.
E: We're talking about the atomic structure?
S: Yeah, like how the crystalline structure that the way the different elements are arranged together.
J: Steve, can you clarify something though? So is the printer head, the element that melts the metal? Are they merging the metals in that process or are they already merged?
S: No, I think in that process, that's the process they're using to make the metal.
J: That is really-
E: That is the point at which it becomes the alloy.
E: Wow. Fascinating.
S: So as a proof of concept, they made an alloy of 42% aluminum, 25% titanium, 13% niobium, 8% zirconium, 8% molybdenum, and 4% tantalum.
S: Yeah. So Bob that was a multi-principle element because it's the aluminum and titanium are both significant. And this new alloy that they had had a very useful and interesting property, and that is it maintained its strength close to its melting point. Now typically metals will begin to significantly lose strength when you get beyond about 50% of their melting point.
B: Like the steel beams in 9/11.
J: Twin towers.
S: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Yeah, the fire wouldn't have to have been hot enough to literally melt the steel beams.
S: If you get in halfway or more, it would start to significantly weaken them to the point they couldn't, they couldn't longer hold up the weight of the towers. So this alloy that we're talking about was able to maintain its strength up to 800 degrees Celsius or 1472 degrees Fahrenheit. So it's a light and strong alloy that could function over a long range of temperatures, including up to a very hot temperature. Whereas like most steel alloys, even though that's not hot enough to melt them, they would be significantly losing strength at that point. Now, of course, this particular alloy would have lots of applications.
S: Yeah, so what is aerospace? Engine parts and fuselages, whatever. Things that you need to be light, strong and also maintain their strength even if they get pretty hot. But also in turbines, energy production.
B: Oh my God, yeah.
S: And I would imagine this kind of alloy would be useful in things like fusion reactors, where we need containment vessels that can get very, very hot without breaking apart. And again, this is just one super alloy that they made using this technique.
E: How did they arrive at that formula?
B: Combination, yeah.
S: That's a good question.
B: Deep learning?
S: No, but they didn't, they didn't use AI, but that's the next step.
B: Ahh, yes.
S: They specifically did this to try to test, the structure of this alloy and see if they could figure out like why it works, you know? So they want to use that information they learned from testing this alloy in order to inform AI simulations that could then predict other sweet spot ratios of elements that would give other super alloys. So this would be the merger of three future technologies, right, which we love to talk about. And then we have the time, I think to remind our audience that we have two books out.
S: Yeah, we have the Skeptics Guide to the Universe named after our podcast, which is a like a primer that goes over all of the topics that we discuss on the show, logical fantasies, science versus pseudoscience, all that good stuff. And then we have the Skeptics Guide to the Future, which talks about future technology. And this is like right out of the book where you have, you can't just think about one technology. You have to think about the interaction among multiple technologies. And here we have using AI to predict how to use 3D printing to make super alloys. It's like three different things all at once. When you think about that, the potential is just absolutely astounding. And just the fact that, you can make a super alley, which does indeed exceed the properties of existing alloys, it's good. It's also a proof of concept in that, yeah, there's a lot of better stuff out there. There's a lot of potential alloys that are better than anything we have now.
J: I mean, yeah, undiscovered alloys and materials that are yet to be, found. And we're going to use AI to get there.
B: Yeah. And that's the key because there's so many combinations and permutations that we'd have to go through conventionally.
B: If you can accelerate that process using AI, damn, there you go. You do, 10 years of research over the course of a weekend, that's something. That's where you get, that's where we're going to get some disruptive technologies. And that's really waiting for like the first real breakthrough with something like that. It's coming. It's coming.
S: Yeah. And when you think about it, so how many different alloys just of steel do you think there are? And using industry today?
B: 3? 2? At least.
B: That was close.
S: Different steel alloys. How many of them were discovered in the last 20 years?
E: 98% of them.
J: 98%, yeah, I was going to say that.
S: 75%. Just 20 years, guys, 20 years. Come on.
E: Yeah. Don't go crazy on this.
