Welcome to STEMology – Show Notes

Season 1, Episode 25

Pill bots, sexy snakes, blind colours and Spacey McSpaceport

In today’s episode of STEMology…

David and Sophie will talk about swallowing a robot to deliver insulin treatment drugs, how sea snakes mistaken divers as a potential mating partner, how the blinds and sighted understand colour in the same way, and the fight of a space for a spaceports …

Pill Bots

Why not just do an injection of insulin if you can do that?

And the reason is it’s actually not very good to have insulin going everywhere in your body. Having a device intraperitonealy means that the insulin goes into your portal vein, and then into your liver, just like it would, if you had a pancreas, which means you avoid some of the problems of having insulin absolutely everywhere in your body….

Sexy Snakes

Because the snakes can’t see very well and because they need to lick things in order to identify them chemically, they approach human beings because they need to lick them in order to identify what they are to know if they can have sex with them.

Blind Colours

What  the blind and sighted people made identical judgments about these novel objects, showing that the colour knowledge, generalizes to new examples, and it’s not dependent on memorizing. So it’s just intrinsic understanding of colour.

Space Spaceports

I believe that his, the environmental concerns that he raises are actually legitimate …. So the A’Mhoine peninsula is known for peatlands and its rich biodiversity.

…. Peatlands are incredibly important for carbon capture. So apparently they’re way better than like rainforests any forests actively sequestering carbon from the atmosphere

This is a “kind of, sort of, vaguely close” copy of the words that David & Sophie speak in this episode.

IT IS NOT 100% accurate.  We are very sorry if we have spelt something completely incorrectly.  If it means a lot to you to have it corrected, email us at stemology@ramaley.media

STEMology s1e25

[00:00:00] David: Welcome to episode 25 of STEMology

[00:00:02] Sophie: A podcast sharing some of the interesting fun, and sometimes just patently bizarre news in science, technology, engineering, or maths,

[00:00:10] David: Your hosts are Dr. Sophie Callabretto and Dr. David Farmer

[00:00:14] Sophie: In today’s episode of stem ology, we’ll be chatting about pill bots, sexy snakes,

[00:00:19] David: blind colors, and spacey makes spaceport.

Pill Bots

[00:00:22] Sophie: Dave insulin bots assembled.

[00:00:26] David: Insulin bots assembled. this is a story about implantable robotics.

[00:00:31] Sophie: Yeah, I really liked this one as much as I don’t. It seems like they’ve got some improvements to make at the end and we’ll get there. I Just really hope this works for everyone’s sake.

[00:00:40] David: Just cause it’s really, really cool. So some researchers at the Bio Robotics Institute and the department of excellence in robotics and a number of other international places, but mostly in Pisa, Italy have come up with this thing called PILLSID for the treatment of type one diabetes.

[00:00:58] Sophie: PILLSID the [00:01:00] worst acronym imaginable. So PILLSID, everyone actually stands for Pill Refilled Implanted System Intraperitoneal Delivery. The PIL in PILLSID comes from pill, but not the second L the second L in PILLSID comes from the first L in refilled, implanted doesn’t even come up in this acronym, but then system is the S intraperitoneal is the I, and then delivery is the D but PILLSID is fun. And so let’s just go with it, but yeah, so this

[00:01:29] David: stick with it. And the rules be damned. The acronym rules be damned. The acronym police will be out in force. These people will be pulled over, possibly stopped, possibly charged, but we’ve got our catchy acronym. So it’s probably worth it.

[00:01:42] Sophie: It’s true. And if you think about, main group of people doing the study are Italian. I’m loving that they’re doing wordplay in English. I really appreciate the effort. You know, I think they’ve done a good job. So this is a, uh, this is a two-part system, which I really love. So the idea Dave, is that you would have, an insulin dispenser [00:02:00] surgically implanted in you. So the idea is you’d have a doctor at some stage who would surgically implant, this little internal insulin dispenser that sits on the abdominal wall, which is sort of interfaced with the small intestine. I love that they’ve specifically referred to the fact that it’s the size of a flip phone. And I was like a lot of, a lot of people aren’t going to get that reference these days.

[00:02:18] David: Not a brick phone.

[00:02:19] Sophie: no, it’s not a brick phone, but it’s not a smart, can you imagine everybody has smart phone? Like I’ve got like an iPhone, whatever big version just like strapped to my abdominal wall. No. So this is 78 by 63 by 35 millimeters. So, it’s yeah, that’s a flip phone from my memory and it’s only 165 grams, so it’s not going to weigh down your abdominal wall. And the idea is that this thing is attached to you and that is the thing that delivers insulin into fluid in that particular space between the abdominal wall and the small intestine.

[00:02:49] But then Dave, what happens when it runs out of insulin? How are we possibly going to address this?

[00:02:56] David: yeah, typically, so people have played around with this technology before it, and you have this intraperitoneal [00:03:00] delivery and it usually requires if you run out of insulin that you externally deliver it, which means basically you need like an external catheter,

[00:03:08] Sophie: Yeah. And I’ve seen those as well.

[00:03:09] David: tube sticking out of your stomach, which is not what you want because you get problems like obstruction and infection and leakages and pain. It’s not a very nice thing to have.

