Douglas Rushkoff – It’s not the technology’s fault

  • It’s an all-hands-on-deck moment in the arc of civilization.
  • Everyone has a choice: Do you want to try to earn enough money to insulate yourself from the world you’re creating—
    or do you want to make the world a place you don’t have to insulate yourself from?


For me, the very best Onion article of 2018 was this one about Jeff Bezos revealing Amazon’s new headquarters to be the entire Earth, as an Amazon-branded glass sphere clicked into place, encasing forever the horrified inhabitants of our planet.

More than a grain of truth in that one, eh? At this point, with all that’s happened over the past few years, I think you either have to be delusionally optimistic by nature or have strong vested interests in the tech industry to think that all is well in our digital world.

Douglas Rushkoff has been looking at these problems with unflinching clarity and humor since long before the rest of us heard the click of the big glass sphere. on his podcast Team Human and in his new book of the same name, he invites the rest of us humans to team up and stand up for weird, messy humanity against this anti-human agenda.

Surprise conversation starter clips in this episode:

Johann Hari on depression and anxiety in the workplace

Why ‘upgrading’ humanity is a transhumanist myth

  • Though computer engineers claim to know what human consciousness is, many neuroscientists say that we’re nowhere close to understanding what it is, or its source.
  • Scientists are currently trying to upload human minds to silicon chips, or re-create consciousness with algorithms, but this may be hubristic because we still know so little about what it means to be human.
  • Is transhumanism a journey forward or an escape from reality?

Dead – yes, dead – tardigrade found beneath Antarctica

  • Scientists find remains of a tardigrade and crustaceans in a deep, frozen Antarctic lake.
  • The creatures’ origin is unknown, and further study is ongoing.
  • Biology speaks up about Antarctica’s history.


So it turns out our favorite real-world superheroes, tardigrades, aren’t completely indestructible. But even in death, they continue to amaze. Scientists boring a hole one kilometer beneath the ice deep within a buried Antarctic lake recently got a bit of a shock. They came across the remains of once-living creatures, some ancient crustaceans, and — you guessed it — a water bear. How all of the creatures got there remains unclear.

The discovery was “completely unexpected,” micropaleontologist David Harwood tells Nature. The drilling was done under the auspices of the SALSA (Subglacial Antarctic Lakes Scientific Access) project. Glaciologist Slawek Tulaczyk, who’s not involved with SALSA, says, “This is really cool. It’s definitely surprising.”

Welcome to Subglacial Lake Mercer

The scientists were drilling in Subglacial Lake Mercer, a frozen body of water undisturbed for millennia. SALSA’s is the first direct sampling of its contents. Prior to the drilling, it had only been examined with ice-penetrating radar and some other indirect detection devices.

Boring details

SALSA drilled down a kilometer into the ice above Lake Mercer using a hot-water drill . At its maximum width, the hole was just 60 centimeters across.

On December 30, the team retrieved a temperature sensor from the frozen lake and noticed some gray-brown mud stuck to the bottom of it. Looking at the mud under a microscope, Harwood saw the glassy remains of photosynthetic diatoms, which he expected, but also a shrimp-like crustacean shell with its legs still intact. And then another, even better-preserved one.

To double-check, the team cleaned off their sensor and sent it down for more mud. This time, more crustacean shells and some other things that looked a bit like worms appeared under the microscope. On January 8, at a National Science Foundation base 900 kilometers away, animal ecologist named Byron Adams had a look. He confirmed the crustaceans, found the tardigrade, and identified the worm-like organisms as being thread-like plants or fungi. He’d seen all three types of creatures previously in the glacier-free Dry Valleys of Antarctica, as well as in the Transantarctic Mountains.

Where the organisms were found, but why?

The animals could have come from other places, such as the ocean. Between five and ten thousand years ago, the Antarctic ice sheet became thinner for a while, and this could have allowed seawater to make its way beneath floating ice, carrying organisms along with it that eventually became trapped beneath the ice sheet when it returned to its normal thickness.

