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2000-year-old pills found in Greek shipwreck

by Shanta Barley Source: New Scientist

In 130 BC, a ship fashioned from the wood of walnut trees and bulging with medicines and Syrian glassware sank off the coast of Tuscany, Italy. Archaeologists found its precious load 20 years ago and now, for the first time, archaeobotanists have been able to examine and analyse pills that were prepared by the physicians of ancient Greece.

DNA analyses show that each millennia-old tablet is a mixture of more than 10 different plant extracts, from hibiscus to celery.

Brain imaging monitors effect of movie magic

by Jessica Hamzelou Source: New Scientist

A deafening roar and the cinema screen explodes with light. The scene is certainly startling, but is this movie stirring up the right emotional reactions deep down? Rather than ask your opinion, it’s now possible to cut out the middleman and go straight to your brain for the verdict.

This new approach, known as neurocinematics, is beginning to make itself felt in movie-making and could one day help regulatory bodies implement appropriate age restrictions on films.

Neurocinematics is a term coined by Uri Hasson at Princeton University, who was among the first to investigate how the brain responds to movies using an fMRI brain scanner.

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“For the first time, we have physical evidence of what we have in writing from the ancient Greek physicians Dioscorides and Galen,” says Alain Touwaide of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC.

The box of pills was discovered on the wreck in 1989, with much of the medicine still completely dry, according to Robert Fleischer of the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park, also in Washington DC.

His team looked at the similarity in the brain responses of a group of viewers to different types of films. When volunteers watched a section of Alfred Hitchcock’s Bang! You’re Dead, for example, they found that about 65 per cent of the frontal cortex - the part of the brain involved in attention and perception - was responding in the same way in all the viewers. Only 18 per cent of the cortex showed a similar response when the participants watched more free-form footage, of sitcom Curb Your Enthusiasm (Projections, DOI: 10.3167/proj.2008.020102). The level of correlation between people indicates how much control the director has over the audience’s experience, Hasson claims.

Not all film-makers will be aiming for the highest levels of correlation among the audience, however. “Greater correlation doesn’t mean the movie is better,” Hasson notes. Some film-makers aim for the opposite - to leave the movie open to interpretation.

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