Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Space


The emergence in the United States of large-scale “megaregions” centered on major metropolitan areas is a phenomenon often taken for granted in both scholarly studies and popular accounts of contemporary economic geography. This paper uses a data set of more than 4,000,000 commuter flows as the basis for an empirical approach to the identification of such megaregions. We compare a method which uses a visual heuristic for understanding areal aggregation to a method which uses a computational partitioning algorithm, and we reflect upon the strengths and limitations of both. We discuss how choices about input parameters and scale of analysis can lead to different results, and stress the importance of comparing computational results with “common sense” interpretations of geographic coherence. The results provide a new perspective on the functional economic geography of the United States from a megaregion perspective, and shed light on the old geographic problem of the division of space into areal units.

Concepts: Algorithm, United States, Geography, Economics, Space, New York City, Philadelphia, Economic geography


Jointed exoskeletons permit rapid appendage-driven locomotion but retain the soft-bodied, shape-changing ability to explore confined environments. We challenged cockroaches with horizontal crevices smaller than a quarter of their standing body height. Cockroaches rapidly traversed crevices in 300-800 ms by compressing their body 40-60%. High-speed videography revealed crevice negotiation to be a complex, discontinuous maneuver. After traversing horizontal crevices to enter a vertically confined space, cockroaches crawled at velocities approaching 60 cm⋅s(-1), despite body compression and postural changes. Running velocity, stride length, and stride period only decreased at the smallest crevice height (4 mm), whereas slipping and the probability of zigzag paths increased. To explain confined-space running performance limits, we altered ceiling and ground friction. Increased ceiling friction decreased velocity by decreasing stride length and increasing slipping. Increased ground friction resulted in velocity and stride length attaining a maximum at intermediate friction levels. These data support a model of an unexplored mode of locomotion-“body-friction legged crawling” with body drag, friction-dominated leg thrust, but no media flow as in air, water, or sand. To define the limits of body compression in confined spaces, we conducted dynamic compressive cycle tests on living animals. Exoskeletal strength allowed cockroaches to withstand forces 300 times body weight when traversing the smallest crevices and up to nearly 900 times body weight without injury. Cockroach exoskeletons provided biological inspiration for the manufacture of an origami-style, soft, legged robot that can locomote rapidly in both open and confined spaces.

Concepts: Mass, Human height, Force, Space, Velocity, Height, Terrestrial locomotion, Crawling


Although most organisms thermoregulate behaviorally, biologists still cannot easily predict whether mobile animals will thermoregulate in natural environments. Current models fail because they ignore how the spatial distribution of thermal resources constrains thermoregulatory performance over space and time. To overcome this limitation, we modeled the spatially explicit movements of animals constrained by access to thermal resources. Our models predict that ectotherms thermoregulate more accurately when thermal resources are dispersed throughout space than when these resources are clumped. This prediction was supported by thermoregulatory behaviors of lizards in outdoor arenas with known distributions of environmental temperatures. Further, simulations showed how the spatial structure of the landscape qualitatively affects responses of animals to climate. Biologists will need spatially explicit models to predict impacts of climate change on local scales.

Concepts: Time, Physics, General relativity, Natural environment, Space, Spacetime, Universe, Philosophy of space and time


For infants, the first problem in learning a word is to map the word to its referent; a second problem is to remember that mapping when the word and/or referent are again encountered. Recent infant studies suggest that spatial location plays a key role in how infants solve both problems. Here we provide a new theoretical model and new empirical evidence on how the body - and its momentary posture - may be central to these processes. The present study uses a name-object mapping task in which names are either encountered in the absence of their target (experiments 1-3, 6 & 7), or when their target is present but in a location previously associated with a foil (experiments 4, 5, 8 & 9). A humanoid robot model (experiments 1-5) is used to instantiate and test the hypothesis that body-centric spatial location, and thus the bodies' momentary posture, is used to centrally bind the multimodal features of heard names and visual objects. The robot model is shown to replicate existing infant data and then to generate novel predictions, which are tested in new infant studies (experiments 6-9). Despite spatial location being task-irrelevant in this second set of experiments, infants use body-centric spatial contingency over temporal contingency to map the name to object. Both infants and the robot remember the name-object mapping even in new spatial locations. However, the robot model shows how this memory can emerge -not from separating bodily information from the word-object mapping as proposed in previous models of the role of space in word-object mapping - but through the body’s momentary disposition in space.

