Wednesday, December 31, 2008

More Christians Willing to Share Heaven

Assumption of Mary Magdalene into Heaven, Domenichino 1620

There’s an old joke about the two Lutherans strolling through Heaven and they come upon a high stone wall.

“What’s over there, on the other side of the wall?” one asks the other.

“Shhhh. It’s the Catholics. They think they’re the only ones here.”

I'm sure we're all greatly relieved to see Christian beliefs loosening up regarding the hereafter. According to a major new survey, a majority of American Christians ~ 52 percent ~ now think at least some non-Christian faiths can lead to eternal life. And 80 percent name at least one non-Christian faith that can do so. These are among the key findings of a national survey conducted this past summer by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life among nearly 3,000 adults. According to the Pew Forum:

The poll also finds that roughly one-third of Americans (30%) believe that whether one achieves eternal life is determined by what a person believes, with nearly as many (29%) saying eternal life depends on one’s actions. One-in-ten Americans say the key to obtaining eternal life lies in a combination of belief and actions. The remaining one-third of the public says that something else is the key to eternal life, they don’t know what leads to eternal life or they don’t believe in eternal life.

The new survey asks those who say many religions can lead to eternal life whether or not they think a series of specific religions ~ including Judaism, Islam and Hinduism ~ can lead to eternal life, as well as whether they think atheists or people who have no religious faith can achieve eternal life. The findings confirm that most people who say many religions can lead to eternal life take the view that even non-Christian faiths can lead to eternal salvation.

Click here to read the survey’s detailed findings.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Viewing Art Can Be As Satisfying As Buying It

For some, visiting an art exhibit can be as satisfying as buying a painting, according to new study, throwing a huge wrench into pro-acquisition thinking. Buyers, however, admit to wanting a more long-term, intimate relationship with the painting.

Study author Yu Chen of Oakland University says: "The consumption modes—that of either purchasing or viewing art exhibits—provide two different circumstances of consumption: one is through a private, permanent ownership-linked approach; the other is through a public, temporal, and circumstantial approach."

Collectors differ from visitors in their desire for a long-term intimate relationship with the artworks. Visitors, on the other hand, want to avoid repetition and dullness, and like the experience of sharing art communally.

Chen also found that the experiences of both art purchasers and art viewers do not always correspond with their expectations. "This contradiction implies that desire and illusions, more than value and perceptions, are the driving forces behind consumption," writes Chen.

Click here for the complete Science Daily article.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"God With Us"

I want to take this opportunity to wish all of my readers a happy and safe holiday season. Blessings to you and your loved ones,

Emmanuel~ "God with us" ~ is a name used in the Bible in Isaiah 7:14 and Isaiah 8:8. It also appears in Matthew 1:23 in the Christian New Testament. Christian belief holds that the Emmanuel is the Messiah foretold in the other prophecies of Isaiah.

In Isaiah 8:8, Palestine is called the land of Emmanuel, though in the other passage it is termed the land or the inheritance of God, so that Emmanuel and God are identified. Again, in the Hebrew text of Isaiah 8:9-10, the Prophet predicts the futility of all the enemies' schemes against Palestine, because of Emmanuel.

A number of the Church Fathers, such as St Irenaeus, Lactantius, St Epiphanius, St John Chrysostom, and Theodoret, regarded the name "Emmanuel" not merely as a pledge of Divine assistance, but also as an expression of the mystery of the Incarnation by virtue of which the Messiah will be "God with us."

Christians hold that Emmanuel as described in Isaiah cannot be an ideal or metaphorical person, and cannot be identified with the regenerate people of Israel, nor with religious faith, for "he shall eat butter and honey." It is thought that both the text and the context indicates that the Prophet does not refer to a child in general, but points to an individual.
~ From Wikipedia

Intuition Guides Blind Man Around Obstacles

Click here to see the video recording showing "TN" completing the obstacle course set up by the scientists. He does it flawlessly without the aid of his cane or another person.

Using only his intuition, a man blinded by stroke is able to navigate down a hallway, through a maze of obstacles, without a cane or human assistance. Known to the Harvard Medical School study group as "TN," he can walk around chairs and boxes without bumping into them, using hidden pathways in the brain for guidance.

