Scientists locate the protein that will extend your life and figure out how to make it last longer


Lengthening Telomere, a DNA protein, may be a key to extending life to much older than 100 years.

Telomeres are DNA-protein complexes that protect the end of human chromosomes from DNA damage or fusion with neighboring chromosomes.  Nutritionists have long been interested in the dynamics of telomere length in the human body, and how telomeres factor into human health, lengthening life expectancy, and even have pondered the possibility of Immortality.   Research is showing that certain nutrients play a huge part in protecting telomere length, ultimately determining how long you live.

“The best analogy that we have for telomeres is that they’re like the little tabs on the end of shoelaces,” says Dr Adam Rutherford, a geneticist and author of Creation: The Origin of Life.

Just as the tabs, or “aglets”, hold the strands of the laces together, he says, telomeres – repetitive stretches of DNA on the end of each chromosome – perform the same function.

“Chromosomes are made up of a double helix, two strands of DNA, and they need an endpoint,” says Rutherford. “Without telomeres they’d unravel, like two bits of string that have been tied together.”

Studies have shown that certain Vitamins contribute to the length of a Telomere.  Scientists at the European Journal of Nutrition (EJON) found that the B vitamin folate also plays an important part in maintenance of DNA integrity and DNA methylation, which in turn influence telomere length. Researchers have found that women who use vitamin B12 supplements have longer telomeres than those who don’t. Vitamin D3, zinc, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins C and E also influence telomere length.

10 Human Body Modifications You Can Expect in the next Decade


Article Image

Christina Aguilera as a bionic woman

Elon Musk has called it: you’re already a cyborg. Your smartphone enhances your mind, your spectacles enhance your vision, and your pacemaker (if you have one) regulates your heartbeat. Our environment is increasingly wired, sensor-filled, and digitally connected—and so are we! This trend will only continue.

All over the world biohackers, scientists, entrepreneurs and corporations are eagerly pursuing new and marketable applications for advanced technologies. Many of them are being actively designed to help humans fulfill our age-old transcendent longings—to be stronger, smarter, better-looking and more resilient, and to cultivate new abilities that seem like superpowers by the standards of the past.

Here are 10 emerging devices and technologies that could soon enhance you in body and mind.

  1. RFID Chips

RFID chip on human hand

Microchips are not new, but the practice of routinely implanting them in humans is. Already, biohackers are enthusiastically getting chipped, many of them undergoing the DIY surgery in tattoo parlors. With small radio frequency identification (RFID) chips implanted in their hands or wrists these citizen cyborgs can already eliminate many tedious rituals from their daily lives, like carrying a wallet or keys.

The chip can be used to make tap-and-go payments and can be programmed to open a home or office door electronically. No more carrying keys down to the beach when going for a swim, and no more jogging with them jangling in your pocket. One Australian biohacker, Meow-Ludo Meow Meow also thinks that chip implants could replace public transport cards.

But that’s just the basics. Chipping could soon be used on a national scale for identification and security. Hacking and identity theft will certainly be a concern, but on the plus side there’ll be no more anxiety about losing your passport when you travel! Transhumanist candidate for Governor of California Zoltan Istvan has a chip in his wrist to open his front door. The chips can also be used in the workplace. One Swedish office complex Epicenter has already made chipping a voluntary identification option for tenants and their employees. The Belgian digital marketing firm NewFusion also began offering implants to staff in 2017.

With electronic medical records becoming more pervasive, personal medical data could also be stored on implanted RFID chips. If you arrive in the emergency room and need a blood transfusion you can immediately be scanned for your blood type. Allergic to certain medications? The ER doctors will know this too, as well as who has medical power of attorney, whether or not you’re an organ donor, and what your end of life wishes are (e.g. if you have a DNR-“do not resuscitate” order).

  1. Exoskeletons

Man wearing Hyundai exoskeleton and lifting door

Hyundai’s “Iron Man” robotic exoskeleton in action. Image credit: Hyundai/Business Insider

The Terminator was “a cybernetic organism. Living tissue over a metal endoskeleton.” But that was in 1984 and the concept was fictional. Jump ahead to the 2020s and you could be a different kind of cyborg—one that wears a metal exoskeleton over your biological meat sack.

Why would you? If you’re in the military, particularly in combat, an exoskeleton can dramatically enhance your strength and endurance and allow you to carry more supplies when moving on foot.

Military exoskeleton infographic

If you’re just a regular human then carrying supplies is probably not a big concern. But back pain likely is. Sure, an exoskeleton may not help an office worker much, but it could be a big help to factory workers and manual laborers. In the near future, before the impending robot job-apocalypse, exoskeletons could help laborers to use the correct muscles when lifting and allow them to lift more weight safely.

More profoundly, if you suffer from spinal cord injuries an exoskeleton could help you to walk again. Elderly people with mobility issues could also benefit from the technology.

Steven Sanchez walking with exoskeleton

Paralyzed from the waist down, Steven Sanchez walks with the aid of an exoskeleton.

The transhumanist politician Zoltan Istvan also thinks that exoskeletons could soon transform sport and other forms of recreation by helping us to reach new physical peaks and compete at a different level. He even thinks we’ll use them in the bedroom, though it’s contentious whether humans will really want to ‘suit up’ as a preamble to getting down and dirty.

  1. Real-time Language Translation

English to Italian Google translation

Real time language translation applications have been around for a few years though they’ve had their share of quirks and imperfections. However, recent advances in machine learning have done a lot to improve machine translation of late—so much so that we are now on the cusp of achieving seamless translation in real time. In late 2016 The New York Times reported that Google’s translation “A.I. system had demonstrated overnight improvements roughly equal to the total gains the old one had accrued over its entire lifetime.”

With artificial intelligence facilitating a whole new level of precision in this field, a wave of companies are racing to bring even better products to the market, including Microsoft and Google. The US startup Waverly Labs has crowdsourced over $4 million and has pre-sold 22,000 prototype earbuds that will translate in real time while canceling ambient noise. At $299 a pair, you have to wonder whether human translators will be able to earn much of a living from here on out.

