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Rats Shown to Express Empathy and Other Things I Learned This Week

The amount of information in the world doubles every 9 to 18 months. It's impossible to learn it all. However, I did learn this...

Empathy.  It's what most humans feel when they see a confounded elderly woman laboring to cross the street, or an antsy, ill-equipped child struggling to pop open a soda can or a homeless family residing in their mangy sedan.  Empathy is also what rats feel when one of their lab buddies is trapped in the name of science.

Most scientific research performed in the past has lead us to believe that empathy is limited to more "intelligent" species, like homo sapiens, others in the ape family, dolphins, dogs, and elephants.  Now, according to neurobiologist Peggy Mason at the University of Chicago, “Rats help other rats in distress. That means it’s a biological inheritance.  That’s the biological program we have.”

The hit television show from the turn of the century, Friends did a funny take on the subject about how there are no unselfish good deeds.  You know, it's the one where Phoebe hates PBS.

Evolutionary biologists, for years now, have shown over and over how empathy has an evolutionary purpose rooted in survival, and that people in particular are soft-wired for cooperation and solidarity, especially those who are most similar to us (the root cause of nepotism, bigotry, nationalism, etc). What is new is how widespread in the animal kingdom this sense of empathy stretches.  Now we know it extends as far as rats.  This appears to be a proven case of biological causation in species, as opposed to correlation.

Those who read my writings often may know that I talk a lot about how correlation and causation are not the same thing.  This is particularly good to know in today's technological environment.  

However, nothing I could say could hammer home as well as Vali Chandrasekaran did here when he made an info graphic showing how babies named Ava caused the housing market crash.  Similar graphs can be found on Fox News all of the time, like this one showing how 8.6% is actually higher than 8.9%.

I also learned this week that 'The Muppets' are communist, (thoroughly enjoyed the new movie BTW), girls apparently don't like regular Legos, the Saudi's still decapitate women for 'Witchcraft,' and the Army makes really good videos of Humvee's being tossed from airplanes.  

Even with all of that nonsense, like parents pranking their kids with inappropriate kissing, scientists continue to make startling discoveries, like two black holes - the largest ever found - that are 10 billion times bigger than our sun!  That's a whole lot considering the sun weighs 220 duodecillion pounds.  

There aren't many places these poor boys, tricked in to making out with their parents, can go to get away from their embarrassment, but of the 2000 exoplanets found thus far, these 16 planets might be habitable.  And one exoplanet named Keppler-22b, is the first planet found in the "Goldilocks zone" of a sun-like star.  This means it is "just right" to harbor life similar to that found on Earth.

Unfortunately, even traveling at jet speed, it would take several million years to get there, so it's not really an option of escape for those boys.  Hopefully there are no Keppler-22bevians like the parents found at Rosemount High School.

As always, all of this data can be overwhelming, but I learned this week that it's nothing new.  Check out Agostino Ramelli's Bookwheel for the multi-tabbed information browsing habits of data freaks almost 500 years ago.  

As the old saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same, but even better than that is what the scientists of the world remind me every day, that the amazing accomplishments of some of us show the potential that is in all of us.  If nothing else, be creative, and play with the moon a bit.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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