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Aug. 19 2014 12:53 PM

When Did Humans First Consider the Possibility of Alien Life?

Answer by Tim O'Neill, atheist, medievalist, skeptic, and amateur historian:

The first speculation about what we would call "aliens" goes back to the atomist speculations popular among Epicurean philosophers in ancient Greece and their Roman disciples. Democritus and Epicurus considered the universe to be the result of a chance jostling of atoms and regarded it as highly likely that there were other worlds out there and that they were inhabited. Epicurus' disciple Metrodorus of Chios considered the idea of our "world" being the only one as unlikely as "if a single ear of wheat grew on a vast plain." As the Roman Epicurean poet Lucretius put it: "Nothing in the universe is unique and alone and therefore in other regions there must be other earths inhabited by different tribes of men and breeds of beasts."

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Aug. 14 2014 8:12 AM

Is It Offensive to Address a Woman as Female?

Answer by Carrie Cutler, engineering student:

I wouldn't go so far as "offensive," but I do find it annoying.

First, and most annoyingly, female is an adjective. (I'm using the Oxford English Dictionary, not random dictionaries online.) I've spent way too much time around the written word not to twitch when I hear or see bad grammar. The word female describes the presence of ovaries and a uterus in some object that experiences sexual differentiation (human, mammal, lizard, dolphin, etc.). It's especially bad grammar when men and females are matched, because female is defined as a description of sexual differentiation that applies to any sexually differentiated species, and man is human-specific.

Aug. 11 2014 1:14 PM

Could Modern Troops Defeat Medieval Knights in Hand-to-Hand Combat?

Answer by Jon Davis, Marine sergeant, Iraq vet, weapons instructor:

So we want to see what the epic ending to a battle between two of time's most deadly warriors will be?

Actually, it's not that interesting. The Marine, my chosen analog for this question, loses, and that is actually not all that surprising.

Aug. 8 2014 12:41 PM

Why Do Dogs Have Such Short Lifespans?

Answer by Suzanne Sadedin, Ph.D. in zoology from Monash University:

Lifespan in general is determined by trade-offs between survival and reproduction. Wolves, the ancestors of dogs, can live 15-20 years, roughly twice as long as comparable-sized dogs. They start breeding in the wild no younger than 2 years old. They need to form pairs and establish a territory before breeding. Older wolves will often have help raising their pups from older juveniles who have not managed to mate or find territories. In contrast, most dogs can breed from 6 months to 12 months of age, and they don't benefit from having territories, pair bonds, or packs. Whereas wolves breed until they die, dog breeders will usually retire older females. So the whole life history of dogs is shifted to more of a "live fast, die young" style compared to wolves.

Aug. 5 2014 12:16 PM

How Does a Language’s Design Influence a Country’s Culture?

Answer by Marc Ettlinger, Ph.D. in linguistics, research neuroscientist and the Deptartment of Veterans Affairs:

Recent work by economist Keith Chen claims that language can indeed have a big impact on culture: He argues that languages that explicitly mark the future tense pay more attention to the future, and therefore have lower rates of obesity, better rates of saving, better pension plans, lower smoking rates, etc.

Statistically, the correlations are high, as seen in some nice charts and graphs, and the reasoning makes sense: If you need to know to mark the future tense grammatically, it's on your mind more, and if it's on your mind more, you're more likely to factor it into your decisions.

July 30 2014 12:35 PM

How Do You Survive in a War Zone With No Military Training?

This question originally appeared on Quora.

Hi, I am Mark, and I am from Ukraine. We had around 40,000 troops mobilized due to the threat of military invasion from Russia. I wasn't mobilized, but if Russia attacks, I will volunteer anyway. Our government doesn't supply its soldiers with anything but an AK-47, a few mags, and military clothes—no gear.

I have never been in a service, and I have never had any kind of military training. For all that I know, there is a possibility I will be in a ditch shooting at Russians in a couple of weeks. I am asking anyone who had any military training for advice on how to survive during wartime. Thank you.

July 25 2014 7:12 AM

What Was It Like to Work at Walt Disney Studios in Its Earliest Days?

Answer by Ruthie Tompson, animator, Dumbo:

It was fun around there. We enjoyed it. The girls in ink and paint were called “the nunnery.” This was during and after the Depression. I loved it, and I loved having some money in my pocket. It was great.

July 24 2014 7:49 AM

Did Britain Treat All Its Colonies Equally?

Answer by Scott Bade, studied history at Stanford University, international security analyst:

In short, the British treated their colonies in vastly different ways, both across different regions and within the same colonies over time.  

The British Empire was never a consistent empire. Across various colonies, there were different raisons d'être and methods of organization for each one. Even within America, different Colonies were founded for entirely different reasons. Virginia started out as a mercantile colony run by a company; Massachusetts was originally a Puritan theocracy; New York was a crown colony taken over from the Dutch; and Maryland and Pennsylvania were religiously tolerant colonies governed by (relatively) benign hereditary feudal rulers (called proprietors), the Barons Calvert and the Penn family. South Carolina, with its sugar plantations, was more akin to a Caribbean colony than its continental neighbors. At the same time that the American Colonies were emerging, the East India Company established outposts in India, and the Royal African Company did much the same in Africa. None of them were uniformly governed or similar in character; the British government occasionally took notice but generally was not involved in their governance.

July 23 2014 1:46 PM

When Did TV Shows Start to Break Racial Barriers?

Answer by Irma Kalish, producer and writer, Good Times:

I think barriers were starting to break down when my husband, Rocky, and I worked on Good Times. The show actually portrayed a black family, and the idea was not to show the family as different. We weren’t going to write different jokes just because the family was a different race. Our show was there to portray the human nature of the problems they faced and what was going on with the family. The elements that held the family together—white, black, Chinese—didn’t make any difference. They all had the same purpose and family.

July 16 2014 7:39 AM

Why Is the Nash Equilibrium So Important?

Answer by Balaji Viswanathan, currently working on From Tryst to Tendulkar: The History of Independent India:

Game theory is a study of strategies involved in complex games. Almost every human interaction—politics, economics, law, and religion—can be modeled as a game. You are in a game if your fate is impacted by the actions of others.

There are many ways to classify the games. One such classification is whether the game is cooperative. Cooperative games are like partnerships where the players work together and contracts can be used for noncooperative players.

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