Arquivo da tag: Cognição

Why Physicists Are Saying Consciousness Is A State Of Matter, Like a Solid, A Liquid Or A Gas (The Physics arXiv Blog)

Why Physicists Are Saying Consciousness Is A State Of Matter, Like a Solid, A Liquid Or A Gas

A new way of thinking about consciousness is sweeping through science like wildfire. Now physicists are using it to formulate the problem of consciousness in concrete mathematical terms for the first time

The Physics arXiv Blog

There’s a quiet revolution underway in theoretical physics. For as long as the discipline has existed, physicists have been reluctant to discuss consciousness, considering it a topic for quacks and charlatans. Indeed, the mere mention of the ‘c’ word could ruin careers.

That’s finally beginning to change thanks to a fundamentally new way of thinking about consciousness that is spreading like wildfire through the theoretical physics community. And while the problem of consciousness is far from being solved, it is finally being formulated mathematically as a set of problems that researchers can understand, explore and discuss.

Today, Max Tegmark, a theoretical physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, sets out the fundamental problems that this new way of thinking raises. He shows how these problems can be formulated in terms of quantum mechanics and information theory. And he explains how thinking about consciousness in this way leads to precise questions about the nature of reality that the scientific process of experiment might help to tease apart.

Tegmark’s approach is to think of consciousness as a state of matter, like a solid, a liquid or a gas. “I conjecture that consciousness can be understood as yet another state of matter. Just as there are many types of liquids, there are many types of consciousness,” he says.

He goes on to show how the particular properties of consciousness might arise from the physical laws that govern our universe. And he explains how these properties allow physicists to reason about the conditions under which consciousness arises and how we might exploit it to better understand why the world around us appears as it does.

Interestingly, the new approach to consciousness has come from outside the physics community, principally from neuroscientists such as Giulio Tononi at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

In 2008, Tononi proposed that a system demonstrating consciousness must have two specific traits. First, the system must be able to store and process large amounts of information. In other words consciousness is essentially a phenomenon of information.

And second, this information must be integrated in a unified whole so that it is impossible to divide into independent parts. That reflects the experience that each instance of consciousness is a unified whole that cannot be decomposed into separate components.

Both of these traits can be specified mathematically allowing physicists like Tegmark to reason about them for the first time. He begins by outlining the basic properties that a conscious system must have.

Given that it is a phenomenon of information, a conscious system must be able to store in a memory and retrieve it efficiently.

It must also be able to to process this data, like a computer but one that is much more flexible and powerful than the silicon-based devices we are familiar with.

Tegmark borrows the term computronium to describe matter that can do this and cites other work showing that today’s computers underperform the theoretical limits of computing by some 38 orders of magnitude.

Clearly, there is so much room for improvement that allows for the performance of conscious systems.

Next, Tegmark discusses perceptronium, defined as the most general substance that feels subjectively self-aware. This substance should not only be able to store and process information but in a way that forms a unified, indivisible whole. That also requires a certain amount of independence in which the information dynamics is determined from within rather than externally.

Finally, Tegmark uses this new way of thinking about consciousness as a lens through which to study one of the fundamental problems of quantum mechanics known as the quantum factorisation problem.

This arises because quantum mechanics describes the entire universe using three mathematical entities: an object known as a Hamiltonian that describes the total energy of the system; a density matrix that describes the relationship between all the quantum states in the system; and Schrodinger’s equation which describes how these things change with time.

The problem is that when the entire universe is described in these terms, there are an infinite number of mathematical solutions that include all possible quantum mechanical outcomes and many other even more exotic possibilities.

So the problem is why we perceive the universe as the semi-classical, three dimensional world that is so familiar. When we look at a glass of iced water, we perceive the liquid and the solid ice cubes as independent things even though they are intimately linked as part of the same system. How does this happen? Out of all possible outcomes, why do we perceive this solution?

Tegmark does not have an answer. But what’s fascinating about his approach is that it is formulated using the language of quantum mechanics in a way that allows detailed scientific reasoning. And as a result it throws up all kinds of new problems that physicists will want to dissect in more detail.

Take for example, the idea that the information in a conscious system must be unified. That means the system must contain error-correcting codes that allow any subset of up to half the information to be reconstructed from the rest.

Tegmark points out that any information stored in a special network known as a Hopfield neural net automatically has this error-correcting facility. However, he calculates that a Hopfield net about the size of the human brain with 10^11 neurons, can only store 37 bits of integrated information.

“This leaves us with an integration paradox: why does the information content of our conscious experience appear to be vastly larger than 37 bits?” asks Tegmark.

That’s a question that many scientists might end up pondering in detail. For Tegmark, this paradox suggests that his mathematical formulation of consciousness is missing a vital ingredient. “This strongly implies that the integration principle must be supplemented by at least one additional principle,” he says. Suggestions please in the comments section!

And yet the power of this approach is in the assumption that consciousness does not lie beyond our ken; that there is no “secret sauce” without which it cannot be tamed.

At the beginning of the 20th century, a group of young physicists embarked on a quest to explain a few strange but seemingly small anomalies in our understanding of the universe. In deriving the new theories of relativity and quantum mechanics, they ended up changing the way we comprehend the cosmos. These physcists, at least some of them, are now household names.

Could it be that a similar revolution is currently underway at the beginning of the 21st century?

Ref:arxiv.org/abs/1401.1219: Consciousness as a State of Matter

Direct brain interface between humans (Science Daily)

Date: November 5, 2014

Source: University of Washington

Summary: Researchers have successfully replicated a direct brain-to-brain connection between pairs of people as part of a scientific study following the team’s initial demonstration a year ago. In the newly published study, which involved six people, researchers were able to transmit the signals from one person’s brain over the Internet and use these signals to control the hand motions of another person within a split second of sending that signal.

In this photo, UW students Darby Losey, left, and Jose Ceballos are positioned in two different buildings on campus as they would be during a brain-to-brain interface demonstration. The sender, left, thinks about firing a cannon at various points throughout a computer game. That signal is sent over the Web directly to the brain of the receiver, right, whose hand hits a touchpad to fire the cannon.Mary Levin, U of Wash. Credit: Image courtesy of University of Washington

Sometimes, words just complicate things. What if our brains could communicate directly with each other, bypassing the need for language?

University of Washington researchers have successfully replicated a direct brain-to-brain connection between pairs of people as part of a scientific study following the team’s initial demonstration a year ago. In the newly published study, which involved six people, researchers were able to transmit the signals from one person’s brain over the Internet and use these signals to control the hand motions of another person within a split second of sending that signal.

At the time of the first experiment in August 2013, the UW team was the first to demonstrate two human brains communicating in this way. The researchers then tested their brain-to-brain interface in a more comprehensive study, published Nov. 5 in the journal PLOS ONE.

“The new study brings our brain-to-brain interfacing paradigm from an initial demonstration to something that is closer to a deliverable technology,” said co-author Andrea Stocco, a research assistant professor of psychology and a researcher at UW’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences. “Now we have replicated our methods and know that they can work reliably with walk-in participants.”

Collaborator Rajesh Rao, a UW associate professor of computer science and engineering, is the lead author on this work.

The research team combined two kinds of noninvasive instruments and fine-tuned software to connect two human brains in real time. The process is fairly straightforward. One participant is hooked to an electroencephalography machine that reads brain activity and sends electrical pulses via the Web to the second participant, who is wearing a swim cap with a transcranial magnetic stimulation coil placed near the part of the brain that controls hand movements.

Using this setup, one person can send a command to move the hand of the other by simply thinking about that hand movement.

The UW study involved three pairs of participants. Each pair included a sender and a receiver with different roles and constraints. They sat in separate buildings on campus about a half mile apart and were unable to interact with each other in any way — except for the link between their brains.

Each sender was in front of a computer game in which he or she had to defend a city by firing a cannon and intercepting rockets launched by a pirate ship. But because the senders could not physically interact with the game, the only way they could defend the city was by thinking about moving their hand to fire the cannon.

Across campus, each receiver sat wearing headphones in a dark room — with no ability to see the computer game — with the right hand positioned over the only touchpad that could actually fire the cannon. If the brain-to-brain interface was successful, the receiver’s hand would twitch, pressing the touchpad and firing the cannon that was displayed on the sender’s computer screen across campus.

Researchers found that accuracy varied among the pairs, ranging from 25 to 83 percent. Misses mostly were due to a sender failing to accurately execute the thought to send the “fire” command. The researchers also were able to quantify the exact amount of information that was transferred between the two brains.

Another research team from the company Starlab in Barcelona, Spain, recently published results in the same journal showing direct communication between two human brains, but that study only tested one sender brain instead of different pairs of study participants and was conducted offline instead of in real time over the Web.

Now, with a new $1 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation, the UW research team is taking the work a step further in an attempt to decode and transmit more complex brain processes.

With the new funding, the research team will expand the types of information that can be transferred from brain to brain, including more complex visual and psychological phenomena such as concepts, thoughts and rules.

They’re also exploring how to influence brain waves that correspond with alertness or sleepiness. Eventually, for example, the brain of a sleepy airplane pilot dozing off at the controls could stimulate the copilot’s brain to become more alert.

The project could also eventually lead to “brain tutoring,” in which knowledge is transferred directly from the brain of a teacher to a student.

“Imagine someone who’s a brilliant scientist but not a brilliant teacher. Complex knowledge is hard to explain — we’re limited by language,” said co-author Chantel Prat, a faculty member at the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences and a UW assistant professor of psychology.

Other UW co-authors are Joseph Wu of computer science and engineering; Devapratim Sarma and Tiffany Youngquist of bioengineering; and Matthew Bryan, formerly of the UW.

The research published in PLOS ONE was initially funded by the U.S. Army Research Office and the UW, with additional support from the Keck Foundation.


Journal Reference:

  1. Rajesh P. N. Rao, Andrea Stocco, Matthew Bryan, Devapratim Sarma, Tiffany M. Youngquist, Joseph Wu, Chantel S. Prat. A Direct Brain-to-Brain Interface in Humans. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (11): e111332 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0111332

Denying problems when we don’t like the political solutions (Duke University)

6-Nov-2014

Steve Hartsoe

Duke study sheds light on why conservatives, liberals disagree so vehemently

DURHAM, N.C. — There may be a scientific answer for why conservatives and liberals disagree so vehemently over the existence of issues like climate change and specific types of crime.

A new study from Duke University finds that people will evaluate scientific evidence based on whether they view its policy implications as politically desirable. If they don’t, then they tend to deny the problem even exists.

“Logically, the proposed solution to a problem, such as an increase in government regulation or an extension of the free market, should not influence one’s belief in the problem. However, we find it does,” said co-author Troy Campbell, a Ph.D. candidate at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. “The cure can be more immediately threatening than the problem.”

The study, “Solution Aversion: On the Relation Between Ideology and Motivated Disbelief,” appears in the November issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (viewable athttp://psycnet.apa.org/journals/psp/107/5/809/).

The researchers conducted three experiments (with samples ranging from 120 to 188 participants) on three different issues — climate change, air pollution that harms lungs, and crime.

“The goal was to test, in a scientifically controlled manner, the question: Does the desirability of a solution affect beliefs in the existence of the associated problem? In other words, does what we call ‘solution aversion’ exist?” Campbell said.

“We found the answer is yes. And we found it occurs in response to some of the most common solutions for popularly discussed problems.”

For climate change, the researchers conducted an experiment to examine why more Republicans than Democrats seem to deny its existence, despite strong scientific evidence that supports it.

One explanation, they found, may have more to do with conservatives’ general opposition to the most popular solution — increasing government regulation — than with any difference in fear of the climate change problem itself, as some have proposed.

Participants in the experiment, including both self-identified Republicans and Democrats, read a statement asserting that global temperatures will rise 3.2 degrees in the 21st century. They were then asked to evaluate a proposed policy solution to address the warming.

When the policy solution emphasized a tax on carbon emissions or some other form of government regulation, which is generally opposed by Republican ideology, only 22 percent of Republicans said they believed the temperatures would rise at least as much as indicated by the scientific statement they read.

But when the proposed policy solution emphasized the free market, such as with innovative green technology, 55 percent of Republicans agreed with the scientific statement.

For Democrats, the same experiment recorded no difference in their belief, regardless of the proposed solution to climate change.

“Recognizing this effect is helpful because it allows researchers to predict not just what problems people will deny, but who will likely deny each problem,” said co-author Aaron Kay, an associate professor at Fuqua. “The more threatening a solution is to a person, the more likely that person is to deny the problem.”

The researchers found liberal-leaning individuals exhibited a similar aversion to solutions they viewed as politically undesirable in an experiment involving violent home break-ins. When the proposed solution called for looser versus tighter gun-control laws, those with more liberal gun-control ideologies were more likely to downplay the frequency of violent home break-ins.

“We should not just view some people or group as anti-science, anti-fact or hyper-scared of any problems,” Kay said. “Instead, we should understand that certain problems have particular solutions that threaten some people and groups more than others. When we realize this, we understand those who deny the problem more and we improve our ability to better communicate with them.”

Campbell added that solution aversion can help explain why political divides become so divisive and intractable.

“We argue that the political divide over many issues is just that, it’s political,” Campbell said. “These divides are not explained by just one party being more anti-science, but the fact that in general people deny facts that threaten their ideologies, left, right or center.”

The researchers noted there are additional factors that can influence how people see the policy implications of science. Additional research using larger samples and more specific methods would provide an even clearer picture, they said.

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The study was funded by The Fuqua School of Business.

CITATION: Troy Campbell, Aaron Kay, Duke University (2014). “Solution Aversion: On the Relation Between Ideology and Motivated Disbelief.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 107(5), 809-824.http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0037963

How learning to talk is in the genes (Science Daily)

Date: September 16, 2014

Source: University of Bristol

Summary: Researchers have found evidence that genetic factors may contribute to the development of language during infancy. Scientists discovered a significant link between genetic changes near the ROBO2 gene and the number of words spoken by children in the early stages of language development.


Researchers have found evidence that genetic factors may contribute to the development of language during infancy. Credit: © witthaya / Fotolia

Researchers have found evidence that genetic factors may contribute to the development of language during infancy.

Scientists from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol worked with colleagues around the world to discover a significant link between genetic changes near the ROBO2 gene and the number of words spoken by children in the early stages of language development.

Children produce words at about 10 to 15 months of age and our range of vocabulary expands as we grow — from around 50 words at 15 to 18 months, 200 words at 18 to 30 months, 14,000 words at six-years-old and then over 50,000 words by the time we leave secondary school.

The researchers found the genetic link during the ages of 15 to 18 months when toddlers typically communicate with single words only before their linguistic skills advance to two-word combinations and more complex grammatical structures.

The results, published in Nature Communications today [16 Sept], shed further light on a specific genetic region on chromosome 3, which has been previously implicated in dyslexia and speech-related disorders.

The ROBO2 gene contains the instructions for making the ROBO2 protein. This protein directs chemicals in brain cells and other neuronal cell formations that may help infants to develop language but also to produce sounds.

The ROBO2 protein also closely interacts with other ROBO proteins that have previously been linked to problems with reading and the storage of speech sounds.

Dr Beate St Pourcain, who jointly led the research with Professor Davey Smith at the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit, said: “This research helps us to better understand the genetic factors which may be involved in the early language development in healthy children, particularly at a time when children speak with single words only, and strengthens the link between ROBO proteins and a variety of linguistic skills in humans.”

Dr Claire Haworth, one of the lead authors, based at the University of Warwick, commented: “In this study we found that results using DNA confirm those we get from twin studies about the importance of genetic influences for language development. This is good news as it means that current DNA-based investigations can be used to detect most of the genetic factors that contribute to these early language skills.”

