Working Memory – Chimpanzees vs. Humans

By Anupum Pant

At least in one known cognitive area, chimpanzees prove to be far smarter than human beings. While it is possible for humans to train themselves up to some extent at it, they lack the capacity for an excellent working memory. On the other hand, chimps naturally display a remarkable working memory.

So, naturally the next question we’d ask – what exactly is working memory and how can I beat chimps at it?

But before that is answered, let us have a look at this study conducted by Japanese scientists.
In the study, scientists use a test where numbers from 1 to 9 are arranged on a screen randomly. The test taker is given a chance to remember all the nine positions. When the subject is ready, the areas go blank and the user is required to recall all the nine numbers in sequence. One mistake and the subject has to start over. In the test, we see this chimpanzee named Ayumu showing remarkable ability in terms of working memory. The opponent human loses badly.

BTW at this test, the chimp Ayumu, can now recall 19 numbers in sequence without making a single mistake. Not just Ayumu, this knack is observed in all chimps.

Why?

As the researcher mentions, chimps are not the same as humans. Both humans and chimps had a common ancestor several millions of years ago. Now, both of these species have evolved in their own ways for all these years. While they’ve gotten good at something, we’ve picked up different abilities. You don’t have to feel bad about it.

This ability to actively hold multiple pieces of information in the mind and play with them has helped these chimps to survive in the wild by helping them to make quick decisions. As a result, they have evolved to master it.

Training + Caveat

Although you can train yourself to have an amazing working memory, you’ll probably never be able to beat chimps. Also, you should know that very few humans have a nearly equal level of working memory as compared to chimps, and these are the people who are affected by a mental disability called the Savant syndrome. It is beyond common humans to train themselves to chimp-level-working memory.

A game known as n-back, used as a test and an exercise tool can help you to master your working memory. The game starts easy. Then you move on to the second level where things straight away move from easy to difficult. The next levels seem impossible at first. But it has been proved that this game can help you to improve your working memory. The harder you train, the better you get at it; of course, never as good as Ayumu.

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Largest Meteorite Left No Crater On Earth

By Anupum Pant

You should know: Meteor vs. Meteoroid vs. Meteorite

Meteor: The streak of light that we see in the sky is “Meteor”. When debris enters earth and gets burned up while entering, it leaves a streak of light. Unlike what is popularly believed, meteor is not the debris itself rather the word “meteor” refers to only the flash of light.

Meteoroid: A meteoroid is a mass that is small – ranging from a kilometer to only a few millimeters in diameter. Most meteoroids that enter the Earth’s atmosphere are so small that they vaporize completely and never reach the planet’s surface.

Meteorite: If the Meteoroid survives and reaches the earth’s surface, it becomes a Meteorite.

Hoba the Meteorite

About 80,000 years back, a ridiculously huge mix of Iron and Nickel entered the earth. It was so large that what was left out of all the burning through the atmosphere, measured 66,000 kg in the end. About half ton of this meteorite has gone to laboratories for research. Even after accounting for losses towards laboratories and vandalism, it is still the largest single mass of natural Iron on the Earth’s surface. It is the largest meteorite ever discovered till date and is called “Hoba”.

This meteorite was discovered by a farmer in Namibia in the year 1920. Since then, due to its mass, it has never been moved. The meteorite and the site has been declared as a national monument by the Namibian government and several tourists visit it every year.

Farmer’s Story: 

One winter as I was hunting at the farm Hoba I noticed a strange rock. I sat down on it. Only its upper part was visible. The rock was black, and all around it was calcareous soil. I scratched the rock with my knife and saw there was a shine beneath the surface. I then chiselled off a piece and took it to the SWA Maatskappy in Grootfontein, whose director established it to be a meteorite.

If that was hardly interesting…

The most puzzling thing about this meteorite is probably not that it belongs to a very rare class of meteorites (Ataxite), but the fact that it has no crater to be seen around it. Normally, a meteorite of this size should have left a crater hundreds of meters wide.

The best theory that explains the absence of any preserved crater around it is that, this piece of rock must have hit the earth’s surface at a very low angle. As a result, it must have skipped on the surface like a flat stone on water surface. And in the end, must have landed at the place where it lies today.

Miniature Sealed Self-Sustaining Ecosystem

By Anupum Pant
  1. 53 years ago, David Latimer (80) from Surrey planted an indoor Spiderwort in a huge glass globular bottle. He has watered it just once, in the year 1972. Since then, this self-sustaining ecosystem, has been sealed away from the outside world for around 40 years. In spite of being sealed away like that, the plant has grown very well in its own miniature ecosystem [Picture]. The only regular external energy it has received has been in the form of light. [more about this self-sustaining ecosystem and how it works]
  2. The EcoSphere or the Original EcoSphere takes it to the next level by introducing a shrimp in a similar setting. Like David Latimer’s bottle, this is also a self-sustaining ecosystem consisting of algae, bacteria and shrimp. The company that sells these things says that the shrimps would last for just around 10 years. Although, they also claim of 25-year-old spheres with living shrimps.
    10 years is little as compared to the ecosystem discussed in the first point. But we are talking about a pet living in a completely sealed space for 10 years, without demanding food, change of water or an appointment with the vet. For these little creatures it is probably a safe haven away from the dirty oil slicked oceans and predators; or probably just a prison.

These little biospheres are a far simpler and smaller versions of our big worlds. We are like the shrimp and the trees, our algae. This diagram explains in a simple way, how these artificial, extremely simplified versions of Earth work – [Diagram]

The shrimp and algae biospheres were discovered by two scientists, the late Dr. Joe Hanson and the late Dr. Clair Folsome. Later, NASA became interested in these systems. There got interested because:

  1. This tiny model of the Earth could add information to NASA’s Mission to Planet Earth program for studying Earth’s biosphere.
  2. It could help NASA’s research on human life support systems directed toward the construction of space stations for exploring our solar system.

Make it for yourself: Make magazine published a detailed DIY guide on how to create these living biospheres at home. [Link] Carl Sagan’s Review of these biospheres: The World Arrived in The Mail.

Random Foliage Fact:

The world’s smallest park is located in the median strip of SW Naito Parkway, approaching esplanade along the Willamette River near SW Taylor Street in downtown Portland, Oregon, United States. Mill Ends Park, a 2 ft is a circular park, has held a place in the Guinness book of Records since 1971. It isn’t a park you can send your children to. – [Wikipedia]