Field of Science

The enantiomers of life... explained at last?

A close look at amino acids in a meteorite that has lain buried under Antarctic ice has found that they show a similar 'handedness' to the molecules in living organisms, as - crucially - do the precursor molecules (Science Daily).

Any organic molecule comes in two forms - mirror images - that are chemically identical. Run a reaction in a test tube, and you'll get an even mix of the two. Life, however, is different. Because the reactive site of enzymes is 3-dimensional, typically only one of the mirror images (enantiomers) will fit. And so the molecules of life show a characteristic signature, with a large preponderance of one or other enantiomer for any given molecule. Life is chiral.

The question is, how did this imbalance arise in the earliest life forms. It's a question that has puzzled researchers for some time, with several possible solutions proposed. Of course, anything that's not yet been explained is used by creationists as evidence for the existence of god - and the chirality of life is no exception.

One possible solution is provided by the fact that the amino acids in meteorites show a preponderance of left-handed enantiomers (they are chiral). But that still leaves open the question of how that happened.

What the new research adds is that probable precursor molecules, aldehydes, found in the meteorite are also chiral. From the paper:
Analyses of the meteorite diastereomeric amino acids alloisoleucine and isoleucine allowed us to show that their likely precursor molecules, the aldehydes, also carried a sizable molecular asymmetry of up to 14% in the asteroidal parent body. Aldehydes are widespread and abundant interstellar molecules; that they came to be present, survived, and evolved in the solar system carrying ee gives support to the idea that biomolecular traits such as chiral asymmetry could have been seeded in abiotic chemistry ahead of life.


Ref:

Pizzarello et al. Molecular asymmetry in extraterrestrial chemistry: Insights from a pristine meteorite PNAS published February 29, 2008, 10.1073/pnas.0709909105

Snakes: the ancient enemy

Pity the snake - condemned in Genesis as the Devil incarnate, they also pop up in several other places in the bible usually as a symbol of things that you ought to steer well clear of (tormenting the Israelites in the wilderness, for example) .

But there's increasing evidence that snakes have only themselves to blame for this sad state of affairs. Humans just can't help being fearful of them - the result of millions of years of predation-driven evolution. Only those primates that could spot a snake sharpish survived to become our ancestors.

The latest study to show the deep-rooted anxiety we have about snakes will be published in the March 2008 issue of Psychological Science. The study tested preschool children to see if they could spot a snake hidden in a picture faster than a non-threatening item hidden among snakes. Not only were the kids able to spot a snake with alacrity, but so could their parents:
Preschool children and their parents were shown nine color photographs on a computer screen and were asked to find either the single snake among eight flowers, frogs or caterpillars, or the single nonthreatening item among eight snakes. As the study surprisingly shows, parents and their children identified snakes more rapidly than they detected the other stimuli, despite the gap in age and experience.
This builds on a number of other studies that have shown that humans have an unusual ability to spot snakes and to respond to them with fear. A similar study in 2006 found that undergraduates also have a keen eye for snakes (as well as spiders) - and that those with a snake phobia were even quicker. It's even been suggested that it was the danger posed by snakes to our tree-dwelling ancestors that drove the evolution of our forward-facing eyes:

"Snakes and people have had a long history; it goes back to long before we were people in fact," he said. "That might sort of explain why we have such extreme attitudes towards snakes, varying from deification to "ophidiphobia," or fear of snakes.


So the demonisation of snakes in the judaeo-christian tradition is just one round in the ongoing war between mankind and serpents!

For more insight into our innate fear of snakes, see:

Öhman, Mineka. The malicious serpent: snakes as a prototypical stimulus for an evolved module of fear. Current Directions in Psychological Science 2003;12, 2-9.

Scientists can be atheists!

Jim Westgate is a palaeontologist, a member of the Texas Academy of Science's board of directors, and campaigns to keep creationism out of the classroom. Most recently, he helped draft a position statement to stop the Dallas-based Institute for Creation Research sponsoring a master's degree in science education at Lamar University. So he's one of the good guys. But despite all this, he still just doesn't get what atheism is all about:
"If you're a real scientist, you can't be an atheist. Because our scientific methodology doesn't give us evidence for or against God, you can't be an atheist."

