Posts Tagged ‘University of California’

By Traci Watson, National Geographic

Don’t blame the lure of a glowing smartphone for keeping you up too late. Even people without modern technology don’t sleep the night away, new research says.

Members of three hunter-gatherer societies who lack electricity—and thus evenings filled with Facebook, Candy Crush, and 200 TV channels—get an average of only 6.4 hours of shut-eye a night, scientists have found. That’s no more than many humans who lead a harried industrial lifestyle, and less than the seven to nine hours recommended for most adults by the National Sleep Foundation.

People from these groups—two in Africa, one in South America—tend to nod off long after sundown and wake before dawn, contrary to the romantic vision of life without electric lights and electronic gadgets, the researchers report in Thursday’s Current Biology.

“Seeing the same pattern in three groups separated by thousands of miles on two continents (makes) it pretty clear that this is the natural pattern,” says study leader and sleep researcher Jerome Siegel of the University of California, Los Angeles. “Maybe people should be a little bit more relaxed about sleeping. If you sleep seven hours a night, that’s close to what our ancestors were sleeping.”

Previous research has linked lack of sleep to ills ranging from poor judgment to obesity to heart disease. The rise of mesmerizing electronic devices small enough to carry into bed has only heightened worries about a modern-day epidemic of bad sleep. One recent study found that after bedtime sessions with an eBook reader, test subjects took longer to fall asleep and were groggier in the morning than when they’d curled up with an old-fashioned paper book.

Many scientists argue that artificial lighting curtailed our rest, leading to sleep deficits. But Siegel questioned that storyline. He was studying the sleep of wild lions when he got the inspiration to monitor the sleep of pre-industrial people, whose habits might provide insight into the slumber of early humans.

Siegel and his colleagues recruited members of Bolivia’s Tsimane, who hunt and grow crops in the Amazonian basin, and hunter-gatherers from the Hadza society of Tanzania and the San people in Namibia. These are among the few remaining societies without electricity, artificial lighting, and climate control. At night, they build small fires and retire to simple houses built of materials such as grass and branches.

The researchers asked members of each group to wear wristwatch-like devices that record light levels and the smallest twitch and jerk. Many Tsimane thought the request comical, but almost all wanted to participate, says study co-author Gandhi Yetish of the University of New Mexico. People in the study fell asleep an average of just under three and a half hours after sunset, sleep records showed, and mostly awakened an average of an hour before sunrise.

The notable slugabeds are the San, who in the summer get up an hour after sunrise. The researchers noticed that at both the San and Tsimane research sites, summer nights during the study period lasted 11 hours, but mornings were chillier in the San village. That fits with other data showing the three groups tend to nod off when the night grows cold and rouse when temperature bottoms out before dawn.

Our time to wake and our time to sleep, Siegel says, seem to be dictated in part by natural temperature and light levels—and modern humans are divorced from both. He suggests some insomniacs might benefit from re-creating our ancient exposure to warmth and cold.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/10/20151015-paleo-sleep-time-hadza-san-tsimane-science/

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In May 2013, the mathematician Yitang Zhang launched what has proven to be a banner year and a half for the study of prime numbers, those numbers that aren’t divisible by any smaller number except 1. Zhang, of the University of New Hampshire, showed for the first time that even though primes get increasingly rare as you go further out along the number line, you will never stop finding pairs of primes that are a bounded distance apart — within 70 million, he proved. Dozens of mathematicians then put their heads together to improve on Zhang’s 70 million bound, bringing it down to 246 — within striking range of the celebrated twin primes conjecture, which posits that there are infinitely many pairs of primes that differ by only 2.

Now, mathematicians have made the first substantial progress in 76 years on the reverse question: How far apart can consecutive primes be? The average spacing between primes approaches infinity as you travel up the number line, but in any finite list of numbers, the biggest prime gap could be much larger than the average. No one has been able to establish how large these gaps can be.

“It’s a very obvious question, one of the first you might ever ask about primes,” said Andrew Granville, a number theorist at the University of Montreal. “But the answer has been more or less stuck for almost 80 years.”

This past August, two different groups of mathematicians released papers proving a long-standing conjecture by the mathematician Paul Erdős about how large prime gaps can get. The two teams have joined forces to strengthen their result on the spacing of primes still further, and expect to release a new paper later this month.

Erdős, who was one of the most prolific mathematicians of the 20th century, came up with hundreds of mathematics problems over his lifetime, and had a penchant for offering cash prizes for their solutions. Though these prizes were typically just $25, Erdős (“somewhat rashly,” as he later wrote) offered a $10,000 prize for the solution to his prime gaps conjecture — by far the largest prize he ever offered.