TN was left blind after damage to the visual (striate) cortex in both hemispheres of the brain following consecutive strokes, according to the BBC. His eyes are normal but his brain cannot process the information they send in, rendering him totally blind.

However, he was previously known to have what is called "blindsight" ~ the ability to detect things in the environment without being aware of seeing them. For instance, he responds to the facial expressions of others. But he usually uses a stick to track obstacles and requires guidance by others when walking around buildings.

Unaware of Obstacles

Lead researcher Dr Beatrice de Gelder of Tilburg University, The Netherlands, and Harvard Medical School, said TN was "not aware of doing anything exceptional" and thought all he had done was walk straight ahead along a long corridor.

"You can experience a total loss of your cortical vision but still retain some capacity to move around inside and out without damage to yourself," she told the BBC. "It shows us the importance of these evolutionary ancient visual paths. They contribute more than we think they do for us to function in the real world."

Click here for the BBC article and video.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Video Interlude: Plato's Allegory of the Cave

This afternoon, while researching information on Plato's Allegory of the Cave for an article I'm writing, I found this little treasure. It's an animated rendition of the allegory from Plato's Republic, written in 380 BC.

According to the little movie's creators, Bullhead Entertainment: "It is a story showing how true reality is not always what it seems to be on the surface. It is a story of open-mindedness and the power of possibility. We have adapted and brought it to life by shooting thousands of high-resolution photographs of John Grigsby's wonderful clay animation."

It runs 3.5 minutes and won First Place at this year's USA Film Festival Short Film and Video Competition.

Click here for the Bullhead Entertainment site.
This post appeared originally on my Ancient Tides blog.

Transcendence Linked to Prayer, Meditation

A new University of Missouri study contends that spiritual experiences associated with selflessness are related to decreased activity in the brain’s right lobe. The study involved individuals with traumatic brain injury to determine the connection.

Researchers say the implications are that people in many disciplines ~ including peace studies, health care or religion ~ can learn different ways to attain selflessness, to experience transcendence, and to help themselves and others.

The Missouri study, along with other recent neuroradiological studies of Buddhist meditators and Francescan nuns, suggests that all individuals, regardless of cultural background or religion, experience the same neuropsychological functions during spiritual experiences, such as transcendence.

Transcendence, feelings of universal unity and decreased sense of self, is a core tenet of all major religions. Meditation and prayer are the primary vehicles by which such spiritual transcendence is achieved.

Meditation, Prayer are Keys

“The brain functions in a certain way during spiritual experiences,” said Brick Johnstone, professor of health psychology in the MU School of Health Professions. “We studied people with brain injury and found that people with injuries to the right parietal lobe of the brain reported higher levels of spiritual experiences, such as transcendence.”

This link is important, Johnstone said, because it means selflessness can be learned by decreasing activity in that part of the brain. He suggests this can be done through conscious effort, such as meditation or prayer. People with these selfless spiritual experiences also are more psychologically healthy, especially if they have positive beliefs that there is a God or higher power who loves them, he said.

“This research also addresses questions regarding the impact of neurologic versus cultural factors on spiritual experience,” Johnstone said. “The ability to connect with things beyond the self, such as transcendent experiences, seems to occur for people who minimize right parietal functioning. This can be attained through cultural practices, such as intense meditation or prayer or because of a brain injury that impairs the functioning of the right parietal lobe. Either way, our study suggests that ‘selflessness’ is a neuropsychological foundation of spiritual experiences.”

Click here for the complete Science Daily article.

Melting Permafrost Likely Releasing Methane Gas

Aerial photo shows where ice in the East Siberian Sea is melting at a rate of 81,000 square miles a day due to global warming, now exacerbated by methane gas bubbling to the surface.

Methane is bubbling up in the East Siberian Sea, creating alarm among scientists that global warming may be melting underwater permafrost and releasing the powerful greenhouse gas locked away for thousands of years.