S: Maybe 90, maybe 100 years we've been talking in the upper 90s. But yeah. So that, what that tells you is we're still discovering a tremendous, I mean, steel has been used for thousands of years and still we're making all of these new discoveries about potential alloys and different properties that it could have. So anyway, just imagine the potential of these super alloys and all the different possibilities. Now of course you have to consider some practical things like how will this scale? I think that's the good thing about 3D printing is that it kind of all the scaling is already built in. You just get more 3D printers, you know what I mean? Using 3D printers for manufacturing is happening. There are factory floors that have like, here's 5,000 3D printers, and they just make stuff.
B: Oh, man.
S: But the other thing is is the economics of it. Like what would this be used for? I think with elements like tantalum in there and, niobium, this is not going to be something on your desktop. This is not going to be mass produced by the millions, this particular alloy. But I'm sure like NASA famously will use the very, very high tech rare things, not for mass production, like for one off. Like their solar panels are better than any other solar panels. They're not the kind that could be mass produced, but they don't care. They just want the best possible solar panels for the International Space Station. For example. So this is the same thing. It's like they, they may not be the kind of thing that they can make cars out of, but we might make rockets out of them, you know what I mean? But we'll see, we'll see if this, what kind of utility this specific super alloy has and how widely adopted it could be. But I am more interested in the technology itself. You know, using AI to predict these super-alloys, which could then be made by 3D printers.
J: Were you surprised to hear the idea that a 3D printer actually is creating the alloy as a printer? I mean, I'm still thinking about that. Like, I just didn't realize, I guess I haven't realized that 3D printing isn't an inferior way to manufacture. You know, I just assumed that 3D printing didn't make things that were as strong and whatever, but then I'm reading about them building rockets out of 3D printing. You know, it's like, it is not in any way a diminished mode of manufacturing. And if anything, we're getting better at it as time goes on.
S: Yeah, now there's one downside to the 3D printing of metal technique.
E: By product?
S: No, it can result in microcracks and the final product.
J: What are they doing about?
S: Well, they need to sort that out. It's what they need to do. They need to figure out how to make that not happen.
E: So does that mean just a tweaking of the formulation?
S: I don't know. I don't know. That could be a deal killer. It could be something that they easily fix. I don't know. But that's a current issue. If you're going to be using it for super high-end stuff, you don't want these things to be. You need something to propagate.
E: Like when we talked about what the concrete recently and the lime that they used to basically help fill those cracks as they occur.
S: They may need to do some other process to seal those microcracks so that they don't propagate. But we'll see, I mean, they're using, I think, off the shelf kind of technology for this. We may see the day where there are 3D printers that are designed for this, like for making super-allow. Not just leverage to make them, but are optimized for them and to, like high-end ones that would have the microcracks in it. Yeah. That are useful for like aerospace, not just prototyping, you know. So tremendous potential. You know, again, we're always talking about things if 5, 10 to 20 years before they actually use because there's all these little things going to be worked out. But I think this is, the whole super-allow thing is something we're going to be seeing in our future.
Who's That Noisy? (1:14:49)
S: Alright, Jay, it's Who's That Noisy Time.
J: Alright guys, last week I played this noisy:
You guys want to make a guess?
E: It's like a hand crank mechanism sound to it almost.
S: Yeah. It has like a-
E: Printing press, an old printing press or something.
S: And 19th century mechanical.
E: So could it be a loom?
S: Yeah, something put petal to maybe.
J: These are all good guesses guys. Good guesses.
E: Thanks. Are any of them right?
J: Well I had quite a few responses on this one. Lots of correct answers. A listener named John M. wrote in and said: "Hi Jay, I think that noisy is someone weaving on an old fashioned loom."
E: There you go.
J: So you guys are not alone. "I don't know much about weaving but I think the first sounds you hear is someone placing the shuttle on the loom and then the sound of the loom weaving and then we hear the shuttle being removed."
E: Bob knows about weaving.