This is such a fundamental misunderstanding that it's hard to believe an educated person could fall for it. Science can't prove the non-existence of gods or ghosts or anything supernatural. But then again, science can't disprove the existence of Russell's Teapot:
If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense.

In other words, atheists don't believe that the existence of god is scientifically disproved in any formal way. They just realise that there is no scientific evidence for the existence of god (and that's not for lack of trying!). The non-existence of god is deduced from the lack of direct evidence, and the multitude of indirect evidence. For example, we know that human beings around the world have a remarkable capacity for inventing gods that are clearly bogus - cargo cults, anyone?

We can't prove that god doesn't exist, but that doesn't mean we should take the idea seriously. The balance of probabilities is so far tilted in favour of non-existence, that to live your life on any other basis would just be unreasonable. And that's what atheism is about - it means living a life without god.

Empathy: it's in the mirror neurons

[Guest Post by Dave Bailes] Morals used to be the responsibility of philosophy. The religious often say that we owe our morals to God, and perhaps the interpretation of them to Jesus. Atheists often claim that they have a basis in survival, cooperation between early humans.

A link between morals and empathy is often drawn which is perhaps encapsulated in The Golden Rule: “Treat others as you would wish to be treated.” Now, however, it seems that there may be a physical, genetic, origin for empathy, and thus for morals.

In the New Scientist, 10 November 2007, there is an article entitled, “Found: the source of human empathy” by Gordy Slack. In this article he writes of research done at the Ahmanson Lovelace Brain Mapping Centre on “mirror neurons”. These cells in the brain have been linked with empathy. They may also be linked with language acquisition, consciousness prediction of the actions of others, dealing with the abstract and metaphysical thinking. When one considers all of these there is, perhaps, an underlying similarity - awareness, understanding and communication.

Mirror neurons were discovered in monkeys 11 years ago, but have only recently been observed in action in the human brain by means of a functional MRI scanner, a scanner that can be “tuned” to plot specific activity in the brain under specific stimuli. It could, for example, tell how much of a petrol head one is by the amount and location of the activity when one is shown a picture of one’s favourite car, as compared to pictures of other items and other cars.

The “mirror” part of the name comes from their being observed to “fire” when we mimic the actions of others. We might “cringe” for another when they make a horrible error, we might also make “group actions” when our football teams just misses that crucial goal. Some mirror actions are common, but we might also be prompted to do something out of our normal habit if given a strong enough stimulus.

There are two types of mirror neuron. Both “process” the stimuli we observe, but whereas one will cause us to mimic that action, another will actually inhibit our copying. This is a good idea - otherwise we would mimic all that we see and have little time for other things! This inhibitor type appears to be unique to humans.

So, the next time you are watching a soccer match on TV and see a “wave” of one specific physical action, arms waving in the air, hands covering faces or whatever, it may be because the fans are feeling empathetic. Their eyes have seen, their brain has interpreted; the action is a strong and appropriate one - copy it! Feel as your fellow fans do, it’s a group thing, a way of sharing in the celebration in a like way. It might, of course, also be a way of sharing and surviving the utter despair that a fluffed goal shot causes by making sure your fellow fans know that you are with them in this as well.

It may have helped us to take unified action against threats in the early days of humanity.

Dave Bailes

Links:

Blind watchmaker in action

In 1802 (when theories of evolution were getting off the ground, but well before Darwin published Origin), William Paley wrote, in his book Natural Theology, what has since become a standard criticism: the argument from complexity. In his example he pointed out that, if we found a watch on the ground, we would be in no doubt that it had a designer.

Scroll forward 200 years, and here's fascinating video showing the results of a computer simulation of evolution. Starting from basic components - gears, springs etc - a functional clock evolves over many generations. And not just one clock - each time the simulation is run, it evolves a somewhat different solution to the same basic problem. Now what are the chances of that happening?

Science ain't perfect, but that doesn't mean you need religion

The International Society for Science and Religion recently released a welcome statement pointing out the hollowness of Intelligent Design claims. In it, they say:
We believe that intelligent design is neither sound science nor good theology. Although the boundaries of science are open to change, allowing supernatural explanations to count as science undercuts the very purpose of science, which is to explain the workings of nature without recourse to religious language.

