Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Musical Interlude ~ "We Are All Connected"

This video strikes me as odd and yet beautifully meaningful, with the words of prominent physicists put to popular music. It’s part of the “Symphony of Science” being created by John Boswell using clips from Nova, Cosmos and other television programs. This 4-minute piece uses astrochemist Carl Sagan, quantum physicist Richard Feynman, “Science Guy” Bill Nye and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and is titled “We Are All Connected.”

Watch it, absorb it, and you won’t forget it.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

World Peace Depends Entirely on "Know Thyself"

S.N. Goenka, now 85, here presents a familiar message that we all need to be frequently reminded of: Peace and harmony ~ even on a global scale ~ must begin inside of you, the individual. Goenka is one of the world's foremost teachers of Vipassana meditation and here is shown speaking at the United Nations in 2000. This is a much-needed, 4-minute reminder. If you like it, there's a deeper, 11-minute clip also on YouTube.

Number 58 ~ THE JOYOUS

The Joyous. Success.
Perseverance is favorable.

The joyous mood is infectious and therefore brings success. But joy must be based on steadfastness if it is not to degenerate into uncontrolled mirth. Trust and strength must dwell in the heart, while gentleness reveals itself in social intercourse. In this way, one assumes the right attitude toward God and man and achieves something. Under certain conditions, intimidation without gentleness may achieve something momentarily, but not for all time. When, on the other hand, the hearts of men are won by friendliness, they are led to take all hardships upon themselves willingly, and if need be, will not shun death itself, so great is the power of joy over men.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Is Rudeness the Legacy of Regional Disease?

If you travel much at all, you know some parts of a country are populated by mostly friendly people and some parts … well, you’re glad to be just passing through. Now, biologists are showing that a geographical history of disease has a big bearing on how welcoming people are to strangers.

According to Smithsonian magazine:
In a series of high-profile papers, biologists Corey Fincher and Randy Thornhill, both at the University of New Mexico, and Mark Schaller and Damian Murray of the University of British Columbia argue that one factor, disease, ultimately determines much of who we are and how we behave.

... Consistently, in regions where deadly diseases are more common, people are more xenophobic, more strongly focused on the welfare of their group, and less likely to be nice to strangers. Where diseases are more prevalent, individuals are less open to meeting strangers and to new experiences. Where diseases are more prevalent, cultures and languages differ more from one another. Sure enough, all of the scientists' predictions seem to hold, or at least to not be easily refuted. If you meet someone who is wary or even openly hostile to you, who bows or shake hands rather than kisses and in general keeps their distance, chances are they come from someplace with a terrible prevalence of disease.
In writing the article, Rob Dunn ~ himself a biologist at North Carolina State University and the author of "Every Living Thing: Man's Obsessive Quest to Catalog Life, from Nanobacteria to New Monkeys" ~ concludes:
In the meantime, we go on living our lives, imagining that we decide for ourselves who we are and how to act. But when the flu comes back this fall, watch your neighbors. Watch to see if their actions change. If Fincher and Thornhill are right, wherever the flu strikes, people will become more wary of strangers. Hands once extended freely will search for pockets. Where the disease is worst, the changes will be most rapid and extreme. Whole countries may even shutter their borders. Because while it is very hard to predict the evolution of H1N1 and the deaths it will cause, at least to Fincher the changes in our own actions may be more foreseeable. We are like small boats, pushed and pulled in the tides of disease.
Click here for the Smithsonian article.

Study Projects Some Evolutionary Traits

Human evolution remains in the news these days, and seems less to do with Charles Dawin’s 200th birthday than with some significant new studies being released by prominent biologists. For example, Yale University evolutionary biologist Stephen Stearns recently led a team focusing on women’s fertility in Framingham, Massachusetts, including some interesting evolutionary predictions.

"Variations in reproductive success still exist among humans, and therefore some traits related to fertility continue to be shaped by natural selection," Stearns says.