J: He does. That's a great guess. But that is not correct. But you are in the right area. Teresa Rushka wrote in and said: "Sure sounds like a barber chair. Seems like for a kid being pumped up to the barber's comfort lots of pumps. Then one or two to fine tune." Right. So she's talking about the kind of chair that you would sit in when you go get your haircut. You know how they can change the height.
E: The pneumatic.
J: And push the foot pedal.
E: Feature of it.
J: Yeah. And again, not a bad guess because that foot pedal action is actually close to the mark. A listener named William Steel wrote in said: "Hi Jay, I think this week's noisy is somebody hand cranking some sort of engine, possibly a generator." Then he says: "To get specific a hand cranking a farm tractor." So a lot of people are picking up on that whole like hand or foot cranking type of situation.
E: Just has that cadence, the rhythm.
J: And then Chris Bovitz writes in and says: "This week's noisy sounds like a mimeograph machine, which is, like a printing press type of machine.
E: Oh wow. Mimeographs. Holy moly.
J: Remember those?
E: Oh gee whiz, 50's, 60's. Oh wow.
J: So everybody that I picked for this week on the right track, there is definitely this vibe of, it being, hand powered or foot powered or whatever. So let me read to you the winning the winning guess. "Hi Jay, I think today's noisy is someone using a treetal sewing machine like my grandmother used to." So this is like the old school Singer sewing machine that you could, you could make it spin with a pedal or it could be operated by hand or both. You know, because there was a way to turn it with your hand and everything, really big needle, like going, we're going back to the 1800s. Very cool. I think it's really interesting that people today are still using equipment like this. They're maintaining them and still doing it. They're, I didn't have enough time to look into it. I really wanted to learn if those machines do something that modern machines can't do, right? Do you know what I'm getting at? Like there could be a reason why you'd want to use one of these old style machines to do something that, you might not be able to get your hands on the type of machine that you would need to do it today because it's too expensive or whatever. I would like to talk to someone that does this again, answer some questions.
E: Well, if we ever have an electromagnetic pulse that winds up, knocking out a lot of electricity, yeah, you're going to need things like looms and, you might need those in some scenarios.
S: Yeah, we were talking about that recently actually, like, I think in the context of shows, like the Last of Us is a post-apocalyptic show where, there's no energy production anywhere. And suddenly, we have to lean heavily on, like, pre-industrial technology.
E: Yeah, be [inaudible] with plows.
S: How widespread are those skills, right?
E: Nope, not when we're used to 3D printing our metals.
S: I know.
J: Most of us are incredibly spoiled that we don't have to do, spend 80% of our time growing food. You know, that was one of the, one of the most popular ways to survive was you just do it all yourself.
E: Farmer Bob, I can see you in the overalls, Bob.
B: Oh, yeah.
New Noisy (1:19:12)
J: All right. So I have a new noisy for this week. And the noisy was sent in by a listener named Daniel Zepetta. I hope I pronounced your name correctly. And here's the noisy.
[hissing with low and high guttural animal honking/humming]
E: The emergency seal broadcasting system.
J: Sorry for the rough sounding sound. I had to turn the volume way up. And you could take that as a hint maybe. I don't know. Maybe there's something in there. But anyway, what is making that noise? If you think you know, or if you heard something cool, email me at WTN@theskepticsguide.org. And I want to say one thing. One of the most popular noises I get sent in are like, it's the borehole into the, into ice like thousands of feet down into ice. I am constantly being sent that noisy. And that's one of the reasons why I can't use it because so many, I know so many people will get it because it makes a very distinct noise. And I promise everyone out there, I will never play that noisy simply because everybody already knows the answer.
S: So stop sending it in.
J: Stop sending it. Don't need to send me the borehole ice noise when they drop ice down and all. Don't need it. Don't, we will not play it. Thank you.
J: Hey, everyone, don't forget on Saturday, May 20th, we are going to do a six hour live stream. The first hour will be patrons only. And then the next five hours we will spend doing some offbeat stuff that you typically don't hear us talk about on this show. It'll be a lot of fun. And we really hope that you join us. So we'll be live streaming that and we'll have links on our website and on Facebook and social media and case you're looking for it last minute. But please do join us that Saturday, May 20th, we're going to start probably at 11 a.m.-
S: Eastern time.
