Human Behavior

Scratch That: Berkeley Biologist Traces Cellular Circuitry to Explain Itching

There’s no way into the animal mind, you say? No plumbing of a beast’s true feelings? Not so. Simply observe any footage of a bear rubbing its back against a tree, or even your own mutt vigorously scratching behind the ear with a hind paw. Observe the slack-jawed, stuporous expressions of relief and satisfaction. Yeah. We know what’s going on.

We are not bound by cosmic harmony: It is the Itch that unites us all.

Facebook’s “Compassion Team”—Academics Try to Convince a Billion Users to Play Nice

Imagine a gentler Internet. Imagine a world wide web where comment sections aren’t the lowest common denominator rhetorical melees we know them to be but forums for reasoned debate and thoughtful discussion. Imagine your life online in which social media sites serve as a breeding grounds for empathy, introspection, and compassion, rather than for bullying, smut, and smarm.

Now imagine a pig with wings.

Feeding Forward: Giving Us the Power to Fight Hunger From Our Phones

Time has borne out the veracity of the Biblical observation that poor will always be with us—and so, too, are well-meaning efforts to feed the famished. But success in getting food to the hungry has been spotty at best. Now, a group of idealistic Cal students is bringing high tech to bear on the problem, producing an approach that is propagating across the country.

True or False: Information Technology is Ruining Our Kids

In September, a clip of Louis C.K. on Conan O’Brien’s late-night show went viral. The comedian launched into a rant about smartphones and how information technology is toxic, especially for children. “They don’t look at people when they talk to them and they don’t build empathy,” C.K. said. “You know, kids are mean. And it’s because they’re trying it out.” In his view, a kid sending a cruel text or email doesn’t get to see the hurt register on someone’s face and so doesn’t learn from that experience.

From the Winter 2013 Information Issue issue of California.

Would Twain Have Tweeted?

Would Mark Twain tweet if he were around today? Quite likely—he was an enthusiastic early adopter of the high-tech media of his era and an aphoristic genius. “Not that he’d tell the world what he had for breakfast,” says the Bancroft Library’s Harriet Smith, one of the editors of the two recently published volumes of The Autobiography of Mark Twain.

From the Winter 2013 Information Issue issue of California.

Does the Library Have a Future?

Enter the campus from North Gate, stroll south down the wide path from the top of the rise into the swale of Memorial Glade and there it is, front and center, inscribed in granite in letters 3 feet tall: THE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY. Doe Library, a century old last year, magnificent heart of UC Berkeley.

But will it always be? The rise of the Internet, tablets, and e-books is raising serious questions about the necessity of continuing to house dusty paper volumes on what is, after all, prime university real estate.

From the Winter 2013 Information Issue issue of California.

Discovery: Someone was making spears 85,000 years before Homo sapiens walked on earth

It now appears that some primates other than Homo sapiens were truly sapient.

That, at least, is the takeaway from a paper published in the journal PLos One , which determined that spear tips or arrowheads recovered at a mid-Pleistocene era obsidian quarry in Ethiopia  were hewn by representatives of Homo heidelbergensis, a hominid that hunted and gathered in Africa, western Asia and Europe 600,000 years ago.

Freegans: Driven to Dumpster Dive Not by Poverty, But by Environmental Politics

J.J. is the breadwinner of the house. Of all the weekly chores that are divvied up among members of the south Berkeley cooperative, his is the most enviable. While others get stuck scrubbing pots, pans, and bathroom walls to pay their dues, J.J. is to bike over to a nearby bakery under cover of darkness, peek inside the dumpsters, and load up his backpack.

Spooked: Who still believes in ghosts?

Here’s a haunting observation: almost one in five Americans claims to have been in the presence of a ghost. And that number isn’t falling—to the contrary, it represents a steep increase over just a couple of decades ago.

Crash Course: Cal and its surge of foreign freshmen struggle to adjust to one another

The first time Larry Zhou traveled outside of China, it was to start his freshman year at Berkeley in 2010. The University’s bid to admit more international students—they would enhance campus diversity and pay sticker-price tuition—brought a surge of foreign arrivals with Zhou. More than a third came from Chinese territories.

Zhou, now a senior, had studied British English in high school in Suzhou, about 65 miles west of Shanghai. He did so well on a language test that his school encouraged him to study abroad, and he garnered a high verbal SAT score as well.

Growing Change

Keith Gilless, the Dean of UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources, stands in the center of a circle on October 13, microphone held loosely in hand, and looks thoughtfully at his audience. The occasion is Family Field Day at the Gill Tract, and some hundred people—many with children, pets, and bikes in tow—have turned out on this sunny Sunday morning.

Strike a Pose: How Modeling Behaviors Can Change Your Outlook

Feeling downtrodden and powerless? Take a tip from the bantam rooster. It may be the most diminutive of chickens, but it struts its stuff like a cassowary. When it strides the barnyard, all the other fowl give it a wide berth.  And by practicing a similar swagger, you can achieve the same ends. By acting powerful you become, in effect – powerful.

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