Sunday 5 November 2017

Intrusive thoughts and Mind Control

Intrusive Thoughts Might Be Caused By a Shortage of a Certain Chemical

Scientists have linked a neurotransmitter known as GABA to unwanted and intrusive thoughts. These findings could have a major impact on our understanding of conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and schizophrenia

Most of us know the feeling of being unable to distract ourselves from a particular thought, however much we might want to. Now, scientists might have found the reason why.

In a study carried out at the University of Cambridge, participants were given pairs of words to associate with one another. The words were unrelated in order to ensure that pre-existing associations didn’t have any influence. Participants were then given a word and either a green or a red signal. If it was the former, they would try to recall the other half of the pairing, and if it was the latter, they would try to deliberately suppress the associated term from their mind.

While this test was being carried out, participants’ brains were monitored using functional magnetic resonance imaging, a technique that monitors changes in blood flow, as well as magnetic resonance spectroscopy, which tracks chemical changes.

Participants with the highest concentrations of a chemical known as Gaba in their hippocampus were best at suppressing the unwanted thoughts. Gaba is the brain’s primary inhibiting neurotransmitter, stifling the activities of other cells when it’s released.

“What’s exciting about this is that now we’re getting very specific,” said Professor Michael Anderson, who led the study, in an interview with the BBC. “Before, we could only say ‘this part of the brain acts on that part’, but now we can say which neurotransmitters are likely to be important.”

A difficulty with or an inability to break free from intrusive and unwanted thoughts are a reality both for neurotypical people and also for those with various types of mental illness. Conditions ranging from obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder to depression and schizophrenia all count this type of behaviour among their symptoms.

As such, there are hopes that these findings could offer further insight into the chemical basis of these disorders. At present, much of the research into treatment methods has centered around helping the prefrontal cortex to function normally. However, Anderson believes that figuring out a way to promote Gaba activity in the hippocampus could actually offer more positive results.

Monday 9 October 2017

Cure for Cancer! The Executioner Protein

Researchers Find “Executioner Protein” That Causes Cancer Cells to Self-Destruct Without Hurting Healthy Cells!

Scientists have discovered a way to use the "executioner protein" BAX to induce apoptosis in cancer cells while leaving healthy cells intact. The treatment has so far been applied only to acute myeloid leukemia (AML) cells but may have broader uses.

Albert Einstein College of Medicine scientists have induced cancer cells to commit suicide with a new compound that leaves healthy cells untouched. They deployed their novel treatment approach against acute myeloid leukemia (AML) cells, which kill more than 10,000 Americans, and makes up about one-third of all new cases of leukemia, each year. Patients survive AML at a rate of only about 30 percent, making effective new treatments a hot commodity. And although the team has only tested the treatment on AML, it could have the potential to successfully attack other varieties of cancer cells.

“We’re hopeful that the targeted compounds we’re developing will prove more effective than current anti-cancer therapies by directly causing cancer cells to self-destruct,” associate professor of medicine and biochemistry and senior author Evripidis Gavathiotis said in a press release. “Ideally, our compounds would be combined with other treatments to kill cancer cells faster and more efficiently—and with fewer adverse effects, which are an all-too-common problem with standard chemotherapies.”

Albert Einstein College of Medicine scientists have induced cancer cells to commit suicide with a new compound that leaves healthy cells untouched. They deployed their novel treatment approach against acute myeloid leukemia (AML) cells, which kill more than 10,000 Americans, and makes up about one-third of all new cases of leukemia, each year. Patients survive AML at a rate of only about 30 percent, making effective new treatments a hot commodity. And although the team has only tested the treatment on AML, it could have the potential to successfully attack other varieties of cancer cells.

“We’re hopeful that the targeted compounds we’re developing will prove more effective than current anti-cancer therapies by directly causing cancer cells to self-destruct,” associate professor of medicine and biochemistry and senior author Evripidis Gavathiotis said in a press release. “Ideally, our compounds would be combined with other treatments to kill cancer cells faster and more efficiently—and with fewer adverse effects, which are an all-too-common problem with standard chemotherapies.”

The new compound fights cancer by triggering apoptosis: a natural process the body uses to get rid of malfunctioning and unwanted cells. Apoptosis also takes place during embryonic development: trimming excess tissue from the growing embryo, for example. While certain existing chemotherapy drugs induce apoptosis indirectly by damaging the DNA in cancer cells, this treatment directly triggers the process intentionally by activating BAX, the “executioner protein.”

Pro-apoptopic proteins activate BAX in cells. Once BAX molecules go to work, they find the mitochondria of target cells and drill lethal holes into them, scuttling their ability to produce energy. Cancer cells resist BAX and this process by producing large quantities of “anti-apoptotic” proteins that suppress BAX and even the proteins that activate it. The process discovered by these researchers wakes BAX up again and sends it back to work.

“Our novel compound revives suppressed BAX molecules in cancer cells by binding with high affinity to BAX’s activation site,” Dr. Gavathiotis said in the release. “BAX can then swing into action, killing cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unscathed.”

In 2008, Dr. Gavathiotis was part of the team that first described the BAX’s activation site’s shape and structure. Since that time, he has been searching for small molecules to activate BAX and produce sufficient activity to overpower the natural resistance cancer cells mount to apoptosis. His team screened more than one million compounds and narrowed the field to 500, many of them synthesized by the team, and then evaluated them. These results reveal the outcome of that search.

BTSA1 (short for BAX Trigger Site Activator 1) was the best compound against several different human AML cell lines, including those found in high-risk AML patients. BTSA1 was also able to induce apoptosis in AML cells without affecting healthy stem cells. In AML mice treated with the compound, there was a significantly longer survival rate: 43 percent of the control group was alive and AML-free after 60 days. The BTSA1-treated mice also exhibited no signs of toxicity.

“BTSA1 activates BAX and causes apoptosis in AML cells while sparing healthy cells and tissues—probably because the cancer cells are primed for apoptosis,” Dr. Gavathiotis said in the release. Next the team plans to test BTSA1 on other types of cancer using animal models.

Monday 2 October 2017

Matters of Life and Death

 (This is an accepted Manuscript of a chapter published by Anna Strhan in Anthony Carroll and Richard Norman (eds) Religion and Atheism: Beyond the Divide, London and New York: Routledge, 2017 - Available in public domains but use only for Educational and Research purpose) 

In his 1909 essay ‘Bridge and Door’, the sociologist Georg Simmel describes the human being ‘as the connecting creature who must always separate and cannot connect without separating … And the human being is likewise the bordering creature who has no border’ (1994: 174).[1]We are beings who make sense of the world through our capacity to connect and to separate things, and Simmel argues that this guides all human activity, shaping our physical, symbolic, emotional and imagined spaces and leaving material marks in the world around us. Exploring the nature of modes of connection and separation is perhaps particularly pertinent to understanding the relations between ‘atheism’ and ‘religion’, or between ‘non-religion’ and ‘religion,’ as it is indexed in the very act of naming these as fields of exploration. In my writing ‘non-religion’, for example, what modes of uniting and disuniting shape my instinct to hyphenate the word (or not)? As the prefix ‘non’ carves out a space of separation from religion, it also draws attention to the doubled nature of lines of division: ‘the separation of objects, people or places is always shadowed by the idea – the “fantasy” or the danger – of their connection’ (Tonkiss 2005: 31). Drawing out deeper understanding of the (simultaneous) practices of connection and separation between religious and non-religious cultures can enable us to develop more nuanced understandings of the everyday realities of members of these groups, which move beyond common assumptions that their interrelations are necessarily antagonistic, and instead open up common grounds of human experience, as well as the lived experience of modes of difference.