According to Time Magazine:
Stearns' team examined the vital statistics of 2,238 postmenopausal women participating in the Framingham Heart Study, which has tracked the medical histories of some 14,000 residents of Framingham, Mass., since 1948. Investigators searched for correlations between women's physical characteristics — including height, weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels — and the number of offspring they produced.

According to their findings, it was stout, slightly plump (but not obese) women who tended to have more children — "Women with very low body fat don't ovulate," Stearns explains — as did women with lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Using a sophisticated statistical analysis that controlled for any social or cultural factors that could impact childbearing, researchers determined that these characteristics were passed on genetically from mothers to daughters and granddaughters.

If these trends were to continue with no cultural changes in the town for the next 10 generations, by 2409 the average Framingham woman would be 2 cm (0.8 in) shorter, 1 kg (2.2 lb.) heavier, have a healthier heart, have her first child five months earlier and enter menopause 10 months later than a woman today, the study found.
"That rate of evolution is slow but pretty similar to what we see in other plants and animals. Humans don't seem to be any exception," Stearns says.

Click here for the Time Magazine article.

Parallels with the Civil War?

Given the extraordinarily divisive political nature of our country today, I'm intrigued with this astrological reading on the United States by British astrologer Liz Greene. She’s one of the world’s most well-known astrologers, author of several best-selling books on the subject, a practicing Jungian analyst and co-director of the Centre for Psychological Astrology in London.

She based this 2005 reading on the Sibly chart ~ derived from eye-witness accounts of the signing of the Declaration of Independence ~ that puts the birth of the United States precisely at 4:50 p.m. on July 4, 1776, in Philadelphia. Greene's reading covers the period in the U.S. from 2008 to 2024.

Here’s what I found interesting:

In the horoscope of the United States, Pluto, as it moves through Capricorn, is opposing the Sun in the natal chart, reflecting major and irrevocable changes on many levels. This aspect has occurred only once before in American history, during the period of the Civil War. Although it is not intrinsically an aspect of war, it challenges the deepest definitions of what constitutes nationhood, and raises many issues of autonomy and the way in which the government is structured and how much authority it may or may not exercise.The deeper issues underlying the Civil War concerned not only human rights, but also the autonomy of the individual states comprising the nation, and these issues may once again rise to the surface as new ways of defining the national identity are proposed.

She goes on to describe some other astrological attributes of the U.S., then concludes with:

Whether or not you favour these changes personally, it would seem that a time has arrived when there is a great new opportunity to affirm the values and ideals of the original founding of the nation, applicable not only to government and to foreign relations, but also to the land itself and the resources inherent in it.

Click here to read the full chart.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Brain's Release of Endorphins Causes Placeo Effect

New research suggests that placebos work because your belief system tells your brain to block the pain or discomfort. In the study, researchers found that when patients expect a treatment to be effective, the brain area responsible for pain control is activated, causing the release of natural endorphins.

These endorphins then send a cascade of instructions down to the spinal cord to suppress incoming pain signals and patients feel better, regardless of whether the treatment ~ a pill or some other medical intervention ~ had any authentic direct effect.

According to the London Times:
The sequence of events in the brain closely mirrors the way opioid drugs, such as morphine, work ~ adding weight to the view that the placebo effect is grounded in physiology.

The finding strengthens the argument that many established medical treatments derive part of their effectiveness from the patients’ expectation that the drugs will make them better.

The latest studies on antidepressants suggest that at least 75 per cent of the benefit comes from the placebo effect. GPs also observe that patients report feeling better only days after being prescribed antidepressants, even though the direct effects take several weeks to kick in.
In the study, published this week in the journal Science, the spinal cords of 15 healthy volunteers were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The scan examined the dorsal horn, which transmits pain signals coming up through the spinal cord into the pain-related areas in the brain.
During the scan, the volunteers received laser “pinpricks” to their hands. The volunteers were told that a pain-relief cream had been applied to one of their hands and a control cream to the other. But unknown to the volunteers, an identical control cream was administered to both hands.

