The Most Debilitating Disease in the World Isn’t Just in Your Head


The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced a new condition as the leading cause of of poor health and disability around the world, which has seen an 18% spike in diagnoses over the past few years. A condition that most of us have encountered in our lives either through personal experience or the difficulties of a friend or loved one. And, in a new twist, this condition is a mental disorder.

Major Depressive Disorder, more commonly known as depression now affects more than 300 million people across the globe, causing a lack of self-esteem, the inability to enjoy activities that previously brought pleasure, low energy, pain, and in severe cases delusion and hallucination. Between 2-7% of individuals with depression will go on to commit suicide.

Depression infographic by Mental Health Association of AMerica
Infographic by Mental Health America.

While one might suppose this condition would be equal opportunity, rates of occurrence are higher in developed nations than in the developing world, whether or not this is a situation of higher rates of detection or the actual existence of many more cases overall is currently unknown. It has been shown that cases are more common in urban areas, which is a problem that countries like China, with rapidly urbanizing demographics, are trying to address.

WHO estimates that a trillion dollars in economic activity is lost every year to depression, an easily understood measure of its evils. Much more difficult to express is how horrible the condition truly is. The self-fueling despair, the utter hopelessness, the isolation it can produce, the inability to find any reason to carry on, or any reason to have been.

Unlike the previous record holders for leading causes of disability, depression is much simpler to hide than say, the inability to walk. Stigmas associated with mental disorders also make it more desirable to hide for many people, making the problems of detection and treatment that much harder.

Depression infographic by Mental Health America

Infographic by Mental Health America.

 

What can be done about this?

WHO doesn’t leave us without a suggestion or two. It points out that the typical government health budget around the world gives only a paltry 3% to mental health care, with higher rates in developed countries, perhaps shedding some light on the higher perceived rates of occurrence. WHO has called for various initiatives, campaigns, and actions by states, NGOs, and community groups to help fight depression.

They also point out that for every dollar spent in treatment and prevention of clinical depression, four dollars of economic activity is gained back; making it an extremely effective investment for any society.

Depression is now the most common disabling disease in the world, driving hundreds of thousands into despair every day. Its newfound prominence among the conditions that plague us most should concern us greatly, but it may also offer a silver lining: the stigmas associated with mental illness might be easier to end if the prominence and gravity of the disease are made clearer to all.

Enjoy the video. URL:https://youtu.be/X-fAEMgQnt8

Source:http://bigthink.com

Who Would You Trust More: Your Friend, or a Total Stranger?


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Social trust, the expectation that people will behave with good will and avoid harming others, is a concept that has long mystified both researchers and the general public alike. Trust and cooperation is critical to social success, with neuroscientist Kelly Clancy suggesting that life operates by an undercurrent law of Survival of the Friendliest: evolution is about more than just rivalry, we need relationships. So, how trusting are you? Would you let a stranger borrow your phone in an emergency? Would you lend your friend money if they couldn’t make rent? Have you ever been kinder to a stranger than you are to your sibling?

Many of us have undoubtedly sat in contemplation of what molds our trust in friends and strangers. What makes us inclined to give some people the benefit of the doubt, but occasionally cast a skeptical eye on others. And is there a relationship between how closely we trust people and how well we know them?

In 2016, Markus Freitag and Paul C. Bauer published their study, ‘Personality Traits and the Propensity to Trust Friends and Strangers’ in The Social Science Journal. Substantial research has already been conducted in the realm of social trust, however, Freitag and Bauer contend that endemic methodological shortcomings have consistently yielded inconclusive data.

To avoid these recurring pitfalls and place our understanding of this phenomenon on a more empirically illuminating trajectory, Freitag and Bauer initiated an investigation which examined the role of personality on individuals’ levels of exhibited social trust, rather than merely looking at environmental factors and prior experiences as drivers of social trust.

Deviating from common research designs which plied respondents with unspecific lines of questioning that often clouded the distinction between generalized trust (strangers) and particularized trust (friends, neighbors, co-workers), Freitag and Bauer implemented a process that clearly differentiated classes of trustees, posed realistic and relatable questions, asked respondents to answer using numerical probabilities, and defined personality values using psychology’s “Big Five” personality traits(agreeableness, openness to experience, extraversion, conscientiousness, and neuroticism-emotional stability) which were tailored to individual respondents. Moreover, they erected controls for sex and age.