Matters of life and death have often loomed large in oppositional modes of relationship between the religious and the non-religious. Religions are often stereotypically characterized by their critics as immortality cults, attempting to escape or deny the inevitability of death through focusing on a putative transcendent realm that is perceived to diminish the fullness of this life. The question of life is also a key source of tension, for example, in the culture wars clashes, as life has become caught between technocratic explorations (for example, of the human genome) and religious oppositions to abortion and stem cell research on the basis of ‘sanctity of life’ (Bennett 2010, Pyyhtinen 2012, Thacker 2010). Concepts of life reverberate throughout religious traditions. In Christianity, this is expressed in Jesus’s telling his followers, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ (John 14: 6) and ‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly’ (John 10:10), while in Hinduism, Shakti represents the creative, all-pervading life force. The idea of life also resonates throughout non-religious cultures. Olli Pyyhtinen suggests that if in the Renaissance, the decisive form of reality was ‘mechanism’, for the modern era it has been the category ‘life’ (2012: 79). He notes that French vitalism, under the influence of Bergson, and German Lebensphilosophie were among the most influential philosophies in Europe in the early twentieth century, to the extent that Simmel wrote in 1916 that ‘the concept of life now seems to permeate a multitude of spheres and has begun to give, as it were, a more unified rhythm to their heartbeat’ (cited in Pyyhtinen 2012: 79). While these ideas languished under the taint of Nazism for much of the latter twentieth century, ideas of vitalism and philosophies of becoming, emphasizing the vibrancy of life, are firmly back, under the influence of Deleuze, and permeating a wide variety of disciplines (ibid.).[2]At the same time, a different inflection of life is given in the form of Michel Foucault’s concept of ‘bio-politics’ (1990) together with Giorgio Agamben’s (1998) concept of ‘bare life’. Agamben deployed the concept of ‘bare life’ to address the fact that biopolitical states can strip someone to bare or naked life, which produces bodies that can be killed with impunity. This approach to life has expressed (and perhaps intensified) the gloomy spirit of political diagnoses in the ‘post-9/11 era’ (Singh 2015: 55), as Agamben’s analysis has been used to try to articulate that which in life is irreducible to either social processes or living biological organisms. 

The concept of life – and life’s interrelation with death – are of course implicated both in metaphysical orientations and also in existential and ethical questions about what it means to life a good life, or a life filled with meaning, as opposed to bare life, and it is beyond the scope of this chapter to provide an exhaustive survey of how these ideas figure across religious and non-religious traditions. While questions of life and death might appear perennial concerns for religion, in what follows, I explore the particular contemporary significance of ideas of life and death within the moral landscapes of different religious and non-religious groups. I draw here on qualitative sociological research I have conducted, which is largely in the field of contemporary Christianities, with the hope that these ideas might find resonances beyond the contexts I address here. The chapter considers the significance of the idea of ‘life’ for an ‘open’ evangelical church, the Sunday Assembly, and the School of Life, and practices of reflecting on ‘death’ in Death Cafés, drawing this together with Simmel’s writing on life and its interrelations with death. I conclude by suggesting that attending to modes of practical engagement with ideas of ‘life’ and ‘death’ across these different religious and non-religious groups, rather than focusing solely on the propositional content of beliefs about life and death, opens up opportunities for reflection on common existential grounds of experience, moving beyond assumptions that relations between these groups are necessarily antagonistic.

What do we do when we ‘do life’?
I have been conducting ethnographic fieldwork with different kinds of evangelical[3]church in London since 2009, and through this, I have often been struck by both particular affinities and acts of distancing from non-religious and other religious groups that members of these churches engage in across different contexts. At an open evangelical[4]church where I carried out fieldwork from 2013-14, which I call ‘Riverside’, for example, one Sunday morning, the minister said to the congregation that some of them may have heard about ‘atheist churches that have started meeting to celebrate life together’. He said that one of these was having a harvest festival, and would be giving the food they collect to Riverside’s food bank, and so a member of the Riverside staff was visiting them that morning to collect the food ‘and to build links with them’. This incident not only reveals the friendly institutional relationships between atheist and open evangelical churches; the description of the atheist congregation as gathering together ‘to celebrate life’ also opens up a wider point of connection in relation to the contemporary significance of life for both. 

The Sunday Assembly is perhaps the most notable contemporary example of a network of ‘atheist churches’, which seeks to ‘replicate the “positive” aspects of regular churches’ – such as the sense of community belonging and rituals – but without the belief in God (Alexander 2014). The Sunday Assembly describes itself as ‘a secular congregation that celebrates life’ and as having ‘a mission to help everyone live life as fully as possible’. Its website sets out its ‘charter’, stating ‘We’re not here to tell you how to live your life—we’re here to help you be the best version of you you can be’, and its charter includes the ideas that it is: a ‘100% celebration of life. We are born from nothing and go to nothing. Let’s enjoy it together’; ‘has no doctrine’; ‘is radically inclusive—this is a place of love that is open and accepting’; ‘has a community mission. Through our Action Heroes (you!), we will be a force for good’; and ‘we won’t tell you how to live, but will try to help you do it as well as you can.’

The ways in which ‘life’ figures here in many ways mirrors how members of both Riverside and the charismatic evangelical churches I have studied in London talk about life. These different congregations name their small group study and discussion meetings ‘life courses’, and ‘life groups’ is commonly used as a title for small group meetings across global evangelicalism. The leaders of Riverside describe the materials developed for use within the life courses, ‘Life Resources’, as intended ‘to enable you to become the best possible version of yourself’, resonating with the Sunday Assembly’s aims.[5]The Riverside leader who developed these resources introduced them to the congregation one Sunday morning. Her first slide posed the question, ‘how do I become the best version of me I can be?’, and she asked the congregation to consider who it was who looked at them in the mirror that morning, adding that when she looked in the mirror that morning, she had thought ‘when did I become so old?’ She repeated the question from the slide, and added ‘How do you become the best version of who you are and who you are created to be?’ She said that this question was what they were going to be focusing on that year in their services and small groups, and said ‘it’s something we need to be intentionalabout’. She said that when you learn to drive or swim, you initially have to be ‘really intentional about what you’re doing, and then it becomes second nature… It’s the same with being the best we can be. We need to practise it for it to become second nature to us.’ She said that we become like the people we follow, and added that when she was young, she had wanted to be like Kevin Keegan, and said that as a church community, ‘our intention is that we become like Jesus, so that the loving our enemies, forgiveness, love, joy, and tenderness that Jesus displayed become second nature to us.’ She said that over the coming year, ‘we’re going to take time to focus on being like Jesus. I’ve called it LIFE’. Her next slide had LIFE in bright yellow letters in the centre against a black background, together with other concepts that would form their focus over the course of the year. These concepts included: following, rhythm, belonging, giftedness, resources, ritual, wholeness, transform, image, inclusion, connection. She said that they were going to begin with the question of ‘following,’ and asked everyone to turn to the person next to them to ask ‘what footprints are you leaving behind you at the moment?’, and allowed some time for everyone to chat about that, before the service moved onto the Bible reading, and then the sermon that morning, which was on the theme of ‘bringing hope to local children and young people … so that they live well in this journey of life.’