The study was carried out by an international team of scientists from the EArly Genetics and Lifecourse Epidemiology Consortium (EAGLE) and involved data from over 10,000 children.

Journal Reference:
  1. Beate St Pourcain, Rolieke A.M. Cents, Andrew J.O. Whitehouse, Claire M.A. Haworth, Oliver S.P. Davis, Paul F. O’Reilly, Susan Roulstone, Yvonne Wren, Qi W. Ang, Fleur P. Velders, David M. Evans, John P. Kemp, Nicole M. Warrington, Laura Miller, Nicholas J. Timpson, Susan M. Ring, Frank C. Verhulst, Albert Hofman, Fernando Rivadeneira, Emma L. Meaburn, Thomas S. Price, Philip S. Dale, Demetris Pillas, Anneli Yliherva, Alina Rodriguez, Jean Golding, Vincent W.V. Jaddoe, Marjo-Riitta Jarvelin, Robert Plomin, Craig E. Pennell, Henning Tiemeier, George Davey Smith. Common variation near ROBO2 is associated with expressive vocabulary in infancy. Nature Communications, 2014; 5: 4831 DOI:10.1038/ncomms5831

Number-crunching could lead to unethical choices, says new study (Science Daily)

Date: September 15, 2014

Source: University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management

Summary: Calculating the pros and cons of a potential decision is a way of decision-making. But repeated engagement with numbers-focused calculations, especially those involving money, can have unintended negative consequences.


Calculating the pros and cons of a potential decision is a way of decision-making. But repeated engagement with numbers-focused calculations, especially those involving money, can have unintended negative consequences, including social and moral transgressions, says new study co-authored by a professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

Based on several experiments, researchers concluded that people in a “calculative mindset” as a result of number-crunching are more likely to analyze non-numerical problems mathematically and not take into account social, moral or interpersonal factors.

“Performing calculations, whether related to money or not, seemed to encourage people to engage in unethical behaviors to better themselves,” says Chen-Bo Zhong, an associate professor of organizational behavior and human resource management at the Rotman School, who co-authored the study with Long Wang of City University of Hong Kong and J. Keith Murnighan from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Participants in a set of experiments displayed significantly more selfish behavior in games where they could opt to promote their self-interest over a stranger’s after exposure to a lesson on a calculative economics concept. Participants who were instead given a history lesson on the industrial revolution were less likely to behave selfishly in the subsequent games. A similar but lesser effect was found when participants were first asked to solve math problems instead of verbal problems before playing the games. Furthermore, the effect could potentially be reduced by making non-numerical values more prominent. The study showed less self-interested behavior when participants were shown pictures of families after calculations.

The results may provide further insight into why economics students have shown more self-interested behavior in previous studies examining whether business or economics education contributes to unethical corporate activity, the researchers wrote.

The study was published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

Journal Reference:

  1. Long Wang, Chen-Bo Zhong, J. Keith Murnighan. The social and ethical consequences of a calculative mindset. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 2014; 125 (1): 39 DOI: 10.1016/j.obhdp.2014.05.004

Teoria quântica, múltiplos universos, e o destino da consciência humana após a morte (Biocentrismo, Robert Lanza)

[Nota do editor do blogue: o título da matéria em português não é fiel ao título original em inglês, e tem caráter sensacionalista. Por ser este blogue uma hemeroteca, não alterei o título.]

Cientistas comprovam a reencarnação humana (Duniverso)

s/d; acessado em 14 de setembro de 2014. Desde que o mundo é mundo discutimos e tentamos descobrir o que existe além da morte. Desta vez a ciência quântica explica e comprova que existe sim vida (não física) após a morte de qualquer ser humano. Um livro intitulado “O biocentrismo: Como a vida e a consciência são as chaves para entender a natureza do Universo” “causou” na Internet, porque continha uma noção de que a vida não acaba quando o corpo morre e que pode durar para sempre. O autor desta publicação o cientista Dr. Robert Lanza, eleito o terceiro mais importante cientista vivo pelo NY Times, não tem dúvidas de que isso é possível.

Além do tempo e do espaço

Lanza é um especialista em medicina regenerativa e diretor científico da Advanced Cell Technology Company. No passado ficou conhecido por sua extensa pesquisa com células-tronco e também por várias experiências bem sucedidas sobre clonagem de espécies animais ameaçadas de extinção. Mas não há muito tempo, o cientista se envolveu com física, mecânica quântica e astrofísica. Esta mistura explosiva deu à luz a nova teoria do biocentrismo que vem pregando desde então. O biocentrismo ensina que a vida e a consciência são fundamentais para o universo. É a consciência que cria o universo material e não o contrário. Lanza aponta para a estrutura do próprio universo e diz que as leis, forças e constantes variações do universo parecem ser afinadas para a vida, ou seja, a inteligência que existia antes importa muito. Ele também afirma que o espaço e o tempo não são objetos ou coisas mas sim ferramentas de nosso entendimento animal. Lanza diz que carregamos o espaço e o tempo em torno de nós “como tartarugas”, o que significa que quando a casca sai, espaço e tempo ainda existem. ciencia-quantica-comprova-reencarnacao

A teoria sugere que a morte da consciência simplesmente não existe. Ele só existe como um pensamento porque as pessoas se identificam com o seu corpo. Eles acreditam que o corpo vai morrer mais cedo ou mais tarde, pensando que a sua consciência vai desaparecer também. Se o corpo gera a consciência então a consciência morre quando o corpo morre. Mas se o corpo recebe a consciência da mesma forma que uma caixa de tv a cabo recebe sinais de satélite então é claro que a consciência não termina com a morte do veículo físico. Na verdade a consciência existe fora das restrições de tempo e espaço. Ele é capaz de estar em qualquer lugar: no corpo humano e no exterior de si mesma. Em outras palavras é não-local, no mesmo sentido que os objetos quânticos são não-local. Lanza também acredita que múltiplos universos podem existir simultaneamente. Em um universo o corpo pode estar morto e em outro continua a existir, absorvendo consciência que migraram para este universo. Isto significa que uma pessoa morta enquanto viaja através do mesmo túnel acaba não no inferno ou no céu, mas em um mundo semelhante a ele ou ela que foi habitado, mas desta vez vivo. E assim por diante, infinitamente, quase como um efeito cósmico vida após a morte.

Vários mundos

Não são apenas meros mortais que querem viver para sempre mas também alguns cientistas de renome têm a mesma opinião de Lanza. São os físicos e astrofísicos que tendem a concordar com a existência de mundos paralelos e que sugerem a possibilidade de múltiplos universos. Multiverso (multi-universo) é o conceito científico da teoria que eles defendem. Eles acreditam que não existem leis físicas que proibiriam a existência de mundos paralelos.

ciencia-quantica-comprova-reencarnacao-2

O primeiro a falar sobre isto foi o escritor de ficção científica HG Wells em 1895 com o livro “The Door in the Wall“. Após 62 anos essa ideia foi desenvolvida pelo Dr. Hugh Everett em sua tese de pós-graduação na Universidade de Princeton. Basicamente postula que, em determinado momento o universo se divide em inúmeros casos semelhantes e no momento seguinte, esses universos “recém-nascidos” dividem-se de forma semelhante. Então em alguns desses mundos que podemos estar presentes, lendo este artigo em um universo e assistir TV em outro. Na década de 1980 Andrei Linde cientista do Instituto de Física da Lebedev, desenvolveu a teoria de múltiplos universos. Agora como professor da Universidade de Stanford, Linde explicou: o espaço consiste em muitas esferas de insuflar que dão origem a esferas semelhantes, e aqueles, por sua vez, produzem esferas em números ainda maiores e assim por diante até o infinito. No universo eles são separados. Eles não estão cientes da existência do outro mas eles representam partes de um mesmo universo físico. A física Laura Mersini Houghton da Universidade da Carolina do Norte com seus colegas argumentam: as anomalias do fundo do cosmos existe devido ao fato de que o nosso universo é influenciado por outros universos existentes nas proximidades e que buracos e falhas são um resultado direto de ataques contra nós por universos vizinhos.

Alma

Assim, há abundância de lugares ou outros universos onde a nossa alma poderia migrar após a morte, de acordo com a teoria de neo biocentrismo. Mas será que a alma existe? Existe alguma teoria científica da consciência que poderia acomodar tal afirmação? Segundo o Dr. Stuart Hameroff uma experiência de quase morte acontece quando a informação quântica que habita o sistema nervoso deixa o corpo e se dissipa no universo. Ao contrário do que defendem os materialistas Dr. Hameroff oferece uma explicação alternativa da consciência que pode, talvez, apelar para a mente científica racional e intuições pessoais. A consciência reside, de acordo com Stuart e o físico britânico Sir Roger Penrose, nos microtúbulos das células cerebrais que são os sítios primários de processamento quântico. Após a morte esta informação é liberada de seu corpo, o que significa que a sua consciência vai com ele. Eles argumentaram que a nossa experiência da consciência é o resultado de efeitos da gravidade quântica nesses microtúbulos, uma teoria que eles batizaram Redução Objetiva Orquestrada. Consciência ou pelo menos proto consciência é teorizada por eles para ser uma propriedade fundamental do universo, presente até mesmo no primeiro momento do universo durante o Big Bang. “Em uma dessas experiências conscientes comprova-se que o proto esquema é uma propriedade básica da realidade física acessível a um processo quântico associado com atividade cerebral.” Nossas almas estão de fato construídas a partir da própria estrutura do universo e pode ter existido desde o início dos tempos. Nossos cérebros são apenas receptores e amplificadores para a proto-consciência que é intrínseca ao tecido do espaço-tempo. Então, há realmente uma parte de sua consciência que é não material e vai viver após a morte de seu corpo físico. ciencia-quantica-comprova-reencarnacao-3

Dr. Hameroff disse ao Canal Science através do documentário Wormhole: “Vamos dizer que o coração pare de bater, o sangue pare de fluir e os microtúbulos percam seu estado quântico. A informação quântica dentro dos microtúbulos não é destruída, não pode ser destruída, ele só distribui e se dissipa com o universo como um todo.” Robert Lanza acrescenta aqui que não só existem em um único universo, ela existe talvez, em outro universo. Se o paciente é ressuscitado, esta informação quântica pode voltar para os microtúbulos e o paciente diz: “Eu tive uma experiência de quase morte”. Ele acrescenta: “Se ele não reviveu e o paciente morre é possível que esta informação quântica possa existir fora do corpo talvez indefinidamente, como uma alma.” Esta conta de consciência quântica explica coisas como experiências de quase morte, projeção astral, experiências fora do corpo e até mesmo a reencarnação sem a necessidade de recorrer a ideologia religiosa. A energia de sua consciência potencialmente é reciclada de volta em um corpo diferente em algum momento e nesse meio tempo ela existe fora do corpo físico em algum outro nível de realidade e possivelmente, em outro universo.

E você o que acha? Concorda com Lanza?

Grande abraço!

Indicação: Pedro Lopes Martins Artigo publicado originalmente em inglês no site SPIRIT SCIENCE AND METAPHYSICS.

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Scientists Claim That Quantum Theory Proves Consciousness Moves To Another Universe At Death

STEVEN BANCARZ, JANUARY 7, 2014

A book titled “Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness Are the Keys to Understanding the Nature of the Universe“ has stirred up the Internet, because it contained a notion that life does not end when the body dies, and it can last forever. The author of this publication, scientist Dr. Robert Lanza who was voted the 3rd most important scientist alive by the NY Times, has no doubts that this is possible.

Lanza is an expert in regenerative medicine and scientific director of Advanced Cell Technology Company. Before he has been known for his extensive research which dealt with stem cells, he was also famous for several successful experiments on cloning endangered animal species. But not so long ago, the scientist became involved with physics, quantum mechanics and astrophysics. This explosive mixture has given birth to the new theory of biocentrism, which the professor has been preaching ever since.  Biocentrism teaches that life and consciousness are fundamental to the universe.  It is consciousness that creates the material universe, not the other way around. Lanza points to the structure of the universe itself, and that the laws, forces, and constants of the universe appear to be fine-tuned for life, implying intelligence existed prior to matter.  He also claims that space and time are not objects or things, but rather tools of our animal understanding.  Lanza says that we carry space and time around with us “like turtles with shells.” meaning that when the shell comes off (space and time), we still exist. The theory implies that death of consciousness simply does not exist.   It only exists as a thought because people identify themselves with their body. They believe that the body is going to perish, sooner or later, thinking their consciousness will disappear too.  If the body generates consciousness, then consciousness dies when the body dies.  But if the body receives consciousness in the same way that a cable box receives satellite signals, then of course consciousness does not end at the death of the physical vehicle. In fact, consciousness exists outside of constraints of time and space. It is able to be anywhere: in the human body and outside of it. In other words, it is non-local in the same sense that quantum objects are non-local. Lanza also believes that multiple universes can exist simultaneously.  In one universe, the body can be dead. And in another it continues to exist, absorbing consciousness which migrated into this universe.  This means that a dead person while traveling through the same tunnel ends up not in hell or in heaven, but in a similar world he or she once inhabited, but this time alive. And so on, infinitely.  It’s almost like a cosmic Russian doll afterlife effect.

Multiple worlds

This hope-instilling, but extremely controversial theory by Lanza has many unwitting supporters, not just mere mortals who want to live forever, but also some well-known scientists. These are the physicists and astrophysicists who tend to agree with existence of parallel worlds and who suggest the possibility of multiple universes. Multiverse (multi-universe) is a so-called scientific concept, which they defend. They believe that no physical laws exist which would prohibit the existence of parallel worlds. The first one was a science fiction writer H.G. Wells who proclaimed in 1895 in his story “The Door in the Wall”.  And after 62 years, this idea was developed by Dr. Hugh Everett in his graduate thesis at the Princeton University. It basically posits that at any given moment the universe divides into countless similar instances. And the next moment, these “newborn” universes split in a similar fashion. In some of these worlds you may be present: reading this article in one universe, or watching TV in another. The triggering factor for these multiplyingworlds is our actions, explained Everett. If we make some choices, instantly one universe splits into two with different versions of outcomes. In the 1980s, Andrei Linde, scientist from the Lebedev’s Institute of physics, developed the theory of multiple universes. He is now a professor at Stanford University.  Linde explained: Space consists of many inflating spheres, which give rise to similar spheres, and those, in turn, produce spheres in even greater numbers, and so on to infinity. In the universe, they are spaced apart. They are not aware of each other’s existence. But they represent parts of the same physical universe. The fact that our universe is not alone is supported by data received from the Planck space telescope. Using the data, scientists have created the most accurate map of the microwave background, the so-called cosmic relic background radiation, which has remained since the inception of our universe. They also found that the universe has a lot of dark recesses represented by some holes and extensive gaps. Theoretical physicist Laura Mersini-Houghton from the North Carolina University with her colleagues argue: the anomalies of the microwave background exist due to the fact that our universe is influenced by other universes existing nearby. And holes and gaps are a direct result of attacks on us by neighboring universes.

