So Freaking Sore…and Stuff

I was lazy.

After about a month off from the gym, I went back on Wednesday to do an upper body workout. Then I went again Thursday to cripple my lower body.

I can barely put a jacket on without wincing in pain. It’s getting worse by the minute.

I just came back from eating supper with my partner in crime, and when we stood up to put our jackets on, I nearly asked her to help…but I didn’t. My pride wouldn’t let me. I cried a little inside as I stretched my arm out to put it in the sleeve.

Asgardia, baby!

In other news, I ran across this story about a proposed space station. They’re taking applications for citizenship:

Asgardia, named after the Norse gods’ home of Asgard, will be a democracy with an emphasis on the freedom of the individual to develop space technologies, according to Igor Ashurbeyli, Asgardia project team leader and founder. People can now apply to be selected as one of the first 100,000 citizens through the nation’s website, asgardia.space. At the time of publication, the number of applicants has reached more than 84,000, according to the website. While Asgardia is not officially a nation (yet), prospective citizens must fulfil the legal requirements for Asgardia’s United Nations application — for example, they must be from nations that allow multiple citizenships.

I don’t think it will happen anytime soon, but it’s a pretty cool story nevertheless.

Pakistan says schizophrenia isn’t a mental disorder

Last but not least, I saw this story about Pakistan ruling that schizophrenia isn’t a mental disorder:

The Supreme Court in Pakistan has ruled that schizophrenia is not a mental illness, paving the way for the execution of a paranoid schizophrenic man convicted of murder.

Imdad Ali was declared clinically insane after killing a cleric in 2002.

Safia Bano, Mr Ali’s wife, had appealed against her husband’s conviction on the grounds that he was insane.

But the court rejected the appeal on Friday, saying schizophrenia was “not a permanent mental disorder”.

This despite The American Psychological Association determining schizophrenia to be a serious mental illness:

The American Psychological Association defines schizophrenia as “a serious mental illness characterised by incoherent or illogical thoughts, bizarre behaviour and speech, and delusions or hallucinations, such as hearing voices”.

The UN has said it would be against International Law to execute the man, but the decision means he could be hung within a week.

So depressing and what a step backwards for human rights.

On that note, I’m going to take my tired, old, sore body to bed. I hope you all have a fantastic evening and weekend.

 

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Does Split Brain Surgery Show There Is No Soul?

Cerebral_lobesI’ve been recently reading up on split brain surgery, and how it effects behavior. What made me originally curious was Sam Harris’ newest book, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion.

In that book, Sam Harris talks about consciousness and what makes us who we are. He describes (paraphrasing) how we feel as if we’re something riding around in our heads and looking through our eyes. He explains what consciousness is

 “an experiential internal qualitative dimension to any physical system.” Put more simply, consciousness is what it’s like and how it feels to be you.

He then goes on to talk about the ego or the sense of ‘I’ that we experience as human beings:

“The sense of being an ego, an I, a thinker of thoughts in addition to the thoughts. An experiencer in addition to the experience. The sense that we all have of riding around inside our heads as a kind of a passenger in the vehicle of the body…. Now that sense of being a subject, a locus of consciousness inside the head is an illusion. It makes no neuro-anatomical sense. There’s no place in the brain for your ego to be hiding.”

Later he talks about a medical procedure called calloscotomy, which inhibits the right hemisphere from communicating with the left. They have done this procedure to people who suffer from severe epileptic seizures.  They’ve also performed this procedure on various animals, including cats and monkeys.

So here’s the really interesting part. In my opinion anyways – when they do this procedure, it’s as if they create two consciousnesses in one skull. It’s creepy but it’s almost as if two people are sharing the same body.

In one test, they showed a subject who had undergone this procedure a set of four different colored blocks. Then they showed him a picture of the blocks in some arrangement in front of him and asked him to duplicate it with his blocks. The subjects right hand (the left hemisphere controls the right side as well as visual-motor capacity) was easily able to complete the task, but the left hand (controlled by the right hemisphere) could not.