Riverside’s elaboration of what ‘becoming the best possible version of yourself’ as a central aim of LIFE means includes, like the Sunday Assembly, a strong focus on ‘inclusivity’ and ‘community’. There is a particular emphasis on the inclusion within the church of those who have been socially excluded through categories such as race, sexuality, disability, or social class, and Riverside repeatedly emphasizes that their vision is to ‘build inclusive communities’, where ‘everyone has hope, feels they matter, and is given the opportunity to achieve their potential’. Members of both Riverside and charismatic evangelical churches I studied also frequently spoke about ‘doing life’ with each other. When I asked my informants what ‘doing life’ meant, they said it was about seeing faith as not just about being in church, or reading the Bible, but as something found in everyday moments of relationality, just hanging out with each other and doing very mundane things together, and implying a sense of ‘building community’ through these interactions. 

The idea of ‘doing life’, ‘life courses’ and ‘life resources’ that we see in these churches resonates not only with the Sunday Assembly, but also with another non-religious organization, the School of Life. This was set up in 2008 by the philosopher Alain de Botton and others with the aim of ‘putting learning and ideas back to where they should always have been – right in the middle of our lives’, and ‘runs courses in the important questions of everyday life’.[6]The School of Life runs a shop selling books, clothes, e.g. ‘The Philosopher’s Shoe’ and ‘The Philosopher’s Jumper,’ and a range of other items, such as ‘Philosophical Honey’ (priced at £20, which the website tells us ‘is food for the soul – connecting us with history and culture’, and is ‘sourced from the birthplaces of great Greek philosophers’),[7]a ‘Comfort Blanket,’ and a ‘Writing as Therapy Journal.’ 

The School runs courses (with costs from £20 for ‘Secular Sermons’ to £700 for week-long intensive courses) about ‘things we all care about: careers, relationships, politics, travels, families’ and describes itself as ‘a place to step back and think intelligently about central emotional concerns. You will never be cornered by dogma, but we will direct you towards a variety of ideas from the humanities ... that will exercise, stimulate and expand your mind.’[8]Riverside, the School of Life and the Sunday Assembly all present themselves as concerned primarily with away of life, not the way of life or the meaning of life: they offer a way of ‘doing life’ that seeks to find and acknowledge meaning in life. While religious groups are often presented by those outside them as offering authoritative moral teachings about life and death, at Riverside we can see a more subjunctive mode of address that resonates with the turn away from ‘dogma’ that we see at the School of Life and the Sunday Assembly. There is little stated emphasis on ‘inclusion’ at the School of Life (and the costs of their courses and products would be prohibitive for many, with the ‘Comfort Blanket’, for example, priced at £170), yet we can see the focus on reflexive self-awareness and intentionality that permeated Riverside’s life courses as also present in these School of Life courses. The promotional material on the class on ‘How to Manage Stress’, for example, states that through participating, ‘You’ll become accurate in pinpointing the causes of your anxiety. You’ll tame your unhelpful inner voices – and internalize better alternatives. And you’ll discover how to spend time worrying about the things that really matter, rather than those that don’t.’[9]

We might interpret the emphasis on reflexive self-awareness permeating these ideas of life as bound up with wider social processes of individualization. While both Riverside and the School of Life emphasize the communal nature of their Life courses and classes, there is also an emphasis on the individual’s responsibility to shape herself or himself in order to ‘become the best possible version’ of themselves. While Riverside does also place an emphasis on forms of political and civic engagement in order to ‘build more inclusive communities,’ such that this individual responsibility for transformation is also bound up with the communal and political, at the School of Life, the focus is much more squarely on learning individual techniques to ‘manage stress’ or to deal with ‘imposter syndrome.’ 

Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman argues that with the retreat of formerly dominant ‘heteronomous’ modes of addressing suffering and mortality, there has been a rise of ‘autonomous’ means, which are self-contained and self-directed, and aim to engage resources within the self’s actual or potential possession (Bauman 1999: 42). We are unable to manage our recalcitrant existential fears in their ‘pure and unprocessed form’, and so we 

slice the great, overwhelming fear into smaller and manageable bits – recast the big issue we can do nothing about into a set of little ‘practical’ tasks we can hope to be able to fulfil. Nothing calms better the dread one cannot eradicate than worrying and ‘doing something’ about the trouble one can fight (p. 44). 

Whilst the School of Life is not necessarily focused on either ignoring or staving off existential angst, there is nevertheless a sense that individuals should seek to manage themselves better to deal with the struggles they face in life. While people have always faced struggles and problems in life, these, as Ian Craib (1994) notes, might once have been seen as moral choices in the context of a larger community or as religious struggles with the forces of destiny, or as political problems to be solved through collective action. The cultural shift, Craib argues, was to start ‘seeing them in terms of individual morality with individual solutions’, as the modern person as an autonomous individual became perceived and experienced as increasingly isolated from wider society (pp. 98-99). In many ways, the idea of ‘life’ across these groups is inflected with this sense of individuals managing themselves better to deal with the struggles and disappointments of life, although we also see at the Sunday Assembly and Riverside a sense that this is inextricably bound up with a desire to work to help others also live flourishing lives, and Riverside encourages and enables different kinds of civic and political activism to these ends. 

These connections across religious and non-religious organizations are in many ways not surprising, as both the Sunday Assembly and the School of Life situate themselves as drawing on aspects of religious traditions while ‘free from dogma’. But what might lie behind the specific contemporary prominence being accorded to ‘life’? We might interpret the pervasiveness of concepts of life as a strategy of differentiation from religious – and especially other Christian - cultures that place significant theological emphasis on life after death. Thus, in many ways, the identities of the open evangelical and non-religious organizations are both shaped through their acts of distancing from other, more conservative, religious traditions. The celebration of life and idea of ‘doing life’ can be seen as a means of finding modes of transcendence, enchantment and wonder in everyday, immanent life, rather than locating transcendence in some other-worldly realm. Simmel’s writings also capture this sensibility, presenting transcendence as immanent within life, as he describes life as ‘that which at all points wants to go beyond itself, reaching out beyond itself’, a form of pure potentiality, that is always not yet, being made and re-made (cited in Pyyhtinen 2012: 84). This dynamic sense of life-as-becoming is emphasized across Riverside, the Sunday Assembly and the School of Life. At the same time, Simmel also argues (1997) that the experience of fragmentation in modernity intensifies a desire for coherence across all spheres of social interaction. We could perhaps thus locate this sacralization of ‘life’ as also bound up with an existential desire to see all – even the most mundane, everyday details of our lives – as ultimately connected as part of ‘life’. This is not so much about finding a transcendent vantage point from which to understand life and death, but about finding the transcendent within the ordinary. Simmel describes how Rembrandt’s paintings vividly evoke this illumination of everyday life: ‘Light does not come from outside (such light would inevitably fall unevenly); rather, in order to illuminate its ordinariness, from within, shining through equally in each path that leads from the core of life to life’s appearances’ (2005: 116).