When people believed that they had received the active cream, they reported feeling 25 per cent less pain and showed significantly reduced activity in the spinal cord pathway that processes pain.
“We’ve shown that psychological factors can influence pain at the earliest stage of the central nervous system, in a similar way to drugs like morphine,” said Falk Eippert, of the University Medical Centre Hamburg-Eppendorf, who led the study.

Click here for the London Times article.

Fingerprint Says Painting May Be By da Vinci

A portrait of a young woman ~originally believed to be a 19th century German painting ~ may actually have been painted by Leonardo da Vinci. Peter Paul Biro, a Montreal-based forensic art expert, said that a fingerprint on the canvas has convinced art experts that it's actually a Leonardo.

One London art dealer now says it could be worth more than $150 million. If experts are correct, it will be the first major work by Leonardo to be identified in 100 years.

According to the Associated Press:
Biro said the print of an index or middle finger was found on the artwork and that it matched a fingerprint from Leonardo's "St. Jerome" in the Vatican. Biro examined multispectral images of the drawing taken by the Luminere Technology laboratory in Paris. The lab used a special digital scanner to show successive layers of the work.

"Leonardo used his hands liberally and frequently as part of his painting technique. His fingerprints are found on many of his works," Biro said. "I was able to make use of multispectral images to make a little smudge a very readable fingerprint."
Technical, stylistic and material composition evidence had experts believing they had found a Leonardo as early as last year. The discovery of the fingerprint now has them convinced.

"I would say it is priceless. There aren't that many Leonardos in existence," Biro said.

Click here for the Associated Press article.
Photo shows location of the fingerprint on the canvas.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Humans Are Evolving at Supercharged Pace

Evolutionary opener from Space Odyssey 2001.

You may think humans haven’t evolved for millennia, but new genomics data describes the past 40,000 years as a period of supercharged human evolutionary change, driven by exponential population growth and cultural shifts.

A team led by University of Wisconsin anthropologist John Hawks has estimated that positive selection just in the past 5,000 years alone ~ dating back to the Stone Age ~ has occurred at a rate roughly 100 times higher than any other period of human evolution.

Many of the new genetic adjustments are driven by changes in the human diet brought on by the advent of agriculture, and resistance to epidemic diseases that became major killers after the growth of human civilizations.

"In evolutionary terms, cultures that grow slowly are at a disadvantage, but the massive growth of human populations has led to far more genetic mutations," says Hawks. "And every mutation that is advantageous to people has a chance of being selected and driven toward fixation. What we are catching is an exceptional time."

According to a University of Wisconsin press release:
While the correlation between population size and natural selection was a core premise of Charles Darwin, Hawks says the ability to bring quantifiable evidence to the table is a new and exciting outgrowth of the Human Genome Project.

The researchers identify recent genetic change by finding long blocks of DNA base pairs that are connected. Because human DNA is constantly being reshuffled through recombination, a long, uninterrupted segment of LD is usually evidence of positive selection. Linkage disequilibrium decays quickly as recombination occurs across many generations, so finding these uninterrupted segments is strong evidence of recent adaptation, Hawks says.

Employing this test, the researchers found evidence of recent selection on approximately 1,800 genes, or 7 percent of all human genes.
The biggest new pathway for selection relates to disease resistance, Hawks says. As people starting living in much larger groups and settling in one place roughly 10,000 years ago, epidemic diseases such as malaria, smallpox and cholera began to dramatically shift mortality patterns in people.

Click here for the Daily Galaxy article.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Likely Site of Fabled Labyrinth is Found

Ancient vase depiction of Theseus slaying the Minotaur.