The water sampled from Lake Mercer has enough oxygen to sustain life, and is packed with bacteria, over 10,000 cells per millimeter. Harwood wonders if larger animals could have survived feeding on them, though the majority of biologists don’t think it’s likely to have been a substantial enough food source.

Adams suspects the creatures actually lived in the Transantarctic Mountains and were then transported after dying down to Lake Mercer. He says they seem too recent to have been neighbors of the millions-of-years-old diatoms. “What was sort of stunning about the stuff from Lake Mercer,” Adams tells Nature, “is it’s not super, super-old. They’ve not been dead that long.” The eight-legged tardigrade from Lake Mercer resembles those found in damp soil, reinforcing Adam’s conclusion.

Back to the lab

The next steps for these intriguing remains is an attempt at determine their age using radiocarbon dating. In addition, researchers will try and sequence DNA scraps from them to learn if they’re of marine or freshwater species. Finally, scientists will perform chemical analyses of carbon the remains contain to see if a determination can be made as to whether the animals spent their days in sunlight or in the dark, far beneath the Antarctic.

Why are women are more religious than men? Because men are more willing to take risks.

  • Sociologists have long observed a gap between the religiosity of men and women.
  • A recent study used data from several national surveys to compare religiosity, risk-taking preferences and demographic information among more than 20,000 American adolescents.
  • The results suggest that risk-taking preferences might partly explain the gender differences in religiosity.


In virtually all countries in the world, women tend to be more religious than men. In the U.S., recent surveys show a sizeable 12-point difference between the genders in terms of religiosity. What explains the gap?

A new study published in The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion suggests one factor is that men are more likely to take risks. Here’s how study author John P. Hoffmann, a professor of sociology at Brigham Young University, explained the connection between risk preferences and religiosity to Psy Post:

“…We recalled that, long ago, the philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal had proposed that believing in God was a risk-avoidant strategy and not believing was risky [a proposition described by the philosophical argument Pascal’s Wager]. We then married the ideas that women are more religious than men, men are usually greater risk takers than women, and religious involvement may be a risk avoidant life strategy to hypothesize that risk preferences might account for at least some of the gender difference in religious beliefs and behaviors,” Hoffmann explained.

It’s a theory Hoffmann first put forth in 1995 with a paper titled “Risk and religion: An explanation of gender differences in religiosity“, the key takeaway of which was that “once preferences for risk are considered, the well-known gap in religiousness between females and males dissipates.” However, subsequent studies had failed to replicate his results, likely due to errors in methodology, Hoffman said.

The new study on risk-preference theory was an attempt to replicate and potentially extend those initial results. For the study, Hoffmann examined data from the 2015 Monitoring the Future study, the 2010 National Survey of Drug Use and Health, and the 2005 National Survey of Youth and Religion. These sources recorded the risk preferences, religiousness and demographic variables of 22,745 American adolescents.

After comparing the data, the results showed that men were more willing to take risks, while women were more likely to be religious. What’s more, the gap between male and female religiousness nearly disappeared when risk-taking served as a control variable.

“One takeaway of these studies is that one of the reasons, but certainly not the only reason, that young men are less involved in religion than young women is because they are more likely to say they like to take risks. Thus, those interested in understanding why some people are more religious than others may wish to consider not only their core beliefs and life experiences, but also their tendency to behave in a risky manner,” Hoffman told PsyPost.

Hoffman cautioned that the study doesn’t prove that risk-taking preferences fully explain the gap in religiosity between men and women, and that the study only focused on young people.

“The study found a modest statistical association between gender, risk preferences, and a few measures of religious belief and involvement,” Hoffman said. “But it is clear that there are many other factors that affect individual involvement in religion and that might account for any of the gender differences. Whereas this study makes a small contribution to unveiling gender differences in religion, researchers would be wise to focus on characteristics that have a more dramatic influence.”

​What else explains the religiosity gender gap?

As sociologists Omar Lizardo and Jessica L. Collett once wrote, the religiosity gender gap is still “a genuine scientific puzzle.” Most explanations argue that either nature or nurture is responsible for the gap. As a recent Pew Research Center article notes, that’s a debate that’s likely not going to be settled anytime soon.