Remembering Death as a Way of Life
While the School of Life focuses on finding techniques to deal with the struggles of life, at the same time, there is alsoan acknowledgement of both the ultimate recalcitrance of life, and of the importance on reflecting on death as an everyday practice of life. The School of Life’s promotional blurb about its ‘Memento Mori’ paperweight states that ‘Many of the obstacles we face in our lives are rather like the waves of the sea: relentless, bleak, repetitive and, ultimately, not responsive to our wishes or longings’. It notes that this is ‘a basic premise of the human condition’ and we should not ‘be continually shocked and dismayed when life does not answer to our demands. We should learn to accept all we cannot change and face it with a degree of heroism and Stoic strength, as a sailor battling the waves might.’ The ‘Memento Mori’ paperweights are designed to be ‘vivid reminders of mortality and the transient nature of life’ and to ‘put our prosaic obsessions into question’ by measuring them ‘against the finality of death.’[10]Practices of memento mori– reflecting on the condition of mortality – were developed in Stoic philosophy, and were taken up in Christian Europe, circulating throughout the visual arts, for example, as symbols of death in still life paintings. Acknowledgement of mortality is likewise inextricably interwoven throughout contemporary Christian practices, such as in the Ash Wednesday liturgy, when priests sign a cross with ashes on the foreheads of those attending Mass or Eucharist with the words ‘from dust you came, to dust you will return,’ or in the celebrations of the Mexican Day of the Dead festival, which draws on pre-Columbian as well as Catholic rituals of remembrance.
            This idea of consciously reflecting on death is also found beyond the School of Life in other non-religious cultures, such as the Death Cafés movement, which was started in 2011 by Hackney-based former council worker Jon Underwood, inspired by the Café Mortelpioneered by Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz.[11]Death cafés are largely pop-up meetings, run as a social franchise rather than for profit, and have spread across Europe, North America, and Australasia, with meetings having been held in 29 countries. ‘At a Death Café people, often strangers, gather to eat cake, drink tea and discuss death’, the Death Café website states.[12]When I interviewed Jon Underwood, he described their shared objective as ‘to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their finite lives’. He said that some of the people who attend the cafés do have a belief in life after death, but that the groups didn’t tend to focus on discussing those, as ‘generally, it’s fairly unproductive territory, because people have their view, it’s quite strongly held, and that’s that’. Resonating with the avoidance of ‘dogma’ in the approaches taken to life at Riverside, the Sunday Assembly and the School of Life, Underwood said that they don’t seek to offer one way of dealing with death: ‘We don’t have any answers… We might suggest some things, and we might know of resources, but the only answers are people’s own.’
            The popularity of death cafés might be seen as in one sense a response to a widespread cultural denial or avoidance of death in contemporary secular societies. Ernest Becker argued in The Denial of Deaththat death is so terrifying that we don’t want to think about it: ‘the idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else; it is a mainspring of human activity – activity designed largely to avoid the fatality of death, to overcome it by denying in some way that it is the final destiny for man’ (1973: xvii). Simmel likewise suggests that much of life might be defined as Todesflucht, a ‘fleeing from death’ (cited in Pyyhtinen 2012: 94).While religions have often been seen as denials of death, the acknowledgement of death – and of the fear of death – that animates many religious practices and the death cafés might perhaps also be seen as often bound up with the desire to become oriented towards the fullness of life, an inhabiting of and affirming of life in the present. Indeed, awareness of life perhaps requires, as Simmel argues, ‘death as its opposite, its “other”’ (cited in Pyyhtinen 2012: 87). While conflicting beliefs about death and teachings on the potential horrors or blessings of an afterlife tend to figure prominently in oppositional relations between the religious and the non-religious, practices of attending to the fact of mortality across religious and non-religious cultures provide an alternative mode of connection and a means of acknowledging shared existential grounds of what it is to be human. 

In this brief sketch of modes of engaging with ideas of life and death, we can see that although the terms may carry different resonances in particular contexts, attending closely to concepts such as these that are prominent across religious and non-religious cultures may help deepen understanding of affinities between groups that we are often tempted to treat as separate. Although the discursive strategies of particular religious and non-religious groups are often acts of distancing from another culture, in each act of ‘othering’ there is also, as Simmel highlights, a haunting by the possibility of connection, and these modalities of otherness, separation, and desire raise important questions about the kinds of subjectivity and experience these relations enable and foreclose. Studying these modes of interrelationality can help us draw more precisely into focus the question of what is delimited as ‘the religious’ in everyday social life, in which engagement with ideas of life and death figure prominently, for example, and thus often continue to permeate non-religious cultures. 
            Theologian Philip Goodchild argues that the ‘death of God’ in contemporary society and culture affects the believer and unbeliever alike, and that the philosopher of religion therefore has to be concerned with the conditions under which the mind is set in motion. He questions whether the concept of life might set the mind in motion, and suggests that this would require ‘an attention to life… and the thinking of life would also be the life that thinks, the awakening thought that arises from the swirling depths of consciousness and expresses its vital power in thought itself’ (Goodchild 2012: 174). He goes on to question whether the concept of life might perhaps today fulfil functions formerly attributed to God:

it replaces God, or rather, as a biblical and philosophical name for God, the concept is one of the few acceptable names under which God can be thought outside of the confines of institutional religion, in all God’s transcendence, immanence and inspiration. If life does play such a role, then perhaps our sharpest divisions are not between theists or atheists, nor between participants and non-participants in religious practice, but would arise from the thinking that undergirds our ways of life. For the substitution of concepts such as ‘God’ and ‘life’ are less significant than our frameworks of thinking insofar as these constrain or enable us to perceive reality, to touch it, participate in it and live it. (Goodchild 2012: 174)

Following Goodchild, attending to different ways of engaging with life and death, and the existential and ethical effects of these, cuts across the religious/nonreligious and theistic/nontheistic/atheistic divides that have so often focused on the propositional contents of beliefs about life, death, and im/mortality. 
Attending to practical, lived engagements with concepts of life and death might open up not only modes of connection between the religious and the non-religious, but also more nuanced understanding of common human concerns with what it means to live a good life within the limits of human finitude, and of what it means to be human. The concept of ‘natality’ might here also provide a useful further point of connection. Hannah Arendt argues that it is natality, rather than mortality, which reorients our social imaginaries to fully perceive our human interconnectedness, as our being born means being welcomed into a whole ‘web of human relationships which is, as it were, woven by the deeds and words of innumerable persons, by the living as well as the dead’ (Arendt, cited in Jantzen 1998:  149).
 Exploring engagements with life and death might also entail, following Foucault and Agamben, examining the ways in which some lives come to count for more or less in specific contexts. As the anthropologist Veena Das describes, we can see the dangers of modes of dehumanization ‘as if stitched into everyday life when one withholds recognition from the other, not simply on the grounds that she is not part of one’s community but that she is not part of life itself.’ (2007: 16). In Europe, this is a question of particular contemporary relevance as we witness a proliferation of dehumanizing framings of migrant lives associated with the swelling of far-right political movements in Europe and elsewhere. And we can also see how the concept of ‘life’ can provide a means of resistance to such discourses, for example, in the Migrant Lives Matter movement. Further reflection on the varieties of ways in which people reflect on and engage with ‘life’ and its interrelations with mortality thus has the potential to help us understand better the kinds of practices and orientations that unite (as well as divide) us from each other across religious and non-religious cultures, and might encourage a deeper affirmation of, appreciation of and attentiveness to life and its wonders, as well as acknowledgement of its struggles and tragedies. As Mary Oliver expresses this in Red Bird:

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it. (cited in Moody and Shakespeare 2012: 176).

This research was supported by the Leverhulme Trust, under the Early Career Fellowship Award Scheme [ECF-2012-605].