Soul

So, there is abundance of places or other universes where our soul could migrate after death, according to the theory of neo-biocentrism. But does the soul exist?  Is there any scientific theory of consciousness that could accommodate such a claim?  According to Dr. Stuart Hameroff, a near-death experience happens when the quantum information that inhabits the nervous system leaves the body and dissipates into the universe.  Contrary to materialistic accounts of consciousness, Dr. Hameroff offers an alternative explanation of consciousness that can perhaps appeal to both the rational scientific mind and personal intuitions. Consciousness resides, according to Stuart and British physicist Sir Roger Penrose, in the microtubules of the brain cells, which are the primary sites of quantum processing.  Upon death, this information is released from your body, meaning that your consciousness goes with it. They have argued that our experience of consciousness is the result of quantum gravity effects in these microtubules, a theory which they dubbed orchestrated objective reduction (Orch-OR). Consciousness, or at least proto-consciousness is theorized by them to be a fundamental property of the universe, present even at the first moment of the universe during the Big Bang. “In one such scheme proto-conscious experience is a basic property of physical reality accessible to a quantum process associated with brain activity.” Our souls are in fact constructed from the very fabric of the universe – and may have existed since the beginning of time.  Our brains are just receivers and amplifiers for the proto-consciousness that is intrinsic to the fabric of space-time. So is there really a part of your consciousness that is non-material and will live on after the death of your physical body? Dr Hameroff told the Science Channel’s Through the Wormhole documentary: “Let’s say the heart stops beating, the blood stops flowing, the microtubules lose their quantum state. The quantum information within the microtubules is not destroyed, it can’t be destroyed, it just distributes and dissipates to the universe at large”.  Robert Lanza would add here that not only does it exist in the universe, it exists perhaps in another universe. If the patient is resuscitated, revived, this quantum information can go back into the microtubules and the patient says “I had a near death experience”‘

He adds: “If they’re not revived, and the patient dies, it’s possible that this quantum information can exist outside the body, perhaps indefinitely, as a soul.”

This account of quantum consciousness explains things like near-death experiences, astral projection, out of body experiences, and even reincarnation without needing to appeal to religious ideology.  The energy of your consciousness potentially gets recycled back into a different body at some point, and in the mean time it exists outside of the physical body on some other level of reality, and possibly in another universe. Robert Lanza on Biocentrism:

Sources: http://www.learning-mind.com/quantum-theory-proves-that-consciousness-moves-to-another-universe-after-death/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biocentric_universe http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2225190/Can-quantum-physics-explain-bizarre-experiences-patients-brought-brink-death.html#axzz2JyudSqhB http://www.news.com.au/news/quantum-scientists-offer-proof-soul-exists/story-fnenjnc3-1226507686757 http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/biocentrism/201112/does-the-soul-exist-evidence-says-yes http://www.hameroff.com/penrose-hameroff/fundamentality.html

– See more at: http://www.spiritscienceandmetaphysics.com/scientists-claim-that-quantum-theory-proves-consciousness-moves-to-another-universe-at-death/#sthash.QVylhCNb.dpuf

Physicists, alchemists, and ayahuasca shamans: A study of grammar and the body (Cultural Admixtures)

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Are there any common denominators that may underlie the practices of leading physicists and scientists, Renaissance alchemists, and indigenous Amazonian ayahuasca healers? There are obviously a myriad of things that these practices do not have in common. Yet through an analysis of the body and the senses and styles of grammar and social practice, these seemingly very different modes of existence may be triangulated to reveal a curious set of logics at play. Ways in which practitioners identify their subjectivities (or ‘self’) with nonhuman entities and ‘natural’ processes are detailed in the three contexts. A logic of identification illustrates similarities, and also differences, in the practices of advanced physics, Renaissance alchemy, and ayahuasca healing.

Physics and the “I” and “You” of experimentation

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A small group of physicists at a leading American university in the early 1990s are investigating magnetic temporality and atomic spins in a crystalline lattice; undertaking experiments within the field of condensed matter physics. The scientists collaborate together, presenting experimental or theoretical findings on blackboards, overhead projectors, printed pages and various other forms of visual media. Miguel, a researcher, describes to a colleague the experiments he has just conducted. He points down and then up across a visual representation of the experiment while describing an aspect of the experiment, “We lowered the field [and] raised the field”. In response, his collaborator Ron replies using what is a common type of informal scientific language. The language-style identifies, conflates, or brings-together the researcher with the object being researched. In the following reply, the pronoun ‘he’ refers to both Miguel and the object or process under investigation: Ron asks, “Is there a possibility that he hasn’t seen anything real? I mean is there a [he points to the diagram]“. Miguel sharply interjects “I-, i-, it is possible… I am amazed by his measurement because when I come down I’m in the domain state”. Here Miguel is referring to a physical process of temperature change; a cooling that moves ‘down’ to the ‘domain state’. Ron replies, “You quench from five to two tesla, a magnet, a superconducting magnet”.  What is central here in regards to the common denominators explored in this paper is the way in which the scientists collaborate with certain figurative styles of language that blur the borders between physicist and physical process or state.

The collaboration between Miguel and Ron was filmed and examined by linguistic ethnographers Elinor Ochs, Sally Jacoby, and Patrick Gonzales (1994, 1996:328).  In the experiment, the physicists, Ochs et al illustrate, refer to ‘themselves as the thematic agents and experiencers of [the physical] phenomena’ (Osch et al 1996:335). By employing the pronouns ‘you’, ‘he’, and ‘I’ to refer to the physical processes and states under investigation, the physicists identify their own subjectivities, bodies, and investigations with the objects they are studying.

In the physics laboratory, members are trying to understand physical worlds that are not directly accessible by any of their perceptual abilities. To bridge this gap, it seems, they take embodied interpretive journeys across and through see-able, touchable two-dimensional artefacts that conventionally symbolize those worlds… Their sensory-motor gesturing is a means not only of representing (possible) worlds but also of imagining or vicariously experiencing them… Through verbal and gestural (re)enactments of constructed physical processes, physicist and physical entity are conjoined in simultaneous, multiple constructed worlds: the here-and-now interaction, the visual representation, and the represented physical process. The indeterminate grammatical constructions, along with gestural journeys through visual displays, constitute physicist and physical entity as coexperiencers of dynamic processes and, therefore, as coreferents of the personal pronoun. (Ochs et al 1994:163,164)

When Miguel says “I am in the domain state” he is using a type of ‘private, informal scientific discourse’  that has been observed in many other types of scientific practice (Latour & Woolgar 1987; Gilbert & Mulkay 1984 ). This style of erudition and scientific collaboration obviously has become established in state-of-the-art universities given the utility that it provides in regards to empirical problems and the development of scientific ideas.

What could this style of practice have in common with the healing practices of Amazonian shamans drinking the powerful psychoactive brew ayahuasca? Before moving on to an analysis of grammar and the body in types of ayahuasca use, the practice of Renaissance alchemy is introduced given the bridge or resemblance it offers between these scientific practices and certain notions of healing.

Renaissance alchemy, “As above so below”

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Heinrich Khunrath: 1595 engraving Amphitheatre

Graduating from the Basel Medical Academy in 1588, the physician Heinrich Khunrath defended his thesis that concerns a particular development of the relationship between alchemy and medicine. Inspired by the works of key figures in Roman and Greek medicine, key alchemists and practitioners of the hermetic arts, and key botanists, philosophers and others, Khunrath went on to produced innovative and influential texts and illustrations that informed various trajectories in medical and occult practice.

Alchemy flourished in the Renaissance period and was draw upon by elites such as Queen Elizabeth I and the Holy Emperor of Rome, Rudolf II . Central to the practices of Renaissance alchemists was a belief that all metals sprang from one source deep within the earth and that this process may be reversed and every metal be potentially turned into gold. The process of ‘transmutation’ or reversal of nature, it was claimed, could also lead to the elixir of life, the philosopher’s stone, or eternal youth and immortality. It was a spiritual pursuit of purification and regeneration which depended heavily on natural science experimentation.

Alchemical experiments were typically undertaken in a laboratory and alchemists were often contracted by elites for pragmatic purposes related to mining, medical services, and the production of chemicals, metals, and gemstones (Nummedal 2007). Allison Coudert describes and distills the practice of Renaissance alchemy with a basic overview of the relationship between an alchemist and the ‘natural entities’ of his practice.

All the ingredients mentioned in alchemical recipes—the minerals, metals, acids, compounds, and mixtures—were in truth only one, the alchemist himself. He was the base matter in need of purification from the fire; and the acid needed to accomplish this transformation came from his own spiritual malaise and longing for wholeness and peace. The various alchemical processes… were steps in the mysterious process of spiritual regeneration. (cited in Hanegraaff 1996:395)

The physician-alchemist Khunrath worked within a laboratory/oratory that included various alchemical apparatuses, including ‘smelting equipment for the extraction of metal from ore… glass vessels, ovens… [a] furnace or athanor… [and] a mirror’. Khunrath spoke of using the mirror as a ‘physico-magical instrument for setting a coal or lamp-fire alight by the heat of the sun’ (Forshaw 2005:205). Urszula Szulakowska argues that this use of the mirror embodies the general alchemical process and purpose of Khunruth’s practice. The functions of his practice and his alchemical illustrations and glyphs (such as his engraving Amphitheatre above) are aimed towards various outcomes of transmutation or reversal of nature. Khunruth’s engravings and illustrations,  Szulakowska (2000:9) argues:

are intended to excite the imagination of the viewer so that a mystic alchemy can take place through the act of visual contemplation… Khunrath’s theatre of images, like a mirror, catoptrically reflects the celestial spheres to the human mind, awakening the empathetic faculty of the human spirit which unites, through the imagination, with the heavenly realms. Thus, the visual imagery of Khunrath’s treatises has become the alchemical quintessence, the spiritualized matter of the philosopher’s stone.

Khunrath called himself a ‘lover of both medicines’, referring to the inseparability of material and spiritual forms of medicine.  Illustrating the centrality of alchemical practice in his medical approach, he described his ‘down-to-earth Physical-Chemistry of Nature’ as:

[T]he art of chemically dissolving, purifying and rightly reuniting Physical Things by Nature’s method; the Universal (Macro-Cosmically, the Philosopher’s Stone; Micro-Cosmically, the parts of the human body…) and ALL the particulars of the inferior globe. (cited in Forshaw 2005:205).

In Renaissance alchemy there is a certain kind of laboratory visionary mixing that happens between the human body and the human temperaments and ‘entities’ and processes of the natural world. This is condensed in the hermetic dictum “As above, so below” where the signatures of nature (‘above’) may be found in the human body (‘below’). The experiments involved certain practices of perception, contemplation, and language, that were undertaken in laboratory settings.

The practice of Renaissance alchemy, illustrated in recipes, glyphs, and instructional texts, includes styles of grammar in which minerals, metals, and other natural entities are animated with subjectivity and human temperaments. Lead “wants” or “desires” to transmute into gold; antimony feels a wilful “attraction” to silver (Kaiser 2010; Waite 1894). This form of grammar is entailed in the doctrine of medico-alchemical practice described by Khunrath above. Under certain circumstances and conditions, minerals, metals, and other natural entities may embody aspects of ‘Yourself’, or the subjectivity of the alchemist, and vice versa.

Renaissance alchemical language and practice bares a certain level of resemblance to the contemporary practices of physicists and scientists and the ways in which they identify themselves with the objects and processes of their experiments. The methods of physicists appear to differ considerably insofar as they use metaphors and trade spiritual for figurative approaches when ‘journeying through’ cognitive tasks, embodied gestures, and visual representations of empirical or natural processes. It is no coincidence that contemporary state-of-the-art scientists are employing forms of alchemical language and practice in advanced types of experimentation. Alchemical and hermetic thought and practice were highly influential in the emergence of modern forms of science (Moran 2006; Newman 2006; Hanegraaff 2013).

Ayahuasca shamanism and shapeshifting

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Pablo Amaringo

In the Amazon jungle a radically different type of practice to the Renaissance alchemical traditions exists. Yet, as we will see, the practices of indigenous Amazonian shamans and Renaissance alchemists appear to include certain similarities — particularly in terms of the way in which ‘natural entities’ and the subjectivity of the practitioner may merge or swap positions — this is evidenced in the grammar and language of shamanic healing songs and in Amazonian cosmologies more generally.

In the late 1980s, Cambridge anthropologist Graham Townsley was undertaking PhD fieldwork with the indigenous Amazonian Yaminahua on the Yurua river. His research was focused on ways in which forms of social organisation are embedded in cosmology and the practice of everyday life. Yaminahua healing practices are embedded in broad animistic cosmological frames and at the centre of these healing practices is song. ‘What Yaminahua shamans do, above everything else, is sing’, Townsley explains, and this ritual singing is typically done while under the effects of the psychoactive concoction ayahuasca.

The psychoactive drink provides shamans with a means of drawing upon the healing assistance of benevolent spirit persons of the natural world (such as plant-persons, animal-persons, sun-persons etc.) and of banishing malevolent spirit persons that are affecting the wellbeing of a patient. The Yaminahua practice of ayahuasca shamanism resembles broader types of Amazonian shamanism. Shapeshifting, or the metamorphosis of human persons into nonhuman persons (such as jaguar-persons and anaconda-persons) is central to understandings of illness and to practices of healing in various types of Amazonian shamanism (Chaumeil 1992; Praet 2009; Riviere 1994).

The grammatical styles and sensory experiences of indigenous ayahuasca curing rituals and songs bare some similarities with the logic of identification noted in the sections on physics and alchemy above. Townsley (1993) describes a Yaminahua ritual where a shaman attempts to heal a patient that was still bleeding several days after giving birth. The healing songs that the shaman sings (called wai which also means ‘path’ and ‘myth’ orabodes of the spirits) make very little reference to the illness in which they are aimed to heal. The shaman’s songs do not communicate meanings to the patient but they embody complex metaphors and analogies, or what Yaminahua call ‘twisted language’; a language only comprehensible to shamans. There are ‘perceptual resemblances’ that inform the logic of Yaminahua twisted language. For example, “white-collared peccaries” becomes fish given the similarities between the gills of the fish and designs on the peccaries neck. The use of visual or sensory resonance in shamanic song metaphors is not arbitrary but central to the practice Yaminahua ayahuasca healing.

Ayahuasca typically produces a powerful visionary experience. The shaman’s use of complex metaphors in ritual song helps him shape his visions and bring a level of control to the visionary content. Resembling the common denominators and logic of identification explored above, the songs allow the shaman to perceive from the various perspectives that the meanings of the metaphors (or the spirits) afford.

Everything said about shamanic songs points to the fact that as they are sung the shaman actively visualizes the images referred to by the external analogy of the song, but he does this through a carefully controlled “seeing as” the different things actually named by the internal metaphors of his song. This “seeing as” in some way creates a space in which powerful visionary experience can occur. (Townsley 1993:460)

The use of analogies and metaphors provides a particularly powerful means of navigating the visionary experience of ayahuasca. There appears to be a kind of pragmatics involved in the use of metaphor over literal meanings. For instance, a shaman states, “twisted language brings me close but not too close [to the meanings of the metaphors]–with normal words I would crash into things–with twisted ones I circle around them–I can see them clearly” (Townsley 1993:460). Through this method of “seeing as”, the shaman embodies a variety of animal and nature spirits, or yoshi in Yaminahua, including anaconda-yoshi, jaguar-yoshi and solar or sun-yoshi, in order to perform acts of healing and various other shamanic activities.

While Yaminahua shamans use metaphors to control visions and shapeshift (or “see as”), they, and Amazonians more generally, reportedly understand shapeshifting in literal terms. For example, Lenaerts describes this notion of ‘seeing like the spirits’, and the ‘physical’ or literal view that the Ashéninka hold in regards to the practice of ayahuasca-induced shapeshifting.

What is at stake here is a temporary bodily process, whereby a human being assumes the embodied point of view of another species… There is no need to appeal to any sort of metaphoric sense here. A literal interpretation of this process of disembodiment/re-embodiment is absolutely consistent with all what an Ashéninka knowns and directly feels during this experience, in a quite physical sense. (2006, 13)

The practices of indigenous ayahuasca shamans are centred on an ability to shapeshift and ‘see nonhumans as they [nonhumans] see themselves’ (Viveiros de Castro 2004:468). Practitioners not only identify with nonhuman persons or ‘natural entities’ but they embody their point of view with the help of psychoactive plants and  ‘twisted language’ in song.

