A Greek Myth – Once upon a time, long ago, Queen Hecuba of Troy had a dream. The queen was pregnant at the time, eagerly awaiting the birth of her first child. But one night she dreamed she gave birth to a flaming torch. When she told her husband, King Priam, he became worried and called upon his eldest son, Aesacus, the seer, to tell him the meaning.
“Your newborn son will be the downfall of Troy,” Aesacus said. “He must be killed to save our people.”
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Exactly 115 years ago today, divers looking for sponges discovered the wreck of a 2,000-year-old vessel off the Greek island Antikythera. Scattered among the wreck’s treasures — beautiful vases and pots, jewelry, a bronze statue of an ancient philosopher — was the most peculiar thing: a series of brass gears and dials mounted in a case the size of a mantel clock. Archeologists dubbed the instrument the Antikythera mechanism. The genius — and mystery — of this piece of ancient Greek technology, arguably the world’s first computer, is why Google is highlighting it today in a Google Doodle.
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Ever since Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, evolution has been the grand unifying theory of biology. Yet one of our most important biological traits, consciousness, is rarely studied in the context of evolution. Theories of consciousness come from religion, from philosophy, from cognitive science, but not so much from evolutionary biology. Maybe that’s why so few theories have been able to tackle basic questions such as: What is the adaptive value of consciousness? When did it evolve and what animals have it?
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