Science Shows That Snowball the Cockatoo Has 14 Different Dance Moves: The Vogue, Headbang & More

We humans think we invented everything.

The wheel…

The printing press…

Dancing…

Well, we’re right about the first two.

Turns out the impulse to shake a tail feather isn’t an arbitrary cultural construct of humanity but rather a hard-wired neurological impulse in beings classified as vocal learners—us, elephants, dolphins, songbirds, and parrots like the Internet-famous sulphur-crested cockatoo, Snowball, above.

Animals outside of this elite set can be trained to execute certain physical moves, or they may just look like they’re dancing when tracking the movements of their food bowl or shimmying with relief at being picked up from doggy daycare.




Snowball, however, is truly dancing, thanks to his species’ capacity for hearing, then imitating sounds. Like every great spontaneous dancer, he’s got the music in him.

Aniruddh Patel, a Professor of Psychology at Tufts who specializes in music cognition, was the first to consider that Snowball’s habit of rocking out to the Backstreet Boys CD he’d had in his possession when dropped off at a parrot rescue center in Dyer, Indiana, was something more than a party trick.

Dr. Patel notes that parrots have more in common with dinosaurs than human beings, and that our monkey cousins don’t dance (much to this writer’s disappointment).

(Also, for the record? That goat who sings like Usher? It may sound like Usher, but you'll find no scientific support for the notion that its vocalizations constitute singing.)

Snowball, on the other hand, has made a major impression upon the Academy.

In papers published in Current Biology and Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Patel and his co-authors John R. Iversen, Micah R. Bregman, and Irena Schulz delved into why Snowball can dance like … well, maybe not Fred Astaire, but certainly your average moshing human.

After extensive observation, they concluded that an individual must possess five specific mental skills and predilections in order to move impulsively to music:

  1. They must be complex vocal learners, with the accompanying ability to connect sound and movement.
  2. They must be able to imitate movements.
  3. They must be able to learn complex sequences of actions.
  4. They must be attentive to the movements of others.
  5. They must form long-term social bonds.

Cockatoos can do all of this. Humans, too.

Patel’s former student R. Joanne Jao Keehn recently reviewed footage she shot in 2009 of Snowball getting down to Queen’s "Another One Bites the Dust" and Cyndi Lauper’s "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," identifying 14 distinct moves.

According to her research, his favorites are Vogue, Head-Foot Sync, and Headbang with Lifted Foot.

If you’ve been hugging the wall since middle school, maybe it’s time to take a deep breath, followed by an avian dancing lesson.

How did Snowball come by his astonishing rug-cutting confidence? Certainly not by watching instructional videos on YouTube. His human companion Schulz dances with him occasionally, but doesn't attempt to teach him her moves, which she describes as "limited."

Much like two human partners, they’re not always doing the same thing at the same time.

And the choreography is purely Snowball’s.

As Patel told The Harvard Gazette:

It’s actually a complex cognitive act that involves choosing among different types of possible movement options. It’s exactly how we think of human dancing.

If he is actually coming up with some of this stuff by himself, it’s an incredible example of animal creativity because he’s not doing this to get food; he’s not doing this to get a mating opportunity, both of which are often motivations in examples of creative behavior in other species.

You can read more science-based articles inspired by Snowball and watch some of his many public appearances on the not-for-profit, donation-based sanctuary Bird Lovers Only’s website.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 9 for another season of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

An Artist Crochets a Life-Size, Anatomically-Correct Skeleton, Complete with Organs

How to make a life-sized facsimile of a human skeleton:

  1. Download files published under a Creative Commons license, and arrange to have them 3-D printed.

or

  1. Do as artist Shanell Papp did, above, and crochet one.

The latter will take considerably more time and attention on your part. Papp gave up all extracurricular activities for four months to hook the woolen skeleton around her work and school schedule. Equipping it with internal organs ate up another four.

