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Photographic Memory in Pill Form?

Posted by jase on July 8, 2009

The most interesting upgrades aren’t for your computer, your car, or even the internet – they’re for you.  We’ve always tinkered with our own thought processes (using crude equipment like “alcohol” and “regular exercise”) but now mankind has the tools and time to tune the system directly, and one team of scientists may make yellow sticky notes obsolete: they’ve found a way to boost visual memory.

A team of scientists at the Spanish University of Malaga were working with rat brains, because of the combination of ethics and wimpiness that prevents human trials.  They found that a particular protein (RGS-14) boosted a region of the brain known as the “V2 secondary visual cortex”, which makes rats sound significantly more like Terminators than you previously thought.  (Nightmares resulting from that image are not our responsibility).

Increasing the levels of this protein upgraded the rats visual memory allowing them to remember things for fifteen hundred times longer than normal (two months instead of an hour).  The interesting aspect is that this upgrade isn’t a new property, but a re-routing of existing processes – the protein seems to cause the formation of long term memories instead of short term, gifting the rat with what could be a photographic visual memory.  Which, considering that these are actual lab rats with needles being jabbed into their brains, probably sucks quite a lot.  The team also found that destruction of the V2 region utterly eliminated all visual memory of the past – which you can view as research, cruel, or gifting the the rats with a Zen state that takes decades of meditation to achieve.

The potential applications are obvious, and enormous, but beware the hidden downsides – the human brain is the most incredibly sophisticated system ever even conceived of and any tinkering can have huge side effects.  This doesn’t mean don’t do anything (we’d still be in caves otherwise), but be aware that you can’t say “IF this THEN that” where neural networks are concerned.  Intelligence-upgrades are an inevitable field, already in progress with prototype products like piracetam and caffeine, so it’s time to make up your mind if you’re going to make your own mind.

Source: Daily Galaxy

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Posted in Biology, Medical, Science | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Ever Heard of: Auroras

Posted by jase on July 7, 2009

Auroras, sometimes called the northern and southern (polar) lights or aurorae (singular: aurora), are natural light displays in the sky, usually observed at night, particularly in the polar regions. They typically occur in the ionosphere. They are also referred to as polar auroras. In northern latitudes, the effect is known as the aurora borealis, named after the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora, and the Greek name for north wind, Boreas by Pierre Gassendi in 1621. The aurora borealis is also called the northern polar lights, as it is only visible in the sky from the Northern Hemisphere, the chance of visibility increasing with proximity to the North Magnetic Pole, which is currently in the arctic islands of northern Canada. Auroras seen near the magnetic pole may be high overhead, but from further away, they illuminate the northern horizon as a greenish glow or sometimes a faint red, as if the sun was rising from an unusual direction. The aurora borealis most often occurs from September to October and from March to April. The northern lights have had a number of names throughout history. The Cree people call this phenomenon the “Dance of the Spirits.” Auroras can be spotted throughout the world. It is most visible closer to the poles due to the longer periods of darkness and the magnetic field.

Its southern counterpart, the aurora australis or the southern polar lights, has similar properties, but is only visible from high southern latitudes in Antarctica, South America, or Australasia. Australis is the Latin word for “of the South.”

Benjamin Franklin first brought attention to the “mystery of the Northern Lights.” He theorized the shifting lights to a concentration of electrical charges in the polar regions intensified by the snow and other moisture.

The phenomenon of aurora is an interaction between the Earth’s magnetic field and solar wind.

Auroras are produced by the collision of charged particles from Earth’s magnetosphere, mostly electrons but also protons and heavier particles, with atoms and molecules of Earth’s upper atmosphere (at altitudes above 80 km (50 miles)). The particles have energies of 1 to 100 keV. They originate from the Sun and arrive at the vicinity of Earth in the relatively low-energy solar wind. When the trapped magnetic field of the solar wind is favorably oriented (principally southwards) it connects with Earth’s magnetic field, and solar particles enter the magnetosphere and are swept to the magnetotail. Further magnetic reconnection accelerates the particles towards Earth.

The collisions in the atmosphere electrically excite electrons to take quantum leaps (a mechanism in which the electron’s kinetic energy is converted to visible light); and molecules in the upper atmosphere. The excitation energy can be lost by light emission or collisions. Most auroras are green and red emissions from atomic oxygen. Molecular nitrogen and nitrogen ions produce some low level red (pink) and very high blue/violet auroras. The light blue and green colors are produced by ionic nitrogen and the neutral helium gives off the purple colour whereas neon is responsible for the rare orange flares with the rippled edges. Different gasses interacting with the upper atmosphere will produce different colors, caused by the different compounds of oxygen and nitrogen. The level of solar wind activity from the Sun can also influence the color and intensity of the auroras.

The Earth is constantly immersed in the solar wind, a rarefied flow of hot plasma (gas of free electrons and positive ions) emitted by the Sun in all directions, a result of the million-degree heat of the Sun’s outermost layer, the corona.