Erdős’ conjecture is based on a bizarre-looking bound for large prime gaps devised in 1938 by the Scottish mathematician Robert Alexander Rankin. For big enough numbers X, Rankin showed, the largest prime gap below X is at least

Number theory formulas are notorious for having many “logs” (short for the natural logarithm), said Terence Tao of the University of California, Los Angeles, who wrote one of the two new papers along with Kevin Ford of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Ben Green of the University of Oxford and Sergei Konyagin of the Steklov Mathematical Institute in Moscow. In fact, number theorists have a favorite joke, Tao said: What does a drowning number theorist say? “Log log log log … ”

Nevertheless, Rankin’s result is “a ridiculous formula, that you would never expect to show up naturally,” Tao said. “Everyone thought it would be improved on quickly, because it’s just so weird.” But Rankin’s formula resisted all but the most minor improvements for more than seven decades.

Many mathematicians believe that the true size of large prime gaps is probably considerably larger — more on the order of (log X)2, an idea first put forth by the Swedish mathematician Harald Cramér in 1936. Gaps of size (log X)2 are what would occur if the prime numbers behaved like a collection of random numbers, which in many respects they appear to do. But no one can come close to proving Cramér’s conjecture, Tao said. “We just don’t understand prime numbers very well.”

Erdős made a more modest conjecture: It should be possible, he said, to replace the 1/3 in Rankin’s formula by as large a number as you like, provided you go out far enough along the number line. That would mean that prime gaps can get much larger than in Rankin’s formula, though still smaller than in Cramér’s.

The two new proofs of Erdős’ conjecture are both based on a simple way to construct large prime gaps. A large prime gap is the same thing as a long list of non-prime, or “composite,” numbers between two prime numbers. Here’s one easy way to construct a list of, say, 100 composite numbers in a row: Start with the numbers 2, 3, 4, … , 101, and add to each of these the number 101 factorial (the product of the first 101 numbers, written 101!). The list then becomes 101! + 2, 101! + 3, 101! + 4, … , 101! + 101. Since 101! is divisible by all the numbers from 2 to 101, each of the numbers in the new list is composite: 101! + 2 is divisible by 2, 101! + 3 is divisible by 3, and so on. “All the proofs about large prime gaps use only slight variations on this high school construction,” said James Maynard of Oxford, who wrote the second of the two papers.

The composite numbers in the above list are enormous, since 101! has 160 digits. To improve on Rankin’s formula, mathematicians had to show that lists of composite numbers appear much earlier in the number line — that it’s possible to add a much smaller number to a list such as 2, 3, … , 101 and again get only composite numbers. Both teams did this by exploiting recent results — different ones in each case — about patterns in the spacing of prime numbers. In a nice twist, Maynard’s paper used tools that he developed last year to understand small gaps between primes.

The five researchers have now joined together to refine their new bound, and plan to release a preprint within a week or two which, Tao feels, pushes Rankin’s basic method as far as possible using currently available techniques.

The new work has no immediate applications, although understanding large prime gaps could ultimately have implications for cryptography algorithms. If there turn out to be longer prime-free stretches of numbers than even Cramér’s conjecture predicts, that could, in principle, spell trouble for cryptography algorithms that depend on finding large prime numbers, Maynard said. “If they got unlucky and started testing for primes at the beginning of a huge gap, the algorithm would take a very long time to run.”

Tao has a more personal motivation for studying prime gaps. “After a while, these things taunt you,” he said. “You’re supposed to be an expert on prime numbers, but there are these basic questions you can’t answer, even though people have thought about them for centuries.”

Erdős died in 1996, but Ronald Graham, a mathematician at the University of California, San Diego, who collaborated extensively with Erdős, has offered to make good on the $10,000 prize. Tao is toying with the idea of creating a new prize for anyone who makes a big enough improvement on the latest result, he said.

In 1985, Tao, then a 10-year-old prodigy, met Erdős at a math event. “He treated me as an equal,” recalled Tao, who in 2006 won a Fields Medal, widely seen as the highest honor in mathematics. “He talked very serious mathematics to me.” This is the first Erdős prize problem Tao has been able to solve, he said. “So that’s kind of cool.”

The recent progress in understanding both small and large prime gaps has spawned a generation of number theorists who feel that anything is possible, Granville said. “Back when I was growing up mathematically, we thought there were these eternal questions that we wouldn’t see answered until another era,” he said. “But I think attitudes have changed in the last year or two. There are a lot of young people who are much more ambitious than in the past, because they’ve seen that you can make massive breakthroughs.”

http://www.wired.com/2014/12/mathematicians-make-major-discovery-prime-numbers/?mbid=social_fb

New research suggests that memories may not be stored by synaptic connections between neurons in the brain, but rather synapses may allow the expression of memories that are stored elsewhere in the neuron.

