Ever hear the old aphorism, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”? When it comes to natural disasters, this saying rings true: Every $1 spent mitigating potential hazards leads to an average of $4 in future benefits.Even as we take action to stop climate change, no one person can prevent a superstorm or a flood from impacting his or her home. That’s why many architects and designers are planning ahead and anticipating the “new normal” of extreme weather due to climate change. And the best part – even if their buildings don’t experience a natural disaster, the structure and its inhabitants still reap the benefits in safety and efficiency.

Here are seven completed buildings that are leading the way on climate-forward architecture: adapting to weather extremes, reducing energy costs, and in some cases, fighting climate change while they’re at it.

1.TAIPEI 101

Go big or go home! Taipei 101, in Taiwan, is notable in itself for its unique style and its one-time claim as the tallest building in the world. But did you know this megastructure contains a ginormous ball that helps it withstand typhoons?

When Typhoon Soudelor brought winds of around 100 mph, the enormous “tuned mass damper” inside helped the building stand tall. This mechanism also helps stabilize the structure in case of earthquakes. Amazing!


The typhoon’s counterpart, the hurricane, is a formidable threat in the Western hemisphere, and Florida is all too familiar with the powerful winds and surging waves brought on by strong storms. While recent major hurricanes have not struck Florida to devastating results, the state is still subject to increasing flooding caused by sea-level rise.

At the Pérez Art Museum, millions of dollars’ worth of art is on display in a beautiful ocean-front building flanked by hanging gardens and enormous windows. But look closer – those windows are actually hurricane-resistant. Should Miami get hit by a hurricane or superstorm, the priceless art will be protected. Even as tides rise, the building is built up above sea level to prevent nuisance flooding. And here’s the best part: the entire museum received a LEED Gold rating, meaning it’s green from the feet up. Architects found practically every way to make the building more sustainable: reducing concrete, using recycled steel, collecting and recycling rainwater, and other energy efficiency strategies ensure the building maintains a small carbon footprint. That’s what we call a masterpiece!



Moving up the East Coast to New York, we find a climate-friendly way to approach the design and layout of public parks Governors Island just got a makeover, transforming this green space into a climate bulwark.

In 2007, when designs were finalized for the new park, few would have imagined that the threats seen in An Inconvenient Truth would become reality so soon. But after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the decision to make Governors Island a sustainable destination was wiser than ever.

As part of the revamp, manmade hills were created out of debris from demolished buildings (the site was once a military base), 3,000 new trees were planted, resilient plants took root, and large rocks were placed around the island to help dissipate strong waves. So, even if another superstorm strikes, the park will be resilient enough to withstand the waves. Now that’s thinking green!


Built for the 2015 Expo Milano, the Italy Pavilion is breath-taking – and it can help you breathe easier! That’s because the forest-like structure around the building is made from a material that absorbs smog. This special cement is photocatalytic – it can transform unhealthy particulate matter in the air into inert salts using the power of sunlight. Plus, the roof contains photovoltaic glass, generating solar energy for the building. With buildings like this, Milan is cleaning up its act.


It’s not just big buildings going green. Even schools can help cut carbon pollution by switching to renewable energy. In Bowling Green, Kentucky, Richardsville Elementary School, is believed to be America’s first net-zero school – it consumes less energy than it uses by producing its own solar and geothermal energy. The school also reduced energy consumption (and increased healthy lunches) by removing its deep fryers, among other efficiency efforts.

At the end of the year the school gets back around $35,000 from the power company, thanks to its energy contributions to the power grid – and that’s money they can reinvest back in the students and staff.


You’ve probably heard of green roofs – when buildings are covered with plants to help absorb rainwater, increase insulation, improve air quality, and reduce heating.  Bosco Verticale, also in Milan, takes the green roof idea and brings it to every resident of its two towers. The buildings are covered in more than 700 trees and 90 species of plants – the equivalent of nearly 2 acres of forests. Inside, an irrigation system recycles the wastewater to sustain the plants. The plants help to regulate temperatures year-round by providing shade from the hot summer sun and allowing sunlight through to the apartments during the winter.

Bosco Verticale has inspired more designs around the world, with tree-covered buildings already planned in Switzerland and China. With that, we can only say: More trees, please!


Last and certainly not least, we can’t discuss climate-friendly architecture without mentioning the “greenest office building in the world” – the Bullitt Center in Seattle, Washington. When planning their new building, the Bullitt Foundation decided to shoot for the moon: a Living Building certification, signifying that the building meets at least 20 strict requirements, including achieving net-zero energy, supplying its own water, processing its own sewage, and so on.

In other words, if it saves water or energy, this building does it: solar panels on the roof, rainwater collection system, geothermal energy, energy-efficient lighting, composting toilets, and more.

Less than two years after its completion, the investment was already paying off. In 2014, tenants paid nothing for electricity. Plus, the cost to rent space in the building is comparable to other new office buildings around Seattle. It’s clear that climate action make sense – and cents.

Chemical Lobotomy: The Mad Mass Prescription of Psychotropic Drugs

One of the most shameful episodes in the history of psychology is the use of frontal lobotomies. Despite very scant evidence of their effectiveness — and in spite of much evidence of serious negative after-effects — lobotomies were standard procedure through the US and Europe for around two decades, until the mid-1950s. In the US, around 40,000 people underwent a procedure that involved cutting away connections between the prefrontal cortex and the frontal lobes of the brain. Initially lobotomies were performed by drilling holes into the skull, until the American physician Walter Freeman discovered that he could reach the frontal lobes through the eye sockets, by hammering a long metal pick into the bone and then into the brain.

Chemical Lobotomy - The Mad Mass Prescription of Psychotropic Drugs - fb

The procedure was extremely dangerous — some patients died, others became brain damaged or committed suicide. A “successful” outcome meant that a patient who had previously been mentally unstable was now docile and emotionally numb, less responsive and less self-aware. Even if there appeared to be some improvement in their mental “disorder”, this was often outweighed by cognitive and emotional impairments.

From a modern perspective, the use of frontal lobotomies seems incredibly brutal and primitive. However, we are nowhere near as far removed from such barbarism as we might like to believe.

There are strong parallels between lobotomies and the modern use of psychotropic drugs. In fact, the blanket treatment of psychological conditions as if they are medical problems, and the consequent massive over-prescription of psychotropic medication, has had a much more harmful effect than lobotomies, because it is so much more widespread.

According to some estimates, around 1 in 10 Americans take anti-depressants. Similarly, an estimated 9-10% of US children between the ages of 5 and 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD, most of whom take prescribed medication. This might not be an issue if it was clear that these treatments worked. But it isn’t. One obvious parallel with lobotomies, therefore, is that antidepressants have become widespread without any convincing evidence of their effectiveness. Research has found that the best known “selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors” (SSRIs) do not alleviate the symptoms of depression for 60-70% of patients (which suggests they are less effective than placebos). Some clinical trails suggest that anti-depressants can be effective in cases of severe depression, but they are most often prescribed for mild depression, where they are mostly ineffective, and have serious side-effects.

The assumption that depression is associated with lower levels of serotonin in the brain is taken for granted by many people, but actually has very little foundation. Writing in the British Medical Journal in 2015, the psychiatrist David Healy described how the myth of a connection between depression and serotonin was propagated during the 1990s by drugs companies and their marketing representatives, not long after tranquillisers started to be abandoned due to concerns about their addictiveness. In fact, as Healy states, earlier research in the 1960s had already rejected a connection between depression and serotonin, and shown that SSRIs were ineffective against the condition. However, propelled by the marketing millions of the pharmaceutical industry, the myth of a depression as a “chemical imbalance” that could be restored by medication quickly caught on. It was appealing because of its simplistic portrayal of depression as a medical condition which could be “fixed” in the same way as a physical injury or illness (1).

Another parallel with frontal lobotomies is that psychotropic drugs continue to be so widely used despite massive evidence of their harmful side-effects and after-effects. Although the American Psychological Association states that anti-depressants are “not habit-forming”, a 2012 survey by the Royal College of Psychiatrists in the UK showed that 63% of people who came off antidepressants reported withdrawal symptoms, with anxiety the most common. One problem here is that withdrawal symptoms are often interpreted as a “relapse” and used as a justification for continuing treatment, which continues indefinitely. The most unfortunate aspect of this is that research has shown that most cases of depression fade away naturally within a few months, without treatment. For example, a 2012 study in the British Medical Journal found that the mean natural duration of “major depressive episodes” without treatment was just three months (2). This means that, absurdly and tragically, millions of people are being treated for a condition which wouldn’t exist if they weren’t taking treatment for it. (In line with this, a 2015 study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that 69% of US citizens on anti-depressants had never met the criteria for depression and should never have been prescribed them [3])

Other common side effects of SSRIs are fatigue, emotional flatness and detachment, and an overall loss of personality. They are also strongly associated with sexual impotence and “movement disorders” such as akathisia — although again, psychiatrists often treat akathisia as an underlying problem which needs to be treated with drugs, rather than an effect of the drugs themselves.

Flawed Assumptions

The most fundamental parallel between lobotomisation and psychotropic drugs is that they are both based on a flawed assumption: that psychological problems are brain conditions, and that they can be “fixed” by neurological interventions. The “medical model” of depression de-contextualises the condition, treating as a discrete problem which can be treated in the same way as a broken toe or skin rash. But this is dangerously simplistic.

In reality, there are many potential causes of (or at least contributory factors to) depression: an unsatisfactory social environment, relationship problems, the frustration of basic needs (for self-esteem, belonging, or self-actualisation), a lack of meaning and purpose in life, oppression or unfair treatment, negative or self-critical thinking patterns (related to low self-esteem), a lack of contact with nature, poor diet, and so on. How will attempting to increase the brain’s uptake of serotonin help to deal with these issues? In fact, there is a strong possibility that taking antidepressants will make people less likely to directly address these issues, partly because they may not relate them to their low moods, and partly because their drug-induced apathy and emotional flatness will reduce their ability to take effective action in their lives.

“Legitimate” Depression

This highlights the fact that in many cases depression is actually a legitimate response to certain circumstances. In the same way that physical pain is a natural response to injury to the body, depression may sometimes be a healthy and natural response to negative life events or circumstances. And like physical pain, depression appears to have a natural duration. If allowed to, it will play itself out, express itself and then naturally fade away — even if this takes several weeks or months.