[00:03:17] Sophie: No, like the human body has not been designed to have some foreign object, like permanently sticking out you.

[00:03:24] David: No,

[00:03:24] Sophie: no. it doesn’t like it.

[00:03:25] David: So, um, they make a really interesting, they explain it in a really interesting way, which is the digestive system represents an interesting route for accessing internal organs or devices implanted in the abdominal cavity with minimal invasiveness. So basically they’re making the point that the guts are actually quite a good way to gain access to the organs because when you swallow something, it will go there.

[00:03:49] And that is key to what they’ve done here, because what they’ve done with their implantable device is when it runs out of insulin, you swallow a pill that goes into your [00:04:00] guts by the usual routes

[00:04:01] Sophie: You don’t have to try it. Yeah.

[00:04:04] David: Docks with the thing, magnetically, refills it then undocks. And then you poop it out.

[00:04:11] Sophie: And I was just thinking, it’s like, I feel like we’ve managed to not talk about poop for quite a while on STEMology. . And here we are, again, even in a story that doesn’t actually have anything to do with poop, intrinsically, Robo poop.

[00:04:21] Yeah. So this is really cool. I love this idea. So it uses the power of magnets as you said. So basically we eat a little insulin capsule. The idea is using the power of magnets, the device rotates the capsules and docks into position. And then there’s a retractable needle that comes out and punctures the little pill, and then, a pump refills the insulin reservoir in the actual implanted device.

[00:04:44] And then you, so apparently that the control, docking and release of the capsule are controlled wirelessly by an external programming device that can be turned on and off. And then also the implants battery is wirelessly charged by this external device as well. So it’s like magnetic fields controlling [00:05:00] this thing, but it’s all controlled wirelessly from outside, but then you’ve got a tiny little space pill, which is what I’m going to call it because.

[00:05:07] David: That’s absolutely valid

[00:05:08] Sophie: Because when else does anything like dock with magnets and rotate into place only in movies with like space stations. So it’s a space pill, but yeah, I, like, I thought this was really, really cool. And so there’s obviously like a level of complexity. So apparently the implant contains four actuators that control the docking, the needle puncturing, the reservoir volume and aspiration and the pump. and apparently the design was inspired by industrial clamping systems and pipe inspecting robots, which I

[00:05:37] David: Pipe inspecting robots. I didn’t know that was a thing.

[00:05:40] Sophie: No, neither did I. And then I thought when they said industrial clamping systems, all I could think of was, you know, that story we did about the robot that opened the 3d printed bridge with the queen and it had it sort of clampy hand to hold the, ribbon for it.

[00:05:52] That’s all I could think of as like, they saw that cool little robot dude, open the bridge and went, Hey, we can use this for diabetics [00:06:00] yeah. Space pill.

[00:06:01] David: So that’s all very complicated. Then it’s probably worth explaining why it’s worth doing all that because you might well be asking dear listener, why not just do an injection of insulin if you can do that. And the reason is it’s actually not very good to have insulin going everywhere in your body.

[00:06:15] The, the main place that insulin acts is on the liver. That’s where Glucose is encouraged to be compared to glycogen for storage, which reduces your blood glucose when it’s high. so usually what happens is the pancreas secretes insulin into the portal vein, which supplies the liver.

[00:06:30] And this is also the vein that gets all the blood supply from the guts. So basically when you absorb nutrients, the first place they go is the liver in case there’s anything that needs to be dealt with. And yeah. So having this intraperitoneal device and the peritoneal cavity is just the cavity that has your guts in it.

[00:06:46] Having device intraperitonealy means that the insulin goes into your portal vein, and then into your liver, just like it would, if you had a pancreas, which means you avoid some of the problems of having insulin absolutely everywhere in your body. So that’s why they’ve [00:07:00] gone to all this cool space trouble.

[00:07:02] Sophie: Oh it’s cool space trouble. And so they did test this dave, I have a question for you. So apparently this test involved three diabetic pigs.

[00:07:10] Now, did they create the pigs to be diabetic or did they do like a cattle call for people who owns diabetic pigs?

[00:07:16] David: Good question. I mean, I know some animals naturally, like I know rats naturally become diabetic as they age. I presume I don’t know if it’s particular strains, but I know there is at least one strain of rat that becomes naturally diabetic as it ages, which was very important in our understanding of diabetes, back in the day.

[00:07:33] So I don’t know if maybe they just destroy the relevant bits of the pancreas to make the pigs diabetic or if maybe it’s spontaneously. I’m not honestly sure.

[00:07:41] Sophie: Okay. So they didn’t say all right, we’ll call for the pigs. And the diabetic pigs were like, I would love to be involved in science and they put their hands up and sort of came into the lab every Tuesday.

[00:07:50] David: I suspect it wasn’t like that.

[00:07:51] Sophie: It wasn’t like that. And anyway, so they did this, they managed to do this, although there were a few issues.