If these methane emissions from the Arctic speed up, it could cause "really serious climate consequences," Igor Semiletov of the Pacific Oceanological Institute in Vladivostok, Russia, told National Geographic. Semiletov and colleagues have been traveling along the Siberian coast, monitoring methane concentrations in the air and observing the seas.

"According to our data, more than 50 percent of the Arctic Siberian shelf is serving as a source of methane to the atmosphere," Semiletov said.

This vast shelf is about 750,000 square miles – about the same size as Greenland or Mexico – and about 80 percent of it is covered with permafrost, Semiletov said. Permafrost is basically dirt that's been permanently frozen for hundreds or thousands of years, much of it since the last ice age.

Click here for the National Geographic article.

Drillers Strike First-Ever Pocket of Magma

A collapsed vent allows hot lava to peek through solidified rock at Hawaii's Kilauea volcano near where drillers directly struck a magma pocket.

A drilling crew in Hawaii recently became the first humans known to drill into magma—the melted form of rock that sometimes erupts to the surface as lava—in its natural environment.

"This is an unprecedented discovery," said Bruce Marsh, a volcanologist from Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, who will be studying the find.

According to National Geographic, Marsh said volcanologists usually have to do "postmortem studies" of long-solidified magmas or study active lava during volcanic eruptions. But this time they'd found magma in its natural environment—something Marsh described as nearly as exciting as a paleontologist finding a dinosaur frolicking on a remote island.

"This is my Jurassic Park," he said.

The find was made 1.5 miles underground during exploratory drilling for geothermal energy. The crew hit something unusual during routine operations. When workers tried to resume drilling, they discovered that magma had risen about 25 feet up the pipe they'd inserted. The rock solidified into a clear glassy substance, apparently because it chilled quickly after hitting groundwater.

Click here for the National Geographic article.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Winter Solstice: 12:04 UTC Today

From the Society of the Inner Light:

The Winter Solstice represents the Midnight Sun and Solar Power communicating with the human spirit and its drawing in and concentration into the heart of each individual, the incarnation of the spirit, spiritual fire coming down and making intimate contact with the Earth.

The spiritual sub-plane of the Earth Mother is contacted at the Winter Solstice. This contact brings through the highest levels from which Earth first drew her forces. They include the Logoidal powers which operate at Christmas and the great Pan force which operates at the Winter Solstice – the nativity of Mithra as well as of Jesus.

From Wikipedia:

The winter solstice occurs at the instant when the Sun's position in the sky is at its greatest angular distance on the other side of the equatorial plane from the observer’s hemisphere. Depending on the shift of the calendar, the event of the winter solstice occurs sometime between December 20 and December 23 each year in the northern hemisphere, and between June 20 and June 23 in the southern hemisphere, during either the shortest day or the longest night of the year, which is not to be confused with the darkest day or night or the day with the earliest sunset or latest sunrise.

The seasonal significance of the winter solstice is in the reversal of the gradually lengthening nights and shortening days. How cultures interpret this is varied, since it is sometimes said to astronomically mark either the beginning or middle of a hemisphere's winter . . .Though the winter solstice lasts an instant, the term is used colloquially to refer to the full 24-hour period of the day on which it occurs.
Number 57 ~ THE GENTLE

THE GENTLE. Success through what is small.
It furthers one to have somewhere to go.
It further one to see the great man.

Penetration produces gradual and inconspicuous effects. It should be not an act of violation but of influence that never lapses. Results of this kind are less striking to the eye than those won by surprise attack, but they are more enduring and more complete. If one would produce such effects, one must have a clearly defined goal, for only when the penetrating influence works always in the same direction can the object be attained. Small strength can achieve its purpose only by subordinating itself to an eminent man who is capable of creating order.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

NASA Finds Huge Breach in Magnetic Field

Artist’s concept of a THEMIS probe exploring the space around Earth.

NASA this week reported that spacecraft have discovered a breach in Earth's magnetic field 10 times larger than anything previously thought to exist. Solar wind can flow in through the opening to "load up" the magnetosphere for powerful geomagnetic storms.

But the breach itself is not the biggest surprise, NASA says. Researchers are even more amazed at the strange and unexpected way it forms, overturning long-held ideas of space physics.

