Thursday, April 30, 2009

Guess Whose Brain Was Smaller Than Average?

It turns out Albert Einstein’s brain definitely was different than most. According to a 1999 anatomical study, it was smaller.
"One parameter that did not explain Einstein's mental prowess, however, was the size of his brain: At 1,230 grams, it fell at the low end of average for modern humans."
Thomas Harvey, a pathologist in Princeton, removed Einstein's brain upon his 1955 death and documented it. Currently, the brain is in 240 pieces, mounted on slides. A recent article on states:
The idea is that what made Einstein a genius has more to do with the structure of his brain, than its size. However, it is important to keep in mind that Einstein's brain in its totality can only be studied via photograph and compared to other photographs. And, of course, the brain is a complex and still-mysterious organ. But it may be that we can glean some additional insight from studying the structure of Einstein's brain.
To learn more about what scientists have determined about Einstein’s brain, click here for the article.

On Intuition, #1

[During the past year, I've been experimenting with dowsing and for awhile maintained a blog dedicated to my experiences. I've put that blog on hold, but would like from time to time to reprint some of its posts on Quantum Spirit.]

Devices such as dowsing rods behave as if they have some intrinsic power of their own. But this isn’t the Middle Ages and we know the rods react somehow to the musculature in our hands. Yet, the question remains: What’s controlling the musculature?

Without a doubt, intuition – the mind’s ability to sense information and subtly transmit it – has the leading role. Here’s what the late Indian mystic Osho says about it:
Intuition cannot be explained scientifically because the very phenomenon is unscientific and irrational. The very phenomenon of intuition is irrational. In language it looks okay to ask, “Can intuition be explained?” But it means, “Can intuition be reduced to intellect?” And intuition is something beyond the intellect, something not of the intellect, something coming from some place where intellect is totally unaware. So the intellect can feel it, but it cannot explain it.
Considering the role of the intellect in our culture, becoming more intuitive has some challenges, to say the least.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

NASA Sees Potential Solar Problems in 2012

A group of NASA researchers have added startling reinforcement to the gathering concerns about the year 2012. In a report entitled Severe Space Weather Events: Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts, they describe consequences of solar flares unleashing waves of energy capable of disrupting Earth’s magnetic field, overwhelming high-voltage transformers with vast electrical currents and short-circuiting the planet’s energy grids.

According to the report, the next period of intense solar activity is expected in 2012, and coincides with the presence of an unusually large hole in Earth’s geomagnetic shield. But, according to Wired magazine, the report has received relatively little attention, perhaps because of 2012’s supernatural connotations. Mayan astronomers supposedly predicted that 2012 would mark the calamitous "birth of a new era."

Whether the Mayans were on to something won’t be known for several years. But Lawrence Joseph, author of Apocalypse 2012: A Scientific Investigation into Civilization’s End, told Wired magazine: "I’ve been following this topic for almost five years, and it wasn’t until the report came out that this really began to freak me out."

Click here for the complete Wired article.
Click here to purchase a copy of the Severe Space Weather Events report.

Meditation Improves Depression Therapy

Using a therapy based on mindfulness meditation techniques, researchers at Oxford University were able to improve the mental condition of people who had suffered major depression and suicidal thoughts.
“We are on the brink of discovering really important things about how people can learn to stay well after depression,” Mark Williams, a professor in Oxford’s Department of Psychiatry, told ScienceDaily. “Our aim is to help people to find long-term freedom from the daily battle with their moods.”
Twenty-eight people currently suffering from depression ~ and with thoughts of suicide ~ were randomly assigned into two groups. One received Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) in addition to treatment as usual, while the other received only regular treatment. Treatment with MBCT reduced the number of patients with major depression, while it remained the same in the other group.

The Oxford researchers are carrying out a larger study to compare MBCT with a group form of cognitive therapy to pinpoint which elements of meditation or talking therapies can help which people.

Click here for the ScienceDaily article.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Sun Entering a Cooler Stage of Cycle

Evidence from tree trunks and ice cores suggest the sun is calming down after an unusually high point in activity. Scientists say the sun experiences 11-year cycles of activity and, at its peak, has a tumultuous boiling atmosphere that spits out flares and planet-sized chunks of super-hot gas. Then a calmer period follows.

