Tag Archives | Science

It’s Groundhog Day All over Again! – Living in the Era of the Ontological Movie

peake“It’s like The Matrix, isn’t it?” We’ve heard the phrase many times and probably said it ourselves. We live in a time when mind-bending perspectives on the nature of reality are both commonly abroad in the culture as well as entertained by cutting-edge scientists. But it wasn’t always the case.

The mainstream success of movies such as The Matrix, Groundhog Day, and Inception have spread the word that was previously only heard by philosophers, hippies and adherents of eastern mysticism. So, what does it mean to live in the age of the ontological movie?

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Do brain interventions to treat disease change the essence of who we are?

Neurons, In Vitro Color!
These days, most of us accept that minds are dependent on brain function and wouldn’t object to the claim that “You are your brain.” After all, we’ve known for a long time that brains control how we behave, what we remember, even what we desire. But what does that mean? And is it really true?

Despite giving lip service to the importance of brains, in our practical life this knowledge has done little to affect how we view our world. In part, that’s probably because we’ve been largely powerless to affect the way that brains work, at least in a systematic way.

That’s all changing. Neuroscience has been advancing rapidly, and has begun to elucidate the circuits for control of behavior, representation of mental content and so on. More dramatically, neuroscientists have now started to develop novel methods of intervening in brain function.

As treatments advance, interventions into brain function will dramatically illustrate the dependence of who we are on our brains – and they may put pressure on some basic beliefs and concepts that have been fundamental to how we view the world.… Read the rest

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Is the world real, or is it just an illusion or hallucination?


Marina Galperina writes at Hopes&Fears:

Is this real life? How do we know that we are not hallucinating it all? What if we’re plugged into a Matrix-style virtual reality simulator? Isn’t the universe a giant hologram anyway? Is reality really real? What is reality?

We asked renowned neuroscientists, physicists, psychologists, technology theorists and hallucinogen researchers if we can ever tell whether the “reality” we are experiencing is “real” or not. Don’t worry. You’re going to be ok.

Jessica L. Nielson, Ph.D. Department of Neurosurgery, Postdoctoral Scholar, University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), Brain and Spinal Injury Center (BASIC)

What is our metric for determining what is real? That is probably different for each person. One could try and find a consensus state that most people would agree is “real” or a “hallucination” but from the recent literature using imaging techniques in people who are having a hallucinatory experience on psychedelics, it seems the brain is hyper-connected and perhaps just letting in more of the perceivable spectrum of reality.

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How the brain controls sleep

MIT neuroscientists have discovered a brain circuit that can trigger small regions of the brain to fall asleep or become less alert, while the rest of the brain remains awake. Credit: Illustration: Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT

MIT neuroscientists have discovered a brain circuit that can trigger small regions of the brain to fall asleep or become less alert, while the rest of the brain remains awake.
Credit: Illustration: Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT

Massachusetts Institute of Technology via Science Daily:

Sleep is usually considered an all-or-nothing state: The brain is either entirely awake or entirely asleep. However, MIT neuroscientists have discovered a brain circuit that can trigger small regions of the brain to fall asleep or become less alert, while the rest of the brain remains awake.

This circuit originates in a brain structure known as the thalamic reticular nucleus (TRN), which relays signals to the thalamus and then the brain’s cortex, inducing pockets of the slow, oscillating brain waves characteristic of deep sleep. Slow oscillations also occur during coma and general anesthesia, and are associated with decreased arousal. With enough TRN activity, these waves can take over the entire brain.

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Astronomers have spotted a strange objects whirling around a distant star

Spiral Galaxy Opens Mysterious 'Arms' (Redux: NASA, Chandra, 7/28/09)

Some scientists suspect it could be extraterrestrials. (Wishful thinking?)

Ross Andersen via The Atlantic:

Astronomers have spotted a strange mess of objects whirling around a distant star. Scientists who search for extraterrestrial civilizations are scrambling to get a closer look.

In the Northern hemisphere’s sky, hovering above the Milky Way, there are two constellations—Cygnus the swan, her wings outstretched in full flight, and Lyra, the harp that accompanied poetry in ancient Greece, from which we take our word “lyric.”

