Yoga is more dangerous than previously thought and causes as many injuries as other sports, a study has found.
The 5,000 year-old Indian discipline is said to boost physical and mental wellbeing, and celebrity fans include Beyonce, Lady Gaga and Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen – as well as David and Victoria Beckham.
However, in a recent study yoga caused musculoskeletal pain – mostly in the arms – in more than one in ten participants.
The scientists behind the research, which was published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, also found that the practice worsened over a fifth of existing injuries.
Professor Evangelos Pappas, of Sydney University, the study’s lead researcher said: “Yoga may be a bit more dangerous than previously thought.
“Our study found the incidence of pain caused by yoga is more than 10 percent per year – which is comparable to the rate of all sports injuries combined among the physically active population.
“However people consider it to be a very safe activity. This injury rate is up to 10 times higher than has previously been reported.”
His team assessed more than 350 people who attended yoga classes at two studios in New York.
Yoga is an increasingly popular complementary or alternative therapy for musculoskeletal disorders, with millions of people practising worldwide.
Prof Pappas said: “While yoga can be beneficial for musculoskeletal pain, like any form of exercise, it can also result in musculoskeletal pain.”
He added: “We also found yoga can exacerbate existing pain, with 21 per cent of existing injuries made worse by doing yoga, particularly pre-existing musculoskeletal pain in the upper limbs.
In terms of severity, more than one-third of cases of pain caused by yoga were serious enough to prevent yoga participation and lasted more than 3 months.
“The study found that most ‘new’ yoga pain was in the upper extremities – shoulder, elbow, wrist, hand – possibly due to downward dog and similar postures that put weight on the upper limbs.”
The study conducted with Prof Marc Campo from Mercy College, New York, asked participants to complete an electronic questionnaire at the start of the project and again one year later.
Outcomes included incidence and impact of pain caused by yoga and prevalence of pain caused, exacerbated, unaffected, and improved by the ancient practice.
Prof Pappas said: “It’s not all bad news, however, as 74 per cent of participants in the study reported that existing pain was improved by yoga, highlighting the complex relationship between musculoskeletal pain andyoga practice.
“These findings can be useful for clinicians and individuals to compare the risks of yoga to other exercise enabling them to make informed decisions about which types of activity are best.
“Pain caused by yoga might be prevented by careful performance and participants telling their yoga teachers of injuries they may have prior to participation, as well as informing their healthcare professionals about their yoga practice.
“We recommend that yoga teachers also discuss with their students the risks for injury if not practised conscientiously, and the potential for yoga to exacerbate some injuries.
“Yoga participants are encouraged to discuss the risks of injury and any pre-existing pain, especially in the upper limbs, with yoga teachers and physiotherapists to explore posture modifications that may results in safer practice.”
The main components of yoga are postures, a series of movements designed to increase strength, flexibility and breathing.
It’s now commonplace in leisure centres, health clubs, schools, hospitals and surgeries.
There’s some evidence that regular yoga practice is beneficial for people with high blood pressure, heart disease, aches and pains – including lower back pain – depression and stress.
The NHS says most forms of yoga are not strenuous enough to count towards your 150 minutes of moderate activity, as set out by government guidelines.
However, yoga does count as a strengthening exercise, and at least two sessions a week will help you meet the guidelines on muscle-strengthening activities.
Activities such as yoga and tai chi are also recommended to older adults at risk of falls to help improve balance and co-ordination.
The word called cancer is a lie…You might not believe this but cancer is not a disease; it is a business.Cancer consists of only a deficiency of vitamin B17. It is nothing else.Cancer has become widespread; it has affected the old, young, baby and everyone.Sharing this wonderful post will expose many of the hidden hands of the world’s manipulators and annoy them.
Do you know that the book “World Without Cancer” has up till now been prevented from being translated into many world languages?
Know this: there is no disease called cancer. Cancer consists of only a deficiency of vitamin B17. It is nothing else.
Avoid chemotherapy, surgery and or taking medicines with strong side effects.
You would recall that in the past, quite a large number of seamen lost their life to a named disease (scurvy); a disease that took the life of numerous people as well. And a number of people got an enormous income from it. Afterwards, it was discovered that scurvy was just a deficiency of vitamin C. That means it wasn’t a disease (illness).
Cancer is also just like that! The colonizing world and the enemies of humanity established the cancer industry and made it into a business. from which they earn billions in income.
The cancer industry flourished after world war II. To fight cancer, all these delays, details and enormous expenditures are not needed. They only go to line the pockets of colonizers, especially since the cure for the condition was found long ago.
The prevention and cure of cancer will be obtained simply through the following strategies:
Those who have cancer should first try to know what cancer is. Do not panic! You should investigate the condition.
Nowadays does anyone die of an illness called scurvy? No. Because it gets cured.
Since cancer is only a deficiency of vitamin B17, eating 15 to 20 pieces of apricot stone/nucleus (fruit stone) everyday is enough.
Eat wheat bud (wheat sprouts). Wheat bud is a miraculous anti-cancer medicine. It is a rich source of liquid oxygen and the strongest anti-cancer matter named laetrile. This matter is present in the fruit stone of apple and is the extracted form of vitamin B17 (Amygdalin).
The American medicinal industry has started implementing the law forbidding laetrile production. This medicine is being manufactured in Mexico and gets smuggled into USA.
Dr. Harold W. Manner, in a book named “Death of Cancer” has stated that the success of cancer treatment with laetrile is as high as above 90%.
Sources of Amygdalin (Vitamin B17)
The foods containing vitamin B17 include the following:
-The fruit stone or grain(seed) of fruits. This contains the highest amount of vitamin B17 in nature. This includes fruit stone of apple, apricot, peach, pear, and prune (dried plum).
-Common beans, corns(grains), which include bean, lentil sprout (lentil bud) Lima (Lima beans) and pea.