"At first I didn't believe it," says THEMIS project scientist David Sibeck of the Goddard Space Flight Center. "This finding fundamentally alters our understanding of the solar wind-magnetosphere interaction."

Solar-Wind Protection Lessened

The magnetosphere is a bubble of magnetism that surrounds Earth and protects us from solar wind. Exploring the bubble is a key goal of the THEMIS mission, launched in February 2007. The big discovery came on June 3, 2007, when the five probes serendipitously flew through the breach just as it was opening.

"The opening was huge—four times wider than Earth itself," says Wenhui Li, a space physicist at the University of New Hampshire who has been analyzing the data.

The event began with little warning when a gentle gust of solar wind delivered a bundle of magnetic fields from the Sun to Earth. Like an octopus wrapping its tentacles around a big clam, solar magnetic fields draped themselves around the magnetosphere and cracked it open. The cracking was accomplished by means of a process called "magnetic reconnection."

Breach Unexpectedly Large

High above Earth's poles, solar and terrestrial magnetic fields linked up to form conduits for solar wind. Conduits over the Arctic and Antarctic quickly expanded. Within minutes they overlapped over Earth's equator to create the biggest magnetic breach ever recorded by Earth-orbiting spacecraft.

The size of the breach took researchers by surprise. "We've seen things like this before, but never on such a large scale," says physicist Jimmy Raeder, "The entire day-side of the magnetosphere was open to the solar wind."

Implications Are ‘Seismic’

The circumstances were even more surprising. Space physicists have long believed that holes in Earth's magnetosphere open only in response to solar magnetic fields that point south. The great breach of June 2007, however, opened in response to a solar magnetic field that pointed north.

"To the lay person, this may sound like a quibble, but to a space physicist, it is almost seismic," says Sibeck. "When I tell my colleagues, most react with skepticism, as if I'm trying to convince them that the sun rises in the west."

Click here for the complete NASA press release.

Amazon Tribe Defies Numbers Concept

A Pirahã woman at one of her tribe's rain forest shelters.

A tribe of hunter/gatherers in the Amazon rain forest have disproven a belief long held by the world’s linguists – that counting and having words for numbers are essential to human cognition.

The Pirahã people in Brazil have no words to express numerical concepts such as “one,” “two,” or “many.”

“They don’t count and they have no number words,” says MIT cognitive scientist Edward Gibson, who headed a study published in the journal Cognition.

Discover Magazine reports that the researchers spent eight days in a Pirahã rain forest village conducting counting tests on adult members of the tribe. Sometimes the experimenter placed varying numbers of spools of thread on a table and asked the participant to perform a simple one-to-one task, such as laying down the same quantity of uninflated balloons. Other tasks required remembering how many spools had been placed inside a can.

Inconsistent References to Quantities

A previous—and contested—study of the Pirahã had reported that they used the words hói, hòi, and baágiso to represent “one,” “two,” and “many,” respectively. But Gibson’s tests revealed that the Pirahã actually used these words in a more relative way to mean “few,” “some,” and “more.” In some instances hói was used for quantities as large as six, and sometimes hòi—a similar but separate word—was used for quantities between four and ten.

“None of the three words that the Pirahã produced were used consistently to refer to any particular quantity,” the researchers reported.

Click here for the Discover Magazine article.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Americans Hold Strong Religious & Supernatural Beliefs: Jesus, UFOs, Witches, Astrology

Over 70% of Americans believe Jesus is the son of God and that he rose from the dead, according to Harris Poll results released last week.

Religious, metaphysical and supernatural beliefs still dominate the American psyche, while hard science is less believable. "Overall, more people believe in the devil, hell and angels than believe in Darwin´s theory of evolution," said a Harris Poll released late last week.

Eighty percent of the more than 2,000 respondents said they believe in God, and among those who attend church weekly, the number is 98 percent, according to a Washington Times report.
  • Over seventy percent believe in miracles, 73 percent believe in heaven, 71 percent say Jesus is the son of God and 71 percent believe in angels.
  • Seven out of 10 say Jesus Christ rose from the dead and that the Bible is, all or in part, the "Word of God."
  • More than two-thirds - 68 percent - believe in the "survival of the soul after death" and describe themselves as religious.
  • About 62 percent think that hell exists, 61 percent believe in the virgin birth and 59 percent say the devil exists.