Through randomly surveying 1,157 Swiss adults via computer-assisted telephone interviews, researchers asked respondents, “Please imagine a probability scale running from 0 to 100%. 0% means that the event will certainly occur. Imagine losing your wallet (with identity card) containing, among other things, 200 Swiss Francs. On a scale from 0 to 100%, how likely is it that the wallet will be returned to you if it is found by… a friend; a stranger that you don’t know?”

So what steers our trust judgements? The study results showed that people often trust total strangers more than they trust their friends. Why? Essentially because we know better. When people know the trustee they base their decisions on their prior history with that person. When people don’t know the trustee, there is no bank of information to draw from, so their judgements are a reflection of their personality traits. The study indicated that of the ‘big five’ personality traits, conscientiousness and openness were important attributes for determining trust in both strangers and friends, but agreeability played a significant role in determining the level of trust invested in strangers. If you’re generally agreeable (defined as believing the best of others and rarely suspecting hidden intents, cooperative, warm, kind, and avoid conflicts) you will assume the best in others. The authors write:

… Our empirical analyses show that the effect sizes of the personality traits are larger for trust in strangers than in the case of trust in friends. Thus, in the absence of information about the trustee, our trust judgments seem to be contingent on our personality… If we agree that personality traits are, to a certain extent, rooted in biology and that certain personality traits affect trust judgments, it also means that trust is also inherited to a certain degree.


Fig.1. Regression coefficients for personality traits on trust in friends and trust in strangers (with and without controls).

Freitag and Bauer did highlight the limitations of their research. They expressly cautioned that the role of education, our networks, and our trust in institutions, matter and cannot be underestimated. Prior studies have clearly indicated that social trust correlates to corruption and crime, which demonstrates that environmental factors do indeed influence levels of social trust. To that end, the authors reiterate that their study is but an initial single nation foray into a grossly underdeveloped facet of social trust research, and that if our understanding of this societal issue is to evolve, theorems and empirical analyses need to further explore and account for personality and biological impacts.

Source:http://bigthink.com

Déjà vu Is a Neurological Phenomenon Scientists Claim.


Have you ever experienced déjà vu? If so, you are among the 60-70% of the population who has. The majority of those who report déjà vu are between the ages 15 and 25. I’m a complete rationalist who believes that every phenomenon, no matter how strange or supernatural it appears, has a scientific reason behind it. Even so, I’ve met several people and walked into a few situations where, though I had never been there before or met the person before, I suddenly felt awash in a bizarre familiarity. This transcendental sensation can shake beliefs such as mine right to their very core.

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But I wasn’t ready to denounce science yet. And I’m glad. Because it turns out, there is a rational explanation. Though some radical notions have in the past been connected to this strange feeling, such as déjà vu being a momentarily aligning with a past life or another you in a parallel universe, or as my editor suggests—a glitch in the matrix, scientists now believe it has a neurological basis.

Unfortunately, the feeling is here one minute and gone the next, making it difficult to study. Even so, there are quite a few theories on what causes it. One traditional hypothesis, posited by psychiatrists, is mismatched brain signals. For a second it feels as though we are transported to a moment in the past and we mistake it for the present. This may be why it’s been associated with the idea of reincarnation.

Another theory is that déjà vu is our brain trying to piece together a situation on limited information. A third states that it is a misfiring in the parts of the brain that recall memory and decipher sensory input. Sensory information, rather than taking the proper channels, leaks out of the short-term memory and into the long-term one. In this way, current experiences seem to be connected to the past. Some studies even suggest that familiar geometric shapes give us a sense of knowing something about a place that is, in reality, totally unfamiliar to us.

Instead of a glitch in the matrix, déjà vu may just be a glitch in our memory.  

Since we are completely aware of everything that’s going on when we experience déjà vu, this suggests that every part of the brain need not participate for the sensation to take place. Psychologist Anne M. Cleary at Colorado State University, in a study in 2008, found that déjà vu followed patterns we associate with memory, specifically recognition memory. This is the kind that gets us to understand that we are confronting something that we’ve seen or experienced before. If you’ve ever recognized a landmark, a friend from across the room, or a song on the stereo, you’ve experienced recognition memory.