Last year, according to the London Telegraph, it was expected that it would have been heating up after a quiet spell. Instead, it hit a 50-year low in solar wind pressure, a 55-year low in radio emissions and a 100-year low in sunspot activity.

Mike Lockwood, a professor at Britain’s Southampton University, believes we are witnessing an underlying solar oscillation lasting hundreds of years.
He suggests 1985 marked the "grand maximum" in this long-term cycle and the Maunder Minimum in the 17th century marked its low point.

"We are re-entering the middle ground after a period that has seen the sun in its top 10 percent of activity," Lockwood told the Telegraph on Thursday. "We would expect it to be more than a hundred years before we get down to the levels of the Maunder Minimum."

He added that the current slight dimming of the sun is not going to reverse the rise in global temperatures caused by the burning of fossil fuels."What we are seeing is consistent with a global temperature rise, not that the sun is coming to our aid," he said.

Click here for the Telegraph article.

Savant Links Memory to Imagination

[Daniel Tammet, 30, of England is an autistic savant gifted with a facility for mathematics and language. A linguist, he holds the European record for reciting the first 22,514 digits of the mathematical constant pi. He also is the author of Born on a Blue Day and the more recent Embracing the Wide SkyScientific American Mind magazine recently interviewed him on various aspects of his incredible abilities. Here’s Tammet’s answer when asked about how to improve one’s memory.]

Scientific American: How were you able to recite from memory the first 22,514 numbers of pi? And do you have advice for people looking to improve their own memory?

Daniel Tammet: As I have already mentioned, numbers to me have their own shapes, colors and textures. Various studies have long demonstrated that being able to visualize information makes it easier to remember. In addition, my number shapes are semantically meaningful, which is to say that I am able to visualize their relation to other numbers. A simple example would be the number 37, which is lumpy like oatmeal, and 111, which is similarly lumpy but also round like the number three (being 37 × 3). Where you might see an endless string of random digits when looking at the decimals of pi, my mind is able to “chunk” groups of these numbers spontaneously into meaningful visual images that constitute their own hierarchy of associations.

Using your imagination is one very good way to improve your own memory. For example, actors who have to remember hundreds or even thousands of lines of a script do so by actively analyzing them and imagining the motivations and goals of their characters. Many also imagine having to explain the meaning of their lines to another person, which has been shown to significantly improve their subsequent recall.

Here is another tip from my book. Researchers have found that you are more likely to remember something if the place or situation in which you are trying to recall the information bears some resemblance—color or smell, for example—to where you originally learned it. A greater awareness therefore of the context in which we acquire a particular piece of information can help improve our ability to remember it later on.

Click here for the complete interview.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Scientists Find Anorexia Link to Autism

There's a vast difference between eating disorders and autism, yet scientists have identified striking similarities in the way both conditions affect their victims' thinking patterns. The discovery has significant implications for treating eating disorders through “big-picture thinking.”

"Eating disorders and autism spectrum disorders are obviously not the same thing, but they do have some things in common," says Janet Treasure of the Institute of Psychiatry in London.
  • Her team of researchers had already discovered that anorexia was associated with extreme attention to detail and a rigid, inflexible style of thinking ~ traits also associated with autism. 
  • They also found that 45 per cent of people with anorexia or bulimia have problems "set-shifting," or modifying their behavior in response to changing goals, compared to just 10 per cent of healthy people.
"We're putting the focus on how people think, rather than what people think," says Kate Tchanturia, also of the Institute of Psychiatry.
The idea is to train the brains of people with anorexia to be more flexible and to see the big picture as well as fine details, according to New Scientist. In doing so, researchers hope patients will be less inclined to obsess about body weight and calories and be better equipped to overcome their eating disorder in the long term, as well as gaining weight more immediately.
The technique has already had some success. In a pilot study of 19 patients with anorexia, 17 said it helped them to think more flexibly. "They found the treatment helpful in reducing their perfectionist tendencies and it helped them to see things more holistically," Tchanturia says.

