A Nobel Prize-winning psychologist says most people don’t really want to be happy

We think we want to be happy. Yet many of us are actually working toward some other end, according to cognitive psychologist Daniel Kahneman, winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in economics.

Kahneman contends that happiness and satisfaction are distinct. Happiness is a momentary experience that arises spontaneously and is fleeting. Meanwhile, satisfaction is a long-term feeling, built over time and based on achieving goals and building the kind of life you admire. On the Dec. 19 podcast “Conversations with Tyler,” hosted by economist Tyler Cowen, Kahneman explains that working toward one goal may undermine our ability to experience the other.

For example, in Kahneman’s research measuring everyday happiness—the experiences that leave people feeling good—he found that spending time with friends was highly effective. Yet those focused on long-term goals that yield satisfaction don’t necessarily prioritize socializing, as they’re busy with the bigger picture.

Such choices led Kahneman to conclude that we’re not as interested in happiness as we may claim. “Altogether, I don’t think that people maximize happiness in that sense…this doesn’t seem to be what people want to do. They actually want to maximize their satisfaction with themselves and with their lives. And that leads in completely different directions than the maximization of happiness,” he says.

In an October interview with Ha’aretz (paywall), Kahneman argues that satisfaction is based mostly on comparisons. “Life satisfaction is connected to a large degree to social yardsticks–achieving goals, meeting expectations.” He notes that money has a significant influence on life satisfaction, whereas happiness is affected by money only when funds are lacking. Poverty creates suffering, but above a certain level of income that satisfies our basic needs, wealth doesn’t increase happiness. “The graph is surprisingly flat,” the psychologist says.

In other words, if you aren’t hungry, and if clothing, shelter, and your other basics are covered, you’re capable of being at least as happy as the world’s wealthiest people. The fleeting feelings of happiness, though, don’t add up to life satisfaction. Looking back, a person who has had many happy moments may not feel pleased on the whole.

The key here is memory. Satisfaction is retrospective. Happiness occurs in real time. In Kahneman’s work, he found that people tell themselves a story about their lives, which may or may not add up to a pleasing tale. Yet, our day-to-day experiences yield positive feelings that may not advance that longer story, necessarily. Memory is enduring. Feelings pass. Many of our happiest moments aren’t preserved—they’re not all caught on camera but just happen. And then they’re gone.

Take going on vacation, for example. According to the psychologist, a person who knows they can go on a trip and have a good time but that their memories will be erased, and that they can’t take any photos, might choose not to go after all. The reason for this is that we do things in anticipation of creating satisfying memories to reflect on later. We’re somewhat less interested in actually having a good time.

This theory helps to explain our current social media-driven culture. To some extent, we care less about enjoying ourselves than presenting the appearance of an enviable existence. We’re preoccupied with quantifying friends and followers rather than spending time with people we like. And ultimately, this makes us miserable.

We feel happiness primarily in the company of others, Kahneman argues. However, the positive psychology movement that has arisen in part as a result of his work doesn’t emphasize spontaneity and relationships. Instead, it takes a longer view, considering what makes life meaningful, which is a concept that Kahneman claims eludes him.

Kahneman counts himself lucky and “fairly happy.” He says he’s led “an interesting life” because he’s spent much of his time working with people whose company he enjoyed. But he notes that there have been periods when he worked alone on writing that were “terrible,” when he felt “miserable.” He also says he doesn’t consider his existence meaningful, despite his notable academic accomplishments.

Indeed, although his contributions legitimized the emotion as an economic and social force and led to the creation of happiness indices worldwide, the psychologist abandoned the field of happiness research about five years ago. He’s now researching and writing about the concept of “noise,” or random data that interferes with wise decision-making.

Still, it’s worth asking if we want to be happy, to experience positive feelings, or simply wish to construct narratives that seems worth telling ourselves and others, but doesn’t necessarily yield pleasure. Meet a friend and talk it over with them—you might have a good time. 


Economists Who Changed Thinking on Climate Change Win Nobel Prize

The ideas of William Nordhaus and Paul Romer have shaped today’s policies on greenhouse gas emissions.
Economists Who Changed Thinking on Climate Change Win Nobel Prize
William Nordhaus (left) and Paul Romer.

A pair of U.S. economists, William Nordhaus and Paul Romer, share the 2018 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for integrating climate change, and technological change, into macroeconomics, which deals with the behaviour of an economy as a whole.

Nordhaus, at the University of Yale in New Haven, Connecticut, is the founding father of the study of climate change economics. Economic models he has developed since the 1990s are now widely used to weigh the costs and benefits of curbing greenhouse gas emissions against those of inaction. His studies are central to determining the social cost of carbon, an attempt to quantify the total cost to society of greenhouse-gases, including hidden factors such as extreme weather and lower crop yields. The metric is increasingly used when implementing climate change policies.

“Nordhaus was in a position early on to think about climate change from a human welfare and well-being perspective,” says Ottmar Edenhofer, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. “Without him, there wouldn’t be such a subject of climate economics.”