The IMF originates on the Sun, related to the field of sunspots, and its field lines (lines of force) are dragged out by the solar wind. That alone would tend to line them up in the Sun-Earth direction, but the rotation of the Sun skews them (at Earth) by about 45 degrees, so that field lines passing Earth may actually start near the western edge (“limb”) of the visible sun.[9]

Earth’s magnetosphere is the space region dominated by its magnetic field. It forms an obstacle in the path of the solar wind, causing it to be diverted around it, at a distance of about 70,000 km (before it reaches that boundary, typically 12,000–15,000 km upstream, a bow shock forms). The width of the magnetospheric obstacle, abreast of Earth, is typically 190,000 km, and on the night side a long “magnetotail” of stretched field lines extends to great distances.

When the solar wind is perturbed, it easily transfers energy and material into the magnetosphere. The electrons and ions in the magnetosphere that are thus energized move along the magnetic field lines to the polar regions of the atmosphere.

The aurora is a common occurrence in the Poles. It is occasionally seen in temperate latitudes, when a strong magnetic storm temporarily expands the auroral oval. Large magnetic storms are most common during the peak of the eleven-year sunspot cycle or during the three years after that peak. Geomagnetic storms that ignite auroras actually happen more often during the months around the equinoxes. It is not well understood why geomagnetic storms are tied to Earth’s seasons while polar activity is not.

Posted in Astronomy, Earth, Science, Solar Energy, Space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

John Keel: 1930-2009

Posted by jase on July 7, 2009

A Remembrance by Loren Coleman

John Alva Keel, 79, a friend, Fortean, fierce fighter for his theories, professionally a writer and journalist, has died. A fellow admirer of Mothman and the anomalies all around us, such as the “name game,” is gone.

Keel, who lived most of his life in New York City, passed away on Friday, July 3, 2009, at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, after some months in a nursing home near his Upper West Side apartment.

Born Alva John Kiehle in upstate New York on March 25, 1930, John Keel began writing at a young age. Indeed, Keel’s first published story was in a magician’s magazine at the age of 12.

Keel would go on to become a scriptwriter for radio and television, and a stringer for newspapers. He later moved to Greenwich Village and wrote for various men’s and speciality magazines.

Keel’s first published book was Jadoo in 1957, which was quickly serialized in a men’s adventure magazine. The paperback is his account of his journey of discovery to India to investigate the alleged activities of fakirs and holy men who perform the Indian rope trick and who survive being buried alive. In Jadoo, Keel also told of tracking a Yeti, an Abominable Snowman, in the jungles of Asia.

John A. Keel’s non-fiction look at the very real unplanned twists in life were recorded in his 1966 novel, The Fickle Finger of Fate. It is a rare book, and few realize that Keel wrote this book.

Keel was an early admirer of Charles Fort (1874-1932), and while still doing the mainstream writing, began authoring articles for England’s Flying Saucer Review (FSR) and a long series of columns for Saga.

Further influenced by Fortean Ivan T. Sanderson and ufologist Aimé Michel, in early 1966, John Keel commenced a full-time investigation of monster, aerial and paranormal phenomena. Over a four-year period, Keel interviewed thousands of people in over twenty U.S. states, especially in the Ohio River Valley of the United States. More than 2,000 books were reviewed in the course of his investigation, in addition to thousands of magazines, newsletters, and newspapers. Keel also subscribed to several newspaper-clipping services, which often generated up to 150 clippings for a single day during the 1966 and 1967 UFO “wave.” Besides FSR, Keel wrote for several magazines including Saga with one 1967 article “UFO Agents of Terror” referring to the Men in Black. He also wrote one of the first articles on Mothman in FSR, during this same time period.

Like other contemporary 1960s researchers such as J. Allen Hynek and Jacques Vallée, Keel was initially hopeful that he could somehow validate the prevailing nuts-and-bolts, extraterrestrial visitation hypothesis for UFOs. However, a year into his investigations, Keel realized that the extraterrestrial hypothesis was untenable and did not explain, for him, based within his personality and belief systems, all the answers.

Keel’s insights also included his view of cryptozoology.

I grew to know Keel after being introduced to him through mutual friends Brad Steiger and Ivan Sanderson. I worked closely with Keel on contributing as yet-unpublished material of mine for his book, Strange Creatures from Time and Space (1970), which would influence my and Jerome Clark’s first two books The Unidentified (1975) and Creatures from the Outer Edge (1978).

Keel’s impact is far-reaching. Keel’s book, Strange Creatures from Time and Space was the inspiration for Craig Woolheater’s interest in Bigfoot and eventually would stimulate the creation of Cryptomundo.

Love him or hate him, John Keel was popular and one of the most widely read and influential Fortean authors of the late 20th century. Although his own thoughts about aerial, monster, and associated anomalous phenomena gradually evolved during the 1960s, Keel remained one of ufology’s most original and controversial researchers.

It was Keel’s second book, UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse (1970), that alerted the general public that many aspects of contemporary UFO reports, including humanoid encounters, often paralleled certain ancient folklore and religious encounters. Keel also argued that there is a direct relationship between UFOs and elemental phenomena. Keel informed me often that he did not consider himself a “ufologist,” but a “demonologist.”

“Ufology is just another name for demonology,” John Keel told me, a week before the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center, which occurred just a couple of miles from where he lives.