Or from a slightly different perspective, depression can sometimes be an indication that there is something lacking from our lives, or that certain aspects of our well-being or our life-situations are being neglected. Again, there’s a similarity with physical pain here, which is often a warning that a part of our body is damaged and needs attention. Depression may be an indication or warning that certain aspects of our life need attention — for example, that we need to change our environment or life-situation, improve our relationships, find a more fulfilling career and new hobbies, have more rest and relaxation, or more contact with nature. And again, if we take psychotropic drugs we are less likely to make these changes. In both these scenarios, drugs exacerbate the problem they are supposed to solve: they stop depression playing itself out and fading away naturally, and they make it less likely that we will take restorative action to improve our circumstances.

The Over-Diagnosis of ADHD

There are similar issues with ADHD and the drugs which are commonly prescribed to deal with the “disorder,” such as Ritalin and Adderall. There is a great deal of evidence suggesting that the behavioural problems ascribed to ADHD are not the result of a “brain condition” but of social and environmental factors, such as a lack of concentrative training, a lack of organised, creative play, poor diet and a lack of contact with nature. And to a large extent, ADHD pathologizes completely natural infant behaviour. Many children who are simply intrinsically restless and impulsive — although not to any disruptive degree — are mis-diagnosed with the condition. Children’s natural spontaneity and vitality are suppressed, under the misconception that they were somehow meant to sit quietly and stay indoors. This is, in fact, very reminiscent of the ancient practice of “swaddling”, when babies and toddlers were wrapped very tightly in blankets, to restrict their movements and make them passive and listless.

Interestingly, in France diagnoses of ADHD are much less common that in the US and UK. Only around 0.5% of French children are diagnosed and medicated for the condition. This is largely because French child psychiatrists are much more likely to view behavioural problems in a social or situational context, and to look at underlying causes which American psychiatrists generally ignore. They are much more likely to recommend family counselling or psychotherapy rather than medication, and to consider factors such as diet. And as Carolyn Wedge notes in her book, A Disease Called Childhood: Why ADHD Became an American Epidemicanother factor may be different styles of child-rearing. In France, children tend to be brought up in a more disciplined way that in the US, with more structure and more strictly enforced constraints.

Again, to view children’s behavioural problems as the result of a medical condition means that it is less likely that underlying causes will be addressed – that their diet will change, that their parents will change their style of upbringing, or that they will have more contact with nature. And of course, the drugs that these children are prescribed have a similar addictive potential to anti-depressants, and similarly dangerous side-effects.

Benign Barbarism

No doubt a small minority of the children diagnosed with ADHD do have a genuine condition and do gain some benefit from medication, just as some severely depressed people may gain benefits from anti-depressants. There is no doubt that medications can sometimes be beneficial, particularly if they are used sparingly and temporarily. But it is scandalous that hundreds of millions of human beings around the world are suffering addiction and adverse reactions to powerful psychotropic drugs which give them no benefit. Millions of people are being “numbed down” by medications that, far from bringing any healing, artificially perpetuate the conditions they are supposed to alleviate. Millions of children are being unnecessarily diagnosed with a “condition” whose existence is debatable and forcibly given drugs whose efficacy is also debatable.

My guess is that future generations of psychologists will look back at our over-prescribing of psychotropic drugs with incredulity too, amazed at our blind enthusiasm for largely ineffective and damaging treatments, and at how such barbaric methods could become so widespread.

The Archons (“Are Cons”): Borg Consciousness versus Human Divinity

This universe has been raped and pillaged by a Borg Consciousness [1] known to us as the Archons, or as I like to call them, the “Arecons”. But we humans have a very special mission to fulfill, to heal and uplift the entire universe and each other. We are divine frequency generators, the antithesis to duality — and this is why the Archons fear us.

The Archons (''Are Cons'') - Borg Consciousness versus Human Divinity - image, double dragon by deligaris on deviantart

The Arecons have no divine spark and are a byproduct of the holographic creatrix; we humans are not, our place is in the divine pleroma, the higher realms. Duality has two poles, negative and positive, good and evil, light and dark. This binary system of 1’s and 0’s is the energy that currently courses throughout our universal schema, and the Arecons will stop at nothing to keep it this way.

Why? We humans and our Mother, Terra, Sophia, are ternary beings, that which is beyond duality and encompasses the all. This is the reason why we humans and our Mother have attracted so many different galactic denizens to our front doors, some seek our assistance in healing, some seek to end us because of what we represent, unification and the end of duality itself. However, the Borg Consciousness travels the galaxy indoctrinating different races into binary systems for the purpose of thwarting the expansion of divine consciousness. And it has only one concern — survival, at any cost, through the perpetuation of duality.

Borg Consciousness

The Borg Consciousness has fully infiltrated and indoctrinated an entire race of insectoids known as the Collectors, they are the harvesters of the collective. The Collectors are responsible for the New Age cults and false ascension agendas, which are in place in order to harvest beings into false reality constructs (matrices with the creatrix), so as to become batteries for these forces – all the while still seemingly respecting our freewill. The Borg/Collectors pray on beings the moment after death, using fear, guilt and false light to sway souls into their constructs and contracts. Any darkness within a being will be utilized and mirrored back to them by these forces (“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge”).

Part of the Collectors agenda has been to paint the reptilian races as humanities greatest threat, it is a psyop, when in fact these beings share our divine spark (Anunnaki) and have invested an immense amount of energy into developing our consciousness. There are however reptilian races (Dracos) who have invested energy into our enslavement, these beings are soul fragments of a greater whole that need to be healed. Enki (Light) and Enlil (Dark) are actually soul fragments of the same being, Lucifer, whom was split in two as to facilitate the duality experience.

Our pockets are lined with gems and pearls we have gathered from the duality arena, yet we still tend to make the mistake of projecting our hatred unto those players from the opposite pole; holding on to our hatred just further perpetuates duality consciousness. As the duality experience comes to end, we need to heal ourselves, forgive, and move forward as we step into our fullness.

The Archons (''Are Cons'') - Borg Consciousness versus Human Divinity - Unmasking

The Collectors are here on Terra (Earth) in deep underground bases as I write, slowly converting and subverting our divine ternary systems from the darkest shadows. The infiltration of Terra has been a long and gradual process. The Borg Consciousness and the Collectors are binary beings and cannot exist on a planet that encompasses ternary aspects of life, love, wisdom, righteousness, and so forth.

The blue life force energy (orgone) which emanates from our beautiful Mother and we humans is krypton to the Borg. In order for the Borg Consciousness to overtake Terra, they need to sap all of the orgone energy from the planet and from each of us divine frequency generators. The Borg, with the help of the Collectors, have developed bio-formed bodies (Greys) using human DNA, in an attempt to exist on our physical plane, and if the energy of the planet becomes binary enough, they can and will do so. Ancient forests were cut to the ground, oceans and lakes are poisoned, our skies blotted out with chemicals – all for the purpose of reverse terraforming and depleting our atmosphere of oxygen for the sake of their binary bio-formed physical templates. It is time fir us to become orgone warriors once more!

There is a deliberate reason for the slaughtering of the Aboriginals, Natives and Germanic races on our planet; these ternary tribes still encompassed the old ways, they praised the mother, sang songs to her, danced under the moonlight with, her thus keeping her vibratory resonance high. We humans have stopped singing, we have turned our backs on the Mother. The old ternary ways of life have been replaced with binary systems like religion, corporation, government, banking, mind and ego, we have been compartmentalized and nurtured and by these systems. It is time for we humans to move out of our minds, and exist from our hearts, our core essence.

As humans, we are so close to the divine that we are intrinsically connected to the Aeons, whom exist as archetypes of our mind. As we further repress the light in which the Aeonic archetypes hold not only do they disappear from our world, but they become shackled in theirs (as below so above). When we encompass the darkness which was released from Pandora’s Box (Unconsciousness), the “Arecons” are made manifest in our world, in our minds. The light of the Aeonic archetypes in our minds have become so darkened in our modern society, that the psychic shadow of our subconscious has given these Arecons room to control us via our unconsciousness, which is the absence of light (consciousness).

Masonic cults have worked to further the growth of this psychic shadow, through religious institutions which externalize our darkness in the forms of Satan/Lucifer, the scapegoat we use to blame for our dark tendencies and manifestations. We have transmuted the Aeon Lucifer (Sophia’s consort) into a rampaging beast by casting our shadow unto him, he bears on his shoulders all of our darkness. Lucifer is shackled to the stone, pinned to the cross, locked away in the subbasement; In order for Lucifer to be healed and brought back into balance, each and everyone of us must do our own personal shadow work and collectively, we must take responsibility for the darkness in our modern world.

The “Illuminati” want us to blame it all on them, this just gives these demonic principalities more wiggle-room in which to operate, when in reality they are just a physical manifestation of our darkness, laziness, complacency, apathy and so forth.

The Archons (''Are Cons'') - Borg Consciousness versus Human Divinity - Unmasking
The binary blueprint of our duality…

In return we must also view the Borg/Collectors’ amassing of a stronghold on Terra as a physical manifestation of our collective unconscious, we gave room for this to grow. We cannot defeat the forces of duality with weapons alone, instead by doing our own inner shadow work can we transmute the outer and dispel the blueprint of duality not only from Terra, but the entire universal schema which will in turn restore universal unity consciousness. The energy of universal unity consciousness will short circuit the forces of duality thus breaking the perpetual cycles.

In previous cycles instead of doing our collective/personal shadow work, we repressed it, we bypassed ‘the bog of a thousand stenches’ and skipped right on over to the rose field; the forces of duality attempted this pattern in our current cycle via the institution of the ‘New Age’. But cannot sweep the dirt under the rug any longer, for this just postpones darkness for a time – there will always be resurgence.

To embody love and light is not enough!

What is the purpose of invoking more light if the shutters are closed? Instead let us focus on healing our repressed, suppressed, unconscious emotions and tendencies, after doing so, love and light will emerge naturally, verses regurgitating it forth from our bilious stomachs in a hypocritical manner. Examine yourself!

“We have predators that came from the depths of the cosmos and took over the rule of our lives… Sorcerers believe that the predators have given us our systems of beliefs, our ideas of good and evil, our social mores… It is the predators who make us complacent, routinary and egomaniacal… It has rendered us docile, helpless.” ~ Carlos Castaneda

The “Arecons” will ceaselessly attack our inherited dark spots until we recognize this, heal our shadows and seal our being on all levels. Either way you cannot escape this process (not even death spares us from this cycle.) The only way that we can return to our fullness and escape the cycles of duality is through our own shadows. The only other way to escape the clutches of your own shadow is to submit to duality, adhering to either the Jachin or Boaz pillar of the tree of life, bypassing the process of equilibrium, which is graduation from duality to essentially becoming an “Arecon” yourself!