“The “nature” theories that focus on physical, biological or genetic differences between men and women have not found a measurable factor that has been definitively linked to greater religiosity. And the “nurture” theories that pinpoint social factors as the principle mechanism in explaining the religious gender gap all face a problem: Despite the vast social changes and gender role transformations of recent decades, the religious gender gap persists in many societies.”

Like most human phenomena, the answer probably involves a synthesis between the two, as Reverend D. Paul Sullins, a researcher at the Catholic University of America, once said, “greater insight into gender differences in religiousness lies … in the acceptance of complexity.”

Proposed carbon tax plan would return proceeds to people once goals are met

  • A bipartisan group of renowned economists has proposed the U.S. implement a carbon tax.
  • The tax would increase until climate goals are met, and all proceeds would be given back to the people in equal lump-sums.
  • Recent research suggests that a majority of people would support a carbon tax policy that redistributes proceeds back to citizens.


A bipartisan group of renowned economists has a plan to help the U.S. cut its emissions and help stop rising global temperatures: Implement a carbon tax that gives all proceeds back to the American people.

In a letter published by the Wall Street Journal on January 16, the group — which includes all living former chairs of the Federal Reserve, and former White House economists from both parties — argues:

  • A carbon tax is the most cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions at the scale and speed that is necessary.
  • A carbon tax should increase every year until emissions reductions goals are met.
  • All revenues should be returned directly to U.S. citizens through equal lump-sum rebates.

Although the letter doesn’t specify what the tax rate should be, the economists are arguing for an economic plan that would put the American fossil fuel industry on a rather clear path to extinction. Traditionally, carbon tax proposals have been met with derision or skepticism by many conservatives, who argue that such plans would stifle competition and result in lost jobs.

What’s novel about this proposal is that it’s endorsed by respected and credentialed Republicans. It’s also not hard to see how Americans who lean to the right might be amenable to a carbon tax whose revenues go to their pocket rather than the government, as the letter states:

“To maximize the fairness and political viability of a rising carbon tax, all the revenue should be returned directly to U.S. citizens through equal lump-sum rebates. The majority of American families, including the most vulnerable, will benefit financially by receiving more in “carbon dividends” than they pay in increased energy prices.”

Many experts agree that if the global community is going to reach its lofty climate goals necessary to stop rising temperatures in their tracks, it’s going to need to implement a carbon tax. One of the best ways to get the public to support such a policy, according to recent research? Give the money back to the people.

​Climate dividends

In an article published in Nature, the researchers behind a recent study wrote that the concept of climate dividends is becoming increasingly popular.

“If all the money is given back to citizens, carbon taxes do not swell government coffers, which appeals to the political right. The left is also interested because the average tax burden is unchanged and low-income households are better off.

For example, a carbon tax that doubles the price of energy might increase the bills of a poor individual from $50 to $100, and of a richer person from $100 to $200. Without redistribution, the poor person is hit hard. But if tax revenues of $150 are split per head, so that each receives $75, the poorer person is $25 better off.

Per-capita dividends are already used in Switzerland, which has a carbon tax on heating fuels. Swiss residents receive their dividend as a rebate on health insurance, which is compulsory. In Canada’s incoming federal scheme, 90% of the carbon tax’s revenue will be returned to residents.”

It seems a majority of people would support such a plan.

For their study, the researchers surveyed about 5,000 citizens across five countries — Australia, India, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States — about their support for a series of hypothetical carbon tax designs. Each respondent was asked to rate how strongly they’d support one of six proposed ways to spend the revenues from a carbon tax, including supporting climate mitigation projects domestically, in developing countries or in all countries, paying out a per-capita dividend nationally or globally and using the money to lower domestic income taxes.

The results showed that a majority of people across all five countries, on average, supported three designs: lowering taxes, earmarking funds for mitigation projects and distributing revenes back to each citizen. As to how implement carbon taxes worldwide, the researchers suggested it’d be easiest if the global community focused on creating a system of harmonized taxes rather than one global tax because that’d allow each country to determine how it’ll use the revenues and make adjustments as time goes on.

