Ultimate Concerns
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Ultimate Concerns
On the mysteries of psyche, soul, and the evolution of life
Curated by Gary Schmidt
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Physicists Created a New Form of Light

Physicists Created a New Form of Light | Ultimate Concerns | Scoop.it

In order to get massless particles of light to bind together like normal matter, Vuletic and Lukin created an experimental set-up that involves shining a laser through some very cold atoms. In particular, they were using a cloud of rubidium atoms chilled to just a millionth of a degree above absolute zero. This makes it so the rubidium atoms in the cloud are hardly moving. Then they shine a weak laser beam through the supercooled atomic cloud, so that only a few photons pass through to be measured on the other side of the apparatus. 


What they found was that the protons emerging on the other side were strongly bound together with one another in groups of three, and had actually acquired a very small amount of mass (equal to just a fraction of the mass of an electron). As a result, these photon triplets moved 100,000 times slower than the speed of a normal photon, which travel at 300,000 kilometers per second.

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Foreign DNA Trapped Inside You May Be Changing Your Behavior

Foreign DNA Trapped Inside You May Be Changing Your Behavior | Ultimate Concerns | Scoop.it

According to Peter Kramer at the University of Padua, “A very large number of different human and non-human individuals are all incessantly struggling inside us for control.” 


Kramer and his colleague Paola Bressan just published a paper about this strange phenomenon — microchimerism — that influences our behavior. Basically, we pick up DNA perhaps in the womb from a twin, a subsumed twin, an older sibling, our mothers, or later in life from a pregnancy. In one study, 63 per cent of women who’d had children were harboring male cells in their brains.


What’s stranger still is that microchimerism of male cells in women occurred even when they’d never given birth to a son — the DNA possibly transferred by an older brother or even sexual intercourse with a man. It seems then that the human body is far from fixed at birth and instead picks up DNA the way our browser does cookies.

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Daryl Bem proved ESP Is Real. Which Means Science Is Broken.

Daryl Bem proved ESP Is Real. Which Means Science Is Broken. | Ultimate Concerns | Scoop.it

The scientist couldn't have foreseen the crisis his research would touch off.In May, he wrote up the results of his 10-year study and sent them off to one of his field’s most discerning peer-reviewed publications, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. (JPSP turns away some 85 percent of all submissions, making its acceptance rate comparable to that of the Cornell admissions office.) This was the same journal where Bem had published one of the first papers of his career, way back in 1965. Now he would return to JPSP with the most amazing research he’d ever done—that anyone had ever done, perhaps. It would be the capstone to what had already been a historic 50-year career. 


 Having served for a time as an associate editor of JPSP, Bem knew his methods would be up to snuff. With about 100 subjects in each experiment, his sample sizes were large. He’d used only the most conventional statistical analyses. He’d double- and triple-checked to make sure there were no glitches in the randomization of his stimuli. 


Even with all that extra care, Bem would not have dared to send in such a controversial finding had he not been able to replicate the results in his lab, and replicate them again, and then replicate them five more times. His finished paper lists nine separate ministudies of ESP. Eight of those returned the same effect.

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God is Reality Personified, Not a Person

God is Reality Personified, Not a Person | Ultimate Concerns | Scoop.it
Evidence from a wide range of disciplines, from cognitive neuroscience to anthropology to cross-cultural studies of the world's myths and religions, all support the claim that God is (and always has been) an interpretation, a personification. Furthermore, there is no counter-evidence supporting the claim that God is a person! This fact alone makes sense of the hundreds of competing stories around the world as to what God supposedly said or did. "God" is a mythic personification of reality, not an invisible friend or otherworldly entity.

Whenever any story or any scriptural passage claims that "God said this" or "God did that", what follows is always an interpretation—specifically, an interpretation of what some person (or group of people) thought or felt or sensed or wished reality (life / the universe) was "saying" or "doing," and almost always as justification after the fact or to make a theological point. Such subjectively meaningful claims are never objective, measurable truth.
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Crossing Over: How Science Is Redefining Life and Death

Crossing Over: How Science Is Redefining Life and Death | Ultimate Concerns | Scoop.it

To Sam Parnia, death is potentially reversible. Cells inside our bodies don’t usually die when we die, he says; some cells and organs can remain viable for hours, maybe even days. The timing of the declaration of death is sometimes a matter of personal attitude, he says. When he was in training, he notes, people would stop CPR after just five to ten minutes, assuming that any longer would mean irreparable brain damage. 


