Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Meditators' Brains Process Info Faster

New research at UCLA’s Laboratory of Neuro-Imaging indicates that people who meditate have larger amounts of gyrification ~ the “folding” of the cortex ~ than non-meditators, and this enables their brains to process information faster.

"Rather than just comparing meditators and non-meditators, we wanted to see if there is a link between the amount of meditation practice and the extent of brain alteration," Eileen Luders, an assistant professor at the UCLA lab, told ScienceDaily. "That is, correlating the number of years of meditation with the degree of folding."

According to
The meditators had practiced their craft on average for 20 years using a variety of meditation types -- Samatha, Vipassana, Zen and more. The researchers applied a well-established and automated whole-brain approach to measure cortical gyrification at thousands of points across the surface of the brain.  
They found pronounced group differences (heightened levels of gyrification in active meditation practitioners) across a wide swatch of the cortex, including the left precentral gyrus, the left and right anterior dorsal insula, the right fusiform gyrus and the right cuneus. 
Perhaps most interesting, though, was the positive correlation between the number of meditation years and the amount of insular gyrification.
Luders cautions that while genetic and other environmental factors could have contributed to the effects the researchers observed, "The positive correlation between gyrification and the number of practice years supports the idea that meditation enhances regional gyrification."

Click here for the complete article.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Swirls Across the Earth's Oceans

This NASA video shows the effects of wind on the oceans' surfaces over a two-year period, creating entrancing curls and swirls worthy of a Van Gogh painting.

According to NPR:
Most of the surface currents in the ocean are shaped by wind. In this visualization from the folks at NASA, the ocean is rich with lazy spirals that move in great circular sweeps (called "gyres") clockwise in the northern hemisphere, counterclockwise in the south. Think of the ocean surface here as a reflection of the winds above, a kind of watery mirror, though the spinning of the Earth, tugs of sun and moon and obstruction of continents play a part.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Cause-and-Effect and Magical Thinking

Our sense of cause-and-effect leads us to put credence into magical thinking, according to psychology writer Matthew Hutson, whose book The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking was released this week.

Even the practice of voodoo ~ especially inserting pins into figurines to inflict pain or bad luck ~ gains strength because of the way we associate our actions with certain results. "When you do some symbolic action or perform some symbolic ritual, you tend to think it will bring about what it symbolizes," Hutson says.

According to Life’s Little 
In a recent experiment, psychologists monitored people’s perspiration levels as they cut up a photograph of a cherished childhood possession. Unsurprisingly, destroying a representation of their childhood made the participants sweat. One possible explanation for the clammy palms is that our brains have difficulty separating appearance with reality, Hutson said. 
A voodoo doll (or picture of your baby blanket) conjures in your head the thought of the actual person or object it represents, and so the mere thought of the person or object being harmed makes you feel like he or she, or it, really is being. 
Another possibility is that we get confused by the fact that, in the real world, causes are often similar to their effects. A big bolt of lightning causes a big crack of thunder. Red crayons draw red lines. Children look like their parents. "So we may then expect that if we perform some action, then some effect similar to the action will be caused," Hutson said.
Though it's important for us to be cognizant of real-world similarities between causes and effects, it inadvertently spurs magical thinking. While most of us consider ourselves to be rational, the research suggests remnants of the magical thinking we evolved with will invariably affect our thoughts.

Friday, April 13, 2012

What Happens to You in a Black Hole?

Black holes are so massive they deform space and time, so dense their centers are called "points at infinity," and are absolutely black because even light can't escape them. 

So what would happen if you were sucked into one?

If you were to step into a black hole, your body would most closely resemble "toothpaste being extruded out of the tube," says Charles Liu, an astrophysicist who works at the American Museum of Natural History's Hayden Planetarium.

According to
"First of all, you approach the speed of light as you fall into the black hole. So the faster you move through space, the slower you move through time," Liu said. "Furthermore, as you fall, there are things that have been falling in front of you that have experienced an even greater 'time dilation' than you have. So if you're able to look forward toward the black hole, you see every object that has fallen into it in the past. And then if you look backwards, you'll be able to see everything that will ever fall into the black hole behind you.  
"So the upshot is, you'll get to see the entire history of that spot in the universe simultaneously," he said, "from the Big Bang all the way into the distant future."
Liu also explains the effects of other universal forces such as relativity on the hapless person who would encounter a black hole.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Historian Concludes Jesus Did Exist

Christ as imagined by Rembrandt

The debate over whether Jesus actually existed in an historical sense is large, with much intensity on both sides of the question. That’s why I find it especially interesting when a self-proclaimed agnostic who also happens to be a leading biblical scholar decides to take a bold position.

Yes, says Bart Ehrman. Jesus did exist.

Ehrman, historian and professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and author of several best-sellers relating to the Bible, recently published Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, which investigates the historical evidence regarding the existence of Jesus.

Ehrman says there is a large contingent of people claiming that Jesus never did exist, and he calls them the mythicists.
"It was a surprise to me to see how influential these mythicists are," Ehrman says. According to them, Jesus was never mentioned in any Roman sources and there is no archeological evidence that Jesus ever existed. Even Christian sources are problematic – the Gospels come long after Jesus' death, written by people who never saw the man. 
"Most importantly," he explains, "these mythicists point out that there are Pagan gods who were said to die and rise again and so the idea is that Jesus was made up as a Jewish god who died and rose again."
In his book, Ehrman marshals all of the evidence proving the existence of Jesus, "Paul knew Jesus' brother, James, and he knew his closest disciple, Peter, and he tells us that he did," Ehrman says. "If Jesus didn't exist, you would think his brother would know about it, so I think Paul is probably pretty good evidence that Jesus at least existed," he says.

Ehrman builds a technical argument and shows that one of the reasons for knowing that Jesus existed is that if someone invented Jesus, they would not have created a messiah who was so easily overcome.