7 best Alan Watts books on philosophy and life

  • Alan Watts wrote more than 25 books on the subject of philosophy and religion.
  • He was among the first to bring Zen Buddhist thought to the west.
  • Subjects ranged from dualism in philosophy to the troubles of modern man.

Alan Watts was a gifted philosopher who tasked himself with the near impossible, putting that which transcended the knowable into words. A counterculture mystic and a spiritual entertainer with an eye on the divine, it’s no surprise that Watt’s philosophy and wisdom filled a number of books.

Watts didn’t ask for you to follow any creed, or to look to him as a guru or any other self-defeating self-help drivel. He simply asked just for you to be. The following Alan Watts books cover a number of different topics — a messenger of Zen, Watts bridged the gap of understanding between the East and West — and paint a full picture of a well-lived life in a whimsically poetic way. One that compels you to gaze within yourself and the cosmos around you.

The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are

Many wonder what Alan Watts book they should read first. A centerpiece in the bibliography of Watts is a piece usually referred to just as The Book. It is here where Watts sets out to discover what he believes to be the fundamental misunderstanding of who we really are. The idea of the “Ego” or self as an isolated being not connected to the rest of the universe has given us a hostile view of the world “outside of ourselves.”

Watts works to do away with all of these arbitrary divisions, which are products of our language and upbringing. Working from the Hindu Vedanta and other assorted Eastern works, Watts crafts a new way to view the self and the universe together:

How is it possible that a being with such sensitive jewels as the eyes, such enchanted musical instruments as the ears, and such fabulous arabesque of nerves as the brain can experience itself anything less than a god.

With language that is inherently playful and conversational, Watts expertly pokes fun at the belief of viewing the Self as a contained and separate entity from the whole.

Become What You Are

You’ll find a number of Watt’s philosophy have been disseminated online through a hodgepodge of lectures taken throughout the years. Become What You Are is a unique set of essays that can be read in a few sittings. The book reads as a disconnected set of ideas as commentary on ways to live.

You may believe yourself out of harmony with life and its eternal Now; but you cannot be, for you are life and exist Now… there is no coming toward it or going away from it; it is, and you are it. So become what you are.

This wonderful kernel of truth blossoms throughout the rest of the book and acts as another introductory entryway into his more deeper and comprehensive works. His grasp and ability to express abstract ideas in such a way that anyone can understand it, is a gift that is expertly shown throughout this book.

The Way of Zen

Long before yoga studios and hip Zen maxims flooded the Western streets, Alan Watts was explaining and practicing the principles of Zen Buddhism to a new audience of readers. The Way of Zen delves into the origins of the religion and what it means to practice Zen in the modern world. Watts believed that Zen was one of the most important concepts to arise out of the Eastern sphere.

Zen is explained to the best of its ability, for it is something that needs to be felt and experienced. The explanations in this book are given with a wink and a cosmic smirk.

The centipede was happy, quite, until a toad in fun said, ‘Pray, which leg goes after which?’ This worked his mind to such a pitch, he lay distracted in a ditch, considering how to run.

Zen is one branch of Buddhism. The Way of Zen teaches you that zen emerges from spontaneity and leads you into the present moment and the experience of the now. Throughout the book, Watts contrasts this way of thinking to the rapid-paced and unreflective nature of modern society and its tendency to make us feel unfulfilled, rudderless and empty.

A world which increasingly consists of destinations without journeys between them, a world which values only ‘getting somewhere’ as fast as possible, becomes a world without substance.

Nature, Man and Woman

Watts was always interested in exploring the underlying notion of dualities and their effect on mind. He called them, “the great two poles of human thought, spirit and nature.” Drawing on his vast knowledge of Taoism, Alan Watts imagines a new viewpoint between the connection of man and the universe.

It’s stated in the preface of the book that this is a work where he’s “thinking out loud.” This is Alan Watts at his best as he digs deep and weaves without abandon into the most curious parts of our nature.

“… the problem of man’s relation to nature raises the problem of man’s relation to woman – a matter about which the spiritually minded members of our own culture have been significantly squeamish.”