Concepts: Time, Scientific method, Empiricism, Experiment, Space, Robot, Humanoid robot, Body


While humans are capable of mentally transcending the here and now, this faculty for mental time travel (MTT) is dependent upon an underlying cognitive representation of time. To this end, linguistic, cognitive and behavioral evidence has revealed that people understand abstract temporal constructs by mapping them to concrete spatial domains (e.g. past = backward, future = forward). However, very little research has investigated factors that may determine the topographical characteristics of these spatiotemporal maps. Guided by the imperative role of episodic content for retrospective and prospective thought (i.e., MTT), here we explored the possibility that the spatialization of time is influenced by the amount of episodic detail a temporal unit contains. In two experiments, participants mapped temporal events along mediolateral (Experiment 1) and anterioposterior (Experiment 2) spatial planes. Importantly, the temporal units varied in self-relevance as they pertained to temporally proximal or distal events in the participant’s own life, the life of a best friend or the life of an unfamiliar other. Converging evidence from both experiments revealed that the amount of space used to represent time varied as a function of target (self, best friend or unfamiliar other) and temporal distance. Specifically, self-time was represented as occupying more space than time pertaining to other targets, but only for temporally proximal events. These results demonstrate the malleability of space-time mapping and suggest that there is a self-specific conceptualization of time that may influence MTT as well as other temporally relevant cognitive phenomena.

Concepts: Time, Physics, General relativity, Space, Spacetime, Map, Universe, Gottfried Leibniz


We examine representations of time among the Mianmin of Papua New Guinea. We begin by describing the patterns of spatial and temporal reference in Mian. Mian uses a system of spatial terms that derive from the orientation and direction of the Hak and Sek rivers and the surrounding landscape. We then report results from a temporal arrangement task administered to a group of Mian speakers. The results reveal evidence for a variety of temporal representations. Some participants arranged time with respect to their bodies (left to right or toward the body). Others arranged time as laid out on the landscape, roughly along the east/west axis (either east to west or west to east). This absolute pattern is consistent both with the axis of the motion of the sun and the orientation of the two rivers, which provides the basis for spatial reference in the Mian language. The results also suggest an increase in left to right temporal representations with increasing years of formal education (and the reverse pattern for absolute spatial representations for time). These results extend previous work on spatial representations for time to a new geographical region, physical environment, and linguistic and cultural system.

Concepts: Southeast Asia, Sun, Geography, Indonesia, Space, Papua New Guinea, New Guinea, Empire of Japan


An object in outer space is weightless due to the absence of gravity, but astronauts can still judge whether one object is heavier than another one by accelerating the object. How heavy an object feels depends on the exploration mode: an object is perceived as heavier when holding it against the pull of gravity than when accelerating it. At the same time, perceiving an object’s size influences the percept: small objects feel heavier than large objects with the same mass (size-weight illusion). Does this effect depend on perception of the pull of gravity? To answer this question, objects were suspended from a long wire and participants were asked to push an object and rate its heaviness. This way the contribution of gravitational forces on the percept was minimised. Our results show that weight is not at all necessary for the illusion because the size-weight illusion occurred without perception of weight. The magnitude of the illusion was independent of whether inertial or gravitational forces were perceived. We conclude that the size-weight illusion does not depend on prior knowledge about weights of object, but instead on a more general knowledge about the mass of objects, independent of the contribution of gravity. Consequently, the size-weight illusion will have the same magnitude on Earth as it should have on the Moon or even under conditions of weightlessness.