However, it gets even stranger:

But more surprising was this: As the right hand kept trying to get the blocks to match up to the picture, the more capable left hand would creep over to the right hand to intervene, as if it realized how incompetent the right hand was. This occurred so frequently that Gazzaniga eventually asked Jenkins to sit on his left hand so it wouldn’t butt in.

When Gazzaniga let Jenkins use both hands to solve the problem in another trial, he again saw the two brain hemispheres at odds with one another. “One hand tried to undo the accomplishments of the other,” he wrote. “The left hand would make a move to get things correct and the right hand would undo the gain. It looked like two separate mental systems were struggling for their view of the world.”

The take away from this experiment and many more that they’ve done since is this:

“The demonstration that you could in effect split consciousness by splitting anatomy—by just making a tiny change in anatomy … It was one of the most remarkable results in neuroscience, with huge implications,” said Patricia Churchland, a philosopher at the University of California, San Diego, whose work focuses on the relationship between philosophy and neuroscience. “If you thought that consciousness and mental states were independent of the brain, then this should have been a real wake-up call.”

Helping to illuminate the relationship between the mind and the brain, according to the cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker, is one of split-brain research’s most important contributions to modern psychology and neuroscience. “The fact that each hemisphere supports its own coherent, conscious stream of thought highlights that consciousness is a product of brain activity,” he told me. “The notion that there is a single entity called consciousness, without components or parts, is false.”

We have often described our ‘self’ as something separate from our bodies. Most of our religions describe some sort of soul that leaves or changes as we die, but this experiment shows that by simply cutting off communication between our two hemispheres, we can create two consciousnesses that are independent of one another.

While you’re reading this, you could have two different opinions of this piece, depending on which hemisphere you asked.

How creepy but fascinating is that? And are there more ‘I’s’ lurking around in our skulls that we haven’t discovered yet?

No matter how you look at it, I think this shows that the soul doesn’t exist if you think your consciousness or the thing that you describe as ‘I’ or ‘you’ is essentially what your soul is.

What do you think?

Does Your Dog or Cat Get Jealous?

What's this I hear about you touching another dog?

What’s this I hear about you touching another dog?

A new study shows that dogs can feel jealousy:

A study by scholars at the University of California, San Diego found that dogs showed jealous behaviors when their owners displayed affection toward an animatronic stuffed dog that barked, whined and wagged its tail. The dogs snapped at and pushed against the stuffed dog and tried to get between it and the human.

And:

“These results lend support to the hypothesis that jealousy has some ‘primordial’ form that exists in human infants and in at least one other social species besides humans,” the study said.

Although most animals clearly demonstrate primal emotions such as anger or fear, studies have been less conclusive in determining whether dogs are capable of more complicated feelings such as guilt or shame, Bekoff said.

But research has shown that dogs do understand when they’re being treated unfairly, he said.

“Dogs are really keen social observers,” Bekoff said.

I think anyone who has owned (or owns) a pooch of their own probably knew this long before this study was published. My dog (Dexter) doesn’t even have to witness the contact of another dog, before he sniffs me and gives me the eye. He also tries to interject himself between me and my wife if we cuddle too long without including him. We will sit on the couch and eat dinner, which is fine with him. He’ll lay on the floor and watch us. After dinner, he will leave us alone for maybe ten minutes, before trying to fit his fat ass up on the couch with us. My wife usually takes the brunt of it, as she tries desperately to remove herself from beneath the dog.

You see, there is a natural order to things, according to Dexter. The one side of the couch is his. He’s always laid there and when I share the couch, he often lays on my chest. He’s done this since he was small enough to almost fit in the palm of my hand.

No one else can lay there unmolested – including his mommy.

If one of the girls try to sit there, he will try to get up on the couch and continually press his wet nose to the side of their face. He’ll give them the puppy eye or try to make them uncomfortable enough to leave.

For me, it’s sort of humorous to watch, but it’s a form of jealousy in my opinion. Dexter wouldn’t hurt a fly, but that doesn’t stop him from making his feelings known.

We also have two cats, and they don’t exhibit the same sort of behavior. I wonder if cats are capable of jealousy. I’m thinking they might be capable of it, but less prone to feeling or acting on the emotion.