[00:07:55] So they found that their system could successfully manage, the insulin levels in these [00:08:00] pigs for several hours. But in some instances, bodily fluids from the pigs would leak into the robot, and it’s probably like a bit of an issue. And they think that that happened during docking, when the needle comes out of the implant to puncture the pill, because what they found was when they’d previously tested this device in water, they weren’t getting the same kind of, leaking apparently.

[00:08:19] And so they say that, you know, bodies are more complex human body is possibly more complex than a pig body. So the next step would be, working on sealing the device a little bit better. So that body juices don’t leak into your robot.

[00:08:31] David: And I did look at that. So the needle they use for the docking is a 25 gauge needle, which I can tell you from personal experiences, a small needle, that’s like not a big needle. That’s a pretty tiny needle.

[00:08:41] Sophie: That would be like a Sophie friendly needle.

[00:08:43] David: Yeah. Yeah. That’s the, so Sophie has a phobia of needles, which I hope you don’t mind me sharing

[00:08:48] Sophie: No, that’s fine.

[00:08:49] David: as someone who’s been recently vaccinated.

[00:08:51] Sophie: someone who’s been and recently vaccinated yesterday. Anyway. Uh, horse pigs, Dave.

[00:08:55] David: horse pigs. And so they tested it in diabetic pigs and found that it worked pretty well. [00:09:00] And they also did a test in cadavers.

[00:09:03] Sophie: Oh, no, I

[00:09:04] David: So they actually tested the device in cadavers to test the optimal shape

[00:09:08] Sophie: Oh, that’s cool

[00:09:09] David: of the device and found that in fact, a kidney shape was best.

[00:09:13] Sophie: Cute.

[00:09:14] David: Yeah.

[00:09:15] Sophie: I mean, and that’s not something that you would just guess, right. So I guess it’s a good test to have done.

[00:09:19] David: It is. And if you’re ever wondering what might happen to you, if you donate your body to science, this is one of the things that might happen. You might be involved in the development of a cool space pill for the treatment of type one diabetes.

[00:09:30] Sophie: I wouldn’t even be mad. And then Dave, so apparently this new system has the potential to be used for administering other life-saving drugs, such as Chemotherapy to people with ovarian, pancreatic, gastric and colorectal cancers, which I think is really cool.

[00:09:42] I loved this. I was like, great for diabetics. Great for people who need life-saving drugs. And as a result, I will donate my body to science. When previously I wanted to be cremated, I wanted my ashes to be turned into a diamond and I wanted my diamond to be shot into space. But now, um, I’d like my cadaver to help

[00:09:58] David: I feel you missed [00:10:00] step. Surely you want to be cremated on a Viking long ship that a light with a flaming bow and arrow then turned into a diamond then into

[00:10:08] Sophie: Essentially. I’d like to be a financial burden on all those that leave behind is really what we’re doing.

[00:10:13] David: We’ve learned a lot about you, Sophie.

[00:10:15] Sophie: Well, yeah. but now, I’m going to donate my body to science, but specifically for the use, in this kind of, system development of spaceports in the body.

[00:10:23] David: Basically anything that can be prefaced with the word space,

[00:10:26] Sophie: Yes.

Sexy snakes

[00:10:26] David: sexy, sexy sea snakes

[00:10:38] Sophie: Apparently Dave sexy sea snakes.

[00:10:40] David: apparently sexy sea snakes. So this is researchers at Macquarie University say that mistaken identity may explain why sea snakes in inverted commas attack scuba divers.

[00:10:53] Sophie: I like, yeah, we can get back to that specific definition of attack in a second. Yeah. So we’re talking about the venomous olive sea snake, [00:11:00] and apparently there are scuba divers frequently report unprovoked attacks from sea snakes And these unprovoked attacks can involve chasing and biting, but specifically Dave, the way to tell the difference between an attack and a snake just approaching you, is that an attack involves rapid jerky zigzag movements, which are easily distinguished from the allegedly swimming mode of a curious snake.

[00:11:22] David: And presumably um being bitten.

[00:11:24] Sophie: And yeah, I feel like if there’s, if it bites you at the end, like it was an attack, it wasn’t a curious leisurely dive by a snake in your vicinity.

[00:11:33] David: No, if you’re only nibbled, it wasn’t an attack. You have to be bitten.

[00:11:37] Sophie: You have to be bitten. Yeah, exactly.

[00:11:39] David: Well that’s what we’re about to talk about because, well, first of all, before we get to that, so they kind of pose this question in quite a nice way, I think, to begin with. So they say understanding the causes for such in inverted comas again, “attacks” is of interest from two perspective.

[00:11:53] First, why would a free ranging snake approach and bite a person that has not harassed, it is too big to be prey and can readily [00:12:00] be evaded in the complex three-dimensional word of the coral reef. So basically why would snakes do this? And also there’s they say that terrestrial snakes, which are snakes, like sea snakes, except they’re on land, prefer to escape rather than confronting human being.

[00:12:14] So why would sea snakes be any different? So they present the question in terms of questions, which are quite like in a paper, like here are the questions we are answering

[00:12:21] Sophie: and,

[00:12:22] David: attempting to answer.

[00:12:23] Sophie: yeah. And so what they did in order to answer this question, Dave was they analyzed some data that was collected between 1994 and 1995. So one I’d like to know what everyone has been doing in the past 25 years.