J: -once we settle in. Eastern time. Correct. And also, if you enjoy this show, you realize that we have been doing this for 18 years without missing one show.
S: Coming up in 18 years. So I think since the beginning of the second year, we have never missed a weekly show. We've always put a show out every single week. And if you appreciate the work that we do, please consider becoming a patron of the skeptics guide. You can become part of the the SGU family, get on our discord and join all the people on there that are having daily conversations about hundreds of topics. If you look at the discord, it's unbelievable. The amount of things that they talk about on there. So go to patreon.com/SkepticsGuide and join us. Join us.
E: Join us.
S: All right. Thanks, Jay.
Science or Fiction (1:22:02)
Item #1: The Atlas Blue butterfly has the most chromosomes of any eukaryotic diploid creature, at between 448 and 452.
Item #2: About two-thirds of all people who have ever been over 65 years of age are alive today.
Item #3: Despite claims of living fossils, there is no evidence for any extant species existing for more than about 3 million years.
|Fiction||⅔ all people to live >65 years are alive today|
|Science||No extant species >3 M.y.o.|
Atlas Blue butterfly
|No extant species >3 M.y.o.|
|No extant species >3 M.y.o.|
|No extant species >3 M.y.o.|
|No extant species >3 M.y.o.|
Voice-over: It's time for Science or Fiction.
S: Each week I come up with three science news item or facts, two real and one fake and then I count on my panel of skeptics that to tell me which one is the fake. We're coming off of two sweeps. Will it be three this week? There is a theme this week that last week the theme was death. So this week the theme is life.
E: Taxes. Oh. (laughter)
S: You wish Evan.
E: I'll go last.
S: The theme is life. Here we go.
S: Very big category. But you know, all right. Item number one: The Atlas Blue butterfly has the most chromosomes of any eukaryotic diploid creature, at between 448 and 452. Item number two: About two-thirds of all people who have ever been over 65 years of age are alive today. And number three: Despite claims of living fossils, there is no evidence for any extant species existing for more than about 3 million years. Bob, go first.
B: Atlas butterfly, the most chromosomes of what? Four forty eight. The hell man, that's nuts.
S: I'm happy to explain both eukaryotic and diploid if you require.
E: Yes, please.
S: So eukaryotic is instead of prokaryotic like that [inaudible].
S: So yeah, like multi-cellular.
C: Yeah, they got mitochondria, all the good stuff.
S: Plants and animals. And diploid means it has two copies of the chromosomes like us.
C: Like we do. Yeah, not polyploid.
S: Not polyploid.
C: They have so many.
S: Yeah, right. That's a totally different ballgame. There are some some plants usually that are polyploid that have crazy chromosome numbers. But this is the most diploid.
B: Okay. So we got that one. We got number two.
E: See how that going for you.
B: Of all people who have ever been over sixty five are alive today. Two thirds. All right. And this living fossil thing. Jesus, this is good, man, because aren't aren't sharks essentially unchanged for it more than three million years. I've heard that now. I guess the crux of that might be essentially what is essentially unchanged mean.
C: I assume I mean, is it safe to assume that you mean it's the same species?
B: Yeah, well, that's what I'm hoping.
C: Right. Me too.
B: They have very little. I know they have they've gone for huge amounts of time with very little change. But you know, maybe that's two million years. I mean, not necessarily three, but I suspect it might be longer. The two thirds of sixty five. That's tough because I've never heard of it couched in that specific way. I know that there's more people living now than I've ever lived. So I think who knows at this point and the the eukaryotic diploid. I don't know. That just sounds so high. I'm going to go I'm going to go with the extant species fossil as fiction, whatever.
S: Okay, Cara.
C: Yeah, I'm trying to think of things that would be around today. Like that one was the one that was getting me to. And I'm like, okay, sharks, maybe some, what do we call them like the organisms that are like in the alligator crocodile family because those are like super, super old some fish. Maybe.