Click here for the complete New Scientist article.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Christianity Can Absorb Non-Historical Basis

A major rupture occurs in the Christian faith regarding the divinity of Jesus ~ virgin birth, resurrection, ascension and the like ~ and whether belief in those supernatural events is mandatory to be a “Christian.” Or, can you still be a “Christian” without adopting a literal interpretation of events described in the Bible?

Growing up in Kansas in the 1950s, best-selling author and scholar Bart Ehrman was a born-again Christian who went off to college to study Scripture in detail and thus reinforce his already-strong faith. But the more he studied the historical reality of the Bible, the more disenchanted he became. He eventually wrote the influential 2005 Misquoting Jesus and now his Jesus Interrupted is hitting the best-seller list. recently interviewed Ehrman on his spiritual pilgrimage and the implications of his studies. Here are a couple of questions and answers from that interview. If the topic interests you, I suggest reading the entire interview.

Q: I take your point that there are many sophisticated Christians who don't believe that everything in the Bible is literally true. And yet, in order to be a Christian, one has to subscribe to the fundamental tenets that are in the Bible. That's not really an option, is it?
Well, you know, part of it comes down to a debate over what really is a Christian. A lot of sophisticated Christian thinkers, theologians and biblical scholars would say that you shouldn't have an essentialist understanding of Christianity. You can't just define Christianity and then gauge whether somebody is that or not. I have friends who don't believe that Jesus was physically raised from the dead. But they still call themselves Christian, and they still believe Jesus is divine. They have a different understanding of what it means to be Christian from an evangelical understanding of what it means to be Christian.
Q: But isn't that view not only different from the evangelical one but outside mainstream Christian beliefs?
It probably is, although people who hold this claim would say that it's also the view of the early Christians. And so they would claim some historical continuity with the earliest forms of Christian belief. Christianity is just a widely diverse phenomenon. That's why I wrote the last chapter in the book, "Is Faith Possible?" I'm against the idea of thinking that Christianity is just one thing and that you have to toe the line or else you can't be a Christian anymore. I want people to feel free to accept the historical conclusions that scholars have come to, and not feel like they can't accept these because they can't be Christians.
Click here for the complete interview.
Photo at left is Bart Ehrman

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Edgar Mitchell Reasserts Belief in UFO Cover-Up

Former NASA astronaut Edgar Mitchell asserted again yesterday at the National Press Club that the US and other governments are concealing the fact that extraterrestrial life exists.

Mitchell, of course, has long contended there is life on other planets and that earth has been visited. As part of the Apollo 14 mission, he was the sixth man to walk on the moon.

Asked if we’re alone in the universe, Mitchell told CNN, “No, we’re not alone.”

"Our destiny, in my opinion, and we might as well get started with it, is to become a part of the planetary community,” Mitchell said. “We should be ready to reach out beyond our planet and beyond our solar system to find out what is really going on out there."

According to today’s CNN article:
Mitchell grew up in Roswell, New Mexico, which some UFO believers maintain was the site of a UFO crash in 1947. He said residents of his hometown "had been hushed and told not to talk about their experience by military authorities." They had been warned of "dire consequences" if they did so.

But, he claimed, they "didn't want to go to the grave with their story. They wanted to tell somebody reliable. And being a local boy and having been to the moon, they considered me reliable enough to whisper in my ear their particular story."

Roughly 10 years ago, Mitchell claimed, he was finally given an appointment at the Pentagon to discuss what he had been told. An unnamed admiral working for the Joint Chiefs of Staff promised to uncover the truth behind the Roswell story, Mitchell said. The stories of a UFO crash "were confirmed," but the admiral was then denied access when he "tried to get into the inner workings of that process."

The same admiral, Mitchell claimed, now denies the story.
"I urge those who are doubtful to read the books, read the lore, start to understand what has really been going on. Because there really is no doubt we are being visited," Mitchell said yesterday. "The universe that we live in is much more wondrous, exciting, complex and far-reaching than we were ever able to know up to this point in time."

Click here for the CNN article.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Media Influences Perception of Dreams

"Oriental Dream," Jean Lecomte du Nouy, 1904.