…as noted in Mothman and Other Curious Encounters, page 114, (NY: Paraview, 2002).

As Keel himself wrote, “I abandoned the extraterrestrial hypothesis in 1967 when my own field investigations disclosed an astonishing overlap between psychic phenomena and UFOs… The objects and apparitions do not necessarily originate on another planet and may not even exist as permanent constructions of matter. It is more likely that we see what we want to see and interpret such visions according to our contemporary beliefs.”

In UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse (1970), Keel argued that a non-human or spiritual intelligence source has staged whole events over a long period of time in order to propagate and reinforce certain erroneous belief systems (mirroring Vallée). Keel conjectured that ultimately all anomalies, such as fairies, 1897 mystery airships, 1930s phantom aeroplanes, mystery helicopters, creatures, poltergeists, balls of light, and UFOs, are a cover for the real phenomenon.

It was during this time period that Keel maintained an enormous and active correspondence with other researchers around the world. For example, I, Loren Coleman, was introduced to my now long-time friend Jerry Clark by John Keel, via letters. These exchanges between Keel and his fellow writers and researchers, even as intellectual disagreements and different paths took many of us on varied journeys, cemented 40 years of solid friendships among a small group of dedicated Fortean writers.

In Our Haunted Planet (1971), Keel coined the term “ultraterrestrials” to describe the UFO occupants. He discussed the seldom-considered possibility that the alien “visitors” to Earth are not visitors at all, but an advanced Earth civilization, which may or may not be human. Keel took no position on the ultimate purpose of the phenomenon other than that the UFO intelligence seems to have a long-standing interest in interacting with the human race.

UFO historian Jerome Clark wrote that Keel was “a radical theorist who believes that UFOs are ‘ultraterrestrial’ rather than extraterrrestrial. By that he means they are shape-changing phenomena from another order of existence. These ultraterrestials are basically hostile to, or at least contemptuous of, human beings and manipulate them in various wasy for example by staging ‘miracles’ which inspire unfounded religious beliefs. Ultraterrestrials and their minions may manifest as monsters, space people, ghosts and other paranormal entities.” (The UFO Encyclopedia, Volume 1: UFOs in the 1980s, page 148, NY: Agogee, 1990).

After years of writing parts of the story in various articles and other books, in 1975, Keel published The Mothman Prophecies, an account of his 1966-1967 investigation of sightings of the Mothman, a “winged weirdie” reported in and around Point Pleasant, West Virginia.

Keel corresponded with Ivan T. Sanderson, quietly for months, trying to determine what kind of bird might be involved with the sightings. It was later, as Keel more fully revealed the tale of the sightings and concurrent phenomena, that other elements came into the mix.

The book was contemporarily adapted into a 2002 movie directed by Mark Pellington, starring Richard Gere, Debra Messing, Laura Linney and Alan Bates.

Two parts of Keel’s personality were played by Gere and Bates. Bates’s character was “Leek,” which was “Keel” spelled backwards, and Gere’s character was a newspaperman, “John Klein,” also a play on Keel’s name. Because Keel was ill at the time, Sony/Screen Gems cut back Keel’s schedule of public appearances to only a few televised ones. I assisted Keel by becoming the movie’s publicity spokesperson on 400 radio shows, and appeared with Keel in the David Grabias documentary Search For The Mothman, which is in the Deluxe DVD of The Mothman Prophecies.

At the time of the release of the movie, a rumor circulated that Keel had died. On January 14, 2002, a story rapidly made the rounds via the web that John A. Keel had just died.

I quickly put the rumor to rest by calling Keel, and confirming that Keel was, indeed, still alive, although Keel quipped that everyone should be told, “his funeral is on Saturday and he will be wearing black.” Keel told me that this happened to him at least once before, in 1967.

Keel suffered a heart attack sometime before October 13, 2006. He admitted himself to New York City’s Lenox Hill Hospital on Friday the 13th of October, and underwent successful heart surgery on October 16, 2006. Keel then was moved from the hospital to a rehabilitation center on October 26, 2006, as his close New York friend Doug Skinner told me soon afterward. Skinner became invaluable in assisting Keel, and passing along messages to and from Keel’s old friends.

Keel’s impact cannot be underestimated, especially in terms of his analysis of patterns. His work on “windows” (specific hotspots of combined phenomenal appearances), “waves” (cyclic appearances of the phenomena), and the “Wednesday phenomenon” (the theory that a disproportionate number of UFO events occur on that day of the week) are deeply influential across time and space. Generations of readers of Fortean literature often do not even realize that Keel’s writings may be behind “name game” discussions or authors’ speculations on the fact that a certain location on a ridge might have a high rate of strange events occurring there after the 21st of the month on a Wednesday in a high-frequency month such as April. Keel was there first trying to look at such patterns.

The popular cultural influence of Keel has been enormous. It shall take future academic studies to fully realize his reach among the subculture that respects and are denizens of his ongoing intellectual playground.

On July 6, 2009, as word swept through the Internet, from Phyllis Benjamin at INFO and others, that Keel had passed away last Friday, tributes and sorrow were shared online in overwhelming fashion from his followers, fans, and friends.