Familiarity-based recognition is associated with it. Here, we have that feeling of familiarity, but we can’t quite place where we’ve seen this person, place, or thing. For instance, you recognize someone across the street, but can’t remember their name or where you know them from. Prof. Cleary conducted several studies which found that déjà vu is a form of familiarity-based recognition. Her work suggests that our memory stores items in fragments. When there is a certain overlap between old and new experiences, we have strong feelings about the connection, which we interpret as déjà vu.

Recent studies looking at epileptic patients made impressive breakthroughs in our understanding of the phenomenon. Epileptics with certain intractable conditions require electrodes to be placed inside their brains in order to locate the source of their seizures. During this procedure, some neurologists have had patients experience déjà vu. They soon discovered that the phenomenon takes place in the medial temporal lobe, which is responsible for memory. The electrodes are usually placed within the rhinal cortex—the most important piece of which is the hippocampus, the structure responsible for long-term memory formation. French scientists have found that firing current into this cortex can trigger an episode of déjà vu.

Location of the amygdala and the hippocampus. 

The French study, published in the journal Clinical Neurophysiology,measured EEG wave patterns from patients with epilepsy who experienced déjà vu through electrical stimulation. The areas of the brain they examined included the amygdala, which is responsible for emotion and the hippocampus. Researchers found that electrical patterns, emanating from rhinal cortices and the amygdala or the hippocampus, caused déjà vu to occur. These neuroscientists believe that some sort of electrical phenomenon in the medial temporal lobe activates the memory in such a way that it causes déjà vu to occur.

Stranger still, scientists in the UK have actually found patients who experience “chronic déjà vu.” In this case, experts identified four senior citizens who encounter the feeling on a consistent basis. What is the impact of such a phenomenon? It made them feel as if they were clairvoyant. All four refused to go to the doctor, believing they already knew what the physician would say, and avoided watching the news, thinking they already knew the outcome. That’s because each time they took part in either activity that was the result they came to.

Each individual experienced some type of problem with the temporal lobe of their brain. The circuits in that area were in a sense stuck in the “on” position. It just goes to show that when we don’t know the reason for a phenomenon or sensation, our mind assigns a meaning to it. But that isn’t necessarily the correct one. And even though knowing the neurological basis of déjà vu may evaporate the supernatural awe surrounding it, understanding the phenomenon better puts a scientific mind, like mine, at ease.

source:http://bigthink.com

Neil deGrasse Tyson Says This Is His Most Important Message Ever.


Famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson released an emotional new video in which he passionately implores Americans to reconsider how they are increasingly relating to science.

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In the post accompanying the video on his Facebook Page, Tyson wrote that this video contains “what may be the most important words I have ever spoken”.

He explains that innovation through science is how America, a “backwoods country,” became “one the greatest nations the world has ever known”.

“Science is the fundamental part of the country that we are,” says Tyson

But something has been changing in the way some Americans view science and it’s greatly worrisome to Tyson. When it comes to making decisions about scientific topics, he sees that “people have lost the ability to judge what is true and what is not.”

Case in point – American politicians.

“When you have people who don’t know much about science, standing in denial of it and rising to power, that is a recipe for the complete dismantling of our informed democracy,” warns Tyson. [1:00]

This stark statement is followed by an archival clip of then-congressman Mike Pence saying that evolution should be taught as a theory not fact.

The video, directed by Sarah Klein and Tom Mason, proceeds to show news clips of science under attack, with people questioning vaccines, GMOs and climate change.

Today’s America is “not the country I remember growing up in,” laments Tyson.

He brings up the 60s, the 70s, and the civil rights movement to point out that he doesn’t remember any time in recent American history when people were denying what science was, implying that this is what’s happening today.

Tyson defends science as an “exercise in finding what is true”. The scientific method involves testing hypotheses and peer review. Out of such a process rises what he calls “emergent truth” which is “better than anything else we have ever come up with as human beings”.

Science is “not something to toy with,” according to Tyson. You can’t choose to believe an equation like E=mc^2. Of course, he may be overstating there. You could very well propose an alternate equation as such is the way of science.

He forcefully says that the “emergent truths” arrived at through science are “true whether or not you believe in it”. And what is important is for people to understand that and move on to political conversations on how to solve our real problems.