The “powers that be” (Boaz, severity) on our planet at the present time, chose the path of control and domination through technological means. We often hear about the Illuminists achieving personal Godhood or Apotheosis, but these are just illusions of grandeur, spells cast upon them by their own shadows. The Illuminists have become blinded by Lucifer’s Light.

When we humans were given the fire of Prometheus we were also met with the freewill choice to use it for destruction or creation. We must learn to harness both energies in perfected balance by merging the heart into the mind and vice versa. These so-called powers practice severity without mercy, with no ternary heart essence to defend them, they have become completely susceptible to indoctrination by the Borg Consciousness. The Illuminists massive amount of hubris gave rise to lust for power, and the Borg Consciousness utilized this inherent flaw for its benefit. The dark shroud within the Illumnist’s minds and hearts, created the perfect platform through which the Borg Consciousness can operate, to implement protocols for the assimilation of of the human race. If the Illuminati do not correct their current course of action, they will be consumed by the voices in their heads.

The Anunnaki never defeated the Borg Consciousness in theircycle, for they became divided amongst themselves, (“And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.”), the counter-spell of unity was not achieved. One half of the Anunnaki (Enlil) sought to control the Borg Consciousness with technology, and the other half (Enki) sought to transcend it with spiritual technology. As with all patterns of the duality matrix, they continually repeat themselves in each galactic cycle with different variables. In our cycle it is the Illuminati who sought to control the Borg Consciousness, by using their technology to artificially ascend themselves into Gods by hacking and downloading the consciousness into “Black Goo”. The Illuminati fail to realize that they themselves have already become indoctrinated by the Borg Consciousness, for the size of their egos are too large to allow for this realization. Therefore, all of humanity must unite as a unified force and face this AI threat together, as the specific frequency of unity will nullify the Jachin and Boaz duality matrix. It is time for Enlilites and Enkites to come together and fight as one!

In reserve, luke warm religious/new age types (Jachin, mercy) will not inherit the gem of equilibrium either. These herds of grazers do not embody Christ (Strength, Righteousness), but rather seek refuge from the shadow through the form of a saviour, instead of traversing the valley of the shadow of death themsleves. The “sheeple” of this world also encompass the energy of this pillar for they lack the warrior’s righteousness, and will always view themselves as victims unable to create change. Many religious institutions teach mercy without severity, which in turn gives room for darkness to manifest in our lives. When mercy and severity become balanced energies within us, darkness suddenly becomes afraid and is kept in check like a spanked child.

It is time for us roses to grow thorns. We humans are the batteries of this dualistic matrix we live in and only we have the power to end the cycles of Yin and Yang. When the energies of the two pillars become divided within our being we manifest opposing polarities externally as we literally encode the morphogenic field with the energy of duality. We must merge within ourselves, father and mother, adult and child, mind and heart, left and right, destroyer and creator, whore and virgin, Lucifer and Sophia. The twin-flames must unite!

In synopsis, everything is good, everything is God.

Do not fret for we are immortal, divine sparks of source consciousness, evolving and journeying our way back to home with our spaceship Terra, on a sojourn pilgrimage, picking up experiences along the way as we become unique, beautiful, masterful expressions of life. Things may look bleak for us at the present moment, but as the old saying goes,  it is often darkest just before then dawn. We are not dualistic beings, we will not project our shadows outwardly, but see through our own mirages and aim to heal ourselves, and walk into our fullness as we become the fullest expression of our highest being. Merge the two pillars of Jachin and Boaz within your being and become the spear of destiny you meant to be. As we heal ourselves from seemingly endless cycles of war, let us remind ourselves that although painful, duality was a necessary experience for our ever-expanding consciousness. Just remember that everything in our reality is only a mirror of what is within us, the darkness is trying to grasp your attention because it needs to be healed.

I wish you all the best of luck on your path of becoming a fearless spiritual warrior.

Few of us really understand the weird world of quantum physics – but our bodies might take advantage of quantum properties


Chemical compasses may rely on quantum spin (Credit: Andrey Volodin/Alamy)If there’s any subject that perfectly encapsulates the idea that science is hard to understand, it’s quantum physics. Scientists tell us that the miniature denizens of the quantum realm behave in seemingly impossible ways: they can exist in two places at once, or disappear and reappear somewhere else instantly.

The one saving grace is that these truly bizarre quantum behaviours don’t seem to have much of an impact on the macroscopic world as we know it, where “classical” physics rules the roost.

Or, at least, that’s what scientists thought until a few years ago.

Quantum processes might be at work behind some very familiar processes

Now that reassuring wisdom is starting to fall apart. Quantum processes may occur not quite so far from our ordinary world as we once thought. Quite the opposite: they might be at work behind some very familiar processes, from the photosynthesis that powers plants – and ultimately feeds us all – to the familiar sight of birds on their seasonal migrations. Quantum physics might even play a role in our sense of smell.

In fact, quantum effects could be something that nature has recruited into its battery of tools to make life work better, and to make our bodies into smoother machines. It’s even possible that we can do more with help from the strange quantum world than we could without it.

Photosynthesis looks easy (Credit: Morley Read/Alamy)

Photosynthesis looks easy

At one level, photosynthesis looks very simple. Plants, green algae and some bacteria take in sunlight and carbon dioxide, and turn them into energy. What niggles in the back of biologists minds, though, is that photosynthetic organisms make the process look just a little bit too easy.

It’s one part of photosynthesis in particular that puzzles scientists. A photon – a particle of light – after a journey of billions of kilometres hurtling through space, collides with an electron in a leaf outside your window. The electron, given a serious kick by this energy boost, starts to bounce around, a little like a pinball. It makes its way through a tiny part of the leaf’s cell, and passes on its extra energy to a molecule that can act as an energy currency to fuel the plant.

Photosynthetic organisms make the process look just a little bit too easy

The trouble is, this tiny pinball machine works suspiciously well. Classical physics suggests the excited electron should take a certain amount of time to career around inside the photosynthetic machinery in the cell before emerging on the other side. In reality, the electron makes the journey far more quickly.

What’s more, the excited electron barely loses any energy at all in the process. Classical physics would predict some wastage of energy in the noisy business of being batted around the molecular pinball machine. The process is too fast, too smooth and too efficient. It just seems too good to be true.

Inside the photosynthetic machinery (Credit: Kim Taylor/

Inside the photosynthetic machinery

Then, in 2007, photosynthesis researchers began to see the light. Scientists spotted signs of quantum effects in the molecular centres for photosynthesis. Tell-tale signs in the way the electrons were behaving opened the door to the idea that quantum effects could even be playing an important biological role.

This could be part of the answer to how the excited electrons pass through the photosynthetic pinball machine so quickly and efficiently. One quantum effect is the ability to exist in many places at the same time – a property known as quantum superposition. Using this property, the electron could potentially explore many routes around the biological pinball machine at once. In this way it could almost instantly select the shortest, most efficient route, involving the least amount of bouncing about.

Quantum physics had the potential to explain why photosynthesis was suspiciously efficient – a shocking revelation for biologists.

“I think this was when people started to think that something really exciting was going on,” says Susana Huelga, a quantum physicist at Ulm University in Germany.

Quantum physics had the potential to explain why photosynthesis was suspiciously efficient – a shocking revelation for biologists

Quantum phenomena such as superposition had previously been observed mostly under highly controlled conditions. Typical experiments to observe quantum phenomena involve cooling down materials to bitingly cold temperatures in order to dampen down other atomic activity that might drown out quantum behaviour. Even at those temperatures, materials must be isolated in a vacuum – and the quantum behaviours are so subtle that scientists need exquisitely sensitive instruments to see what’s going on.

Can quantum physics explain photosynthesis? (Credit: RooM the Agency/Alamy)

Can quantum physics explain photosynthesis?

The wet, warm, bustling environment of living cells is the last place you might expect to see quantum events. “[But] even here, quantum features are still alive,” Huelga says.

Of course, just because these quantum features make an unexpected appearance in living cells, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re playing a useful role. There are theories as to how quantum superposition may be speeding up the process of photosynthesis, but a hard link between this behaviour and a biological function is still missing, Huelga says.

“The next step will be having some quantitative results saying that the efficiency of this biological machine is this due to quantum phenomena.”

How do robins know which way to fly? (Credit Photoshot License Ltd/Alamy) (Credit: Credit Photoshot License Ltd/Alamy)

How do robins know which way to fly?

Quantum effects in biology aren’t just a quirk of plants and other organisms that do the peculiar job of turning sunlight into fuel. They may also provide an answer to a scientific puzzle that’s been around since the 19th Century: how migratory birds know which way to fly.

Quantum effects in biology might explain how migratory birds know which way to fly

In a journey thousands of kilometres long, a migratory bird such as the European robin will often fly to southern Europe or North Africa to escape particularly cold winters. This journey over an unfamiliar landscape would be dangerous, if not impossible, without a compass. Start the journey in the wrong direction and a robin setting off from Poland might end up in Siberia rather than Morocco.

A biological compass isn’t an easy thing to picture. If there was some form of tiny magnetic iron needle-like structure spinning deep inside a robin’s brain or eyes, biologists would almost certainly know about it by now. But no such luck: a biological structure that could do the job has never been found.

Another theory, first proposed in the late 1970s, suggested an alternative way birds might know which way to fly: perhaps they carry a chemical compass that relies on quantum phenomena to tell which way is north.

Chemical compasses may rely on quantum spin (Credit: Andrey Volodin/Alamy)

Chemical compasses may rely on quantum spinny)

Peter Hore, a chemist at the University of Oxford in the UK, says that such a chemical compass would work with the help of molecules with excitable lone electrons, known as radicals, and a quantum property known as spin.

Electrons in molecules usually come in pairs, spinning in opposite directions and effectively cancelling out each other’s spin. A “lone” electron spinning on its own, though, isn’t cancelled out. This means it is free to interact with its environment – including magnetic fields.