John A. Keel will be missed.

Posted in Aliens, Extraterrestrial Life, Paranormal, Science, Space, Ufology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Global Warming Shrinking Sheep

Posted by jase on July 6, 2009

Changing winter conditions are causing Scotland’s wild Soay sheep to get smaller, according to a study that suggests climate change can trump natural selection.

The authors of the study published in “Science” believe that it highlights how wide-ranging the effects of global climate change can be, adding further complexity to the changes we might expect to see in animal populations in future.

“It’s only in the last few years that we’ve realized that evolution can influence species’ physical traits as quickly as ecological changes can. This study addresses one of the major goals of population biology, namely to untangle the ways in which evolutionary and environmental changes influence a species’ traits,” said Andrew Sugden, deputy and international managing editor at Science.

The researchers analyzed body-weight measurements and life-history data for the female members of a population of Soay sheep. The sheep live on the island of Hirta in the St. Kilda archipelago of Scotland and have been studied closely since 1985.

They selected body size because it is a heritable trait, and because the sheep have, on average, been decreasing in size for the last 25 years.

According to the findings lambs are not growing as quickly as they once did as winters have become shorter so do not need to put on as much as weight in the first months of life to survive.

The results suggest that the decrease is primarily an ecological response to environmental variation over the last 25 years. Evolutionary change, the report says, has contributed relatively little.

“Sheep are getting smaller. Well, at least the wild Soay sheep living on a remote Scottish island are. But according to classic evolutionary theory, they should have been getting bigger, because larger sheep tend to be more likely to survive and reproduce than smaller ones, and offspring tend to resemble their parents,” said study author Tim Coulson of Imperial College London.

“Our findings have solved a paradox that has tormented biologists for years — why predictions did not match observation. Biologists have realized that ecological and evolutionary processes are intricately intertwined, and they now have a way of dissecting out the contribution of each. Unfortunately it is too early to tell whether a warming world will lead to pocket-sized sheep,” said Coulson.

Posted in Animals, Biology, Climate, Earth, Global Warming, Science | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Coffee May Reverse Alzheimer’s

Posted by jase on July 5, 2009

Drinking five cups of coffee a day could reverse memory problems seen in Alzheimer’s disease, US scientists say.

The Florida research, carried out on mice, also suggested caffeine hampered the production of the protein plaques which are the hallmark of the disease.

Previous research has also suggested a protective effect from caffeine.

But British experts said the Journal of Alzheimer’s disease study did not mean that dementia patients should start using caffeine supplements.

The 55 mice used in the University of Florida study had been bred to develop symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

First the researchers used behavioural tests to confirm the mice were exhibiting signs of memory impairment when they were aged 18 to 19 months, the equivalent to humans being about 70.

Then they gave half the mice caffeine in their drinking water. The rest were given plain water.

The mice were given the equivalent of five 8 oz (227 grams) cups of coffee a day – about 500 milligrams of caffeine.

The researchers say this is the same as is found in two cups of “specialty” coffees such as lattes or cappuccinos from coffee shops, 14 cups of tea, or 20 soft drinks.

When the mice were tested again after two months, those who were given the caffeine performed much better on tests measuring their memory and thinking skills and performed as well as mice of the same age without dementia.

Those drinking plain water continued to do poorly on the tests.

In addition, the brains of the mice given caffeine showed nearly a 50% reduction in levels of the beta amyloid protein, which forms destructive clumps in the brains of dementia patients.

Further tests suggested caffeine affects the production of both the enzymes needed to produce beta amyloid.

The researchers also suggest that caffeine suppresses inflammatory changes in the brain that lead to an overabundance of the protein.

Earlier research by the same team had shown younger mice, who had also been bred to develop Alzheimer’s but who were given caffeine in their early adulthood, were protected against the onset of memory problems.

‘Safe drug’

Dr Gary Arendash, who led the latest study, told the BBC: “The results are particularly exciting in that a reversal of pre-existing memory impairment is more difficult to achieve.

“They provide evidence that caffeine could be a viable ‘treatment’ for established Alzheimer’s disease and not simply a protective strategy.

“That’s important because caffeine is a safe drug for most people, it easily enters the brain, and it appears to directly affect the disease process.”

The team now hope to begin human trials of caffeine to see if the mouse findings are replicated in people.

They do not know if a lower amount of caffeine would be as effective, but said most people could safely consume the 500 milligrams per day.

However they said people with high blood pressure, and pregnant women, should limit their daily caffeine intake.

Rebecca Wood, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, said: “In this study on mice with symptoms of Alzheimer’s, researchers found that caffeine boosted their memory. We need to do more research to find out whether this effect will be seen in people.

“It is too early to say whether drinking coffee or taking caffeine supplements will help people with Alzheimer’s.

Posted in Aging, Biology, Science | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Self-Help Makes You Feel Worse

Posted by jase on July 5, 2009

Canadian researchers found in a new study that people with low self-esteem actually felt worse after repeating positive statements or mantras about themselves.

They said phrases such as “I am a lovable person” only helped people with high self-esteem.