Some final thoughts

Through a brief exploration of techniques employed by advanced physicists, Renaissance alchemists, and Amazonian ayahuasca shamans, a logic of identification may be observed in which practitioners embody different means of transcending themselves and becoming the objects or spirits of their respective practices. While the physicists tend to embody secular principles and relate to this logic of identification in a purely figurative or metaphorical sense, Renaissance alchemists and Amazonian shamans embody epistemological stances that afford much more weight to the existential qualities and ‘persons’ or ‘spirits’ of their respective practices. A cognitive value in employing forms of language and sensory experience that momentarily take the practitioner beyond him or herself is evidenced by these three different practices. However, there is arguably more at stake here than values confined to cogito. The boundaries of bodies, subjectivities and humanness in each of these practices become porous, blurred, and are transcended while the contours of various forms of possibility are exposed, defined, and acted upon — possibilities that inform the outcomes of the practices and the definitions of the human they imply.

 References

Chaumeil, Jean-Pierre 1992, ‘Varieties of Amazonian shamanism’. Diogenes. Vol. 158 p.101
Forshaw, P. 2008 ‘”Paradoxes, Absurdities, and Madness”: Conflicts over Alchemy, Magic and Medicine in the Works of Andreas Libavius and Heinrich Khunrath. Early Science and Medicine. Vol. 1 pp.53
Forshaw, P. 2006 ‘Alchemy in the Amphitheatre: Some considerations of the alchemical content of the engravings in Heinrich Khunrath’s Amphitheatre of Eternal Wisdom’ in Jacob Wamberg Art and Alchemy. p.195-221
Gilbert, G. N. & Mulkay, M. 1984 Opening Bandora’s Box: A sociological analysis of scientists’ discourse. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press 
Hanegraaff, W. 2012 Esotericism and the Academy: Rejected knowledge in Western culture. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press
Hanegraaff, W. 1996 New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought. New York: SUNY Press
Latour, B. & Woolgar, S. 1987 Laboratory Life: The social construction of scientific facts. Cambridge, Harvard University Press
Lenaerts, M. 2006, ‘Substance, relationships and the omnipresence of the body: an overview of Ashéninka ethnomedicine (Western Amazonia)’ Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, Vol. 2, (1) 49 http://www.ethnobiomed.com/content/2/1/49
Moran, B. 2006 Distilling Knowledge: Alchemy, Chemistry, and the Scientific Revolution. Harvard, Harvard University Press
Newman, W. 2006 Atoms and Alchemy: Chymistry and the Experimental Origins of the Scientific Revolution. Chicago, Chicago University Press
Nummedal, T. 2007 Alchemy and Authroity in the Holy Roman Empire. Chicago, Chicago University Press
Ochs, E. Gonzales, P., Jacoby, S. 1996 ‘”When I come down I’m in the domain state”: grammar and graphic representation in the interpretive activities of physicists’ in Ochs, E., Schegloff, E. & Thompson, S (ed.)Interaction and Grammar. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press
Ochs, E. Gonzales, P., Jacoby, S 1994 ‘Interpretive Journeys: How Physicists Talk and Travel through Graphic Space’ Configurations. (1) p.151
Praet, I. 2009, ‘Shamanism and ritual in South America: an inquiry into Amerindian shape-shifting’. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. Vol. 15 pp.737-754
Riviere, P. 1994, ‘WYSINWYG in Amazonia’. Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford. Vol. 25
Szulakowska, U. 2000 The Alchemy of Light: Geometry and Optics in Late Renaissance Alchemical Illustration. Leiden, Brill Press
Townsley, G. 1993 ‘Song Paths: The ways and means of Yaminahua shamanic knowledge’. L’Hommee. Vol. 33 p. 449
Viveiros de Castro, E. 2004, ‘Exchanging perspectives: The Transformation of Objects into Subjects in Amerindian Ontologies’.Common Knowledge. Vol. 10 (3) pp.463-484
Waite, A. 1894 The Hermetic and Alchemical Writings of Aureolus Philippus Theophrastrus Bombast, of Hohenheim, called Paracelcus the Great. Cornell University Library, ebook

Nudge: The gentle science of good governance (New Scientist)

25 June 2013

Magazine issue 2922

NOT long before David Cameron became UK prime minister, he famously prescribed some holiday reading for his colleagues: a book modestly entitled Nudge.

Cameron wasn’t the only world leader to find it compelling. US president Barack Obama soon appointed one of its authors, Cass Sunstein, a social scientist at the University of Chicago, to a powerful position in the White House. And thus the nudge bandwagon began rolling. It has been picking up speed ever since (see “Nudge power: Big government’s little pushes“).

So what’s the big idea? We don’t always do what’s best for ourselves, thanks to cognitive biases and errors that make us deviate from rational self-interest. The premise of Nudge is that subtly offsetting or exploiting these biases can help people to make better choices.

If you live in the US or UK, you’re likely to have been nudged towards a certain decision at some point. You probably didn’t notice. That’s deliberate: nudging is widely assumed to work best when people aren’t aware of it. But that stealth breeds suspicion: people recoil from the idea that they are being stealthily manipulated.

There are other grounds for suspicion. It sounds glib: a neat term for a slippery concept. You could argue that it is a way for governments to avoid taking decisive action. Or you might be concerned that it lets them push us towards a convenient choice, regardless of what we really want.

These don’t really hold up. Our distaste for being nudged is understandable, but is arguably just another cognitive bias, given that our behaviour is constantly being discreetly influenced by others. What’s more, interventions only qualify as nudges if they don’t create concrete incentives in any particular direction. So the choice ultimately remains a free one.

Nudging is a less blunt instrument than regulation or tax. It should supplement rather than supplant these, and nudgers must be held accountable. But broadly speaking, anyone who believes in evidence-based policy should try to overcome their distaste and welcome governance based on behavioural insights and controlled trials, rather than carrot-and-stick wishful thinking. Perhaps we just need a nudge in the right direction.

Inside the teenage brain: New studies explain risky behavior (Science Daily)

Date: August 27, 2014

Source: Florida State University

Summary: It’s common knowledge that teenage boys seem predisposed to risky behaviors. Now, a series of new studies is shedding light on specific brain mechanisms that help to explain what might be going on inside juvenile male brains.


Young man (stock image). “Psychologists, psychiatrists, educators, neuroscientists, criminal justice professionals and parents are engaged in a daily struggle to understand and solve the enigma of teenage risky behaviors,” Bhide said. “Such behaviors impact not only the teenagers who obviously put themselves at serious and lasting risk but also families and societies in general. Credit: © iko / Fotolia

It’s common knowledge that teenage boys seem predisposed to risky behaviors. Now, a series of new studies is shedding light on specific brain mechanisms that help to explain what might be going on inside juvenile male brains.

Florida State University College of Medicine Neuroscientist Pradeep Bhide brought together some of the world’s foremost researchers in a quest to explain why teenagers — boys, in particular — often behave erratically.

The result is a series of 19 studies that approached the question from multiple scientific domains, including psychology, neurochemistry, brain imaging, clinical neuroscience and neurobiology. The studies are published in a special volume of Developmental Neuroscience, “Teenage Brains: Think Different?”

“Psychologists, psychiatrists, educators, neuroscientists, criminal justice professionals and parents are engaged in a daily struggle to understand and solve the enigma of teenage risky behaviors,” Bhide said. “Such behaviors impact not only the teenagers who obviously put themselves at serious and lasting risk but also families and societies in general.

“The emotional and economic burdens of such behaviors are quite huge. The research described in this book offers clues to what may cause such maladaptive behaviors and how one may be able to devise methods of countering, avoiding or modifying these behaviors.”

An example of findings published in the book that provide new insights about the inner workings of a teenage boy’s brain:

• Unlike children or adults, teenage boys show enhanced activity in the part of the brain that controls emotions when confronted with a threat. Magnetic resonance scanner readings in one study revealed that the level of activity in the limbic brain of adolescent males reacting to threat, even when they’ve been told not to respond to it, was strikingly different from that in adult men.

• Using brain activity measurements, another team of researchers found that teenage boys were mostly immune to the threat of punishment but hypersensitive to the possibility of large gains from gambling. The results question the effectiveness of punishment as a deterrent for risky or deviant behavior in adolescent boys.

• Another study demonstrated that a molecule known to be vital in developing fear of dangerous situations is less active in adolescent male brains. These findings point towards neurochemical differences between teenage and adult brains, which may underlie the complex behaviors exhibited by teenagers.

“The new studies illustrate the neurobiological basis of some of the more unusual but well-known behaviors exhibited by our teenagers,” Bhide said. “Stress, hormonal changes, complexities of psycho-social environment and peer-pressure all contribute to the challenges of assimilation faced by teenagers.

“These studies attempt to isolate, examine and understand some of these potential causes of a teenager’s complex conundrum. The research sheds light on how we may be able to better interact with teenagers at home or outside the home, how to design educational strategies and how best to treat or modify a teenager’s maladaptive behavior.”

Bhide conceived and edited “Teenage Brains: Think Different?” His co-editors were Barry Kasofsky and B.J. Casey, both of Weill Medical College at Cornell University. The book was published by Karger Medical and Scientific Publisher of Basel, Switzerland. More information on the book can be found at: http://www.karger.com/Book/Home/261996

The table of contents to the special journal volume can be found at: http://www.karger.com/Journal/Issue/261977

The Climate Swerve (The New York Times)

CreditRobert Frank Hunter

 

AMERICANS appear to be undergoing a significant psychological shift in our relation to global warming. I call this shift a climate “swerve,” borrowing the term used recently by the Harvard humanities professor Stephen Greenblatt to describe a major historical change in consciousness that is neither predictable nor orderly.

The first thing to say about this swerve is that we are far from clear about just what it is and how it might work. But we can make some beginning observations which suggest, in Bob Dylan’s words, that “something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is.” Experience, economics and ethics are coalescing in new and important ways. Each can be examined as a continuation of my work comparing nuclear and climate threats.

The experiential part has to do with a drumbeat of climate-related disasters around the world, all actively reported by the news media: hurricanes and tornadoes, droughts and wildfires, extreme heat waves and equally extreme cold, rising sea levels and floods. Even when people have doubts about the causal relationship of global warming to these episodes, they cannot help being psychologically affected. Of great importance is the growing recognition that the danger encompasses the entire earth and its inhabitants. We are all vulnerable.

This sense of the climate threat is represented in public opinion polls and attitude studies. A recent Yale survey, for instance, concluded that “Americans’ certainty that the earth is warming has increased over the past three years,” and “those who think global warming is not happening have become substantially less sure of their position.”

Falsification and denial, while still all too extensive, have come to require more defensive psychic energy and political chicanery.

But polls don’t fully capture the complex collective process occurring.

The most important experiential change has to do with global warming and time. Responding to the climate threat — in contrast to the nuclear threat, whose immediate and grotesque destructiveness was recorded in Hiroshima and Nagasaki — has been inhibited by the difficulty of imagining catastrophic future events. But climate-related disasters and intense media images are hitting us now, and providing partial models for a devastating climate future.

At the same time, economic concerns about fossil fuels have raised the issue of value. There is a wonderfully evocative term, “stranded assets,” to characterize the oil, coal and gas reserves that are still in the ground. Trillions of dollars in assets could remain “stranded” there. If we are serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions and sustaining the human habitat, between 60 percent and 80 percent of those assets must remain in the ground, according to the Carbon Tracker Initiative, an organization that analyzes carbon investment risk. In contrast, renewable energy sources, which only recently have achieved the status of big business, are taking on increasing value, in terms of returns for investors, long-term energy savings and relative harmlessness to surrounding communities.

Pragmatic institutions like insurance companies and the American military have been confronting the consequences of climate change for some time. But now, a number of leading financial authorities are raising questions about the viability of the holdings of giant carbon-based fuel corporations. In a world fueled by oil and coal, it is a truly stunning event when investors are warned that the market may end up devaluing those assets. We are beginning to see a bandwagon effect in which the overall viability of fossil-fuel economics is being questioned.

Can we continue to value, and thereby make use of, the very materials most deeply implicated in what could be the demise of the human habitat? It is a bit like the old Jack Benny joke, in which an armed robber offers a choice, “Your money or your life!” And Benny responds, “I’m thinking it over.” We are beginning to “think over” such choices on a larger scale.

This takes us to the swerve-related significance of ethics. Our reflections on stranded assets reveal our deepest contradictions. Oil and coal company executives focus on the maximum use of their product in order to serve the interests of shareholders, rather than the humane, universal ethics we require to protect the earth. We may well speak of those shareholder-dominated principles as “stranded ethics,” which are better left buried but at present are all too active above ground.

Such ethical contradictions are by no means entirely new in historical experience. Consider the scientists, engineers and strategists in the United States and the Soviet Union who understood their duty as creating, and possibly using, nuclear weapons that could destroy much of the earth. Their conscience could be bound up with a frequently amorphous ethic of “national security.” Over the course of my work I have come to the realization that it is very difficult to endanger or kill large numbers of people except with a claim to virtue.

The climate swerve is mostly a matter of deepening awareness. When exploring the nuclear threat I distinguished between fragmentary awareness, consisting of images that come and go but remain tangential, and formed awareness, which is more structured, part of a narrative that can be the basis for individual and collective action.

In the 1980s there was a profound worldwide shift from fragmentary awareness to formed awareness in response to the potential for a nuclear holocaust. Millions of people were affected by that “nuclear swerve.” And even if it is diminished today, the nuclear swerve could well have helped prevent the use of nuclear weapons.

With both the nuclear and climate threats, the swerve in awareness has had a crucial ethical component. People came to feel that it was deeply wrong, perhaps evil, to engage in nuclear war, and are coming to an awareness that it is deeply wrong, perhaps evil, to destroy our habitat and create a legacy of suffering for our children and grandchildren.

Social movements in general are energized by this kind of ethical passion, which enables people to experience the more active knowledge associated with formed awareness. That was the case in the movement against nuclear weapons. Emotions related to individual conscience were pooled into a shared narrative by enormous numbers of people.

In earlier movements there needed to be an overall theme, even a phrase, that could rally people of highly divergent political and intellectual backgrounds. The idea of a “nuclear freeze” mobilized millions of people with the simple and clear demand that the United States and the Soviet Union freeze the testing, production and deployment of nuclear weapons.

Could the climate swerve come to include a “climate freeze,” defined by a transnational demand for cutting back on carbon emissions in steps that could be systematically outlined?

With or without such a rallying phrase, the climate swerve provides no guarantees of more reasonable collective behavior. But with human energies that are experiential, economic and ethical it could at least provide — and may already be providing — the psychological substrate for action on behalf of our vulnerable habitat and the human future.

Unindo ciências humanas à neurociência (Faperj)

10/07/2014

Vilma Homero

4O filósofo Carlos Eduardo Batista de Sousa: estudos sobre o pensamento humano

O homem é um animal puramente biológico ou um ser sociocultural? A pergunta vem dividindo especialistas das neurociências e das ciências humanas. Especialmente depois que estudos recentes visam identificar as bases neurais que possibilitam ou estão correlacionadas com o pensamento consciente. “A intencionalidade, o conteúdo do pensamento consciente, está associada às nossas ações. E este assunto se relaciona diretamente com o nosso contexto cultural e a nossa época, e com o entendimento sobre nós mesmos. O que significa dizer que a neurociência agora estuda um objeto típico das ciências humanas?”, pergunta o filósofo da ciência Carlos Eduardo Batista de Sousa, que contou com o apoio de um Auxílio à Pesquisa (APQ 1) para estudar as dimensões que compõem a humanidade em projeto intitulado “Intencionalidade e Comportamento: Definindo a Natureza Humana”. Como ele mesmo pondera, é possível formular uma resposta plausível, integrando o conhecimento das duas ciências.  

