This week on Picks: why do we sleep (an eternal question, isn't it?), chaos theory got personal, you are what you eat, dinosaurs (of course!) and more.


What's the point of sleep? by Pete Etchells

Almost as much as eating food or tormenting the local wildlife, my cats love to sleep. Which is probably why I get on so well with them, because I'm also quite partial to a good nap. The trouble with sleep is that no one's quite sure why we actually do it. But a new paper published in the Journal of Neuroscience provides clues pointing towards one possible function – sleep might help to repair support structures in the brain.

Nietzsche's Butterfly: An Introduction to Chaos Theory by Robin George Andrews

I buried a box underneath the sand on a remote Japanese island four years ago, containing a message, an item of mine, and a question scrawled spontaneously on a tiny piece of paper. It remained above the high tide mark of the azure, almost untouched waters for years. Why did I bury it? I liked part of the mystery, the novel-esque thought of recovering a secret box years down the line, and handing it to someone important to me, passing on another little tale in a rather eccentric life to a curious human spark.

You Are What You Eat by Dana Smith

Anyone who's ever tried to cure the blues with Ben and Jerry's knows that there is a link between our stomachs and our moods. Foods high in fat and sugar release pleasure chemicals like dopamine and opioids into our brains in much the same way that drugs do, and I'd certainly argue that french fries and a chocolate milkshake can perk up even the lousiest of days.

WTF Is This Weird Web-Tower Thing? We Asked Around. No One Knows by Nadia Drake

Something in the Peruvian Amazon is making weird, intricate structures that resemble white picket fences surrounding an Isengard-like spire. No one has any idea who the mysterious craftsbug (fungus? spider?) is, or what the structure is even used for, excepting the fence part, which almost makes sense. Nobody, not even the scientists. We asked.

Cooling down in honeybees is affected by what others are doing by Felicity Muth

In my previous post, I talked about how crickets were influenced by who was watching them when they performed a victory dance after winning a fight. Although this is a unique finding, it fits into a larger picture of many animals (including insects) being affected by their social context. At the animal behaviour conference I went to in Colorado (where I heard both about the cricket research and about the study I’m going to write about today), you could see how people were affected by what others were doing around them. When one person sneaked out before the end of a talk to go to a talk in a different room, a load of other people would follow. When chatting with a friend, a person would modify what they were saying depending on who else was in the vicinity. Whether we are aware of it all of the time or not, we constantly modify our behaviour depending on the social context we’re in.

‘Meat was so sixty million years agAAAGHH…’ by Jon Tennant

Some dinosaurs were utterly bizarre. You may have heard of them before, but one particular group called therizinosaurs belonged to the meat-eating theropod dinosaurs (those that led to birds), were really awesome. However, they actually at some point made a conscious evolutionary decision to stop being badasses, and become Cretaceous-cauliflower* munching pansies.