Romer, who is at the NYU Stern School of Business in New York, was honoured for his work on the role of technological change in economic growth. The economist is best-known for his studies on how market forces and economic decisions facilitate technological change. His ‘endogenous growth theory’, developed in the 1990s, opened new avenues of research on how policies and regulations can prompt new ideas and economic innovation.

And Romer’s work also has implications for policies relating to climate-change mitigation. “He showed clearly that unregulated free markets will not sufficiently invest in research and development activities,” says Edenhofer.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a statement: “William D. Nordhaus and Paul M. Romer have designed methods for addressing some of ourtime’s most basic and pressing questions about how we create long-term sustained and sustainableeconomic growth.”

Physicists have created a ‘black hole’ in the lab that could finally prove Hawking radiation exists

Will Stephen Hawking get his Nobel prize?

Some 42 years ago, renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking proposed that not everything that comes in contact with a black hole succumbs to its unfathomable nothingness. Tiny particles of light (photons) are sometimes ejected back out, robbing the black hole of an infinitesimal amount of energy, and this gradual loss of mass over time means every black hole eventually evaporates out of existence.

Known as Hawking radiation, these escaping particles help us make sense of one of the greatest enigmas in the known Universe, but after more than four decades, no one’s been able to actually prove they exist, and Hawking’s proposal remained firmly in hypothesis territory.

But all that could be about to change, with two independent groups of researchers reporting that they’ve found evidence to back up Hawking’s claims, and it could see one of the greatest living physicists finally win a Nobel Prize.

So let’s go back to 1974, when all of this began. Hawking had gotten into an argument with Princeton University graduate student, Jacob Bekenstein, who suggested in his PhD thesis that a black hole’s entropy – the ‘disorder’ of a system, related to its volume, energy, pressure, and temperature – was proportional to the area of its event horizon.

As Dennis Overbye explains for The New York Times, this was a problem, because according to the accepted understanding of physical laws at the time – including Hawking’s own work – the entropy and the volume of a black hole could never decrease.

Hawking investigated the claims, and soon enough, realised that he had been proven wrong. “[D]r Hawking did a prodigious calculation including quantum theory, the strange rules that govern the subatomic world, and was shocked to find particles coming away from the black hole, indicating that it was not so black after all,” Overbye writes.

Hawking proposed that the Universe is filled with ‘virtual particles’ that, according to what we know about how quantum mechanics works, blink in and out of existence and annihilate each other as soon as they come in contact – except if they happen to appear on either side of a black hole’s event horizon. Basically, one particle gets swallowed up by the black hole, and the other radiates away into space.

The existence of Hawking radiation has answered a lot of questions about how black holes actually work, but in the process, raised a bunch of problems that physicists are still trying to reconcile.

“No result in theoretical physics has been more fundamental or influential than his discovery that black holes have entropy proportional to their surface area,” says Lee Smolin, a theoretical physicist from the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada.

While Bekenstein received the Wolf Prize in 2012 and the American Physical Society’s Einstein prize in 2015 for his work, which The New York Timessays are often precursors to the Nobel Prize, neither scientist has been awarded the most prestigious prize in science for the discovery. Bekenstein passed away last year, but Hawking is now closer than ever to seeing his hypothesis proven.

The problem? Remember when I said the escaping photons were stealing an  infinitesimal amount of energy from a black hole every time they escaped? Well, unfortunately for Hawking, this radiation is so delicate, it’s practically impossible to detect it from thousands of light-years away.

But physicist Jeff Steinhauer from Technion University in Haifa, Israel, thinks he’s come up with a solution – if we can’t detect Hawking radiation in actual black holes thousands of light-years away from our best instruments, why not bring the black holes to our best instruments?

As Oliver Moody reports for The Times, Steinhauer has managed to created a lab-sized ‘black hole’ made from sound, and when he kicked it into gear, he witnessed particles steal energy from its fringes.

Reporting his experiment in a paper posted to the physics pre-press website, arXiv.org, Steinhauer says he cooled helium to just above absolute zero, then churned it up so fast, it formed a ‘barrier’ through which sound should not be able to pass.

“Steinhauer said he had found signs that phonons, the very small packets of energy that make up sound waves, were leaking out of his sonic black hole just as Hawking’s equations predict they should,” Moody reports.

To be clear, the results of this experiment have not yet been peer-reviewed – that’s the point of putting everything up for the public to see on arXiv.org. They’re now being mulled over by physicists around the world, and they’re already proving controversial, but worthy of further investigation.

“The experiments are beautiful,” physicist Silke Weinfurtner from the University of Nottingham in the UK, who is running his own Earth-based experiments to try and detect Hawking radiation, told The Telegraph. “Jeff has done an amazing job, but some of the claims he makes are open to debate. This is worth discussing.”