“Tento acomodar os estudos nesses dois campos, das humanidades e dasneurociências, vendo como a questão da intencionalidade está vinculada à neurobiologia humana e ao aspecto sociocultural”, acrescenta o pesquisador. Ele explica que o tipo de pensamento que o ser humano tem acontece também em virtude de nossa história evolutiva. Ou seja, tanto a nossa neurobiologia quanto as interações sociais, nosso contexto cultural e a época, devem ser considerados na tentativa de entender a natureza humana. Diferentemente dos animais, o ser humano conta com uma estrutura intencional específica: “Pensar implica pensar em alguma coisa, é preciso ter um objeto em mente, ter uma representação desse objeto no pensamento que é sobre algo. De modo bem direto, isso é o que os filósofos descobriram há certo tempo. Esse conteúdo intencional emerge da neurobiologia e da interação social, influenciando nosso comportamento.”

Descobertas recentes das neurociências indicam que o pensamento consciente está associado a certas regiões no cérebro, como o lobo  frontal, que se divide em córtex frontal e pré-frontal. A partir de tecnologias, como neuroimageamento e eletrofisiologia, que nos permitem identificar as áreas e mapear o que acontece durante o pensamento consciente, novos estudos estão se tornando possíveis de ser implementados, como por exemplo, investigar o cérebro em ação. “Mas ainda é prematuro dizer que partes do cérebro são responsáveis por cada coisa”, admite o pesquisador.

Para De Sousa, estudar a natureza humana também implica estudar sua natureza biológica e sociocultural, por meio do trabalho científico e do trabalho crítico de tentar unificar as duas vertentes. “Entender tanto a biologia quanto a cultura a partir do problema da intencionalidade pode unir essas duas áreas aparentemente opostas, e isso significa reconhecer que o pensamento consciente-intencional se baseia na neurobiologia e na interação social, dando origem às nossas ações.

Mas nosso cérebro precisa estar em condições favoráveis, sob a ação de certos hormônios, como a dopamina – relacionada, por exemplo, com à tomada de decisão, cálculo de riscos, etc. Caso haja alguma anomalia no cérebro, a ação será diferente. Isso significa que a biologia precisa ser reconhecida como condição primeira, porém ela não determina o conteúdo, isto é, como vou formar meus pensamentos…”, diz De Sousa.

Como De Sousa faz questão de frisar, apenas uma ciência, seja a neurociência ou a sociologia, não pode garantir explicações plausíveis sobre o comportamento humano. “Em vez de uma briga de conhecimento, como vem sendo vivenciado hoje, é preciso conciliar ciências humanas e neurociências num contexto mais amplo pela integração dos estudos”, destaca De Sousa, que tem formação em filosofia e doutorado na Universidade de Constança, Alemanha. “Em vez de fornecer respostas, a filosofia aponta problema e possíveis caminhos. Minha proposta consiste em acomodar ambas as explicações de forma a dar conta dos vários fatores e aspectos que influenciam o conteúdo do pensamento humano, as intenções que levam o sujeito a agir de determinado modo e não de outro.”

O próximo passo para De Sousa é dar continuidade a seu trabalho, procurando unificar os estudos sobre a natureza humana numa área transdisciplinar, já que o homem é um animal complexo. “Foi na Alemanha que dei início a essa pesquisa, durante o doutorado em neurofilosofia. Lá, esse tipo de pensamento integrador estava começando. Hoje, o assunto já avançou, permitindo um maior entendimento sobre o que nós somos a partir das neurociências e da perspectiva das ciências humanas que tem longa tradição de estudos na área. Sabendo como o cérebro aprende, se organiza e se deteriora, podemos entender por que agimos como agimos e encarar a realidade de outra forma, repensando inclusive o processo de educação. Assim, futuramente, poderemos até propor novas estratégias educacionais levando em consideração esse novo conhecimento. Com isso, poderemos também estabelecer uma nova visão de humanidade, mais completa, que inclua não apenas a neurobiologia, mas também a dimensão sociocultural”, conclui.

Why Anesthesia Is One of the Greatest Medical Mysteries of Our Time (IO9)

19.jun.2014

Why Anesthesia Is One of the Greatest Medical Mysteries of Our Time

Anesthesia was a major medical breakthrough, allowing us to lose consciousness during surgery and other painful procedures. Trouble is, we’re not entirely sure how it works. But now we’re getting closer to solving its mystery — and with it, the mystery of consciousness itself.

When someone goes under, their cognition and brain activity continue, but consciousness gets shut down. For example, it has been shown that rats can ‘remember’ odor experiences while under general anesthesia. This is why anesthesiologists, like the University of Arizona’s Stuart Hameroff, are so fascinated by the whole thing.

“Anesthetics are fairly selective, erasing consciousness while sparing non-conscious brain activity,” Hameroff told io9. “So the precise mechanism of anesthetic action should point to the mechanism for consciousness.”

The Perils of Going Under

The odds of something bad happening while under anesthetic are exceedingly low. But this hasn’t always been the case.

Indeed, anesthesiology has come a long way since that historic moment back in 1846 when a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital held a flask near a patient’s face until he fell unconscious.

But as late as the 1940s, anesthesia still remained a dicey proposition. Back then, one in every 1,500 perioperative deaths were attributed to anesthesia. That number has improved dramatically since that time, mostly on account of improved techniques and chemicals, modern safety standards, and an influx of accredited anesthesiologists. Today, the chances of a healthy patient suffering an intraoperative death owing to anesthesia is less than 1 in 200,000. That’s a 0.0005% chance of a fatality — which are pretty good odds if you ask me (especially if you consider the alternative, which is to be awake during a procedure).

It should be pointed out, however, that “healthy patient” is the operative term (so to speak). In actuality, anesthesia-related deaths are on the rise, and the aging population has a lot to do with it. After decades of decline, the worldwide death rate during anesthesia has risen to about 1.4 deaths per 200,000. Alarmingly, the number of deaths within a year after general anesthesia is disturbingly high — about one in every 20. For people above the age of 65, it’s one in 10. The reason, says anesthesiologist André Gottschalk, is that there are more older patients being operated on. Anesthesia can be stressful for older patients with heart problems or high blood pressure.

Why Anesthesia Is One of the Greatest Medical Mysteries of Our Time

(Tyler Olson/Shutterstock)

But there are other dangers associated with anesthesia. It can induce a condition known as postoperative delirium, a state of serious confusion and memory loss. Following surgery, some patients complain about hallucinations, have trouble responding to questions, speak gibberish, and forget why they’re in the hospital. Studies have shown that roughly half of all patients age 60 and over suffer from this sort of delirium. This condition usually resolves after a day or two. But for some people, typically those over the age of 70 and who have a history of mental deficits, a high enough dose of anesthesia can result in lingering problems for months and even years afterward, including attention and memory problems.

Researchers speculate that it’s not the quality of the anesthetics, but rather the quantity; the greater the amount, the greater the delerium. This is not an easy problem to resolve; not enough anesthesia can leave a patient awake, but too much can kill. It’s a challenging balance to achieve because, as science writer Maggie Koerth-Baker has pointed out, “Consciousness is not something we can measure.”

Rots the Brain

Deep anesthesia has also been linked to other cognitive problems. New Scientist reports:

Patients received either propofol or one of several anesthetic gases. The morning after surgery, 16 percent of patients who had received light anesthesia displayed confusion, compared with 24 percent of the routine care group. Likewise, 15 percent of patients who received typical anesthesia had postoperative mental setbacks that lingered for at least three months—they performed poorly on word-recall tests, for example—but only 10 percent of those in the light anesthesia group had such difficulties.

To help alleviate these effects, doctors are encouraged to talk to their patients during regional anesthesia, and to make sure their patients are well hydrated and nourished before surgery to improve blood flow to the brain.

But just to be clear, the risks are slight. According to the Mayo Clinic:

Most healthy people don’t have any problems with general anesthesia. Although many people may have mild, temporary symptoms, general anesthesia itself is exceptionally safe, even for the sickest patients. The risk of long-term complications, much less death, is very small. In general, the risk of complications is more closely related to the type of procedure you’re undergoing, and your general physical health, than to the anesthesia itself.

The Neural Correlates of Consciousness

Typically, anesthesia is initiated with the injection of a drug called propofol, which gives a quick and smooth transition into unconsciousness. For longer operations, an inhaled anesthetic, like isoflurane, is added to give better control of the depth of anesthesia.

Here’s a chart showing the most common applications for anesthesia (via University of Toronto):

Why Anesthesia Is One of the Greatest Medical Mysteries of Our Time

It should really come as no surprise that neuroscientists aren’t entirely sure how chemicals like propofol work. We won’t truly understand anesthesia until we fully understand consciousness itself — a so-called hard problem in science. But the neuroscience of anesthesia may shed light on this mystery.

Researchers need to chart the neural correlates of consciousness (NCCs) — changes in brain function that can be observed when a person transitions from being conscious to unconscious. These NCCs can be certain brain waves, physical responses, sensitivity to pain — whatever. They just need to be correlated directly to conscious awareness.

As an aside, we’ll eventually need to identify NCCs in an artificial intelligence to prove that it’s sentient. And in fact, this could serve as a viable substitute to the now-outdated Turing Test.

Scientists have known for quite some time that anesthetic potency correlates with solubility in an olive-oil like environment. The going theory is that they make it difficult for certain neurons to fire; they bind to and incapacitate several different proteins on the surface of neurons that are essential for regulating sleep, attention, learning, and memory. But more than that, by interrupting the normal activity of neurons, anesthetics disrupt communications between the various regions of the brain which, together, triggers unconsciousness.

Cognitive Dissonance

But neuroscientists haven’t been able to figure out which region or regions of the brain are responsible for this effect. And indeed, there may be no single switch, particularly if the “global workspace” theory of consciousness continues to hold sway. This school of thought holds that consciousness is a widely distributed phenomenon where initial incoming sensory information gets processed in separate regions of the brain without us being aware of it. Subjectivity only happens when these signals are broadcast to a network of neurons disbursed throughout the brain, which then start firing in synchrony.

Why Anesthesia Is One of the Greatest Medical Mysteries of Our Time

(New Scientist)

But the degree of synchrony is a very carefully calibrated thing — and anesthetics disrupt this finely tuned harmony.

Indeed, anesthetics may be eliciting unconsciousness by blocking the brain’s ability to properly integrate information. Synchrony between different areas of the cortex (the part of the brain responsible for attention, awareness, thought, and memory), gets scrambled as consciousness fades. According to researcher Andres Engels, long-distance communication gets blocked, so the brain can’t build the global workspace. He says “It’s like the message is reaching the mailbox, but no one is picking it up.” Propofol in particular appears to cause abnormally strong synchrony between the primary cortex and other brain regions — and when too many neurons fire in a strongly synchronized rhythm, there’s no room for exchange of specific messages.

Rebooting the Global Workspace

There’s also the science of coming out of unconsciousness to consider. A new study shows it’s not simply a matter of the anesthetic “wearing off.”

Researchers from UCLA say the return of conscious brain activity occurs in discrete clumps, or clusters — and that the brain does not jump between all of the clusters uniformly. In fact, some of these activity patterns serve as “hubs” on the way back to consciousness.

“Recovery from anesthesia, is not simply the result of the anesthetic ‘wearing off’ but also of the brain finding its way back through a maze of possible activity states to those that allow conscious experience,” noted researcher Andrew Hudson in a statement. “Put simply, the brain reboots itself.”

Relatedly, a separate study from 2012 suggested that post-surgery confusion is the brain reverting to a more primitive evolutionary state as it goes through the “boot-up” process.

Quantum Vibrations in Microtubules?

There’s also the work of Stuart Hameroff to consider, though his approach to consciousness is still considered speculative at this point.

He pointed me to the work of the University of Pennsylvania’s Rod Eckenhoff, who has shown that anesthetics act on microtubules — extremely tiny cylindrically shaped protein polymers that are part of the cellular cytoskeleton.

Why Anesthesia Is One of the Greatest Medical Mysteries of Our Time

Jeffrey81/Wikimedia Commons

“That suggests consciousness derives from microtubules,” Hameroff told io9.

Along with Travis Craddock, he also thinks that anesthetics bind to and affect cytoskeletal microtubules — and that anesthesia-related cognitive dysfunction is linked to microtubule instability. Craddock has found ‘quantum channels’ of aromatic amino acids in a microtubule subunit protein which regulates large scale quantum states and bind anesthetics.

I asked Hameroff where neuroscientists should focus their efforts as they work to understand the nature of consciousness.

“More studies like those of Anirban Bandyopadhyay at NIMS in Tsukuba, Japan (and now at MIT) showing megahertz and kilohertz vibrations in microtubules inside neurons,” he replied. “EEG may be the tip of an iceberg of deeper level, faster, smaller scale activities in microtubules. But they’re quantum, so though smaller, are non-local, and entangled through large regions of brain or more.”

Indeed, brain scans of various sorts are definitely the way to go, and not just for this particular line of inquiry. It will be through the ongoing discovery of NCCs that we may eventually get to the bottom of this thing called consciousness.

More:

The history of anesthesiaBite Down on a Stick: The History of AnesthesiaThere was a time when all the pain alleviation involved in surgery was a little cotton wool in the…Read more

Anesthesia unlocks a more primitive level of consciousness – If you’ve ever been put under anesthesia, you might recall a disoriented, almost delirious…Read more

‘Free choice’ in primates altered through brain stimulation (Science Daily)

Date: May 29, 2014

Source: KU Leuven

Summary: When electrical pulses are applied to the ventral tegmental area of their brain, macaques presented with two images change their preference from one image to the other. The study is the first to confirm a causal link between activity in the ventral tegmental area and choice behavior in primates.

The study is the first to show a causal link between activity in ventral tegmental area and choice behaviour.. Credit: Image courtesy of KU Leuven

When electrical pulses are applied to the ventral tegmental area of their brain, macaques presented with two images change their preference from one image to the other. The study by researchers Wim Vanduffel and John Arsenault (KU Leuven and Massachusetts General Hospital) is the first to confirm a causal link between activity in the ventral tegmental area and choice behaviour in primates.

The ventral tegmental area is located in the midbrain and helps regulate learning and reinforcement in the brain’s reward system. It produces dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in positive feelings, such as receiving a reward. “In this way, this small area of the brain provides learning signals,” explains Professor Vanduffel. “If a reward is larger or smaller than expected, behavior is reinforced or discouraged accordingly.”

Causal link

This effect can be artificially induced: “In one experiment, we allowed macaques to choose multiple times between two images — a star or a ball, for example. This told us which of the two visual stimuli they tended to naturally prefer. In a second experiment, we stimulated the ventral tegmental area with mild electrical currents whenever they chose the initially nonpreferred image. This quickly changed their preference. We were also able to manipulate their altered preference back to the original favorite.”

The study, which will be published online in the journal Current Biology on 16 June, is the first to confirm a causal link between activity in the ventral tegmental area and choice behaviour in primates. “In scans we found that electrically stimulating this tiny brain area activated the brain’s entire reward system, just as it does spontaneously when a reward is received. This has important implications for research into disorders relating to the brain’s reward network, such as addiction or learning disabilities.”

Could this method be used in the future to manipulate our choices? “Theoretically, yes. But the ventral tegmental area is very deep in the brain. At this point, stimulating it can only be done invasively, by surgically placing electrodes — just as is currently done for deep brain stimulation to treat Parkinson’s or depression. Once non-invasive methods — light or ultrasound, for example — can be applied with a sufficiently high level of precision, they could potentially be used for correcting defects in the reward system, such as addiction and learning disabilities.”

 Journal Reference:
  1. John T. Arsenault, Samy Rima, Heiko Stemmann, Wim Vanduffel. Role of the Primate Ventral Tegmental Area in Reinforcement and MotivationCurrent Biology, 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.04.044

The Change Within: The Obstacles We Face Are Not Just External (The Nation)

The climate crisis has such bad timing, confronting it not only requires a new economy but a new way of thinking.