A team of Greek and English scholars believe they have discovered a likely location for the site of the ancient Labyrinth, the legendary maze where the mythical Minotaur supposedly roamed. The elaborate network of underground tunnels is in an old stone quarry near the town of Gortyn, formerly the Roman capital of Crete.

For the last century, the town of Knossos ~ about 20 miles from Gortyn ~ has been touted as the location of the Labyrinth. According to London’s The Indepdendent:
Nicholas Howarth, an Oxford University geographer who led the expedition (to Gortyn), said there was a danger of Gortyn being lost from the story of the Labyrinth because of the overpowering position that Knossos had taken in the legend, a position fostered by Arthur Evans, a wealthy English archaeologist who excavated the site between 1900 and 1935.

"People come not just to see the controversial ruins excavated and reconstructed by Evans, but also to seek a connection to the mythical past of the Age of Heroes. It is a shame that almost all visitors to Knossos have never heard of these other possible 'sites' for the mythical Labyrinth," Mr Howarth said.
Visitors to Knossos are told the site was almost certainly the home of the legendary King Minos, who was said to have constructed the Labyrinth for the Minotaur, a monster resulting from the mating of the king’s wife with a bull.

But the caves at Gortyn ~ known locally as the Labyrinthos Caves ~ are nearly three miles of interlocking tunnels with widened chambers and dead-end rooms, closer to the ancient descriptions of the Labyrinth.

"Going into the Labyrinthos Caves at Gortyn, it's easy to feel that this is a dark and dangerous place where it is easy to get lost,” Howarth says. “Evans' hypothesis that the palace of Knossos is also the Labyrinth must be treated skeptically."

Click here for the article in The Independent.
Post originally appeared on my Ancient Tides blog.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

2012: And So the Hysteria Begins

Conceptual artwork by Barbara McGunigal.

The countdown has 38 months left until December 21, 2012, and already low-grade hysteria about the end of the world is occurring. According to the Associated Press in a 2012 status report:
At Cornell University, Ann Martin, who runs the "Curious? Ask an Astronomer" website, says people are scared.
"It's too bad that we're getting emails from fourth-graders who are saying that they're too young to die," Martin said. "We had a mother of two young children who was afraid she wouldn't live to see them grow up."
Triggering this unfortunate example, of course, is the ancient Mayan calendar, which already is the source of considerable debate.
The Mayan civilization, which reached its height from 300 A.D. to 900 A.D., had a talent for astronomy. Its Long Count calendar begins in 3,114 B.C., marking time in roughly 394-year periods known as Baktuns. Thirteen was a significant, sacred number for the Mayas, and the 13th Baktun ends around Dec. 21, 2012.
"It's a special anniversary of creation," said David Stuart, a specialist in Mayan epigraphy at the University of Texas at Austin. "The Maya never said the world is going to end, they never said anything bad would happen necessarily, they're just recording this future anniversary on Monument Six."
For the blissfully ignorant, Monument Six is a stone tablet found at an obscure ruin in southern Mexico during highway construction in the 1960s. Parts of the tablet were stolen upon its discovery, but the remaining parts contain the equivalent of the date 2012. The inscription describes something that is supposed to occur in 2012 involving Bolon Yokte, a mysterious Mayan god associated with both war and creation.

The Associated Press article recites some of the arguments from believers and non-believers and is just a hint of what we can expect from the media over the next three years. I’d say the kickoff for the real hysteria will be the opening next month of the movie “2012,” with its incredible special effects depicting earthquakes, meteor showers and a killer tsunami.

Click here for the Associated Press article.
Click here for a “Year 2012” blog with lots of links.
Click here for more artwork by Barbara McGunigal.

"The Universe Loves Gratitude"

The so-called Law of Attraction and use of "affirmations" both get a lot of harsh criticism these days, but my experience is that there's something valid about both. It may be something as minor as the fact that life is better if you can be positive instead of dwelling in a world of negativity. Or it may be something as major as creating shifts in physical levels of vibration that put you in sync with similar vibrational patterns and therefore attract more of the same, as stated in basic physics.

