Latest news from those kinky scientists who live out on the edge. Damn heretics.

Best Seats in the House! Aurora Seen From Space

Here's a spectacular short clip of the Northern lights, as seen from the vantage point of the International Space Station. Just Wow.

The vid was recorded by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly during his 141st day aboard the ISS --only 222 more days to go, chief!

With an office view like that, who would mind working inside a cramped, smelly room with NO cigarette breaks?

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Previously:

Are We Living in a Fake Universe?

Is it possible that the universe we appear to live in is a fake? An artificial reality, a simulation like, a super-advanced first-person shooter (just for most of us, a whole lot more boring one in which we go do a job)?

Philosopher Nick Bostrom, director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University, describes a fake universe as a "richly detailed software simulation of people, including their historical predecessors, by a very technologically advanced civilization."

It's like the movie "The Matrix," Bostrom said, except that "instead of having brains in vats that are fed by sensory inputs from a simulator, the brains themselves would also be part of the simulation. It would be one big computer program simulating everything, including human brains down to neurons and synapses."

Bostrum is not saying that humanity is living in such a simulation. Rather, his "Simulation Argument" seeks to show that one of three possible scenarios must be true (assuming there are other intelligent civilizations):

  1. All civilizations become extinct before becoming technologically mature;
  2. All technologically mature civilizations lose interest in creating simulations;
  3. Humanity is literally living in a computer simulation.

His point is that all cosmic civilizations either disappear (e.g., destroy themselves) before becoming technologically capable, or all decide not to generate whole-world simulations (e.g., decide such creations are not ethical, or get bored with them). The operative word is "all" — because if even one civilization anywhere in the cosmos could generate such simulations, then simulated worlds would multiply rapidly and almost certainly humanity would be in one.

Link: Is Our Universe a Fake?

EdgeScience #22

Issue 22 of the free PDF magazine EdgeScience is now available to download from the website of the Society for Scientific Exploration (SSE). In the new issue:EdgeScience 22

  • "Toward Reconciliation of Science and Spirituality: A Brief History of the 'Sursem' Project", by Edward F. Kelly
  • "The Sirius Mystery: Time for a Reevaluation?", by Anthony Mugan.
  • "The Stralsund Incident of 1665", by Chris Aubeck and Martin Shough.
  • "Looking for a Revolution", by Andrew May.

Grab a free PDF or order a print version of EdgeScience 22 from the SSE website, and please consider a small donation to help the EdgeScience team continue with this excellent publication, via the button on the webpage. There's also a link to join the SSE on that page if you want to keep up with the latest academic research into the 'edgier' areas of science.

China Establishes Earthquake Early-Warning Centre Based on Changes in Animal Behaviour

Fault-line (Image by Ikluft, Creative Commons licence)

Seismologists in China have established an official 'early-warning centre' for earthquakes that will monitor seven farms full of animals looking for odd changes in behaviour:

One of the seismic stations is an ecological garden in Yuhuatai district, containing 200 black boars, 2,000 chickens, and a 2 square kilometers of fish pond. Cameras are installed around the animals' living environment to observe their behavior.

Their feeders report to the seismological bureau twice a day on any abnormal behavior that professionals will analyze for whether a possible earthquake is imminent.

Advance notice of impending earthquakes remains the holy grail of seismology, as there is still no reliable predictor of these sometimes devastating events. I recently noted here on TDG there is a long-held belief in many cultures that a number of animal species can sense an earthquakes coming:

Changes in behaviour have been noted in laboratory mice, daily rhythms of ants have reportedly been disrupted, and cows have been observed to behave unusually (in one case an entire herd of cows was witnessed lying down in unison before an earthquake struck). There were reports of elephants and flamingos heading to higher ground before the 2004 Boxing Day earthquake and tsunami, and more recently of zoo animals acting strangely before an earthquake that struck Washington, D.C. One of the earliest reports of animal behaviour predicting earthquakes is from Greece in 373 BC, when rats, weasels, snakes, and centipedes were said to have left their usual homes several days before it struck. that appeared to provide support for the idea that animals can sense earthquakes in advance.

In that same post I also discussed a recent scientific study which appears to support this idea. Researchers monitored nine 'camera traps' in Yanachaga National Park in Peru to monitor the movements of animals in the park, and found correlations between the number of animals and earthquake activity.

China is a hotspot for earthquake activity, so it might not be long until we find out whether this new 'outside-the-box' early-warning system works effectively.