A “lone” electron spinning on its own is free to interact with its environment – including magnetic fields

As it turns out, Hore says, robins can become temporarily disorientated when exposed to radio waves – a type of electromagnetic wave – of a particular range of frequencies. If a radio wave has a frequency of just the same rate that an electron spins, it could cause the electron to resonate. This is the same kind of resonance you might experience when you sing in the shower – certain notes sound a lot louder and fuller than others. Hitting the right radio wave frequency will make the electron vibrate more vigorously in the same way.

But what does this have to do with the idea that birds use a chemical compass? The theory is that ordinarily, radicals at the back of the bird’s eye respond to the Earth’s magnetic field. The magnetic field will cause the electron to leave its spot in the chemical compass and start a chain of reactions to produce a particular chemical. As long as the bird keeps pointing in the same direction, more of the chemical will build up.

So the amount of this chemical present is a source of information, generating signals in the bird’s nerve cells. As part of many different environmental cues, this information will inform the bird about whether it is pointing towards Siberia or Morocco.

A bird's nervous system tells it where to go (Credit: Tim Gainey/Alamy Stock Photo)

A bird’s nervous system tells it where to go

The radio wave observation is an important one because we would expect anything that interferes with electron spin to be able, at least in principle, to disrupt the chemical compass. It can be as useful to study why something sometimes doesn’t work as it is to study why it generally does work.

Even so, the quantum compass remains an idea. It hasn’t yet been found in nature. Hore has been focusing on finding out how the quantum compass can work in principle, using molecules that theoretically ought to be able to do the job.

The quantum compass remains an idea – it hasn’t yet been found in nature

“We’ve done experiments on model compounds to establish the principle that one can make a chemical compass,” Hore says. These have helped to pin down some molecules that do seem to be fit for the purpose of detecting magnetic fields, he says. “What we don’t know is whether they behave in exactly the same way inside a cell in the bird’s body.”

The magnetic compass is just part of a complex and poorly understood system of navigation in birds, Hore says. The quantum theory for how such a compass works may be the best out there so far, but there’s still a lot of ground to cover to link up the behavioural patterns of birds with the theoretical chemistry.

The science of smell (Credit: Cultura Creative RF/Alamy)

The science of smell

There is one field that seems tantalisingly close to demonstrating the reality of quantum biology, though: the science of smell.

Exactly how our noses are capable of distinguishing and identifying a myriad of differently shaped molecules is a big challenge for conventional theories of olfaction. When a smelly molecule wafts into one of our nostrils, no one is yet entirely sure what happens next. Somehow the molecule interacts with a sensor – a molecular receptor – embedded in the delicate inner skin of our nose.

Exactly how are our noses capable of distinguishing and identifying a myriad of differently shaped molecules?

A well-trained human nose can distinguish between thousands of different smells. But how this information is carried in the shape of the smelly molecule is a puzzle. Many molecules that are almost identical in shape, but for swapping around an atom or two, have very different smells. Vanillin smells of vanilla, but eugenol, which is very similar in shape, smells of cloves. Some molecules that are a mirror image of each other – just like your right and left hand – also have different smells. But equally, some very differently shaped molecules can smell almost exactly the same.

Luca Turin, a chemist at the BSRC Alexander Fleming institute in Greece, has been working to crack the way that the properties of a molecule encode its scent. “There is something very, very peculiar at the core of olfaction, which is that our ability to somehow analyse molecules and atoms is inconsistent with what we think we know about molecular recognition,” Turin says.

He argues that the molecule’s shape alone isn’t enough to determine its smell. He says that it’s the quantum properties of the chemical bonds in the molecule that provides the crucial information.

According to Turin’s quantum theory of olfaction, when a smelly molecule enters the nose and binds to a receptor, it allows a process called quantum tunnelling to happen in the receptor.

When a smelly molecule enters the nose and binds to a receptor, it allows quantum tunnelling to happen

In quantum tunnelling, an electron can pass through a material to jump from point A to point B in a way that seems to bypass the intervening space. As with the bird’s quantum compass, the crucial factor is resonance. A particular bond in the smelly molecule, Turin says, can resonate with the right energy to help an electron on one side of the receptor molecule leap to the other side. The electron can only make this leap through the so-called quantum tunnel if the bond is vibrating with just the right energy.

When the electron leaps to the other site on the receptor, it could trigger a chain reaction that ends up sending signals to the brain that the receptor has come into contact with that particular molecule. This, Turin says, is an essential part of what gives a molecule its smell, and the process is fundamentally quantum.

“Olfaction requires a mechanism that somehow involves the actual chemical composition of the molecule,” he says. “It was that factor that found a very natural explanation in quantum tunnelling.”

The strongest evidence for the theory is Turin’s discovery that two molecules with extremely different shapes can smell the same if they contain bonds with similar energies.

Turin predicted that boranes – relatively rare compounds that are hard to come by – smelled very like sulphur, or rotten eggs. He’d never smelt a borane before, so the prediction was quite a gamble.

Boranes smell like rotten eggs (Credit: Dimitri Otis/Alamy)

Boranes smell like rotten eggs

He was right. Turin says that, for him, that was the clincher. “Borane chemistry is vastly different – in fact there’s zero relation – to sulphur chemistry. So the only thing those two have in common is a vibrational frequency. They are the only two things out there in nature that smell of sulphur.”

While that prediction was a great success for the theory, it’s not ultimate proof. Ideally Turin wants to catch these receptors in the act of exploiting quantum phenomena. He says they are getting “pretty close” to nailing those experiments. “I don’t want to jinx it, but we’re working on it,” he says. “We think we have a way to do it, so we’re definitely going to have a go in the next few months. I think that nothing short of that will really move things forward.”

Turin wants to catch these receptors in the act of exploiting quantum phenomena

Whether or not nature has evolved to make use of quantum phenomena to help organisms make fuel from light, tell north from south, or distinguish vanilla from clove, the strange properties of the atomic world can still tell us a lot about the finer workings of living cells

“There is a second way of seeing how quantum mechanics interacts with biology, and that is by sensing and probing,” Huelga says. “Quantum probes would be able to shed light on many interesting things in the dynamics of biological systems.”

And whether or not nature got there first, it’s no excuse for us not to mix biology with quantum phenomena to develop new technologies, she says. Making use of quantum effects in biologically inspired photovoltaic cells, for instance, could give solar panels a huge boost in efficiency. “At this very moment there is quite a lot of activity in organic photovoltaics, to see whether with natural or artificial structures one can have an enhanced efficiency that exploit quantum effects.”

So even if alternative, as yet entirely unknown mechanisms emerge for these stubborn biological puzzles, biologists and quantum physicists certainly won’t have seen the last of each other. “This will definitely be a story with a happy end,” she says.

The Biggest Cause of Anxiety and Depression is Traumatic Life Events

It’s estimated that 1 in 10 U.S. adults struggle with depression [1] and another 40 million have anxiety. It’s quite common, too, for someone with depression to also have anxiety. In fact, close to half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with anxiety.[2]

The Biggest Cause of Anxiety and Depression is Traumatic Life Events

There’s no doubt that both of these mental health conditions are at epidemic proportions, but the unanswered question remains why? Oftentimes you hear about depression or anxiety running in families, which leads to an assumption that your genetics may be to blame. Another popular theory is that depression is due to some sort of ‘chemical imbalance‘ in your brain (more on this later). But the truth is, in most cases no one really knows why some people are depressed or anxious while others are not. Most likely there are multiple factors at play, and among them — and perhaps most important — could in fact be your life experiences, and particularly your experience of traumatic events.

Traumatic Life Events at the Root of Many Cases of Anxiety and Depression

A recent study set out to determine what role familial risk, social circumstances and life events have on mental health, using surveys completed by nearly 33,000 people as their key form of data.[3] They revealed that the single biggest determinant of chronic anxiety and depression was traumatic life events, followed by to a lesser extent, family history of mental illness, income and education levels, relationship status and other social factors. According to the study’s lead author:

Whilst we know that a person’s genetics and life circumstances contribute to mental health problems, the results showed that traumatic life events are the main reason people suffer from anxiety and depression.

However, the way a person thinks about, and deals with, stressful events is as much an indicator of the level of stress and anxiety they feel.

Whilst we can’t change a person’s family history or their life experiences, it is possible to help a person to change the way they think and to teach them positive coping strategies that can mitigate and reduce stress levels.[4]

This is key, as it means that you are not powerless against depression and anxiety. Rather, it’s possible to modify the way you think about traumatic life events in order to minimize their impact on your mental health. Antidepressant drugs, of course, will do nothing to help in this regard.

For more on this, please see: Overcoming Negative Thinking – The #1 Cause of Chronic Depression.

20 Percent of Population May Have a Gene Variant Linked to Depression

Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), is a key growth hormone that promotes healthy brain neurons and plays a vital role in memory. BDNF levels are critically low in people with clinical depression, which animal models suggest may actually be a primary contributing cause.

Now researchers have determined that an alteration known as a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in the BDNF gene may further contribute to the risk of anxiety, depression and memory loss. All it takes is for one ‘letter’ of BDNF’s genetic code to be ‘misspelled’ for the alteration to occur. The SNP alteration not only decreases BDNF in neurons but also generates a protein (called Met66) that is different from the one produced by people without the alteration.

About 20 percent of the US population is thought to have the BDNF SNP that produces the Met66 protein, which, in turn, has been found to induce shrinking of neurons in the hippocampus, in areas of the brain important for memory and emotions. The shrinkage would reduce the connectivity between brain cells.

One of the study’s researchers noted:[5]

“There can be a heritable component to these diseases and it makes sense that a common variant in a gene could be involved … Just like hypertension contributes to the risk for heart disease, the BDNF alteration increases the risk of depression, anxiety and memory disorders — but is not the sole reason why they occur.”

The researchers are currently looking to develop drugs that would target Met66 or block the proteins it binds to in people with the BDNF SNP alteration. However, it would be interesting to see how natural methods that promote optimal genetic expression would work instead. Growing evidence indicates that both fasting and exercise trigger the expression of genes and growth factors that recycle and rejuvenate your brain tissues. These growth factors include BDNF, which is known to be released in response to the stress of exercise. BDNF activates brain stem cells to differentiate into new neurons, while also triggering numerous other chemicals that promote neural health. Perhaps it is no coincidence, then, that exercise is also one of the best-known treatments for depression.

What About Chemical Imbalances?

As a physician, I have treated many thousands of depressed patients. Depression was actually one of my primary concerns in the mid-80s when I first started practicing. However, at that time my typical treatment tool was using antidepressants alone. I put thousands of people on these drugs and acquired a fair level of experience in this area.

