Tuesday, October 20, 2009

18th century robots

Robots turning eeringly life-like... Androids replacing humans... It sounds we are on the verge of a whole new era in human history. Interestingly however we are not the first humans to think so.

When today we think that computers and robots might take over the world, our 16th century ancestors thought the clock will! The clock, with its moving hands and intricate mechanics had deeply impressed people. Descartes (a famous philosopher) actually envisioned that a clock could one day perhaps even move a person's legs.

The 18th century had its own little robotics-revolution. A lot of 'automata' were build at that time. These 'automata' were in a sense mechanical toys but the extend to which they were life-like really enchanted people. Needless to say, the first of these automata were constructed as gifts for Kings, Queens and Noblemen. I will list a few of these impressive creations below.

There is Jacques Vaucason's duck. A 'robot' duck that can sit, stand eat and... poo!

Then there is "La Joueuse de Tympanon". Notice how in this video she is even moving her head and eyes! Creepy!

And Henri Maillardet's "writer".

You can also check out this trailer. You can see various automata as well as Vaucanson's duck in action!

So I think by now it should be clear: We are not the first to wonder: "what if one day these robots start having a mind of their own?"...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Animal instincts & ingenious anti-rape mechanisms

Animals... Wild.. Uncontrollable... Following their instincts...
Now, would you think an animal can feel 'raped'...? To be very honest I sort of thought animals would like anything that feels good (unless I guess it doesn't).
But apparently they don't.

To be more specific, in some duck species female ducks have developed an
elaborate 'anti-rape' mechanism. It seems that they are often approached by aggressive (undesired) male ducks with malicious intentions and finding no escape... :(

So, (it seems) they have developed certain sacks/dead ends in their vagina... Once the 'aggressor' is led into those their sperm is practically wasted.

Who would have thought...!
If you want to know more check out this article.

Despite the fact that most water fowl form monogamous pairs, forced copulations by other males — the avian equivalent of rape — are common in many water fowl, [...]. The length of the phallus of a species is strongly correlated with the frequency of forced copulations.- P. Brennan

I leave the conclusions up to you.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The bright side of the Dark Ages

The Inquisition, burning books, scientist and philosophers dying slow and painful deaths because they held a belief opposed by the 'Church', suppressed urges and emotions... A creepy image of the Dark Ages...

I started reading this book on the Middle Ages, "Liebe und Sex im Mittelalter" (love and sex in medieval times) by Alexander Ballhaus and I am surprised to find that those Dark Ages might have a bright side too. (and no, I don't mean the Hollywood 'princesses and knights' bright side!)

Even though the 'Church' (and thus to an extend Christianity) have been the driving force behind that terrifying Inquisistion and other horrible things, Christianity has also brought about important changes that distinguish the ancient from the modern world.

For one thing Christianity, with its claim that all humans are equal in the eyes of God, laid the foundation for the later abolishment of slavery. (note that in the Roman Empire slaves were regarded and treated as animals; also note how Christianity was initially adopted by slaves and how they were persecuted by the Roman Empire)
Beside this, it also brought about a shift in people's minds about the position of women.
Clement of Alexandria reported: "Christians want women to be appreciated on the basis of the purity of their behavior and not their beauty; furthermore they don't want men regarding women as subservient objects, because nature gave us marriage, just as it gave us food, which we can use but not abuse." [4]

Even though it might have taken a long time until women and men became equals and slavery was abolished, it seems that the Dark Ages have been a breeding ground for this. A first step in a long-long journey...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Homosexual necrophiliac duck

Yes, you understood correctly. Homosexuality and necrophilia (finding the dead sexually attractive) have been observed in ducks (both at the same time, an all-in-one bingo) just outside the Natural History Museum of Rotterdam.

How did this happen? Well, one fine day a male duck (the 'victim-duck') flew against the museum's huge window and dropped dead (just like many other birds do apparently). Then another male duck arrived that started ahm "copulating" with the dead duck... Kees Moeliker who worked at the museum happened to pass, video-taped the whole event and described it extensively in a paper (he later even won a Ig Nobel Prize for this).

A funny detail is that when Kees tried to collect the carcass he was faced by an aggressive attack from the 'molester duck' who was defending his 'prey'...!

Well, isn't nature full of surprises?!