We know we can’t always trust our perceptions of the reality that surrounds us, but you’d think we’d at least be able to accurately perceive our inner reality. Not so, according to a philosophy professor who contends recall of our dreams is influenced by the mass media. While the information for this post is a couple of years old, I still want to mention it because it’s of interest to anyone who is curious about how we perceive the world, inner as well as outer.

In a paper entitled “Why Did We Think We Dreamed in Black and White?” University of California philosophy professor Eric Schwitzgebel documented many instances in the 1950s when people said their dreams were only black and white. However, other notable testimony going back into history and since the 50s points to dreams being in color.

Media Influences Perception

So why did people think they dreamed in black and white? Schwitzgebel says it was because the visual media of the 1950s ~ films and early television ~ were in black and white, which influenced people’s recall.
"If our opinions about basic features of our dreams can change with changes in technology, it seems to follow that our knowledge of our own dreams is much less secure than we might at first have thought it to be," he said.

Schwitzgebel bases his theory on reports of dreams through history and how people describe the look of their dreams. From the dream studies of Descartes and Freud to modern surveys on dreams through America Online, it appears that our perception has changed over time.

Other Experiences Also Suspect

"I’m interested in our knowledge of our own conscious experience," Schwitzgebel told ScienceDaily. " I advocate the view that we don't know our own experiences nearly as well as we think we do. I have advocated this position not only for dreams, but also for auditory experience and for visual imagery."

He said images seen in peripheral vision are often inaccurate, because our best information comes from what is directly in our focus, a rather narrow band spot directly in front of our eyes. We are also picking up clues about our environment through hearing sound waves reflect off of objects, a bat-like "echolocation" that may be more common in humans than we usually acknowledge.

Click here for the ScienceDaily article.
Click here for Prof. Schwitzgebel’s paper.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Brain Shows Complex Reaction to Social Pain

We react quicker to seeing someone else’s physical pain than to their psychological or social pain, but witnessing psychological or social pain leaves a longer-lasting impression.

Brain-imaging research at the University of Southern California showed that, while we react immediately to seeing someone getting phsycially hurt, our brains take 6 to 8 seconds to respond to stories about social or psychological pain. However, our response to social or psychological situations lingers for much longer than the response to physical pain.

Researchers say the slower reaction time suggests a more complex thought process, compared to the instinctive evolutionary reaction to physical pain.

Compassion for another person's social or psychological pain also activated some of the same brain areas triggered by compassion for physical pain, and particularly the region responsible for gut feelings, known as the anterior insula. "That area has been implicated before in all sorts of studies about emotion, empathy and disgust," said Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Southern California.

Click here for the LiveScience article.

Number 48 ~ THE WELL

The well. The town may be changed,
But the well cannot be changed.
It neither decreases nor increases.
They come and go and draw from the well.
If one gets down almost to the water
And the rope does not go all the way,
Or the jug breaks, it brings misfortune.

The well is the symbol of that social structure which, evolved by mankind in meeting its most primitive needs, is independent of all political forms. Political structures change, as do nations, but the life of man with its needs remains eternally the same ~ this cannot be changed. Life is also inexhaustible. It grows neither less nor more; it exists for one and for all. The generations come and go and all enjoy life in its inexhuastible abundance.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Good financial astrology can be quite interesting because the accuracy of the forecast is quickly quantifiable. Certainly one of the most respected financial astrologers is Ray Merriman of Merriman Market Analyst. Here he points out how the market has been tracking with Venus's path into retrograde and back.

Venus now ends its retrograde motion as it turned direct on April 17. Since Venus rules assets and things of value (like stocks), there is cause to be concerned that the trend that preceded Venus turning retrograde may now return. That would be the bear market. But in many historical cases, a reversal from a high as Venus turns direct doesn’t necessarily result in a decline that takes out the low of the retrograde period. With Jupiter fast approaching its conjunction to Neptune in late May through mid-July, there is a geocosmic basis for thinking that any decline right now may hold above those lows of March 6-10, and then be followed by another rally to higher highs. Jupiter and Neptune are normally very optimistic and hopeful about the future.