B: Coelacanth, how old is a coelacanth?
C: Yes, coelacanth or maybe like a horseshoe. I have horseshoe crabs on my wall. Those I think those are really old or like a nar-, do we still have narwhals? Maybe not. I feel like there must be some extant species that are pretty. Let me just read I got to read this really carefully despite claims. Yeah, I know because that's whatever. There is no evidence. None? For any extant species existing for more than about three million years. And now to be clear Steve, you mean this linear the line of the species self. You don't mean like one organism living for three million years.
S: Of course, yeah, right. Not individual.
E: Happy birthday to you.
C: I think I'm going to go with this one too. It's kind of hard to believe that they're 448 chromosomes in an atlas blue butterfly, but you know there's always got to be the weirdo out there. And then. This 2/3 of all people have this one bothers me to the 2/3 of all people have ever been over 65 of age right because we've done that whole thing about life span and life expectancy or whatever that like yeah they could have been alive that long but they were like dying of things like dysentery.
C: So yeah maybe. And childbirth. There's so many reasons. Yeah. That one might be true. The whole thing when we really start thinking about population and how many people have ever lived and how many people are buried it like starts to really blow my mind. But I think that and population has exploded so much which is didn't have many people before. I think I think it's a living fossil when the fiction I'm going to go with Bob.
S: Okay Evan.
E: Yeah gosh you see here's the thing. In order to prevent the sweep Jay and I would have to choose two of the other ones.
E: If we're looking to, if that's our goal here. But if I'm looking to try to win the game.
C: What should be the goal.
E: I have to go you know with a little bit of brain power on my on my part. The second one about the 2/3 of all people who have ever been over 65 years of age. Yeah we've touched on this before and like Cara you mentioned it population and how it has really exploded in recent times and although this one on the surface doesn't seem right I think that one's going to turn out to be correct. Because of our enormous population that we've had recent years and today. The one about the blue butterfly the only thing I think I can say about that is that I find it to be very diplodomatic. .
B: What just happened.
E: I just livened and up science or fiction is what happened. Therefore I'm going with Bob and Cara and agreeing about the living fossils fiction.
S: Okay and Jay.
J: Well since I'm going last the only one that I'm sure is science is the one about the 65 years of age or life today. I mean that one I can swear I know about that. So you know I just don't know enough about the Atlas blue butterfly and you know eucaryotic diploid creatures to really comment on that. I mean I would have to read I would have to read a lot in order to think intelligently about it so that one's just a null factor for me. And I agree with what Evan said I mean the only one that seems worth picking is this last one but if I pick it that gives that gives Steve the ability to sweep again but it's but we all could win together though Ev.
E: That's what it would be, that's right. It would be all in, all all together.
J: I think I'm going to go with the crew because they're my crew.
E: All right.
E: Let's hold virtual hands here.
C: And then we'll hold Bob responsible.
B: Is that right?
Steve Explains Item #1
S: All right so you seem to have the easiest time with the first one so we'll start there. The Atlas Blue butterfly has the most chromosomes of any eukaryotic diploid creature, at between 448 and 452. You all think that one is science and that one is science. That is science.
S: Yeah there are a good there are plants with crazy numbers of chromosomes but this is the highest for a diploid. And that's total chromosomes so that's 224 to 226 pairs. We have 23 pairs therefore we have 46 chromosomes, right? So yeah that's a lot and that's and that is the most.
Steve Explains Item #2
S: Okay let's go on to number two. About two-thirds of all people who have ever been over 65 years of age are alive today. You all think this one is science. Especially Jay who's absolutely sure this one is science.
E: He's absolutely certain, that's right. So we don't even have to go into it. We won.
S: And this one is the fiction.
E: No it's not.
J: Oh my god.
E: No it's not. No. I'm going to write an email.
J: I can't believe it. Oh my god.
B: You were so sure though.
S: So however that is a common myth on the internet but it's not true.