-Kernels: Bitter Almond (Richest source of vitamin B-17 in nature) and Indian almond.
-Mulberries: almost all mulberries such as black mulberry, blueberry, raspberry and strawberry.
-Seeds (Grains): sesame and linseed (seed of linen/flax seed).
-Groats of oats, barley, brown rice, groats of block wheat, linseed, millet and rye.
This vitamin is found in grains and fruit stones of apricot, brewer’s yeast, rough rice (paddy) and sweetmeat pumpkin.
List of Anti-Cancer Foods
•seeds from other fruits like apples, cherries, peaches, prunes, plums, pears
All are the highest sources of absorbable vitamin B17.
Ingesting dish washing liquids (used in the kitchen) and hand washing liquid (used in the restroom) is the main cancer causing factor so your eating of them should be restricted.You will surely say that we do not eat them!
However, you daily wash your hands with hand washing liquid and wash your plates with dish washing liquid.The liquid is absorbed and will not leave the plate with washing. When cooking or eating food, the soap in the plate or dish gets attached to the hot food and so we end up eating the dish washing liquid with our food. Even if you rinse the plate hundreds of times, that will be of no use.
But the solution is to pour half of the dishwashing liquid and hand washing liquid and top it up with vinegar.
It is as simple as that.Do not eat blood cancer causing agents and also save your family from this danger.Similarly, seriously desist from washing vegetables with even a few drops of dishwashing liquid because irrespective of how much you would rinse them, the chemicals would have already entered the tissues of the vegetable and will not get rinsed away.Instead, soak fruits and vegetables with salt and then rinse with water. And to keep them fresh, add vinegar.
I was a clumsy child and had more than my fair share of bumps and knocks. As a result, I was the recipient of a considerable amount of repetitive advice to “rub it better”. My younger self did not regard this as helpful; I wanted the pain gone, now.
A bit of a brat, perhaps, but if you ask people with pain – any kind of pain, be it acute pain after a fall or operation, a headache, or chronic pain like arthritis – what they want from treatment is the same as I wanted all those years ago. Pain gone, now.
There may be something in the idea that rubbing a painful area might actually help. We rub the skin over a painful area almost instinctively. Touch applied at particular frequency can be pleasant. And while there is research that shows that it might help, it is a big jump to demonstrate that rubbing alone is a useful treatment for pain if that pain is moderate or severe.
But what about rubbing something on to a painful area – a cream or a gel? There are all sorts of these. Some aim to cool, some to produce a sense of heat, some contain drugs like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), or capsaicin, an extract of chilli. Some are for acute pain, some for chronic, some you can buy over the counter from the chemist, and others need a prescription. Any large pharmacy has a bewildering array of products. How do you choose? Are any better than just rubbing?
Our obsessive materialism is to blame for mental health crisis
Help comes in the form of a new Cochrane overview review that draws together all the current evidence. The overview pulled together results from 13 Cochrane reviews, with 206 individual trials and around 30,700 participants, to assess the benefits and harms of a range of topical (applied to the skin) painkillers for a range of conditions.
The main outcome was whether people with moderate or severe pain had their pain reduced to no worse than mild pain with treatment. And the comparison was between rubbing on the test medicine and rubbing on a placebo medicine that was identical in every way except that it had no active ingredient. Both were rubbed on in the same way to discount the effects of rubbing itself.
There’s good news and bad
First, the good news. In acute pain conditions, such as strains and sprains, two topical NSAID products, a diclofenac gel (Emulgel) and a ketoprofen gel produced good pain relief in about 70 to 80 per cent of people, which was 40 to 60 per cent more than with placebo. A good result as the pain was reduced from severe to moderate to no worse than mild after about a week. The gel is important, because the same drugs in creams or plasters were not so effective (and there are probably good reasons for that). That’s about it for acute pain products available, with or without prescription.
In chronic pain conditions, the news is less good. For musculoskeletal conditions, like osteoarthritis, ketoprofen and diclofenac gel produced good pain relief – after about two weeks – in just 15 to 20 per cent more people than a placebo gel. (Good pain relief was going from moderate or severe pain to no worse than mild pain.) Curiously, placebo responses were quite high, so when we included the placebo response in the figures we found that 40 per cent to 60 per cent do well with diclofenac or ketoprofen.
There is also a product from chillies (capsaicin at a high eight per cent concentration) that is useful in about 10 per cent of people with nerve pain; but that’s a treatment used by specialists, often in hospital.
For many other rubbed-on products for pain relief (herbal remedies, salicylates, menthols, and some NSAID preparations) we have no evidence or so little evidence that we cannot trust it. It may work, but if you buy it, you have no idea whether you are buying something really good or just wasting your money. Experience suggests the latter, but if you have a remedy you swear by, stick with it. I know a chap who swears by rubbing WD40 on a sore back, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
Rubbed-on painkillers are designed to work locally, however. While there may be some local reactions (such as itching or redness), the good news is that effects on other parts of the body (such as nausea or dyspepsia) and serious side effects (such as bleeding) are rare because blood levels of drugs that are rubbed on are much lower than when they are taken orally.
Do you have anxiety? Have you tried just about everything to get over it, but it just keeps coming back? Perhaps you thought you had got over it, only for the symptoms to return with a vengeance? Whatever your circumstances, science can help you to beat anxiety for good.
Anxiety can present as fear, restlessness, an inability to focus at work or school, finding it hard to fall or stay asleep at night, or getting easily irritated. In social situations, it can make it hard to talk to others; you might feel like you’re constantly being judged, or have symptoms such as stuttering, sweating, blushing or an upset stomach.
It can appear out of the blue as a panic attack, when sudden spikes of anxiety make you feel like you’re about to have a heart attack, go mad or lose control. Or it can be present all the time, as in generalised anxiety disorder, when diffuse and pervasive worry consumes you and you look to the future with dread.
