Elephants recognize themselves in the mirror

We already knew that humans, great apes, and dolphins are able to recognize themselves in the mirror. Usually, the rest of higher mammals or other animals think the image in the glass belongs to another individual (if they understand the concept of individual at all). According to the research work done at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University, elephants have joined this small group of species able to recognize themselves in the mirror. Scientists exposed elephants to 8’x8′ mirrors and the pachyderms responded with behavior of self-awareness, including touching marks painted on their foreheads, and inspecting their own body.

Scientists say that animals express this ability in four phases. The first one is a social response to the image in the mirror. Secondly, a physical inspection of their own body is performed. And the final recognition of themselves comes after some imitating behaviors. Animals with this ability are self-conscious and generally evolve to more complex social abilities (like empathy). Nevertheless, only one of the elephants participating in the experiment touched the mark painted on his forehead. If the elephant’s self-awareness hypothesis is true, we should expect more experiment results in this way.

More information: Yerkes Primate Research Center

We know the brain as much as Galileo knew the universe

The knowledge we currently have about the human brain is comparable to the knowledge about the Universe we had in Galileo’s time, said the Novel Prize Torsten Wiesel during a meeting in Santiago de Compostela (Spain). Mr. Wiesel argues that plasticity is a key factor in human brain development as many regions of it need stimuli for their development. Wiesel received the Nobel Prize jointly with Hubel thanks to their work on brain visual processing. They demonstrated that the brain needs to configure itself after birth. i.e., even though no physical problem exists, without stimuli there is no brain development.
Within the framework of ConCiencia program, coordinated by the professor Jorge Mira, Mr. Wiesel talked about the challenges of human brain understanding. When he was asked about the percentage of human brain that we currently understand, he answered that our knowledge of human brain is more or less the same as the knowledge we had about the universe in Galileo’s time. Probably, 90% of the mechanisms in the brain are still unknown. Brain imaging techniques are the main advance in the knowledge of the brain. These techniques allow us to study not only isolated cells but brain processes in general, Wiesel said. 

The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online

In the context of evolutionary computing it is very interesting to know that from October 2006 the University of Cambridge offers the complete work of Charles Darwin online at darwin-online.org.uk.

The site contains more than 50,000 searchable text pages and 40,000 images of both publications and handwritten manuscripts. There is also the most comprehensive Darwin bibliography ever published and the largest manuscript catalogue ever assembled. More than 150 ancillary texts are also included, ranging from secondary reference works to contemporary reviews, obituaries, published descriptions of Darwin’s Beagle specimens and important related works for understanding Darwin’s context.

There are other two websites referenced in Darwin-Online home providing complementary Darwin materials:


Press release (Oct. 2006)
The largest collection of Darwin’s writings ever published will appear on the website The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online (http://darwin-online.org.uk/) on 19 October 2006. Never before has so much Darwin material, and so many rare and widely dispersed items, been brought together in one place and made available free of charge. This site currently offers more than 50,000 pages of searchable text and 40,000 images of both publications and transcribed manuscripts. Most of the materials are available both as fully formatted electronic text and colour images of the originals. Darwin’s works are also available as free machine-read audio mp3 files. The project, designed and directed by Dr John van Wyhe of Christ’s College, Cambridge, is hosted by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities at the University of Cambridge. The launch marks the end of the first year of the three-year’s funding awarded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

The website also includes the largest Darwin bibliography ever produced, based on the work of R. B. Freeman, and the largest catalogue of manuscripts (with over 30,000 entries) ever published. More than 150 supplementary documents are also provided, from secondary reference works to contemporary reviews, obituaries, published descriptions of Darwin’s Beagle specimens and important related works for studying and understanding Darwin and his work. Each work containing illustrations or maps is provided with an overview page of thumbnail images allowing readers to see in seconds all the illustrations which are scattered throughout hundreds of pages. The thumbnails take readers directly to the larger version of the image in its context within the original work.

Most of the materials provided are appearing online for the first time such as the first edition of the Journal of Researches (1839) (or Voyage of the</I> Beagle), The descent of Man (1871), The Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle (1838-43) and the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th editions of the Origin of species. There are also many newly transcribed and never before published manuscripts such as Darwin’s Beagle field notebooks. One of these, the notebook in which Darwin recorded his immediate thoughts on the Galapagos, was stolen in the early 1980s and is still missing, but the text has been transcribed from microfilm. The many contributors and benefactors who have kindly helped to create this milestone in Darwin studies can be found on the website’s acknowledgements.
As vast as the collection now is, there is much still to come. The site currently contains about 50% of the materials that will be provided by 2009, the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Origin of species. Forthcoming materials include further editions and translations, images of the majority of the Darwin Archive at Cambridge University Library, more editorial introductions, notes, transcriptions and technical facilities for printing and larger images. New content is continually being added.

For more information contact:
The Director, Dr John van Wyhe
Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities
University of Cambridge