Ghosts, UFOs, Witches Also Score High

In contrast, the Washington Times said fewer than half - 47 percent - believe in Darwin's theory of evolution. A third said they did not believe in it while 22 percent were not sure. A full 40 percent said they believe in creationism, though the question did not elaborate on exactly what that term meant.

Supernatural phenomena of other kinds attract Americans' attention.

Overall, 44 percent of the respondents said they believe in ghosts, 36 percent say UFOs are real while 31 percent believe in both witches and astrology. About a quarter believe in reincarnation, or "that you were once another person," the survey found.

"I think these numbers show that Americans are both devout and rebellious at the same time," said Steve Waldman, co-founder and editor in chief of Beliefnet, an online spiritual source that also polls the public. "Americans embrace key parts of tradition and faith, but they add other sorts of stuff, the supplementary beliefs that might not be on the approved list."

Click here for the Washington Times article.

Among Natural Hazards, Heat is #1 Killer

With the earth getting steadily hotter due to global warming, the release today of a US “death map” ~ clearly showing that heat is the country’s biggest natural-disaster killer ~ took on an even more serious tone.

Researchers now say people are more likely to die of heat than by earthquake, thunderstorms or hurricanes. Heat and drought caused 19.6 percent of total deaths from natural hazards, with summer thunderstorms causing 18.8 percent and winter weather causing 18.1 percent, the team at the University of South Carolina found.

Contrary to Popular Opinion

Earthquakes, wildfires and hurricanes combined were responsible for fewer than 5 percent of all hazard deaths, according to News Daily.

Writing in BioMed Central's International Journal of Health Geographics, they said they hoped to dispel some myths about what the biggest threats to life and limb are.

"According to our results, the answer is heat," Susan Cutter and Kevin Borden of the University of South Carolina wrote in their report, which gathered data from 1970 to 2004. "I think what most people would think, if you say what is the major cause of death and destruction, they would say hurricanes and earthquakes and flooding. They wouldn't say heat."

More Publicized Hazards Have Fewer Deaths

"What is noteworthy here is that over time, highly destructive, highly publicized, often-catastrophic singular events such as hurricanes and earthquakes are responsible for relatively few deaths when compared to the more frequent, less catastrophic such as heat waves and severe weather," they wrote.

The most dangerous places to live are much of the South, because of the heat risk, the hurricane coasts and the Great Plains states with their severe weather, Cutter said.
The south central United States is also a dangerous area, with floods and tornadoes.

California is relatively safe, they found. "It illustrates the impact of better building codes in seismically prone areas because the fatalities in earthquakes have gone down from 1900 because things don't collapse on people any more," Cutter said.

Click here for the complete News Daily article and map.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Huge NDE Study Moving Ahead

Ascent into the Empyrean by Hieronymus Bosch, circa 1510.

Following an extensive pilot project, the University of Southampton in England is moving ahead with the largest-ever study of near-death experiences.

The AWARE ~ AWAreness during Resuscitation ~ study is being conducted by an international collaboration of scientists and physicians who have joined forces to study the human brain, consciousness and clinical death, according to Science Daily.

The study is led by Dr Sam Parnia, an expert in the field of consciousness during clinical death. Following a successful 18-month pilot phase at selected hospitals in the UK, the study now includes other centers within the UK, mainland Europe and North America.

Unique Window of Understanding

"Contrary to popular perception, death is not a specific moment,” Parnia told Science Daily. “It is a process that begins when the heart stops beating, the lungs stop working and the brain ceases functioning ~ a medical condition termed cardiac arrest, which from a biological viewpoint is synonymous with clinical death.

"During a cardiac arrest, all three criteria of death are present. There then follows a period of time, which may last from a few seconds to an hour or more, in which emergency medical efforts may succeed in restarting the heart and reversing the dying process. What people experience during this period of cardiac arrest provides a unique window of understanding into what we are all likely to experience during the dying process."