Most people experience it at some point, but if anxiety starts interfering with your life, sleep, ability to form relationships, or productivity at work or school, you might have an anxiety disorder. Research shows that if it’s left untreated, anxiety can lead to depression, early death and suicide. And while it can indeed lead to such serious health consequences, the medication that is prescribed to treat anxiety doesn’t often work in the long-term. Symptoms often return and you’re back where you started.
How science can help
The way you cope or handle things in life has a direct impact on how much anxiety you experience – tweak the way you’re coping, therefore, and you can lower your anxiety levels. Here are some of the top coping skills that have emerged from our study at the University of Cambridge, which will be presented at the 30th European Congress of Neuropsychopharmacology in Paris, and other scientific research.
Do you feel like your life is out of control? Do you find it hard to make decisions – or get things started? Well, one way to overcome indecision or get going on that new project is to “do it badly”.
This may sound strange, but the writer and poet GK Chesterton said that: “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” And he had a point. The reason this works so well is that it speeds up your decision-making process and catapults you straight into action. Otherwise, you could spend hours deciding how you should do something or what you should do, which can be very time-consuming and stressful.
People often want to do something “perfectly” or to wait for the “perfect time” before starting. But this can lead to procrastination, long delays or even prevent us from doing it at all. And that causes stress – and anxiety.
Instead, why not just start by “doing it badly” and without worrying about how it’s going to turn out. This will not only make it much easier to begin, but you’ll also find that you’re completing tasks much more quickly than before. More often than not, you’ll also discover that you’re not doing it that badly after all – even if you are, you can always fine tune it later.
Using “do it badly” as a motto gives you the courage to try new things, adds a little fun to everything, and stops you worrying too much about the outcome. It’s about doing it badly today and improving as you go. Ultimately, it’s about liberation.
Forgive yourself and ‘wait to worry’
Are you particularly critical of yourself and the blunders you make? Well, imagine if you had a friend who constantly pointed out everything that was wrong with you and your life. You’d probably want to get rid of them right away.
But people with anxiety often do this to themselves so frequently that they don’t even realise it anymore. They’re just not kind to themselves.
So perhaps it’s time to change and start forgiving ourselves for the mistakes we make. If you feel like you’ve embarrassed yourself in a situation, don’t criticise yourself – simply realise that you have this impulse to blame yourself, then drop the negative thought and redirect your attention back to the task at hand or whatever you were doing.
Another effective strategy is to “wait to worry”. If something went wrong and you feel compelled to worry (because you think you screwed up), don’t do this immediately. Instead, postpone your worry – set aside 10 minutes each day during which you can worry about anything.
If you do this, you’ll find that you won’t perceive the situation which triggered the initial anxiety to be as bothersome or worrisome when you come back to it later. And our thoughts actually decay very quickly if we don’t feed them with energy.
Find purpose in life by helping others
It’s also worth considering how much of your day is spent with someone else in mind? If it’s very little or none at all, then you’re at a high risk of poor mental health. Regardless of how much we work or the amount of money we make, we can’t be truly happy until we know that someone else needs us and depends on our productivity or love.
This doesn’t mean that we need people’s praise, but doing something with someone else in mind takes the spotlight off of us (and our anxieties and worries) and places it onto others – and how we can make a difference to them.
For people who think there’s nothing to live for, nothing more to expect from life … the question is getting these people to realise that life is still expecting something from them.
Knowing that someone else needs you makes it easier to endure the toughest times. You’ll know the “why” for your existence and will be able to bear almost any “how”.
So how can you make yourself important in someone else’s life? It could be as simple as taking care of a child or elderly parent, volunteering, or finishing work that might benefit future generations. Even if these people never realise what you’ve done for them, it doesn’t matter because youwill know. And this will make you realise the uniqueness and importance of your life.
We often talk about Amazon as though it were a retailer. It’s an understandable mistake. After all, Amazon sells more clothing, electronics, toys, and books than any other company. Last year, Amazon captured nearly $1 of every $2 Americans spent online. As recently as 2015, most people looking to buy something online started at a search engine. Today, a majority go straight to Amazon.
But to describe Amazon as a retailer is to misunderstand what the company actually is, and to miss the depth of the threat that it poses to our liberty and the very idea of an open, competitive market.
It’s not just that Amazon does many things besides sell stuff—that it manufactures thousands of products, from dress shirts to baby wipes, produces hit movies and television shows, delivers restaurant orders, offers loans, and may soon dispense prescription drugs. Jeff Bezos is after something so much bigger than any of this. His vision is for Amazon to control the underlying infrastructure of the economy. Amazon’s website is already the dominant platform for digital commerce. Its Web Services division controls 44 percent of the world’s cloud computing capacity and is relied on by everyone from Netflix to the Central Intelligence Agency. And the company has recently built out a vast network of distribution infrastructure to handle package delivery for itself and others.
Companies that want to reach the market increasingly have no choice but to ride Amazon’s rails. With Prime and digital assistant Alexa, from GE appliances to Ford cars, Bezos has lured a majority of households into making Amazon the default provider of everything they order online. Most Prime members no longercomparison shop. This has forced competitors of all sizes—from major brands like Levi’s and KitchenAid to small-scale producers, e-commerce innovators, and independent brick-and-mortar stores—to abandon the idea of reaching consumers directly. Instead, they have to rely on Amazon’s platform to sell their goods.
Amazon is “a multi-trillion-dollar monopoly hiding in plain sight.”
Amazon exploits this dependence to dictate terms and prices to suppliers, and it uses the data it gathers from companies selling on its platform to weaken them as competitors. A company that designs a popular product and builds a market for it on Amazon’s site can suddenly find that Amazon has introduced a nearly identical version and given it top billing in search results. One study found that, after a retailer becomes a seller on Amazon, it’s only a matter of weeks before Amazon brings the merchant’s most popular items into its own inventory.