[00:12:34] David: Yeah,

[00:12:35] Sophie: that’s the age of a researcher.

[00:12:37] David: that’s true.

[00:12:37] Sophie: anyway, and So what they did

[00:12:39] David: there was like a moratorium on the data or something.

[00:12:41] Sophie: Yeah.

[00:12:41] Yeah, it’s a bit weird. So they had a, one of the authors, Tim Lynch, who was sort of diving in the great barrier reef. And so what they did is this is a 27 months study where, from what I can tell is they kind of just like attached a camera to him, right? Like it’s, this is just based on visuals of him going in, swimming with snakes and then watching what they [00:13:00] did.

[00:13:00] David: Yes, that was my rough understanding.

[00:13:02] Sophie: Yeah. so they apparently there’s approximately 250 hours of diving. And the usual dive length was about 30 minutes. And this was around a specific bunch of rocks that I did not write down the name of, 20 kilometers off the east coast of Australia. and then I don’t know, Dave, so I have like a little bit of a problem with just like the numbers that are quoted here, because one, the story from the data itself was quite hard to follow. And then I’m not sure where the conclusions necessarily came from. So they said that so apparently there were 158 encounters in total in this particular time. And 58 of those encounters were with male sea snakes and a hundred of the encounters with females.

[00:13:40] And apparently it’s actually quite easy to tell the difference visually between a male and a female because of like color and size and other things about it. So that’s Squishy bits.

[00:13:49] And So they found that sea snakes approached during 74 of the 158 encounters. Dave it’s 46.8%. So you [00:14:00] know, what that suggest is snakes are more likely not to approach a person, but that’s fine. And then they said that males were more likely than females to approach, which is true because it was 39 of the 58 male encounter we had approaching and 35 of the a hundred female encounters are approaching.

[00:14:16] So 67% of the male snakes approach, 35% of the male snakes approach. And they said that the approaches were more likely to happen during mating season. I just have a question about snakes and mating season. So we’ve said that the males do it far more often. that not just because during mating season, like normally, it’s the males who are responsible for like , being aggressive and finding a mate, in which case, like, they’re just going to be a bit more aggressive and more active. And the women like their job is to like run away from the men snakes they don’t like, so they’re going to be far more docile?

[00:14:48] David: that’s a good question. so you’re saying they’re just going to be more everywhere in the sea, not necessarily near humans.

[00:14:54] Sophie: Yeah. they’re going to be more aggressive because they have a job and the job to impregnate a woman.

[00:14:59] David: yes. Okay. I see [00:15:00] what you’re saying.

[00:15:00] Sophie: mean, I actually tried to look up just like the general behavior of these olives sea snakes, and that particular information is not that easy to find without direct reference to this paper.

[00:15:11] David: you’re right. So they show that the approach has happened more in mating season. And from my understood of the data, they seem to say that the male snakes were more likely to approach repeatedly.

[00:15:19] Sophie: Right. Okay.

[00:15:21] David: from what I read as well, they talk about the fact that these snakes probably can’t see or smell very well.

[00:15:27] Sophie: Yeah.

[00:15:27] Cause they quote that there was previous research that suggested that sea snakes find it difficult to identify shapes in water anyway. so then this is basically like mistaken identity during mating season where, you know, the males are confusing a diver for either a rival male or a female sea snake. And the female sea snakes are perceiving a diver a potential hiding place from those aggressive males.

[00:15:50] David: Yes. so they do say they never observed copulation between snakes. So they saw these snakes during mating season, and then try to look at what the snakes did during mating, and then [00:16:00] relate that to what happened to humans and one of the things they said was that a copulation was never observed presumably in the case of the snakes and not just in general for cause that would be very sad

[00:16:10] Sophie: And it’s not our business

[00:16:11] David: No, and none of our business and, but tongue flicking to the back of the other snake was evident during pre copulation behavior. So they say that because the snakes can’t see very well and because they need to lick things in order to identify them chemically, they approach human beings because they need to lick them in order to identify what they are to know if they can have sex with them.

[00:16:30] Sophie: Yes.

[00:16:30] David: What a life.

[00:16:32] Sophie: It just seems like a really impractical way of working out whether or not you should have sex with something. I think.

[00:16:38] David: I’m inclined to agree at awkward. Like it will just lead to awkward scenarios more often than it will not

[00:16:44] Sophie: But this is now I’ve got one direct quote from the paper, and then this bit just confused me. And I don’t know if they’ve missed, like, worded what they’ve tried to say. So it says males were rarely observed outside the breeding season.

[00:16:56] David: right.

[00:16:57] Sophie: I don’t know if it meant males were rarely observed approaching or [00:17:00] if they just weren’t observed.

[00:17:01] In which case, if they were rarely observed outside of the breeding season, what are we comparing this to?

[00:17:05] David: Yeah, then we can’t say that they’re less likely to approach because you didn’t see any.

[00:17:08] Sophie: Yeah. And that, as I said, and I double checked it in case I’d forgotten how to read momentarily. And that is a direct quote from the paper. So I was just slightly confused as to what that actually meant. But yeah. So what they said is basically they observed that all changes in this particular behavior occur during mating season.