Naomi Klein

April 21, 2014

(Reuters/China Daily)

This is a story about bad timing.

One of the most disturbing ways that climate change is already playing out is through what ecologists call “mismatch” or “mistiming.” This is the process whereby warming causes animals to fall out of step with a critical food source, particularly at breeding times, when a failure to find enough food can lead to rapid population losses.

The migration patterns of many songbird species, for instance, have evolved over millennia so that eggs hatch precisely when food sources such as caterpillars are at their most abundant, providing parents with ample nourishment for their hungry young. But because spring now often arrives early, the caterpillars are hatching earlier too, which means that in some areas they are less plentiful when the chicks hatch, threatening a number of health and fertility impacts. Similarly, in West Greenland, caribou are arriving at their calving grounds only to find themselves out of sync with the forage plants they have relied on for thousands of years, now growing earlier thanks to rising temperatures. That is leaving female caribou with less energy for lactation, reproduction and feeding their young, a mismatch that has been linked to sharp decreases in calf births and survival rates.

Scientists are studying cases of climate-related mistiming among dozens of species, from Arctic terns to pied flycatchers. But there is one important species they are missing—us. Homosapiens. We too are suffering from a terrible case of climate-related mistiming, albeit in a cultural-historical, rather than a biological, sense. Our problem is that the climate crisis hatched in our laps at a moment in history when political and social conditions were uniquely hostile to a problem of this nature and magnitude—that moment being the tail end of the go-go ’80s, the blastoff point for the crusade to spread deregulated capitalism around the world. Climate changeis a collective problem demanding collective action the likes of which humanity has never actually accomplished. Yet it entered mainstream consciousness in the midst of an ideological war being waged on the very idea of the collective sphere.

This deeply unfortunate mistiming has created all sorts of barriers to our ability to respond effectively to this crisis. It has meant that corporate power was ascendant at the very moment when we needed to exert unprecedented controls over corporate behavior in order to protect life on earth. It has meant that regulation was a dirty word just when we needed those powers most. It has meant that we are ruled by a class of politicians who know only how to dismantle and starve public institutions, just when they most need to be fortified and reimagined. And it has meant that we are saddled with an apparatus of “free trade” deals that tie the hands of policy-makers just when they need maximum flexibility to achieve a massive energy transition.

Confronting these various structural barriers to the next economy is the critical work of any serious climate movement. But it’s not the only task at hand. We also have to confront how the mismatch between climate change and market domination has created barriers within our very selves, making it harder to look at this most pressing of humanitarian crises with anything more than furtive, terrified glances. Because of the way our daily lives have been altered by both market and technological triumphalism, we lack many of the observational tools necessary to convince ourselves that climate change is real—let alone the confidence to believe that a different way of living is possible.

And little wonder: just when we needed to gather, our public sphere was disintegrating; just when we needed to consume less, consumerism took over virtually every aspect of our lives; just when we needed to slow down and notice, we sped up; and just when we needed longer time horizons, we were able to see only the immediate present.

This is our climate change mismatch, and it affects not just our species, but potentially every other species on the planet as well.

The good news is that, unlike reindeer and songbirds, we humans are blessed with the capacity for advanced reasoning and therefore the ability to adapt more deliberately—to change old patterns of behavior with remarkable speed. If the ideas that rule our culture are stopping us from saving ourselves, then it is within our power to change those ideas. But before that can happen, we first need to understand the nature of our personal climate mismatch.

› Climate change demands that we consume less, but being consumers is all we know.Climate change is not a problem that can be solved simply by changing what we buy—a hybrid instead of an SUV, some carbon offsets when we get on a plane. At its core, it is a crisis born of overconsumption by the comparatively wealthy, which means the world’s most manic consumers are going to have to consume less.

The problem is not “human nature,” as we are so often told. We weren’t born having to shop this much, and we have, in our recent past, been just as happy (in many cases happier) consuming far less. The problem is the inflated role that consumption has come to play in our particular era.

Late capitalism teaches us to create ourselves through our consumer choices: shopping is how we form our identities, find community and express ourselves. Thus, telling people that they can’t shop as much as they want to because the planet’s support systems are overburdened can be understood as a kind of attack, akin to telling them that they cannot truly be themselves. This is likely why, of the original “Three Rs”—reduce, reuse, recycle—only the third has ever gotten any traction, since it allows us to keep on shopping as long as we put the refuse in the right box. The other two, which require that we consume less, were pretty much dead on arrival.

› Climate change is slow, and we are fast. When you are racing through a rural landscape on a bullet train, it looks as if everything you are passing is standing still: people, tractors, cars on country roads. They aren’t, of course. They are moving, but at a speed so slow compared with the train that they appear static.

So it is with climate change. Our culture, powered by fossil fuels, is that bullet train, hurtling forward toward the next quarterly report, the next election cycle, the next bit of diversion or piece of personal validation via our smartphones and tablets. Our changing climate is like the landscape out the window: from our racy vantage point, it can appear static, but it is moving, its slow progress measured in receding ice sheets, swelling waters and incremental temperature rises. If left unchecked, climate change will most certainly speed up enough to capture our fractured attention—island nations wiped off the map, and city-drowning superstorms, tend to do that. But by then, it may be too late for our actions to make a difference, because the era of tipping points will likely have begun.

› Climate change is place-based, and we are everywhere at once. The problem is not just that we are moving too quickly. It is also that the terrain on which the changes are taking place is intensely local: an early blooming of a particular flower, an unusually thin layer of ice on a lake, the late arrival of a migratory bird. Noticing those kinds of subtle changes requires an intimate connection to a specific ecosystem. That kind of communion happens only when we know a place deeply, not just as scenery but also as sustenance, and when local knowledge is passed on with a sense of sacred trust from one generation to the next.

But that is increasingly rare in the urbanized, industrialized world. We tend to abandon our homes lightly—for a new job, a new school, a new love. And as we do so, we are severed from whatever knowledge of place we managed to accumulate at the previous stop, as well as from the knowledge amassed by our ancestors (who, at least in my case, migrated repeatedly themselves).

Even for those of us who manage to stay put, our daily existence can be disconnected from the physical places where we live. Shielded from the elements as we are in our climate-controlled homes, workplaces and cars, the changes unfolding in the natural world easily pass us by. We might have no idea that a historic drought is destroying the crops on the farms that surround our urban homes, since the supermarkets still display miniature mountains of imported produce, with more coming in by truck all day. It takes something huge—like a hurricane that passes all previous high-water marks, or a flood destroying thousands of homes—for us to notice that something is truly amiss. And even then we have trouble holding on to that knowledge for long, since we are quickly ushered along to the next crisis before these truths have a chance to sink in.

Climate change, meanwhile, is busily adding to the ranks of the rootless every day, as natural disasters, failed crops, starving livestock and climate-fueled ethnic conflicts force yet more people to leave their ancestral homes. And with every human migration, more crucial connections to specific places are lost, leaving yet fewer people to listen closely to the land.

› Climate pollutants are invisible, and we have stopped believing in what we cannot see.When BP’s Macondo well ruptured in 2010, releasing torrents of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, one of the things we heard from company CEO Tony Hayward was that “the Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume.” The statement was widely ridiculed at the time, and rightly so, but Hayward was merely voicing one of our culture’s most cherished beliefs: that what we can’t see won’t hurt us and, indeed, barely exists.

So much of our economy relies on the assumption that there is always an “away” into which we can throw our waste. There’s the away where our garbage goes when it is taken from the curb, and the away where our waste goes when it is flushed down the drain. There’s the away where the minerals and metals that make up our goods are extracted, and the away where those raw materials are turned into finished products. But the lesson of the BP spill, in the words of ecological theorist Timothy Morton, is that ours is “a world in which there is no ‘away.’”

When I published No Logo a decade and a half ago, readers were shocked to learn of the abusive conditions under which their clothing and gadgets were manufactured. But we have since learned to live with it—not to condone it, exactly, but to be in a state of constant forgetfulness. Ours is an economy of ghosts, of deliberate blindness.

Air is the ultimate unseen, and the greenhouse gases that warm it are our most elusive ghosts. Philosopher David Abram points out that for most of human history, it was precisely this unseen quality that gave the air its power and commanded our respect. “Called Sila, the wind-mind of the world, by the Inuit; Nilch’i, or Holy Wind, by the Navajo; Ruach, or rushing-spirit, by the ancient Hebrews,” the atmosphere was “the most mysterious and sacred dimension of life.” But in our time, “we rarely acknowledge the atmosphere as it swirls between two persons.” Having forgotten the air, Abram writes, we have made it our sewer, “the perfect dump site for the unwanted by-products of our industries…. Even the most opaque, acrid smoke billowing out of the pipes will dissipate and disperse, always and ultimately dissolving into the invisible. It’s gone. Out of sight, out of mind.”

* * *

Another part of what makes climate change so very difficult for us to grasp is that ours is a culture of the perpetual present, one that deliberately severs itself from the past that created us as well as the future we are shaping with our actions. Climate change is about how what we did generations in the past will inescapably affect not just the present, but generations in the future. These time frames are a language that has become foreign to most of us.

This is not about passing individual judgment, nor about berating ourselves for our shallowness or rootlessness. Rather, it is about recognizing that we are products of an industrial project, one intimately, historically linked to fossil fuels.

And just as we have changed before, we can change again. After listening to the great farmer-poet Wendell Berry deliver a lecture on how we each have a duty to love our “homeplace” more than any other, I asked him if he had any advice for rootless people like me and my friends, who live in our computers and always seem to be shopping for a home. “Stop somewhere,” he replied. “And begin the thousand-year-long process of knowing that place.”

That’s good advice on lots of levels. Because in order to win this fight of our lives, we all need a place to stand.

Read more of The Nation’s special #MyClimateToo coverage:

Mark Hertsgaard: Why TheNation.com Today Is All About Climate
Christopher Hayes: The New Abolitionism
Dani McClain: The ‘Environmentalists’ Who Scapegoat Immigrants and Women on Climate Change
Mychal Denzel Smith: Racial and Environmental Justice Are Two Sides of the Same Coin
Katrina vanden Heuvel: Earth Day’s Founding Father
Wen Stephenson: Let This Earth Day Be The Last
Katha Pollitt: Climate Change is the Tragedy of the Global Commons
Michelle Goldberg: Fighting Despair to Fight Climate Change
George Zornick: We’re the Fossil Fuel Industry’s Cheap Date
Dan Zegart: Want to Stop Climate Change? Take the Fossil Fuel Industry to Court
Jeremy Brecher: ‘Jobs vs. the Environment’: How to Counter the Divisive Big Lie
Jon Wiener: Elizabeth Kolbert on Species Extinction and Climate Change
Dave Zirin: Brazil’s World Cup Will Kick the Environment in the Teeth
Steven Hsieh: People of Color Are Already Getting Hit the Hardest by Climate Change
John Nichols: If Rick Weiland Can Say “No” to Keystone, So Can Barack Obama
Michelle Chen: Where Have All the Green Jobs Gone?
Peter Rothberg: Why I’m Not Totally Bummed Out This Earth Day
Leslie Savan: This Is My Brain on Paper Towels

Cientistas identificam gene que relaciona estrutura cerebral à inteligência (O Globo)

JC e-mail 4892, de 11 de fevereiro de 2014

Descoberta pode ter implicações importantes para a compreensão de transtornos psiquiátricos como esquizofrenia e autismo

Cientistas do King’s College London identificaram, pela primeira vez, um gene que relaciona a espessura da massa cinzenta do cérebro à inteligência. O estudo foi publicado nesta terça-feira na revista “Molecular Psychiatry” e pode ajudar a entender os mecanismos biológicos por trás de determinados danos intelectuais.

Até agora já se sabia que a massa cinzenta tinha um papel importante para a memória, atenção, pensamento, linguagem e consciência. Estudos anteriores também já mostravam que a espessura do córtex cerebral tinha a ver com a habilidade intelectual, mas nenhum gene tinha sido identificado.

Um time internacional de cientistas, liderado pelo King´s College, analisou amostras de DNA e exames de ressonância magnética por imagem de 1.583 adolescentes saudáveis de 14 anos, que também se submeteram a uma série de testes para determinar inteligência verbal e não verbal.

– Queríamos descobrir como diferenças estruturais no cérebro tinham a ver com diferenças na habilidade intelectual. Identificamos uma variação genética relacionada à plasticidade sináptica, de como os neurônios se comunicam – explica Sylvane Desrivières, principal autora do estudo, pelo Instituto de Psiquiatria do King’s College London. – Isto pode nos ajudar a entender o que acontece em nível neuronal com certas formas de comprometimento intelectual, onde a habilidade de comunicação dos neurônios é, de alguma forma, comprometida.

Ela acrescenta que é importante apontar que a inteligência é influenciada por muitos fatores genéticos e ambientais. O gene que identificamos só explica uma pequena proporção das diferenças nas habilidades intelectuais e não é, de forma alguma, “o gene da inteligência”.

Os pesquisadores observaram 54 mil possíveis variações envolvidas no desenvolvimento cerebral. Em média, adolescentes com uma variante genética particular tinham um córtex mais fino no hemisfério cerebral esquerdo, particularmente nos lobos frontal e temporal, e executavam bem testes de capacidade intelectual. A variação genética afeta a expressão do gene NPTN, que codifica uma proteína que atua nas sinapses neuronais e, portanto, afeta a forma como as células do cérebro se comunicam.

Para confirmar as suas conclusões, os pesquisadores estudaram o gene NPTN em células de camundongo e do cérebro humano. Os pesquisadores verificaram que o gene NPTN tinha uma atividade diferente nos hemisférios esquerdo e direito do cérebro, o que pode fazer com que o hemisfério esquerdo seja mais sensível aos efeitos das mutações NPTN. Os resultados sugerem que algumas diferenças na capacidade intelectual podem resultar da diminuição da função do gene NPTN em determinadas regiões do hemisfério esquerdo do cérebro.

A variação genética identificada neste estudo representa apenas uma estimativa de 0,5% da variação total em inteligência. No entanto, as descobertas podem ter implicações importantes para a compreensão dos mecanismos biológicos subjacentes de vários transtornos psiquiátricos, como esquizofrenia e autismo, nas quais a capacidade cognitiva é uma característica fundamental da doença.

http://oglobo.globo.com/ciencia/cientistas-identificam-gene-que-relaciona-estrutura-cerebral-inteligencia-11563313#ixzz2t1amCUSy

Money makes people right-wing, inegalitarian, UK study finds (Science Daily)

Date: 

February 6, 2014

Source: University of Warwick

Summary: Lottery winners tend to switch towards support for a right-wing political party and to become less egalitarian, according to new research on UK data.

Evidence on Switchers: The Percentage of People Who Switched Right (Conservative), and Previously Did Not Vote Conservative, After a Lottery Win Source: BHPS Data, Waves 7-18. Credit: Source: BHPS Data, Waves 7-18; Graph courtesy of University of Warwick

Lottery winners tend to switch towards support for a right-wing political party and to become less egalitarian, according to new research on UK data by Professor Andrew Oswald of the University of Warwick and Professor Nattavudh Powdthavee of the London School of Economic and the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, University of Melbourne.

Their study, published as a new University of Warwick working paper under the title “Does Money Make People Right-Wing and Inegalitarian: A Longitudinal Study of Lottery Wins”, shows that the larger the win, the more people tilt to the right. The study uses information on thousands of people and on lottery wins up to 200,000 pounds sterling. The authors say it is the first research of its kind.

The authors believe their paper has wide implications for how democracy works. Professor Oswald said he had become doubtful of the view that morality was an objective choice. “In the voting booth, monetary self-interest casts a long shadow, despite people’s protestations that there are intellectual reasons for voting for low tax rates.”