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Connolly, William (2011) A World of Becoming (Durham, NC, Duke Univesity Press).
Connolly, William (2013) The Fragility of Things(Durham, NC, Duke University 
Craib, Ian (1994) The Importance of Disappointment (Abingdon, Routledge).
Das, Veena (2007) Life and Words(Berkeley, University of California Press).
Deleuze, Gilles (2001) Pure Immanence: Essays on a Life, tr. A. Boyman (New York, 
Zone Books). 
Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari (1987) A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and 
Schizophrenia, tr. Brian Massumi (London: University of Minnesota Press). 
Engelke, Matthew (2013) God’s Agents: Biblical Publicity in Contemporary England 
(Berkeley, University of California Press).
Foucault, Michel (1990) The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction. tr. R. 
Hurley (New York, Vintage Books). 
Goodchild, Philip (2012) ‘Thinking and Life: On Philosophy as a Spiritual Exercise’, 
in Katharine Sarah Moody and Steven Shakespeare (eds) Intensities: Philosophy, Religion and the Affirmation of Life(Farnham, Ashgate), pp. 165-176.
Jantzen, Grace (1998) Becoming Divine: Towards a Feminist Philosophy of Religion 
(Manchester, Manchester University Press).
Lash, Scott (2006) ‘Life (Vitalism)’, Theory, Culture and Society23(2–3): 323–329. 
Moody, Katharine Sarah and Steven Shakespeare (2012) ‘Afterword’, in Katharine 
Sarah Moody and Steven Shakespeare (eds) Intensities: Philosophy, Religion and the Affirmation of Life(Farnham, Ashgate), pp. 176-177.
Osteen, Joel (2014) Your Best Life Now: Seven Steps to Living at Your Full Potential 
(New York, Faith Words).
Pyyhtinen, Olli (2012) ‘Life, Death and Individuation: Simmel on the Problem of Life 
Itself’, Theory, Culture and Society29(7/8): 78-100.
Simmel, Georg (1994) ‘Bridge and Door’, in David Frisby and Mike Featherstone 
(eds) Simmel on Culture (London, Sage), pp. 170-4.
Simmel, Georg (1997) ‘Religion and the Contradictions of Life’, in Horst Jürgen 
Helle (ed.) Essays on Religion (New Haven, Yale University Press), pp. 36-44.
Simmel, Georg (2005) Rembrandt: An Essay in the Philosophy of Art, tr. Alan Scott 
and Helmut Staubman (New York, Routledge).
Singh, Bhrigupati (2015) Poverty and the Quest for Life: Spiritual and Material 
Striving in Rural India (Chicago, University of Chicago Press).
Strhan, Anna (2015) Aliens and Strangers: The Struggle for Coherence in the 
Everyday Lives of Evangelicals (Oxford, Oxford University Press).
Thacker, Eugene (2010) After Life(Chicago, University of Chicago Press).
Tonkiss, Fran (2005) Space, the City and Social Theory: Social Relations and Urban 
Forms (Cambridge, Polity Press). 

[1]This chapter expands on themes which formed the basis of a post at the NSRN blog, available at 22 December 2015)
[2]Examples of work in this turn include: Deleuze and Guattari 1987, Deleuze 2001, Bennett 2010, Connolly 2011, 2013, Lash 2006.
[3]I use the term ‘evangelical’ here, following David Bebbington, to refer to the tradition existing in Britain since the 1730s, marked by the characteristics ofconversionismactivism, biblicism, and crucicentrism(1989: 3).
[4]I use the term ‘open evangelical’ to characterize a movement dissatisfied with dominant evangelical understandings of faith, in whose view ‘evangelicalism has suffocated itself through a tight hold on propositional belief, personal salvation, and overheated conviction’ (Engelke 2013: 20).
[5]This language pervades contemporary evangelical cultures, with US pastor Joel Osteen’s book Your Best Life Now: Seven Steps to Living at Your Full Potential (2004) having sold over 4 million copies. It should be noted, however, that not all evangelicals agree with Osteen’s theology (see, e.g. Strhan 2015: 127). 
[6]From 22 December 2015).
[8]From 23 December 2015).
[12]From 23 December 2015).

Friday 1 September 2017

ഭൂമിയുടെ ഉത്ഭവകഥ (Evolution of Earth)

ഭൂമിയുടെ ഉത്ഭവകഥ (Evolution of Earth)

പ്രപഞ്ചമുണ്ടായിട്ട് ഏകദേശം 13.8 ബില്യൺ വർഷങ്ങൾ ആയെന്നും, ഭൂമി ഉണ്ടായിട്ട് 4.5 ബില്യൺ വർഷങ്ങൾ ആയെന്നുമൊക്കെ പറയുമ്പോൾ ആ സംഖ്യകളുടെ വലിപ്പം പലരും ഓർക്കാറില്ല. ഈ പറയുന്ന സമയ ദൈർഘ്യം, ഒരു പക്ഷേ സങ്കൽപ്പിക്കാവുന്നതിലപ്പുറം വലിയൊരു കാലയളവാണ്. മനുഷ്യർ ഉണ്ടായിട്ട് കേവലം 2 ലക്ഷം വർഷങ്ങൾ മാത്രമേ ആയിട്ടുള്ളൂ എന്ന് പറയുമ്പോഴും, 2 ലക്ഷവും 14 ബില്യണും തമ്മിലുള്ള അതിഭീമമായ അന്തരവും ആരും ഓർക്കാറില്ല!

ഈ കാലയളവുകളെ നമുക്ക് പെട്ടെന്ന് മനസ്സിലാക്കാൻ വേണ്ടി ‘കോസ്മിക് കലണ്ടർ’ ഉപയോഗിക്കാം.

കാൾ സാഗൻ അദ്ദേഹത്തിന്റെ പുസ്തകമായ The Dragons of Eden എന്ന പുസ്തകത്തിലൂടെ ആണ് ഈ ആശയം മുമ്പോട്ട് വെക്കുന്നത്. സംഗതി ലളിതമാണ്. പ്രപഞ്ചമുണ്ടായിട്ട് ഇത് വരെ ഉള്ള കാലയളവിനെ - അതായത് 13.8 ബില്യൺ വർഷങ്ങളെ - ഒരൊറ്റ വർഷത്തെ, അതായത് കൃത്യം 365 ദിവസങ്ങളുടെ ഒരു കാലയളവിലേക്ക് ചുരുക്കുന്നു. (ഒരു ബില്യൺ എന്നാൽ നൂറു കോടി)

ഉദാഹരണത്തിന്, ഡിസംബർ 31 അർദ്ധരാത്രി കൃത്യം 12 മണിക്ക് പ്രപഞ്ചം ഉണ്ടാകുന്നു. അടുത്ത വർഷം ഡിസംബർ 31 അർദ്ധരാത്രി - കൃത്യം 12 മണിക്ക് പ്രപഞ്ചം ഇന്നുള്ള
അവസ്ഥയിലേക്കുത്തുന്നു എന്നും സങ്കൽപ്പിക്കുക. അങ്ങനെ എങ്കിൽ ഈ ‘കോസ്മിക് കലണ്ടറിലെ’ ഒരു സെക്കന്റ് 438 വർഷങ്ങൾക്ക് സമമായിരിക്കും. ഒരു മണിക്കൂർ എന്നത് 15.8 ലക്ഷം വർഷങ്ങളും, ഒരു ദിവസമെന്നത് 3.78 കോടി വർഷങ്ങളും ആയിരിക്കും. ഇനി ഈ കലണ്ടറിലൂടെ ഒന്ന് സഞ്ചരിച്ച്, നമുക്കറിയാവുന്ന പ്രപഞ്ചത്തിൽ ഇത് വരെ നടന്ന പ്രധാനസംഭവങ്ങളെ ഒന്ന് പരിശോധിക്കാം!.