The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for the Age of Anxiety

This is a book that’s whole purpose is to get you within the now and live in the present moment. We’ve heard this cliche so many times now, the words ring hollow. But Alan Watts will always be the master of bringing wisdom to the mundane and the lost oft repeated adages we take for granted.

Written in 1951, his prophetic words predicted the rapid pace of modern society led by increasingly more complex technology. The consequence of this would be that our connection to the real and authentic experiences would not only diminish but barely come about again.

“Tomorrow and plans for tomorrow can have no significance at all unless you are in full contact with the reality of the present, since it is in the present and only in the present that you live. There is no other reality than present reality, so that, even if one were to live for endless ages, to live for the future would be to miss the point everlastingly.”

In My Own Way: An Autobiography

Here we have a change of pace as we get to read Alan Watts’ autobiography. Watts starts out with his upbringing in rural England and slowly wades into his life as the spiritual counterculture figure many would come to know him by.

In My Own Way recounts many of his interactions with the gurus and celebrities of the day, psychedelic experiences and of course the philosophical insight that overflows from so many of his other books and lectures.

“My vocation in life is to wonder about at the nature of the universe. This leads me into philosophy, psychology, religion, and mysticism, not only as subjects to be discussed but also as things to be experienced, and thus I make an at least tacit claim to be a philosopher and a mystic.”

The Joyous Cosmology: Adventures in the Chemistry of Consciousness

The Joyous Cosmology joins the ranks of some of the best psychedelic books ever to be written. Alan Watts’ insights into the altered consciousness of psychedelic experience rivals Aldous Huxley’s seminal work: The Doors of Perception. Continuing the tradition as philosophical seeker and not one just out for recreational fun – Watts saw the true worth of psychedelic exploration.

He believed true insight could be found:”when accompanied with sustained philosophical reflection by a person who is in search, not of kicks, but of understanding.” Far ahead of his time in relation to both the sixties counterculture and our own era, Watts argued for the protection and right to our own brains and nervous systems. Fundamental rights that weren’t up for debate by any form of government.

“It is generally forgotten that our guarantees of religious freedom were designed to protect precisely those who were not members of established denominations, but rather such (then) screwball and subversive individuals as Quakers, Shakers, Levellers, and Anabaptists. There is little question that those who use cannabis or other psychedelics with religious intent are now members of a persecuted religion which appears to the rest of society as a grave menace to “mental health,” as distinct from the old-fashioned “immortal soul.” But it’s the same old story.”

Space toilets: How astronauts boldly go where few have gone before

  • When nature calls in micro-gravity, astronauts must answer. Space agencies have developed suction-based toilets – with a camera built in to ensure all the waste is contained before “flushing”.
  • Yes, there have been floaters in space. The early days of space exploration were a learning curve!
  • Amazingly, you don’t need gravity to digest food. Peristalsis, the process by which your throat and intestines squeeze themselves, actually moves food and water through your digestive system without gravity at all.

Can the keto diet help treat depression? Here’s what the science says so far

  • The keto diet is known to be an effective tool for weight loss, however its effects on mental health remain largely unclear.
  • Recent studies suggests that the keto diet might be an effective tool for treating depression, and clearing up so-called “brain fog,” though scientists caution more research is necessary before it can be recommended as a treatment.
  • Any experiments with the keto diet are best done in conjunction with a doctor, considering some people face problems when transitioning to the low-carb diet.


It’s hard to ignore the keto diet. You see it in the news when celebrities are promoting it, decrying it or otherwise duking it out over the science. You might hear about it from friends who’ve lost weight by adopting the diet and are now full-fledged keto converts. Or you maybe know somebody with epilepsy who’s used the diet to reduce seizures, as epilepsy patients have since the 1920s.

The keto diet can clearly help people lose weight: When you drastically reduce the amount of carbohydrates you eat, your body eventually enters a state of ketosis and starts burning fat instead of carbs for fuel, resulting in weight loss. But what’s less clear is how the keto diet affects mental health, particularly depression.