Being both a direct retailer and a platform for other sellers gives Amazon novel weapons for shaking down suppliers. Last week, Amazon offered to police the many counterfeiters that sell fake Nike shoes on its site as a bargaining chip to get Nike to agree, for the first time, to offer a full line of its products to Amazon. Similarly, when the publisher Hachette resisted Amazon’s demands in negotiations over book pricing, it found the buy-buttons removed from all of its titles, putting thousands of books off-limits to both buyers and sellers.
With commerce rapidly moving online, Amazon has positioned itself as lord of the realm, which means that online commerce is no longer a market in any meaningful sense of the word. It’s now a privately controlled arena where a single company sets the terms by which we may exchange goods with one another and decides which products—which new authors, which new innovations—get to find an audience.
Investors are fully aware of the implications of this. As Silicon Valley venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya put it last year, Amazon is “a multi-trillion-dollar monopoly hiding in plain sight.” That assessment explains why Wall Street has bid up Amazon’s stock value to a level that bears little relationship to its current profits. Investors are eyeing a future of spectacular, monopoly-style returns.
Last week, investors got to see this future taking firmer shape when Amazon announced its intention to buy Whole Foods. In the hours after the news broke, Amazon’s stock did the opposite of what usually happens in such deals: It surged by almost as much as the $13.4 billion purchase price, which means the acquisition essentially paid for itself.
What investors see in Amazon, though, federal antitrust regulators have so far failed to grasp. The Whole Foods deal, which requires federal approval, will be a fresh test. If regulators look at the deal in conventional terms, they may decide that it should go ahead on the grounds that brick-and-mortar grocery is a separate market from online shopping, and that the transaction would give Amazon only a modest share of the supermarket industry.
But that’s an analog notion of how commerce works. We’re rapidly moving toward a world in which the boundaries between online and offline shopping become fluid, and much of commerce will be, in one way or another, digitally driven.
Jeff Bezos’s big bet is that he can make buying from Amazon so effortless that we won’t notice the company’s creeping grip on commerce and its underlying infrastructure, and that we won’t notice what that dominance costs us.
Buying Whole Foods would help Amazon expand its control of commerce. It would provide a new stream of exploitable data by enabling Amazon to surveil customers offline as well as online. Indeed, the company recently filed patents for technologies that would keep digital tabs on us and block our phones from visiting competitors’ websites while we’re in its stores.
Amazon would also gain a network of fresh-food warehouses that it could use to quickly leapfrog into being the only viable online grocer. The 460 Whole Foods stores offer prime locations, too, for making last-mile deliveries. This is critical because controlling the infrastructure needed to quickly deliver packages to doorsteps is a key component of sustaining a monopoly in online commerce. Should Amazon succeed in weakening UPS and FedEx, it would harm other online sellers and leave them dependent on their biggest competitor, Amazon, to deliver their goods.
Jeff Bezos’s big bet is that he can make buying from Amazon so effortless that we won’t notice the company’s creeping grip on commerce and its underlying infrastructure, and that we won’t notice what that dominance costs us. Amazon has unprecedented power to steer our choices. Ask Alexa to send you batteries and you won’t get the option of Duracell or Energizer; you’ll be shipped Amazon-branded batteries. Browse the Kindle bestseller list and you’ll see many books published by Amazon. Peruse the “customers also bought” carousel and Amazon’s algorithms will favor displaying its own products, even when they’re not the best match.
Amazon’s bid to buy Whole Foods should be a wake-up call. Our anti-monopoly policies have fallen into disuse and today’s big tech monopolies have used that opening to seize too much power. As Senator John Sherman, co-author of the Sherman Antitrust Act, declared as his bill came up for a vote in 1890, “If we will not endure a king as a political power, we should not endure a king over the production, transportation, and sale of any of the necessaries of life.”
Last week, two days before announcing that it would be acquiring Whole Foods, Amazon released a short promotional video for a new product called the Dash Wand. The Wand is a candy-bar-size gizmo that costs twenty dollars. It sticks to your refrigerator with magnets and lets you order products by talking—it features Amazon’s voice assistant, Alexa—or by scanning barcodes. In the video, an affluent, middle-aged couple drift through their spotless kitchen, preparing for a dinner party. The woman peers into the fridge, where she discovers a bag of pre-peeled shrimp. She asks the Wand for a simple shrimp-pasta recipe, then orders ingredients for it, scanning the barcode of an empty jar of pasta sauce and proclaiming, “Mushrooms!” The next day, these items are delivered in a cooler bag. While cooking, she uses up the white wine, so the man, who’s milling around in the kitchen, tells the Wand, “Order white wine from Prime Now.” (Prime Now is Amazon’s same-day delivery service.) Shortly before the dinner guests arrive, he says, “Dim lights to seventy per cent.” When the other couples materialize, the thoroughly unstressed host proposes a toast: “To old friends!”
There is something horrible about this little video. Why do the inhabitants of this suburban home require a recipe for pasta from a jar? Why can’t they turn the lights down using their hands? If the ad were an episode of “Black Mirror,” they would be clones living in a laboratory, attempting to follow the patterns of an outside world they’ve never seen. And yet the ad is not fantastical but descriptive. It’s unsettling because it’s an accurate portrayal of our new mail-order way of life, which Amazon has spent the past twenty-two years creating.
It hasn’t always been obvious that Amazon would transform the feeling of everyday life. At first, the company looked like a bookstore; next, it became a mass retailer; later, for somewhat obscure reasons, it transformed into a television and movie studio. It seemed to be growing horizontally, by learning to sell new kinds of products. But Amazon wasn’t just getting wider; it was getting deeper, too. It wasn’t just selling products but inventing a new method of selling; behind the scenes, it was using technology to vertically integrate nearly the entire process of consumption. This integration is Amazon’s real product. It’s what you purchase when you become a member of Amazon Prime. (According to some estimates, eighty million American households—more than sixty per cent of the total—have Prime memberships.)
