If you’re paying money for a brain-training app, you might want to consider swapping it for an Xbox. No, we are not sponsored by Microsoft – we just like to keep up-to-date with the latest neuroscience studies and hate to see you wasting your money.
Whatever massive, pressing question you have, we’re confident that Peter Singer has covered it in his latest podcast and article; and we’ll update you on asteroids, Mars and the the Milky Way.
If you come across news that everyone should know about, send me a link to it via firstname.lastname@example.org and we might include it in the next edition!
DITCH THE BRAIN TRAINING APP?
Neuroscientists from the Western University of Ontario recently published the results of perhaps the biggest real-world study of the efficacy of brain-training apps. When comparing the cognitive abilities of those who regularly use brain-training apps with those who don’t, the scientists found little difference.
“For every study that finds some evidence, there’s an equal number of papers that find no evidence,” said Bobby Stojanoski, a cognitive neuroscientist from Western University.
The tests assessed memory, reasoning, and verbal skills, and even the most dedicated brain-trainers didn’t have an edge over their counterparts. This was regardless of age, education, socioeconomic status, or the app used. Maybe brain-training apps are useful for specific scenarios, but when it comes to everyday applications, the best training might be sitting right in front of you: real-world experience.
Of course, Think Inc. Academy’s course on critical thinking could also help you out – grab the last spots for July here.
While brain-training apps might not provide much bang for buck, interactive video games could. Scientists at the University of Cape Town gathered together 45 participants with an average age of 72 who all lived in a nursing-home and complained of generalised memory loss.
The researchers split them into two groups. One group did a few hours per week of low-intensity strength and balance exercises, while the other group played Xbox 360 interactive sports games like soccer and boxing. Over a 12 week period, the cognitive performance, physical function, and fitness of the participants were tested, and it was the Xbox group that showed the greatest improvement in both physical and cognitive performance.!
How about that? Perhaps you should scrap the Scotch and lavender soap and buy your elderly loved-ones an Xbox for Christmas…
PETER SINGER ANSWERS THE BIG QUESTIONS
Peter Singer has spoken with Diederick Croese, co-founder of SingularityU Benelux. They talk for over an hour about a plethora of some of today’s most pressing questions. For example, is democracy the best system we have? How can we live a more ethical life? Are we doing enough to combat climate change?
They also discuss technology, and how with lab-cultured meat, some of his famous moral objections to meat-eating could be assuaged.
Peter was also featured in an article by George Eaton in the New Statesman. Yet again, a huge range of topics were covered, including ones that Peter is famous for: animal liberation, euthanasia and disability. But interestingly they also touch on Peter’s thoughts on the Israel-Palestine conflict, which is poignant when you consider that Peter’s parents were Jewish refugees in WW2.
What really shows in this article, and what we love Peter for, is that he’s not a moral absolutist, but a utilitarian who is committed to causing the least amount of harm. For example, he doesn’t say that eating meat is inherently wrong due to the killing of the animal – but due to the suffering that the animal experiences through factory farming. He’s not preachy, saying “I don’t want to limit my friends to only those who are vegetarian or vegan”.
As lovers of free thought and expression, this is definitely something we love about him. Don’t miss the chance to see Peter live this August.
PEARLESCENT MARTIAN CLOUDS
NASA’s Curiosity Rover has captured some beautiful shots of clouds over Mars.
These pics were taken in March, just after sunset, and have been colour corrected to appear like what the human eye would see. These clouds have ice crystals that reflect the light of the setting sun, giving it a gorgeous iridescent glow.
Martian clouds are usually at an altitude no higher than 60 kilometres, but these clouds were higher, indicating they were made of frozen carbon dioxide or dry ice. NASA says cloudy days are pretty rare in the thin, dry atmosphere of Mars.
EIFFEL TOWER-SIZED ASTEROID
Just after midnight on June 2 in Australia, an asteroid as tall as the Eiffel Tower whizzed past Earth at around 64,000 km/h. When we say it passed Earth, we mean it was around 7.3 million kilometres away, but NASA stills classes that as a potential hazard (any asteroid over 150 metres long and coming within 7.5 million kilometres of Earth is classed as such).
This mega rock is not alone. In fact, a number of comparatively smaller asteroids are set to pass by us this week. “Small” could mean the size of a bus or house. If you’re interested we recommend you go onto the Jet Propulsion Laboratory website to check out the upcoming asteroid approaches.
Now, are asteroids something we need to worry about? Not really. The chances of Earth being hit one day by an asteroid are slim, but not zero. That’s why scientists from the Centre for Near-Earth Object Studies calculate their motions and predict any impact long before it happens. In the event that an asteroid was heading towards Earth, NASA would attempt to deflect it, which can be done in a number of ways, including shooting a nuclear bomb at it.
Lindley Johnson, NASA’s planetary defence officer has called this the “Hollywood solution”, and while it’s not completely unfathomable, it’s not an ideal option due to obvious risks, and the fact that the use of nuclear devices in space is heavily restricted by international treaties.
Picture of the week
NASA has released a stunning new picture of our galaxy’s super-energised ‘downtown’.
This bustling galactic centre was captured by the Chandra X-ray Observatory, which was launched into Earth’s orbit in 1999. This image is actually a composite of 370 observations captured over the past two decades, and it’s a project that Astronomer Daniel Wang from the University of Massachusetts Amherst worked on while stuck at home during the pandemic.
Every x-ray dot or feature you can see represents an energetic source, including billions of stars and countless black holes, neutron stars and supernova remnants. The Milky Way’s centre is 26,000 light-years away, which means if you caught a ride on the Space Shuttle Discovery it would take roughly 967,200,000 years to get there!