ഡിസംബർ 31 അർദ്ധരാത്രി കൃത്യം 12:00 മണി. ബിഗ് ബാംഗ് സംഭവിക്കുന്നു! ആദ്യത്തെ മൈക്രോ സെക്കന്റുകളും, സെക്കന്റുകളുമൊക്കെ പ്രപഞ്ചത്തിന്റെ അടിസ്ഥാന കണികകളുടെ രൂപീകരണമാണ്. നമുക്ക് താല്പര്യമുള്ള വിഷയങ്ങളൊന്നും ആദ്യത്തെ ഒന്ന് രണ്ട് മാസത്തേക്ക് സംഭവിക്കുന്നില്ല! നമ്മുടെ ഗ്യാലക്സി ആയ മിൽക്കി വേ (ആകാശ ഗംഗ) ഉണ്ടാകുന്നത് മാർച്ച് 15 ന് ആണ്. പിന്നെയും നീണ്ട കാത്തിരിപ്പ്! സൂര്യനും സൗരയൂഥവുമൊക്കെ ഒരു പാട് മാസങ്ങൾ കഴിഞ്ഞ് - കൃത്യമായി പറഞ്ഞാൽ ഓഗസ്റ്റ് 31 നാണ് ഉണ്ടാകുന്നത്! അതിനോടനുബന്ധിച്ചു തന്നെ ഭൂമിയും, ഇതര ഗ്രഹോപഗ്രഹങ്ങളും ഉണ്ടാകുന്നു. ഒരു വർഷത്തിൽ 8 മാസം അപ്പോഴേക്കും കടന്നു പോയി.

ഭൂമിയിലെ ജീവന്റെ ആദ്യ കണിക ഉണ്ടാകുന്നത് സെപ്തംബർ 21 നാണ്.പ്രോകാരിയോട്ട് എന്ന് വിളിക്കപ്പെടുന്ന അതീവലളിതമായ ഏകകോശജീവികൾ. ഫോട്ടോ സിന്തസിസ് എന്ന പ്രതിഭാസം ആരംഭിക്കുന്നത് ഒക്റ്റോബർ 12 ന്. വർഷത്തിലെ 10 മാസം കഴിയാറായിട്ടും, മനുഷ്യൻ പോയിട്ട് ബഹുകോശ ജീവികൾ പോലും ഭൂമിയിൽ ആവിർഭവിച്ചില്ല എന്നോർക്കണം!

പ്രോകാരിയോട്ട് ജീവികളിൽ ന്യൂക്ലിയസ് ഉണ്ടാകുന്നത് (അതായത് യൂകാരിയോട്ടുകൾ ആയി മാറുന്നത് നവംബർ 9 ന് ആണ്. ഇതിനു മുമ്പ് തന്നെ, അതായത് കോശങ്ങളിൽ മർമങ്ങൾ പ്രത്യക്ഷപ്പെടുന്നതിനു മുമ്പ് ‘സെക്സ്’ ഉരുത്തിരിഞ്ഞിരുന്നു എന്നറിയാമോ? അത് സംഭവിച്ചത് നവംബർ 1 നാണ്!

ആദ്യത്തെ ബഹുകോശജീവികൾ പ്രത്യക്ഷപ്പെടുന്നത് ഡിസംബർ 5ന്. കടലിനടിത്തട്ടിൽ കാണപ്പെടുന്ന ലളിതമായ ജീവികൾ ഉണ്ടാകുന്നത് ഡിസംബർ 14നാണ്. സമാനകാലത്ത് തന്നെയാണ് ആർത്രോപോഡുകളുടെ ഉത്ഭവവും. ഡിസബർ 18ന് മത്സ്യങ്ങളും, ഉഭയജീവികളുടെ പൂർവികരും ഉണ്ടാകുന്നു.

ഡിസംബർ 20 ന് കരയിൽ സസ്യങ്ങൾ ഉണ്ടാകുന്നു. ചെറുപ്രാണികളും, ഇന്നത്തെ ഇൻസെക്റ്റുകളുടെ പൂർവികരും ഉണ്ടാകുന്നത് ഡിസംബർ 21 നാണ്. ഡിസംബർ 22 ന് ആദ്യ ഉഭയജീവികൾ ഉണ്ടാകുന്നു. ഉരഗങ്ങൾ ഉണ്ടാകുന്നത് ഡിസംബർ 23 നും, സസ്തനികൾ ഉണ്ടാകുന്നത് ഡിസംബർ 26 നുമാണ്. ഒരു വർഷം കഴിയാൻ വെറും 5 ദിവസങ്ങൾ മാത്രമേ ബാക്കിയുള്ളൂ. മനുഷ്യൻ എന്ന അതിവിശിഷ്ടനായ ജീവിയോ, എന്തിന്, അവനോട് വിദൂര സാദൃശ്യമുള്ള ഒരു പൂർവികനോ പോലും ഇത് വരെ ഉണ്ടായിട്ടില്ല!

ദിനോസറുകൾ ആവിർഭവിക്കുന്നത് കൃസ്തുമസിന്റെ തലേന്ന് അർദ്ധരാത്രി ആണ്!പക്ഷികൾ ഉണ്ടാകുന്നത് ഡിസംബർ 27 നും. നമുക്ക് പ്രിയങ്കരമായ പുഷ്പങ്ങൾ ചെടികളിൽ ഉണ്ടാകാൻ തുടങ്ങിയത് ഡിസംബർ 28 ഓടെ ആണ്. അഞ്ചു ദിവസം ഭൂമിയിലെ രാജാക്കന്മാരായിരുന്ന ദിനോസറുകൾ ഡിസംബർ 29 ഓടെ അരങ്ങൊഴിയുകയാണ്.

ഡിസംബർ 30 ന് സകല ഹോമിനിഡ് ഗ്രൂപ്പുകളുടേയും പിതാമഹൻ ആയ പ്രൈമേറ്റുകളുടെ ആദി രൂപങ്ങൾ ഉണ്ടാകുന്നു. കൂടുതൽ സസ്തനികൾ ഭൂമിയിൽ പരിണമിച്ചുണ്ടാകുന്നു.

ഡിസംബർ 31, 6:05 ന് Ape എന്ന് വിളിക്കാവുന്ന ഒരു ജീവി ഭൂമിയിൽ ഉണ്ടാകുന്നു. ഉച്ചയ്ക്ക് 2:24
ഓടെ ഇപ്പോഴത്തെ മനുഷ്യനും, ചിമ്പാൻസിയും, ഗൊറില്ലയും ഒക്കെ ഉൾപ്പെടുന്ന ‘ഹോമിനിഡ്’
ഗ്രൂപ്പിന്റെ പൊതു പൂർവികൻ ഉണ്ടാവുകയാണ്. മണിക്കൂറുകൾ മാത്രം ബാക്കി ഉള്ളപ്പോഴും മനുഷ്യൻ ചിത്രത്തിലില്ല എന്ന് ശ്രദ്ധിക്കുക!