The study appears in the journal Psychological Science.

A UK psychologist said people based their feelings about themselves on real evidence from their lives.

The suggestion people should “help themselves” to feel better was first mooted by Victorian Samuel Smiles 150 years ago.

His book, called simply “Self Help”, sold a quarter of a million copies and included guidance such as: “Heaven helps those who help themselves”.

Self-help is now a multi-billion pound global industry.

‘Contradictory thoughts’

The researchers, from the University of Waterloo and the University of New Brunswick, asked people with high and low self-esteem to say “I am a lovable person.”

They then measured the participants’ moods and their feelings about themselves.

In the low self-esteem group, those who repeated the mantra felt worse afterwards compared with others who did not.

However people with high self-esteem felt better after repeating the positive self-statement – but only slightly.

The psychologists then asked the study participants to list negative and positive thoughts about themselves.

They found that, paradoxically, those with low self-esteem were in a better mood when they were allowed to have negative thoughts than when they were asked to focus exclusively on affirmative thoughts.

Writing in the journal, the researchers suggest that, like overly positive praise, unreasonably positive self-statements, such as “I accept myself completely,” can provoke contradictory thoughts in individuals with low self-esteem.

Such negative thoughts can overwhelm the positive thoughts.

If people are instructed to focus exclusively on positive thoughts, negative thoughts might be especially discouraging.

Real life

The researchers, led by psychologist Joanne Wood, said: “Repeating positive self-statements may benefit certain people, such as individuals with high self-esteem, but backfire for the very people who need them the most.”

However, they say positive thinking can help when it is part of a broader programme of therapy.

Simon Delsthorpe, a psychologist with Bradford District Care Trust and spokesman for the British Psychological Society, said self-esteem was based on a range of real life factors, and that counselling to build confidence – rather than telling yourself things are better than they are – was the solution.

“These are things like, do you have close family relationships, a wide network of friends, employment and appearance.

“If you’re not close to your parents, don’t have many friends, are unemployed and are unhappy with your appearance, it might be hard to have high self-esteem.

“But if your experience is the reverse of that it would be much easier to say ‘I’m OK’ and believe that.”

Posted in Depression, Healthy Living, Medical, Psychology | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Profile: Omar Khayyam

Posted by jase on July 5, 2009

Omar Khayyam (Persian: عمر خیام), (born 1048 AD, Neyshapur, Iran—1123 AD, Neyshapur, Iran), was a Persian polymath, mathematician, philosopher, astronomer and poet.

He has also become established as one of the major mathematicians and astronomers of the medieval period. Recognized as the author of the most important treatise on algebra before modern times as reflected in his Treatise on Demonstration of Problems of Algebra giving a geometric method for solving cubic equations by intersecting a hyperbola with a circle. He also contributed to calendar reform and may have proposed a heliocentric theory well before Copernicus.

His significance as a philosopher and teacher, and his few remaining philosophical works, have not received the same attention as his scientific and poetic writings. Zamakhshari referred to him as “the philosopher of the world”. Many sources have also testified that he taught for decades the philosophy of Ibn Sina in Nishapur where Khayyam lived most of his life, breathed his last, and was buried and where his mausoleum remains today a masterpiece of Iranian architecture visited by many people every year.

Outside Iran and Persian speaking countries, Khayyam has had impact on literature and societies through translation and works of scholars. The greatest such impact was in English-speaking countries; the English scholar Thomas Hyde (1636–1703) was the first non-Persian to study him. However the most influential of all was Edward FitzGerald (1809–83)[4] who made Khayyam the most famous poet of the East in the West through his celebrated translation and adaptations of Khayyam’s rather small number of quatrains (rubaiyaas) in Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

Omar Khayyam was famous during his times as a mathematician. He wrote the influential Treatise on Demonstration of Problems of Algebra (1070), which laid down the principles of algebra, part of the body of Persian Mathematics that was eventually transmitted to Europe.

Like most Persian mathematicians of the period, Omar Khayyám was also famous as an astronomer.  Omar Khayyam was part of a panel that introduced several reforms to the Persian calendar, largely based on ideas from the Hindu calendar. On March 15, 1079, Sultan Malik Shah I accepted this corrected calendar as the official Persian calendar.  Omar Khayyám also built a star map (now lost), which was famous in the Persian and Islamic world.

It is said that Omar Khayyam also estimated and proved to an audience that included the then-prestigious and most respected scholar Imam Ghazali, that the universe is not moving around earth as was believed by all at that time. By constructing a revolving platform and simple arrangement of the star charts lit by candles around the circular walls of the room, he demonstrated that earth revolves on its axis, bringing into view different constellations throughout the night and day (completing a one-day cycle). He also elaborated that stars are stationary objects in space which, if moving around earth, would have been burnt to cinders due to their large mass. Some of these ideas may have been transmitted to Western science after the Renaissance.

Omar Khayyám’s poetic work has eclipsed his fame as a mathematician and scientist.

He is believed to have written about a thousand four-line verses or quatrains (rubaai’s). In the English-speaking world, he was introduced through the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám which are rather free-wheeling English translations by Edward FitzGerald (1809-1883).