This could get eerie. The Dow Jones Industrial Average made a 12-year low on March 6, the day Venus went retrograde. Those lows have held throughout this Venus retrograde period. On Friday, April 17, Venus turned direct. On that same day, the DJIA posted its highest level since March 6. As stated several times since February, “…any market that makes a multi-week high or low around the time Venus turns retrograde could begin a counter-trend move that will last into the time Venus turns direct, +/- 10 trading days. Venus turns direct this week, April 17, so we are clearly in that time band now for a crest of some importance.”

For Ray Merriman's complete forecast for the coming week, click here.

Laughter Again Proves to be Good Medicine

A small group of diabetes patients at Loma Linda University were shown funny programs for a year and, at the conclusion of the study, were found to be in better shape than their peers in a humor-less control group.

According to LiveScience, researchers split 20 high-risk diabetic patients ~ all with hypertension and hyperlipidemia (a risk factor for cardiovascular disease) ~ into two groups. Both groups were given standard diabetes medication. One group, however, viewed 30 minutes of humor of their choosing, while the control group did not. (Note: Unfortunately the original article does not specify if the dose was daily, weekly or what.)

By two months into the study, the patients in the laughter group had lower levels of the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine, both considered to be measures of stress. After the 12 months, good HDL cholesterol had risen 26 percent in the laughter group but only 3 percent in the other. In yet another measure, C-reactive proteins, a marker of inflammation and cardiovascular disease, decreased 66 percent in the laughter group but only 26 percent in the control group.

"The best clinicians understand that there is an intrinsic physiological intervention brought about by positive emotions such as mirthful laughter, optimism and hope," said study leader Lee Berk.

Click here for the LiveScience article.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Belief in Afterlife, Ghosts, Astrology on the Rise

A new survey in Britain shows that 70 percent believe in the human soul and 53 percent believe in life after death. Conducted last fall for the think tank Theos, the survey also showed:
  • 39 percent believe in ghosts
  • 27 percent believe in reincarnation
  • 22 percent believe in astrology or horoscopes
  • 15 percent believe in fortune telling by Tarot cards
The think tank said the findings were "especially striking" when compared to the 1950s. Then only 10 percent of the public told Gallup they believed in ghosts, 7 percent said they believed in predicting the future by cards and 6 percent believed in astrology.

"The enlightenment optimism in the ability of science and reason to explain everything ended decades ago,” says Theos director Paul Woolley. "The extent of belief will probably surprise people, but the finding is consistent with other research we have undertaken. The results indicate that people have a very diverse and unorthodox set of beliefs.”

Click here for the BBC News article.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Peru to Protect Nazca Lines from Rainwater

A figure called La Mano (The Hand) damaged by unusual flooding.

Peru’s National Institute of Culture is preparing to protect from heavy rains the enigmatic Nazca Lines, located in the country’s southern region, according to the resident archaeologist in Nazca, Mario Olaechea.

"It's a project that will serve the whole area in general, including drainage services, to avoid events such as the one in January when rainwater accumulated and drained, covering with a clay layer of the geoglyph called La Mano", Olaechea said. "The figure has not been erased. It is still intact, only one percent was covered by the clay layer.”

In the first months of the year, heavy rains also affected the southern plains of Nazca, but without serious consequences.

Human Evolution May Be Accelerating

Humans are continuing to evolve as our genes respond to rapid changes in the world around us. In fact, according to some anthropologists, the pressures of modern life may be speeding up human evolution.

The idea that "human evolution is a continuing process is widely accepted among anthropologists,'' Robert Wald Sussman, editor of the Yearbook of Physical Anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, told McClatchy news. This concept contradicts the 20th-century assumption that modern medical practice, antibiotics, better diet and other advances would protect people from the perils and stresses that drive evolutionary change.

It's even conceivable, Sussman said, that our genes eventually will change enough to create an entirely new human species, one no longer able to breed with our own species, Homo sapiens.

"Someday in the far distant future, enough genetic changes might have occurred so that future populations could not interbreed with the current one,'' he speculates.

Click here for the complete article.

Sorry You're Not As Beautiful . . .

Not a lot needs to be said here. Study these two images and you can clearly see how the original photographic image of Faith Hill has been digitally altered for the magazine cover. This is what surrounds us all of the time … in print, on television and in the movies. Any doubt about why so many people feel they don’t measure up?