 But resuscitation scientists have learned ways to keep the brain and other organs from dying even after the heart stops. They know that lowering body temperature helps—which happened naturally with Gardell Martin, and which happens deliberately in some ERs that routinely chill patients before doing CPR. They know that persistence helps too, especially in hospitals that use machines to regulate chest compressions or that someday might use drugs such as iodide. 


Parnia compares resuscitation science to aeronautics. It never seemed possible for people to fly, yet in 1903 the Wright brothers flew. How incredible, he says, that it took only 66 years from that first, 12-second flight to a moon landing. He thinks such advances can happen in resuscitation science too. When it comes to reversing death, Parnia believes we’re still in the Kitty Hawk era.

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To Understand Your Past, Look to Your Future

To Understand Your Past, Look to Your Future | Ultimate Concerns | Scoop.it

The Lagrangian approach provides the most elegant and flexible account of known physics, and physicists often prefer it. Still, despite the wide applicability of Lagrangian-based principles, even the physicists who use them don’t take them literally. It is hard to accept that events might be explained by what goes on in the future. After all, there are obvious distinctions between past and future. Given that we see such an evident arrow of time, how could future boundaries possibly matter just as much as past ones?

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What Happened Before History? Human Origins

Humans. We have been around for a while now. When we think about our past we think about ancient civilizations, the pyramids, stuff like that. But this is only a tiny, tiny part of our history.
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Is the Abrahamic god modeled on a harem-keeping alpha male?

Not everyone buys into a sky-god with a long white beard, a serious and all-knowing mien, capable of rewarding good behaviour and punishing bad. But it doesn’t take much imagination to recognise that God, as worshipped in most of the world, is remarkably humanoid, widely perceived as a great, big, scary, wilful, yet nourishing and protective guy… in short, a silverback gorilla writ large.

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A Map Of How Emotions Influence Our Lives, Commissioned By The Dalai Lama

A Map Of How Emotions Influence Our Lives, Commissioned By The Dalai Lama | Ultimate Concerns | Scoop.it

At first, Stamen turned to the Buddhist tradition for aesthetic inspiration. "Originally, we’d tried to make a mandala of emotions, and have them arranged precisely next to each other," says Eric Rodenbeck, CEO and creative director of Stamen Design. "Paul rejected a lot of those ideas, because it was too crisp and clear. It would read like fear was halfway between disgust and sadness." 


Eventually, these orbs, floating in an intriguing but largely meaningless way, become the new direction. Click into an emotion, and new graphs appear, breaking emotions into their many states. Anger, for instance, becomes divided into violent spikes, including annoyance, frustration, vengefulness, and fury. Meanwhile, the states of sadness look like blurry tears. 


Exploring the various states of enjoyment, I can't help but consider how sensory pleasures in my life—like a good meal—differ from sensations like pride or wonder. I'm surprised to see schadenfreude categorized under enjoyment. I think of enjoyment as such a positive force in my life, but taking joy in the misery of others puts a dark spin on my happiest emotion.

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Can a Living Creature Be as Big as a Galaxy? 

Can a Living Creature Be as Big as a Galaxy?  | Ultimate Concerns | Scoop.it

Remarkably, the constraints of environment on physical bodies also constrain life to be roughly the same size that intelligence requires. The height of the tallest redwoods is limited by their inability to pump water more than 100 meters into the sky, a limit set by a combination of the force of gravity on the Earth (which pulls the water down) and transpiration, water adhesion, and surface tension in the plant xylem (which pushes it up).1 If we suppose that the force of gravity and atmospheric pressures of most habitable planets will be within a factor of 10 of Earth’s, we will be left within a couple orders of magnitude of the same maximum limit.


 If we also assume that most life will be bound to a planet, moon, or asteroid, then gravity also sets a natural scale. As the planet gets bigger, and its gravity gets stronger, the force on the bones (or whatever the equivalent might be) of some hypothetical animal increases—something argued as far back as the late 1600s, by Christiaan Huygens. That animal would therefore need to increase the cross section of its bones to handle the greater force, which increases as the square of the animal size. These bodybuilding efforts however, would ultimately be self-defeating because mass rises as body size cubed. In general, the maximum mass of mobile terrestrial organisms decreases roughly linearly with the increasing strength of gravity. Conversely, a planet with 10 times lower gravity than Earth’s could potentially have animals that are 10 times bigger.