Studying Out-of-Body Too

Recent scientific studies have demonstrated that up to 20 per cent of people who go through cardiac arrest and clinical death report lucid, well-structured thought processes, reasoning, memories and sometimes detailed recall of events during their encounter with death.

During the AWARE study, doctors will use sophisticated technology to study the brain and consciousness during cardiac arrest. At the same time, they will test the validity of out of body experiences and claims of being able to 'see' and 'hear' during cardiac arrest.

Click here for the Science Daily article.

Some Longer-Term Financial Insight
from Raymond Merriman

As much as financial analysts and talking heads on TV financial shows are projecting even lower interest rates, my interpretation of geocosmic and cycle studies suggest just the opposite. We are very near to a critical turning point, and once it turns, we may not see these low interest and mortgage rate levels again in our lifetime. I happen to be in the camp that this deflationary period is going to end very abruptly with a new inflation monster. Combined with the forthcoming stimulus package, and ramped up government spending programs and unbelievable federal deficits, I think that by the time we get to the Jupiter-Neptune conjunction in the spring and summer, we have shifted from deflationary fears to inflationary fears.

For more, click here.

Astrologers Weigh In on Child's Murder

from Maria Barron

Astrologers posting on one of the Web’s most popular true-crime forums predicted that the body of missing Caylee Marie Anthony, 2, of Orlando, Fla., was hidden in her own neighborhood and would indeed be found, despite the passage of months and the failure of massive searches. One even predicted in November that important evidence would be unearthed Dec. 11, and another saw a service worker playing a key role.

If the child’s remains found by a meter reader Dec. 11 about a half-mile from the Anthony home are determined to be Caylee’s, which logic and probability say they are, the astrological sleuths at will have several new and notable confirmations to their credit, testifying to their skill in interpreting charts cast not only for the people involved in the case, but also for the questions that arise, as they arise.

To continue article, click here.

Further comment on Obama's Inauguaration
from Nancy Sommers

As has been shown repeatedly, one of the primary indicators of a presidential administration is the Inaugural chart, drawn anew for the exact birth moment of each successive four-year term. The Inaugural chart gives a general description of the feel of a presidential term, as well as pointing to the times when difficulties and crises are likely to unfold. The movement from the jurisdiction of one Inaugural chart to the next always indicates a huge shift and a significant turning of the page into new territory.

The Inaugural chart of January 20, 2009, is no exception. It will follow the very difficult 2004 chart which indicated a deep dislike of the Bush administration by the people (Saturn conjunct the IC, semisquare the Moon, opposite the Sun), as well as enormous frustration and failure at every turn (Saturn opposite Sun, Mercury, Venus, square the Nodes and Jupiter, conjunct the IC, quincunx Pluto, and semsiquare the Moon). The 2009 chart, in contrast, suggests a much more even- keeled and well-liked administration, although significant challenges and difficulties will be encountered over the next four years.

For more, click here.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


After completion. Success in small matters.
Perseverance furthers.
At the beginning good fortune,
At the end disorder.

The transition from the old to the new time is already accomplished. In principle, everything stands systematized, and it is only in regard to details that success is still to be achieved. In respect to this, however, we must be careful to maintain the right attitude. Everything proceeds as if of its own accord, and this can all too easily tempt us to relax and let things take their course without troubling over details. Such indifference is the root of all evil. Symptoms of decay are bound to be the result. Here we have the rule indicating the usual course of history. But this rule is not an inescapable law. He who understands it is in a position to avoid its effects by dint of unremitting perseverance and caution.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Seeing Your Dreams on a Computer Screen

A dream image of two people walking from the 1991 Wim Wenders film, where the digital imaging device sounds very much like the new Japanese invention.

Japanese scientists have created a device enabling images of thoughts and dreams to appear on a computer screen. The discovery paves the way for the ability to unlock people's dreams and other brain processes, according to an article in the Telegraph of London.

To me, it’s clearly a case of life imitating art. One of the most unforgettable movies I’ve seen is the lengthy and obscure 1991 film “Until the End of the World” from German director Wim Wenders. In it, a man invents a device for recording brain impulses so he can record and then replay images for his blind wife. However the device also has the ability to depict dream images.