Do you have any stories about your pooch acting jealous? Or any other animal for that matter?

Do You Think We’ll Find Life In The Next 20 Years?

I just finished watching a video with Bill Nye, who says he wouldn’t be surprised if they found life on Europa in the next 20-30 years:

And the reason we talk about Europa so often and so much in my little space community is because it has twice as much seawater as the Earth. And for years people who looked at Europa did not think it was good or well advised to plan a mission there because of the great expense. You would have to have a lander and then you’d have to have some kind of amazing drill to drill through, pick a number, 20 or 50 km of ice to get to this seawater. And so the surface of Europa is frozen. It’s a crust of ice, water ice, but below it is liquid water and it’s kept liquid by the gravitational or what we call tidal action of Europa’s orbit with this massive Jupiter.

And:

Astrobiologists have thought deeply about what it takes to be a living thing. You’ve got to have a membrane or a wall, something that separates you from what’s not you and you’d probably have to have a liquid, a solvent. And the best solvent anybody can come up with is water.

While I hope he’s right, I’m a little more skeptical about finding life on Europa. Maybe I’m just being cynical. I think it’s possible, and I think it’s worth the money to explore the possibility, but I wonder if it will just be a disappointment in terms of finding life.

Here’s a little more from Bill in a National Geographic article about the same topic:

Many of us think of alien life the way it’s depicted in science fiction—creatures that look quite a bit like humans in makeup and that all speak English with a non-American accent. These made-up aliens hail from distant star systems. But there’s a place right here in our own solar system that may be teeming with life. It’s Europa, a moon of Jupiter, one of the four that you can see with an inexpensive telescope, just as Galileo Galilei did.

One example of someone disagreeing with Bill:

On Earth, Hand says the basis of our food chain is driven by photosynthesis. But Europa’s ice shell is going to make photosynthesis out of the question. So Hand says “chemosynthesis,” energy derived from the interaction of Europa’s rocky seafloor and its ocean, may fill an entirely viable niche in an ocean beneath an ice shell.

One thing I will say is that I think it’s possible to find life and not even recognize it as life. We’re looking for the same kind of life we have here on Earth, but who knows how life might have (or have not) evolved on a place like Europa, with it’s 20+ mile of ice?

Either way, I think this is exciting news. Like Bill says in the video, if life is found, it will be the work of many different people, instead of just one or two individuals. Agencies are working together around the world.

Cue the Star Trek theme song.

Now tell me what you think.

Religion: Helping Make Kids Less Rational

Looks realistic to me...

Looks realistic to me…

A recent study shows that children exposed to religion make it harder for them to distinguish between fantasy and reality:

A study published in the July issue of Cognitive Science determined that children who are not exposed to religious stories are better able to tell that characters in “fantastical stories” are fictional — whereas children raised in a religious environment even “approach unfamiliar, fantastical stories flexibly.”

Let’s face it; children rely on their parents and adult authority figures to learn. When we teach them that virgin births, talking snakes, flying horses, walking on water and other mythological stories are literally true, we set them up to believe other fantastical tales that don’t mesh with reality.

The researchers took 66 children between the ages of five and six and asked them questions about stories — some of which were drawn from fairy tales, others from the Old Testament — in order to determine whether the children believed the characters in them were real or fictional.

“Children with exposure to religion — via church attendance, parochial schooling, or both — judged [characters in religious stories] to be real,” the authors wrote. “By contrast, children with no such exposure judged them to be pretend,” just as they had the characters in fairy tales. But children with exposure to religion judged many characters in fantastical, but not explicitly religious stories, to also be real — the equivalent of being incapable of differentiating between Mark Twain’s character Tom Sawyer and an account of George Washington’s life.

The researchers couldn’t use just one more kid in their study? They had to go with the unfortunate number 66?

Anyways, I suppose you could make the same argument about other magical figures we as a society often tell our kids are real, such as the Easter Bunny or Santa Clause. You could probably make an argument that these stories also help make our children less skeptical and rational. Once you start accepting some magical nonsense, I think it becomes easier to accept other non-reality based stories as plausible.