Other translations of parts of the rubáiyát (rubáiyát meaning “quatrains”) exist, but FitzGerald’s are the most well known. Translations also exist in languages other than English.

Ironically, FitzGerald’s translations reintroduced Khayyam to Iranians “who had long ignored the Neishapouri poet.” A 1934 book by one of Iran’s most prominent writers, Sadeq Hedayat, Songs of Khayyam, (Taranehha-ye Khayyam) is said have “shaped the way a generation of Iranians viewed” the poet.

Omar Khayyam’s personal beliefs are not known with certainty, but much is discernible from his poetic oeuvre.

Despite strong Islamic training, it is clear that Omar Khayyam himself was undevout and had no sympathy with popular religion, but the verse: “Enjoy wine and women and don’t be afraid, God has compassion,” suggests that he wasn’t an atheist. Some religious Iranians have argued that Khayyam’s references to intoxication in the Rubaiyat were actually the intoxication of the religious worshiper with his Divine Beloved – a Sufi conceit. This however, is reportedly a minority opinion dismissed as wishful pious thinking by most Iranians.

It is almost certain that Khayyám objected to the notion that every particular event and phenomenon was the result of divine intervention. Nor did he believe in an afterlife with a Judgment Day or rewards and punishments. Instead, he supported the view that laws of nature explained all phenomena of observed life. One hostile orthodox account of him shows him as “versed in all the wisdom of the Greeks” and as insistent that studying science on Greek lines is necessary. He came into conflict with religious officials several times, and had to explain his views on Islam on multiple occasions; there is even one story about a treacherous pupil who tried to bring him into public odium. The contemporary Ibn al Kifti wrote that Omar Khayyam “performed pilgrimages not from piety but from fear” of his contemporaries who divined his unbelief.

Khayyám’s disdain of Islam in general and its various aspects such as eschatology, Islamic taboos and divine revelation are clearly visible in his writings, particularly the quatrains, which as a rule reflect his intrinsic conclusions describing those who claim to receive God’s word as maggot-minded fanatics.

Khayyam himself rejects to be associated with the title falsafi- (lit. philosopher) in the sense of Aristotelian one and stressed he wishes “to know who I am”. In the context of philosophers he was labeled by some of his contemporaries as “detached from divine blessings”.

Khayyam the philosopher could be understood from two rather distinct sources. One is through his Rubaiyat and the other through his own works in light of the intellectual and social conditions of his time.  The latter could be informed by the evaluations of Khayyam’s works by scholars and philosophers such as Bayhaqi, Nezami Aruzi, and Zamakhshari and also Sufi poets and writers Attar Nishapuri and Najmeddin Razi.

As a mathematician, Khayam has made fundamental contributions to the Philosophy of mathematics especially in the context of Persian Mathematics and Persian philosophy with which most of the other Persian scientists and philosophers such as Avicenna, Biruni, and Tusi are associated. There are at least three basic mathematical ideas of strong philosophical dimensions that can be associated with Khayyam.

Posted in Culture, Historic Figures, Literature, Poetry, Profiles, Religion, Science | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Hawking Says Asteroids Biggest Threats to Intelligent Life

Posted by jase on June 28, 2009

Stephen Hawking believes that one of the major factors in the possible scarcity of intelligent life in our galaxy is the high probability of an asteroid or comet colliding with inhabited planets. We have observed, Hawking points out in Life in the Universe, the collision of a comet, Schumacher-Levi, with Jupiter (below), which produced a series of enormous fireballs, plumes many thousands of kilometers high, hot “bubbles” of gas in the atmosphere, and large dark “scars” on the atmosphere which had lifetimes on the order of weeks. 

 

It is thought the collision of a rather smaller body with the Earth, about 70 million years ago, was responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs. A few small early mammals survived, but anything as large as a human, would have almost certainly been wiped out.

Through Earth’s history such collisions occur, on the average every one million year. If this figure is correct, it would mean that intelligent life on Earth has developed only because of the lucky chance that there have been no major collisions in the last 70 million years. Other planets in the galaxy, Hawking believes, on which life has developed, may not have had a long enough collision free period to evolve intelligent beings.

“The threat of the Earth being hit by an asteroid is increasingly being accepted as the single greatest natural disaster hazard faced by humanity,” according to Nick Bailey of the University of Southampton’s School of Engineering Sciences team, who has developed a threat identifying program.[ Image: Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 collision with Jupiter]

The team used raw data from multiple impact simulations to rank each country based on the number of times and how severely they would be affected by each impact. The software, called NEOimpactor (from NASA’s “NEO” or Near Earth Object program), has been specifically developed for measuring the impact of ‘small’ asteroids under one kilometer in diameter.

Early results indicate that in terms of population lost, China, Indonesia, India, Japan and the United States face the greatest overall threat; while the United States, China, Sweden, Canada and Japan face the most severe economic effects due to the infrastructure destroyed.

The top ten countries most at risk are China, Indonesia, India, Japan, the United States, the Philippines, Italy, the United Kingdom, Brazil and Nigeria.