Monday, April 13, 2009

People Still Place Meaning on Dreams

"The Dream," by Henri Rousseau, 1910.

Here are excerpts from a group of psychological studies concerning dreams, as documented recently in this month's Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association:
  • Researchers in the United States, India and South Korea asked 149 students to rate different theories about dreams. Across all three cultures, an overwhelming majority of the students endorsed the theory that dreams reveal hidden truths about themselves and the world, a belief also endorsed by a nationally representative sample of Americans.
  • In another study, researchers surveyed 182 commuters at a Boston train station, asking them to imagine that one of four possible scenarios had happened the night before a scheduled airline trip: The national threat level was raised to orange; they consciously thought about their plane crashing; they dreamed about a plane crash; or a real plane crash occurred on the route they planned to take. A dream of a plane crash was more likely to affect travel plans, and the dream of a plane crash produced a similar level of anxiety as did an actual crash.
  • Researchers asked 270 men and women from across the United States to remember a dream they had had about a person they knew. People ascribed more importance to pleasant dreams about a person they liked as compared to a person they did not like, while they were more likely to consider an unpleasant dream more meaningful if it was about a person they disliked.
And yet another study demonstrated that people who believe in God were likely to consider dreams where God spoke to them to be meaningful. Agnostics considered dreams in which God spoke to be more meaningful when God commanded them to take a pleasant vacation than when God commanded them to engage in self-sacrifice.

Click here for the Science Daily article.

One of my favorite astrology blogs is AstroTableTalk by a fellow calling himself Dharmaruci, out of Glastonbury, UK. Here’s part of a long and provocative post from last week, “Uranus-Pluto: It’s Time for Big, New Ideas.”

The 1929 Crash led directly to the Great Depression, they were part of the same process. In 1929, Uranus and Pluto were 10 degrees off a square, so I think we need to see that degree of separation as valid. This July Uranus and Pluto will be just 5 degrees off a square, so a fortiori this square is already very much with us, destroying our present reality in a big way, but also starting to provide the inspiration for some big new ideas.

We may, for example, see a resurgence of Communism. I was watching a French philosopher being interviewed on TV, and in response to this idea, the interviewer said isn’t that old hat, a dated 20th century idea that’s been proved wrong? And the philosopher said no, we just got the application wrong, but as an idea it still remains valid. But, he added, we also need some new ideas as well.

The capitalist model we have been living under is taking a hammering. The politicians are having to drop their ideologies and be intensely pragmatic in order to save the world economy. So space is opening up for new ideas.

Click here for the complete post.

Recession Raises Psychological Concerns

With the current worldwide recession battering Britain along with everybody else, the British Psychological Society devoted part of its annual meeting in Brighton last week to the impact of the economic downturn on people’s mental health. Here are some snippets:

Says Professor Stephen Lea of the University of Exeter:
"Money is a strong motivating force in society. Yet unlike other strong motivators such as food or sex, it has no apparent or direct biological basis. It can be seen not only as a useful tool for society, but also as a powerful drug. Modern money is, in a sense, a mutual confidence trick. Money and financial instruments like stocks and shares, only work because everyone believes that they will work.”

"Confidence in the supposed instrumental support for some kinds of money, or money-related tools, has collapsed resulting in substantial disorder in behavior. On the other hand, many people have suddenly been put in a situation where they are either in debt or are almost bound to go into debt. We need to consider whether there has been a mass psychology of both money and debt that has contributed to the credit crunch".
According to another speaker, Peter Cooper, chief executive of CRAM International and a fellow with the Market Research Society:
"For many people the recession is creating profound fears about loss of home, love, self-respect, and above all loss of meaning in their lives. Anxiety and depression are increasingly evident. Many blame the 'greed' of the past. Others see it as an opportunity for 'cleansing' and a 'new beginning'. However, many people lack the psychological resources to cope.”

"Psychological factors have played a part in the origins of the crisis, and are now critical in its resolution for individual and social well-being. Understanding psychological needs and working in partnership with organizations in fields like economics, ecology and politics can help forge the new world people are seeking."
Click here for the Medical News Today article.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The great Way is easy,
yet people prefer the side paths.
Be aware when things are out of balance.
Stay centered within the Tao.