Tyson focuses on climate change as an issue that is demanding our agreement – people need to get on the same page that this is a serious problem and work to solve it. He alludes to “carbon credits” or tariffs as possible topics for a political conversation that should have been had years ago, but keeps getting delayed because too many are in “denial”.

He calls upon Americans as voters and citizens to become scientifically literate to be able to make intelligent decisions about the issues.

“Recognize what science is and allow it to be what it can and should be in the service of civilization,” says Tyson.

Watch the video discussion. URL:https://youtu.be/8MqTOEospfo

Source:http://bigthink.com

Your Brain Is Your Most Powerful Sex Organ.


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When we think of sex organs, our minds veer toward the naughty parts between our legs. But our minds should be veering to, well, our minds. The real catalyst for sexual activity is the brain — specific parts of the brain — not genitalia. That’s why sexually driven language — dirty talk — is so arousing. When partners talk dirty to each other, they’re stroking the right organs.

wealth of scientific research establishes the brain’s primary role in sexual activity. Sex drive, for example, originates in the hypothalamus, which is responsible for testosterone production in the testes. The amygdala, on the other hand, is a center for fear in the brain. Both brain regions strongly effect how we respond to dirty talk and sexual stimulation in general.

Because men have larger hypothalami, they have more testosterone. This explains why the male sex drive often exceeds those of females, why men tend to initiate sexual contact, and why men are less cautious about who they take on as sexual partners. Partners who seek a submissive role, on the other hand, are led more by their amygdala, one of the brain’s fear centers.

Dirty talk achieves arousal because it’s fine-tuned to stimulate the right parts of the brain. It feeds our need for intimate conversation and lust for sexual activity. It provides a multi-layered sexual experience that extends further than just physical touch. Dirty talk works because it’s sex through suggestion, and to our brains, suggestion can be just as powerful as full-on execution.

Source:http://bigthink.com

Scientists Say You Should Do This Exercise at Least Twice a Week to Make Your Brain Work Better.


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Engaging in regular weightlifting could actually make your brain work better and prevent dementia, concludes new research by Australian scientists. As about 135 million people are estimated to develop dementia by 2050, the study’s findings are key in ensuring healthier brain function in the population.

The researchers focused on 100 people aged 55 to 86 with “mild cognitive impairment” (MCI) who were asked to do weight lifting and brain training. MCI is considered a precursor to developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

In 2014, the same team published a paper outlining how cognition skills improve as a result of weight training. The benefits lasted even 12 months after that study concluded.

“What we found in this follow-up study is that the improvement in cognition function was related to their muscle strength gains. The stronger people became, the greater the benefit for their brain,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Yorgi Mavros, of Sydney University.

Twice a week, over a six month period, the study’s participants worked with weights that were 80% as heavy as the max they could lift. The stronger they got, the more weight they lifted, sticking to the 80% rule.

Subsequent MRI scans of the study’s subjects showed an increase in certain areas of their brains.

While future studies will determine whether this holds true for people of any age group, the positive results encouraged Dr. Mavros to state a general recommendation for all.

“The more we can get people doing resistance training like weight lifting, the more likely we are to have a healthier ageing population,” said Dr. Mavros. “The key however is to make sure you are doing it frequently, at least twice a week, and at a high intensity so that you are maximising your strength gains. This will give you the maximum benefit for your brain.”

To build on their findings, the researchers are planning further studies.

“The next step now is to determine if the increases in muscle strength are also related to increases in brain size that we saw,” said the study’s senior author Professor Maria Fiatarone Singh, geriatrician at University of Sydney. “In addition, we want to find the underlying messenger that links muscle strength, brain growth, and cognitive performance, and determine the optimal way to prescribe exercise to maximise these effects.”

The Study of Mental and Resistance Training (SMART) trial was conducted by University of Sydney researchers in collaboration with the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA) at University of New South Wales and the University of Adelaide.

Source:http://bigthink.com

Biocentrism Posits That Death Is Merely Transport into Another Universe


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Is death merely a portal into another place in the multiverse.

Swiss Engineer Michele Angelo Besso was a close friend of Einstein’s. Upon his death, the father of relativity said, “Now Besso has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. People like us … know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”

We often think of the afterlife as a spiritual or religious belief, when in a way, its pursuit is also somewhat familiar to science. Robert Lanza, M.D. takes things one step further. He thinks we start out with a wrong assumption, that we have it all backward. It isn’t the universe which is supreme, but life. In fact, life and in particular consciousness are essential to the makeup of the universe, he says. Through the theory of biocentrism, he believes he can prove that space and time do not exist, unless our consciousness says they do.