Concepts: General relativity, Cognition, Force, Space, Gravitation, Classical mechanics, Weightlessness, Weight


BACKGROUND: Traditional habitat knowledge is an understudied part of traditional knowledge. Though the number of studies increased world-wide in the last decade, this knowledge is still rarely studied in Europe. We document the habitat vocabulary used by Csango people, and determine features they used to name and describe these categories.Study area and methods: Csango people live in Gyimes (Carpathians, Romania). The area is dominated by coniferous forests, hay meadows and pastures. Animal husbandry is the main source of living. Data on the knowledge of habitat preference of 135 salient wild plant species were collected (2908 records, 44 interviewees). Data collected indoors were counterchecked during outdoor interviews and participatory field work. RESULTS: Csangos used a rich and sophisticated vocabulary to name and describe habitat categories. They distinguished altogether at least 142–148 habitat types, and named them by 242 habitat terms. We argue that the method applied and the questions asked (‘what kind of place does species X like?’) helped the often implicit knowledge of habitats to be verbalized more efficiently than usual in an interview. Habitat names were highly lexicalized and most of them were widely shared. The main features were biotic or abiotic, like land-use, dominant plant species, vegetation structure, successional stage, disturbance, soil characteristics, hydrological, and geomorphological features. Csangos often used indicator species (28, mainly herbaceous taxa) in describing habitats of species. To prevent reduction in the quantity and/or quality of hay, unnecessary disturbance of grasslands was avoided by the Csangos. This could explain the high number of habitats (35) distinguished dominantly by the type and severity of disturbance. Based on the spatial scale and topological inclusiveness of habitat categories we distinguished macro-, meso-, and microhabitats. CONCLUSIONS: Csango habitat categories were not organized into a single hierarchy, and the partitioning was multidimensional. Multidimensional description of habitats, made the nuanced characterization of plant species' habitats possible by providing innumerable possibilities to combine the most salient habitat features. We conclude that multidimensionality of landscape partitioning and the number of dimensions applied in a landscape seem to depend on the number of key habitat gradients in the given landscape.

Concepts: Dimension, Space, Domination, Vegetation, Livestock, Cartesian coordinate system, Ecological succession, Habitat fragmentation


Current accounts of spatial cognition and human-object interaction suggest that the representation of peripersonal space depends on an action-specific system that remaps its representation according to action requirements. Here we demonstrate that this mechanism is sensitive to knowledge about properties of objects. In two experiments we explored the interaction between physical distance and object attributes (functionality, desirability, graspability, etc.) through a reaching estimation task in which participants indicated if objects were near enough to be reached. Using both a real and a cutting-edge digital scenario, we demonstrate that perceived reaching distance is influenced by ease of grasp and the affective valence of an object. Objects with a positive affective valence tend to be perceived reachable at locations at which neutral or negative objects are perceived as non-reachable. In addition to this, reaction time to distant (non-reachable) positive objects suggests a bias to perceive positive objects as closer than negative and neutral objects (exp. 2). These results highlight the importance of the affective valence of objects in the action-specific mapping of the peripersonal/extrapersonal space system.

Concepts: Time, Psychology, Cognition, Mind, Space, Real number, Graph theory, Metaphysics


Vestibular inputs make a key contribution to the sense of one’s own spatial location. While the effects of vestibular stimulation on visuo-spatial processing in neurological patients have been extensively described, the normal contribution of vestibular inputs to spatial perception remains unclear. To address this issue, we used a line bisection task to investigate the effects of galvanic vestibular stimulation (GVS) on spatial perception, and on the transition between near and far space. Brief left-anodal and right-cathodal GVS or right-anodal and left-cathodal GVS were delivered. A sham stimulation condition was also included. Participants bisected lines of different lengths at six distances from the body using a laser pointer. Consistent with previous results, our data showed an overall shift in the bisection bias from left to right as viewing distance increased. This pattern suggests leftward bias in near space, and rightward bias in far space. GVS induced strong polarity dependent effects in spatial perception, broadly consistent with those previously reported in patients: left-anodal and right-cathodal GVS induced a leftward bisection bias, while right-anodal and left-cathodal GVS reversed this effect, and produced bisection bias toward the right side of the space. Interestingly, the effects of GVS were comparable in near and far space. We speculate that vestibular-induced biases in space perception may optimize gathering of information from different parts of the environment.

Concepts: Left-wing politics, Perception, Vestibular system, Space, Right-wing politics, Distance, Political spectrum, Galvanic Vestibular Stimulation