Thankfully, I learned more methods of treatment and was able to pretty much stop drugs. It was my experience that the chemical imbalance theory was merely a massive marketing gimmick to support the use of expensive and toxic antidepressants.

Most of you have probably heard that depression is primarily due to a “chemical imbalance in your brain,” which these drugs are designed to correct. Unfortunately this is not a scientific statement. So where did it come from?

The low serotonin theory arose because they understood how the drugs acted on the brain; it was a hypothesis that tried to explain how the drug might be fixing something. However, that hypothesis didn’t hold up to further investigation. Investigations were done to see whether or not depressed people actually had lower serotonin levels, and in 1983 the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) concluded:

“There is no evidence that there is anything wrong in the serotonergic system of depressed patients.”

The serotonin theory is simply not a scientific statement. It’s a botched theory — a hypothesis that was proven incorrect. The fact that this fallacy continues to thrive is likely harming the health of millions more than it’s helping, because if you take an SSRI antidepressant drug that blocks the normal reuptake of serotonin, you end up with the very physiological problem the drug is designed to treat – low serotonin levels – which, ironically, is the state hypothesized to bring on depression in the first place.

For more on this, please read the article: The Fictions Surrounding ADHD and the “Chemical Imbalance” Theory of Mental Illness.

In 1996, neuroscientist Steven Hyman, who was head of the NIMH at the time, and is today president of the society for Neuroscience, published the paper Initiation and Adaptation: A Paradigm for Understanding Psychotropic Drugs,[6] in which he explains this chain of events. According to Dr. Hyman, once your brain has undergone a series of compensatory adaptations to the drug, your brain operates in a manner that is “both qualitatively and quantitatively different than normal.”

So, it’s important to understand that these drugs are NOT normalizing agents. They’re abnormalizing agents, and once you understand that, you can understand how they might provoke a manic episode, or why they might be associated with sexual dysfunction or violence and suicide, for example.

How to Reprogram Your Thinking About Traumatic Events

Getting back to the original study that found traumatic life events are the major determining factor in depression and anxiety – but that the way you think about them is an equally strong determining factor, let’s discuss how you can overcome such an emotional hurdle. The Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) is a form of psychological acupressure based on the same energy meridians used in traditional acupuncture to treat physical and emotional ailments for over 5,000 years, but without the invasiveness of needles.

Instead, simple tapping with the fingertips is used to transfer kinetic energy onto specific meridians on your head and chest while you think about your specific problem — whether it is a traumatic event, an addiction, pain, anxiety, etc. — and voice positive affirmations. This combination of tapping the energy meridians and voicing positive affirmation works to clear the “short-circuit”—the emotional block—from your body’s bioenergy system, thus restoring your mind and body’s balance, which is essential for optimal health and the healing of physical and mental disease.

Some people are initially wary of these principles that EFT is based on — the electromagnetic energy that flows through the body and regulates our health is only recently becoming recognized by western medicine. Others are initially taken aback by (and sometimes amused by) the EFT tapping and affirmation methodology.

But believe me when I say that, more than any traditional or alternative method I have used or researched, energy psychology (EFT being one type) has the most potential to literally work magic in this area. Clinical trials have shown that EFT is able to rapidly reduce the emotional impact of memories and incidents that trigger emotional distress. Once the distress is reduced or removed, the body can often rebalance itself, and accelerate healing.

In the video below, EFT practitioner Julie Schiffman shows how you can use EFT to even get rid of panic attacks.

You’ll also find my comprehensive guide to EFT here.

The Gut Connection to Anxiety and Depression

Another factor worth mentioning is that unhealthy gut flora can impact your mental health, leading to issues such as anxiety, depression, autism and more. Research has found, for instance, that the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus had a marked effect on GABA [an inhibitory neurotransmitter that is significantly involved in regulating many physiological and psychological processes] levels in certain brain regions and lowered the stress-induced hormone corticosterone, resulting in reduced anxiety- and depression-related behavior.[7]

Interestingly, just as you have neurons in your brain, you also have neurons in your gut, including neurons that produce neurotransmitters like serotonin, which is also found in your brain. In fact, the greatest concentration of serotonin, which is involved in mood control, is found in your intestines, not your brain! (Perhaps this is another reason why antidepressants, which raise serotonin levels in your brain, are often ineffective in treating depression, whereas proper dietary changes often help.) This is where dietary changes such as reducing sugar intake and increasing your intake of probiotic-rich fermented foods can be invaluable for mood support.

Six Additional Factors for Improving Your Mental Health

There’s no doubt in my mind that addressing traumatic life events is a crucial step to prevent and/or address depression and anxiety. That said, here are six additional strategies that can help you even further:

  1. Exercise – If you have depression, or even if you just feel down from time to time, exercise is a MUST. The research is overwhelmingly positive in this area, with studies confirming that physical exercise is at least as good as antidepressants for helping people who are depressed. One of the primary ways it does this is by increasing the level of endorphins, the “feel good” hormones, in your brain. It also helps to normalize your insulin and leptin signaling.
  2. Eat a healthy diet – A factor that cannot be overlooked is your diet. Foods have an immense impact on your moodand ability to cope and be happy, and eating whole foods as described in my nutrition plan will best support your mental health. Avoiding sugar and grains will help normalize your insulin and leptin levels, and eliminating artificial sweeteners will eliminate your chances of suffering its toxic effects.
  3. Optimize your gut health – Fermented foods, such as fermented vegetables are also important for optimal mental health, as they are key for optimizing your gut health. Many fail to realize that your gut is literally your second brain, and can significantly influence your mind, mood, and behavior. Your gut actually produces more mood-boosting serotonin than your brain does.
  4. Support optimal brain functioning with essential fats – I also strongly recommend supplementing your diet with a high-quality, animal-based omega-3 fat, like krill oil. This may be the single most important nutrient to battle depression.
  5. Get plenty of sunshine – Making sure you’re getting enough sunlight exposure to have healthy vitamin D levels is also a crucial factor in treating depression or keeping it at bay. One previous study found that people with the lowest levels of vitamin D were 11 times more prone to be depressed than those who had normal levels. Vitamin D deficiency is actually more the norm than the exception, and has previously been implicated in both psychiatric and neurological disorders.
  6. Address your stress – Depression is a very serious condition, however it is not a “disease.” Rather, it’s a sign that your body and your life are out of balance. This is so important to remember, because as soon as you start to view depression as an “illness,” you think you need to take a drug to fix it. In reality, all you need to do is return balance to your life, and one of the key ways to doing this is addressing stress. Meditation or yoga can sometimes help. If weather permits, get outside for a walk. But in addition to that you can also use EFT, as mentioned.

There are more than 100 billion of them in our galaxy alone, but we cannot land on them. Nevertheless we have found ways to study them

Every day, for billions of years, the Sun has risen over Earth’s horizon. It may be 150 million kilometres away, but our star shines so brilliantly in the sky that we cannot look at it with our own eyes, lest we damage them. At the surface, the Sun is 5,500C – hot enough to melt any landing probe into oblivion before it even got close.

Our Sun is a typical star (Credit: JTB Media Creation Inc/Alamy Stock Photo)

In other words, the Sun is almost literally too hot to handle. But that does not mean we cannot study it.

In fact, there are several ingenious techniques through which we have begun to unravel the secrets of the stars dotted throughout the night sky, as well as the one in our own backyard. How, then, is this possible?

Artist's impression of a star (Credit: Elemental Studios/Alamy Stock Photo)

Artist’s impression of a star (Credit: Elemental Studios/Alamy Stock Photo)

We begin with light itself. We might not be able to look at the Sun in safety, but scientific instruments can.

As you may know, “white” light is actually made up of all the colours of the rainbow, and we can see those colours – from deep red right through to violet – if we “split” the light with a prism.

This only tells you what the composition is at the surface

Way back in 1802 an English scientist named William Hyde Wollaston did this with the Sun’s light and noticed something unexpected: dark lines in the spectrum. A few years later, the German optician Joseph von Fraunhofer built a special instrument called a spectrometer to disperse the light better. He saw even more of these curious dark lines.

Scientists soon realised that the dark lines showed where colours were missing from the spectrum. They were missing because elements in and around the Sun were absorbing those specific wavelengths of light. The dark lines therefore indicated the presence of certain elements such as hydrogen, sodium and calcium.

It is a remarkably clever, beautiful and simple discovery and it more or less instantly taught us about some key elements found in our nearest star. However, as Philipp Podsiadlowski, a physicist at the University of Oxford, points out, this approach has its limitations. “This only tells you what the composition is at the surface, it doesn’t tell you anything about the composition at the centre of the Sun,” he says.

Each element has an absorption spectrum (Credit: Phil Degginger/Science Photo Library)

Each element has a unique absorption spectrum (Credit: Phil Degginger/Science Photo Library)

So what is inside the Sun, and do the contents help explain how it got its colossal energy?

Our understanding of the Sun’s massive energy output began to crystallise early in the 20th Century, when it was theorised that if hydrogen atoms could fuse together they would create an entirely different element – helium – and release energy in the process. It seemed likely, then, that the Sun was rich in hydrogen and helium, and owed its mighty power to the formation of the latter from the former. But the idea still had to be proved.

If it were not for special detectors, we would never know they were there

“People in the 1930s realised that the Sun was probably powered by the fusion of hydrogen, but that of course [was] still theory,” explains Podsiadlowski.

This is where studying the Sun gets really strange. In order to better understand the star that gave life to our world, we have to go underground. In fact, we have to bury our experiments underneath mountains. That is how the Japanese Super-Kamiokande (Super-K) detector was designed, anyway.

Some 1,000m below the surface lies an odd-looking, dingy room. It contains a shallow lake of extremely pure water, and 13,000 spherical objects cover the walls, ceiling and underwater floor.

It looks like something from science fiction, but Super-K is devoted to better understanding the reality of how our Sun works.

Being so far underground, it is obvious that Super-K is not built to detect light. Instead, it is waiting for very special particles that originate in the centre of our star and which fly through matter like a plane flies through the air.

There are many trillions of them passing through you every second. If it were not for special detectors, we would never know they were there. But the Super-K can pick up a few, roughly 40 a day, thanks to the detection of special light that is created when these particles – called neutrinos – interact, as they occasionally do, with its pool of pure water.