This is an all-encompassing theory which in Greek means “life center.”Though radical, if one day proven correct, it could have ramifications for the study of physics, biology, consciousness, the brain, and even AI. Consider a blade of grass. Your brain through your eyes tells you its green. But what if a neuroscientist could reconnoiter that part of the brain where the concept registers, and make it indicate red or yellow instead? Lanza reminds us that all reality is sensory information interpreted by our brain.

It’s our consciousness that puts our reality together. For instance, space-time in physics is different from how we experience these, separate concepts in real life. Science treats the space-time continuum as a solid principle. According to Lanza they are “simply tools of our mind.” Death too in his view “cannot exist in any real sense.”

Dr. Robert Lanza in his laboratory, 2009.

Notice how, for instance, when you are a child, days and weeks seem to drag on, while when you get older, they fly by. Time itself hasn’t changed, just our perception of it. Whether the universe actually works the way in which we perceive it isn’t readily known. One of the fundamental laws of Newtonian physics is that energy isn’t created or destroyed, it simply takes another form. The energy trapped in our brain must take another form then, even when a person dies. Meanwhile, our senses tell us that it’s their end. But where does this energy go? In a world with endless space and time, could death really exist? If not, is immortality a phenomenon which occurs within space-time or outside of it?

Dr. Lanza isn’t some newfangled guru. He’s a biotech Zion, and currently, the Chief Scientific Officer of the Astellas Institute for Regenerative Medicine. He’s studying stem cells and their application for treating disease. Previous to this, he did some research on embryonic stem cells and in cloning, both with animals and humans. Lanza is also an adjunct professor at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina.

In quantum physics, particles can be observed in several different states at the same time. This is called superposition. They in fact, exist in all possible states simultaneously. In terms of predicting what a particle will do, nothing is absolute. Each state has its own range of probability. In Lanza’s view, each corresponds with a different universe.

This coincides with the “many worlds” theory, also known as the multiverse. Each universe is thought to operate with its own physical laws. Anything that can occur does, with one possibility playing out in each realm. Our life, Lanza believes, at one stage or another, is occurring across many universes simultaneously. Yet, your life on one world wouldn’t influence your life in another.

What are the chances that death is a portal into another universe?

What has long plagued particle physicists is that observation affects reality. Consider the famous double-slit test. In this classic experiment, physicists observe a particle passing through two slits in a barrier. When the phenomenon is observed, it behaves like a particle, a little cannonball shooting directly through the slits. If it isn’t observed, it performs like a wave, gliding through both openings at once. This shows that energy and matter are made up of both particles and waves, and that one’s mere observation changes its form.

Such inconsistencies don’t prove the existence of the multiverse, however. Yet, through the scaffolding of biocentrism or this new “Theory of Everything,” the physics begins to take shape. Consciousness is an essential force in the universe, according to this theory, which shows why the properties of energy, matter, space, and time, depend on whether or not a conscious mind is observing them. Lanza uses other research to support his view.

A 2002 study of photons or light particles, showed that they communicated with one another. When one photon was guided to a certain place, it was picked up by a detector. Researchers used a scrambler to force it to remain a particle rather than a wave. After one was sent out and reached its destination, the second photon crossed the same space instantaneously. It was as if it knew where it was going, and the knowledge must have traveled back to it faster than the speed of light. Another supporting factor in an entirely different category, is the Goldilocks principle. This is the theory that the universe was made just right for supporting life.

Photons being smashed at the CERN large hadron collider. 

Critics argue that unexplained phenomena in physics only occurs on the quantum level. They also point out that there is no direct evidence of the existence of other universes. Several physicists have told Forbes that Lanza’s writings look more like works of philosophy rather than science. The doctor himself states that he is healing a glaring rift, and applying innovative methods from biotech to physics. He also admits his theory lacks a mathematical basis. As such, Lanza’s working on the supporting mathematical structure. Papers are expected to follow in scientific journals.

