Synesthesia is the fascinating neurological phenomenon whereby stimulation of one sense involuntarily triggers another sensory pathway. A synesthete might taste sounds or hear colors. Now, leading synesthesia researcher VS Rakmachandran at the University of California, San Diego is studying "calendar synesthetes" who see very clear images of calendars in their mind's eye when they think about months that have passed or are in the future. For example, according to New Scientist, one participant in the research "sees her months as occupying an asymmetrical “V” shape. Along this V, she sees each month written in Helvetica font." From New Scientist:
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The idea that calendars are literally laid out in space for some people suggests that we are all hardwired to some extent to map time in space.
The concepts of time and numbers are something we acquired relatively recently in our evolutionary history, says Ramachandran, but the brain wouldn’t have had time to evolve a specific area to deal with it.
“Given the opportunistic nature of evolution, perhaps the most convenient way to represent the abstract idea of sequences of numbers and time might have been to map them onto a preexisting map of visual space, already present in the brain,” he says.
Indeed, imaging scans show connections between areas of the brain involved in numbers and those involved with mapping the world, memories and our sense of self. The team suggest that when these areas act together, they enable us to navigate mentally through space and time, while being firmly anchored in the present.
With this year a leap year, February 29 is coming up next week. To celebrate, Alex "Weird Universe" Boese posted "5 Weird Facts About Leap Years" over at About.com:
2. The Extra Day Swindle
In February 1997, John Melo was convicted of home invasion and sentenced to ten years and one day in prison. Seven years later, he filed a motion complaining that the Department of Correction had miscalculated the length of his sentence. Why? Because it had failed to credit him for the additional days he had to serve on account of the February 29's during leap years.
Melo's motion was allowed, but he didn't win the case. In 2006 the Superior Court ruled (Commonwealth vs. John Melo) that not only did his case have no merit, but it had been a mistake to ever allow it to proceed in the first place, noting that he had clearly been sentenced to a term of years, no matter how long each year may be.
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For 50 years, the Pirelli Calendar has featured mostly naked models captured by famed photographers in exotic locales. Not this year.
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William Saturno, a Boston University archeologist, excavates a mural in a house in Xultun. Photo: Tyrone Turner © 2012 National Geographic
An archaeological expedition in the northeastern lowlands of Guatemala yields an amazing discovery: the "9th-century workplace of a city scribe, an unusual dwelling adorned with magnificent pictures of the king and other royals and the oldest known Maya calendar."
From Thomas Maugh's report in the Los Angeles Times, on the dig in the ruins of Xultun led by William Saturno of Boston University:
This year has been particularly controversial among some cultists because of the belief that the Maya calendar predicts a major cataclysm — perhaps the end of the world — on Dec. 21, 2012. Archaeologists know that is not true, but the new find, written on the plaster equivalent of a modern scientist's whiteboard, strongly reinforces the idea that the Maya calendar projects thousands of years into the future.
To paraphrase modern-day Maya priests I've spoken with on past travels in rural Guatemala: "Well, duh."
The findings were first reported Thursday in the journal Science. The full text of the report requires paid subscription, but a recent Science podcast covers the news, and is available here (PDF transcript or MP3 for audio).
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