The study would seem to indicate this as well:

This conclusion contradicts previous studies in which children were said to be “born believers,”i.e. that they possessed “a natural credulity toward extraordinary beings with superhuman powers. Indeed, secular children responded to religious stories in much the same way as they responded to fantastical stories — they judged the protagonist to be pretend.”

The researchers also determined that “religious teaching, especially exposure to miracle stories, leads children to a more generic receptivity toward the impossible, that is, a more wide-ranging acceptance that the impossible can happen in defiance of ordinary causal relations.”

One more reason to consider letting your children make up their own minds when they’re at an age that they can make a rational choice, instead of indoctrinating them with your version(s) of God.

However, I’d like to see a similar study conducted that uses more than 66 children. I’d also like to see a long range study done to map the long-term effects (if any) religion has on an individual. While this study seems to point towards religion making it harder for children to distinguish between fantasy and reality,  does that hold true into adulthood or just for their childhood years?

What are your thoughts on this study?

 

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

love_exists_4_by_marissavoo-d2zd21nA comment made on my last post was rather interesting and is the inspiration for this one. In the last part of the comment she said:

But if i was going to compare God to something else invisible to prove a point it would be love, you can not see love, touch it, or prove it, but you know that its there.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this argument made by a religious person.

However, when we look at it critically, God isn’t anything like love. Scientifically, we understand the biological processes behind those feelings fairly well.

For example:

Although people experience love differently, the chemistry behind the initial rush of attraction shows us that there are biological explanations to feeling giddy, for example, during those blissful early weeks.

To start with, dopamine, which is created in the brain and adrenal glands, enhances the release of testosterone. Dopamine affects various organs, including the genitals, the sweat glands, and also the senses. Have you ever noticed that when you are in the early stages of lust or love, you sweat more? Or that the sky seems bluer? Dopamine, in this context of arousal, is partly responsibly. As a consequence of dopamine being released, mood and emotions are also influenced, leading to feelings of excitement and happiness. Meanwhile, testosterone increases sexual desire, but also increases aggressive behaviour and behaviourally, may push someone to pursue the one who is fueling this intense response.

After this step, the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and PEA (phenylethylamine) lead to focused attention. Individuals start to ‘zero-in’ on the person they desire, and at the same time, often have a feeling of euphoria. Norepinephrine is a stimulant, so it also causes individuals to feel alert, potentially unable to sleep, and enables them to notice and remember even the smallest of details about their partners. PEA is responsible for the feelings of giddiness, and may cause the loss of appetite. If the relationship doesn’t last, and PEA levels fall and are partly responsible for the feelings of depression that can be experienced.

I know…it seems a lot less romantic when broken down scientifically, but the point remains the same – love isn’t a supernatural entity in the sky or a supernatural realm laid out for believers after they die. There are biological reasons for those feelings.

As clinical psychologist Sue Johnson points out in a recent article:

“I think it’s absolutely disastrous for us to keep defining love as a big mystery,” Johnson says. “We need to know about it, we need to know how to shape it. It’s now the basis of our families. Really, the family stands or falls on feelings of affection. … We are all longing for it, and it’s just kind of not so poetic and fun anymore to define it as slightly out of reach and sort of only magical.”

Sound familiar?

Even though we have a fairly good understanding of love from a biological perspective, we still try to label it as something magical and mysterious…kind of like our favorite myths about God.

In another article:

If you’ve ever been in love, you’ve probably at least considered classifying the feeling as an addiction. And guess what: You were right. As it turns out, scientists are discovering that the same chemical process that takes place with addiction takes place when we fall in love.

So unlike God, you can show evidence that it exists and you can test for it scientifically. It’s part of our natural world and has nothing to do with magic or the supernatural.

If you really want to look for a fair comparison between Allah, Yahweh, Jesus or Vishnu, you can find it in Odin, Zeus and Mithra.

In other words, the rest of the Gods you probably don’t believe in, which have been thrown in the dustbin of mythological history.