Another competing theory accounts for inconsistencies in quantum physics by stating that the universe is an illusion. It could be for instance, a projection created by a highly advanced quantum computer. Though still entirely theoretical, biocentrism offers those of us who want to hold onto a comforting afterlife scenario, without giving up a devotion to science, an avenue to explore. In this vein, Lanza wrote, “Life is an adventure that transcends our ordinary linear way of thinking. When we die, we do so not in the random billiard-ball-matrix but in the inescapable-life-matrix. Life has a non-linear dimensionality; it’s like a perennial flower that returns to bloom in the multiverse.”

Watch the video discussion. URL:https://youtu.be/zI_F4nOKDSM

Source:http://bigthink.com

Scientists Discover How to Implant False Memories.


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Neuroscientist explains inner workings of the brain.

MIT researchers Steve Ramirez and Xu Liu recently made history when they successfully implanted a false memory into the mind of a mouse. The proof was a simple reaction from the rodent, but the implications are vast. They placed the furry little creature inside a metal box, and it froze, displaying a distinct fear response. The mouse was reacting as if it had received an electrical shock there, when it hadn’t at all.

What makes it more riveting is that their success was considered a long-shot. The hypothesis was that not only could they identify those neurons associated with encoding memory, but could essentially rewrite one. Experts say that this an impressive feat which helps uncover more of the mystery of how memory operates. Though neuroscientists have considered such a possibility for years, they never thought this kind of experiment could actually work.

This breakthrough was possible due to research out of Oxford which discovered exactly how short-term memories are transferred into long term memory. But the MIT researchers took it into an entirely new direction. Memories are actually stored in not one area, but certain groups of neurons known as engrams. Ramirez and Liu came together in 2010 and designed a new method for exploring live brains, to identify specific engrams. The neuroscientists used a newly minted technique called optogenetics, which employs lasers to stimulate genetically engineered cells designed to react to them.

Areas where the memory resides are highlighted in purple.

The scientists and their team injected a biochemical cocktail into the brains of special, genetically engineered mice. The cocktail contained a gene with a light sensitive protein called channelrhodopsin-2. This was injected into the dentate gyrus—the area in the hippocampus where memory is encoded. Then they implanted filaments into the mice’s skulls. These acted as a conduit for a laser. The researchers found they could reactivate a memory by flooding certain neurons with laser light.

In order to prove that they could identify certain engrams, they reactivated a memory associated with fear. After the experiment, the mice’s brain tissues were examined under a microscope. Those associated with a specific memory glowed green due to the injected chemical. Liu compared it to a “starry night” where you could view “individual stars.” The engram that glowed was associated with an electroshock to the foot, and so triggered the startle or fear response.

Now that they knew which engram was associated with fear, they set up an experiment to test it. After injecting the cocktail into the same region of the brain, they placed the mouse inside a metal box. This box was safe. The mouse was able to explore for 12 whole minutes with no problems. The next day, it was put in a different box but received an electric shock instead. These two boxes differed in color, shape, and scent, researchers assure. The following day, the same mouse was placed inside the safe box again, and would have remembered it as safe. But researchers activated the foot shock memory using a laser, initiating the fear response.

Networks of neurons lighting up.

Is a similar procedure conceivable for humans? According to Ramirez, “Because the proof of principle is there…the only leap left between there and humans is just technological innovation.” Today, over 20 labs around the world are building upon this research. In fact, a French team recently implanted false memories in the brains of sleeping mice. Howard Eichenbaum, the director of the Center for Neuroscience at Boston University, is going in another direction. He is working on recreating longer and larger memories, those experiences which unfold over time.

There are many positive implications such as the ability to take the bite out of or even erase those painful memories attached to PTSD, depression, and other psychiatric disorders. There may be applications for Alzheimer’s, reverse engineering memories lost to the disease. It even holds promise for those suffering from substance abuse disorder, allowing them to forget their addiction.

Even so, there are negative connotations too. As our memory is the glue which holds our identities together, wouldn’t erasing a memory, even a bad one, indelibly erase a portion of the person themselves? Though painful, our negative memories define us. Of course, those hobbled by depression or haunted by PTSD could come to see it as a saving grace. Today, scientists aim not to erase technically, at least at first, but to rewrite a memory in a manner that promotes, rather than impedes, mental health. But the potential is there. There are further implications.

A neuron associated with the fear response is illuminated.