Amazon has created the world’s most efficient order-fulfillment system, including a network of warehouses and a delivery arm, Amazon Logistics. It has started a shipping subsidiary, Amazon Maritime, to transport goods on cargo ships from China to the United States. Netflix, nasa, and the C.I.A. are among the million customers who run their systems using Amazon’s cloud-computing platform, Amazon Web Services; this year, A.W.S. is expected to earn thirteen billion dollars in revenue—about as much as the N.F.L. In addition to its own point-of-sale devices—the Dash Button, Dash Wand, and Amazon Echo—it has created its own in-house advertising ecosystem: television shows like “Transparent” may win Emmys, but they also encourage customers to sign up for Amazon Prime, and pull them away from traditional television, where they might see ads for competing companies, such as Walmart. Amazon, in short, is far more than a retailer. It’s like Diebold, U.P.S., Target, the CW, I.B.M., and S.A.P. combined.
Ben Thompson, a technology analyst who writes the blog Stratechery, has proposed an extraordinarily useful model for understanding Amazon’s reach. He argues that Amazon works by dividing the world of commerce up into building blocks, which he calls “primitives.” Some “primitives” are business-facing: servers, databases, warehouses, delivery trucks. Others are consumer-facing: books, music, clothing, television shows. Amazon makes money by allowing its customers to combine these primitives in unusually convenient and efficient ways. Using them, it’s possible to run a whole company from within the Amazon ecosystem, with servers running in Amazon’s cloud and products stored in and shipped from its warehouses. Amazon itself launches new businesses using the primitives it has mastered. Many people have seen the Whole Foods acquisition as a way for Amazon to sell fancier groceries online, while using its larger scale and greater efficiency to lower prices. But, in Thompson’s view, the acquisition is best understood as giving Amazon access to new, grocery-based primitives, such as fruit, vegetables, meats, and food-ready warehouses. He suggests that the company will launch “Amazon Grocery Services,” a subsidiary that farmers or small manufacturers might use to sell, warehouse, and ship their products. Restaurants could stock their kitchens with it, too.
Where will it end? At first, as Amazon added more building blocks to its toolkit, the world changed in intangible ways. Ordering got easier; packages arrived faster. Lately, though, the physical changes have grown more apparent. Already, we spend less time shopping in the physical world. Now the disappearance of bookstores seems to be extending to retail stores more generally. Grocery stores, too, will soon be thinner on the ground. Along with the leaf blower and the ice-cream truck, the delivery van, nosing into one driveway after another, is now a staple of suburban life.
It’s increasingly easy to imagine that a few decades from now, we’ll tell our kids about how we used to “go to the store”; they’ll look at us and say, “What?” Earlier this month, Amazon filed a patent application describing large, multi-story drone towers in urban centers. Probably, in the future, such buildings will seem unremarkable. The hive-like towers will have loading docks and warehouses on the lower floors and bays for drones higher up; the drones may be repaired and supplied by robots. “There is a growing need and desire to locate fulfillment centers within cities, such as in downtown districts,” the patent application says. How else would your wine beat your guests to the door?
Ask a group of physicists and philosophers to define “space” and you will likely be stuck in a long discussion that involves deep-sounding but meaningless word combinations such as “the very fabric of space-time itself is a physical manifestation of quantum entropy concepts woven together by the universal nature of location.” On second thought, maybe you should avoid starting deep conversations between philosophers and physicists.
Is space just an infinite emptiness that underlies everything? Or is it the emptiness between things? What if space is neither of these but is a physical thing that can slosh around, like a bathtub full of water?
It turns out that the nature of space itself is one of the biggest and strangest mysteries in the universe. So get ready, because things are about to get … spacey.
Space, It’s a Thing
Like many deep questions, the question of what space is sounds like a simple one at first. But if you challenge your intuition and reexamine the question, you discover that a clear answer is hard to find.
Most people imagine that space is just the emptiness in which things happen, like a big empty warehouse or a theater stage on which the events of the universe play out. In this view, space is literally the lack of stuff. It is a void that sits there waiting to be filled, as in “I saved space for dessert” or “I found a great parking space.”
If you follow this notion, then space is something that can exist by itself without any matter to fill it. For example, if you imagine that the universe has a finite amount of matter in it, you could imagine traveling so far that you reach a point beyond which there is no more stuff and all the matter in the universe is behind you.1 You would be facing pure empty space, and beyond that, space might extend out to infinity. In this view, space is the emptiness that stretches out forever.
Could Such a Thing Exist?
That picture of space is reasonable and seems to fit with our experience. But one lesson of history is that anytime we think something is obviously true (e.g., the Earth is flat, or eating a lot of Girl Scout cookies is good for you), we should be skeptical and take a step back to examine it carefully. More than that, we should consider radically different explanations that also describe the same experience. Maybe there are theories we haven’t thought of. Or maybe there are related theories where our experience of the universe is just one weird example. Sometimes the hard part is identifying our assumptions, especially when they seem natural and straightforward.
In this case, there are other reasonable-sounding ideas for what space could be. What if space can’t exist without matter—what if it’s nothing more than the relationship between matter? In this view, you can’t have pure “empty space” because the idea of any space at all beyond the last piece of matter doesn’t make any sense. For example, you can’t measure the distance between two particles if you don’t have any particles. The concept of “space” would end when there are no more matter particles left to define it. What would be beyond that? Not empty space.
That is a pretty weird and counterintuitive way of thinking about space, especially given that we have never experienced the concept of non-space. But weird never stood in the way of physics, so keep an open mind.
Which Space Is the Place?