But, this being the ISSR, they have to carve out a space for religion as a tool to give us knowledge. They start by pointing out the obvious:
Scientific explanations are always incomplete

From this they build a subtle straw man, and then imply (although carefully never explicitly say) that religion can fill the gaps:
However, in most instances, biology and religion operate at different and non-competing levels ... We recognize that natural theology may be a legitimate enterprise in its own right, but we resist the insistence of intelligent-design advocates that their enterprise be taken as genuine science - just as we oppose efforts of others to elevate science into a comprehensive world view (so-called scientism).

In other words, science is never going to tell you everything. We can look at the world around us, figure out what patterns we can, and make logical deductions. But, at the end of the day, there will always be occasions where you have to wing it. Plus, science can never make decisions for you, because everybody has different values. People want different things from life. Even if it was possible to lay down in detail the health effects of eating that cream cake, it would still be something that person A will choose to do while person B will not.

So what, in those circumstances, should you do? Well, you could go on gut feeling - why not? Or you could flip a coin. Might as well. But you should never, ever, ever go to you local priest/mullah/shaman and ask him to make the decision for you.

Why? Well, the difference between the first two options and the 'religion' option is that the first two are based on an admission of a lack of knowledge, whereas the religious option is based on a pretence of knowledge that doesn't exist.

In other words, religion gives an illusion that a choice is being made for rational reasons - and that's got to be worse than accepting and understanding the limits of your knowledge.

A philosopher is a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that isn't there. A theologian is the man who finds it.

2 million quid down the tube...

The University of Oxford's Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion has been handed a cool £2 million for a 3-year, cross-cultural study into why some people believe in god. A fascinating topic, but unfortunately there's something slightly fishy about the motivation of the lead researchers, according to quotes in The Tech Herald:
Justin Barrett, a psychologist and leading member of the research team, said to the Church of England Newspaper that he believed there is strong evidence that belief in God is a natural thing in humans. “We are interested in exploring exactly in what sense belief in God is natural," he said. “We think there is more on the nature side than a lot of people suppose.”

Roger Trigg, acting director of the centre, [asked] "There are a lot of issues. What is it that is innate in human nature to believe in God, whether it is gods or something superhuman or supernatural? ... One implication that comes from this is that religion is the default position, and atheism is perhaps more in need of explanation," he said.
Well, there's nothing like knowing the answer to the question before you begin - it saves a lot of time and bother! But what, exactly, is the evidence that people default to religion?

For sure, kids tend to believe what their parents tell them. And if all they ever hear is Christianity, or Islam, or Judaism, then that's what they'll grow up believing. But offer them some options, and the picture is quite different.

For example, Voas & Crockett showed in 2005 that, of British kids brought up in a family in which only 1 parent was religious, just 30% end up religious themselves. Which would tend to suggest that the default state, in the absence of indoctrination, is atheism. Incidentally, even when both parents are religious, only 55% of their children are. When both parents are non-religious, 90% of their children follow suit. So children quite happily grow up without a belief in god when placed in a society that offers them a choice.

For sure, many of the psychological illusions that underpin religious belief are built in - simply a result of the fact that our brains process information with an emphasis on making quick decisions, rather than accurate ones. For example, it appears that we are programmed to try to find a causes for the things we see - and so tend to see causes even when there aren't any (Rossano 2006).

But a predilection for anthropomorphisation, and for wrongly attributing causes, is a long way from 'religion'. Religion, after all, is a complex edifice usually built around a specific social structure and set of beliefs. There's no evidence that I know of that this is innate - unless you count Lord of the Flies and other pop culture as evidence!

Refs:

Voas, Crockett. Religion in Britain: Neither Believing nor Belonging. Sociology, Vol. 39, No. 1, 11-28 (2005)
Rossano. The Religious Mind and the Evolution of Religion. Review of General Psychology 2006, Vol. 10, No. 4, 346–364.

Nanotech: against god (and probably unamerican)

A recent survey shows that most (70%) Americans think that nanotechnology is "morally unacceptable". Europe is the other way round: with most thinking that it is morally acceptable - 54% in the UK, 63% in Germany, and 72% in France.

These are extraordinary numbers. What people are complaining about here is not that nanotechnology might be dangerous - in fact earlier results from the survey showed that the US public are perhaps not concerned enough about the potential hazards of nanotech. What they are worried about is that it is literally immoral, in the same way that theft and torture are generally thought to be are immoral. But 'nanotech' is simply that - a technology, not an application. How can a technology be inherently immoral?