The revolutionary study by academics at the University of California has suggested for the first time that memories are not stored in synapses as previously thought. It is synapses, the connections between brain cells, that are destroyed by Alzheimer’s.

The breakthrough, reported in the highly regarded online journal eLife, could mean that it becomes possible to restore lost memories.

“Long-term memory is not stored at the synapse,” said David Glanzman, the study’s co-author and professor of integrative biology and physiology and of neurobiology at UCLA. “That’s a radical idea, but that’s where the evidence leads. The nervous system appears to be able to regenerate lost synaptic connections. If you can restore the synaptic connections, the memory will come back. It won’t be easy, but I believe it’s possible.”

Professor Glanzman’s team studied the marine snail Aplysia to understand the animal’s learning and memory functions. Glanzman was particularly interested in the Aplysia’s defensive reactions and the sensory and motor neurons responsible for its withdrawal response.

“If you train an animal on a task, inhibit its ability to produce proteins immediately after training, and then test it 24 hours later, the animal doesn’t remember the training,” said Prof. Glanzman. “However, if you train an animal, wait 24 hours, and then inject a protein synthesis inhibitor in its brain, the animal shows perfectly good memory 24 hours later. In other words, once memories are formed, if you temporarily disrupt protein synthesis, it doesn’t affect long-term memory. That’s true in the Aplysia and in human’s brains.”

As part of the test, the snails were given a number of electric shocks, which in themselves would not usually produce long-term memories. The team found that the memories they thought had been completely erased earlier in the experiment had returned, suggesting that synaptic connections that had previously been lost were apparently restored.

“That suggests that the memory is not in the synapses but somewhere else,” said Glanzman. “We think it’s in the nucleus of the neurons. We haven’t proved that, though.”

He added that the research could be a major breakthrough for Alzheimer’s sufferers as even though the disease destroys synapses in the brain, memories might not necessarily destroyed.

“As long as the neurons are still alive, the memory will still be there, which means you may be able to recover some of the lost memories in the early stages of Alzheimer’s,” said Prof Glanzman.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/11307411/Cure-for-memory-loss-could-be-on-the-horizon.html

Academics are challenging the foundations of quantum science with a radical new theory on parallel universes. Scientists now propose that parallel universes really exist, and that they interact. They show that such an interaction could explain everything that is bizarre about quantum mechanics.

Griffith University academics are challenging the foundations of quantum science with a radical new theory based on the existence of, and interactions between, parallel universes.

In a paper published in the journal Physical Review X, Professor Howard Wiseman and Dr Michael Hall from Griffith’s Centre for Quantum Dynamics, and Dr Dirk-Andre Deckert from the University of California, take interacting parallel worlds out of the realm of science fiction and into that of hard science.
The team proposes that parallel universes really exist, and that they interact. That is, rather than evolving independently, nearby worlds influence one another by a subtle force of repulsion. They show that such an interaction could explain everything that is bizarre about quantum mechanics.

Quantum theory is needed to explain how the universe works at the microscopic scale, and is believed to apply to all matter. But it is notoriously difficult to fathom, exhibiting weird phenomena which seem to violate the laws of cause and effect.

As the eminent American theoretical physicist Richard Feynman once noted: “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.”

However, the “Many-Interacting Worlds” approach developed at Griffith University provides a new and daring perspective on this baffling field.

“The idea of parallel universes in quantum mechanics has been around since 1957,” says Professor Wiseman.

“In the well-known “Many-Worlds Interpretation,” each universe branches into a bunch of new universes every time a quantum measurement is made. All possibilities are therefore realised — in some universes the dinosaur-killing asteroid missed Earth. In others, Australia was colonised by the Portuguese.

“But critics question the reality of these other universes, since they do not influence our universe at all. On this score, our “Many Interacting Worlds” approach is completely different, as its name implies.”

Professor Wiseman and his colleagues propose that:

•The universe we experience is just one of a gigantic number of worlds. Some are almost identical to ours while most are very different;
•All of these worlds are equally real, exist continuously through time, and possess precisely defined properties;
•All quantum phenomena arise from a universal force of repulsion between ‘nearby’ (i.e. similar) worlds which tends to make them more dissimilar.
Dr Hall says the “Many-Interacting Worlds” theory may even create the extraordinary possibility of testing for the existence of other worlds.

“The beauty of our approach is that if there is just one world our theory reduces to Newtonian mechanics, while if there is a gigantic number of worlds it reproduces quantum mechanics,” he says.