“The consequences for human populations and infrastructure as a result of an impact are enormous,” says Bailey. “Nearly one hundred years ago a remote region near the Tunguska River witnessed the largest asteroid impact event in living memory when a relatively small object (approximately 50 meters in diameter) exploded in mid-air. While it only flattened unpopulated forest, had it exploded over London it could have devastated everything within the M25. Our results highlight those countries that face the greatest risk from this most global of natural hazards and thus indicate which nations need to be involved in mitigating the threat.”

What would happen to the human species and life on Earth in general if an asteroid the size of the one that created the famous K/T Event of 65 million years ago at the end of the Mesozoic Era that resulted in the extinction of the dinosaurs impacted our planet.

As Stephen Hawking says, the general consensus is that any comet or asteroid greater than 20 kilometers in diameter that strikes the Earth will result in the complete annihilation of complex life – animals and higher plants. (The asteroid Vesta, for example, one of the destinations of the Dawn Mission, is the size of Arizona).

How many times in our galaxy alone has life finally evolved to the equivalent of our planets and animals on some far distant planet, only to be utterly destroyed by an impact? Galactic history suggests it might be a common occurrence.

The first this to understand about the KT event is that is was absolutely enormous: an asteroid (or comet) six to 10 miles in diameter streaked through the Earth’s atmosphere at 25,000 miles an hour and struck the Yucatan region of Mexico with the force of 100 megatons -the equivalent of one Hiroshima bomb for every person alive on Earth today. Not a pretty scenario!

Recent calculations show that our planet would go into another “Snowball Earth” event like the one that occurred 600 million years ago, when it is believed the oceans froze over (although some scientists dispute this hypothesis -see link below).

While microbial bacteria might readily survive such calamitous impacts, our new understanding from the record of the Earth’s mass extinctions clearly shows that plants and animals are very susceptible to extinction in the wake of an impact.

Impact rates depend on how many comets and asteroids exist in a particular planetary system. In general there is one major impact every million years -a mere blink of the eye in geological time. It also depends on how often those objects are perturbed from safe orbits that parallel the Earth’s orbit to new, Earth-crossing orbits that might, sooner or later, result in a catastrophic K/T or Permian-type mass extinction.

The asteroid that hit Vredefort located in the Free State Province of South Africa is one of the largest to ever impact Earth, estimated at over 10 km (6 miles) wide, although it is believed by many that the original size of the impact structure could have been 250 km in diameter, or possibly larger(though the Wilkes Land crater in Antarctica, if confirmed to have been the result of an impact event, is even larger at 500 kilometers across). The town of Vredefort is situated in the crater (image).

Dating back 2,023 million years, it is the oldest astrobleme found on earth so far, with a radius of 190km, it is also the most deeply eroded. Vredefort Dome Vredefort bears witness to the world’s greatest known single energy release event, which caused devastating global change, including, according to many scientists, major evolutionary changes.

What has kept the Earth “safe” at least the past 65 million years, other than blind luck is the massive gravitational field of Jupiter, our cosmic guardian, with its stable circular orbit far from the sun, which assures a low number of impacts resulting in mass extinctions by sweeping up and scatters away most of the dangerous Earth-orbit-crossing comets and asteroids

Posted by Casey Kazan with Rebecca Sato

Note: This post was adapted from a news release issued by University of Southampton.

Source: http://www.rationalvedanta.net/node/131

Source: http://www.dailygalaxy.com

Posted in Earth, Extraterrestrial Life, Moon, NASA, Science, Space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Massive Solar Plane Will Fly For Years on End

Posted by jase on June 26, 2009

From Popular Science:

Nine days: That’s the longest any airplane has stayed in the air. Burt and Dick Rutan’s Voyager set the record in 1986 by flying 24,986 miles around the world without refueling. But nine days of uninterrupted flight won’t cut it for Darpa, the Pentagon’s advanced-research organization. It’s challenged the aviation industry to come up with an unmanned surveillance and communications plane that can circle targets for half a decade — and do so on nothing but solar power.

The aircraft you see here, Odysseus, was the first entry in the Vulture program, the competition Darpa created to make its extreme-endurance dreams come true. If the plane’s designers at Aurora Flight Sciences beat rival entries by Boeing and Lockheed — Darpa could pick a winner as early as this year — it will have the opportunity to make this concept into the real thing: a 492-foot-wide folding aircraft that can cruise at 140 mph at 70,000 feet for five years straight, powered by the solar panels that cover the top of the plane.

In fact, Odysseus is three planes in one, a collection of 164-foot-long wing-shaped constituent aircraft that take off separately and dock in the stratosphere, where the air is calmer and less stressful on the massive structure. (Aurora CEO John Langford says the company hasn’t chosen a docking mechanism yet but that it’s considering something based on the system that connected NASA’s Apollo command and lunar modules.) Each piece is interchangeable and can be swapped out in midair for repairs or upgrades. The three-piece construction allows Odysseus to autonomously change shape throughout the day to trap as much solar energy as it can. It could pleat like an accordion into a “Z” to absorb sunlight at low angles — at dusk, for example — and flatten into a more aerodynamically efficient traditional wing at night.

