Sunday, July 25, 2010

Touch Not Necessarily Related to Actual Body

Neuroscientists are exploring profound implications of non-locality ~ the concept that our perceptions of events and sensations are not necessarily anchored to our physical beings in the here and now ~ though further investigation into phenomenon such as the “rubber hand illusion.”

According to
A number of earlier studies showed that if a rubber hand is positioned such that it extends from a person's arm while her actual hand is hidden from view, and both her real hand and the rubber hand are stroked at the same time, she seems to feel the touch in the location where she sees the rubber hand being touched. This effect and the experienced 'ownership' of the rubber hand is the “rubber hand illusion.”
Now, neuroscientists at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland, are investigating the relationship between bodily self-consciousness and the way touch stimuli are spatially represented in humans. They’ve determined that sensations of touch can be felt and mislocalised when people view “virtual” representations of their bodies.
In their previous research, Professor Olaf Blanke's lab at the EPFL found that the consciousness of one's own body (the sense of self-identification and self-location) can be altered in healthy people under certain experimental conditions, yielding similar sensations to those felt in out-of-body experiences. In this new study, Aspell and colleagues in Blanke's lab used a crossmodal congruency task to determine whether there is a change in touch perception during this illusion.
Such data reveals that brain mechanisms of multisensory processing are crucial for the “I” of conscious experience and can be scientifically manipulated in order to potentially animate and incarnate virtual humans, robots, and machines.

Click here for the complete article.

Number 57 ~ 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.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

'Big Bang' Theory Being Reconsidered

Cosmologists' view of the Big Bang.

The Big Bang theory has formed the basis of our understanding of the universe's origins since Georges Lemaitre first proposed it in 1927 ~ basing it on Einstein's widely accepted theory of general relativity. Now astrophysicists Maximo Banados and Pedro Ferreira have resurrected a theory of gravity from the early 20th century and discovered that it may hold an alternative to the Big Bang.

Banados and Ferreira have reconsidered the theory of gravity proposed by Arthur Eddington, a contemporary of Einstein. Although Eddington played a significant role in developing general relativity, during the following decades he became more interested in finding a theory to unify gravity and quantum mechanics. In 1924, he proposed a new “gravitational action” as an alternative to the Einstein-Hilbert action, which could serve as an alternative starting point to general relativity.
According to Banados and Ferreira, Eddington’s theory could lead to an entirely new view of the Universe that doesn't include a Big Bang, according to The theory predicts that, depending on the Universe’s initial density, it may have loitered for a long time at a relatively small size before growing large enough to be controlled by standard cosmological evolution. Another possibility, depending on the initial conditions, is that the Universe could have undergone a bounce, resulting from the collapse of a previous Universe.
“Taking as a starting point what is a very old idea, we have ended up with a theory that has this very interesting property of not having singularities,” Ferreira, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Oxford, told “It was unexpected and definitely not what we were looking for.”

Click here for the complete article.

China Experiencing Revival of Various Religions

Worshippers of goddess Mazu recently celebrate her 1,050th birthday.

Collapsing communist ideology in China is leading to a massive religious revival, a situation of worldwide importance, considering China’s enormous population. According to NPR, in 2006 China conducted its first major survey of religious beliefs and found that 31.4 percent of about 4,500 people questioned described themselves as religious.

That amounts to more than 300 million religious believers, an astonishing number in an officially atheist country, and three times higher than the last official estimate, which had largely remained unchanged for years, according to NPR.

Across China, religious belief has far outpaced the government's ability to control the profusion of charismatic movements and revivals of traditional Chinese religions. Two-thirds of those who described themselves as religious in the 2006 survey said they were Buddhists, Taoists or worshippers of folk gods such as the Dragon King or the God of Fortune.
"It doesn't matter to the Chinese government whether you are a farmers' union, a Boy Scout troop, the Red Cross or the Catholic Church," says Sister Janet Carroll, a nun who has been active in China for decades. "If you gather people together, have authorities in place, financial means and some sort of organizational control over groups of people, the Chinese government wants to not only know about it, but also have a say about how it all functions."
To that end, after the communist revolution in 1949, the government recognized five official religions: Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Taoism and Islam. For each of them, associations were set up to supervise and monitor religious practice. 
Increasing numbers of younger people in China are practicing religion. The 2006 survey showed 62 percent of religious believers are 39 and under.

Click here for the complete NPR article.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Earliest Illustrated Christian Book is Saved

A page from the Garima Gospels.

A British charity has saved the world's earliest illustrated Christian book, which was found at a remote Ethiopian monestary.

The Garima Gospels are named after a monk named Abba Garima who arrived in Ethiopia from Constantinople in 494 AD. Legend has it that he was able to copy the gospels in a day because God delayed the sun from setting. The relic has been kept ever since in the Garima Monastery near Adwa in the north of the country.