Super Kamiokande (Credit: Kamioka Observatory, ICRR, University of Tokyo)

Super Kamiokande (Credit: Kamioka Observatory, Institute for Cosmic Ray Research (ICRR), University of Tokyo)

The light that is created is incredibly faint, but it generates a sort of halo around the neutrino and that halo can be picked up by the phenomenally sensitive light detectors covering the detector’s walls.

These neutrinos are formed in fusion reactions right inside the centre of the Sun

Special types of neutrinos which are identified through this method are considered direct evidence that the nuclear fusion of hydrogen into helium is happening inside the Sun. We know of no other way to explain the neutrinos’ formation.

“You can only capture a tiny fraction of the neutrinos but you can then calculate how many neutrinos there must be given the numbers that are actually observed,” says Podsiadlowski.

What is even more astounding is that these neutrinos are formed in fusion reactions right inside the centre of the Sun, and they get picked up by the Super-K detector just eight minutes later. Studying them allows us to observe what is going on deep inside the Sun in more or less real time.

If that wasn’t enough, we can even image the Sun using this method. It is actually possible to create pictures of the Sun’s interior solely from measurements made underground, where sunlight cannot reach.

The Sun has two advantages that tip the scale in the favour of fusion

In order to better understand the details of those fusion reactions, though, it is also necessary to try to recreate them here on Earth. In principle this is not difficult: a 13-year-old British schoolboy successfully initiated a fusion reaction in 2014. But if you want to keep observing those reactions without interference from particles whizzing in from the Sun itself, you have to go underground again.

This is precisely what Marialuisa Aliotta, a nuclear physicist at the University of Edinburgh, does.

One of the difficult things about fusion reactions, explains Aliotta, is actually getting any two atoms to “agree” to fuse. The probability of this happening, despite having trillions of atoms floating around, is incredibly low.

The Sun has two advantages that tip the scale in the favour of fusion, though. It is massive so it has a surplus of atoms, and it also has a lot of gravity, which compresses the hydrogen into plasma: hydrogen gas at such a great pressure that electrons are separated from protons in the nucleus. This environment makes it easier for fusion reactions to happen.

Atoms fuse together inside stars (Credit: Richard Kail/Science Photo Library)

Atoms fuse together inside stars (Credit: Richard Kail/Science Photo Library)

“In a star like our Sun, the probability that a significant amount of energy can be liberated through nuclear reactions is very high simply because there are lots of protons,” explains Aliotta. “In the lab we don’t have this many protons and so it becomes very, very difficult to study these processes.”

The Sun’s energy output waned and then waxed again

Still, Aliotta is able to experiment with fusion at facilities like the Laboratory for Underground Nuclear Astrophysics (LUNA) in Italy. The work enables Aliotta and her colleagues to learn more about what happens when fusion takes place – what products are created and how those particles interact.

It is easy to get the impression that the Sun is a permanent fixture that will shine with a constant level of brightness forever. It will not. In fact, stars have cycles and lifespans which, depending on their size and the precise proportions of elements within them, can be quite varied.

In recent years we have been able to learn a lot more about how the Sun changes by studying some of its features. Sunspots, for example, are dark, temporary patches that appear on the surface of the Sun from time to time. Probes have been able to study precisely how much radiation, including visible light, has been emitted by the Sun over the course of several years.

In the 1980s, researchers working on the Solar Maximum Mission realised that over the course of around 10 years, the Sun’s energy output waned and then waxed again. What was really striking was that the number of sunspots correlated with this activity: the more there were, the more energy was being released from the Sun. Since sunspots are darker and colder than the rest of the solar surface, this was a surprise.

Sunspots are dotted over the Sun (Credit: Stocktrek Images Inc/Alamy Stock Photo)

Sunspots are dotted over the Sun (Credit: Stocktrek Images Inc/Alamy Stock Photo)

“It was the inverse,” says Simon Foster at Imperial College, London. “This was very peculiar, you’ve got more dark features, more cold features yet the Sun’s in effect hotter.”

Radio telescopes are very good at catching the really interesting bits of a star’s life

Foster says that scientists eventually discovered the cause. There are special bright areas on the Sun’s surface – called faculae – which coincide with sunspots but are distinct from them so that both are visible. It is these faculae that release the extra energy.

As well as sunspots, it is also possible to detect solar flares – massive flashes of matter that burst out from the Sun’s surface following a build-up in magnetic energy. Because stars emit radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum, these flares can be seen with X-ray detectors. But there are other ways to detect them. One tactic is to listen to radio waves – another form of electromagnetic radiation.

The huge radio telescope at Jodrell Bank in England, the first of its kind in the world, is able to detect solar flares, says Tim O’Brien at the University of Manchester, who works at the telescope.

In fact, radio telescopes are very good at catching the really interesting bits of a star’s life. When a star is behaving “normally”, without much activity, it does not emit many radio waves. But when stars are born, or when they die, great radio wave emissions are produced.

“What we see are the active events. We see the explosions of stars, we see shockwaves, we see stellar winds,” says O’Brien.

Some stars are destined to become pulsars

Radio telescopes were also used by Northern Irish scientist Jocelyn Bell Burnell to discover pulsars – a special type of neutron star.

Neutron stars form after gigantic supernova explosions in which a star collapses back in on itself to become incredibly dense. Pulsars are cases of such neutron stars which happen to emit a beam of electromagnetic radiation at their poles and it is this that can be detected by radio telescopes.

It is such a regular signal, emitting as frequently as every few milliseconds, that some researchers initially wondered if they were some form of communication by intelligent species elsewhere in the Universe.

Stars are active and sometimes even violent (Credit: J. R. Bale/Alamy Stock Photo)

Stars are active and sometimes even violent (Credit: J. R. Bale/Alamy Stock Photo)

Thanks to the discovery of many more pulsars, it is now accepted that this regular pulse is caused by the spinning of the star itself.

“It spins about its vertical axis and this beam is sticking out diagonally – that then sweeps about the sky,” explains O’Brien. “If you happen to be looking at it along the line of sight, you see the regular flash as the beam sweeps past. Just like a lighthouse.”

This “white dwarf” will slowly cool down over a trillion years

Some stars are destined to become pulsars. But our Sun is almost certainly not in their ranks: it is too small to explode in a supernova reaction at the end of its life. What, then, is its likely fate in billions of years’ time?

We know from observing other stars around us in the galaxy that there is a range of end-of-life possibilities. But given what we know about the mass of our Sun and having compared it to similar stars out there, its future seems reasonably clear.

We expect that it will gradually expand towards the end of its life – in another 5 billion years or so – to become a red giant. The radiation it emits will be weaker than before as the hydrogen fuel which powers it gets used up. This “weaker” light will have a lower frequency, since it has less energy, and the Sun will therefore literally become redder.

Then, following a series of explosions, all that will remain will be the Sun’s inner core of carbon – essentially a diamond as large as Earth. This “white dwarf” will slowly cool down over a trillion years.

White dwarf star with accretion disk (blue) (Credit: Mark Garlick/Science Photo Library)

White dwarf star with accretion disk (blue) (Credit: Mark Garlick/Science Photo Library)

There are still many mysteries about the Sun, and there are some exciting projects on the way which will help to unravel them.

We have been able to answer many important questions about the nature of our Sun

One example is the Solar Probe Plus, which will come closer to the Sun than any other probe in history, in order to try and find out more about how solar winds are produced and discover why the Sun’s corona – an aura of plasma around the star – is hotter than its actual surface.

But we know many of the fundamentals. By splitting the Sun’s light into a glorious array of colours, and catching neutrinos in deep, dark laboratories underground, we have been able to answer many important questions about the nature of our Sun.

We also now know a lot about what stars are made of, how they create light, and how that process ultimately produces the huge array of elements so vital to us here on Earth.

The 19th-century lullaby, “Twinkle, twinkle, little star” exclaims “how I wonder what you are”. It is comforting to know that, 200 years later, we at last have a pretty good idea.

The New Horizons mission has reshaped our understanding of our dwarf planet Pluto, and with it our ideas about our entire planetary neighbourhood

In July 2015, 85 years after discovering it as the ninth and final planet orbiting the Sun, humans saw Pluto in all its glory for the first time. The small, sometimes overlooked world was finally the star of the show.

New Horizons revealed Pluto's giant heart (Credit: NASA/APL/SwRI)

Nasa’s New Horizons spacecraft, about the size of a baby grand piano, was approaching its primary destination after a nine-year, nearly five-billion-km journey. As it hurtled towards Pluto at 50,000 km/h, it sent back tantalising images of ever increasing detail.

We’ve crossed the threshold, gone where no one has gone before

From a glowing speck, Pluto grew into a textured disk of light until, finally, on 14 July 2015, a fully-fledged world came into view. New Horizons got within 12,500km – less than an Earth’s diameter – of the distant, icy dwarf planet. It was the closest any human-made object had ever come to Pluto.

The snapshot of a reddish world bearing a giant heart instantly became an icon. For a mission that was expecting the unexpected, New Horizons discovered an astounding place with dramatic and wide-ranging landscapes that would amaze even the most hardened of space explorers.

“We all thought it was going to be interesting, and we all hoped it was going to be diverse,” says Bill McKinnon, a planetary scientist at Washington University in St. Louis and a member of the mission’s science team. “It exceeded all of our expectations.”

Already, the discoveries have reshaped our understanding of Pluto and also of the outer Solar System. Knowing what is hiding in these remote regions will help scientists piece together the history of how the Solar System formed.

“This mission is our gateway,” McKinnon says. “We’ve crossed the threshold, gone where no one has gone before: into the Kuiper Belt.”

A possible ice volcano on Pluto's surface (Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

A possible ice volcano on Pluto’s surface

For most of the time that humans have known Pluto, since Clyde Tombaugh discovered it in 1930, it represented the final frontier. It was the last planet, and the misfit that stood out from the rest. Whereas the other outer planets are giant, puffy balls of gas, Pluto is rocky, icy, and smaller than Earth.

At an average distance of almost six billion km from the Sun, Pluto was a mysterious, faint world, beyond the reach of the most powerful telescopes. Even the mighty Hubble Space Telescope could muster nothing more than a pixelated blob.

In the early 1990s, astronomers started to realise Pluto was not alone. They discovered that the outer Solar System was filled with a swarm of small, icy objects they eventually dubbed the Kuiper Belt, a ring beyond Neptune’s orbit.