Related stories:

True Hallucinations: This is Your Brain on Shrooms

From the people of ASAP Science, a cartoony description of the neurochemical effect psylocybin has on the human brain. Obviously this is explained from a materialistic POV, but let's not forget we're still on the stage of building bridges between Science and Spirituality --and part of that process is interesting more people about the potential benefits of psychedelics.

In other news, a new scientific study found no higher risk of psychosis caused by the consumption of LSD:

In the first study, clinical psychologists Pål-Ørjan Johansen and Teri Suzanne Krebs, both at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, scoured data from the US National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an annual random sample of the general population, and analysed answers from more than 135,000 people who took part in surveys from 2008 to 2011.

Of those, 14% described themselves as having used at any point in their lives any of the three ‘classic’ psychedelics: LSD, psilocybin (the active ingredient in so-called magic mushrooms) and mescaline (found in the peyote and San Pedro cacti). The researchers found that individuals in this group were not at increased risk of developing 11 indicators of mental-health problems such as schizophrenia, psychosis, depression, anxiety disorders and suicide attempts. Their paper appears in the March issue of the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

So I guess now Syd Barrett will no longer be exploited as a cautionary tale --by people who didn't like his music in the first place?

[H/T Disinfo]

EdgeScience #21

Issue 21 of the free PDF magazine EdgeScience is now available to download from the website of the Society for Scientific Exploration (SSE). In the new issue:EdgeScience 21

  • "Does Consciousness Continue Beyond Death? A Search for Certainty", by Michael Urheber with Rhonda Drake.
  • "Theoneurology: A New Model for Spiritual Experience", by Rick Strassman.
  • "Moving Targets: Religious Studies and the Paranormal", by Joseph P. Laycock.
  • "Phenomena Rich, But Science Poor" - Book review by Serena Roney-Dougal of Erlendur Haraldsson's Modern Miracles: Sathya Sai Baba: The Story of a Modern Day Prophet.
  • "Professor Bottazzi's Toolkit", by Michael Schmicker.

Grab a free PDF of EdgeScience 21 from the SSE website, or the print version from MagCloud. If you do grab the free PDF, please consider a small donation to help the EdgeScience team continue with this excellent publication, via the button on the webpage. There's also a link to join the SSE on that page if you want to keep up with the latest academic research into the 'edgier' areas of science.

They Hacked a Mouse's Brain and Made New Memories...Sort Of

Scientists have hijacked the memories of mice as they slept.  That’s the headline they’re going with, and it is rightly quite sensational, as mainstream media is wont to be.  It may not be entirely accurate though – to our great surprise.

I’m talking about a paper that was published yesterday in the scientific journal Nature (Neuroscience).  It expounds on a breakthrough experiment whereby researchers from the National Center for Scientific Research (CRNS) in France claim to have implanted conscious memories into mice as they slept.[1]  That requires a bit of explanation though.

The group, led by Karim Benchenan of the CRNS Brain Plasticity Unit’s MOBs Team, achieved this astounding breakthrough by implanting electrodes into the brains of mice, specifically targeting a type of brain cell called place cell neurons.  Place cells, which were discovered in 1971, are a specialised type of neuron that are key to remembering where one is and where one has been.  They act as a sort of map inside your head, with individual cells firing when you’re at a certain location, creating a memory of that spot, so that you can find your way back there in the future, should you need to.

Now, when you – or any of us – sleep our brains undertake to review the memories we’ve made during our waking day.  That process entails a firing of the neurons involved in those memories, just as when the original experience occurred, and scientists can monitor this process.

By comparing neural scans of the mice from a period of exploration in a maze, to their later subconscious review of the associated memories, paying attention to place cell neurons, they were able to identify which neurons were associated with memories of which places inside the maze.  Once identified, they used the electrodes implanted in the mouse’s hippocampus, to stimulate a pleasant feeling at the same time as targeted place cell neurons fired during recall.  They effectively created an association between the memory of whatever location was involved and a pleasant feeling, or a reward so to speak.

The interesting thing is, once the mice woke from their short nap, they immediately headed straight for the location now associated to the pleasant feeling, as though looking to recreate the experience.

This research has obvious potential to transform treatments for post-traumatic-stress-disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and even schizophrenia and depression, by allowing clinicians to alter memories, building positive associations where traumatic or problematic ones once existed.