The guy who organised the survey, Prof Scheufele at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has a hypothesis:

The answer, Scheufele believes, is religion: "The United States is a country where religion plays an important role in peoples' lives. The importance of religion in these different countries that shows up in data set after data set parallels exactly the differences we're seeing in terms of moral views. European countries have a much more secular perspective."

The catch for Americans with strong religious convictions, Scheufele believes, is that nanotechnology, biotechnology and stem cell research are lumped together as means to enhance human qualities. In short, researchers are viewed as "playing God" when they create materials that do not occur in nature, especially where nanotechnology and biotechnology intertwine, says Scheufele.


Yeah right. Aluminium is also a material that doesn't occur in nature. It also enhances human qualities - it lets you fly (and drink carbonated beverages...). Yet the god squad don't have a problem with aluminium (although they do have a problem with fluoride in their precious bodily fluids).

So what's the real deal here? Why does god have a beef with nanotech? It's not simply fear of the new or concern over about mucking around with life (for instance, Americans are not particularly against GMO).

Hat tip: Tangled Up In Blue Guy

Fewer suicides in England and Wales

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research
New data from the Office of National Statistics (published last week in the online BMJ) show that suicide among young men has decreased over the past decade to their lowest level for nearly 30 years. Suicides in women have remained low, and in the past few years have been lower than at any time since the start of the study (1968).

This is obviously good news, and it's also interesting for humanists because suicide is the only cross-national marker of societal health that is inversely correlated with intensity of religious belief (in other words, countries with more religious believers also tend to have fewer suicides - see Jensen 2006). In England and Wales, however, the intensity of religious belief has dropped dramatically over the time period analysed, and while young male suicides increased to a peak in the early 1990s, they've dropped steadily since then.

The biggest decrease has been in suicide by car exhaust, probably as a result of legislation on car exhaust emissions in 1993. But other suicides have also decreased. The researchers speculate that several changes in society probably contributed to this:

Just as no single factor was clearly associated with the rise in suicide in young men in the 1950s-1990s, favourable changes in several different factors—levels of employment, substance misuse, and antidepressant prescribing as well as policy focus on suicide and vehicle exhaust gas legislation—may have contributed to the recent reductions in England and Wales. It is also possible that the reductions in several factors, including suicide, relate to some broader societal change not captured in this analysis.


Refs.
Biddle et al. Suicide rates in young men in England and Wales in the 21st century: time trend study. BMJ, doi:10.1136/bmj.39475.603935.25 (published 14 February 2008)

Jensen. Religious Cosmologies and Homicide Rates among Nations. Journal of Religion & Society 2006;Vol 8.

Grit in the Oyster

Is the intelligent design lobby good for something after all?

In a recent article (subscription required) in the New Scientist (2008-02-16), Dan Jones reports on the state of the investigations into the possible origins of the flagellum, a propeller-like organ in the wall of a bacterium that can be used to move it through the water. This particular feature of cells has become a reluctant bell-wether in the debate about evolution, because it is often brought up as something that must have been designed. Well, progress is being made in elucidating the relationships between the proteins used in the flagellum, and other proteins used for various jobs around the cell.

The flagellum consists of three parts, which in engineering terms can be thought of as the rotor of a turbine, attached to the shaft of which is a hook, onto which in turn is a blade. The rotor is embedded in the cell wall and the hook ensures that the blade swings in a wide arc. How did these three items combine in just this manner?

Well it appears that the proteins used to build it are coded for by genes very similar to many other genes, so it is not surprising that easy mutations can create the building blocks for the whole mechanism. It was cobbled together from parts left around in the yard. But, further, it is very similar indeed to a tunnel and prong used by some bacteria (e.g. Salmonella) to inject other cells. An almost identical mechanism is used to load the prong with a toxin as is used by the flagellum to repair damage to the blade.

What is uncertain at the moment is the order of development, and scientists, being scientists, are engaged in their usual debates in the academic journals for all to read and follow. This is as it should be; we are still far from being able to identify all the relations between the parts, and after more than 3 billion years of unwritten and lost history we may never know enough to give a definitive answer. But the more we know, the more likely it is a consensus will emerge.