To ensure accuracy, Papp armed herself with anatomical textbooks and an actual human skeleton on loan from the University of Lethbridge, where she was an undergrad. The brain has gray and white matter, there's marrow in the bones, the stomach contains half-digested wool food, and the intestines can be unspooled to a realistic length.

The grueling 2006 project did not exhaust her fascination for the intricacies of human anatomy. The University of Saskatchewan granted her open access to draw in the gross anatomy lab while she pursued her MFA.

 

As she told MICE magazine:

I wanted this work to illustrate all of the organs and bones everyone shares and to not highlight differences. Much of anatomical history is about defining difference, by comparative analysis. This can set up strange taxonomies and hierarchies. I wasn't interested in participating in that; I wanted to expose the fragile, common, and unseen things in all of us.  

The finished piece, which is displayed supine on a gurney she nabbed for free during a mortuary renovation, incorporates many of Papp’s other abiding interests: horror, medical history, Frankenstein, crime investigation, and mortuary practices.




Papp, who taught herself how to crochet from books as a child, using whatever yarn found its way to her grandma’s junk shop, appreciates how her chosen medium adds a layer of homey softness and familiarity to the macabre.

It’s also not lost on her that fiber arts, often dismissed as too “crafty” by the establishment, were an important component of 70s-era feminist art, though in her view, her work is more of a statement on the history of textile manufacturing, which is to say the history of labor and class struggle.

See more of Shanell Papp’s work here.

All images in this post by Shanell Papp.

via designboom/Mymodernmet

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 9 for another season of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Why a Cat Always Lands on Its Feet: How a French Scientist Used Photography to Solve the Problem in 1894

In the era of the CATS trailer and #catsofinstagram, it’s easy to forget that scientific research is what originally convinced our feline friends to allow their images to be captured and disseminated.

An anonymous white French pussy took one for the team in 1894, when scientist/inventor Étienne-Jules Marey dropped it from an unspecified height in the Bois de Boulogne, filming its descent at 12 frames per second.

Ultimately, this brave and likely unsuspecting specimen furthered the cause of space exploration, though it took over 50 years for NASA-backed researchers T.R. Kane and M.P. Scher to publish their findings in a paper titled "A Dynamical Explanation of the Falling Cat Phenomenon."




As the Vox Darkroom episode above makes clear, Marey’s obsession was loftier than a fondness for Stupid Pet Tricks and the mischievous impulse to drop things off of tall buildings that motivated TV host David Letterman once upon a time.

Marey's preoccupation with the mechanics of organic locomotion extended to horses and humans. It prompted him to invent photographic techniques that prefigured cinematography, and, more darkly, to subject other, less-catlike creatures to deadfalls from similar heights.

(Children and animal rights activists, consider this your trigger warning.)

The white cat survived its ordeal by arching its back mid-air, effectively splitting its body in two to harness the inertia of its body weight, much like a figure skater controlling the velocity of her spin by the position of her arms.

Why waste a single one of your nine lives? Physics is your friend, especially when falling from a great height.

See one of Marey's pioneering falling cat chronophotographs below.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 9 for another season of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Secret Language of Trees: A Charming Animated Lesson Explains How Trees Share Information with Each Other

Shel Silverstein’s bittersweet classic The Giving Tree paints an inaccurate view of trees as simple, easily victimized loners.

If only the titular character had had a same-species best friend around to talk some sense into her when her human pal started helping himself to her branches… You’ve Gotta Be Kidding Me Tree, or maybe No Bullshit Tree.

You’ve Gotta Be Kidding Me Tree could’ve passed some vital nutrients to The Giving Tree, whose self care regimen is clearly not cutting it, via the mycorrhizae system, a vast network of filament-like tree roots and symbiotic soil fungi.




That same system could serve as the switchboard by which You’ve Gotta Be Kidding Me Tree could alert the extended Tree family to the dangers of prolonged association with cute, but needy kids.