According to the Wikipedia entry on the film:

Several of the central characters become addicted to viewing the playback of their own dreams, while Claire's (a main character’s) estranged lover, a novelist, remains unaffected while he works on a novel about the adventure. It is this novel, ultimately, that rescues Claire from the throes of her addiction via the power of words.

The potential addictive qualities of viewing images from one’s own dreams might be worth remembering as the real-life device is perfected.

First Time for Dreams

Back to the real device in Japan.

"It was the first time in the world that it was possible to visualize what people see directly from the brain activity,” according to a spokesman at ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Tokyo. "By applying this technology, it may become possible to record and replay subjective images that people perceive like dreams."

The scientists focused on the image recognition procedures in the retina of the human eye. It is while looking at an object that the eye's retina is able to recognise an image, which is subsequently converted into electrical signals sent into the brain's visual cortex.

The “Neuron” Experiment

The research investigated how electrical signals are captured and reconstructed into images, according to the study, which will be published in the US journal Neuron. As part of the experiment, researchers showed testers the six letters of the word "neuron", before using the technology to measure their brain activity and subsequently reconstruct the letters on a computer screen.

Since Sigmund Freud published The Interpretations of Dreams over a century ago, the workings of the sleeping human mind have been the source of extensive analysis by scientists keen to unlock its mysteries. Dreams were the focus of a scientific survey conducted by the Telegraph last year in which it was concluded that dreams were more likely to be shaped by events of the past week than childhood traumas, according to the Telegraph article.

Click here for the Telegraph of London article.

Friday's Moon Largest, Brightest of 2008

NASA reports that tomorrow night’s full moon is the largest and brightest of the entire year. It’s what is known as a “perigee” moon, which means it’s closer, brighter, and 14% larger than most full moons.

Here’s information from NASA’s press release:
It's no illusion. Some full Moons are genuinely larger than others and this Friday's is a whopper. Why? The Moon's orbit is an ellipse with one side 50,000 km closer to Earth than the other: diagram. In the language of astronomy, the two extremes are called "apogee" (far away) and "perigee" (nearby). On Dec. 12th, the Moon becomes full a scant 4 hours after reaching perigee, making it 14% bigger and 30% brighter than lesser full Moons we've seen earlier in 2008.

A perigee Moon brings with it extra-high "perigean tides," but this is nothing to worry about, according to NOAA. In most places, lunar gravity at perigee pulls tide waters only a few centimeters (an inch or so) higher than usual. Local geography can amplify the effect to about 15 centimeters (six inches)--not exactly a great flood.

Okay, the Moon is 14% bigger, but can you actually tell the difference? It's tricky. There are no rulers floating in the sky to measure lunar diameters. Hanging high overhead with no reference points to provide a sense of scale, one full Moon looks much like any other.

The best time to look is when the Moon is near the horizon. That is when illusion mixes with reality to produce a truly stunning view. For reasons not fully understood by astronomers or psychologists, low-hanging Moons look unnaturally large when they beam through trees, buildings and other foreground objects. On Friday, why not let the "Moon illusion" amplify a full Moon that's extra-big to begin with? The swollen orb rising in the east at sunset may seem so nearby, you can almost reach out and touch it.

In 2004, Greek amateur astronomer Anthony Ayiomamitis photographed an apogee Moon and a perigee Moon, and set the images side by side to show the difference.

Click here for the complete NASA article.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Depression/Religion Link Puzzles Researchers

Old Woman at Prayer, by Dutch master Nicholaes Maes, 1656.

In an unexpected twist, a study evaluating health matters in relation to religious activity found that people with higher levels of “religious well-being” also had higher levels of depression.

Then the researchers realized the puzzling finding was likely related to the fact that depressed people often cling tighter to religion, relating more often to God and praying more often than less depressed people.

