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National Geographic (Aug. 2018)

While it sometimes seems as if we have more nightmares than pleasant dreams, this probably isn’t true. Frightening dreams are simply more likely to trigger our override system and wake us.

“Want to Fall Asleep? Read This Story.”

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National Geographic (Aug. 2018)

Every time we experience REM sleep, we literally go mad. By definition, psychosis is a condition characterized by hallucinations and delusions. Dreaming, some sleep scientists say, is a psychotic state–we fully believe that we see what is not there, and we accept that time, location, and people themselves can morph and disappear without warning.

“Want to Fall Asleep? Read This Story.”

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National Geographic (Apr. 2018)

…Similarly, the mutation that’s most responsible for giving Europeans lighter skin is a single tweak in a gene known as SLC24A5, which consists of roughly 20,000 base pairs. In one position, where most sub-Saharan Africans have a G, Europeans have an A. …

Studying DNA extracted from ancient bones, paleogeneticists have found that the G-to-A substitution was introduced into western Europe relatively recently–about 8,000 years ago–by people migrating from the Middle East, who also brought a newfangled technology: farming. That means the people already in Europe–hunter-gatherers who created the spectacular cave paintings at Lascaux, for example–probably were not white but brown. The ancient DNA suggests that many of those dark-skinned Europeans also had blue eyes, a combination rarely seen today.

“Skin Deep,” Elizabeth Kolbert

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National Geographic (Apr. 2018)

Genetics frequently works like this: A tiny tweak can have many disparate effects. Only one may be useful–and it may outlive the conditions that made it so, the way families hand down old photos long past the point when anyone remembers who’s in them.

“Skin Deep,” Elizabeth Kolbert

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National Geographic (Mar. 2018)

In early spring much of the land remains bare, with soil left exposed after the harvest of quinoa that feeds an insatiable appetite for the high-protein grain in Europe and the U.S.

The timing is unfortunate. Before the year’s crops are planted, the winds off the Atacama Desert in Chile scour the empty fields, carrying twice as many tons of sediment into the lake as they did before native grasses and shrubs were cleared for quinoa production.

“Drying Lakes,” Kenneth Weiss

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National Geographic (Mar. 2018)

The United Nations warned a decade ago that indigenous people would be among the first to be ravaged by climate change because so many rely on nature’s bounty as subsistence hunters and fishermen. An estimated 23.5 million people fled their homes in 2016 because of storms, floods, wildfires, extreme temperatures, and other weather-related disasters, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. That exceeded the 6.9 million newly displaced by conflict and violence that year.

In sheer numbers those fleeing “natural” calamities have outnumbered those fleeing war and conflict for decades. Still, these figures do not include people forced to abandon their homelands because of drought or gradual environmental degradation; almost two and a half billion people live in areas where human demand for water exceeds the supply. Globally the likelihood of being uprooted from one’s home has increased 60 percent compared with 40 years ago because of the combination of rapid climate change and growing populations moving into more vulnerable areas.

“Drying Lakes,” Kenneth Weiss

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National Geographic (Mar. 2018)

You can call them “failed experiments” in evolution if you want, but they succeeded and flourished, within their preferred but challenging environments, for more than 30 million years. We humans should be so steadfast and lucky.

“When Life Got Complicated,” David Quammen, of Ediacarans

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Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan – Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1992)

The family tree of each of us is graced by all those great inventors: the beings who first tried out self-replication, the manufacture of protein machine tools, the cell, cooperation, predation, symbiosis, photosynthesis, breathing oxygen, sex, hormones, brains, and all the rest–inventions we use, some of them, minute-by-minute without ever wondering who devised them and how much we owe to these unknown benefactors, in a chain 100 billion links long.

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Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan – Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1992)

We go to great lengths to deny our animal heritage, and not just in scientific and philosophical discourse. … The common primate practice of pseudosexual mounting of males by males to express dominance is not widespread in humans, and some have taken comfort from this fact. But the most potent form of verbal abuse in English and many other languages is “Fuck you,” with the pronoun “I” implicit at the beginning. The speaker is vividly asserting his claim to higher status, and his contempt for those he considers subordinate. Characteristically, humans have converted a postural image into a linguistic one with barely a change in nuance. The phrase is uttered millions of times each day, all over the planet, with hardly anyone stopping to think what it means. Often, it escapes our lips unbidden. It is satisfying to say. It serves its purpose. It is a badge of the primate order, revealing something of our nature despite all our denials and pretensions.