[00:17:24] And those involving males occurred immediately after an unsuccessful chase of a female, interaction with a male rival, and then also three males were observed coiling around the divers fin, which has a behavior usually observed during courtship.

[00:17:38] So that’s your right. There’s a little bit of a tongue flicking.

[00:17:43] And then if you pass the tongue flicking test, you do like a weak coil around a snake Is that sort of how it works? Is that the order of events.

[00:17:49] David: That’s my understanding of the order of events. They also say something a bit, which is a bit of a cop-out I think, which is at first sight, the idea that a snake might mistake a human diver for another snake seems ludicrous given the massive [00:18:00] disparity in size and between these two objects. person is not an object.

[00:18:04] Nonetheless, this offers the most plausible explanation for our observations. What seems like a very fancy way of saying we don’t know what’s going on.

[00:18:11] Sophie: Yeah. And I would say based on the fact that this is we’ve put 158 data points from 20 something years ago. And do you know what we’ve probably done in the meantime, Dave ruined their habitat in the great barrier reef. Like these snakes are all dead. Like there’s no point even thinking about them anymore.

[00:18:25] No, That’s terrible, but I don’t know Dave, I mean, this. I’m just impressed, really impressed that Tim Lynch has gone, like, I’m just going to go hang out with sea snakes. Cause I went to new Caledonia once Dave and there are snakes, sea snakes there and they were everywhere and a little bit terrifying.

[00:18:40] they were the, um, I think it was like the , which I think means like stripey sweater in french, but they’re like, I’d actually looked them up to write it down.

[00:18:49] David: Is that the default name of everywhere?

[00:18:51] Sophie: because the black and white Stripe ones, like the really scary looking ones. And I looked it up and apparently in English, it’s called the sea krait.

[00:18:58] K R A I T. [00:19:00] And it was really fun. I remember going there and like, you know, as a good Australian there’s snakes everywhere. So we ask the pertinent questions, like, how venomous are these? Are they dangerous? Like, what is the first aid to follow? If you know, it is this like an elevate pressure kind of thing, which is like, you’d assume, and we were told just like, oh no, they won’t bite you.

[00:19:17] And we’re like, well, that’s not the question we’reat. . Like, they’re really, really timid. They won’t bite you. And we’re like, okay. But if they were to bite, you. Would you do told constantly that they weren’t going to bite us and it turns out, you know, they are quite timid, but we looked it up afterwards.

[00:19:29] And apparently the bite of one of these things is 10 times that of the king Cobra and 40 times that of the Diamondback rattlesnake in terms of venom output. And it was like, guys, were in the sea, they were on the beach. They were like slightly inland around the tree. They were just terrified. So when I read this, I was like, good on you, Tim Lynch.

[00:19:45] Just, I mean, maybe these ones, as I’ve said that, you know, usually quite timid and I guess the other ones, as what I’m saying, cause the other ones were usually quite timid. Cause they said they wouldn’t bite us and they didn’t, but um,

[00:19:55] David: Well, they do say, in the paper, they do say if mistaken identity occurs, then it’s best to let the snake [00:20:00] to investigate. And particularly if it licks you just let it do it.

[00:20:04] Sophie: Just let it do it.It.

[00:20:05] David: and then it says something really alarming, which is attempting to flee is likely to be futile.

[00:20:10] Sophie: Well, cause they said he had divers that flee from snakes may inadvertently mimic the response of female snakes to courtship encouraging males to give chase.

[00:20:17] David: So stop being so sexy while you’re running away or don’t do it.

[00:20:20] Sophie: yeah, it’s, what’s kind of like, you know, if you see a lion, if you run, you become prey. In here. If you run, you become ultra sexy and that’s a dangerous thing to do you are not a sea snake.

[00:20:29] David: It’s like, oh my God, it’s running away.

[00:20:31] Sophie: Lick it. Coil around its fins.


[00:20:34] Sophie: From snakes that can’t tell the difference between snakes and people to blind people and sighted people who understand color in the same way

Blind colour

[00:20:52] David: This is researchers at Johns Hopkins university who are interested in what must be seen and what is transmitted by [00:21:00] language. So a statement like marigolds are yellow, marigolds the flower, not a person called or people called Marygold

[00:21:08] A marigolds are yellow is an arbitrary color fact, but it’s not an understanding of color is say. So basically what they’re saying here is that blind and sighted people show causal understanding of color that is the same, but disagree about arbitrary color facts. so basically in contemporary theories of cognition, in order to understand something, you have to have a physical experience So you need to be able to link sensory phenomenon, like seeing the color red, for example, or yellow to a first person experience. So visual experience is central to the concept of red itself. So once you have seen red and had a visual experience of it, Then when someone says, oh, that car is red, your understanding of red is based on

[00:21:54] Sophie: your experience. Yeah. You’re like I saw a red tomato. I understand what red is. So when someone says that [00:22:00] car is where’d you go like, got it. It’s the colored car.