What about implanting false memories in witnesses to change the outcome of trials? Many in the past have been convicted when they were innocent, exonerated later due to the advent of DNA testing. False memory implantation might lead to a new and ruthless form of witness tampering. Films like Inception or Eternal Sunshine could become a reality. But if you erase the memory of a bad ex from your past, do the lessons you’ve learned about love go with it?

There are implications in terms of state control and even the sovereignty of one’s own mind. Such a procedure under a totalitarian regime could manufacture false patriotism, even wipe clean the memories of revolutionaries in order to make them loyal to the state. The ability to actually do this is thought to be four to five decades away. Yet the federal research group DARPA says it is a mere four years from a brain implant capable of altering PTSD-related memories. Theoretically, such technology could be used to silence dissent.

Meanwhile, a psychology professor at New York University, Dr. Gary Marcus, has proposed inserting a microchip into the human brain to allow for a human-internet interface, making the mind a search engine as well as improving one’s memory. Perhaps you could backup files to prevent tampering. But wouldn’t it also allow a hacker to say hack your brain? An important ethical dialogue must begin now. A superstructure and strict protocol must be erected. And yet, chances are those operating outside of its boundaries may still violate it. Though this technique shows promise, strong regulation and oversight must be enacted to prevent human rights violations and miscarriages of justice.

Source:http://bigthink.com

NASA Unveils How We’ll Get to Mars and Explore Deep Space.


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An illustration of the missions leading up to a manned mission to Mars. NASA.

NASA’s been in a slump lately. The International Space Station (ISS) is going to be retired somewhere in 2024-2028. It doesn’t even have a rocket right now to send anything up there, anyway. Not after retiring the space shuttle. The agency has been concentrating for six years on developing its new Space Launch System (SLS), to run missions to other parts of our solar system. You can argue that the SLS will be worth the wait. These will be the most powerful, heavy rockets NASA’s ever built.

Of course, there is a planned mission to land humans on Mars by 2033. But that’s far off, and the details have been fuzzy. That’s why space heads stood up and took notice recently, when NASA’s chief of human spaceflight, Bill Gerstenmaier, gave a presentation. Gerstenmaier revealed to the agency’s advisory council tentative plans for a lunar space station.

As part of its NextSTEP program, NASA has employed six companies to help it design the next generation of stations and vehicles. Boeing just announced its contribution—the Deep Space Gateway lunar station. Now NASA’s vision is starting to become clearer.

At the agency’s presentation, Gerstenmaier outlined plans to build and launch the station, which will allow Deep Space Transport (DST) craft to dock, aiding them in longer range missions, including to Mars. NASA’s press release called the station a place that “offers a true deep space environment,” for humans to get acclimated.

Deep Space Gateway will allow for more lunar missions as well, including robotic ones. The advantage is, if something goes wrong, crew members can try and make it back home again, a luxury not afforded to those headed for Mars.

Boeing Deep Space Gateway. Boeing.

Though there aren’t any hard dates yet, NASA plans to stagger missions, sending off one each year. It wants to work out how to coordinate the SLS, Orion, and the International Space Station (ISS), to support missions farther afield. Later on, they plan to set up a permanent installation in cislunar orbit (or near the moon).

The lunar station will be much smaller than the ISS, consisting of a power bus, a small habitat for the crew, a docking station, airlock, one research module, and one logistics one. For propulsion, they plan to use high power electric engines, a technology NASA itself has developed. This way, the station can position itself in one of a number of different orbits around the moon.

NASA is currently creating SLS and Orion spacecraft for the first two missions. Exploration Mission 1 (EM–1) should take place sometime next year. This will be a crewless journey. On other fronts, propulsion and habitation for the lunar station are in development. On board the ISS, life support systems and “related technologies,” are being tested.

From 2023 to 2026, NASA plans to send up pieces of and assemble the gateway. These missions will include four astronauts and should last between eight and 21 days. By the end of the 2020s, a one year mission will commence, to test systems required to travel to Mars, and elsewhere.

They’ll run experiments in the vicinity of the moon, in order to “build confidence that long-duration, distant human missions can be safely conducted with independence from Earth.” That’s according to a statement on NASA’s website. Not only is the agency starting to build up infrastructure, they foresee challenges both technical and human. This space station will help develop strategies to overcome them.