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Gravitational waves: breakthrough discovery after a century of expectation

Gravitational waves: breakthrough discovery after a century of expectation | Ultimate Concerns | Scoop.it

“Just think of radio waves, when radio waves were discovered we learned to communicate with them. Mobile communication is entirely reliant on radio waves. For astronomy, radio observations have probably told us more than anything else about the structure of the universe. Now we have gravitational waves we are going to have a whole new picture of the universe, of the stuff that doesn’t emit light – dark matter, black holes,” he said.

 

“For me the most exciting thing is we will literally be able to see the big bang. Using electromagnetic waves we cannot see further back than 400,000 years after the big bang. The early universe was opaque to light. It is not opaque to gravitational waves. It is completely transparent.

 

“So literally, by gathering gravitational waves we will be able to see exactly what happened at the initial singularity. The most weird and wonderful prediction of Einstein’s theory was that everything came out of a single event: the big bang singularity. And we will be able to see what happened.”

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Earth Is Actually TWO Planets, Study Finds

Earth Is Actually TWO Planets, Study Finds | Ultimate Concerns | Scoop.it

The giant impact hypothesis -- the popular belief that a "planetary embryo" called Theia collided with Earth some 4.5 billion years ago, leading to the formation of our planet's moon -- has been around for a while.

 

But a NASA-funded research team has added an amazing new twist to the idea; that Earth wasn't just sideswiped by Theia, as many have conjectured, but sustained a direct hit and actually absorbed a large portion of the rogue planet.

 

In other words, Earth is made up of two fused planets -- Earth and Theia -- the study suggests.

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“Spooky Action at a Distance” Gives Us a Glimpse of a Deeper Reality

“Spooky Action at a Distance” Gives Us a Glimpse of a Deeper Reality | Ultimate Concerns | Scoop.it

Space might be analogous to an ice crystal, and any crystal has its defects—irregularities in the regular arrangement of molecules. Such irregularities would appear to us as small failures of space, such as when two distant particles retain a connection despite the distance that appears to separate them. The very concept of “distance” might not be fundamental, in which case it stands to reason that particles might sometimes behave as though they were right next to each other.

 

This is still speculative, but it shows how scientists are wrestling with spooky action. Just as every form of magic that people used to believe in proved to have a rational explanation, so, too, might physicists demystify the phenomenon that Einstein puzzled over. Space might be like a Turkish carpet. It is a beautiful textile that you can set a coffee table on. But looking closely, you might notice imperfections—little breakages in the pattern that show you, for example, the carpet is hand-woven rather than machine-made. Spooky action is not an insoluble puzzle. It may be our view of how the fabric of space is woven. 

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What If Animals Believe in God?

What If Animals Believe in God? | Ultimate Concerns | Scoop.it

The rocks pile up to create something resembling an altar. This “ritualized behavioral display” apparently has no evolutionary function, and instead resembles religious rituals from humanity’s archaeological past.


This isn’t the first discovery of animal behavior resembling religion. Elephants and dolphins, for example, have burial rituals for their dead.


More importantly, if animals were conclusively shown to have religion, this would represent yet another blow to the longstanding notion that humans are, somehow, fundamentally different from other animals. Octopi use tools. Capuchin monkeys have symbolic language. Orcas have culture. Dolphins have self-awareness. Is religion, too, something that we share with beasts? If animals can in fact have religion how might this change our ethical obligations towards them?

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A Crash Course in Theories of Myth

This week, we're talking about theories of Myth. We'll look at the different ways mythology has been studied in the last couple of millenia, and talk about the different ways people have interpreted myth, academically.

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Is Matter Conscious?

Is Matter Conscious? | Ultimate Concerns | Scoop.it

Think of someone who has never seen any red objects and has never been told that the color red exists. That person knows nothing about how redness relates to brain states, to physical objects such as tomatoes, or to wavelengths of light, nor how it relates to other colors (for example, that it’s similar to orange but very different from green). One day, the person spontaneously hallucinates a big red patch. It seems this person will thereby learn what redness is like, even though he or she doesn’t know any of its relations to other things. The knowledge he or she acquires will be non-relational knowledge of what redness is like in and of itself.  