“We are not sure exactly what goes on inside people’s brains”, said Nick Powdthavee, “but it seems that having money causes people to favour conservative right-wing ideas. Humans are creatures of flexible ethics.”

The authors believe their paper has wide implications for how democracy works. Professor Oswald said he had become doubtful of the view that morality was an objective choice. “In the voting booth, monetary self-interest casts a long shadow, despite people’s protestations that there are intellectual reasons for voting for low tax rates.”

The authors’ paper comments that: “The causes of people’s political attitudes are largely unknown. One possibility is that individuals’ attitudes towards politics and redistribution are motivated by deeply ethical view. Our study provides empirical evidence that voting choices are made out of self-interest.”

Using a nationally representative sample of lottery winners in the UK – the British Household Panel Survey – the researchers have been able to explore the observed longitudinal changes in political allegiance of the bigger winners to the smaller winners. The effect is also sizeable. Winning a few thousand pounds in the lottery has an effect on right-wingness that is just under half of completing a good standard of education (i.e. A-levels) at high school.

The lottery winning effect is far stronger for males than females. The authors are not sure why.

The study has nobody who wins millions and millions. “We’d certainly love to be able to track the views of the rare giant winners”, said Professor Oswald, “if any lottery company would like to work with our research team.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Andrew Oswald, Nattavudh Powdthavee. Does Money Make People Right-Wing and Inegalitarian: A Longitudinal Study of Lottery WinsUniversity of Warwick, February 2014

Memória humana é capaz de ‘reescrever’ o passado com experiências atuais (O Globo)

JC e-mail 4889, de 06 de fevereiro de 2014

Cientistas descobrem que nossas lembranças não são como vídeos, que armazenam perfeitamente as informações

Nossa memória viaja no tempo e arranca fragmentos do presente para inseri-los no passado. Essa foi a constatação de um novo estudo elaborado pela “Northwestern Medicine Feinberg School of Medicine”, de Chicago, nos Estados Unidos. O trabalho constatou que, em termos de precisão, ela está longe de se assemelhar às câmeras de video, que armazenam perfeitamente as informações. Assim, nossa memória reescreve o passado com as informações atuais, atualizando suas lembranças com novas experiências.

O estudo é o primeiro a mostrar especificamente como a memória humana relaciona tão fortemente o presente ao passado. Ele indica o ponto exato no tempo em que uma informação, de forma incorreta, é implantada em uma memória existente.

Segundo a autora do estudo, a pós-doutora em ciências sociais médicas Donna Jo Bridge, para nos ajudar a sobreviver, a memória se adapta a um ambiente em constante mudança e nos ajuda a lidar com o que é importante agora.

– Nossa memória não é como uma câmera de vídeo. Ela reformula e edita eventos para criar uma história adequada à realidade atual – ressalta Bridge à BBC News. Essa “edição” acontece no hipocampo.

Para a realização do experimento, 17 pessoas estudaram 168 objetos dispostos em uma tela de computador, com variadas imagens de fundo. Os cientistas observaram a atividade cerebral dos participantes, assim como o movimento dos olhos.

As imagens traziam cenas como o fundo do oceano ou a vista aérea de terras agrícolas. Em seguida, os pesquisadores pediram aos participantes para que eles colocassem o objeto no local original, mas em uma nova tela de fundo. O que se verificou foi que os objetos sempre eram colocados em um local incorreto.

– Eles sempre escolhiam o local que já haviam selecionado na etapa anterior. Isso mostra que sua memória original do local foi alterada para remeter a localização que lembravam na nova tela de fundo – disse a cientista.

Os participantes também fizeram testes de ressonância magnética para que fossem observadas as atividades cerebrais. O movimento dos olhos também foi estudado.

– Todo mundo gosta de pensar em memória como alguma coisa que nos permite lembrar vividamente nossa infância ou o que fizemos na semana passada. Porém, a noção de uma memória perfeita é um mito – disse à BBC News Joel Voss, autor sênior da pesquisa e professor assistente de ciências sociais .

Bridge acrescenta que o estudo pode ter implicações para depoimentos de testemunhas, por exemplo.

– Nossa memória é construída para mudar, não somente relatar fatos. Sendo assim, não somos testemunhas muito confiáveis – observou à BBC.

http://oglobo.globo.com/saude/memoria-humana-capaz-de-reescrever-passado-com-experiencias-atuais-11511975#ixzz2sY2I0RZv

Can workshops on household water use impact consumer behavior? (Science Daily)

Date: January 31, 2014

Source: American Society for Horticultural Science

Summary: Researchers studied the effectiveness of workshops designed to focus on residential water conservation using a sample of irrigation water use data for 57 workshop participants and 43 nonparticipants. Results indicated that the 2-hour workshops were effective in reducing attendees’ irrigation water use; however, the effect was short lived. Results also showed that effects of workshop attendance depended on the household sample, and found that water use increased for some low-use workshop participants.

In Florida, where population growth, drought, and saltwater intrusion are affecting finite water sources, researchers are looking for effective ways to educate consumers about household water use habits. Despite an average annual rainfall of 55 inches, Florida was included on the Natural Resources Defense Council’s list of states with the greatest risk of water shortages in the coming years; the daily total state domestic water use in Florida is the fourth highest in the United States. A large proportion of Florida’s water is not used for human consumption, but is used for irrigating residential landscapes. In fact, a recent South Florida Water Management District study reported that outdoor water use in their area constitutes up to 50% of total household water consumption, and that up to 50% of the water applied to lawns is wasted through evaporation or overwatering.

Universities and municipalities are addressing this critical environmental concern through outreach and extension programs designed to educate the public about water conversation. But are these workshops effective in actually helping participants reduce their water use? Tatiana Borisova and Pilar Useche from the University of Florida conducted a study published in HortTechnology to determine the effectiveness of free, 2-hour irrigation management workshops conducted by the Florida Cooperative Extension Service in cooperation with a local water provider in order to find out if there were short- and long-term impacts of workshop participation. “Landscape management outreach programs have been implemented by regional and local agencies, Cooperative Extension Services, and other organizations to encourage more efficient irrigation water use and residential water conservation,” explained lead author Borisova. “However, limited information exists about the effectiveness of such programs.”

The team studied actual water use data for 12 months before and after workshops, and then compared water use data from workshop participants with the water use of households that did not participate in the workshop. They found “statistically significant reduction in water use” only in the month of the workshop. “Although the workshop has an impact on water use, this impact is very short-lived,” noted Borisova. “For workshop participants and nonparticipants, water use returns to the base level immediately in the months following the workshop.” The authors added that reinforcement of the educational message received during the workshop is probably required to sustain water-use reductions over time.

The team also found that the effect of workshop attendance depended on the sample of the households considered. For example, in the subsample of the low water-use households, water use tended to increase following the workshop. “The overall objective of the workshop was to improve the irrigation efficiency by reducing water wastes. However, households with low average water use may already be technically efficient, and workshop attendance cannot reduce their irrigation water use further without negatively affecting the yard aesthetics and plant health,” explained Borisova.

Borisova and Useche recommend development of a comprehensive evaluation approach for water use programs that includes evaluation of actual water use reductions in order to more accurately quantify program impact, design more effective educational programs, and better target the programs to consumers.

The complete study and abstract are available on the ASHS HortTechnology electronic journal web site: http://horttech.ashspublications.org/content/23/5/668.abstract

Journal Reference:

  1. Tatiana Borisova and Pilar Useche. Exploring the Effects of Extension Workshops on Household Water-use BehaviorHortTechnology, October 2013

Brain regions thought to be uniquely human share many similarities with monkeys (Science Daily)

January 28, 2014

Source: Cell Press

Summary: New research suggests a surprising degree of similarity in the organization of regions of the brain that control language and complex thought processes in humans and monkeys. The study also revealed some key differences. The findings may provide valuable insights into the evolutionary processes that established our ties to other primates but also made us distinctly human.

 (A) The right vlFC ROI. Dorsally it included the inferior frontal sulcus and, more posteriorly, it included PMv; anteriorly it was bound by the paracingulate sulcus and ventrally by the lateral orbital sulcus and the border between the dorsal insula and the opercular cortex. (B) A schematic depiction of the result of the 12 cluster parcellation solution using an iterative parcellation approach. We subdivided PMv into ventral and dorsal regions (6v and 6r, purple and black). We delineated the IFJ area (blue) and areas 44d (gray) and 44v (red) in lateral pars opercularis. More anteriorly, we delineated areas 45 (orange) in the pars triangularis and adjacent operculum and IFS (green) in the inferior frontal sulcus and dorsal pars triangularis. We found area 12/47 in the pars orbitalis (light blue) and area Op (bright yellow) in the deep frontal operculum. We also identified area 46 (yellow), and lateral and medial frontal pole regions (FPl and FPm, ruby colored and pink). Credit: Neuron, Neubert et al.

New research suggests a surprising degree of similarity in the organization of regions of the brain that control language and complex thought processes in humans and monkeys. The study, publishing online January 28 in the Cell Press journal Neuron, also revealed some key differences. The findings may provide valuable insights into the evolutionary processes that established our ties to other primates but also made us distinctly human.

The research concerns the ventrolateral frontal cortex, a region of the brain known for more than 150 years to be important for cognitive processes including language, cognitive flexibility, and decision-making. “It has been argued that to develop these abilities, humans had to evolve a completely new neural apparatus; however others have suggested precursors to these specialized brain systems might have existed in other primates,” explains lead author Dr. Franz-Xaver Neubert of the University of Oxford, in the UK.

By using non-invasive MRI techniques in 25 people and 25 macaques, Dr. Neubert and his team compared ventrolateral frontal cortex connectivity and architecture in humans and monkeys. The investigators were surprised to find many similarities in the connectivity of these regions. This suggests that some uniquely human cognitive traits may rely on an evolutionarily conserved neural apparatus that initially supported different functions. Additional research may reveal how slight changes in connectivity accompanied or facilitated the development of distinctly human abilities.

The researchers also noted some key differences between monkeys and humans. For example, ventrolateral frontal cortex circuits in the two species differ in the way that they interact with brain areas involved with hearing.

“This could explain why monkeys perform very poorly in some auditory tasks and might suggest that we humans use auditory information in a different way when making decisions and selecting actions,” says Dr. Neubert.

A region in the human ventrolateral frontal cortex — called the lateral frontal pole — does not seem to have an equivalent area in the monkey. This area is involved with strategic planning, decision-making, and multi-tasking abilities.

“This might relate to humans being particularly proficient in tasks that require strategic planning and decision making as well as ‘multi-tasking’,” says Dr. Neubert.

Interestingly, some of the ventrolateral frontal cortex regions that were similar in humans and monkeys are thought to play roles in psychiatric disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and substance abuse. A better understanding of the networks that are altered in these disorders might lead to therapeutic insights.

Journal Reference:

  1. Franz-Xaver Neubert et al. Comparison of human ventral frontal cortex areas for cognitive control and language with areas in monkey frontal cortex.Neuron, Jan 28, 2014

Kids Have Skewed View of Gender Segregation (Science Daily)

Jan. 9, 2014 — Children believe the world is far more segregated by gender than it actually is, implies a new study led by a Michigan State University scholar.

Jennifer Watling Neal and colleagues examined classroom friendships in five U.S. elementary schools. Their findings, published in the journal Child Development, found boys and girls had no problems being friends together but for some reason had a perception that only boys played with boys and girls played with girls.

“Kids believe gender plays a larger role in friendship that it actually does,” said Neal, assistant professor of psychology.

Children who have more accurate perceptions of the social relationships around them may be better able to avoid conflict and have more positive interactions with their peers, Neal said.

The findings also have implications when the students grow up.

“In adulthood,” Neal said, “we know that people who have accurate perceptions of workplace relationships tend to be perceived as more powerful and have better reputations than their colleagues.”

The study of 426 second- through fourth-graders found gender is still important in the formation of friendships; children were nine times more likely to be friends if they were the same gender.

However, when asked about their friends’ friends, a child was 50 times more likely to believe two classmates were friends when they were the same gender.

“Thus, while gender does matter a great deal in the formation of children’s friendships, children think it is nearly the only relevant factor,” Neal said.

Journal Reference:

  1. Jennifer Watling Neal, Zachary P. Neal, Elise Cappella. I Know Who My Friends Are, but Do You? Predictors of Self-Reported and Peer-Inferred RelationshipsChild Development, 2013; DOI: 10.1111/cdev.12194

Scientists: Americans are becoming weather wimps (AP)

By SETH BORENSTEIN

— Jan. 9, 2014 5:33 PM EST

Deep Freeze Weather Wimps

FILE – In this Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014, file photo, a person struggles to cross a street in blowing and falling snow as the Gateway Arch appears in the distance, in St. Louis. The deep freeze that gripped much of the nation this week wasn’t unprecedented, but with global warming we’re getting far fewer bitter cold spells, and many of us have forgotten how frigid winter used to be. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — We’ve become weather wimps.

As the world warms, the United States is getting fewer bitter cold spells like the one that gripped much of the nation this week. So when a deep freeze strikes, scientists say, it seems more unprecedented than it really is. An Associated Press analysis of the daily national winter temperature shows that cold extremes have happened about once every four years since 1900.

Until recently.

When computer models estimated that the national average daily temperature for the Lower 48 states dropped to 17.9 degrees on Monday, it was the first deep freeze of that magnitude in 17 years, according to Greg Carbin, warning meteorologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

That stretch — from Jan. 13, 1997 to Monday — is by far the longest the U.S. has gone without the national average plunging below 18 degrees, according to a database of daytime winter temperatures starting in January 1900.

In the past 115 years, there have been 58 days when the national average temperature dropped below 18. Carbin said those occurrences often happen in periods that last several days so it makes more sense to talk about cold outbreaks instead of cold days. There have been 27 distinct cold snaps.

Between 1970 and 1989, a dozen such events occurred, but there were only two in the 1990s and then none until Monday.

“These types of events have actually become more infrequent than they were in the past,” said Carbin, who works at the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla. “This is why there was such a big buzz because people have such short memories.”

Said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private firm Weather Underground: “It’s become a lot harder to get these extreme (cold) outbreaks in a planet that’s warming.”

And Monday’s breathtaking chill? It was merely the 55th coldest day — averaged for the continental United States — since 1900.

The coldest day for the Lower 48 since 1900 — as calculated by the computer models — was 12 degrees on Christmas Eve 1983, nearly 6 degrees chillier than Monday.

The average daytime winter temperature is about 33 degrees, according to Carbin’s database.

There have been far more unusually warm winter days in the U.S. than unusually cold ones.

Since Jan. 1, 2000, only two days have ranked in the top 100 coldest: Monday and Tuesday. But there have been 13 in the top 100 warmest winter days, including the warmest since 1900: Dec. 3, 2012. And that pattern is exactly what climate scientists have been saying for years, that the world will get more warm extremes and fewer cold extremes.

Nine of 11 outside climate scientists and meteorologists who reviewed the data for the AP said it showed that as the world warms from heat-trapping gas spewed by the burning of fossil fuels, winters are becoming milder. The world is getting more warm extremes and fewer cold extremes, they said.

“We expect to see a lengthening of time between cold air outbreaks due to a warming climate, but 17 years between outbreaks is probably partially due to an unusual amount of natural variability,” or luck, Masters said in an email. “I expect we’ll go far fewer than 17 years before seeing the next cold air outbreak of this intensity.

And the scientists dismiss global warming skeptics who claim one or two cold days somehow disproves climate change.

“When your hands are freezing off trying to scrape the ice off your car, it can be all too tempting to say, ‘Where’s global warming now? I could use a little of that!’ But you know what? It’s not as cold as it used to be anymore,” Texas Tech University climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe said in an email.