The study ~ conducted by Harvard and Brown University medical schools as well as the National Institutes of Mental Health and the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion ~ characterized the religiosity of 918 study participants in terms of three domains of religiosity:
  • Religious service attendance, referring to being involved with a church.
  • Religious well-being, referring to the quality of a person's relationship with a higher power.
  • Existential well-being, referring to a person's sense of meaning and their purpose in life.
Researchers were surprised to find that the group with higher levels of religious well-being were 1.5 times more likely to have had depression than those with lower levels of religious well-being.

Researchers also theorize this is because people with depression tend to use religion as a coping mechanism. As a result, they're more closely relating to God and praying more.

"People with high levels of existential well-being tend to have a good base, which makes them very centered emotionally," lead researcher Joanna Maselko told Science Daily. "People who don't have those things are at greater risk for depression, and those same people might also turn to religion to cope."

Maselko admits that researchers have yet to determine which comes first for the depressed people: the depression or being religious.

Click here for the Science Daily article.

Sphinx Origins Again Being Questioned

The Sphinx as it looks today with its pharaoh's head.

Digital rendition of how it may have looked with the original lion's head.

A concept long argued by some past and current archaeologists and Egyptologists ~ that the Sphinx is much older than usually thought and that its pharaoh’s head is a revision of an earlier head ~ are now receiving publicity again.

Accepted thought is that the monument outside Cairo, which has the head of a pharaoh and the body of a lion, was built around 4,500 years ago. But geologist Colin Reader has found that rain erosion suggests it was built many years earlier, long before the building of the pyramids.

Researchers have also determined that the Sphinx’s body and head are disproportionate, suggesting it was not originally a pharaoh. Historical architect Jonathan Foyle, who worked with Reader on the project, says the head and body are massively out of proportion, adding that the reason could be that the Sphinx originally had an entirely different head ~ that of a lion. To early Egyptians the lion was a much more potent symbol of power than the human face.

The Great Sphinx is thought by most Egyptologists to represent the likeness of King Khafra. It is also believed by others that Djadefre, the elder brother of Khafra, built the Sphinx to honor his father Khufu. This would place the time of construction somewhere between 2550 BC and 2450 BC.

However the limited evidence linking the Sphinx to Khafra is circumstantial and somewhat ambiguous, according to the London Daily Mail.

Geologist Robert Schoch concluded that the Sphinx must be much older than currently believed after an investigation in the 1990s. He claims the amount of water erosion the Sphinx has experienced indicates a construction date no later than the 6th millennium BC or 5th millennium BC, at least two thousand years before the widely accepted construction date and 1,500 years prior to the accepted date for the beginning of Egyptian civilization.

Click here for the Daily Mail article.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Most Prayers Thank An Accessible, Familiar God

The Praying Hands, by Albrecht Deurer, 1508

When people pray, they generally seek broad strength, support or blessings rather than specific, detailed requests. That’s one of the findings of an analysis performed on a public prayer book placed in the Johns Hopkins University Hospital from 1999 to 2005.

Looking at the nearly 700 prayers written in the book, the study found they fell into one of three categories: about 28 percent of the prayers were requests of God, while another 28 percent were prayers to both thank and petition God, while another 22 percent of the prayers thanked God.

Most writers anthropomorphized God, addressing the deity as they would a relative, friend, or parent. "Most prayer writers imagine a God who is accessible, listening, and a source of emotional and psychological support, who at least sometimes answers back," researcher Wendy Cadge tells Science Daily.

Influencing Health Matters

"Prayer writers also tend to frame their prayers broadly, in abstract psychological language, and this allowed them to make many interpretations of the results of their prayers," she said, explaining that the study found that prayer provides a means through which people can reflect on and reframe difficult events in an effort to understand those events in the context of their beliefs.

The study complements other recent research that focuses on whether prayer has any measurable influence on health. Most of these studies have focused on how often people pray, and whether those who pray have fewer serious health problems, recover faster from surgery, or are healthier overall than others.

"If researchers studying religion and health take seriously even the possibility that prayer may influence health, they need to learn more about what people pray for, how they pray, and what they hope will result from their prayers," says Cadge. "The information in this study serves as general background and informs the mechanisms through which religion may influence health."

Click here for the complete Science Daily article.

Saturday, December 6, 2008