J: See I read it. I did read that.
S: Probably, you probably did and I read it several times but I had to go down multiple layers to find a study that actually shows that it's not true.
S: You know with somebody you group actually did the math. So Bob you're also incorrect about the there are more people alive.
B: Yeah. I figured.
S: So of course you have to that's you have to decide where to draw the line for humans. And in this research it was reasonable, and again not that it matters that much because the populations were so low when you go when you go very far back, but yes they do they do the line of like humans. They had to draw it somewhere at 190,000 years. They calculated what the total number of people who have ever lived was. Essentially the number of people alive today is about 7% of the people who have ever lived.
S: It's a big percentage. It's still a big percentage.
C: It's big but it's not, it's not to third. I mean there's no way you could slice that to make two thirds [inaudible].
S: That's just all people but if you look at people over 65 or maybe they were all young right. But actually the life, this is again Cara you're correct the life expectancy versus life span gets confusing. Life expectancy was 35-40. But that's because a lot of people died in infancy with children.
E: Yeah, brought the mean down.
S: A lot of people brought the average a lot of people also live into their 70s, 80s, 90s. Even you know in ancient times. When you do the calculation it's it's only about 7% of people over 65 versus of all the people who have ever lived. You know they estimated there's 600 million you know people over 65 this was when they did the calculations in 2010 but I updated the numbers for the increasing population. And there's just no way you get to two thirds the people just pulled that out of their ass and that's why they said oh let's actually calculated and they had to develop a model of how we could do the calculation and it's nowhere near 65%, yeah.
Steve Explains Item #3
S: Which means despite claims of living fossils, there is no evidence for any extant species existing for more than about 3 million years. What do you think is the most important word in that sentence?
C: Despite claims of living fossils, there is no evidence for any extant species existing for more than about. I have no idea what the most-
S: Species. Species.
C: Well that's what I was saying.
S: It has to be the same species so all the examples you guys gave are not the same species-
C: They're the same like genus?
S: Yeah they're the same genus. But there were lots of claims of living species that look indistinguishable from their fossil ancestors going back even hundreds of millions of years. The one that for a while, that was supposedly the longest lived one was the tadpole shrimp. Which looks pretty much today like the fossils did about 300 million years ago. Even to 400 million years. And they mentioned the sea look at they mentioned horseshoe crabs again they look very similar.
E: Cara has them on her wall.
S: Sharks as a group have been around for a long time but in the last 10 to 20 years all of these examples have fallen because of DNA evidence. And when they look at the DNA it's like oh no it actually split from its most common ancestor only 20 million years ago oh no that's actually only 3 million years ago.
C: It's so frustrating like at what point is it a different species.
S: Yeah but the average species has a life span of about 2 million years. That's average. But again they also think about how I framed this. I didn't say there are no extend species more than 3 million years old so there's no evidence for any. And the article that I have is a reference it went over all of the recent studies which basically debunked all of the classic examples and an evolutionary biologist who was doing the research saying yeah like there's no single species where it's been shown that there's any evidence that it's older than 3 million years old. Or several million or a few million years old. So yeah what once you start doing the DNA evidence you realize okay even though the fossil parts may look very similar, they would be classified as different species. They're actually very different than you know genetically speaking from their remote ancestors. Which makes sense also when you think about it because even if you were functionally stable. You had a stable environment a stable niche. Genetic drift alone would be called your way over millions of years. There's no way you're going to remain the same species for tens of millions or hundreds of millions of years just from genetic drift alone.
C: But I mean I guess that's the real question right is like at what point?
S: Yeah, obviously.
C: Taxonomic, it's so arbitrary taxonomically. How many insertions, how many deletions makes a new species. And we can't test whether it could mate with the other one because the other one's gone.
S: Yeah, right. But they do that. They do use DNA comparisons to decide. Even two living species like this elephant species is actually two different species now that we've analyzed the DNA. They do that all the time.
C: I just wish I wish I had a better understanding of what is that threshold.
C: It's weird.