How well can humans live in deep space? That isn’t really something that’s ever been tested. Astronauts and later colonists will need to endure long journeys aboard a Deep Space Transport (DST) craft, also being developed by Boeing. Somewhere around 2029, NASA plans to send astronauts aboard one of these, for a total of 300-400 days, somewhere near our moon.

Boeing Deep Space Transit (DST) Vehicle. Boeing.  

The long-term goal is reusable craft that can ferry people to places such as Mars, return to the gateway, refuel, get serviced, and go back out again. SpaceX recently proved it possible to reuse rockets, in yet another successful landing, this time including a redeployment. Reusability will soon become the mainstay of space exploration, which brings the cost down exponentially.

This isn’t only a US mission. Besides private companies, other countries can lend a hand. Partners may offer hardware or “supplemental resources.” We’ve just dipped our toes in outer space’s vast waters, as a species, and had a few jaunts into the shallow end. Spreading out and really exploring the solar system is a feat beyond anything humanity has ever done.

These efforts could ultimately open up space to commercial ventures. And the time is nigh. The world will soon be running out of the precious minerals needed for consumer electronics. Space if full of them. In fact, it’s been predicted that asteroid mining will bear the world’s first trillionaire.

Source:http://bigthink.com

Yale and Harvard Study: Gun Violence Is Public Health Epidemic.


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Close contact to guns through family or acquaintances puts you naturally closer to gun violence.

A study published in JAMA claims gun violence spreads like an infectious disease. The research team – Yale Sociology professor Andrew Papachristos and Harvard students Ben Green and Thibault – looked at over 11,000 shootings in Chicago from 2006 – 2014. The researchers concluded that gun use spreads like a virus due to social affiliation with others, with Papachristos telling Gizmodo: “You don’t catch a bullet like you catch a cold, [but] the power of this analogy is really thinking about the precision with which it moves through a population.”

The total network studied includes over 138,000 individuals. The likelihood a gun is fired is partly dependent on the network you’re involved with. For this reason, Papachristos concludes gun violence should be treated “as a public health epidemic and not just a policing problem.”

Criticism over ‘stop and frisk’ policies in the New York City Police Department is well documented. Across the nation police officers have been captured on camera perpetuating unjust violence, which has resulted in numerous marches, online movements, protests, and counter-violence. Yet rates of gun violence are not going down. It’s more than a policing problem.

If trends continue—nothing hints they won’t—over 33,000 people will die and 200,000 will get injured this year in the United States, far exceeding any other nation. That the 33,000 number bundles together homicides and suicides doesn’t make it any less relevant or problematic. Still, diseases with less impact receive more funding, including HIV, Parkinson’s disease, malnutrition, and intestinal infections. In fact, the other two major causes of death receiving less funding are drowning and falling—pretty self-explanatory, even if conditions vary.

Gun violence is not so easily explained. Second Amendment pundits argue that it’s people, not bullets, causing problems; some conclude it should be treated as a mental health issue on a case-by-case basis. But that’s not how humans operate. No one lives in a vacuum. We’re constantly influenced by our environment and, more specifically, those we navigate our environment alongside.

Yet funding as to why this is and what can be done to stop it pale in comparison to other diseases. Based on deaths alone, gun violence should receive $1.4 billion for research over a decade. The amount it received during the nine years this study ran? Twenty-two million dollars.

David Stark, a medical director at Mount Sinai, parallels gun violence to motor vehicle accidents:

Those kill about the same number of people, but that has been decreasing substantially. … All of that really starts from essential public research that determines the proximate causes of accidents — and it’s only with research that you can start to develop plans and policies and initiatives.

With the incoming administration such policies seem impossible. Of all the lobbying groups, the NRA’s ‘rating guide’ of elected officials is one of the most insidious framing of arguments (that turn into policy). The rallying cry of ‘personal rights’ is easily confused by the true message, ‘sell more guns.’ In this capitalistic thrust forward a nation continues to be held captive by a preventable and treatable disease, if only the people in charge of seeking a cure would live up to the responsibility of doing so.

This is not to imply that a silver bullet would become immediately apparent with a few studies. But it would be a step in the right direction. Often people needing a doctor most visit least, choosing denial of their condition over their health. A small but powerful segment of the American population remains in denial about gun violence even though the doctor is right around the corner.

Source:http://bigthink.com

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