The recent cold spell, which was triggered by a frigid air mass known as the polar vortex that wandered way south of normal, could also be related to a relatively new theory that may prove a weather wild card, said Rutgers University climate scientist Jennifer Francis. Her theory, which has divided mainstream climate scientists, says that melting Arctic sea ice is changing polar weather, moving the jet stream and causing “more weirdness.”

Ryan Maue, a meteorologist with the private firm Weather Bell Analytics who is skeptical about blaming global warming for weather extremes, dismisses Francis’ theory and said he has concerns about the accuracy of Carbin’s database. Maue has his own daily U.S. average temperature showing that Monday was colder than Carbin’s calculations.

Still, he acknowledged that cold nationwide temperatures “occurred with more regularity in the past.”

Many climate scientists say Americans are weather weenies who forgot what a truly cold winter is like.

“I think that people’s memory about climate is really terrible,” Texas A&M University climate scientist Andrew Dessler wrote in an email. “So I think this cold event feels more extreme than it actually is because we’re just not used to really cold winters anymore.”

Patient in ‘Vegetative State’ Not Just Aware, but Paying Attention, Study Suggests (Science Daily)

Oct. 31, 2013 — A patient in a seemingly vegetative state, unable to move or speak, showed signs of attentive awareness that had not been detected before, a new study reveals. This patient was able to focus on words signalled by the experimenters as auditory targets as successfully as healthy individuals. If this ability can be developed consistently in certain patients who are vegetative, it could open the door to specialised devices in the future and enable them to interact with the outside world.

This scan depicts patterns of the vegetative patient’s electrical activity over the head when they attended to the designated words, and when they when they were distracted by novel but irrelevant words. (Credit: Clinical Neurosciences)

The research, by scientists at the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit (MRC CBSU) and the University of Cambridge, is published today, 31 October, in the journalNeuroimage: Clinical.

For the study, the researchers used electroencephalography (EEG), which non-invasively measures the electrical activity over the scalp, to test 21 patients diagnosed as vegetative or minimally conscious, and eight healthy volunteers. Participants heard a series of different words — one word a second over 90 seconds at a time — while asked to alternatingly attend to either the word ‘yes’ or the word ‘no’, each of which appeared 15% of the time. (Some examples of the words used include moss, moth, worm and toad.) This was repeated several times over a period of 30 minutes to detect whether the patients were able to attend to the correct target word.

They found that one of the vegetative patients was able to filter out unimportant information and home in on relevant words they were being asked to pay attention to. Using brain imaging (fMRI), the scientists also discovered that this patient could follow simple commands to imagine playing tennis. They also found that three other minimally conscious patients reacted to novel but irrelevant words, but were unable to selectively pay attention to the target word.

These findings suggest that some patients in a vegetative or minimally conscious state might in fact be able to direct attention to the sounds in the world around them.

Dr Srivas Chennu at the University of Cambridge, said: “Not only did we find the patient had the ability to pay attention, we also found independent evidence of their ability to follow commands — information which could enable the development of future technology to help patients in a vegetative state communicate with the outside world.

“In order to try and assess the true level of brain function and awareness that survives in the vegetative and minimally conscious states, we are progressively building up a fuller picture of the sensory, perceptual and cognitive abilities in patients. This study has added a key piece to that puzzle, and provided a tremendous amount of insight into the ability of these patients to pay attention.”

Dr Tristan Bekinschtein at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit said: “Our attention can be drawn to something by its strangeness or novelty, or we can consciously decide to pay attention to it. A lot of cognitive neuroscience research tells us that we have distinct patterns in the brain for both forms of attention, which we can measure even when the individual is unable to speak. These findings mean that, in certain cases of individuals who are vegetative, we might be able to enhance this ability and improve their level of communication with the outside world.”

This study builds on a joint programme of research at the University of Cambridge and MRC CBSU where a team of researchers have been developing a series of diagnostic and prognostic tools based on brain imaging techniques since 1998. Famously, in 2006 the group was able to use fMRI imaging techniques to establish that a patient in a vegetative state could respond to yes or no questions by indicating different, distinct patterns of brain activity.

Journal Reference:

  1. Srivas Chennu, Paola Finoia, Evelyn Kamau, Martin M. Monti, Judith Allanson, John D. Pickard, Adrian M. Owen, Tristan A. Bekinschtein. Dissociable endogenous and exogenous attention in disorders of consciousnessNeuroImage: Clinical, 2013; DOI: 10.1016/j.nicl.2013.10.008

Sociological explanations for climate change denial (resilience.org)

by Olga Bonfiglio, originally published by Energy Bulletin  | MAR 17, 2012

Talk about climate change seems to be a taboo subject in America today.

Three years ago promises by both major political parties to do something have gone by the wayside while today’sRepublican presidential candidates reject evidence that humans are responsible for the warming of the earth

The mainstream media routinely report on extreme weather, like this winter’s high temperatures and last summer’s droughts, but reporters and commentators typically veer away from connecting it to climate change.

Last October, the New York Times reported that those who believed the Earth was warming dropped from 79 percent in 2006 to 59 percent.  However, a month laterpolling experts blamed this decline on a collapse in media coverage and pollsters’ deeply flawed questions.

It turns out that the United States is one of the few countries in the world still quibbling over climate change, and its influence is stymieing progress at environmental summits like Durbin (2011), Cancun (2010), and Copenhagen (2009).

What’s going on?

As you may expect, it’s about money, politics, culture and media bias.

Ron Kramer, a sociologist at Western Michigan University, has been studying how sociological and cultural factors are preventing Americans from talking about or acting on climate change.  He drew on the research of sociologist Stanley Cohen, professor emeritus at the London School of Economics, who says that denial “refers to the maintenance of social worlds in which an undesirable situation (event, condition, phenomenon) is unrecognized, ignored or made to seem normal.”

He cites three categories of denial:

  • literal denial is: “the assertion that something did not happen or is not true.”
  • With an interpretive denial, the basic facts are not denied, however, “…they are given a different meaning from what seems apparent to others.” People recognize that something is happening but that it’s good for us.
  • Implicatory denial “covers the multitude of vocabularies, justifications, rationalizations, evasions that we use to deal with our awareness of so many images of unmitigated suffering.” Here, “knowledge itself is not an issue. The genuine challenge is doing the ‘right’ thing with this knowledge.”

Through literal and interpretive denial, climate change deniers declare that the earth is not warming even though 98 percent of our scientists have written thousands of peer-reviewed papers and reports concluding that climate change is real and caused by human activity.

Actually, deniers are organized by conservative think tanks funded by the fossil fuel industry that attempt to create doubt about climate science and block actions that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create clean energy alternatives.

To do this they use conspiracy theories and “fake” experts with no background in climate science.  They insist on absolute certainty, cherry-pick the data and ignore the larger body of evidence or misrepresent data and promote logical fallacies like “the climate has changed in the past, therefore current change is natural.”

“Creating doubt blocks any action,” said Kramer.  “This is the same tactic the tobacco industry used to deny that smoking was harmful to people’s health. And, some of the same people are now doing this with climate change.”

The “conservative climate change denial counter-movement,” as Kramer calls it, was led by the George W. Bush administration and congressional Republicans who obstruct and manipulate the political system to promote their view.  They are complemented by right-wing media outlets such as Fox News and Rush Limbaugh.  The mainstream media’s “balancing norm” practice then allows the denialists to be placed on par with the climate scientists.

The rationale behind this counter-movement is that corporations make money if Americans continue their materialistic attitudes and practices so they lobby politicians to protect their interests and they fund think tanks that accuse “eco-scientists” of destroying capitalism, as revealed by the New YorkTimes.

Corporations provide research monies to university scientists, who rely on them as support from state legislatures and benefactors dwindles.  They advance narratives that people from other parts of the world are worse off than Americans, so we don’t have to change.  They make claims to virtue on TV ads about all they are doing for the environment (a.k.a. “greenwashing”).  And, they argue that doing something about global warming will cost too much and cause them to lose their competitive edge.

Research shows that conservative white males are more likely to espouse climate change denial than other groups for two reasons.  They tend to filter out any information that is different from their already-held worldview because it threatens the identity, status and esteem they receive by being part of their group, he said.  Sociologists call this “Identity Protective Cognition.”

Secondly, conservative white males have a stronger need to justify the status quo and resist attempts to change it.  Sociologists call this “System Justification.”

For example, successful conservative white males stridently defend the capitalist system because it has worked well for them. For anyone to imply the system is not functioning is an unfathomable impossibility akin to blasphemy. [Climatewire via Scientific American]

“Identity Protective Cognition” should also inform environmental activists that the information deficit model of activism is not always a good approach, warned Kramer.  Just providing more information may not change anyone’s views given their commitment to a particular cultural worldview.

In implicatory denial people recognize that something untoward is happening but they fail to act because they are emotionally uncomfortable or troubled about it.

For example, there are the people who are aware of climate change and have some information about it, but take no action, make no behavioral changes and remain apathetic.

This response occurs when people confront confusing and conflicting information from political leaders and the media.  Consequently, they have yet another reason for denial—or they believe the problem can be overcome with technology and they can go on with their lives.

“At some level people understand that climate change can alter human civilization, but they feel a sense of helplessness and powerlessness at the prospect,” said Kramer.  “Others feel guilty that they may have caused the problem.”

Several cultural factors also thwart any decisive action on climate change, said Kramer.

Americans have a tendency toward “anti-intellectualism,” so “nerdy” climate scientists are easily suspect.

Our strong sense of “individualism” helps us strive toward our individual goals, but it likewise keeps us from joining together to do something about climate change.  They ask:  “What good does it do to recycle or drive less when we have such a huge, complex problem as climate change?”

“American exceptionalism” celebrates the American way of life, which has given us a vast bounty of wealth and material goods.  We want to continue this life and, in fact, deserve it.  Nothing bad will happen to us.

Finally, “political alienation” keeps us from trusting our political system to tackle the problem.

“What we ultimately need is international agreement about what to do about climate change,” said Kramer.  “Nothing will happen, however, until the United States commits to doing something.”

What to do about climate change?

Kramer believes we should regard climate change as a matter of social justice and not just science because the people most affected by it are not the ones who created it.

North American and European lifestyles, which are based on easy and cheap access to fossil fuels for energy, agriculture and consumer products have inadvertently caused much suffering, poverty and environmental degradation to the people of the Global South.

To illustrate, analysts at Maplecroft have produced a map that measures of the risk of climate change impacts and the social and financial ability of communities and governments to cope with it.  The most vulnerable nations are Haiti, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

Second, Kramer emphasized the moral obligation we have to future generations and other species.  Simply put, we must reduce our use of fossil fuels that are largely responsible for emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and causing extreme weather conditions like hurricanes, floods, drought, tsunami, earthquakes, heat waves, warm winters and melting polar ice caps.

Again, people’s lives, livelihoods and communities are affected and it shouldn’t escape notice that human encroachment on animal habitats is contributing to massive species losses, what some call the Sixth Great Extinction.  Criminologists are grappling with the language characterizing this wonton disregard with words like “ecocide” and “biocide.”

Kramer suggests that we shift our lifestyles from a culture based on materialistic consumption to a culture based on the caretaking of the Earth, as advocated by Scott Russell Sanders in A Conservationist Manifesto (2009).  Sanders asks such questions as (see a video with Sanders)

  • What would a truly sustainable economy look like?
  • What responsibilities do we bear for the well-being of future generations?
  • What responsibilities do we bear toward Earth’s millions of other species?
  • In a time of ecological calamity and widespread human suffering, how should we imagine a good life?

Third, Kramer calls for a more “prophetic imagination” as put forward by Walter Brueggeman, a theologian and professor emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary, where we take a reasoned approach and face the realities of climate change, confront the truth, “penetrate the numbness and despair,” and avoid drowning in our sense of loss and grief that is paralyzing us from action.

Such an approach can give voice to a “hope-filled responsibility” where people are empowered to act rather than left listless and inattentive.

“It’s not about someone being responsible, but all of us,” said Kramer, “because we are all affected by climate change.”

One major way we can do that is by reducing greenhouse gas emissions—and we have a way to measure our progress.

Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature (1988), one of the first popularized books about global warming, contends that rising counts in greenhouse gas emissions are threatening our world.  Today, we are at 400 parts per million (ppm) and heading toward 550-650 ppm compared to pre-industrial counts that measured at 275 ppm.  McKibben advocates a goal of 350 ppm and has encouraged people in 188 countries to reduce carbon emissions in their communities.  (See the video explaining this charge.)

However, can people really be motivated to act given the complexity of the problem?

Kramer harkens to Howard Zinn’s autobiographical book, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train (1994).  In it Zinn says that we have to “look to history” to see that people working at the grassroots level were able to make change despite tremendous and entrenched obstacles.  It was people who ended slavery and Apartheid, liberated India, dismantled the Soviet Union and initiated the Arab Spring of 2011.  (See a video with Zinn)

“Climate change is a political issue” Kramer insisted.  “We know what to do.  We know that we need to mitigate the carbon emissions from fossil fuels.  What we lack is the political will and the mechanisms to move forward.”

Kramer insisted that climate change is not a party or ideological issue but rather a humanity issue.

“Planet Earth will survive,” he concluded, “but will human civilization?”

Disaster Relief Donations Track Number of People Killed, Not Number of Survivors (Science Daily)

Sep. 23, 2013 — People pay more attention to the number of people killed in a natural disaster than to the number of survivors when deciding how much money to donate to disaster relief efforts, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The donation bias can be reversed, however, with a simple change in terminology.

“While fatalities have a severe impact on the afflicted community or country, disaster aid should be allocated to people affected by the disaster — those who are injured, homeless, or hungry,” says lead researcher Ioannis Evangelidis of Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) in the Netherlands. “Our research shows that donors tend not to consider who really receives the aid.”

This discrepancy leads to a “humanitarian disaster,” say Evangelidis and colleague Bram Van den Bergh, where money is given disproportionately toward the natural disasters with the most deaths, instead of the ones with the most people in desperate need of help.

The researchers began by examining humanitarian relief data for natural disasters occurring between 2000 and 2010. As they expected, they found that the number of fatalities predicted the probability of donation, as well as the amount donated, by private donors in various disasters. Their model estimated that about $9,300 was donated per person killed in a given disaster. The number of people affected in the disasters, on the other hand, appeared to have no influence on the amount donated to relief efforts.

Evangelidis and Van den Bergh believe that donors are more likely to pay attention to a death toll when deciding how much to give because the term “affected” is ambiguous. In many cases, though, fatalities don’t correlate with the number of actual people in need.

To find a way to combat this donation bias, the researchers brought participants into the laboratory and presented them with several scenarios, involving various types of disasters and different numbers of people killed and affected.

Overall, participants allocated more money when a disaster resulted in a high death toll — even when the number of people affected was low — mirroring the data from the real natural disasters.

The bias was reversed, however, when participants had to compare two earthquakes — one that killed 4,500 and affected 7,500 versus one that claimed 7,500 and affected 4,500 — before allocating funds.

The act of comparing the two disasters seems to have forced the participants to think critically about which group actually needed the aid more. Notably, the effect carried over when the participants were asked to allocate funds for a third disaster

But the easiest, and most realistic, way to reduce the donation bias may involve a simple change in terminology. When the researchers swapped the term “affected” with the much less ambiguous term “homeless,” participants believed that money should be allocated according to the number of homeless people following a disaster.

“Above all, attention should be diverted from the number of fatalities to the number of survivors in need,” Evangelidis and Van den Bergh conclude. “We are optimistic that these insights will enhance aid to victims of future disasters.”

Journal Reference:

  1. I. Evangelidis, B. Van den Bergh. The Number of Fatalities Drives Disaster Aid: Increasing Sensitivity to People in NeedPsychological Science, 2013; DOI:10.1177/0956797613490748