There’s a wealth of anecdotal evidence suggesting the keto diet has helped people overcome depression. As Redditor willilikeit wrote:

“Six months on keto. Have lost 40 pounds. But the best result is how I feel. I’ve gone from waking up with dread and fighting suicidal thoughts off and on most days, to feeling energetic, positive, and only a rare, passing, suicidal thought. It is night and day! Omg. Thank you for all of your posts and support!”

Of course, improvements like these might also stem from the simple fact that any diet that helps people lose weight, gain energy or otherwise reinstall a lost sense of control over one’s life might also lead to improvements in mood and self-esteem. Still, recent research suggests that the keto diet might in fact be a useful tool in combating depression, and possibly other psychiatric conditions including schizophrenia and ADHD.

The keto diet in the psychiatric literature

In 2017, a group of psychiatrists published a paper called The Current Status of the Ketogenic Diet in Psychiatry that examined research conducted on the keto diet and psychiatric conditions over the past couple of decades. On depression, the overview noted two studies:

  • A 2004 study, which tested the hypothesis that the “ketogenic diet may act as a mood stabilizer,” showed that rats placed on the keto diet showed fewer signs of depression, or showed less “behavioral despair.”
  • A 2014 study on rats showed an even more surprising finding. The researchers put one group of mice on the keto diet, and one on a normal diet. The offspring of the keto group were more active and showed more development in several key areas of the brain, including the hippocampus, cerebellum and neocortex. These effects persisted even though the offspring weren’t put on the keto diet themselves.

Interestingly, the overview also found that the keto diet seems potentially effective at alleviating at least parts of nearly every other psychiatric condition mentioned in the overview, including schizophrenia, autism and anxiety. Still, it’s too early to know for sure whether the keto diet is a safe and effective treatment for any of these conditions, as the researchers concluded:

“While these animal studies are placing research into KD on a firm footing and identifying some promising leads, on balance the evidence in humans is insufficient to form an opinion as to the efficacy or lack thereof of this intervention in the mental disorders reported.”

​Why would the keto diet help depression?

Keto diet vegetables, avocados, eggs

There are a couple reasons to think the keto diet might help combat depression.

One is the diet’s anti-inflammatory properties. A sugar-heavy diet (e.g. one high in carbs) is known to increase inflammation in the body. Inflammation is linked to (at least some forms of) depression, with studies showing that:

So, the idea is that, because ketosis requires a drastic reduction in the amount of sugar you consume, the keto diet might help the body reduce inflammation, which in turn alleviates depression. Here’s how Georgia Ede, a Harvard University-trained psychiatrist who studies the relationship between mental health and nutrition, summed it up to Susie Neilson at The Cut:

“…when refined carbs and sugar serve as the brain’s primary food source, the neural pathways are overwhelmed with free radicals and glucose, depleting our natural internal antioxidants and leading to excess oxidation and inflammation in the brain. When the brain draws its energy from ketones, fewer free radicals are produced, allowing our natural antioxidants to easily neutralize them without becoming depleted. Mitochondria, the “engines” of cells, may function more effectively, and neurotransmitters’ journeys across synapses may be eased.”

Another main reason the keto diet might alleviate depression is that it seems to help the body produce optimal amounts of GABA, the brain’s main inhibitory neurotransmitter. GABA is made from glutamate, which is the brain’s major excitatory neurotransmitter. In order for your brain to function properly, it needs a balanced amount of both glutamate and GABA.

However, in high-carb diets your brain often can’t convert enough glutamate into GABA because it’s using glutamate as an energy source. Having too much glutamate and not enough GABA leads to neurotoxicity, and this impaired functioning seems to cause what people commonly call “brain fog.”

What’s interesting is that, for reasons that aren’t fully understood, ketosis seems to encourage the increased production of GABA, reducing neurotoxicity, clearing up that brain fog and (at least potentially) alleviating conditions like anxiety and depression.

Potential problems with the keto diet

If you’re thinking about experimenting with the keto diet, make sure to consult your doctor before making the switch: It’s well documented that your diet can greatly affect your mood, so it’s best to know what you’re getting into before making a major change.