Then, in 2005, astronomers found that one of these objects, later named Eris, rivals Pluto in size. The discovery of something so big called into question Pluto’s status as a unique and isolated planet. Pluto, it now seemed, might be just like Eris – a part of the Kuiper Belt. That is why Pluto never fit in with the other planets: it belonged to this other group of outcasts. After heated debate, astronomers made it official in 2006 and voted to demote Pluto to a dwarf planet.

Pluto is more diverse and dynamic than ever imagined (Credit: NASA/ESA/M Buie)

Pluto is more diverse and dynamic than imagined

While some lamented Pluto’s exit from the planet club, the new classification signified a deeper understanding of the outer Solar System. Instead of the lone, distant oddball at the end of the planetary line, Pluto was the beginning of something more: a previously unknown and unexplored collection of ice and rock – and possibly new worlds.

It was a new vision of the final frontier, enticing enough that Nasa decided to send New Horizons to explore Pluto, its moons, and maybe another Kuiper Belt Object. The mission launched in January 2006, just a few months before Pluto’s demotion.

You knew it was going to be weird, and you knew it would be different from everything we had ever seen

With spacecraft having visited every other planet in the Solar System, New Horizons would fill the last remaining gap of exploration. But despite more than four decades of encountering other alien worlds, scientists could not have foreseen what they would find on Pluto.

Now, more than a year after New Horizons showed us Pluto in all its detail, the spacecraft has sent back 80% of its data, with the rest coming in October 2016. Scientists are sifting through the torrent of information, piecing together a world of startling variety and complexity.

“You knew it was going to be weird, and you knew it would be different from everything we had ever seen,” says Mike Brown, an astronomer at the California Institute of Technology, US, one of the discoverers of Eris, and self-described Pluto killer. “But there was just no way to predict what it was going to look like.”

Pluto's haze layer shows its blue colour (Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

Pluto’s haze layer shows its blue colour, as revealed by this New Horizons picture

Pluto is far. Really far. While sunlight takes only eight minutes to reach Earth, the trip to Pluto is more than five hours. And even then not much light or heat gets there – the Sun is 1,500 times fainter than it appears on Earth. The average temperature is about -230 degrees Celsius. Such a frigid surface should be frozen and relatively dormant.

This was stuff that was over the top – people would’ve laughed at us

Still, astronomers had long known Pluto’s surface was at least somewhat active. Pluto’s extreme seasons lead to wild temperature swings, driving changes in the ices and its thin atmosphere.

“We knew the atmosphere and surface were coupled and things would be moving around on Pluto timescales,” McKinnon says. “But it’s another thing altogether to say there are moving glaciers, floating ice mountains, convection, or a vast frozen sea of solid nitrogen. This was stuff that was over the top – people would’ve laughed at us.”

Indeed, New Horizons discovered a surface beyond anyone’s imagination. Much of the giant heart that dominates the now-famous photo of Pluto turns out to be an enormous glacier, the biggest in the Solar System. It is a vast chunk of frozen nitrogen creeping across the surface.

Pluto's vast nitrogen ice plains are known as Sputnik Planum (Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

Pluto’s vast nitrogen ice plains are known as Sputnik Planum

More detailed images revealed polygonal shapes etched onto this glacial surface, called Sputnik Planum. Computer models and further analysis show that these shapes, as wide as 50km across, are churning convection cells. This is where the downward pressure from surface ice warms the ice underneath. Since heat rises, the warmer ice below flows upward and forces the surface ice downward, driving the ice into a circular motion called convection.

This motion is slow, cycling every half a million years or so. The ice itself only moves across a few centimetres per year. Still, the very existence of such an energetic process was shocking.

“The whole idea of glacial ices and flow, and current activity on Pluto was really contrary to previous thought,” says Cathy Olkin of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado US, and one of the mission’s deputy project scientists.

Beyond Sputnik Planum, jagged mountains of water ice punctuate more rugged terrain. Some are only about 100 million years old: remarkably young, given that Pluto and the rest of the Solar System is about 4.6 billion years old. Such vigorous geology was surprisingly recent.

Convection cells (Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

These convection cells are where older surface ices are replaced with fresher material

Two of Pluto’s highest mountains – Wright Mons and Piccard Mons, rising to about 4km and 5.6km, respectively – might even be volcanic, spewing out water ice, methane, nitrogen, ammonia, and other icy compounds. Unlike some of the other icy volcanoes, called cryovolcanoes, in the Solar System, such as the spouts on Jupiter’s moon Ganymede and Saturn’s moon Enceladus, these volcanoes have formed towering structures, more similar to the ones we think of on Earth, according to McKinnon.

Even the possibility of an ocean is cause for excitement,

But Pluto may have at least one intriguing similarity to some of these moons: a subsurface ocean of liquid water. Soon after Pluto formed, radioactive elements buried in the core might have melted some of the surrounding ice. Over time, as Pluto cooled, that liquid water would refreeze. Because ice occupies more volume than liquid water, Pluto would have expanded, forming cracks on its frozen surface – exactly the kind of cracks that New Horizons discovered.

But if the underground liquid completely froze over, recent computer models suggest that it would have formed a special kind of ice that is denser than both normal ice and liquid water. If that were the case, Pluto would have shrunk, leaving behind tell-tale fault lines across the surface. But New Horizons did not see any of these lines, suggesting some of the water inside Pluto is still liquid.

Much of the evidence is circumstantial, and before they can be sure, scientists will need to send a spacecraft to study Pluto’s interior structure from orbit, which will not happen anytime soon. Still, even the possibility of an ocean is cause for excitement, not only for Pluto but also other Kuiper Belt Objects.

New Horizons revealed Pluto's giant heart (Credit: NASA/APL/SwRI)

New Horizons revealed Pluto’s giant heart

According to theory, more Pluto-sized worlds could be floating in the outer regions of the Kuiper Belt. And if Pluto has glaciers, cryovolcanoes, and oceans, then it is plausible that these other objects would as well.

If we look at Eris tomorrow, we’ll probably find areas that look exactly like Pluto

As the first such object a spacecraft has visited, and one of the largest, Pluto is a sign of what else could be out there. For the first time, scientists have a concrete image of what some of these Kuiper Belt Objects may be like.

“If you accept this idea that Pluto has an ocean, there are probably a large number of icy worlds in the Kuiper Belt and beyond that possess these deep dark oceans,” McKinnon says.

Even if other Kuiper Belt Objects do not have oceans, they could still bear a resemblance to Pluto.

“Each one will be different for slightly different reasons – but similar-looking,” Brown says. “They will suddenly look familiar, instead of bizarre. If we look at Eris tomorrow, we’ll probably find areas that look exactly like Pluto and vice versa.”

Pluto is just one of countless icy bodies (Credit: Nasa)

Pluto is just one of countless icy bodies

The Kuiper Belt sits between about 35 and 45 astronomical units from the Sun; an astronomical unit (au) being the average distance between the Sun and Earth. Astronomers have scoured this region, uncovering only a handful of objects like Eris that are big enough to merit dwarf planet status.

In principle there could be a handful of Pluto-sized bodies out there

“But if you went out to three times the typical Kuiper Belt distance to 100 or 150 au, they could be hiding out there,” says Wes Fraser, an astronomer at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. “All you need is a darker surface than Pluto and a good distance, and you could hide objects that are that size.”

It turns out that, despite such large distances, the surface temperatures at these far-flung worlds might only be about 10 degrees colder than Pluto, Fraser says. This means they could be as wonderfully dynamic and diverse. “Geologically speaking, if Pluto is an active body, I wouldn’t see why a Pluto at 1,000 au wouldn’t also be an active body,” he says.

In principle, he says, there could be a handful of Pluto-sized bodies out there. Current theory says Kuiper Belt Objects of all sizes formed much closer to the Sun – including perhaps as many as a few thousand Pluto-sized ones.

This image shows dark, rugged highlands known as Krun Macula (Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

This image shows the dark, rugged highlands known as Krun Macula

But a series of violent gravitational interactions with gas giant planets scattered these chunks of ice and rock, sending some plunging into the Sun, and others out of the Solar System altogether. The ones that were left became the Kuiper Belt. Still others, including a few Pluto-sized objects, could have settled in the outer edge of the Kuiper Belt.

It was a fantastic voyage to the very edge of the Solar System, and we’re not done

Future telescopes like the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, scheduled to begin operation in 2023, will explore these regions of space, hunting for distant Kuiper Belt Objects. Being able to gauge what is out there will be crucial for testing today’s theories for how the Solar System formed.

New Horizons’ visit to Pluto was brief. But its mission continues, and on the first day of 2019, the spacecraft will zoom by a much smaller Kuiper Belt Object called MU69. “It’s a cold, classical KBO,” Olkin says. “What that means is it’s primordial, very much a remnant of Solar System formation.”

Because it is much smaller, MU69 is unlikely to have the glaciers, volcanoes, or oceans that Pluto might have. But it promises to contain more secrets about the Kuiper Belt and the origins of the Solar System.

“It was a fantastic voyage to the very edge of the Solar System, and we’re not done,” McKinnon says. “Even though Pluto is the last classical planet, in reality, there’s this endless new world to be discovered and explored.”

Instead of Pharmaceutical Drugs, These Physicians are Prescribing Time in Nature and Fruit, Vegetables For Patients

In an age where pharmaceutical drug use is off the charts, a thoughtful group of physicians are using a novel approach and advising their patients to “take a hike” — literally. Park prescriptions have been around since 2008, but the idea is now spreading more widely throughout the U.S. — and around the world — as obesity and mental health disorders have continued to climb. In a similar vein, doctors are also writing prescriptions for fruits, vegetables and other wholesome food, which patients can “fill” at their local market. The result of these unconventional interventions is nothing short of inspiring.


The Healing Power of Nature

A whole new spin on writing prescriptions for patients has people moving — through green spaces, parks and forests, in lieu of popping pharmaceutical meds for what ails them. And it works.

San Francisco physician Daphne Miller is known for writing out “park prescriptions” like this:

  • Drug: Exercise in Glen Canyon Park
  • Dose: 45 minutes of walking or running
  • Directions: Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 7am
  • Refills: Unlimited

Dr. Miller feels it’s easier to maintain an exercise program when we’re outdoors, possibly because of the changing scenery, fresh air or, what she refers to as, “the camaraderie of the trail.” She’s written hundreds of park prescriptions for her patients — which have had great success in curbing a variety of health complaints. And she’s not alone in her unusual prescriptions. Many physicians — particularly pediatricians — are dispensing thousands of these prescriptions to not only get some exercise, but to do it out in nature.

Robert Zarr, a physician in Washington DC, was an early proponent of writing park prescriptions. At one point, he told an obese teen to skip using the bus one way to school and instead, walk through the park. She lost weight and felt happier.

“We’ve really got this down,” he told the audience at a conference in Philadelphia. “I see this as no different from prescribing medicine for asthma or an ear infection.”

Obesity, diabetes and mental health disorders are an increasing problem for children in the U.S. — and it only takes a a few kids with symptoms of ADHD to cause disruption in the classroom, he says, where teachers begin to suggest parents speak with their pediatrician about Ritalin or other pharmaceutical interventions.

Because of a growing body of scientific evidence that contact with nature helps to prevent or ease many of the chronic illnesses associated with urban life, Zarr created an online database of around 350 green spaces in the district, so that physicians can type in their patient’s zip code and find a number of parks in the area. So far, the U.S. has at least 50 programs to get people out into nature for its healthy perks, but new programs are sprouting up all the time.

The trend is catching on in other countries too — like Australia, where experts are now discussing the health advantages of spending time in their natural parks. In the U.K., doctors are writing prescriptions for Green Gyms, where outdoor sessions are lead by members from conservation groups. Not only do the participants improve health and stamina, they also contribute to local green spaces with activities such as planting trees. Moreover, Japan has it’s own health and nature program called Shinrin Yoku, or forest bathing, that encourages people to spend time in the woods to reap a range of healthy benefits.

Back in the United States, prescriptions for outdoor time in nature aren’t the only ones doctors are writing, fruit and vegetable prescription programs are becoming popular as well.

Food As Medicine

In 1965, Jack Geiger — a physician and civil rights activist — founded an unusual community health center in the Mississippi Delta, where prescriptions for food were written for his malnourished patients. He asked grocery stores to send the bill for fruit, vegetables and other nutritious edibles to the health center’s pharmacy. At one point, the Office of Economic Opportunity (which funded the health center) questioned him about the program, he replied that when dealing with a diagnosis of malnutrition, food wasmedicine.

In the spirit of Dr. Geiger’s original health center, others have followed suit and established programs that prescribe nourishing food for people struggling with health issues. In 2013, Wholesome Wave and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene launched a Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program (FVRx), where participating physicians write prescription coupons that can be redeemed for fruits and vegetables at farmers markets across New York City. Similarly, Boston Medical Center created a Preventative Food Pantry that supplies supplemental and therapeutic foods to patients referred by their doctors. What’s more, Dr. Nimali Fernando of Yum Pediatrics in Virginia has fully integrated food and wellness into her practice — complete with garden-themed office and exam rooms, a teaching kitchen where a variety of cooking classes are held and cooking shows playing in the waiting room.

All in all, these programs are effective in reducing body mass index and stress, which leads to less chronic disease and improved health in the long run. But you don’t need to wait for a prescription — get out into nature and enjoy more fruit and vegetables. Your body, mind and spirit will be the better for it.

There Is Some Hope That We Aren’t Living Inside a Computer Simulation

Philosopher Nick Bostrom’s famous Simulation Argument suggests it’s highly probable that we live inside a supercomputer. But one philosopher takes this hypothesis to task, arguing in a new paper that there are other post-human scenarios that need to be taken into account.

 Before we get started, it’s important to note that this discussion is limited to the philosophical arguments in support of the simulation hypothesis. But the day is coming when physicists may be able to prove or disprove it more scientifically.

According to Bostrom’s Simulation Argument, only one of the following three propositions can be true given the potential for a technologically mature “posthuman” civilization to come into the possession of enormous computing power:

  1. The human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a posthuman stage
  2. Any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history
  3. We are almost certainly living in a computer simulation

If the first proposition is true, it’s likely that we’ll go extinct before reaching posthumanity (in which case there will be no so-called “ancestor simulations”). If the second is true, “then there must be a strong convergence among…advanced civilizations so that virtually none contains any relatively wealthy individuals who desire to run ancestor-simulations.” This seems unlikely.

 But if the third proposition is true, then we almost certainly live in a computer simulation. One way of looking as it is through the lens of probability; if there’s one “real” world, and a million simulated worlds, it more probable by several orders of magnitude that we’re in a simulation.

But as Bostrom himself notes: “In the dark forest of our current ignorance, it seems sensible to apportion one’s credence roughly evenly between [these three propositions].”

And it’s here where philosopher Paul Franceschi from the University of Corsica in France takes issue with the argument.

A ‘Reference Class’ Problem

Franceschi says that Bostrom didn’t get the reference class right.

 “It consists of human simulations,” he told io9. “The original argument refers to a reference class which is that of computer simulations of human beings, of a very high quality, and by nature indiscernible from the genuine ones.” But there’s more to simulations than just this, he argues — Bostrom failed to account for a much broader class of posthuman simulations.

A certain ambiguity exists in the mere notion of simulations, he says, and a question subsequently arises about the applicability of the Simulation Argument to other possible types of human simulations or immersive virtual reality experiences. To that end, Franceschi describes three other kinds of simulations:

  1. Aware-simulations: A type of simulation that’s in every respect identical to those described in Bostrom’s original argument, i.e. simulations that are almost indiscernible from genuine humans, the only difference being that they’re aware of their own nature in the simulation.
  2. Rough-simulations: Some virtual simulations at a slightly lower quality, with regard to the perfect ones hinted at in the original argument.
  3. Cyborg-type simulations: Simulations indiscernible from human cyborgs with, say, neural implants (possibly with full or partial uploads); think of The Matrix.

Franceschi breaks down the assumption that we likely live in a simulation into three points: (1) the notion that simulations greatly outnumber genuine humans (disproportion), (2) the fact that we are probably simulants (self-applicability), and (3) the fact that we’re totally unaware that we’re being simulated (unawareness).

But by virtue of his new posthuman references classes, Franceschi argues that new conclusions can be produced:

  • The original argument: As noted, it entails disproportion, self-applicability and unawareness. This conclusion is worrying because it suggests we’re simulants blind to our true nature as living things.
  • Aware-simulations: The argument only entails disproportion (and not self-applicability or unawareness). It’s a reassuring conclusion because it suggests simulants are (mostly) aware of their existential situation.
  • Rough-simulations: Like the previous item, it only entails disproportion. This conclusion is also reassuring.
  • Cyborg-type simulations: This also entails disproportion and self-applicability (and not unawareness). This conclusion is reassuring, too — it suggests that many simulants have a “real world” aspect to them.

By having alternate choices of different reference classes, and at a greater level of extension, different conclusions can be drawn from the premises — conclusions that produce reassuring conclusions. Put another way, it can’t possibly be correct that every posthuman simulant is unaware of their true nature, or that other types of simulations don’t exist.

“Now given that there does not exist in the Simulation Argument an objectivecriterion allowing to choose the reference class non-arbitrarily, we can choose it at different levels of restriction or of extension.”

In this context, he claims that the disturbing conclusion which is associated with the original argument turns out to be an arbitrary conclusion. At the same time, there are several other reference classes which have an equal degree of relevance to the argument itself — reference classes which suggest a reassuring conclusion.

Only 2% Of The Human Population Can Hear This Mysterious Sound And Nobody Knows Why

All over the world for decades now, people have reported a very strange “humming” noise that doesn’t seem to have an identifiable origin. To some, it’s a nuisance. To many others, it’s unnerving and maddening. Even more interesting: most people can’t hear this mysterious sound.

The humming appears all over the world. Most notably, Bristol in southern England and Toas, New Mexico play host to the strange humming sound. And strangely enough, only about 2% of the human population is able to hear it.

The town of Taos, in north-central New Mexico, has been home to many famous residents including Julia Roberts, Dennis Hopper, D.H. Lawrence, Aldous Huxley and Donald Rumsfeld. It’s a small, laid-back artsy community that is also home to an unusual mystery: a resident hum of unknown origin, the so-called “Taos Hum.”

variety of theories have been offered as an explanation, ranging from the mundane to the fantastic, the psychological to the paranormal. Stoned hippies, secret government mind control experiments, underground UFO bases and everything in between have been blamed.

The hum seems to have first been reported in the early 1990s. Joe Mullins, a professor emeritus of engineering at the University of New Mexico, conducted research into the Taos Hum. Based on a survey of residents, about 2 percent of the general population was believed to be “hearers,” those who claimed to detect the hum. Sensitive equipment was set up in the homes of several of the “hearers,” measuring sounds and vibrations but after extensive testing nothing unusual was detected.

Many researchers suggest that the answer to the Taos Hum mystery may be found in the inner world of personal experience instead of the outer world of factories and heavy equipment. What does your tongue taste like? What does your nose smell like? What does your ear sound like? These are not silly, simple questions but instead may hold part of the answer.

Even though we don’t notice it, our ears sometimes create their own noises. And because the sounds are subtle (and because most people are constantly surrounded by sound, whether it’s music, television, video games, or just a typical noisy city life) we don’t hear them until it’s very quiet or we are listening carefully. This phenomenon, called spontaneous otoacoustic emissions, is different than auditory disorders such as tinnitus, which causes a ringing in the ears. It might explain some of the “hearers” reports.

The fact that only a tiny percentage of people claimed to hear the mysterious sound – Taos Hum was also puzzling; it’s not that the other 98 percent of the Taos population had poor hearing, but instead perhaps that those who heard the hum were “super hearers” with unusually keen hearing. Or, it is also possible that, given such a weak effect in such a few number of people (and whose descriptions of the hum do not always match up) that the hum is merely an auditory hallucination.

Such hallucinations do not necessarily indicate any sort of mental illness or disturbance, but may simply be the result of common (and harmless) psychological and physiological processes. Neurologist Oliver Sacks, for example, has written extensively on both visual and auditory hallucinations in his books “Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain” (2007) and “Hallucinations” (2012). Some of the Taos Hum hearers have even reported hearing it after they have moved out of the area.

As always in science, “unexplained” does not mean “unexplainable.” Countless things about the world around us were initially mysterious and unexplained (from the causes of germ-borne disease to the nature of lightning), but were eventually explained through research and science. It’s possible that the Taos Hum is real, and its true origins remain unknown, and it’s also possible that the hum only exists in the minds and ears of those who report it.

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