The intelligent design advocates have done one good thing for science, but not in the way they had hoped. They have caused biologists to concentrate on a target to find the counter-arguments, discover new methods of analysis, and investigate how genes and proteins change over time. As Dan Jones says, it's now time for the other side to say what progress they have made in refining their ideas on their reasons to support a design-based “theory”.

Kill the witch! Saudis reject reality again...

Human Rights Watch appealed yesterday to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to block the beheading of a young women found guilty (yes, found guilty in a court of law in the 21st century) of witchcraft.

Now, this case is heinous in many ways - the persecution by the powerful of a poor illiterate, the use of violence to extract confessions, and the flouting of even the basic legal protections provided by Saudi law. But the most astonishing thing is that the woman has been found guilty of a crime she could not possibly have committed.
The judges ... never even made an inquiry as to whether she could have been responsible for allegedly supernatural occurrences, such as the sudden impotence of a man she is said to have “bewitched.”

The fact that she could even be accused of such a crime is a direct result of the power of the clergy in Saudi Arabia. Religion is not simply a harmless pursuit that gives an opiate to the people. It has a dark flip side, namely that it encourages and validates a faulty world view. One that values belief over evidence, and insists on magic and the supernatural as real and important. When religion becomes powerful, cases like this become inevitable.
“The fact that Saudi judges still conduct trials for unprovable crimes like ‘witchcraft’ underscores their inability to carry out objective criminal investigations,” said Joe Stork, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

And just in case you thought that this was a one-off aberration, and that they wouldn't really be crazy enough to go through with it. Well, they've done it before, in a similar case just a few months back:
On November 2, Saudi Arabia executed Mustafa Ibrahim for sorcery in Riyadh. Ibrahim, an Egyptian working as a pharmacist in the northern town of `Ar’ar, was found guilty of having tried “through sorcery” to separate a married couple, according to a Ministry of Interior statement.

It's the pheremones, you know

In the 3rd century AD, a certain Mr Valentine was beaten up in prison and then beheaded for refusing to deny the existence of an imaginary being. No doubt he would be greatly consoled by the thought that, over 1700 years later, he would be remembered by the great ritual of romantic couples sending mawkish cards to one another!

Anyway, this is is a science blog... but scientists have feelings too (as do humanists!). So, here's some cheesy science-themed valentine pictures and poems

The Times has an article on the science of love, and the Wall Street Journal gives a round-up of recent scientific advances in the field of love. If you have yet to meet your perfect partner, then it may be worth testing for Major Histocompatibility Complex genotype according to a study out last year in Psychological Science.

If you find your date is going well, then it may be worth checking out last year's study on why people have sex (because they like it, apparently). And citizens of the UK will be pleased to know that they have official sanction from no less a body than the NHS: sex is good for you, they have decreed. And they even have some handy tips. Nye Bevan would turn in his grave!


And as an antidote to all the above: The Pseudo-Science of Love!

Creationism, plagiarism and peer-review

The recent paper in Proteomics, "Mitochondria, the missing link between body and soul: Proteomic prospective evidence", is a heady mix of duff science caused by an excess of religious zeal, good old fashioned theft, and laughably bad peer review. As a result, it's rippling around the blogosphere. Most recently, the Guardian has picked up on it - apparently the paper has been retracted and there's to be a press release explaining what went wrong. That should be interesting!

Why people give to charity (well, sort of...)

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research
It's an interesting fact that, in countries with more intense religious belief, charitable donations are higher but wealth inequality is also higher. This tends to suggest that religious people are not intrinsically more generous, but that they are more likely to prefer charity as a tool for income redistribution, rather than collective agreement (e.g. by state mediated redistribution).

So the reasons people have for giving to charity are interesting, from a humanistic perspective. A recent study on this, by University of Texas Professor Rachel Croson, has just won the 2007 Best Article Award from the journal that published it, Economic Inquiry.

The study (preprint here) used a lab model of charity in which participants are given a sum of money which they can either keep or contribute to a common pool. Contributing to the common pool benefits everyone equally. For example, in the first experiment participants were given 25 tokens which they could either keep (earning them 2¢) or donate (earning each of the four participants 1¢). So the total value of each token is doubled by donating, although the individual loses out.