Either way, my belief is: What's the harm?

And one of the most effective proponents of positive, affirmative thinking is Louise Hay, who's living proof of what she teaches. If you like this 5-minute clip, I have a couple more of her clips on Quantum Spirit ~ just click on the Louise Hay label below.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Could the Higgs Boson Travel Back in Time?

The Hadron Collider's superconducting solenoid magnet.

There’s been no shortage of bizarre hypotheses surrounding the Large Hadron Collider located near Geneva, but the New York Times this week publicized the strangest of all. In essence, if the $9 billion collider can actually produce the Higgs boson, it could ….

Well, here’s the way the Times put it:
A pair of otherwise distinguished physicists have suggested that the hypothesized Higgs boson, which physicists hope to produce with the collider, might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one, like a time traveler who goes back in time to kill his grandfather.
The scientists in question are Holger Bech Nielsen of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, and Masao Ninomiya of the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics in Kyoto, Japan.
“It must be our prediction that all Higgs producing machines shall have bad luck,” Dr. Nielsen said in an e-mail message. In an unpublished essay, Dr. Nielson said of the theory, “Well, one could even almost say that we have a model for God.” It is their guess, he went on, “that He rather hates Higgs particles, and attempts to avoid them."
If you’re a fan of science fiction or even of science that’s stranger than fiction, you’ll no doubt be intrigued with what Nielsen and Ninomiya say on the matter.

Click here for the New York Times article.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Brain Has Electrical Surge Just Before Death

In the moments before death, the human brain surges with activity, which some researchers believe may be related to near-death experiences (NDEs).

Seven patients dying from critical illnesses recently were studied by doctors at George Washington University. Moments before death, the patients experienced a burst in brain wave activity, with the spikes occurring at the same time before death and at comparable intensity and duration.

Writing in the October issue of the Journal of Palliative Medicine, the doctors theorize that the brain surges may be tied to widely reported near-death experiences which typically involve spiritual or religious attributes.

According to Discovery News:
At first, doctors thought the electrical surges picked up by electroencephalographs were caused by other machines or cell phones in the rooms of dying patients, lead author Lakhmir Chawla told Discovery News.

"We thought 'Hey, that was odd. What was that?'" Chawla said. "We thought there was a cell phone or a machine on in the room that created this anomaly. But then we started removing things, turning off cell phones and machines, and we saw it was still happening."

The doctors believe they are seeing the brain's neurons discharge as they lose oxygen from lack of blood pressure.

"All the neurons are connected together and when they lose oxygen, their ability to maintain electrical potential goes away," Chawla said. "I think when people lose all their blood flow, their neurons all fire in very close proximity and you get a big domino effect. We think this could explain the spike."
Brain researcher Kevin Nelson at the University of Kentucky, who studies near-death experiences, said it's well known that when the brain is abruptly deprived of blood flow it gives off a burst of high voltage energy. "It's unlikely with conventional brain wave recordings during death that they're going to see something that hasn't been seen already." he said.

Chawla and colleagues want to follow up their case study with a larger pool of patients outfitted with more sophisticated brain activity sensors.

Click here for the Discovery News article.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

"Man is the Great Danger"

In this one-minute clip, the famed Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961) warns us about ourselves. "Man is the great danger," he stresses, "and we are pitifully unaware of it." While his assessment is harsh, his words are wise in encouraging much more study of the human mind and its capacity for evil. For only through a better understanding can we, as the human race, improve.
Number 6 ~ CONFLICT

Conflict. You are sincere
And are being obstructed.
A cautious halt halfway brings good fortune.
Going through to the end brings misfortune.
It furthers one to see the great man.
It does not further one to cross the great water.

Conflict develops when one feels him or herself to be in the right and runs into opposition. If one is not convinced of being in the right, opposition leads to craftiness or high-handed encroachment, but not to open conflict.

If a man is entangled in a conflict, his only salvation lies in being so clear-headed and inwardly strong that he is always ready to come to terms by meeting the opponent halfway. To carry on the conflict to the bitter end has evil effects even when one is in the right, because the enmity is then perpetuated. It is important to see the great man, that is, an impartial man whose authority is great enough to terminate the conflict amicably or assure a just decision. In times of strife, crossing the great water is to be avoided, that is, dangerous enterprises require concerted unity of forces. Conflict within weakens the power to conquer danger without.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Familiar Situations Provoked Athens' Downfall

Artist's conception of Athens in its glory.

Ancient Athens imploded during the 4th century BC amid a crippling economic downtown as its army fought unpopular wars on foreign soil and immigrants surged across its borders.

Cambridge University professor Michael Scott in his new study entitled From Democrats to Kings, contends that the collapse of Greek democracy and of Athens in particular offer a stark warning from history which is often overlooked.

"In many ways this was a period of total uncertainty just like our own time," Scott told "There are grounds to consider whether we want to go down the same route that Athens did.”

According to
It was not the loss of its empire and defeat in war against Sparta at the end of the 5th century that heralded the death knell of Athenian democracy ~ as it is traditionally perceived. Athens' democracy in fact recovered from these injuries within years. Instead, Dr. Scott argues that the strains and stresses of the 4th century BC, which our own times seem to echo, proved too much for the Athenian democratic system and ultimately caused it to destroy itself.

"If history can provide a map of where we have been, a mirror to where we are right now and perhaps even a guide to what we should do next, the story of this period is perfectly suited to do that in our times," Dr. Scott said.

"It shows how an earlier generation of people responded to similar challenges and which strategies succeeded. It is a period of history that we would do well to think about a little more right now ~ and we ignore it at our peril."
The name of "democracy," for example, became an excuse to turn on anyone regarded as an enemy of the state. Scott's study also marks an attempt to recognize figures such as Isocrates and Phocion ~ sage political advisers who tried unsuccessfully to steer Athens away from crippling confrontations with other Greek states and Macedonia.

Click here for the article.
Post originally appeared on my Ancient Tides blog.

Friday, October 9, 2009

When a superior man hears of the Tao,
he immediately begins to embody it.
When an average man hears of the Tao,
he half believes it, half doubts it.
When a foolish man hears of the Tao,
he laughs out loud.
If he didn't laugh,
it wouldn't be the Tao.

Thus it is said:
The path into the light seems dark,
the path forward seems to go back,
the direct path seems long,
true power seems weak,
true purity seems tarnished,
true steadfastness seems changeable,
true clarity seems obscure,
the greatest art seems unsophisticated,
the greatest love seems indifferent,
the greatest wisdom seems childish.

The Tao is nowhere to be found.
Yet it nourishes and completes all things.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Bombing the Moon

Anyone with even a brief exposure to astrology knows how vitally important the Moon is to this arcane practice, so it makes sense that the astrological community might be upset with NASA’s plan to bomb the Moon tomorrow morning in search of traces of lunar water. (If you haven’t heard about it, here’s NASA’s explanation.) One of the most cogent analyses appeared yesterday from respected astrologer Melody Scott Zindell of Boulder, Colorado. Here are some snippets she posted on her blog under the title "Bombing the Moon and Karma." It's best read in its entirety.

The chart for this event is strikingly graphic. In astrology, the Moon correlates with the sign Cancer, and the nodal axis of the Moon is what is being referred to when we use the terms North and South Nodes. This event chart shows Mars conjunct the South Node in Cancer at 26 degrees. Mars is the archetypal warrior. It is how we get what we want and governs anger and aggression.

. . . This event may be a karmic gateway that really shakes things up. In astrology, the Lunar Nodes have always been associated with karma. We are not born blank canvases to be painted on by others. We come in with definite personalities, gifts, challenges and lessons we seem to be fatefully pulled to learn.

. . . The last time the Nodes were in this same position (late 1990) the Persian Gulf War was started and the World Wide Web was taking off. We also had the largest deployment of women in military history. The cycle before that (late April 1972) Nixon authorized a massive bombing attack with the Vietnam war, privately saying, “The bastards have never been bombed like they're going to bombed this time.” Protests against the bombings erupted in the US. This is also the summer that terrorists killed 11 Israeli athletes and the attempted assassination of Gov. Wallace. This time around war and the threat of war abounds while we go off planet with our aggressive orientation and bomb the Moon.

Click here for Melody Scott Zindell's blog.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Nonsense Can Lead to Finding Unseen Patterns

Illustration for Lewis Carroll's poem "Jabberwocky."

Nonsense and anomalies can befuddle us, but out of our confusion can come some of our most creative thinking. New research is showing that, faced with nonsensical situations, our minds seek patterns we would otherwise might have missed.

“We’re so motivated to get rid of that feeling (being perplexed) that we look for meaning and coherence elsewhere,” Travis Proulx of the University of California tells the New York Times. “We channel the feeling into some other project, and it appears to improve some kinds of learning.”

According to the Times:
Researchers have long known that people cling to their personal biases more tightly when feeling threatened. After thinking about their own inevitable death, they become more patriotic, more religious and less tolerant of outsiders, studies find. When insulted, they profess more loyalty to friends — and when told they’ve done poorly on a trivia test, they even identify more strongly with their school’s winning teams.

In a series of new papers, Dr. Proulx and Steven J. Heine, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, argue that these findings are variations on the same process: maintaining meaning, or coherence. The brain evolved to predict, and it does so by identifying patterns.

When those patterns break down — as when a hiker stumbles across an easy chair sitting deep in the woods, as if dropped from the sky — the brain gropes for something, anything that makes sense. It may retreat to a familiar ritual, like checking equipment. But it may also turn its attention outward, the researchers argue, and notice, say, a pattern in animal tracks that was previously hidden. The urge to find a coherent pattern makes it more likely that the brain will find one.
Brain-imaging studies of people evaluating anomalies, or working out unsettling dilemmas, show that activity in an area called the anterior cingulate cortex spikes significantly. The more activity is recorded, the greater the motivation to seek and correct errors in the real world, the research suggests.

Click here for the New York Times article.

Deforestation May Have Destroyed Mayan Culture

Mayan mural depicting the god of maize.

Using computer-based simulations and space-based imaging, a NASA-funded project is providing strong evidence that the once-vibrant Mayan culture destroyed itself through extreme deforestation.

"They did it to themselves," says veteran archeologist Tom Sever. According to NASA sources:
A major drought occurred about the time the Maya began to disappear. And at the time of their collapse, the Maya had cut down most of the trees across large swaths of the land to clear fields for growing corn to feed their burgeoning population. They also cut trees for firewood and for making building materials.

"They had to burn 20 trees to heat the limestone for making just 1 square meter of the lime plaster they used to build their tremendous temples, reservoirs, and monuments," explains Sever.

. . . "By interpreting infrared satellite data, we've located hundreds of old and abandoned cities not previously known to exist. The Maya used lime plaster as foundations to build their great cities filled with ornate temples, observatories, and pyramids. Over hundreds of years, the lime seeped into the soil. As a result, the vegetation around the ruins looks distinctive in infrared to this day."
Drought also made it more difficult for the Maya to store enough water to survive the dry season. "The cities tried to keep an 18-month supply of water in their reservoirs," says Sever. "For example, in Tikal there was a system of reservoirs that held millions of gallons of water. Without sufficient rain, the reservoirs ran dry."

For 1200 years, the Maya dominated Central America. At their peak around 900 AD, Maya cities teemed with more than 2,000 people per square mile ~ comparable to modern Los Angeles County. Even in rural areas, the Maya numbered 200 to 400 people per square mile.

Click here for the NASA article.
Post originally appeared on my Ancient Tides blog.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Monster in the Sublime

The mythologist Joseph Campbell (1904-87) was a true sage. I’ve known of very few people who could collect such a vast array of knowledge from many cultures and still weave the diverse strands together into a meaningful, spiritual fabric.

Here he discusses the meaning of sublime, reminding us that, even in the sublime, there are monsters. And these monsters may in some way contribute to our bliss.

Listen and ponder.

{ I regret that the Joseph Campbell Foundation has ordered video clips from his "Power of Myth" series to be removed from YouTube. I'll keep this post here, however, because some of you made comments. I wish the Foundation had not deprived us of the man's wisdom in this way.}

Scientists Accurately Reproduce Shroud's Image

One of Christendom’s most revered relics ~ the linen shroud that allegedly covered Jesus after his crucifixion ~ was dealt a blow Monday when scientists announced they could reproduce the mysterious image of a wounded man, using techniques available in the 14th century.

The Shroud of Turin is believed by man to bear the figure of a crucified man, with blood seeping out of his wounds in his hands and feet. The shroud’s believers contend the image was impressed into the linen fibers supernaturally at the time of Christ’s resurrection.

The Italian Committee for Checking Claims on the Paranormal said Monday that new evidence points to the shroud as being a medieval forgery. According to the Associated Press:
In 1988, scientists used radiocarbon dating to determine it was made in the 13th or 14th century. But the dispute continued because experts couldn't explain how the faint brown discoloration was produced, imprinting on the cloth a negative image centuries before the invention of photography.

Many still believe that the shroud "has unexplainable characteristics that cannot be reproduced by human means," lead scientist Luigi Garlaschelli said in the statement. "The result obtained clearly indicates that this could be done with the use of inexpensive materials and with a quite simple procedure."
Garlaschelli said in an interview with La Repubblica daily that his team used a linen woven with the same technique as the shroud and artificially aged by heating it in an oven and washing it with water. The cloth was then placed on a student, who wore a mask to reproduce the face, and rubbed with red ochre, a well known pigment at the time.

The shroud is first recorded in history around 1360 in the hands of a French knight ~ a late appearance that is one of the reasons why some scientists are skeptical of its authenticity.

Click here for the Associated Press article.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Number 61 ~ INNER TRUTH

Inner truth. Pigs and fishes.
Good fortune.
It furthers one to cross the great water.
Perseverance furthers.

Pigs and fishes are the least intelligent of all animals and therefore the most difficult to influence. The force of inner truth must grow great indeed before its influence can extend to such creatures. In dealing with persons as intractable and as difficult to influence as a pig or a fish, the whole secret of success depends on finding the right way of approach. One must first rid oneself of all prejudice and, so to speak, let the psyche of the other person act on one without restraint. Then one will establish contact with him, understand and gain power over him. When a door has thus been opened, the force of one’s personality will influence him. If in this way one finds no obstacles insurmountable, one can undertake even the most dangerous things, such as crossing the great water, and succeed.

But it is important to understand upon what the force of inner truth depends. This force is not identical with simple intimacy or a secret bond. Close ties may exist also among thieves; it is true that such a bond acts as a force but, since it is not invincible, it does not bring good fortune. All association on the basis of common interests holds only up to a certain point. Where the community of interest ceases, the holding together ceases also, and the closest friendship often changes into hate. Only when the bond is based on what is right, on steadfastness, will it remain so firm that it triumphs over everything.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Myth of Individual Entities

Bruce Lipton is a recognized expert in epigenetics. Here he presents a provocative concept concerning human evolution, demonstrating how the major evolutionary advances have concerned groups of entities, not individual entities. If true, the implications for humans are enormous. Take three minutes to hear what Lipton says.

His newest book is Spontaneous Evolution: Our Positive Future (and a Way to Get There from Here).