[00:22:03] David: And that’s been a kind of apparently in many contemporary theories of cognition, that’s the deal. And apparently empiricist philosophers like Locke and Hume. That’s what they thought was that you had to have this first person experience of things in order to understand them. But we don’t actually know that.

[00:22:19] Sophie: just thought that. maybe.

[00:22:21] David: Yeah. And that’s kind of a big deal because we don’t know how much of our understanding of something as fundamental as like color. So as the color red, for example, is learned by first person experience or learn from talking to others or just hardwired into our brain anyway.

[00:22:37] Sophie: Yeah, just something else.

[00:22:38] David: Yeah.

[00:22:39] and it’s very, very difficult to tease this out, but that is exactly what these researchers have tried to do.

[00:22:44] Sophie: Yeah.

[00:22:44] So what they got is they got 20 congenitally, blind people and 19 sighted people and the gender distribution, as well as the age distribution and years of education distribution is very similar in those two groups. That’s good. I like the detail that they went into there and they had a [00:23:00] two phase experiment, Dave, so they both asked, they asked a group of blind and sighted adults common color of objects questions, which is the arbitrary facts. Like colour is a banana? What colour is the tomato? They also ask them why they were that color. And then the likelihood that the two of those objects selected at random would be the same color. So if I had two bananas, are they both like little bit yellow compared to like two cars or something.

[00:23:24] And so the objects were a combination of natural and human made things. So natural things was things like fruits, plants, and gems, human made things with things like pens, dollar bills, stop signs. I looked at the comprehensive list in the paper. Nothing was particularly funny, so I didn’t write anything else down.

[00:23:40] Um, there were just objects, you know, I mean, which is good. and then the second part of this study, which I really enjoyed. And it confused me slightly to what we were learning was they were also asked to make predictions about colors of imaginary objects they’d never seen before in a kind of you’re an explorer on an island scenario and like you’ve never seen these things and they were [00:24:00] basically told these little anecdotes or these little stories, about the Zorka people and then they were asked color consistency in usage, consistency questions, so the first thing they did was things that they know, they ask them, what color were they, why they were that color?

[00:24:16] And how likely is it that two objects would be the same color? And they found some pretty interesting things happen specifically with the understanding the why.

[00:24:25] David: so basically what they found was that if you ask them about arbitrary color facts, People who are blind and sighted people, and also people who are blind compared to other people who are blind were more likely to disagree about the arbitrary color facts. So for example, when asked

[00:24:41] what color are polar bears? Sighted people tended to say that they were white, whereas, blind people may were as likely to say that they were black.

[00:24:48] Sophie: Yes.

[00:24:49] David: However, when asked about these various different types of, bear. So example when asked a question like about understanding of color, like are polar bears likely to be the [00:25:00] same color or are bananas likely to be the same color. They found that blind and sighted people had a very, very similar  causal understanding of why things would be a particular color, which suggests that language alone is enough to inform our understanding of what color things are.

[00:25:19] Sophie: Yeah. and the thing, the polar bear example is really good. So they said that, you know, all cited participants said they were white, as you said. And the reasoning behind that was that they to blend in with the snow. Whereas as you said, quite a few of the blind participants said that they were black, but the reason behind that was to absorb heat and stay warm.

[00:25:36] And that was a consistent reasoning amongst the blind people who said that they were black.

[00:25:41] David: Yes. So I think that’s really interesting because it suggests, like I say, it suggests that just the act of having this explained to you can engender an understanding of a phenomenon you’ve never directly observed. So what they kind of say in that? Well, I think is really interesting is in the paper, they kind of say, oh, this is because of language.

[00:25:57] but it could also just be, I [00:26:00] mean, maybe we just understand color because we just understand color because as the brain develops, it’s got a concept of color made because it’s so fundamental to our experience. like gravity is, like, do you need to have what up is explained to you? do you know, do you know what I mean?

[00:26:16] and they don’t really touch on that. And I suspect the reason they don’t really touch on that is that language, while not hardwired into us, it’s possible to not learn language and then you don’t have it, but once you’ve learned it, it’s so intrinsic to our thought processes that it’s impossible to tease out where language ends and where concepts

[00:26:35] Sophie: So in fact, I think the next step is what they would like to do is determine how color is managed in the brain. And as you said, it would be with the blind children. So the idea is to use blind children and sighted children to kind of understand when that acquisition of understanding of color actually happens. And is thing that they just sort of all know, but Yeah.

[00:26:53] so that was the first part, the experiment. Then the second part was just the weirdest thing I’d ever heard. So the [00:27:00] participants were, told about items, found on a remote island where the people have their own language tools, machines, customs, et cetera. And the island ecology is unique. And so they heard about the example in the press release, heard about objects like a green gem that is spiky and the size of a hand and a gadget that is triangular yellow on the size of a thumb. And they were asked how likely another one of those would be like the same color or something.

[00:27:21] So my favorite, so they did color consistency in usage consistency. So one of the examples, the color consistency Dave, is that a Zorka woman invites you into her home. There, you notice a gadget that is floating around the house spraying an odorless chemical. The gadget is triangular yellow and the size of a thumb. She says that this gadget is called a Kanpa and that her Kanpa is rather old. How likely is it the next time you come across another Kanpa, it is also yellow. So that’s your color consistency on your magical island question. And then you’ve got your usage consistency. You come across a Zorka person using a [00:28:00] loud and bulky machine that is orange.

