The Original Definition of "Meme" Referred To Evolution, Not LOLs
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Internet memes are all the rage these days, but it may surprise you to learn that the word "meme" predates the world wide web. It was coined by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, where he drew a parallel between the way that genetic information propagates in the gene pool and the way that cultural information is transmitted through a culture. "Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs," Dawkins wrote, "so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation." Everything from how to make fire or fashion an arrowhead to fashion, jokes, and pop tunes count as memes. Seen this way, memes take on much more importance: they aren't just bits of trivia passed by word of mouth; they're essential to our evolution as a species. Learn more about memes—or as the scientific field is called, memetics—in the videos below.
Meet LUCA, Our Last Universal Common Ancestor
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Do you know who your ancestors are? No matter who you are, you can claim LUCA as a descendant. LUCA stands for "last universal common ancestor," and was likely the single-celled being from which all life on Earth originated. It's likely LUCA lived around 4 billion years ago, and it is thought to have spawned two groups of uni-celled life: bacteria and archaea. Scientists also believed that 355 protein families descended from LUCA.The idea that LUCA was only half alive stems from a theory that LUCA was not capable of a function that is common to almost all living cells: sending ions across a membrane to create an electrochemical gradient. The being then uses that gradient to make an energy-molecule. Studies suggest LUCA couldn't generate the gradient, but could create the energy-rich molecule by using an existing gradient. This theory suggests the idea that the first life on Earth used the natural gradient between vent water and seawater for its energy.
We're Just One Of Six Different Human Species
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Homo sapiens have been on this Earth for about 200,000 years. But the first human species arrived after splitting from the apes about 2.8 million years ago. After that, there were several humans that predated modern humans, or the species known as Homo sapiens sapiens. Homo signifies the human genus, and the Homo sapiens sapiens (the subspecies of Homo sapiens under which the modern human falls) is the last remaining species of the genus. That is to say, we're the only humans left. Though the exact number is disputed, it is believed that there have been as many as six human species. Before the Homo sapiens, there were Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis, Homo erectus, and Homo heidelbergensis. Homo sapiens were contemporaries with Homo neanderthalensis and Homo floresiensis. We've collected some awesome videos on this topic. Watch them now to learn more.
Alfred Wallace Co-Discovered Evolution, But You've Never Heard Of Him
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You've definitely heard of Charles Darwin, but does the name Alfred Wallace ring a bell? Perhaps it should. The paper that shook up the scientific world in 1858 was co-authored by the two men, but Wallace's name faded into obscurity shortly after its publication. Wallace independently conceived the theory of natural selection, and wrote about his findings to his mentor, Charles Darwin. Darwin had reached the same conclusions a few years earlier, but had done nothing with his findings. The two put their nearly identical research together to publish a co-authored paper on the subject. One year after the paper was published, Darwin published his famous book "On the Origin of Species," which led to his fame. Perhaps Wallace's greatest contribution to the conversation around natural selection is the question, "Why do we find this animal in this place?"
FACS Tells Scientists When You're Faking A Smile
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From psychics to lie detectors, humans have always looked for ways to identify when someone is telling the truth. Researcher Paul Ekman may have found one such method. He and his team created a map of the muscles activated during a wide variety of facial expressions and turned it into the Facial Action Coding System, or FACS. FACS labels specific facial movements in Action Units, or AUs: raising the eyebrows is AU 1, for example, while narrowing the eyes is AU 6. To avoid bias, the system only uses numbers, not names, for each expression, and it can detect whether an expression is fake or genuine, voluntary or involuntary, and intentional or spontaneous. Studies have shown that the system can spot a liar with 80% accuracy, and may also detect other important characteristics like heart problems and suicide risk.