This suggests that consciousness—of some primitive and rudimentary form—is the hardware that the software described by physics runs on. The physical world can be conceived of as a structure of conscious experiences. Our own richly textured experiences implement the physical relations that make up our brains. Some simple, elementary forms of experiences implement the relations that make up fundamental particles. Take an electron, for example. What an electron does is to attract, repel, and otherwise relate to other entities in accordance with fundamental physical equations. What performs this behavior, we might think, is simply a stream of tiny electron experiences. Electrons and other particles can be thought of as mental beings with physical powers; as streams of experience in physical relations to other streams of experience.

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New theory explains gravity better than Einstein's relativity

New theory explains gravity better than Einstein's relativity | Ultimate Concerns | Scoop.it

There's a new theory on the block that's based on the idea that the universe is a hologram, and it doesn't require dark matter or its elusive cousin, dark energy, to explain gravity on a larger scale, reports Phys.org. 


The idea, proposed by Erik Verlinde, renowned expert in string theory at the University of Amsterdam, is that gravity is not a fundamental force of nature, but instead an emergent phenomenon. This is a subtle but crucial distinction. In the same way, temperature is also not a fundamental force, but rather a phenomenon that arises from the movements of particles. So if gravity is emergent, like temperature is, that means it must be emergent from something. But from what? 


This is where Verlinde borrows from the holographic principle. His theory suggests that gravity is emergent from fundamental bits of information that are stored in the fabric of spacetime itself.

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How is it possible to get something from nothing?

How is it possible to get something from nothing? | Ultimate Concerns | Scoop.it

We are a narrative species. Our most basic understanding comes through stories, and how something came from nothing is the ultimate story, the primordial narrative, more fundamental than the hero’s journey or boy meets girl. Yet it is a story that undermines the notion of story. It is a narrative woven of self-destruction and paradox.  

The lead character in this story is Time, Bearer of Change. Could the key to solving our paradox be the denial of time itself? If time, as Einstein said, is but a stubbornly persistent illusion, then we can dispense at once, not just with causality issuing from natural laws, but also with the question of where those laws came from. They didn’t come from anywhere, because nothing evolves. The narrative dissolves. There is no story. There is no bridge.

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Bacteria Are Masters of Tai Chi

Bacteria Are Masters of Tai Chi | Ultimate Concerns | Scoop.it

When inertia no longer matters, terms like mass, acceleration, and force lose their meaning. Statements like Newton’s second law (force equals mass times acceleration) are moot. Newton’s second law for a bacterium is zero equals zero. There is no such thing as acceleration, since bacteria attain their steady swimming velocity nearly instantly upon beginning to swim, and lose it instantly when they stop. Newton’s first law, that objects in motion remain in motion until acted upon, becomes absurd; all bacteria know is that if you are not swimming, you’re standing still. No microorganism gets to move for free. Newton’s third law, that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, becomes something of a tautology, for there are no longer any actions.

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The Real Secret of Youth Is Complexity

The Real Secret of Youth Is Complexity | Ultimate Concerns | Scoop.it
Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!” Henry David Thoreau exhorted in his 1854 memoir Walden, in which he extolled the virtues of a “Spartan-like” life. Saint Thomas Aquinas preached that simplicity brings one closer to God. Isaac Newton believed it leads to truth. The process of simplification, we’re told, can illuminate beauty, strip away needless clutter and stress, and help us focus on what really matters. 

 It can also be a sign of aging. Youthful health and vigor depend, in many ways, on complexity. Bones get strength from elaborate scaffolds of connective tissue. Mental acuity arises from interconnected webs of neurons. Even seemingly simple bodily functions like heartbeat rely on interacting networks of metabolic controls, signaling pathways, genetic switches, and circadian rhythms. As our bodies age, these anatomic structures and physiologic processes lose complexity, making them less resilient and ultimately leading to frailty and disease.
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Physics Makes Aging Inevitable, Not Biology

Physics Makes Aging Inevitable, Not Biology | Ultimate Concerns | Scoop.it

f there is a founding document for the modern study of aging, it may be An Unsolved Problem of Biology by Sir Peter Medawar. Medawar was a Nobel Prize-winning biologist, as well as a witty and sometimes scathing writer of essays and books. In An Unsolved Problem of Biology, Medawar pitted two explanations for aging against each other: On one hand was “innate senescence,” or aging as biological necessity. On the other was the “wearing out” theory of aging—aging due to the “accumulated effects of recurrent stress.” The former is biology, the latter physics. Innate senescence implies that aging and death are dictated by evolution to make space for younger generations.