[00:28:02] Large rocks go in from one end and a gooey liquid comes out of the other. He explained that this machine is called an Olan. The Olan was invented by a Zorka person from his town. How likely is it that the next time you come across another Olan, it is also being used to make gooey liquids. I don’t know. I was like, wouldn’t that be fun? Just to come up with those scenarios?

[00:28:21] I think we could do better Dave.

[00:28:23] David: Well, yeah.

[00:28:25] Sophie: But anyway, what they the blind and sighted people made identical judgments about these novel objects, showing that the color knowledge, generalizes to new examples, and it’s not dependent on memorizing.

[00:28:36] So it’s just intrinsic understanding of color. So that, I think that was the purpose of this. don’t know the language, I don’t know the planet of the Zorka people. I don’t

[00:28:44] David: So with Kanpa you might reason that, oh, well, if that’s an old one, if you see a new one, if it’s going to be newer than it might be, you know, new and improved and company might make it a different color

[00:28:53] Sophie: And I was thinking even like, you know, is Kanpa or like, I mean, it does have a capital K so obviously like it’s a brand, but like, if it was just an [00:29:00] actual thing, like fly spray, like they could be different brands of this particular thing and they different colors anyway. And, but then you’ve got this thing that functionally turns rocks into green liquids.

[00:29:09] So you’d think that probably if you came across another, you know, machine whose purpose is to turn rocks into gooey liquids, it probably is being made to turn rocks into gooey liquids.

[00:29:18] David: This is a really cool study.

[00:29:20] cool study that everyone should read the press release for us to go into the show notes and read about it. Cause it’s really neat and you’ll have long conversations in the pub about it.

[00:29:28] Sophie: you will

[00:29:28] David: If you’re allowed to go to the pub.

[00:29:30] Sophie: one day.

Spacey spaceport

[00:29:31] Sophie: From the planet Zorka to spaceports in Scotland.

[00:29:45] David: Space sports in Scotland, a Scottish court has thrown out objections of a billionaire landowner against planning permission granted to an operator of a perspective spaceports in the north of Scotland.

[00:29:56] Sophie: Can I just talk about how fun it is that we’re making spaceports in [00:30:00] Scotland?

[00:30:00] David: I know, I think it’s really, I mean, I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. I think it’s a cool thing. I just inherently, like if the world was a civilization landscape and I was playing the video game, just building spaceports everywhere. It would be like about where we’re at

[00:30:14] Sophie: Yeah, I’ve been doing that in a galactic battle grounds recently building spaceport, but I’m not in Scotland. I’m in, you know, star wars planets, but, um, yeah. so we’ve got our Anders Povlsen is a Danish fast fashion tycoon who apparently, Dave, owns more land in the UK than the queen and the church of Scotland combined, which is terrifying

[00:30:35] David: Presumably quite a lot. He’s the, richest man in the

[00:30:39] Sophie: So he’s the sole owner of international retail clothing chain bestseller, which includes Vera Moda and Jack & Jones. I have actually heard of Vera Moda. I used to have a great stripe t-shirt and I couldn’t replace it because they stopped making it when it died. But he’s also the largest shareholder in the British internet, fashion retailer, ASOS and the second largest in the German internet clothing [00:31:00] retailers, Zalando. So this got like, if you live in like the UK and Europe,those are big names. I mean, I also buy stuff from ASOS. So it’s like, this guy has a lot of money and he launched a judicial review against the space hubs Sutherland earlier this year.

[00:31:12] And it’s his thing that has been rejected. and so David, it says that judge Raymond Dougherty of the Supreme Court of Scotland rejected all points of Povlsen’s petition in a 30 page ruling saying that none of the grounds of the challenges well founded and it turns out there’s an interesting reason why this man may have a complaint about this spaceport being built.

[00:31:32] David: Yeah. So he has a tourism, a conservation and tourism company, which is right by the perspective spaceport, which is why he protested. However, the man, Pouvlsen, who cites environmental concerns as the reason for his objections has since invested in a rival venture, the Shetland space center, and everyone on the internet has been and in local media has derided him for this because there have been far more apparently wildlife and environmental concerns around that space center, which [00:32:00] is in Shetland.

[00:32:00] That’s the Shetland space center, as opposed to the Sutherland space center. The Shetland space center is to be built on the Island of Unst, which is in the Shetland islands, which is not to be confused with the island of Unst or

[00:32:11] Sophie: Okay.

[00:32:12] David: which is obviously a much more dance music focused inst. so basically this guy, it kind of seems like, oh yeah, not in my backyard, but same time he’s investing in exactly the same thing.

[00:32:24] Sophie: In someone else’s backyard, but yeah, so I believe that his, the environmental concerns that he raises are actually legitimate. I Just think he might be raising them for the wrong reasons. So the idea is that the particular peninsula. So the A’Mhoine peninsula is known for peatlands and its rich biodiversity.