രാത്രി 10:24 ന് മനുഷ്യ പൂർവികർ ആയ ഹോമോ എറക്ടസ് ഉണ്ടാകുന്നു. സമാന സമയത്ത് തന്നെ കല്ലു കൊണ്ടുള്ള ആയുധങ്ങളും കണ്ടു പിടിക്കപ്പെടുന്നു. 11:44 pm നാണ് തീയുടെ ഉപയോഗം മനുഷ്യ പൂർവികർ കണ്ടെത്തുന്നത്. ഒടുവിൽ, ഡിസംബർ 31 രാത്രി11:52 pm ന്, മനുഷ്യൻ എന്ന് വിളിക്കാവുന്ന ഒരു ജീവി ആവിർഭവിക്കുകയാണ്! ഒരു വർഷത്തെ കലണ്ടർ അവസാനിക്കാൻ വെറും എട്ട് മിനിറ്റ് മാത്രം ബാക്കി ഉള്ളപ്പോൾ

ഒരു വർഷത്തെ പ്രപഞ്ച ചരിത്രത്തിൽ, മനുഷ്യന്റെ അറിയുന്നതും, എഴുതപ്പെട്ടതും, അല്ലാത്തതുമായ സകല ചരിത്രവും, നമുക്കറിയാവുന്ന പ്രശസ്തരും അപ്രശസ്തരും ആയ സകല മനുഷ്യരുടേയും കഥ ഈ എട്ട് മിനിറ്റിൽ ഒതുങ്ങുന്നു! സത്യത്തിൽ അങ്ങനെ പറയുന്നത് പോലും ശരിയല്ല. ഈ എട്ട് മിനിറ്റ് എന്ന് പറയുന്നത് യഥാർത്ഥ സകെയിലിൽ രണ്ട് ലക്ഷം വർഷങ്ങൾ ആണ്. മനുഷ്യന്റെ അറിയാവുന്ന ചരിത്രം ഏതാനും പതിനായിരം വർഷങ്ങളിൽ ഒതുങ്ങും!

സകല ദൈവ സങ്കൽപ്പങ്ങളും, മതങ്ങളും വരുന്നത് ഈ എട്ടു മിനിറ്റിന്റെ അവസാനത്തെ ചില
നിമിഷങ്ങളിൽ ആണ്! എഴുത്ത് (ലിപി) കണ്ടു പിടിക്കുന്നത് കലണ്ടർ തീരാൻ വെറും 13 സെക്കന്റുകൾ ബാക്കി ഉള്ളപ്പോഴാണ്. വേദങ്ങളും, ബുദ്ധനും, കൺഫ്യൂഷ്യസും, അശോകനും, റോമാ സാംമ്രാജ്യവും ഒക്കെ വരുന്നത് അവസാനത്തെ 6 സെക്കന്റുകൾക്ക് മുമ്പ്.

ആധുനിക ശാസ്ത്രത്തിന്റെ ആവിർഭാവവും, വ്യാവസായിക വിപ്ലവവും, അമേരിക്കൻ, ഫ്രെഞ്ച് തുടങ്ങി സകല വിപ്ലവങ്ങളും, സകല ലോഹമഹായുദ്ധങ്ങളും നടന്നത് അവസാനത്തെ ഒരു സെക്കന്റിനകത്താണ്!

ഇത്രയും പുരാതനമായ പ്രപഞ്ചത്തിന്റെ ഒരു കോണിൽ നിന്ന് കൊണ്ട് ഇന്നലത്തെ മഴയ്ക്ക് മുളച്ച തകര ആയ മനുഷ്യനെ അവന്റെ നിസ്സാരത മനസ്സിലാക്കിക്കാൻ കോസ്മിക് കലണ്ടർ നല്ലൊരു ടൂൾ ആണ്! എട്ടു minute മാത്രം ജീവിച്ചത് കൊണ്ട് ഉത്കൃഷ്ടരായി എന്ന് കരുതുന്നവർ, അഞ്ചു ദിവസം ജീവിച്ച ദിനോസറുകൾ അവശേഷിപ്പിച്ചത് ചില ഫോസിലുകൾ മാത്രം....

Sunday 25 June 2017

10 Science Mysteries Waiting to Be Solved

The world of science creates mysteries as fast as it solves them — and sometimes even faster. Here are just a few of those mysteries that are waiting to be solved.

1. The impossible EM drive…works? Since first hearing rumors about NASA’s physics-breaking propulsion system late last year, a paper describing their device has passed peer-review, and China claims to be testing their own version in space right now.

And yet, no one can explain how this fuel-less drive is able to violate Newton’s Third Law: everything must have an equal and opposite reaction. If we learn anything this year or next, let’s hope we can get to the bottom of this confounding machine.

2. Humpback whales have been forming mysterious “super-groups,” and we still don’t know why. Back in March, never-before-seen groups of up to 200 whales were appearing off the coast of South Africa, which is weird, because seven is usually the upper limit for these solitary animals.

The behavior could be due to changes in prey availability, or because the species has been making a surprising comeback in recent years, but the jury’s still out on this one.

3. Astronomers have found evidence of a huge ninth planet on the edge of our Solar System — but we still can’t find it, even after NASA recruited thousands of people to search for clues.

But earlier this year, we finally got an official candidate for the mysterious presence, so hopefully we don’t have to wait too much longer to discover what’s truly out there.

4. Archaeologists made a stunning discovery inside Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza — evidence of a strange void behind the pyramid’s north face, and an unknown cavity high up in its northeastern edge.

It’s suspected that these could represent secret chambers that have eluded researchers and looters alike for thousands of years, and archaeologists are now hoping to non-invasively scan the insides of the giant tomb to figure it out.

5. Can we please figure out the nonsense that is the Tully Monster? This ancient sea creature that’s so messed up, scientists can’t stop arguing over it.

The 300-million-year-old creature had fins like a cuttlefish, eyestalks like a crab, and a rather intimidating “jaw-on-stick,” and this jumble of body parts has seen it compared to everything from molluscs, arthropods, and worms, to more complex vertebrates like lampreys.

6. We still don’t know what’s causing fast radio bursts — arguably the weirdest phenomena in the known Universe. They’re some of the most explosive signals ever detected in space, but they’re so confounding, some scientists have even resorted to “Aliens?”

But with the exact location for one of these signals being finally pinned down last month, we might be on the brink of figuring out what’s causing them.

7. Three separate experiments have found signs of a phenomenon that goes beyond the standard model of physics, and together they’ve hit a certainty level of 4 standard deviations, indicating a 99.95 percent chance this isn’t a mistake.

If this result can be supported by further experiments, it would have profound implications for our understanding of particle physics, and force scientists to draw up a whole new branch of physics to explain it.

8. The “Alien Megastructure” star that just won’t quit. Located 1,500 light-years away, KIC 8462852 (or Tabby’s star), has been experiencing unprecedented dips in brightness — while most stars experience periodic dimming of about 1 percent, this star has clocked dips of a whopping 22 percent.

Tabby’s star is so weird, one astronomer famously suggested aliens could be involved. With the latest bout of strange light patterns giving researchers more data to work with, let’s hope they can finally figure this one out.

6. We still don’t know what’s causing fast radio bursts — arguably the weirdest phenomena in the known Universe. They’re some of the most explosive signals ever detected in space, but they’re so confounding, some scientists have even resorted to “Aliens?”

But with the exact location for one of these signals being finally pinned down last month, we might be on the brink of figuring out what’s causing them.

7. Three separate experiments have found signs of a phenomenon that goes beyond the standard model of physics, and together they’ve hit a certainty level of 4 standard deviations, indicating a 99.95 percent chance this isn’t a mistake.

If this result can be supported by further experiments, it would have profound implications for our understanding of particle physics, and force scientists to draw up a whole new branch of physics to explain it.