When rich speculators prosper
while farmers lose their land;
when government officials spend money
on weapons instead of cures;
when the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible
while the poor have nowhere to turn --
all this is robbery and chaos.
It is not in keeping with the Tao.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Early Christian Diet Laden with Fish

Roman fish mosaic from the early Christian period.

Early Christians ate more fish then their non-Christian counterparts. Some scientists theorize it was because the early Christians tended to be poor. Others will content it was because the fish was the symbol of the faith. And still other, I’m sure, would attribute the fish-laden diet to the Age of Pisces that dawned during at the outset of the Christian era and also is symbolized by the fish.

“The eating habits of Rome’s early Christians are more complex than has traditionally been assumed,” writes Leonard Rutgers and his colleagues in The Journal of Archaeological Science. They analyzed 22 skeletons found in the Catacombs of St. Callixtus on the Appian Way, an area utilized in the 3rd to 5th centuries AD, although some of the skeletons were radiocarbon-dated to the 2nd century, according to the Times of London.

“While distancing themselves from Jewish food taboos and generally avoiding meat derived from pagan sacrifices, the early Christians are normally hypothesized to have eaten the same food as their non-Christian Roman contemporaries,” the team says. “Within the larger context of what is currently known about Roman dietary habits, the inclusion of freshwater fish therefore comes as unexpected and raises questions about the social origins of Christianity as well.”

“When Romans ate fish at all, they are normally believed to have consumed sea fish. Freshwater fish has not been considered as an essential ingredient in the classical Roman diet.” In AD301, the Emperor Diocletian’s Edict on Prices tried to fix the cost of freshwater fish at around a half to a third of its marine equivalent, so that even the poor could eat it. Roman fish probably came from the Tiber, and would have been a free or cheap source of protein.

Rutgers and his colleagues conclude “that at least the small selection of early Christians analyzed were all simple folk, suggesting that the inclusion of freshwater fish is indicative of a relative lack of wealth rather than of religiously motivated ascetic behavior."

Click here for the complete Times of London article.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Vatican Reveals Shroud's Missing Years

The Vatican – in a surprise announcement this week – revealed that members of the Knights Templar hid and secretly venerated the Shroud of Turin for more than a century following the Crusades.

The linen shroud has been revered as the cloth in which Jesus was buried. In 1898 a photographic negative revealed the image of a bearded, wounded man somehow embedded in the fabric. The shroud disappeared from Constantinople in 1204 and resurfaced in the mid 1300s, leaving a century when its whereabouts a mystery.

The Knights Templar were founded at the time of the First Crusade in the eleventh century to protect Christians making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Barbara Frale, a researcher in the Vatican Secret Archives, recently found a document in which Arnaut Sabbatier ~ a young Frenchman who entered the Knights Templar order in 1287 ~ testified that as part of his initiation he was taken to “a secret place to which only the brothers of the Temple had access.” There he was shown “a long linen cloth on which was impressed the figure of a man” and instructed to venerate the image by kissing its feet three times.

The Vatican now believes the Knights Templar rescued the shroud in Constantinople to ensure it didn’t fall into the hands of heretical groups such as the Cathars, who claimed Christ did not have a true human body, only the appearance of a man, and could therefore not have died on the Cross and been resurrected.
Radiocarbon dating tests on the Turin Shroud in 1988 indicated it was a medieval fake. However this had been challenged on the grounds that the dated sample was taken from an area of the shroud mended after a fire in the Middle Ages and was not a part of the original cloth.

The Vatican has not declared whether it is genuine or a forgery, leaving it to believers to decide. The late John Paul II said it was “an icon of the suffering of the innocent in every age.” Self-proclaimed heirs of the Knights Templar have asked the Vatican to “restore the reputation” of the disgraced order and acknowledge that assets worth some £80 million were confiscated.

Click here for the complete London Times article and a 2-minute video about the shroud.
At top is a photographic images from the shroud. Painting is a depiction of a Knights Templar member, and the society's insignia is at left.