It’s also worth noting that some people seem to encounter problems when switching to the keto diet. Sometimes these problems are caused by the inevitable period of low energy and weakness that one undergoes as your body adjusts to the dietary change, a period many call the “low-carb flu.” Others might face complications caused by mineral deficiencies that stem from improperly implementing the diet. And still others might experience problems during the transition stemming from the symptoms of the very conditions they’re trying to manage with the diet.

Your body’s full of stuff you no longer need. Here’s a list.

  • An evolutionary biologist got people swapping ideas about our lingering vestigia.
  • Third eyelid, tree-swinging muscle, goosebumps?
  • What amusingly weird animals we are

Evolutionary anthropologist and Boston College post-doc, Dorsa Amir, started the whole thing with a series of eight tweets, and boy did she start something fun. Amir laid out a list of weird, once-useful details of the human anatomy that we continue to carry around within — and on — us. Basically, this is the stuff that served some evolutionary purpose at some point, but now is kind of, well, extra.

Natural selection, after all, has no reason to clear away unnecessary traits if they pose no evolutionary disadvantage. And when we say “started the whole thing,” what we mean is that, this being Twitter, some arguing was inevitable. Some people took issue with Amir’s use of the word “vestigial.” One issue with the word is that early traits may still be beneficial in ways we don’t yet know — the microbiome-managing appendix and the immune system’s tonsils were both considered among these for some time. A trait’s stated assumed value is also always just our best guess, so a certain amount of uncertainty is understood to be baked-in. It’s important to remember, too, that if a mutation just happened to happen and persisted because it was useful, it’s not the same thing as saying it has a reason to exist. The reason was randomness, unless one doesn’t believe in evolution.

Which gets us to the second type of argument Amir’s posts generated. Some creationist-intelligent design believers seem to be patrolling Twitter to shout down references to science where it arises. Probably this post will also get them going. Amir has nonetheless started a list and a conversation that is totally worth checking out, hair-splitting aside. Here are the six traits that inaugurated the fun.

The plica semilunaris

At the inner corner of our eyes, closest to the nasal ridge, is that little pink thing, which is probably what most of us call it, even though it”s the caruncula. Next to it is the plica semilunairs, and it’s what’s left of a third eye that used to — ready for this? — blink horizontally. It’s supposed to have offered protection for our eyes, and some birds, reptiles, and fish have such a thing.

Palmaris longus

We don’t have much need these days, at least most of us, to navigate from tree branch to tree branch. Still, about 86% of us still have the wrist muscle that used to help us do it. To see if you have it, place the back of you hand on a flat surface and touch your thumb to your pinkie. If you have a muscle that becomes visible in your wrist, that’s the palmaris longus. If you don’t, consider yourself more evolved (just joking).

Darwin’s tubercle

Yes, maybe the shell of you ear does feel like a dried apricot. Maybe not. But there’s a ridge in that swirly structure that’s a muscle which allowed us at one point to move our ears in the direction of interesting sounds. These days, we just turn our heads, but there it is.


It’s not entirely clear what purpose made goosebumps worth retaining evolutionarily, but there are two circumstances in which they appear: fear and cold. For fear, they may have been a way of making body hair stand up so we’d appear larger to predators, much the way a cat’s tail puffs up — numerous creatures exaggerate their size when threatened. In the cold, they may have trapped additional heat for warmth.


Way back, we had tails that probably helped us balance upright, and was useful moving through trees. We still have the stump of one when we’re embryos, from 4-6 weeks, and then the body mostly dissolves it during Weeks 6-8. What’s left is the coccyx.

The palmar grasp reflex

You’ve probably seen how non-human primate babies grab onto their parents’ hands to be carried around. We used to do this, too. So still, if you touch your finger to a baby’s palm, or if you touch the sole of their foot, the palmar grasp reflex will cause the hand or foot to try and close around your finger.

Other people’s suggestions

Amir’s followers dove right in, offering both cool and questionable additions to her list.



Hypnic jerk as you fall asleep

This thing, often called the “alpha jerk” as you drop into alpha sleep, is properly called the hypnic jerk,. It may actually be a carryover from our arboreal days. The hypothesis is that you suddenly jerk awake to avoid falling out of your tree.