“In between it predicts something new that is neither Newton’s theory nor quantum theory.

“We also believe that, in providing a new mental picture of quantum effects, it will be useful in planning experiments to test and exploit quantum phenomena.”

The ability to approximate quantum evolution using a finite number of worlds could have significant ramifications in molecular dynamics, which is important for understanding chemical reactions and the action of drugs.

Professor Bill Poirier, Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Texas Tech University, has observed: “These are great ideas, not only conceptually, but also with regard to the new numerical breakthroughs they are almost certain to engender.”

Journal Reference:

1.Michael J. W. Hall, Dirk-André Deckert, Howard M. Wiseman. Quantum Phenomena Modeled by Interactions between Many Classical Worlds. Physical Review X, 2014; 4 (4) DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevX.4.041013

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/10/141030101654.htm

brainy_2758840b

Talking to yourself used to be a strictly private pastime. That’s no longer the case – researchers have eavesdropped on our internal monologue for the first time. The achievement is a step towards helping people who cannot physically speak communicate with the outside world.

“If you’re reading text in a newspaper or a book, you hear a voice in your own head,” says Brian Pasley at the University of California, Berkeley. “We’re trying to decode the brain activity related to that voice to create a medical prosthesis that can allow someone who is paralysed or locked in to speak.”

When you hear someone speak, sound waves activate sensory neurons in your inner ear. These neurons pass information to areas of the brain where different aspects of the sound are extracted and interpreted as words.

In a previous study, Pasley and his colleagues recorded brain activity in people who already had electrodes implanted in their brain to treat epilepsy, while they listened to speech. The team found that certain neurons in the brain’s temporal lobe were only active in response to certain aspects of sound, such as a specific frequency. One set of neurons might only react to sound waves that had a frequency of 1000 hertz, for example, while another set only cares about those at 2000 hertz. Armed with this knowledge, the team built an algorithm that could decode the words heard based on neural activity alone (PLoS Biology, doi.org/fzv269).

The team hypothesised that hearing speech and thinking to oneself might spark some of the same neural signatures in the brain. They supposed that an algorithm trained to identify speech heard out loud might also be able to identify words that are thought.

Mind-reading

To test the idea, they recorded brain activity in another seven people undergoing epilepsy surgery, while they looked at a screen that displayed text from either the Gettysburg Address, John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address or the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty.

Each participant was asked to read the text aloud, read it silently in their head and then do nothing. While they read the text out loud, the team worked out which neurons were reacting to what aspects of speech and generated a personalised decoder to interpret this information. The decoder was used to create a spectrogram – a visual representation of the different frequencies of sound waves heard over time. As each frequency correlates to specific sounds in each word spoken, the spectrogram can be used to recreate what had been said. They then applied the decoder to the brain activity that occurred while the participants read the passages silently to themselves.

Despite the neural activity from imagined or actual speech differing slightly, the decoder was able to reconstruct which words several of the volunteers were thinking, using neural activity alone (Frontiers in Neuroengineering, doi.org/whb).

The algorithm isn’t perfect, says Stephanie Martin, who worked on the study with Pasley. “We got significant results but it’s not good enough yet to build a device.”

In practice, if the decoder is to be used by people who are unable to speak it would have to be trained on what they hear rather than their own speech. “We don’t think it would be an issue to train the decoder on heard speech because they share overlapping brain areas,” says Martin.

The team is now fine-tuning their algorithms, by looking at the neural activity associated with speaking rate and different pronunciations of the same word, for example. “The bar is very high,” says Pasley. “Its preliminary data, and we’re still working on making it better.”

The team have also turned their hand to predicting what songs a person is listening to by playing lots of Pink Floyd to volunteers, and then working out which neurons respond to what aspects of the music. “Sound is sound,” says Pasley. “It all helps us understand different aspects of how the brain processes it.”

“Ultimately, if we understand covert speech well enough, we’ll be able to create a medical prosthesis that could help someone who is paralysed, or locked in and can’t speak,” he says.

Several other researchers are also investigating ways to read the human mind. Some can tell what pictures a person is looking at, others have worked out what neural activity represents certain concepts in the brain, and one team has even produced crude reproductions of movie clips that someone is watching just by analysing their brain activity. So is it possible to put it all together to create one multisensory mind-reading device?

In theory, yes, says Martin, but it would be extraordinarily complicated. She says you would need a huge amount of data for each thing you are trying to predict. “It would be really interesting to look into. It would allow us to predict what people are doing or thinking,” she says. “But we need individual decoders that work really well before combining different senses.”

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22429934.000-brain-decoder-can-eavesdrop-on-your-inner-voice.html