Striving to Define Shamans vs. Priests

An important step toward clarifying ancient “religious specialists” is occurring and should provide archaeologists with a more consistent framework in defining a “shaman” versus a “priest.”

The Signs of the Sacred: Identifying Shamans Using Archaeological Evidence by Christine VanPool is being published in the upcoming Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, and the article is discussed in Kris Hirst’s archaeology blog.

According to Hirst, quoting VanPool, religious specialists are people in a given society who have a connection to the deities who control things humans cannot.

“Religious specialists are classed by dry-as-dust archaeologists as ‘craft specialists’, and the presence of craft specialists ~ people with assigned part-time or fulltime jobs including crop tending and child care and pot making and flint knapping and tending to the religious needs of a society ~ is one of those characteristics of complex societies that anthropologists (and archaeologists) use to discuss how people organize themselves,” Hirst writes.

Definitions of the two major religious specialists, based on VanPool’s paper, are:

  • A shaman is a type of religious specialist who uses altered states of consciousness to directly interact with gods and supernatural agents. Shamans are usually part time practitioners, who are part supernatural beings, at least some of the time. Shamans are generally associated with hunter-gatherer level societies. Shamans have special fetishes and their iconography (the symbols they use) include liminal creatures—creatures that are part-human, part-god, and/or part-animal; creatures that like the shaman him or herself are part in the mundane world, part in the otherwise inaccessible world of the gods.
  • A priest, in the anthropological sense, is a full-time religious specialist who acts as a representative for a society's deity or deities. Priests are generally associated with societies that have attained at least the complexity associated with regular agriculture. Priests perform regular or cyclical rituals that ease the supernatural relationship between human and god. Unlike shamans, they don't typically address issues between individuals and deities, but rather speak as a mediator between the entire society and the gods which rule the earth.

The two categories are created by archaeologists and anthropologists, and are not mutually exclusive in real-life applications ~ you can have both types of specialists in a given society.

“Some societies have shaman-priests who combine traits of both,” Hirst writes. “Further, many native religions were greatly impacted by colonization and missionaries, creating a great loss of diversity; but colonization, agricultural complexity and even urbanization does not necessarily entail a complete shift away from shamanism.”

Click here for Kris Hirst’s post.
Click here for VanPool’s original article, which requires purchase.
Photos are late 1800s portraits of shamans, most Siberian.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Subliminal Messages Improve Recall

A new study has been released again showing that subliminally received information has a definite effect on our minds.

Researchers at Northwestern University showed volunteers 12 kaleidoscope images for two seconds each while the volunteers also performed an unrelated number task to distract them from consciously committing the images to memory. A minute later, the volunteers were asked to look at pairs of similar-looking images and choose the one they had seen before. They were also asked whether they were sure, had "a feeling" they were right, or were just guessing.
Those who said they were guessing still were 70 to 80 percent accurate, indicating the information had been stored even though they were unaware of it. A true guess based on pure chance would be only about 50 percent accurate.
During the memory task, the brain activity was monitored via electrical sensors attached to the volunteers’ heads. The pattern of activity differed between the "guessers" and the other groups, suggesting that we access unconscious and conscious visual memories differently.

Click here for the New Scientist article.

Insight Meditation Can Change Brain's Structure

A new study by leading researchers shows meditation is associated with increased cortical thickness. The structural changes were found in areas of the brain important for sensory, cognitive and emotional processing.

The extensive study on meditation involved researchers from Yale, Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It included 20 participants, all with extensive training in Buddhist Insight meditation, and who meditated an average of 40 minutes a day for the study.

"What is most fascinating to me is the suggestion that meditation practice can change anyone's grey matter," says Jeremy Gray, an assistant professor of psychology at Yale.

Magnetic resonance imaging showed that regular practice of meditation is associated with increased thickness in a subset of cortical regions related to sensory, auditory, visual and internal perception, such as heart rate or breathing. The researchers also found that regular meditation practice may slow age-related thinning of the frontal cortex.

"Most of the regions identified in this study were found in the right hemisphere," researchers said. "The right hemisphere is essential for sustaining attention, which is a central practice of Insight meditation."

Click here for the article in Medical News Today.
Photo at right is microscopy image of cerebral cortex.