  1. Augmented Vision

Bionic eye

Bionic eyes are a thing! They are currently used to treat hereditary and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and rely on a camera mounted on glasses feeding inputs to electrodes attached to the retina. This technique is a remarkable, though still imperfect, means of reversing a form of blindness.

Another kind of intraocular bionic lens is being developed by the Ocumetics Technology Corp and is currently being tested in clinical trials. The aim of the product is to restore “clear vision at all distances, without glasses or contact lenses” regardless of the age of the patient. Ideally, “three times better than 20/20 vision” could be achieved and laser eye surgery could eventually be rendered obsolete.

Perfect vision and no glasses would be a massive improvement for many. But why stop there? Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku thinks we should aim for superhuman vision and maintains that we are already well on our way.

Telescopic contact lenses have already been developed, which can enable the user to zoom in and out with a wink. The technology was developed by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and could soon be marketed to sufferers of AMD. But as the technology improves and gets cheaper it could eventually become the norm to have telescopic vision, as well as other add-ons like night vision.

  1. Smart Contact Lenses

Samsung smart contact lens patented design

Patent diagrams for Samsung’s smart contact lenses. 

But wait, the eye stuff gets even cooler! Both Sony and Samsung have patented smart contact lens technology that can record video by blinking. The augmented reality company Magic Leap is also working on a smart contact lens, in tandem with its much anticipated new augmented reality headset. Both products will be able to overlay computer generated images onto the real world.

But augmented reality tech isn’t just for fun. Another application of smart contact lenses being developed at the X lab (formerly Google X) is the capability to detect blood glucose levels in tears and alert diabetics when their blood sugar is too low.

How could this change your life in the next decade? Leading transhumanists and tech gurus Peter Diamandis and Kevin Kelly think that in the near future these kinds of innovations will hail the end of PCs, smartphones and screens-as-we-know-them. Soon you could walk around with the equivalent of your smartphone inside you, while the screen could be both everywhere and nowhere. Classic miniaturization and dematerialization in action!

  1. 3D Printed Body Parts

 

3D printed human ear

Lab-grown bladders and functional vaginas have already been successfully implanted in patients. But even more exciting is the promise of 3D printing and implanting vital organs like hearts, lungs and kidneys.

Professor Martin Birchall, a surgeon at University College London, believes that this will come and that important stepping stones will arrive very soon. He told the BBC in 2016:

“I think it will be less than a decade before surgeons like me are trialling customized printed organs and tissues. I can’t wait!”

The Economist is even more optimistic, predicting that the first implantable livers and kidneys could be 3D printed as early as 2023.

  1. Smarter Drugs

Pill bottle

Let’s be honest, humans love drugs. Some age-old faves include alcohol, caffeine and sugar. But when it comes to both medicinal treatment and recreational or performance-enhancing drugs (think Prozac for depression and anxiety, or caffeine and amphetamines for alertness and concentration) today’s drugs are pretty darn primitive. Why? Because they’re a one-size-fits-all solution that can’t be well tailored to the individual. Benefits are also very hard to decouple from side effects.

The good news is that soon we could have a new generation of better, smarter drugs. Already, artificial intelligence and cheap genomic sequencing are accelerating the drug discovery process and facilitating an increase in effective personalized medicine. Unsurprisingly, pharmaceutical companiesgovernments and tech corporations are eagerly getting in on this medical big data game.

The Human Longevity Inc., which was run until early 2017 by the pioneering geneticist Craig Venter (of Human Genome Project fame) is on track to complete an ambitious plan to sequence 1 million human genomes by 2020. The company hopes to mine this enormous database of genetic, and phenotypic (lifestyle) data and rapidly accelerate the innovation of personalized drugs and treatment plans.

Personalized cancer treatments are already increasingly common and effective. Soon, as former US President Bill Clinton once said, we could “know the term cancer only as a constellation of stars.”

  1. Brain-computer Interfaces

Child controls robots using his mind

Humans can already control wheelchairsadvanced neuroprosthetic limbsand drones with their minds. Brain-computer interfaces (BCI) have also been used to communicate with patients suffering from the rare affliction of locked-in syndrome. Soon we could be using technology like this all the time, not just to correct for disabilities, but to enhance communication and sensory connection. Perhaps we could even connect telepathically?

Mark Zuckerberg certainly thinks so. He famously proclaimed in 2015 that in the future (though more than a decade away):

“You’re going to just be able to capture a thought, what you’re thinking or feeling in kind of its ideal and perfect form in your head, and be able to share that with the world in a format where they can get that.”

Zuckerberg is not the only tech kingpin thinking about this stuff. In 2016 Elon Musk famously spruiked the idea of a “neural lace,” effectively an advanced BCI in which biological brains seamlessly mesh with non-biological computing. Rumblings on Twitter and hints from Musk himself suggest he is actually planning to work on his own lace design.

The leaders of Stanford University’s NeuroTechnology Initiative also believe that in years to come “brain­-machine interfaces will transform medicine, technology and society” and that “future devices will likely not only restore, but also augment, human capacities.”

  1. Designer Babies

Foetus in artificial womb

In 2016 the first 3-parent baby was born. The nucleus from one of the mother’s eggs was transplanted into a donor egg with the nucleus removed. The donor egg was then fertilized with the father’s sperm, a process undertaken to avoid a fatal condition called Leigh syndrome, which is carried in the mother’s mitochondrial DNA.

With gene editing becoming a more precise science, thanks to new techniques like CRISPR-Cas9, it will not be long before they are utilized en masse to prevent most heritable diseases. Why would you roll the genetic dice when you could actively intervene to ensure that your child will be healthy? Especially if you’ve had your genome sequenced and know you are a carrier of deleterious genes, like the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations, which strongly predispose those with the mutations to breast and ovarian cancer.

Pre-natal screening already affects the proportion of certain genetic traits in the population—a high percentage (most recently estimated at 67%) of fetuses identified as having Down syndrome are aborted. While statistics like this have sparked widespread ethical debates, they also indicate that humans tend to be willing to make use of technologies that give them more choice over their reproductive outcomes. IVF is another obvious example.

The ultimate potential of gene-editing technology is profound and could be species changing. It’s uncertain how far we’ll progress (or indeed allow the technology to progress) in the next few years. But you’ll definitely see movement in this space over the next decade.

  1. Enhanced Sexual Organs

Kim Kardashian with champagne

 

Almost 300,000 Americans underwent breast augmentation surgery in 2016, a 4% increase on the previous year and a 37% increase since 2000. But it’s not just boobs, almost all cosmetic procedures are on the rise. Clearly Americans have embraced this mode of human enhancement with gusto.

But who wouldn’t want to achieve the same goals without sticking bags of silicon inside their body? There might just be a better way.

Transgender transhumanist Valkyrie Ice McGill predicted in 2014 that by 2024 a total functional gender transformation will be possible. The same technology that could enable a complete gender reassignment could also allow patients to achieve breast, buttock, and penis enlargements with more natural results. She stated:

“A decade from now, a plastic surgeon is likely to use body modeling software developed by MMOs and VR to enable you to decide precisely how you want to look, and then supervise the da Vinci autosurgeon as it uses your own body fat and skin cells to produce a stock of programmable stem cells, and then performs hundreds or even thousands of minimally invasive microsurgeries to place those programmed cells throughout your body, where they will become extra muscle mass, larger breasts, repair damaged internal organs, etc., allowing your future self the option of “resculpting” your personal appearance.”

Holy crap! A bigger butt grown from your own stem cells. Kinda cool, if a little predictable. But then we idealize curvy women and muscular men because it’s been an historical ideal with a strong biological impetus. Our tastes don’t spring from nowhere.

Yet when it comes to sex, humanity as a species has big aspirations and vivid imaginations. There will always be those who want to create completely new ideals of beauty and sexuality and who hope to transcend the limits and values of the present day.

The transhumanist George Dvorsky is one such human. He has playfully outlined out a speculative ideal for “the penis of the future.” Notably, it’s not the same old thing but bigger. Among other traits, Dvorsky hopes that a future penis could be bacteria resistant and WiFi enabled. Another eager biohacker and transhumanist Rich Lee has a different vision. He thinks vibrating penis implants will be the way of the future.

Some other fascinating predictions can be found in the 2016 Future of Sex report. The authors believe that dating in virtual reality will be common by 2022, and that by 2027 we’ll have brain interfaces that allow us to literally turn on our partners via their most powerful sexual organ: their mind.

Future of Sex report infographic

While the fullest realization of many of these technologies will likely be felt over several decades, it is realistic to imagine we will see these kinds of innovations improving fast and becoming more widely tested and adopted in the decade to come. Sure, you might not have a vibrating penis in 10 years time, but you will certainly have met someone with a chip implant by 2027 and there’s a very good chance you’ll have one yourself. The same goes for much of the rest. Very exciting stuff!

Sonoluminescence Is Light Made From Sound


How hard can you punch? Chances are it’s nothing compared to the mantis shrimp: its tiny claws strike so fast that the shock wave can actually produce light. This phenomenon is called sonoluminescence, and here’s how it works: if an ultrasonic sound wave—that is, one with a frequency far above that of human hearing—hits water, it pushes the water faster than it can react, forcing its pressure to drop suddenly. That leaves behind an area of low pressure in the form of tiny gas bubbles. The process of creating that gas bubble is called cavitation. At this point, it gets really strange: because these cavitation bubbles have much lower pressure than a regular bubble, they immediately collapse, rapidly increasing the pressure inside the bubble. That collapse makes the bubble hotter than the surface of the sun and produces a tiny flash of light. That’s sonoluminescence. It’s not just the mantis shrimp that makes this happen; things like firing a gun underwater and applying an ultrasonic field can also bring about this effect. Scientists don’t yet fully understand why it occurs, but they have a few theories. Explore them in the video below.

What Is Sonoluminescence?

Hear the theories on why it happens.

 Source:curiosity.com

One in Four Say Sleeping With Another Person is Not Cheating.


http://www.playboy.com/articles/confusion-regarding-infidelity?utm_source=TWITTER&utm_medium=Playboy&utm_campaign=Playboy.com

Experts Admit Zika Threat Fraud


Story at-a-glance

  • Mosquito experts are questioning the extent of emergency that actually exists in regard to Zika virus
  • Chris Barker, Ph.D. a mosquito-borne virus researcher at the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, said the risk of Zika in the continental U.S. is “near zero”
  • Experts suggest there may be small clusters of Zika outbreaks in certain southern states and little risk elsewhere in the continental U.S.

We’re in the midst of prime mosquito season for much of the U.S. While the exact beginning and end of mosquito season are debatable, The Washington Post recently used Google search data to pinpoint the shape of mosquito season in the U.S.1

Presumably, Google searchers for mosquitoes increase as mosquitoes ramp up their activity in any given area. Using this premise, The Washington Post found that mosquito searchers shoot up in May and increase steadily through July, then drop off throughout the coming fall and winter months.

In the U.S., mosquito season is viewed as more of an itchy nuisance than a health threat, but that has changed somewhat this year, at least perceptually.

Fears of Zika virus, which some believe may be associated with suspected cases of the birth defect microcephaly, started in Brazil and have quickly spread throughout the U.S. But are such fears warranted?

Zika Virus Threat

Experts Admit Zika Threat Risk ‘Near Zero’

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would provide $622 million to fight Zika virus. Yet, by White House estimates, this is “woefully inadequate.” They’ve recommended directing $1.9 billion to fight this latest declared public health emergency

But mosquito experts are questioning the extent of emergency that actually exists. Chris Barker, Ph.D. a mosquito-borne virus researcher at the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, told WebMD:2

“I think the risk for Zika actually setting up transmission cycles that become established in the continental U.S. is near zero.”

Barker expects Zika to go the way of other tropical diseases spread by mosquitoes, such as dengue fever and chikungunya, in the U.S. with perhaps small clusters of outbreaks in southern states and little activity elsewhere.

Even in the Florida Keys (Florida, along with Louisiana and Texas, is said to be one of the states most at risk of mosquito-borne illnesses), the Monroe County Tourist Development Council reported:3

“Dengue fever, chikungunya and Zika viruses are currently not a health threat in the Florida Keys including Key West …

There has never been a report of a locally acquired case of chikungunya or Zika anywhere in the Florida Keys, according to officials at the Florida Department of Health in Monroe County.”

No Locally Transmitted Cases of Zika Virus Reported in U.S.

As of May 25, 2016, Zika has not been spread by mosquitoes anywhere in the continental U.S.4 Calls to control the Aedes mosquitoes, which may carry Zika, have increased nonetheless, including in New York state, where experts say the risk of local transmission is low.

Laura Harrington, Ph.D., chair of Entomology at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York told WebMD:5

“Here in New York state, there’s been a lot of pressure placed on mosquito-control districts to do as much as they can. And, they’re really strapped for resources, and there’s not a huge risk of transmission … ”

Maps released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show it’s possible for Aedes mosquitoes to travel as far north as New York, Ohio, Kansas, Missouri and California. According to Harrington, the maps are inaccurate and causing unnecessary hysteria. Harrington continued:6

“They’re showing this mosquito in places where there’s no way you’re going to find them … It’s really unfortunate, because it’s causing a lot of hysteria in places where people should be focusing on other health issues, like Lyme disease.”

GE Mosquitoes to Fight Zika Virus?

Biotech company Oxitec has created genetically engineered (GE) mosquitoes that carry a “genetic kill switch.” When they mate with wild female mosquitoes, their offspring inherit the lethal gene and cannot survive.7

To achieve this feat, Oxitec has inserted protein fragments from the herpes virus, E. coli bacteria, coral and cabbage into the insects. The GE mosquitoes have proven lethal to native mosquito populations.

In the Cayman Islands, for instance, 96 percent of native mosquitoes were suppressed after more than 3 million GE mosquitoes were released in the area, with similar results reported in Brazil.8

Oxitec is seeking to release the GE mosquitoes in the U.S. to fight Zika, but as pointed out by Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston to USA Today, the GE mosquitoes have not been shown to reduce rates of diseases such as Zika.9

The GE mosquitoes may also prove to be too expensive for areas that are plagued with mosquito-borne diseases.

Environmental red flags have also been raised. The potential exists for these foreign genes, which hop from one place to another, to infect human blood by finding entry through skin lesions or inhaled dust.

Such transmission could potentially wreak havoc with the human genome by creating “insertion mutations” and other unpredictable types of DNA damage.10

And according to Todd Shelly, an entomologist for the Agriculture Department in Hawaii, 3.5 percent of the GE insects in a laboratory test survived to adulthood despite presumably carrying the lethal gene.11

It’s important to remember, too, that Oxitec wants emergency approval based on the supposed threat of a disease that has yet to have even one locally transmitted case.

Biotech Company Calls for ‘Emergency Approval’ of Controversial GE Mosquitoes

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has agreed with an environmental assessment submitted by Oxitec12 and stated that GE mosquitoes will not have a significant impact on the environment. Technically, this is referred to as a “finding of no significant impact” (FONSI).13

The FDA’s report is only preliminary, but Oxitec wants the FDA to throw caution to the wind and give the GE mosquitoes emergency approval in order to fight the Zika virus.

If approved, Oxitec, in partnership with the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District (FKMCD), plans to release the GE mosquitoes, which go by the name of OX513A, in Key Haven, Florida, an island of the Florida Keys located about 1 mile east of Key West.

More than 270,000 people have submitted comments criticizing the FDA’s environmental assessment, and numerous environmental groups are calling for the agency to conduct a more thorough review of the GE mosquitoes’ risks. Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said:14

“The FDA really missed the mark on this one … The agency seems so eager to speed the process along that they have failed to do a real review of the potential risks, and are ignoring widespread concern in the community where the release will happen.”

No Permits Required to Spray Near Water

A Clean Water Act permit is generally required to spray pesticides in areas where they might end up in water. The permit is intended to keep the toxic chemicals from contaminating water, but now the Zika virus has been used as an excuse to do away with this common-sense precaution.

The language was inserted into the Zika Vector Control Act, which was passed by the House of Representatives. It would exempt pesticide applicators from needing a Clean Water Act permit, even when spraying near water.

Critics argued the bill would do little to help fight Zika virus, since mosquito-control agencies already have authority to apply pesticides in emergency situations to prevent the spread of infectious disease without applying for permits.

Opponents say the bill has nothing to do with combatting Zika and, instead has been on the table for years, with the majority pushing for its passage “under whatever name” was convenient at the time.15

Aerial Mosquito Spraying Linked to Increased Risk of Autism

Greed is pushing for a number of potentially dangerous “solutions” to combat mosquitoes and related diseases. By removing requirements for permits when spraying pesticides near water, it’s likely the use of these chemicals will skyrocket, including via aerial spraying.

Unfortunately, many may suffer as a result. In research presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies 2016 Meeting, aerial pesticide exposure was linked to an increased risk of developmental delays and autism spectrum disorder among children.16 The study compared children living in zip codes where aerial pesticide spraying was used each summer to combat mosquitoes that carry the eastern equine encephalitis virus, with children living in non-aerial-spraying zip codes.

Children exposed to the aerial pesticide spraying were about 25 percent more likely to be diagnosed with autism or have a documented developmental delay than those living in areas that used other methods of pesticide application (such as manual spreading of granules).

If authorities use the supposed threat of Zika to increase aerial spraying, it could increase children’s risk of brain disorders, which is the opposite of what anti-Zika campaigns are supposed to achieve.

Are There Other Potential Explanations for an Increase in Microcephaly?

It’s possible Zika-carrying mosquitoes could be involved in suspected cases of microcephaly, but there are other factors that should be considered as well. For starters, the outbreak occurred in a largely poverty-stricken agricultural area of Brazil that uses large amounts of banned pesticides.

Between these factors and the lack of sanitation and widespread vitamin A and zinc deficiency, you already have the basic framework for an increase in poor health outcomes among newborn infants in that area. Environmental pollution and toxic pesticide exposure have been positively linked to a wide array of adverse health effects, including birth defects. For instance:

  • Vitamin A deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of microcephaly
  • The CDC lists malnutrition and exposure to toxic chemicals as known risk factors
  • The CDC also notes certain infections during pregnancy, including rubella, cytomegalovirus, toxoplasmosis, and others are risk factors

Natural Ways to Repel Mosquitoes

Many experts agree that the threat of an epidemic outbreak of Zika virus on continental U.S. soil is virtually nonexistent. So you needn’t go dousing your backyard in chemicals in an attempt to stay safe from the Zika virus (whose connection to birth defects is still being explored). If however, mosquitoes are bothersome for you, there are some steps you can take to encourage them to live elsewhere.

Draining standing water, including pet bowls, gutters, garbage and recycling bins, spare tires, bird baths, children’s toys and so on, is important. This is where mosquitoes breed, so if you eliminate standing water you’ll eliminate many mosquitoes. Planting marigolds around your yard also works as a bug repellent because the flowers give off a fragrance that bugs do not like. This is a great way to ward off mosquitoes without using chemical insecticides.

A simple house fan could also help keep mosquitoes at bay if you’re having a get-together in your backyard or, for a longer-term solution, try installing a bat house (bats are voracious consumers of insects, especially mosquitoes).

It’s best to avoid using bug zappers in your yard, as these may actually attract more mosquitoes while killing beneficial insects. Insect foggers designed to clear insects out of your backyard should also be avoided, as they require the use of strong, potentially harmful, pesticides and don’t offer lasting protection.

Even those clip-on repellents and fans that are widely sold are best avoided, as they contain even more toxic ingredients than repellents that can be applied to your skin, and they pose an inhalation hazard.17

Some experts also recommend supplementing with one vitamin B1 tablet a day from April through October, and then adding 100 mg of B1 to a B-100 Complex daily during the mosquito season to make you less attractive to mosquitoes. Regularly consuming garlic may also help protect against mosquito bites, as may the following natural insect repellants:

  • Cinnamon leaf oil (one study found it was more effective at killing mosquitoes than DEET18)
  • Clear liquid vanilla extract mixed with olive oil
  • Wash with citronella soap, and then put some 100 percent pure citronella essential oil on your skin. Java citronella is considered the highest quality citronella on the market
  • Catnip oil (according to one study, this oil is 10 times more effective than DEET19)

The Economy and Success According to Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.


Nobel Peace Prize nominee and Zen Buddhist master, Thich Nhat Hanh has a very different theory about why our ecosystems are dying and our financial systems are crumbling. The Vietnamese monk credited with bringing mindfulness to the West believes that our desperation to succeed at all costs fuels our voracious economic system. An innumerable number of worldly ‘sicknesses’ come from this singular philosophical vice.

On one of Hanh’s Facebook posts he said, “Each one of us has to ask ourselves, What do I really want? Do I really want to be Number One? Or do I want to be happy? If you want success, you may sacrifice your happiness for it. You can become a victim of success, but you can never become a victim of happiness.”

Thay – as his followers call him, is no stranger to the ideology of the movers and shakers in our world economy. He was invited to speak in Silicon Valley by Steve Jobs once, and has met with the World Bank president Jim Yong Kim.  He has also met with senior Google engineers to discuss how they could develop technologies which could be more compassionate and bring about positive change, instead of increasing people’s stress and isolation, taking them away from nature, and one another.

He recently explained his concern with how people pin their happiness on success in an interview with the Guardian.

“If you know how to practice mindfulness you can generate peace and joy right here, right now. And you’ll appreciate that and it will change you. In the beginning, you believe that if you cannot become number one, you cannot be happy, but if you practice mindfulness you will readily release that kind of idea. We need not fear that mindfulness might become only a means and not an end because in mindfulness the means and the end are the same thing. There is no way to happiness; happiness is the way.”

Thay warns, however, that practicing mindfulness just to be more productive at work, or only to enjoy more material success will leave the practitioner with a pale shadow of awareness compared to what true mindfulness can provide. He suggests,

 thich-nhat-hanh-copy

“If you consider mindfulness as a means of having a lot of money, then you have not touched its true purpose. It may look like the practice of mindfulness but inside there’s no peace, no joy, no happiness produced. It’s just an imitation. If you don’t feel the energy of brotherhood, of sisterhood, radiating from your work, that is not mindfulness.”

As company executives in banking, oil production, agriculture, manufacturing, tech, and other fields strive to be successful, are they missing out on the true peace that might come from preserving an ecosystem, or helping to protect biodiversity? Are these titans of industry reflective of our social and political slant toward ever-increasing spending, a lack of accountability fiscally and environmentally, and the disassociation workers feel from their families and friends while constantly trying to work harder and earn more?

Thay says that all businesses should be conducted in such a way that all the employees can experience happiness. He says that helping to change society for the better can fill us with a sense of accomplishment that doesn’t come from focusing purely on profits.

When top CEOs make 300% more than their workers, and include stock incentives, luxury cars, and healthy expense accounts, how can balance truly be upheld?

When the world’s top 3,000 firms are responsible for over $2.2 trillion in environmental damage, how can we find joy from nature?

When even Facebook cofounder Dustin Moskovitz, who now heads up the software firm Asana calls out the tech industry for a lack of work-life balance, how can anyone find time to practice mindfulness or meditation?

Furthermore, even loss of life is acceptable in the name of profits. The ‘business’ of war has allowed the 100 largest contractors to sell more than $410 billion in arms and military services. Just 10 of those companies sold over $208 billion – while providing the means to kill millions.

Is it any wonder employees are broke, stressed out, and burned out from a lack of balance, no connection with other people, and an incessant work flow that promises very little reward, either financial or otherwise, from their toil?

Then there is the debt-based financial system of the Federal Reserve, propping up this entire show.

But the truth is that we don’t actually need the Federal Reserve.  In fact, the greatest period of economic growth in United States history happened during the decades before the Federal Reserve was created.

We also don’t need CEOs who make 300 times what their employees do, or ridiculous government policies which allow the notion of corporations as people, while ignoring the basic needs of real people.

Our courts have extended constitutional protections to the most unconscious among us, preserving a way of life that does not allow true happiness. Our constant aim for success has warped our original goal – to be happy. Isn’t that why people want more money, more power, and more ‘things.’ But as Thay says, this is a false way to attain happiness.

What this quiet Zen monk is trying to tell us is that our entire society is upside down. Our economic system protects mindlessness, not mindfulness.

He says that the primary affliction of our modern civilization is that we don’t know how to handle the suffering inside us and so we attempt to cover it up with all kinds of consumption.

Retailers peddle a host of devices to help us cover up the suffering inside. But unless and until we’re able to face our suffering, we can’t be present and available to life, and happiness will continue to elude us.

How do we change our economic policies so that all employees can be happy? It might help to look at our true goals. It might help to acknowledge the pain we’ve caused thousands of people by perpetuating war for the sake of profits. Success doesn’t automatically equal happiness, not if the definition of success only includes the bottom line.

We can measure success by our fulfillment in life, by the people we’ve been able to touch with our good deeds, or a mindful interaction, by having friends, experiencing love, being able to walk in a forest, or learn how to play a musical instrument.

Perhaps the true goal should be peacefulness instead of happiness, even. As Hanh has said,

 “If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society will benefit from our peace.” This could be our new definition of success.

 

Study finds the birth control pill has a pretty terrible impact on women’s wellbeing


So, how’s that male pill coming along?

 

A new study has reinforced what many women have been saying for years – the oral contraceptive pill is associated with reduced quality of life and wellbeing in healthy women.

The double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trial found that healthy women reported reduced quality of life, mood, and physical wellbeing after taking a common birth control pill containing ethinylestradiol and levonorgestrel for three months.

 The findings reinforce earlier research and anecdotal claims that women are struggling with the side effects of the contraceptive pill.

But there was no significant evidence that the contraceptive increased depressive symptoms in the latest study… so, there’s that.

Surprisingly, this is one of the most rigorous studies to date to look into the impact of the pill on women’s quality of life.

“Despite the fact that an estimated 100 million women around the world use contraceptive pills we know surprisingly little today about the pill’s effect on women’s health,” said lead researcher Angelica Lindén Hirschberg from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden.

“The scientific base is very limited as regards the contraceptive pill’s effect on quality of life and depression and there is a great need for randomised studies where it is compared with placebos.”

To fix that, her team took 340 healthy women aged between 18 and 35 and gave them either placebo pills, or contraceptive pills containing ethinylestradiol and levonorgestrel over a three-month period.

 Ethinylestradiol and levonorgestrel-containing pills are among the most common form of combined oral contraceptive pills around the world because they’re the least associated with a risk of blood clots, and they include brand names such as LevlenMicrogynonPortia, and Alesse.

The study was double blind, which meant that neither the researchers giving out the pills or the women taking them knew whether they were getting a placebo or not.

At the start of the study, the women had their general health measured, including weight, height, and blood pressure.

They also filled out two well-known surveys on general wellbeing and depressive symptoms – the Psychological General Wellbeing Index and the Beck Depression Inventory.

They then went through the same tests at the end of the three months so the researchers could compare the results.

The women who were given contraceptive pills reported that their quality of life was significantly lower at the end of the study than those who were given placebos.

This was true for general quality of life and also specific aspects of wellbeing, such as self control and energy levels.

No significant increase in depressive symptoms was observed.

While it’s an interesting first step towards better measuring the pills’ side effects, the researchers caution that the changes were relatively small so we can’t read too much into them just yet. And we can only apply these findings to ethinylestradiol and levonorgestrel-containg pills.

Also, the study only looked at women over three months – it will require longer monitoring to get a more accurate idea of how the contraceptive pill affects women.

“This might in some cases be a contributing cause of low compliance and irregular use of contraceptive pills,” said one of the researchers, Niklas Zethraeus.

“This possible degradation of quality of life should be paid attention to and taken into account in conjunction with prescribing of contraceptive pills and when choosing a method of contraception.”

With recent research also providing insight into why periods can be so damn painful and heavy, it seems scientists are finally starting to take women’s reproductive health and contraceptive side effects seriously.

And we’re getting some male options too – scientists are making progress with a hormonal contraceptive injection for men, as well as a reversible, condom-free gel that blocks sperm.

More research is needed before we can identify more accurately how the pill impacts women, but these early results are reassuring for many women who’ve struggled with side effects while on the pill.

Source:Fertility and Sterility.

Men use sexist and homophobic jokes due to insecurity over their masculinity, study claims


They feel the need to reaffirm their own sense of self

There is a certain man who thinks it’s funny to suggest a woman get back in the kitchen. Or tells her not to cry when something goes slightly awry. Or asks whether it’s her ‘time of the month’ if she’s annoyed.

Those men – well, they’re many things – but according to a new study, men who make sexist jokes are probably just insecure about their masculinity.

In news that will come as little surprise to many, science has proven that men who use sexist and anti-gay humour do so to reaffirm their own sense of self, particularly when they feel their masculinity is being threatened.

Disparaging jokes are often used to reinforce one’s position as part of an in-group by clearly separating them from an out-group.

Researchers from the Western Carolina University in the US conducted two experiments with 387 heterosexual men.

The participants completed online tests to reveal their personalities, social attitudes and prejudice levels against women and gay men.

In the questionnaire, the men were asked how much they agreed with various statements such as “Women seek to gain power by getting control over men” and “Once a woman gets a man to commit to her, she usually tries to put him on a tight leash.”

The men’s preferred type of humour was then also deciphered, as well as whether they thought their humour would help others form a more accurate impression of them.

The results of the study suggest that men who hold more precarious manhood beliefs – particularly when they feel their masculinity as defined by typical gender norms is being challenged – are more likely to use sexist and anti-gay jokes to provide self-affirmation.

“Men higher in precarious manhood beliefs expressed amusement with sexist and anti-gay humour in response to a masculinity threat because they believe it reaffirms an accurate, more masculine impression of them,” lead study author Emma O’Connor explained.

“It appears that by showing amusement with sexist and anti-gay humour, such men can distance themselves from the traits they want to disconfirm,” she says.

The researchers hope that the findings of the study will help prevent such humour occurring, particularly in the workplace.

“Work settings where women occupy positions of authority might inherently trigger masculinity threats for men higher in precarious manhood beliefs and thus sexist joking,” says O’Connor, who adds that sexist jokes and teasing are two of the most common forms of sexual harassment women face at work.

“Given the social protection afforded to humour as a medium for communicating disparagement, it is possible that men use sexist humour in the workplace as a ‘safe’ way to reaffirm their threatened masculinity,” explains O’Connor.

But she believes that if managers better understood how and why such harassment occurs, they’d be able to prevent and handle it more effectively.

“For instance, they might more closely monitor workplace settings that could trigger masculinity threats and subsequent sexist joking, or they might attempt to reduce the extent to which men perceive masculinity threats in those settings in the first place.”

The Case Against Reality.


A professor of cognitive science argues that the world is nothing like the one we experience through our senses..

As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions—sights, sounds, textures, tastes—are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it—or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion—we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.

Not so, says Donald D. Hoffman, a professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Irvine. Hoffman has spent the past three decades studying perception, artificial intelligence, evolutionary game theory and the brain, and his conclusion is a dramatic one: The world presented to us by our perceptions is nothing like reality. What’s more, he says, we have evolution itself to thank for this magnificent illusion, as it maximizes evolutionary fitness by driving truth to extinction.

Getting at questions about the nature of reality, and disentangling the observer from the observed, is an endeavor that straddles the boundaries of neuroscience and fundamental physics. On one side you’ll find researchers scratching their chins raw trying to understand how a three-pound lump of gray matter obeying nothing more than the ordinary laws of physics can give rise to first-person conscious experience. This is the aptly named “hard problem.”

On the other side are quantum physicists, marveling at the strange fact that quantum systems don’t seem to be definite objects localized in space until we come along to observe them. Experiment after experiment has shown—defying common sense—that if we assume that the particles that make up ordinary objects have an objective, observer-independent existence, we get the wrong answers. The central lesson of quantum physics is clear: There are no public objects sitting out there in some preexisting space. As the physicist John Wheeler put it, “Useful as it is under ordinary circumstances to say that the world exists ‘out there’ independent of us, that view can no longer be upheld.”

So while neuroscientists struggle to understand how there can be such a thing as a first-person reality, quantum physicists have to grapple with the mystery of how there can be anything but a first-person reality. In short, all roads lead back to the observer. And that’s where you can find Hoffman—straddling the boundaries, attempting a mathematical model of the observer, trying to get at the reality behind the illusion. Quanta Magazine caught up with him to find out more.


Gefter: People often use Darwinian evolution as an argument that our perceptions accurately reflect reality. They say, “Obviously we must be latching onto reality in some way because otherwise we would have been wiped out a long time ago. If I think I’m seeing a palm tree but it’s really a tiger, I’m in trouble.”

Hoffman: Right. The classic argument is that those of our ancestors who saw more accurately had a competitive advantage over those who saw less accurately and thus were more likely to pass on their genes that coded for those more accurate perceptions, so after thousands of generations we can be quite confident that we’re the offspring of those who saw accurately, and so we see accurately. That sounds very plausible. But I think it is utterly false. It misunderstands the fundamental fact about evolution, which is that it’s about fitness functions—mathematical functions that describe how well a given strategy achieves the goals of survival and reproduction. The mathematical physicist Chetan Prakash proved a theorem that I devised that says: According to evolution by natural selection, an organism that sees reality as it is will never be more fit than an organism of equal complexity that sees none of reality but is just tuned to fitness. Never.

Gefter: You’ve done computer simulations to show this. Can you give an example?

Hoffman: Suppose in reality there’s a resource, like water, and you can quantify how much of it there is in an objective order—very little water, medium amount of water, a lot of water. Now suppose your fitness function is linear, so a little water gives you a little fitness, medium water gives you medium fitness, and lots of water gives you lots of fitness—in that case, the organism that sees the truth about the water in the world can win, but only because the fitness function happens to align with the true structure in reality. Generically, in the real world, that will never be the case. Something much more natural is a bell curve—say, too little water you die of thirst, but too much water you drown, and only somewhere in between is good for survival. Now the fitness function doesn’t match the structure in the real world. And that’s enough to send truth to extinction. For example, an organism tuned to fitness might see small and large quantities of some resource as, say, red, to indicate low fitness, whereas they might see intermediate quantities as green, to indicate high fitness. Its perceptions will be tuned to fitness, but not to truth. It won’t see any distinction between small and large—it only sees red—even though such a distinction exists in reality.

Gefter: But how can seeing a false reality be beneficial to an organism’s survival?

Hoffman: There’s a metaphor that’s only been available to us in the past 30 or 40 years, and that’s the desktop interface. Suppose there’s a blue rectangular icon on the lower right corner of your computer’s desktop — does that mean that the file itself is blue and rectangular and lives in the lower right corner of your computer? Of course not. But those are the only things that can be asserted about anything on the desktop — it has color, position, and shape. Those are the only categories available to you, and yet none of them are true about the file itself or anything in the computer. They couldn’t possibly be true. That’s an interesting thing. You could not form a true description of the innards of the computer if your entire view of reality was confined to the desktop. And yet the desktop is useful. That blue rectangular icon guides my behavior, and it hides a complex reality that I don’t need to know. That’s the key idea. Evolution has shaped us with perceptions that allow us to survive. They guide adaptive behaviors. But part of that involves hiding from us the stuff we don’t need to know. And that’s pretty much all of reality, whatever reality might be. If you had to spend all that time figuring it out, the tiger would eat you.

Gefter: So everything we see is one big illusion?

Hoffman: We’ve been shaped to have perceptions that keep us alive, so we have to take them seriously. If I see something that I think of as a snake, I don’t pick it up. If I see a train, I don’t step in front of it. I’ve evolved these symbols to keep me alive, so I have to take them seriously. But it’s a logical flaw to think that if we have to take it seriously, we also have to take it literally.

Gefter: If snakes aren’t snakes and trains aren’t trains, what are they?

Hoffman: Snakes and trains, like the particles of physics, have no objective, observer-independent features. The snake I see is a description created by my sensory system to inform me of the fitness consequences of my actions. Evolution shapes acceptable solutions, not optimal ones. A snake is an acceptable solution to the problem of telling me how to act in a situation. My snakes and trains are my mental representations; your snakes and trains are your mental representations.

Gefter: How did you first become interested in these ideas?

Hoffman: As a teenager, I was very interested in the question “Are we machines?” My reading of the science suggested that we are. But my dad was a minister, and at church they were saying we’re not. So I decided I needed to figure it out for myself. It’s sort of an important personal question—if I’m a machine, I would like to find that out! And if I’m not, I’d like to know, what is that special magic beyond the machine? So eventually in the 1980s I went to the artificial-intelligence lab at MIT and worked on machine perception. The field of vision research was enjoying a newfound success in developing mathematical models for specific visual abilities. I noticed that they seemed to share a common mathematical structure, so I thought it might be possible to write down a formal structure for observation that encompassed all of them, perhaps all possible modes of observation. I was inspired in part by Alan Turing. When he invented the Turing machine, he was trying to come up with a notion of computation, and instead of putting bells and whistles on it, he said, Let’s get the simplest, most pared down mathematical description that could possibly work. And that simple formalism is the foundation for the science of computation. So I wondered, could I provide a similarly simple formal foundation for the science of observation?

Gefter: A mathematical model of consciousness.

Hoffman: That’s right. My intuition was, there are conscious experiences. I have pains, tastes, smells, all my sensory experiences, moods, emotions and so forth. So I’m just going to say: One part of this consciousness structure is a set of all possible experiences. When I’m having an experience, based on that experience I may want to change what I’m doing. So I need to have a collection of possible actions I can take and a decision strategy that, given my experiences, allows me to change how I’m acting. That’s the basic idea of the whole thing. I have a space Xof experiences, a space G of actions, and an algorithm D that lets me choose a new action given my experiences. Then I posited a W for a world, which is also a probability space. Somehow the world affects my perceptions, so there’s a perception map from the world to my experiences, and when I act, I change the world, so there’s a map from the space of actions to the world. That’s the entire structure. Six elements. The claim is: This is the structure of consciousness. I put that out there so people have something to shoot at.

Gefter: But if there’s a W, are you saying there is an external world?

Hoffman: Here’s the striking thing about that. I can pull the W out of the model and stick a conscious agent in its place and get a circuit of conscious agents. In fact, you can have whole networks of arbitrary complexity. And that’s the world.

Gefter: The world is just other conscious agents?

Hoffman: I call it conscious realism: Objective reality is just conscious agents, just points of view. Interestingly, I can take two conscious agents and have them interact, and the mathematical structure of that interaction also satisfies the definition of a conscious agent. This mathematics is telling me something. I can take two minds, and they can generate a new, unified single mind. Here’s a concrete example. We have two hemispheres in our brain. But when you do a split-brain operation, a complete transection of the corpus callosum, you get clear evidence of two separate consciousnesses. Before that slicing happened, it seemed there was a single unified consciousness. So it’s not implausible that there is a single conscious agent. And yet it’s also the case that there are two conscious agents there, and you can see that when they’re split. I didn’t expect that, the mathematics forced me to recognize this. It suggests that I can take separate observers, put them together and create new observers, and keep doing this ad infinitum. It’s conscious agents all the way down.

Gefter: If it’s conscious agents all the way down, all first-person points of view, what happens to science? Science has always been a third-person description of the world.

Hoffman: The idea that what we’re doing is measuring publicly accessible objects, the idea that objectivity results from the fact that you and I can measure the same object in the exact same situation and get the same results — it’s very clear from quantum mechanics that that idea has to go. Physics tells us that there are no public physical objects. So what’s going on? Here’s how I think about it. I can talk to you about my headache and believe that I am communicating effectively with you, because you’ve had your own headaches. The same thing is true as apples and the moon and the sun and the universe. Just like you have your own headache, you have your own moon. But I assume it’s relevantly similar to mine. That’s an assumption that could be false, but that’s the source of my communication, and that’s the best we can do in terms of public physical objects and objective science.

Gefter: It doesn’t seem like many people in neuroscience or philosophy of mind are thinking about fundamental physics. Do you think that’s been a stumbling block for those trying to understand consciousness?

Hoffman: I think it has been. Not only are they ignoring the progress in fundamental physics, they are often explicit about it. They’ll say openly that quantum physics is not relevant to the aspects of brain function that are causally involved in consciousness. They are certain that it’s got to be classical properties of neural activity, which exist independent of any observers—spiking rates, connection strengths at synapses, perhaps dynamical properties as well. These are all very classical notions under Newtonian physics, where time is absolute and objects exist absolutely. And then [neuroscientists] are mystified as to why they don’t make progress. They don’t avail themselves of the incredible insights and breakthroughs that physics has made. Those insights are out there for us to use, and yet my field says, “We’ll stick with Newton, thank you. We’ll stay 300 years behind in our physics.”

Gefter: I suspect they’re reacting to things like Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff’s model, where you still have a physical brain, it’s still sitting in space, but supposedly it’s performing some quantum feat. In contrast, you’re saying, “Look, quantum mechanics is telling us that we have to question the very notions of ‘physical things’ sitting in ‘space.’”

Hoffman: I think that’s absolutely true. The neuroscientists are saying, “We don’t need to invoke those kind of quantum processes, we don’t need quantum wave functions collapsing inside neurons, we can just use classical physics to describe processes in the brain.” I’m emphasizing the larger lesson of quantum mechanics: Neurons, brains, space … these are just symbols we use, they’re not real. It’s not that there’s a classical brain that does some quantum magic. It’s that there’s no brain! Quantum mechanics says that classical objects—including brains—don’t exist. So this is a far more radical claim about the nature of reality and does not involve the brain pulling off some tricky quantum computation. So even Penrose hasn’t taken it far enough. But most of us, you know, we’re born realists. We’re born physicalists. This is a really, really hard one to let go of.

Gefter: To return to the question you started with as a teenager, are we machines?

Hoffman: The formal theory of conscious agents I’ve been developing is computationally universal—in that sense, it’s a machine theory. And it’s because the theory is computationally universal that I can get all of cognitive science and neural networks back out of it. Nevertheless, for now I don’t think we are machines—in part because I distinguish between the mathematical representation and the thing being represented. As a conscious realist, I am postulating conscious experiences as ontological primitives, the most basic ingredients of the world. I’m claiming that experiences are the real coin of the realm. The experiences of everyday life—my real feeling of a headache, my real taste of chocolate—that really is the ultimate nature of reality.


Source: Quanta Magazine.