Between these constellations sits an unusual star, invisible to the naked eye, but visible to the Kepler Space Telescope, which stared at it for more than four years, beginning in 2009.

“We’d never seen anything like this star,” says Tabetha Boyajian, a postdoc at Yale. “It was really weird. We thought it might be bad data or movement on the spacecraft, but everything checked out.”Kepler was looking for tiny dips in the light emitted by this star.
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Flaws found in forensic DNA lab testing

The Texas Forensic Science Commission recently found that state labs were analyzing DNA evidence with “an outdated protocol for calculating the probability of DNA matches in ‘mixtures.'”

Martin Kaste via NPR:

Over the summer, the Texas Forensic Science Commission, which sets standards for physical evidence in state courts, came to an unsettling conclusion: There was something wrong with how state labs were analyzing DNA evidence.

It seemed the labs were using an outdated protocol for calculating the probability of DNA matches in “mixtures”; that is, crime scene samples that contain genetic material from several people. It may have affected thousands of cases going back to 1999.

At first, they assumed the update wouldn’t make a big difference — just a refinement of the numbers.

But when a state lab reran the analysis of a DNA match from a murder case about to go to trial in Galveston, Texas, it discovered the numbers changed quite a bit.

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When Exxon’s Business Ambition Collided with Climate Change Under a Distant Sea

EXXON Gas station @ Amistad Lake National Recreation Area
Neela Banerjee & Lisa Song write at InsideClimate News:

In 1980, as Exxon Corp. set out to develop one of the world’s largest deposits of natural gas, it found itself facing an unfamiliar risk: the project would emit immense amounts of carbon dioxide, adding to the looming threat of climate change.

The problem cropped up shortly after Exxon signed a contract with the Indonesian state oil company to exploit the Natuna gas field in the South China Sea—big enough to supply the blossoming markets of Japan, Taiwan and Korea with liquefied natural gas into the 21st century.

Assessing the environmental impacts, Exxon Research and Engineering quickly identified Natuna’s greenhouse gas problem. The reservoir was contaminated with much more carbon dioxide than normal. It would have to be disposed of somehow—and simply venting it into the air could have serious consequences, Exxon’s experts warned.

Exxon’s dawning realization that carbon dioxide and the greenhouse effect posed a danger to the world collided with the company’s fossil fuel ambitions.

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World’s Largest 3D Printer Will Build Affordable and Sustainable Housing

How cool is this? WASP (World’s Advanced Saving Project), an Italian company, has built BigDelta, the world’s largest 3D printer (40-feet-tall and 20-feet-wide) which will print out green-friendly homes using nothing but earth and water.

Here is a demonstration of WASP’s smaller-sized, 13-foot clay 3D printer:

Via UpWorthy:

The company explained in a press release that it wasn’t money that motivated them to build BigDelta, it was the need. According to UN-Habitat, 40% of the global population (roughly 3 billion people) will be in need of adequate housing by 2030, which means nearly 100,000 housing units need to be built every day between now and then.

By combining the new world technology of digital fabrication with the old world technology of adobe (buildings made with water, dirt, clay, and plant fibers), they believe they can print new digs without all the labor, equipment, and materials that typically make home building expensive and time-intensive.

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No one should ever work. Workers of the world… *relax*!


Bob Black, “The Abolition of Work” via Primitivism:


No one should ever work.

Work is the source of nearly all the misery in the world. Almost any evil you’d care to name comes from working or from living in a world designed for work. In order to stop suffering, we have to stop working.

That doesn’t mean we have to stop doing things. It does mean creating a new way of life based on play; in other words, a *ludic* conviviality, commensality, and maybe even art. There is more to play than child’s play, as worthy as that is. I call for a collective adventure in generalized joy and freely interdependent exuberance. Play isn’t passive. Doubtless we all need a lot more time for sheer sloth and slack than we ever enjoy now, regardless of income or occupation, but once recovered from employment-induced exhaustion nearly all of us want to act.

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