Which of these ideas about space is correct? Is space like an infinite void waiting to be filled? Or does it only exist in the context of matter?
It turns out that we are fairly certain that space is neither of these things. Space is definitely not an empty void and it is definitely not just a relationship between matter. We know this because we have seen space do things that fit neither of those ideas. We have observed space bend and ripple and expand.
This is the part where your brain goes, “Whaaaaat … ?”
If you are paying attention, you should be a little confused when you read the phrases “bending of space” and “expanding of space.” What could that possibly mean? How does it make any sense? If space is an idea, then it can’t be bent or expanded any more than it can be chopped into cubes and sautéed with cilantro.2 If space is our ruler for measuring the location of stuff, how do you measure the bending or expanding of space?
Good questions! The reason this idea of space bending is so confusing is that most of us grow up with a mental picture of space as an invisible backdrop in which things happen. Maybe you imagine space to be like that theater stage we mentioned before, with hard wooden planks as a floor and rigid walls on all sides. And maybe you imagine that nothing in the universe could bend that stage because this abstract frame is not part of the universe but something that contains the universe.
Unfortunately, that is where your mental picture goes wrong. To make sense of general relativity and think about modern ideas of space, you have to give up the idea of space as an abstract stage and accept that it is a physical thing. You have to imagine that space has properties and behaviors, and that it reacts to the matter in the universe. You can pinch space, squeeze it, and, yes, even fill it with cilantro.3
At this point, your brain might be sounding “what the #@#$?!?!” nonsense alarms. That is totally understandable. Prepare to bear with us, because the real craziness is yet to come. Your nonsense alarms will be exhausted by the time we’re done. But we need to unpack these concepts carefully to understand the ideas here and appreciate the truly strange and basic mysteries about space that remain unanswered.
Space Goo, You’re Swimming in It
How can space be a physical thing that ripples and bends, and what does that mean?
It means that instead of being like an empty room (a really big room) space is more like a huge blob of thick goo. Normally, things can move around in the goo without any problems, just like we can move around a room full of air without noticing all the air particles. But under certain circumstances, this goo can bend, changing the way that things move through it. It can also squish and make waves, changing the shape of the things inside it.
This goo (we’ll call it “space goo”) is not a perfect analogy for the nature of space, but it’s an analogy that helps you imagine that the space you are sitting in right now at this moment is not necessarily fixed and abstract.4 Instead, you are sitting in some concrete thing, and that thing can stretch or jiggle or distort in ways that you may not be perceiving.
Maybe a ripple of space just passed through you. Or maybe we are being stretched in an odd direction at this moment and don’t even know it. In fact, we didn’t even notice until recently that the goo did anything but sit there, goo-ing nowhere, which is why we confused it with nothingness.
So what can this space goo do? It turns out it can do a lot of weird things.
First, space can expand. Let’s think carefully for a minute about what it means for space to expand. That means things get farther apart from each other without actually moving through the goo. In our analogy, imagine that you are sitting in the goo, and suddenly the goo started growing and expanding. If you were sitting across from another person, that person would now be farther away from you without either of you having moved relative to the goo.
How could we know that the goo expanded? Wouldn’t a ruler we use to measure the goo alsoexpand? It’s true that the space between all the atoms in the ruler would expand, pulling them apart. And if our ruler was made out of extra-soft taffy, it would also expand. But if you use a rigid ruler, all of its atoms would hold on to one another tightly (with electromagnetic forces), and the ruler would stay the same length, allowing you to notice that more space was created.
And we know that space can expand because we have seen it expanding—this is how dark energy was discovered. We know that in the early universe space expanded and stretched at shocking rates, and that a similar expansion is still happening today.
We also know that space can bend. Our goo can be squished and deformed just like taffy can. We know this because in Einstein’s theory of general relativity that’s what gravity is: the bending of space.5 When something has mass, it causes the space around it to distort and change shape.
When space changes shape, things no longer move through it the way you might first imagine. Rather than moving in a straight line, a baseball passing through a blob of bent goo will curve along with it. If the goo is severely distorted by something heavy, like a bowling ball, the baseball might even move in a loop around it—the same way the moon orbits the Earth, or the Earth orbits the sun.
And this is something we can actually see with our naked eyes! Light, for example, bends its path when it passes near massive objects like our sun or giant blobs of dark matter. If gravity was just a force between objects with mass—rather than the bending of space—then it shouldn’t be able to pull on photons, which have no mass. The only way to explain how light’s path can be bent is if it’s the space itself that is bending.
Finally, we know that space can ripple. This is not too far-fetched given that we know that space can stretch and bend. But what is interesting is that the stretching and bending can propagate across our space goo; this is called a gravitational wave. If you cause a sudden distortion of space, that distortion will radiate outward like a sound wave or a ripple inside of a liquid. This kind of behavior could only happen if space has a certain physical nature to it and is not just an abstract concept or pure emptiness.
We know this rippling behavior is real because (a) general relativity predicts these ripples, and (b) we have actually sensed these ripples. Somewhere in the universe, two massive black holes were locked in a frenzied spin around each other, and as they spun, they caused huge distortions in space that radiated outward into space. Using very sensitive equipment, we detected those space ripples here on Earth.
You can think of these ripples as waves of space stretching and compressing. Actually, when a space ripple passes through, space shrinks in one direction and expands in another direction.
This Sounds Ridic-goo-lous. Are You Sure?
As crazy as it may sound that space is a thing and not just pure emptiness, this is what our experience of the universe tells us. Our experimental observations make it pretty clear that the distance between objects in space is not measured on an invisible abstract backdrop but depends on the properties of the space goo in which we all live, eat cookies, and chop cilantro.
But while thinking of space as a dynamic thing with physical properties and behaviors might explain weird phenomena like space bending and stretching, it only leads to more questions.