Catching as much sun as possible is essential, because energy — specifically, energy storage — is one of the biggest obstacles to solar flight, particularly solar flight that must continue without fail for years on end. Langford says Aurora is exploring storage methods, including flywheels, fuel cells and an array of batteries embedded throughout the airframe. The plane also needs to be light, so Aurora’s design relies on featherweight carbon composites. The huge craft could weigh in at under 7,000 pounds — approximately 2,000 pounds less than a fully fueled Voyager, which was less than a quarter of Odysseus‘s size.

Although it’s designed to be a surveillance platform, the lanky Odysseus would probably appear to the naked eye as a starlike glint, so it could be used for less-covert missions, such as patrolling a border or watching over suspected nuclear-reactor sites. And it could have civilian applications: Langford imagines it as an atmospheric buoy, monitoring storm development, climate change or the health of the ozone layer. Either way, he says, it would demonstrate the potential of solar power and serve as a testbed for green aircraft technology. “If we can build an airplane that can stay up for five years with nothing but sunlight,” he says, “what else can we do?”

Posted in Flight, NASA, Science, Solar Energy | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Is An Ugly Baby Harder to Love?

Posted by jase on June 24, 2009

Cher & Eric Stoltz in a scene from Mask

Cher & Eric Stoltz in a scene from 'Mask'

Moms might want to hang on to those Mother’s Day cards they got last month. There may not be much more familial goodwill forthcoming — at least not after kids get wind of a new study released by Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital and published in the online journal PloS One. Turns out that your mother’s feelings for you may not be the unconditional things you always assumed. It’s possible, researchers say, that the prettier you were when you were born, the more she loved you.

It’s never been a secret that beautiful people get more breaks than everyone else, nor that the bias may start in the nursery. An oft cited — and deeply disturbing — Israeli study once showed that 70% of abused or abandoned children had at least one apparent flaw in their appearance, which otherwise had no impact on their health or educability. McLean psychiatrist Dr. Igor Elman and postdoctoral student Rinah Yamamoto devised a study to explore that phenomenon more closely.

Elman and Yamamoto recruited 27 volunteers — 13 men and 14 women — and sat them at computer screens where they were randomly shown pictures of 50 healthy and attractive babies and 30 others with distinct facial irregularities such as a cleft palate or a skin condition. The volunteers were told that each picture would remain on the screen for four seconds but they could shorten that time by clicking one key or prolong it by clicking another. What the researchers wanted to learn, Elman explains, is how much effort people were willing to exert to look at pictures of pretty babies or avoid pictures of less pretty ones — and, importantly, what that implies.

Much of the answer, they found out, depends on the beholder’s sex. The men in the study were less likely than women to click off photos of unattractive babies — viewing them for the full four seconds — but clicked quite a bit to hold on to the images of the pretty ones. Their reactions were the same whether they had children of their own or not. Women, conversely, left the keyboard alone when they were looking at pretty babies but hurried away from the less attractive ones — with the results again not seeming to be influenced by whether or not they were mothers themselves.

“[Women] pressed the key 2.5 times as much to get rid of those pictures,” Elman says. “That’s highly statistically significant.”

Of all the things driving that response, the most primal one may be evolution. Parents devote a lot of resources to raising a child — food, time, money, love — and those assets are usually in finite supply. All animals, humans included, are hardwired to spend wisely, devoting the most energy to the offspring most likely to yield the highest genetic payoff; healthy, beautiful offspring are the best bet of all. Perhaps women, who still must do the lion’s share of childcare, are naturally more attuned to this trade-off than men are. “In general, men tend to be aesthetically oriented,” Elman says, “so they’ll press a lot to hold the beautiful babies on the screen. Women are more consequence-oriented.”

There are some potential holes in Elman’s work, all of which he acknowledges. For one thing, it’s possible women avoid the unattractive faces not because they’re less sensitive to them but because they’re more sensitive, simply finding the hardships endured by unhealthy babies too difficult to contemplate. Such highly tuned empathy can ultimately make them better caregivers, even if a four-second exposure to the idea is painful. “Everyone will try to get away from a stimulus that feels like a punishment and hold on to one that feels like a reward,” Elman says.

More important, the way people of either gender react to a picture of an anonymous child with physical abnormalities is likely to be radically different from the way they would react if that child were their own — something that is readily evident from all the disabled children on whom parents lavish love. Still, the fact that both parents and nonparents in Elman’s study reacted the same way to the pictures suggests that their responses are deeply ingrained and that they may be hard to mitigate simply by having children of their own.

The gender differences, by the way, don’t let fathers off the hook. Men may not have hurried to get the unattractive faces off the screen, but neither did they linger over them the way they did the attractive faces. In both cases, this suggests bias, and when the rubber hits the road of real childcare, parents of either sex may end up having similar instincts. More clarity should come when Elman conducts the next phase of his work: running the same experiment but hooking the subjects up to brain scans throughout it. This will make it far easier to see just which areas of the brain are activated when viewing the pictures and, by implication, which feelings and motivations are being evoked. Until then, both Mom and Dad — who already have enough to worry about — should probably get the benefit of the doubt.

Posted in Biology, Culture, Infants, Medical, Men, Society | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »