Friday, February 25, 2011

Extraterrestrials? What Would Jesus Do?

"Baptism of Christ," Aert de Gelder, 1710 (with saucer overhead)

In a far-reaching analysis of the potential impact on humans of learning that extraterrestrials exists, Christians likely would be scrambling to reconcile the idea of Jesus Christ with life on other planets.

“It's been argued for a couple of centuries now whether one incarnation of God as Jesus Christ for the entirety of creation is sufficient,” says theologian Ted Peters of the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, California. For instance, aliens might lead religions to question whether a second genesis of life elsewhere belongs within the biblical understanding of creation. Might Jesus Christ have appeared more than once in the universe?

According to
To see what effects the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence might have on religion, Peters and his colleagues surveyed more than 1,300 individuals worldwide from multiple religious traditions ~ including Roman Catholics, evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants, Orthodox Christians, Mormons, Jews, Buddhists and non-religious groups. 
They found the vast majority of religious believers ~ regardless of religion ~ were overwhelmingly confident that they wouldn’t suffer a collapse in faith in the face of evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence. In addition, roughly one-third of religious people thought that the faith of other religions would be threatened, while two-thirds of nonreligious people thought that aliens would sway the faith of the religious as a whole. 
There are many open questions as to how people on Earth might view beliefs from space. Could advances that alien civilizations could bring be perceived much like a secular form of salvation? Might advanced civilizations and their perhaps equally advanced philosophies make our religions feel primitive?
Alien religions could draw converts, and if there are many points of agreement between religions on Earth and from space, one might see communication of ideas across species as well, Peters believes. “Greek philosophers never met the God of Moses, but there were people who said, ‘Doggone, there seems to be much that coheres,’” he added.

Click here for the article.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Music's Popularity Resides in Dopamine

Music causes the brain to release the chemical dopamine, creating a pleasurable rush and even helping listeners to anticipate a particularly thrilling moment. Previous research suggested a role for dopamine~ a substance brain cells release to communicate with each other ~ but new data shows it affects the brain directly.

Scientists for years have known dopamine creates pleasurable sensations when people eat, have sex, or take drugs. According to the Associated Press:
The tie to dopamine helps explain why music is so widely popular across cultures, Robert Zatorre and Valorie Salimpoor of McGill University in Montreal write in an article posted online Sunday by the journal Nature Neuroscience. 
The study used only instrumental music, showing that voices aren't necessary to produce the dopamine response, Salimpoor said. It will take further work to study how voices might contribute to the pleasure effect, she said.
The researchers described brain-scanning experiments with eight volunteers who were chosen because they reliably felt chills from particular moments in some favorite pieces of music. That characteristic let the experimenters study how the brain handles both anticipation and arrival of a musical rush.
Results suggested that people who enjoy music but don't feel chills are also experiencing dopamine's effects, Zatorre said.
PET scans showed the participants' brains pumped out more dopamine in a region called the striatum when listening to favorite pieces of music than when hearing other pieces.

Click here for the article.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Is the Future Leaking into the Present? Maybe So.

Alice and the White Queen.

Ordinary people may be altered by experiences they haven't had yet, indicating the future can leak into the present. At least that’s the conclusion of a respected psychology professor, Daryl Bem of Cornell.

According to NPR:
Already critics are jumping up and down, saying this can't be, time is not porous, the experiments are flawed. But because this is the Professor Daryl Bem (he's in your high school textbook for his work on self perception) and because the journal publishing his article is top-of-the-line rigorous, all over the world psychologists are trying to duplicate what Dr. Bem has done. If serious scientists can repeat his results, this story is going to be big. 
The NPR article describes two experiments Bem conducted at Cornell that seem to prove his hypothesis. The article concludes:
So who knows? Maybe psychologists, like quantum physicists, will have to deal with the deep strangeness of our universe. Maybe time doesn't behave properly. Maybe it makes little leaps, suddenly appears uninvited when porn is in the air. Or maybe not.
It's not like we've never thought about this before. In his paper Bem recalls that in Through the Looking Glass, the White Queen casually mentions to Alice that in her realm, "memory works both ways."
Not only does the Queen remember past events, she can also remember "things that happened the week after next."
Alice, always puzzled, says, "I'm sure mine only works one way... I can't remember things before they happen." The Queen seems a little sorry for Alice. "It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards," she says.
In a year or so, Bem suggests, we may have to agree with the Queen.

Click here for the article.