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Is Extraterrestrial Life More Whimsical Than Plausible? 344

coondoggie writes "Princeton University researchers are throwing some cold water on the hot notion that astrobiologists and other scientists expect to one day find life on other planets. Recent discoveries of planets similar to Earth in size and proximity to the planets' respective suns have sparked scientific and public excitement about the possibility of also finding Earth-like life on those worlds, but the expectation that life — from bacteria to sentient beings — has or will develop on other planets as on Earth might be based more on optimism than scientific evidence."

Magical Thinking Is Good For You 467

Hugh Pickens writes "Natalie Wolchover says even the most die-hard skeptics among us believe in magic. Humans can't help it: though we try to be logical, irrational beliefs — many of which we aren't even conscious of — are hardwired in our psyches. 'The unavoidable habits of mind that make us think luck and supernatural forces are real, that objects and symbols have power, and that humans have souls and destinies are part of what has made our species so evolutionarily successful,' writes Wolchover. 'Believing in magic is good for us.' For example, what do religion, anthropomorphism, mysticism and the widespread notion that each of us has a destiny to fulfill have in common? According to research by Matthew Hutson, underlying all these forms of magical thinking is the innate sense that everything happens for a reason. And that stems from paranoia, which is a safety mechanism that protects us. 'We have a bias to see events as intentional, and to see objects as intentionally designed,' says Hutson. 'If we don't see any biological agent, like a person or animal, then we might assume that there's some sort of invisible agent: God or the universe in general with a mind of its own.' According to anthropologists, the reason we have a bias to assume things are intentional is that typically it's safer to spot another agent in your environment than to miss another agent. 'It's better to mistake a boulder for a bear than a bear for a boulder,' says Stewart Guthrie. In a recent Gallup poll, three in four Americans admitted to believing in at least one paranormal phenomenon. 'But even for those few of us who claim to be complete skeptics, belief quietly sneaks in. Maybe you feel anxious on Friday the 13th. Maybe the idea of a heart transplant from a convicted killer weirds you out. ... If so, on some level you believe in magic.'"

Researchers May Have Discovered How Memories Are Encoded In the Brain 185

Zothecula writes "While it's generally accepted that memories are stored somewhere, somehow in our brains, the exact process has never been entirely understood. Strengthened synaptic connections between neurons definitely have something to do with it, although the synaptic membranes involved are constantly degrading and being replaced – this seems to be somewhat at odds with the fact that some memories can last for a person's lifetime. Now, a team of scientists believe that they may have figured out what's going on. Their findings could have huge implications for the treatment of diseases such as Alzheimer's."

The first version always gets thrown away.