According to the London Mail:
Experts believe it is also the earliest example of book binding still attached to the original pages. The survival of the Gospels is incredible considering the country has been under Muslim invasion, Italian invasion and a fire in the 1930s destroyed the monastery's church. 
They were written on goat skin in the early Ethiopian language of Ge'ez. There are two volumes which date from the same time, but the second is written in a different hand from the first. Both contain illustrations and the four Gospels.
Though occasional travelers have mentioned the texts since the 1950s, it was thought they dated from the 11th century at the earliest. Carbon dating, however, gives a date between 330 and 650, overlapping the date Abba Garima arrived in the country.

Click here for the complete article.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Arthur's "Round Table" Actually a Huge Structure

Artist's conception of Round Table from 13th Century.

Researchers exploring the legend of Britain’s King Arthur now believe his stronghold of Camelot was built on the site of a recently discovered Roman amphitheatre in Chester. The familiar legend describes his knights gathering at a round table where they would receive instructions from their King.

But rather than it being a piece of furniture, historians believe the meeting site would have been a vast wood and stone structure allowing more than 1,000 of his followers to gather.

According to the London Telegraph, the latest thinking is that regional noblemen would have sat in the front row of a circular meeting place, with lower ranked subjects on stone benches grouped around the outside. Rather than Camelot being a castle, it would have been housed within a structure already built and left over by the Romans.

Historian Chris Gidlow said: “The first accounts of the Round Table show that it was nothing like a dining table but was a venue for upwards of 1,000 people at a time. We know that one of Arthur’s two main battles was fought at a town referred to as the City of Legions. There were only two places with this title. One was St Albans but the location of the other has remained a mystery.”

Click here for the complete article.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Astonishing "Living Camera" Draws Rome

The implications of this 5-minute video are enormous. Here, through the experiment involving Stephen Wiltshire ~ known as "the living camera" ~ we can only be amazed at the potential of the human brain.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Of Eastern Religion & Western Science

Statue of Shiva in front of the CERN scientific center near Geneva.

Mutual respect bloomed between Western science and Eastern religions throughout the 20th century, while an unfortunate gulf continued to widen between science and Western religion due mostly to fundamentalist, literal interpretations of the Bible. Though my background was mostly Christian, I recall the thrill thirty-plus years ago of reading Fritjof Capra’s The Tao of Physics and appreciating the vital parallels he noted between what our scientists were discovering and what the Hindus, Buddhists and Taoists had been saying for millennia.

This was the topic of a brief essay last week by Philip Goldberg in The Huffington Post. I consider this to be a salient paragraph:
The interaction of Eastern spirituality and Western science has expanded methods of stress reduction, treatment of chronic disease, psychotherapy and other areas. But that is only part of the story. Hindu and Buddhist descriptions of higher stages of consciousness have expanded psychology's understanding of human development and inspired the formation of provocative new theories of consciousness itself.
Their ancient philosophies have also influenced physicists, among them Erwin Schrödinger, Werner Heisenberg and J. Robert Oppenheimer, who read from the Bhagavad Gita at a memorial service for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In his landmark TV series Cosmos, Carl Sagan called Hinduism the only religion whose time-scale for the universe matches the billions of years documented by modern science. Sagan filmed that segment in a Hindu temple featuring a statue of the god Shiva as the cosmic dancer, an image that now stands in the plaza of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva.
Click here for the complete essay.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Number 61 ~ INNER TRUTH

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

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

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Was Cleopatra's Suicide by Lethal Drug?

Death of Cleopatra by Jean Andre Rixens, 1874

One of ancient history's most famous legends may due for revision. A new study contends Cleopatra died of swallowing a lethal drug cocktail and not from the bite of an Egyptian cobra snake called an asp. According to Christoph Schäfer, historian and professor at the University of Trier in Germany: “There was no cobra in Cleopatra's death.”

Author of a best-selling book in Germany, Cleopatra, Schäfer searched historic writings for evidence to disprove the 2,000-year-old asp legend. 
"The Roman historian Cassius Dio, writing about 200 years after Cleopatra's demise, stated that she died a quiet and pain-free death, which is not compatible with a cobra bite,” he told Discovery News. “Indeed, the snake's venom would have caused a painful and disfiguring death.”
According to German toxicologist Dietrich Mebs, a poison specialist taking part in the study, symptoms occurring after an asp bite are very unpleasant, and include vomiting, diarrhea and respiratory failure. "Death may occur within 45 minutes, but it may also be longer with painful edema at the bite site," he said. "At the end, the dead body does not look very nice with vomit, diarrhea, a swollen bite site."
Ancient texts also record that Cleopatra's two handmaidens died with her -- something very unlikely if she had died of a snake bite, said Schäfer.

The Queen of the Nile committed suicide in August 30 B.C. at the age of 39, following the example of her lover, the Roman leader Marc Antony, who killed himself after losing the Battle of Actium.

Click here for the complete Discovery News article.
(Post first appeared on my Ancient Tides blog.)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Dalai Lama

Inner peace is the answer to personal happiness. Here the Dalai Lama stresses that point, especially comparing inner peace to the prospect of wealth, which too often in our society is sought as the key to happiness.

[My plan for these "Wisdom" clips is to provide interesting teachings that run two minutes or less. On some, the audio may be bad, others may exceed two minutes by a bit. But I hope they'll still be worth your time.]