Why Is Climate Change On The Same Scale As Tiger Woods?

climate changeIt seems crazy to me that we as a society spend more time thinking, reading and writing about things like Tiger Woods’ extramarital affair, than we do climate change. Who Tiger Woods shags is really none of my business and what he does on or off the golf course (while superficially interesting) will not affect me in the long-term. Climate change on the other hand, could mean devastation for us and future generations.

In an article published in Science Daily, researchers found that climate change news has a hard time getting traction with the public, even when it’s been covered by the media:

Researchers found that negative media reports seem to have only a passing effect on public opinion, but that positive stories don’t appear to possess much staying power, either. This dynamic suggests that climate scientists should reexamine how to effectively and more regularly engage the public.

I agree that climate scientists need to reexamine how they engage the public, but I don’t think this applies just to climate scientists, but to all scientists. Here are a few things I’ve noticed about how we communicate about science and climate change.

It’s just a theory

I seriously think we need to change the word ‘theory’ when it’s connected to science. Too many people don’t understand the difference between a scientific theory and a theory as it pertains to everyday use. Many people just throw out there that things like evolution are just a theory.

However, a scientific theory isn’t something we should scoff at. What a ‘theory’ means in this context is:

A scientific theory summarizes a hypothesis or group of hypotheses that have been supported with repeated testing. If enough evidence accumulates to support a hypothesis, it moves to the next step—known as a theory—in the scientific method and becomes accepted as a valid explanation of a phenomenon.

As you can see, a theory in science means it has undergone extensive testing, and the scientific community considers it a valid explanation of a phenomenon.

For example, gravity is just a theory.

Faith is superior to evidence

I think we put far too much stock in what ancient manuscripts have to say about how we live our lives. People seem to be able to accept talking snakes and flying horses because they’re mentioned in what they consider to be Holy Books, but they won’t accept evidence based science because of what they believe in ancient mythology.

For example, some people believe that god granted us this planet to exploit. This might lessen their concern over climate change. Some people believe that evolution isn’t backed by a mountain of evidence, and people are taught that science should take a backseat to faith. This is dangerous thinking in my opinion, and we have to start being honest about how this type of thought process can lead to serious (perhaps fatal) consequences, such as devastating climate change.

Considering we’re surrounded by the fruits of science, you’d think more people would get behind science than their choice of myth.

We need better science education

I think we need a culture shift that includes better science education. We need more shows like Cosmos, that help put science into terms the common person can easily understand. We need to make science fun.

If I could wave a magic wand, scientists, thinkers, teachers etc would be the new rock stars of our society.

We need more urgency

The original study stated:

For instance, he said, climategate had the same Internet half-life as the public fallout from pro-golfer Tiger Woods’ extramarital affair, which happened around the same (but received far more searches).

A public with little interest in climate change is unlikely to push for policies that actually address the problem, Anderegg said. He and Goldsmith suggest communicating in terms familiar to the public rather than to scientists. For example, their findings suggest that most people still identify with the term “global warming” instead of “climate change,” though the shift toward embracing the more scientific term is clear.

Concern over climate change should far outstrip our concern over who Tiger Woods is sleeping with. We need to realize that climate change is urgent. It’s not something that is going away.

I think part of the problem is we can ignore climate change right now. Sure, there might be a few weather anomalies, and we might see a few news story about the shrinking ice, but we still have our air conditioning, two cars in the garage and Netflix to keep us occupied during our downtime. By the time we start suffering detrimental (or commonly lethal) effects from climate change, it might be too late. There might be no turning back and we could cause our own demise as a species.

We need to muster political will, and we need to do it quickly.

Change the conversation

Even if someone doesn’t believe in climate change, they can hardly argue that dumping pollutants into the air isn’t a bad thing. We need to develop and manufacture clean energy solutions.

We need to stop listening to big oil companies that have a vested interest in keeping us blind and ignorant to the situation. We need to stop paying attention to what their spin-doctors and paid cronies have to say, and start paying serious attention to the scientific community.

We’ve seen how public pressure and social media can change the world. Let’s start putting those tools to good use when it comes to something as important as climate change. Our very future depends on it.