Imagine the upbeat ending, had Silverstein gone light—The Giving Tree N’ Friends.

Not as poignant perhaps, but not entirely inaccurate from a scientific standpoint.

As forest ecologists Suzanne Simard and Camille Defrenne point out in the animated TED-Ed lesson, "The Secret Language of Trees," above, trees have large family (forgive me) trees, whose living members are in constant communication, using the mycorrhizae system.

Hosting multiple fungal species allows each tree to connect with a wider network, as each group of symbiotic shrooms spreads information to their own personal crews, party line style.

On the other end, the receiving tree can identify its relation to the tree of origin, whether they are both members of what we humans refer to as a nuclear family, or much more distant relations.

And while this giant subterranean system for sharing information and resources is specific to trees, when we consider how many other forest denizens depend on trees for food and shelter, the message system seems even more vital to the planet’s health.

Defrenne and Simard’s full TED-Ed lesson, complete with quiz, customizable lesson plan, and discussion topics, can be found here.

Simard delves more deeply into the topic in the 18-minute TED Talk, "How Trees Talk to Each Other," below.

View more of animator Avi Ofer’s charming work here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Brilliant Colors of the Great Barrier Revealed in a Historic Illustrated Book from 1893

Paul Simon’s famous lyric about everything looking worse in black and white
is hardly a universal truth, but when it comes to William Saville-Kent's groundbreaking 1893 book The Great Barrier Reef of Australia: its products and potentialitiesthe assertion may have some merit.

Saville-Kent, a naturalist whose work in various British aquariums eventually led to a gig rebuilding depleted Tasmanian oyster beds, fell hard for the colorful fish, bêche-de-mer, corals, sponges, turtles, and other marine species he encountered in Australia.




He photographed the Great Barrier Reef while serving in Queensland as Commissioner of Fisheries. 48 of his images were published in the aforementioned book, offering readers an unprecedented armchair tour of a coral reef, albeit in black and white.

 

While Saville-Kent definitely achieved his goal of furthering the public’s awareness of the reef, he also upstaged himself by including 16 color lithographs inspired by his original watercolors.

These plates, by London-based lithographers Riddle and Couchman—whose work usually ran toward portraits of well-born gentlemen—exude a lively Seussian appeal.

Saville-Kent’s carefully captured fish, echinoderms, and anemones literally pale in comparison to the bright specimens the lithographers, who presumably lacked his firsthand experience of the forms they were depicting, brought to such vibrant life in the back of the book.

These days, alas, the Great Barrier Reef resembles Saville-Kent's photos more closely than those gorgeous lithographs, the victim of back-to-back bleaching events brought on by pollution-related climate change.

Saville-Kent is buried at All Saints Churchin Milford-on-Sea, Hampshire, England. His grave is decorated with coral.

Browse a digital copy of The Great Barrier Reef of Australia: its products and potentialities here.

via The Public Domain Review

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, June 17 for another monthly installment of her public domain-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

A Subway Map of Human Anatomy: All the Systems of Our Body Visualized in the Style of the London Underground

We all have bodies, but how many of us truly know our way around them? Plenty of books explain in detail the functions of and relationships between each and every part of our anatomy, but few of them do it in a way the layman — and especially the layman not yet accustomed to the sight of human viscera laid bare — can readily grasp. We need a visualization of the human body, but what kind of visualization can best represent it with a maximum of clarity and a minimum of misleading distortion?

"Most people might imagine an intricate network of blood vessels or the complex neural circuits of the brain," writes Visual Capitalist's Iman Ghosh. "Or we might picture diagrams from the iconic medical textbook, Gray’s Anatomy." But how about a visualization of the body in the style of a classic piece of information design we've all seen at least once, the London Underground map? "Created by Jonathan Simmonds M.D., a resident physician at Tufts Medical Center," Ghosh writes, "it’s a simple yet beautifully intuitive demonstration of how efficiently our bodies work."