I doubt that any phenomenon, real or imagined, has inspired more perplexing, convoluted, and ultimately futile philosophical analysis than time travel has. (Some possible contenders, determinism and free will, are bound up anyway in the arguments over time travel.) In…READ MORE
For example, you might be tempted to say that what we used to call space should now be called physics goo (“phgoo”) but that this goo has to be in something, which we could now call space again. That would be clever, but as far as we know (which to date is not very far), the goo does not need to be in anything else. When it bends and curves, this is intrinsic bending that changes the relationships between parts of space, not the bending of the goo relative to some larger room that it fills.
But just because our space goo doesn’t need to sit inside of something else doesn’t mean that it is not sitting inside something else. Perhaps what we call space is actually sitting inside some larger “superspace.”6 And perhaps that superspace is like an infinite emptiness, but we have no idea.
Is it possible to have parts of the universe without space? In other words, if space is a goo, is it possible for there to be not-goo, or the absence of goo? The meaning of those concepts is not very clear because all of our physical laws assume the existence of space, so what laws could operate outside of space? We have no idea.
The fact is that this new understanding of space as a thing has come recently, and we are at the very beginning of understanding what space is. In many ways, we are still hobbled by our intuitive notions. These notions served us well when early men and women were hunting for game and foraging for prehistoric cilantro, but we need to break the shackles of these concepts and realize that space is very different from what we imagined.
Straight Thinking about Bent Space
If your brain is not yet hurting from all these gooey space-bending concepts, here is another mystery about space: Is space flat or curved (and if it’s curved, which way does it curve)?
These are crazy questions, but they are not that hard to ask once you accept the notion that space is malleable. If space can bend around objects with mass, could it have an overall curvature to it? It’s like asking if our goo is flat: You know that it can jiggle and deform if you push any point on it, but does it sag overall? Or does it sit perfectly straight? You can ask these questions about space, too.
Answering these questions about space would have an enormous impact on our notion of the universe. For example, if space is flat, it means that if you travel in one direction forever you could just keep going, possibly to infinity.
But if space is curved, then other interesting things might happen. If space has an overall positive curvature, then going off in one direction might actually make you loop around and come back to the same spot from the opposite direction! This is useful information if, for example, you don’t like the idea of people sneaking up behind you.
Explaining the idea of curved space is very difficult because our brains are simply not well equipped to visualize concepts like these. Why would they be? Most of our everyday experience (like evading predators or finding our keys) deals with a three-dimensional world that seems pretty fixed (although if we are ever attacked by advanced aliens that can manipulate the curvature of space, we hope we, too, can figure it out quickly).
What would it mean for space to have a curvature? One way to visualize it is to pretend for a second that we live in a two-dimensional world, like being trapped in a sheet of paper. That means we can only move in two directions. Now, if that sheet we live in lies perfectly straight, we say that our space is flat.
But if for some reason that sheet of paper is bent, then we say that the space is curved.
And there are two ways that the paper can be bent. It can all be curved in one direction (called “positive curvature”) or it can be bent in different directions like a horse saddle or a Pringles potato chip (this is called “negative curvature” or “breaking your diet”).
Here is the cool part: if we find out that space is flat everywhere, it means that the sheet of paper (space) could potentially go on forever. But if we find out that space has a positive curvature everywhere, then there’s only one shape that has positive curvature everywhere: a sphere. Or to be more technical, a spheroid (i.e., a potato). This is one way in which our universe could loop around itself. We could all be living in the three-dimensional equivalent of a potato, which means that no matter which direction you go you end up coming back around to the same spot.
In this case, it turns out that we do have an answer, which is that space does appear to be “pretty flat,” as in space is within 0.4 percent of being flat. Scientists, through two very different methods, have calculated that the curvature of space (at least the space we can see) is very nearly zero.
What are these two ways? One of the ways is by measuring triangles. An interesting thing about curvature is that triangles in a curved space don’t follow the same rules as triangles in flat space. Think back to our sheet-of-paper analogy. A triangle drawn on a flat sheet of paper is going to look different than a triangle drawn on a curved surface.
Scientists have done the equivalent of measuring triangles drawn in our three-dimensional universe by looking at a picture of the early universe and studying the spatial relationship between different points on that picture. And what they found was that the triangles they measured correspond to those of flat space.
The other way in which we know that space is basically flat is by looking at the thing that causes space to curve in the first place: the energy in the universe. According to general relativity, there is a specific amount of energy in the universe (energy density, actually) that will cause space to bend in one direction or the other. It turns out that the amount of energy density that we can measure in our universe is exactly the right amount needed to cause the space that we can see to not bend at all (within a margin of error of 0.4 percent).
Some of you might be disappointed to learn we don’t live in a cool three-dimensional cosmic potato that loops around if you go in one direction forever. Sure, who hasn’t dreamed of doing Evel Knievel–style spins around the entire universe on a rocket motorcycle? But instead of feeling disappointed by the fact that we live in a boring flat universe, you might want to be a little intrigued. Why? Because as far as we know, the fact that we live in a flat universe is a gigantic cosmic-level coincidence.
Think about it. All the mass and energy in the universe is what gives space its curvature (remember that mass and energy distort space), and if we had just a little bit more mass and energy than we have right now, space would have curved one way. And if we had just a little bit less than we have right now, space would have curved the other way. But we seem to have just the right amount to make space perfectly flat as far as we can tell. In fact, the exact amount is about five hydrogen atoms per cubic meter of space. If we had had six hydrogen atoms per cubic meter of space, or four, the entire universe would have been a lot different (curvier and sexier, but different).
And it gets stranger. Since the curvature of space affects the motion of matter, and matter affects the curvature of space, there are feedback effects. This means that if there had been just a little too much matter or not quite enough matter in the early days of the universe, so that we weren’t right at this critical density to make space flat, then it would have pushed things even farther from flat. For space to be pretty flat now means that it had to be extremely flat in the early universe, or there has to be something else keeping it flat.