S: That was a tricky one, I admit that. That was a tricky one.
J: Steve how pleased are you with yourself?
S: You know.
C: Listen, listen to his voice. You know. [inaudible] (laughs)
S: I don't want these to be too hard. I want them to be fair and I knew that this one was going to be a little tricky but the details were there for you to figure it out. And the 65 year old one was, you all had, were queasy about that one. Basically.
C: That was the other option.
S: Yeah right right.
E: Well, not for Jay.
S: But in general you guys your averages have been very very high. And I'm sure they will remain high this year. This is just a blip, so don't worry about it.
Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:36:42)
Of the many other so-called "disciplines" taught here, Divination is perhaps the most feeble, especially in its nonsensical practice of Astrology. Do not confuse Astronomy and Astrology: one is concerned with mysteries stellar and lunar, the other is mere lunacy.
– Professor Satyavati Shah (late 19th century), from the video game Hogwarts Legacy. She was a British or Irish professor of Astronomy at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
S: All right Evan give us a quote.
E: This week's quote was supplied by listener Brandon from Littleton, Colorado. Thank you Brandon for this he wrote us. He found something in Hogwarts Legacy. Anyone playing Hogwarts Legacy?
S: The video game?
C: Video game?
E: Yeah. I'm not. At least yet but maybe I will after I read this quote because this quote comes from the game in which Brandon makes us aware your character attends an astronomy class at one point during the game with professor Shaw. And while attending the class she mentions how absurd divination class is. Here's the quote: "I noticed you dismissed divination. Why?" Well that's the first part. And then professor Shaw's response: "Of the many other so-called "disciplines" taught here, Divination is perhaps the most feeble, especially in its nonsensical practice of Astrology. Do not confuse Astronomy and Astrology: one is concerned with mysteries stellar and lunar, the other is mere lunacy." So there you go. A little skeptical infusion into your modern Harry Potter video games and I like seeing that as well as did Brandon. Thanks for sharing that with us. It's a cool, very cool catch on your part.
S: Yeah. Of course magic is real in that world but yeah.
E: Yes. Even so, even so. When you find it in places you least expect it.
B: It's even more impressive.
E: It's refreshing, yeah.
B: Skeptical in a magical world.
S: Yeah and I like it because, and that's a function of good world building in my opinion because even though magic exists in the wizarding world in Harry Potter it doesn't mean that they're all fantasists or flaky or anything. They could be serious academic intellectuals, even scientific. But they live in a world where magic exists, right? And which then magic has its own rules and its own system. There would be I think people who were skeptical and scientific even immersed in a magical world. It would be harder though I would think.
S: You know?
E: You would think so.
S: Yeah. All right that was interesting.
E: Yeah well everyone thanks for joining me this week.
B: Sure man.
E: Thank you Steve.
J: Yes sir.
S: —and until next week, this is your Skeptics' Guide to the Universe.
S: Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by SGU Productions, dedicated to promoting science and critical thinking. For more information, visit us at theskepticsguide.org. Send your questions to email@example.com. And, if you would like to support the show and all the work that we do, go to patreon.com/SkepticsGuide and consider becoming a patron and becoming part of the SGU community. Our listeners and supporters are what make SGU possible.
Today I Learned
- Fact/Description, possibly with an article reference
- ↑ Visual Capitalist, "All 188 Cognitive Biases", via Medium.com: Serial Dependence Bias
- ↑ Science-Based Medicine: The 4-Day Work Week and Health
- ↑ Neuroscience News: Infants Outperform AI in “Commonsense Psychology”
- ↑ The Conversation: Black holes may be the source of mysterious dark energy that makes up most of the universe
- ↑ GIS User: Ghost Hunting: 5 Devices & Gadgets You Can Use to Track Paranormal Activity
- ↑ Neurologica: 3D Printing Superalloys
- ↑ Wikipedia: Polyommatus atlantica
- ↑ Demographic Research: How many old people have ever lived?
- ↑ Live Science: Which animal species has existed the longest?
- ↑ [url_for_TIL publication: title]