Just as Harry Beck's original 1933 London Underground map straightened out and color-coded each of the lines then in operation, Simmonds' anatomical map traces thirteen different "lines" through the body, each of which represents a different system of the body: the nervous system in yellow, for example, the airway system in black, and the lymphatic system in green. "While dashed lines represent deeper structures, sections with ‘transfers’ show where different organ systems intersect," Ghosh writes. If you're wondering where to start, she adds, "there’s a helpful 'You Are Here' at the heart."

You can take a close look at Simmonds' work in a large, high-resolution version here. Not only does following the model of the London Underground map introduce a degree of immediate legibility seldom seen (at least by non-medical students) in anatomical diagrams, it also underscores an aspect of the very nature of our human bodies that we don't often consider. We might instinctively think of them as sets of discrete organs all encased together and functioning independently, but in fact they're more like cities: just as busy, just as interconnected, just as dependent on connections and routines, and just as improbably functional.

via Visual Capitalist

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Mapping Emotions in the Body: A Finnish Neuroscience Study Reveals Where We Feel Emotions in Our Bodies

“Eastern medicine” and “Western medicine”—the distinction is a crude one, often used to misinform, mislead, or grind cultural axes rather than make substantive claims about different theories of the human organism. Thankfully, the medical establishment has largely given up demonizing or ignoring yogic and meditative mind-body practices, incorporating many of them into contemporary pain relief, mental health care, and preventative and rehabilitative treatments.

Hindu and Buddhist critics may find much not to like in the secular appropriation of practices like mindfulness and yoga, and they may find it odd that such a fundamental insight as the relationship between mind and body should ever have been in doubt. But we know from even a slight familiarity with European philosophy (“I think, therefore I am”) that it was from the Enlightenment into the 20th century.

Now, says Riitta Hari, co-author of a 2014 Finish study on the bodily locations of emotion, “We have obtained solid evidence that shows the body is involved in all types of cognitive and emotional functions. In other words, the human mind is strongly embodied.” We are not brains in vats. All those colorful old expressions—“cold feet,” “butterflies in the stomach,” “chill up my spine”—named qualitative data, just a handful of the embodied emotions mapped by neuroscientist Lauri Nummenmaa and co-authors Riitta Hari, Enrico Glerean, and Jari K. Hietanen.

In their study, the researchers “recruited more than 1,000 participants” for three experiments, reports Ashley Hamer at Curiosity. These included having people “rate how much they experience each feeling in their body vs. in their mind, how good each one feels, and how much they can control it.” Participants were also asked to sort their feelings, producing “five clusters: positive feelings, negative feelings, cognitive processes, somatic (or bodily) states and illnesses, and homeostatic states (bodily functions).”

After making careful distinctions between not only emotional states, but also between thinking and sensation, the study participants colored blank outlines of the human body on a computer when asked where they felt specific feelings. As the video above from the American Museum of Natural History explains, the researchers “used stories, video, and pictures to provoke emotional responses,” which registered onscreen as warmer or cooler colors.

Similar kinds of emotions clustered in similar places, with anger, fear, and disgust concentrating in the upper body, around the organs and muscles that most react to such feelings. But “others were far more surprising, even if they made sense intuitively,” writes Hamer “The positive emotions of gratefulness and togetherness and the negative emotions of guilt and despair all looked remarkably similar, with feelings mapped primarily in the heart, followed by the head and stomach. Mania and exhaustion, another two opposing emotions, were both felt all over the body.”

The researchers controlled for differences in figurative expressions (i.e. “heartache”) across two languages, Swedish and Finnish. They also make reference to other mind-body theories, such as using “somatosensory feedback... to trigger conscious emotional experiences” and the idea that “we understand others’ emotions by simulating them in our own bodies.” Read the full, and fully illustrated, study results in “Bodily Maps of Emotions,” published by the National Academy of Sciences.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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