Benchenane insists, and it seems Nature’s peer-reviewers agree, that the mice’s behaviour following the procedure is proof that they have artificially created a conscious memory.  They qualify it by calling it an “association between a particular place and a reward [that] can be consciously access by the mouse.”  But is adding a sensory association to an already existing memory really creating a conscious memory?

The same effect has been sought, and variably achieved, through behavioural conditioning by various means, but the product in that case is always a subconscious association.  As seen with smokers trained to associate cigarettes with the smell of rotten eggs.  The difference seems apparent, but it might be an illusion.

The sole reason Benchenane and his colleagues believe this is the first example of an artificially induced conscious memory is the fact that the mice actively sought out the location associated with the memory and reward upon waking.  Benchenane states, had the mice wandered randomly and simply stopped and focused on that key location once they stumbled upon it, that would have represented a subconscious memory.

This seems like a little semantic word play, as I see it.  I don’t really question the notion of conscious recognition, so much as the idea that a memory was implanted in the first place.  Here’s my reasoning: the researchers simply added an association to a memory that already existed.  The mouse’s natural cognitive machinery created the memory the same way all of its memories are created, by experiencing stimulus.  The question is, is an association the same as a memory?  Clearly, connecting bits of sensory information is a key part of the memory making process, but isn’t a memory a little bit more than just the sum of its parts?  If we are to properly call this the artificial creation of a conscious memory, then I would expect a more direct influence on the origin of the memory, not simply the introduction of another sensory input to be associated to an already existing memory.

I suppose you could reduce this to the argument between dualism and reductionist materialism (no pun intended).  If consciousness, and therefore memory, are nothing more than emergent properties of the biomechanical processes of the brain, then perhaps Benchenan et al are correct.  It certainly appears that their ability to manipulate memories and sensory input supports the notion of emergent consciousness, but reductionist materialism is by no means a foregone conclusion, not yet at least.

But where does that leave us in the dualism camp?  I don’t have the answer.

No matter your philosophical bent in this case, or even in the case of dualism vs. reductionist materialism, Benchenan’s research is indeed a valuable step forward, and has real potential to drastically change the lives of people suffering with debilitating mental illness.  Even if we can’t agree on exactly how or why it works.


[1] Karim Benchenane, Gaetan de Lavilléon, Marie Masako Lacroix, Laure Rondi-Reig. Explicit memory creation during sleep demonstrates a causal role of place cells in navigation. Nature – Neuroscience March 9, 2015. doi:10.1038/nn.3970

 

Cat's Out of the Box: First Ever Photo of Light's Dual Nature

Probably the closest thing we'll ever have to Schrödinger's cat shown both alive and death: A research team has managed to capture light as both a particle and a wave, the dual behavior lying at the foundation of Quantum mechanics --and which also opened that can of wormholes known as "the observer effect" as well as the "spooky action at a distance" Einstein dreaded so much --ironic, considering *he* was the one who first proposed the dual nature of electromagnetic radiation in the photoelectric effect.

"This experiment demonstrates that, for the first time ever, we can film quantum mechanics – and its paradoxical nature – directly," says Fabrizio Carbone [head of the team at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne]. In addition, the importance of this pioneering work can extend beyond fundamental science and to future technologies. As Carbone explains: "Being able to image and control quantum phenomena at the nanometer scale like this opens up a new route towards quantum computing."

Congrats on your future Nobel prize, signore Carbone --now about that UFO detecting machine I requested…

[LINK]: The first ever photograph of light as both a particle and wave

Cyborg Tears: Blind Man Sees Wife for the 1st Time in 10 Years

It's not as cool-looking as Geordi Laforge's visor in STTNG, but technological advances such as the Argus II Second Sight show blind people won't have to wait until the XXIVth century to recover the ability to see the faces of their loved ones.

EdgeScience #20

Issue 20 of the free PDF magazine EdgeScience is now available to download from the website of the Society for Scientific Exploration (SSE). In the new issue:EdgeScience 20

  • "Will the Real Ubik Please Stand Up? Precognition of Scientific Information in the Fiction of Philip K. Dick", by William Sarill.
  • "On The Trail Of Mediterranean Mystery Snakes", by Karl Shuker.
  • "Is Time the Soul of the World?", by Marshall Payn.

Grab a free PDF of EdgeScience 20 from the SSE website, or the print version from MagCloud. If you do grab the free PDF, please consider a small donation to help the EdgeScience team continue with this excellent publication, via the button on the webpage. There's also a link to join the SSE on that page if you want to keep up with the latest academic research into the 'edgier' areas of science.