[00:32:39] And apparently, and I didn’t understand this day, but peatlands are incredibly important for carbon capture. So apparently they’re way better than like rainforests any forests actively sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, apparently peatlands are ace at this. And so that, you know, one of the complaints is basically you’re destroying all of these peatlands and this rich biodiversity.[00:33:00]

[00:33:00] and that’s actually terrible for the planet and climate change, which, I mean, seems like a genuine concern, but I don’t think that might be his genuine concern.

[00:33:08] David: Seems like it might not be his genuine concern. And so this seems like it’s going to be quite important because so apparently the UK government is going to start issuing spite space flight licenses this summer, which is going to basically set up the space industry, the commercial space industry to be again launching next year.

[00:33:24] so basically they’re making up the rules for these things now. So these legal rulings that are happening now, presumably are quite important for setting precedent in what’s going to happen going forward.

[00:33:35] Sophie: Yeah. and I really liked it. So, and I know that you appreciate this too Dave. So the land that we’re talking about building this spaceport on is currently, the land is it actually belongs to a crofter’s estate.

[00:33:48] So a crofter’s estate is a community of small scale farmers who use it as a grazing ground for cattle. And apparently if they get the land cooked, cause obviously, so we’ve, we’ve had this thing rejected and now like Povlsen [00:34:00] has gone to like the land court and now we need them to grant. No, sorry. That was already happening.

[00:34:04] We still would need even if he didn’t get rejected at that level, there’s a Scottish land court, that needs to approve this before construction can commence. And if they grant permission, the farmers who use the 10 square kilometer estate will be asked to remove their animals around launch date like every year

[00:34:20] David: Yeah. So presumably that’s for the benefit of the cows. We’re not worried that cows will, in some way, interfere with rocket launches.

[00:34:27] Sophie: No, but it’s more just like, imagine that, that it’s like, oh, we’re going on a holiday. They must be launching more small satellites into the air. Like, it’s just a bit of a weird thing. I don’t know. But then you think about, I was going to say like the Parkes radio telescope, but then that they’re not launching anything. So a lot of the sheep paddocks around the Parkes radio telescope in Australia.

[00:34:45] David: Or maybe it’s just a kind of get off my lawn instinct. Like we’re launching rockets. We’re launching rockets, get of my lawn, off my lawn, you cows.

[00:34:52] Sophie: if they launched something and accidentally set fire to a bunch of cattle, like that would not be a good look for the spaceport.

[00:34:57] David: A bad It’s bad PR

[00:34:59] Sophie: Very [00:35:00] bad PR. And they’ve also said the space port could generate up to 250 high skilled jobs, which is good.

[00:35:06] David: That’s good. I suppose. I mean, you have to wonder if they’re going to come from the immediate area. But I do know I’ve actually been through, I haven’t been through A’mhoine specifically, but I’ve been to Thoresdau which means I must’ve driven through it. and I know that this is a part of the world that was hit quite badly by the recession.

[00:35:20] I don’t know what it’s like now, but yeah, that does seem like it would be a good thing.

[00:35:23] Sophie: Yeah, because I think the idea is for this all to work before the first rocket launches, they need a control center, assembly, facilities, offices, roadways, launch pads, and antennas. A minimal requirement before you can start launching satellites from a place

[00:35:37] David: And presumably, I mean, one of the objections to this would be that this is a kind of pristine place where we should keep it pristine, but presumably you want to build spaceports there cause it’s in the middle of nowhere. So presumably if there is a space port there, you’re going to keep it reasonably middle of nowhere.

[00:35:52] Sophie: Yeah.

[00:35:53] David: Ish.

[00:35:54] Sophie: You’re not putting a middle of a town or a city. I

[00:35:57] David: No, presumably not. I mean, if you’re worried about cows, [00:36:00] , you’re going to be worried about pedestrians to a greater extent,

[00:36:03] Sophie: Yeah, because to be honest, I think you can probably control cows better than some pedestrian suspicion depending on where you are.

[00:36:09] David: I would think so. I don’t think that’s a controversial thing to end the podcast.

[00:36:13] Sophie: That’s good, but apparently, so these two Scottish sites, Dave, they’re both expected to, if either of them go ahead, provide facilities for vertical rockets. However, Cornwall is developing an airport that will, host launches by Virgin orbit from a regular runway. So there may be another space port type thing built in the UK for rockets, but this time, not satellite vertical rockets, but our rich people space adventure rockets.

[00:36:40] David: Okay. Both good kinds of rocket, I suppose. Both spaceports. I think the spaceports thing is exciting.

[00:36:45] Sophie: I think it is. And so anyway, we’ll let everyone know when we hear what happens otherwise, I mean, I think, I dunno, is it still okay that I buy things from ASOS is really what I need to know at this stage.

[00:36:54] David: Um, I don’t know. I mean, are you directly funding the pro I mean, [00:37:00] it’s, it seems like a really weird thing that’s happening. Are you funding a conflict of interest case in rival spaceports in the north of Scotland?

[00:37:09] Sophie: Probably not with the amount. I think that probably the last thing I bought from ASOS was actually several years ago. So I feel like I’m not part of the problem here, which makes me feel a little bit better.