This is one of the biggest mysteries about space. Not only do we not know what exactly space is, we also don’t know why it happens to be the way it is. Our knowledge in this matter appears to fall … flat.
The Shape of Space
The curvature of space is not the only thing we have deep questions about when it comes to the nature of space. Once you accept that space is not an infinite void but rather a maybe-infinite physical thing with properties, you can ask all kinds of strange questions about it. For example, what is the size and shape of space?
The size and shape of space tell us how much space there is and how it is connected to itself. You might think that since space is flat, and not shaped like a potato or a horse saddle (or a potato on a horse saddle), the idea of the size and shape of space makes no sense. After all, if space is flat, it means that it must go on forever, right? Not necessarily!
Space can be flat and infinite. Or it could be flat and have an edge to it. Or, even stranger, it could be flat and still loop around itself.
How can space have an edge? Actually, there’s no reason why space can’t have a boundary even if it is flat. For example, a disc is a flat two-dimensional surface with a smooth continuous edge. Perhaps three-dimensional space also has a boundary at some point thanks to some strange geometric property at its edges.
Even more intriguing is the possibility that space can be flat and still loop around itself. It would be like playing one of those video games (like Asteroids or Pac-Man) where if you move beyond the edge of the screen you simply appear on the other side. Space might be able to connect with itself in some way that we are not completely aware of yet. For example, wormholes are theoretical predictions of general relativity. In a wormhole, two different points in space that are far apart can be connected to each other. What if the edges of space are all connected together in a similar way? We have no idea.
Finally, you can ask whether space is actually made up of tiny discrete bits of space, like the pixels on a TV screen, or infinitely smooth, such that there are an infinite number of places you can be between two points in space?
Scientists in ancient times might not have imagined that air is made up of tiny discrete molecules. After all, air appears to be continuous. It acts to fill any volume and it has interesting dynamical properties (like wind and weather). Yet we know that all these things we love about air (how it brushes gently against your cheek in a cool summer breeze or how it keeps us from asphyxiating) are actually the combined behavior of billions of individual air molecules, not the fundamental properties of the individual molecules themselves.
The smooth space scenario would appear to make more sense to us. After all, our experience of moving through space is that we glide through it in an easy, continuous way. We don’t jump from pixel to pixel in a jerky fashion the way a video-game character does when it moves across the screen.
Or do we?
Given our current understanding of the universe, it would actually be more surprising if space turned out to be infinitely smooth. That’s because we know that everything else is quantized. Matter is quantized, energy is quantized, forces are quantized, Girl Scout cookies are quantized. Moreover, quantum physics suggests that there might be a smallest distance that even makes sense, which is about 10−35 meters.7 So from a quantum mechanical perspective, it would make sense if space was quantized. But, again, we really have no idea.
But having no idea hasn’t stopped physicists from imagining crazy possibilities! If space is quantized, that means that when we move across space we are actually jumping from small little locations to other small little locations. In this view, space is a network of connected nodes, like the stations in a subway system. Each node represents a location, and the connections between nodes represent the relationships between these locations (i.e., which one is next to which other one). This is different from the idea that space is just the relationship between matter, because these nodes of space can be empty and still exist.
Interestingly enough, these nodes would not need to sit inside a larger space or framework. They could just … be. In this scenario, what we call space would just be the relationships between the nodes, and all the particles in the universe would just be properties of this space rather than elements in it. For example, they might be vibrational modes of these nodes.
This is not as far-fetched as it sounds. The current theory of particles is based on quantum fields that fill all of space. A field just means there is a number, or a value, associated with every point in that space. In this view, particles are just excited states of these fields. So we are not too far from this kind of theory already.
By the way, physicists love this type of idea, where something that seems fundamental to us (like space) comes out accidentally from something deeper. It gives them the sense that we have peeked behind the curtain to discover a deeper layer of reality. Some even suspect that the relationships between nodes of space are formed by the quantum entanglement of particles, but this is mathematical speculation by a bunch of overcaffeinated theorists.
The Mysteries of Space
If you have read this far and either understood it deeply or just turned your nonsense alarm to mute, then we should not hesitate to explore the craziest concept about space (yes, it gets crazier).
If space is a physical thing—not a backdrop or frame—with dynamic properties such as twists and ripples, perhaps even built out of quantized bits of space, then we have to wonder: What else can space do?
Like air, perhaps it has different states and phases. Under extreme conditions, maybe it can arrange itself in very unexpected ways or have weird unexpected properties in the same way that air behaves differently whether it’s in liquid, gas, or solid form. Perhaps the space we know and love and occupy (sometimes more than we’d like) is only one rare type of space and there are other types of space out there in the universe just waiting for us to figure out how to create and manipulate them.
The most intriguing tool we have to answer this question is the fact that space is distorted by mass and energy. In order to understand what space is and what it can do, our best bet is to push it to extremes by looking carefully at places where cosmically huge masses are squeezing and straining it: black holes. If we could explore near black holes, we might see space shredded and chopped in ways that cause our nonsense alarms to explode.
And the exciting thing is that we are closer than ever to being able to probe these extreme deformations of space. Whereas before we were deaf to the ripples of gravitational waves moving through the universe, we now have the ability to listen in to the cosmic events that are shaking and disturbing the goo of space. Perhaps in the near future we will understand more about the exact nature of space and get at these deep questions that are literally all around us.
So don’t space out. And save some space in your brain for the answers.
Jorge Cham is the creator of the popular online comic Piled Higher and Deeper, also known as PHD Comics. He earned his Ph.D. in robotics at Stanford.
Daniel Whiteson is a professor of experimental physics at the University of California, Irvine, and a fellow of the American Physical Society. He conducts research using the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.