Medawar himself argued for the “wearing out” theory—the physics viewpoint on aging. First, he said, it is difficult to see how natural selection could have selected for senescence, because we don’t reproduce in our elderly years and natural selection is driven by differences in reproduction rates. Second, it is unnecessary to actively kill off older individuals to keep an aging population small. Random chance can accomplish this on its own.

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Science finally Proves Meridians Exist

Science finally Proves Meridians Exist | Ultimate Concerns | Scoop.it

Recently scientists at Seoul National University confirmed the existence of meridians, which they refer to as the “primo-vascular system.” They say that this system is a crucial part of the cardiovascular system. Previously, North Korean scientist Kim Bong-Han proposed that he had found meridians in the early 1960’s. Dr Kim Bong-Han showed over 50 years ago that new tubular structures exist inside and outside of blood vessels and lymphatic vessels, as well as on the surface of internal organs and under the dermis. He believed they were the traditional meridian lines. The meridians were called Bonghan ducts or channels, after his research, but now the existence of this system in various organs has been corroborated by further research. 

The current Korean researchers now believe the primo-vascular system is in fact the physical component of the Acupuncture Meridian System. And it has also been suggested that this system is involved in channelling the flow of energy and information relayed by biophotons (electromagnetic waves of light) and DNA.

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The Quantum Zeno Effect Proves Time Can Be Stopped

The Quantum Zeno Effect Proves Time Can Be Stopped | Ultimate Concerns | Scoop.it

The study of quantum physics is limited by the actions of the “observer” on a particular system. The most famous example of this is probably Schrödinger’s Cat, a thought experiment that illustrates the paradox inherent in quantum mechanics. You can learn more aboutSchrödinger and his damn cat here, but the basic conclusion is that before an observer can actually “measure” a certain system, she has to assume all outcomes are possible — and, therefore, before an observation is made, both of those outcomes exist simultaneously. They are “superimposed” on one-another.

 

But what happens if you are constantly observing the system? Well, if it’s the real world and not some crazy thought experiment, then the cat dies or doesn’t. But that’s not the way subatomic particles work. Multiple studies illustrate how measuring particles with increased frequency will affect the rate of decay —potentially suppressing it completely. And that’s because if you keep making measurements, there’s no time for the particles to progress into a superimposed state — they will always exist in their original, undecayed state

And if an unstable particle isn’t decaying, it’s basically frozen in time.

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Why has the idea of hell survived so long?

Why has the idea of hell survived so long? | Ultimate Concerns | Scoop.it

As early as the second to the third centuries AD, at a time when the Church’s doctrines were still being hotly debated, the scholar Origen of Alexandria (c 185-254 AD) argued against a concept of eternal hell in favour of apokatastasis, or ‘restoration’. Origen taught that God creates everything in love and, through that love, ultimately brings all of creation back to him. In Origen’s scheme, eternal souls would be punished for wrongdoings, but punishment would occur as the soul inhabited successive bodies – whether demonic, human, or angelic – instead of in a permanent and everlasting hell of fire and brimstone. ‘For if… souls had no pre-existence,’ Origen asked in On First Principles, ‘why do we find some new-born babes to be blind, when they have committed no sin, while others are born with no defect at all?’ Over time, souls would learn from their mistakes and eventually be reunited with their perfect creator.

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The Taoist View of the Universe

The Taoist View of the Universe | Ultimate Concerns | Scoop.it

At the very roots of Chinese thinking and feeling there lies the principle of polarity, which is not to be confused with the ideas of opposition or conflict. In the metaphors of other cultures, light is at war with darkness, life with death, good with evil, and the positive with the negative, and thus an idealism to cultivate the former and be rid of the latter flourishes throughout much of the world.


People who have been brought up in the aura of Christian and Hebrew aspirations find this frustrating, because it seems to deny any possibility of progress, an ideal which flows from their linear (as distinct from cyclic) view of time and history. Indeed, the whole enterprise of Western technology is “to make the world a better place” – to have pleasure without pain, wealth without poverty, and health without sickness.

 

We have been interfering with a complex system of relationships which we do not understand, and the more we study its details, the more it eludes us by revealing still more details to study. As we try to comprehend and control the world it runs away – from us. Instead of chafing at this situation, a Taoist would ask what it means. What is that which always retreats when pursued? Answer: yourself.


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