8. The “Alien Megastructure” star that just won’t quit. Located 1,500 light-years away, KIC 8462852 (or Tabby’s star), has been experiencing unprecedented dips in brightness — while most stars experience periodic dimming of about 1 percent, this star has clocked dips of a whopping 22 percent.

Tabby’s star is so weird, one astronomer famously suggested aliens could be involved. With the latest bout of strange light patterns giving researchers more data to work with, let’s hope they can finally figure this one out.

Tuesday 13 June 2017

National Digital Library Online

All book reading fans out there check this new initiative from HRD and IIT KGP. 6.5 million books are now available in one single portal, where you can read online, or download the books. There are text books, audio and video content. Just browsing them all may take years! Enjoy. National Digital Library is an initiative by HRD ministry. It is a huge collection of learning resources (68 lakh books) from Primary to PG level. Students can use it free of charge.

To register, go to:

Share with your students and friends also.

This is an amazing resource . Make it useful.

Wednesday 7 June 2017


The Next Generation of iPhones May Be Coming With an Artificial Intelligence Chip
Your next smartphone might be more “intelligent” than anyone could have guessed. Apple is working on artificial intelligence (AI) chips for the iPhone that could increase battery life and perform tasks that currently require a human, according to an informant who wants to remain anonymous.
The chips, which are reportedly known internally as the “Apple Neural Engine” and would be integrated into all Apple devices, are specifically designed to cope with the high processing power that AI demands. Currently, Apple uses the main processor and graphics chips to deal with AI features like Siri, iPhotos’ facial recognition, and predictive typing — but, because the hardware not designed specifically for this purpose, battery life suffers.
Apple is characteristically secretive about the reports, and has declined to comment. However, we may hear more concerning the AI chip at the developer’s conference coming up in June — as we did concerning Google’s AI plans at their own conference earlier this month.

APPLE AND Artificial Intelligence

Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, said at a press call in March that the company is planning to expand into the Augmented Reality market — this chip would be vital if this is the case.
The development of an AI chip for iPhones, iPads, and MacBook makes sense in the context of other recent Apple news, too. The company has recently purchased Lattice Data, which uses AI to structure “dark data” (data that cannot be used from an analytics standpoint). In addition, Apple’s self-driving car software, currently mounted on a Lexus, has been approved for road testing — it incorporates features like a radar, GPS, laser measuring, and computer vision.
Apple’s interest in the future of the AI industry is also reflected in the company joining the “Partnership on AI to Benefit People and Society,” a multi-corporation think tank that explores the responsible implementation of the technology. Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft are also partners in the project to make AI a useful tool for all humanity.
References: The Verge - All Posts, Bloomberg


These life hacks can make your weight loss journey easy.
The quantity of food in both the plates is same. However, when we eat in a smaller plate our eyes trick our brain into thinking that we are having more food. While eating in a larger plate, we tend to pile up more food to fill the plate.
You may end up eating 25 percent more if you choose the red plate below. So, if you want to eat less, the trick is to choose a plate which has high contrast to the food served on the plate.
Visually the tall skinny glass appears to hold more liquid than the short glass. So, you can limit cold drinks and alcoholic drinks by serving them in tall skinny glasses. This way, you will be drinking 20 percent less.
Research shows that people end up eating 30 percent more while watching TV, working on laptop or when distracted by something. Instead, practice mindful eating and lose weight.
If you are a snacker then this psychological hack is for you. When we see yummy treats like chocolates, our brain sends the signal to eat it even when we are not hungry. It is always better to keep them out of sight by storing in a non transparent container etc.
Brush your teeth 1 hour after dinner. This way it is less likely that you will indulge in late night munching.
When a snack is in front of you, no matter what is the size of it, you will tend to finish it in one sitting. Therefore, opt for smaller packs and eat less.
This trick works in a party. Give yourself visual clues of how much you have eaten. Experiments have shown that we tend to eat 25 percent more when we leave behind no evidence of the food eaten.

Some interesting Life Hacks!

Dear some Life Hacks for you all!
One of the tricks to catch someone telling a lie is to see if they repeatedly look to their left while talking to you or do not make any eye contact.
Although it is tough but if you can get into the habit of not only remembering someone’s name when you first meet them, but using their name in the subsequent conversation you have, they’ll find you terribly charming and wonderful.
To appear more confident, self-assured, thoughtful and knowledgeable - avoid using many filler words like 'uh' 'umm' 'err' etc. Instead, use the silence (not too long) to order your thoughts and more coherently communicate whatever it is you are trying to get across.
People perceive other people with better posture as more important and confident people.
During negotiations, use silence as a weapon. Most people are uncomfortable with it an they will try to break it by giving up a key point.
If you ask someone a question and they only partially answer, give them a few seconds. By remaining silent and keeping your eye contact, they will usually continue talking.
You can restore your attention by taking a sneak peek of even just 40 seconds of nature. A 2015 Australian study found that looking at a flowering and grassy rooftop helped participants make less mistakes as compared to those staring at a concrete building. The lead author of the study says that even looking at an image of nature can help improve work performance.
Instead of looking for a less populated pathway right in front of you, look in the direction you want to go and point yourself that way. People will instinctively get out of your way, as they tend to watch others' eyes and body language to determine their direction.
Last but not the least,

Happiness is Contagious: 

It's not exactly Ebola, but happiness is contagious. And the effect is impressive - happiness can strengthen your immune system,decreases pain and chronic diseases and provide stress relief. One study even found that happiness can lower your risk of heart disease. Yet another reason to ditch the negative jerks in your life and stay positive. Laugh, and the whole world laughs with you!

Monday 5 June 2017

A World First CRISPR Trial Will Edit Genes Inside the Human Body

A new CRISPR trial, which hopes to eliminate the human papillomavirus (HPV), is set to be the first to attempt to use the technique inside the human body. In the non-invasive treatment, scientists will apply a gel that carries the necessary DNA coding for the CRISPR machinery to the cervixes of 60 women between the ages of 18 and 50. The team aims to disable the tumor growth mechanism in HPV cells.
The trial stands in contradistinction to the usual CRISPR method of extracting cells and re-injecting them into the affected area; although it will still use the Cas9 enzyme (which acts as a pair of ‘molecular scissors’) and guiding RNA that is typical of the process.
20 trials are set to begin in the rest of 2017 and early 2018. Most of the research will occur in China, and will focus on disabling cancer’s PD-1 gene that fools the human immune system into not attacking the cells. Different trials are focusing on different types of cancer including breast, bladder, esophageal, kidney, and prostate cancers.


The study, if it succeeds, will be promising for sufferers of HPV and act as a milestone in the CRISPR process. Although HPV is not necessarily cancerous, it can cause cervical cancer. In the U.S. alone, there are more than 3 million new infections every year. Although there is a vaccine for the virus, currently, once you have it you can never get rid of it.
More generally, the CRISPR process could be nothing short of a miracle: if it passes all medical tests it wouldn’t just make medicine a whole new kettle of fish, it would reinvent the kettle…and the fish, for almost any field. It is cheaper than other gene editing therapies, and could potentially save millions of lives by curing diseases we can only deal with therapeutically like cancer, diabetes and cystic-fibrosis. Crops could be altered more effectively using the process. Drugs and materials that were never possible before could be pioneered.
However, it is still extremely nascent technology, and many fear that there could also be a host of unexpected consequences. Recently, it has been found that it causes hundreds of unexpected mutations in DNA. While these concerns are valid, more research is necessary. Which is why the upcoming studies over the next few years are so vital to the future of our health.
References: New Scientist, Newsline,