Nails screeching on a blackboard response?

Ear hair

Nervous laughter

Um, yipes.


Twitter should always be so much fun.

Copenhagen residents are torn over Denmark’s proposed ‘Silicon Valley’

  • The Danish government is building nine artificial islands known as Holmene off the coast of Hvidovre.
  • The 33 million square feet of new land will house 380 businesses and 170 acres of parkland, creating 30,000 new jobs.
  • Local residents fear this project will alienate the middle class while disrupting traffic and public transportation systems in nearby Copenhagen.


In 1997, I lived in San Bruno, just north of what has been referred to as Silicon Valley since 1971. While the term originally derived from the number of silicon chips produced in that region, today it is a catchall for the technological boom that’s been occurring there for a half-century.

Driving along the 101 or 1, the two highways that briefly connect in the Presidio, sharing the ride across the Golden Gate Bridge before again splitting in Marin County, there is very little that reminds you of technology: the Pacific on one side, the San Francisco Bay on the other, gorgeous scenery along the winding coastal roads. The region that changed the world with great advancements in technology is arguably one of the most aesthetically beautiful regions in the country.

The relationship between technology and nature — Life 1.0 — is longstanding. Many tech companies offer promises of, ironically, spending less time using technology so that we can “live life.” Virtual reality has us strapped into headsets; augmented reality is allowing us to superimpose characters and imagery over the actual environment. It’s an incredible paradox: we’re addicted to devices, yet we yearn for a connection with the planet that birthed us.

Perhaps nothing is more indicative of this than what’s occurring just outside of Copenhagen. The Danish government is constructing nine artificial islands, called Holmene, in the Baltic Sea just off the coast of Hvidovre to become a new tech hub. With over 33 million square feet of new land, the 10.5 miles of coastline will serve as both wind-powered office buildings and 170 acres of parkland. To be completed by 2040, the government hopes the site will attract 380 companies.

HOLMENE short film

This said, the head of the Danish chamber of commerce, Brian Mikkelsen, told TV2 television in early January that he believes the new development could become “a sort of European Silicon Valley.”

Unlike businesses that exploit resources that contribute to climate change, Denmark is betting on an eco-friendly future. They plan on constructing Northern Europe’s largest waste-to-energy plant, which would turn their trash into enough fuel to power 25 percent of Copenhagen.

This is not the country’s first attempt to reimagine industrial regions becoming environmentally-friendly business and residential models. The Copenhagen Model was initiated 30 years ago and is credited with transforming the city from an area with high unemployment and declining industry into one of the wealthiest in the world.

The results of this institutional model have been nothing short of transformative. A vibrant, multi-purpose waterfront. A world-class transit system. Thousands of housing units built for market and social purposes in accordance with energy-efficient standards.


The project is not without its detractors, however. Fears that this new region will only service the wealthy can create the conditions for further inequality. As of 2016, Copenhagen had 19.4 million square feet of vacant office space; citizens argue that that space should be utilized first. New housing will unlikely be sold at affordable prices for the average citizen. A planned tunnel that would connect to the islands might negatively impact local traffic patterns, public transportation, and biking lanes.

Basically, San Francisco 2.0.

Not to romanticize the past — I don’t always fondly recall the Mission of 20 years ago — but I do remember how much easier it was to drive around the Bay, to find parking and eat at an inexpensive taqueria on Valencia. All advancements come at a cost, but whereas a decade ago I wouldn’t think twice about jumping in the car for a five-hour drive from Los Angeles, today the notion of a San Francisco getaway is more likely to induce economic anxiety.

Which is what concerns the residents of Denmark. Technology brings out the best and worst in us. Applications and hardware that make life more convenient have a tendency of actually benefiting fewer and fewer people.

Still, we need better urban models that don’t deplete the environment of its limited resources. An influx of 30,000 jobs due to the creation of these islands can certainly benefit a lot of people. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to such questions.

One thing not lacking is aesthetics. The architectural plans of Holmene are stunning. In that department these islands are a win.

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