Using this game, Croson tested three theories of charitable giving:

  • Altruism – caring about others’ consumption. In this case, an individual's contributions should rise as the average contribution falls (and vice versa).
  • Reciprocity – contributing because others contribute: an individual's contribution should fall as the average contribution falls (and vice versa).
  • Commitment – individuals choose the actions they would most prefer everyone
    would choose. i.e. they do "the right thing". Individual's contributions should not be affected by what others give.
The results support the idea that reciprocity, not commitment or altruism, is what governs charitable giving. In fact, it seems that the players tried to match the median level of giving from other participants (rather than the lowest or the highest gift).

Notably, Croson didn't test another motivation for charity - that charitable donations might bring an indirect (i.e. non financial) benefit. For example, high levels of public giving might enhance an individual's reputation, or (in the case of religious individuals) might 'purchase' favour with their god, and increase their imagined potential for benefits after death.

Ref:
Press release
Croson R. Theories of Commitment, Altruism and Reciprocity: Evidence from Linear Public Goods Games. Economic Enquiry Volume 45 Issue 2 Page 199-216, April 2007. (open access preprint)

International Darwin Day tomorrow!

Find an event near you at http://www.humanism.org.uk/ (in the UK and http://www.darwinday.org/ (internationally).

The BHA Darwin Day event in London is sold out already. Tim Lewens, lecturer in the history and philosophy of science, will talk on 'Charles Darwin - a philosophical naturalist'. But if you're interested, the Guardian has just posted a podcast featuring him as part of their rather excellent celebration of all things Darwin.

If you want more, he's also written a book on Darwin, and you can check out a (rather lengthy, but very interesting!) 2007 interview with him here. It includes an excellent discussion of the implications of Darwin's theories for religion.
In March 2007, Paul White of the Darwin Correspondence Project interviewed Tim Lewens of the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge. Dr Lewens is the author of Organisms and Artifacts (2004), which examines the language and arguments for design in biology and philosophy. He has also just completed a book on the role of Darwin and Darwinism in modern philosophy: Darwin (2007). In this interview, Dr Lewens discusses the role of Darwin in modern science, the arguments for intelligent design in nature, the implications of evolution for religious belief, and the importance of a historical understanding of Darwin's work.

You've got a friend in Jesus

It's well known that one of the attractions of religion is that it gives you a lifelong and infinitely understanding invisible friend. So you would expect that people who are inclined to feel lonely might be more attracted to religion. But another important question is this: can you make people more religious simply by making them feel lonely?

This was the subject of a new study from a team lead by Nicholas Epley at the University of Chicago. They took groups of the psychologist's favourite guinea pig - university undergraduates - and made them feel either lonely (by making them watch Tom Hanks in Cast Away), frightened (Silence of the Lambs) or mildly amused (comedy film Major League). Then they rated them for belief in God, ghosts, miracles and angels. Sure enough, the group manipulated to feel lonely reported stronger beliefs in the supernatural.

Another part of the study involved giving some different subjects a computerized quiz. Half were then chosen at random and told that the computer had predicted that they would be lonely in later life. Once again, those people who had been made to feel lonely reported stronger beliefs in the supernatural.
"We found that inducing people to feel lonely made them more religious essentially," Epley told LiveScience, though he notes it won't cause any sudden conversions.
Interestingly, lonely people also were more likely to 'anthropomorphize' - to report that an animal or even an electronic gadget has human qualities. The researchers speculate:
Loneliness is both painful to experience and potentially deadly. "It's actually a greater risk for morbidity or mortality than cigarette smoking is. Being lonely is a bad thing for you," he said.

But anthropomorphizing pets or God may actually confer many of the same psychological and physical benefits that come from connections with other people. The same benefits may not apply to gadgets, which were a component of Epley's studies.
Ref:

Epley, N., Akalis, S., Waytz, A., & Cacioppo, J. (2008). Creating Social Connection Through Inferential Reproduction: Loneliness and Perceived Agency in Gadgets, Gods, and Greyhounds Psychological Science, 19 (2), 114-120 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02056.x

A nice quote

Skepticism is the chastity of the intellect, and it is shameful to surrender it too soon or to the first comer: there is nobility in preserving it coolly and proudly through long youth, until at last, in the ripeness of instinct and discretion, it can be safely exchanged for fidelity and happiness.
George Santayana
US (Spanish-born) philosopher (1863 - 1952)