Meanwhile, a paper published in Physical Review Letters last month has found another way to strengthen the case for Hawking radiation. Physicists Chris Adami and Kamil Bradler from the University of Ottawa describe a new technique that allows them to follow a black hole’s life over time.

That’s exciting stuff, because it means that whatever information or matter that passes over the event horizon doesn’t ‘disappear’ but is slowly leaking back out during the later stages of the black hole’s evaporation.

“To perform this calculation, we had to guess how a black hole interacts with the Hawking radiation field that surrounds it,” Adami said in a press release. “This is because there currently is no theory of quantum gravity that could suggest such an interaction. However, it appears we made a well-educated guess because our model is equivalent to Hawking’s theory in the limit of fixed, unchanging black holes.”

Both results will now need to be confirmed, but they suggest that we’re inching closer to figuring out a solution for how we can confirm or disprove the existence of Hawking radiation, and that’s good news for its namesake.

As Moody points out, Peter Higgs, who predicted the existence of the Higgs boson, had to wait 49 years for his Nobel prize, we’ll have to wait and see if Hawking ends up with his own.

Black hole breakthrough found on earth

Haifa-based scientist Jeff Steinhauer has simulated a black hole in his laboratory, and it might be the breakthrough that helps celebrated physicist Stephen Hawking win the Nobel Prize. CNN’s Ian lee reports.


8 scientific papers that were rejected before going on to win a Nobel Prize

Take that, reviewer number 2.

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As a scientist, there are few things more soul-crushing than spending months or years working on a paper, only to have it rejected by your journal of choice – especially when you really feel like you’re onto something important.

But it turns out that plenty of world-famous researchers went through rejection before finally having their papers published – including a few papers that later went on to win a Nobel Prize.

That’s not to say the publication system failed these researchers – in fact, the rejection process is part of good, healthy peer-review.

Peer-review involves having a group of independent researchers read every paper submitted to a journal to make sure that the methods and conclusions are solid. They will often suggest revisions to be made, and can reject a paper if they think more work needs to be done, or if it’s not the right fit for the journal.

Following rejection, the end product is usually better than it would have been originally – or it at least, ends up in a more approporiate journal.

Hearing about the renowned pieces of work that faced setbacks before going on to revolutionise the field is a comforting reminder that rejection isn’t necessarily the end of your research – sometimes it’s just the beginning.

1. Enrico Fermi’s seminal paper on weak interaction, 1933

“It contained speculations too remote from reality to be of interest to the reader.” – Frank Close, Small Things and Nothing

Weak interaction, one of the four (or potentially five) fundamental forces of nature, was first described by Enrico Fermi back in 1933, in his paper “An attempt of a theory of beta radiation,” published in German journal Zeitschrift für Physik.

But it was first rejected from Nature for being ‘too removed from reality’.

The paper went on to be the foundation of the work that won Fermi the 1938 Nobel Prize in Physics, at the age of 37, for “demonstrations of the existence of new radioactive elements produced by neutron irradiation, and for his related discovery of nuclear reactions brought about by slow neutrons”.

2. Hans Krebs’ paper on the citric acid cycle, AKA the Krebs cycle, 1937


Yes, even scientists who have textbook processes named after them have faced rejection. There wasn’t anything wrong with Krebs’ paper, but Nature had such a backlog of submissions at the time that they simply couldn’t look at it.

“This was the first time in my career, after having published more than 50 papers, that I had rejection or semi-rejection,” Krebs wrote in his memoir.

The paper, “The role of citric acid in intermediate metabolism in animal tissues,” went on to be published in the Dutch journal Enzymologia later that year, and in 1953 Krebs won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for “his discovery of the citric acid cycle”.

3. Murray Gell-Mann’s work on classifying the elementary particles, 1953

“That was not my title, which was: ‘Isotopic Spin and Curious Particles.’ Physical Review rejected ‘Curious Particles’. I tried ‘Strange Particles’, and they rejected that too. They insisted on: ‘New Unstable Particles’. That was the only phrase sufficiently pompous for the editors of the Physical Review.

I should say now that I have always hated the Physical Review Letters and almost 20 years ago I decided never again to publish in that journal, but in 1953 I was scarcely in a position to shop around.” – Murray Gell-Mann, Strangeness

Sometimes it’s not the content of a journal article that has it rejected, but the headline.

In the end it didn’t really matter what the headline was, seeing as Gell-Mann was awarded the 1969 Nobel Prize in Physics “for his contributions and discoveries concerning the classification of elementary particles and their interactions”.

4. The invention of the radioimmunoassay, 1955

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Years after winning the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1977, Rosalyn Yalow would show this rejection letter around proudly.

It was sent by The Journal of Clinical Investigation because the reviewers were skeptical that humans could make antibodies small enough to bind to things like insulin.

She proved them wrong, and now radioimmunoassay is a common technique used for determining antibody levels in the body – it works by releasing an antigen tagged with a radioisotope and tracking it around the body.

5. The first model of the Higgs, 1964

“[Peter] Higgs wrote a second short paper describing what came to be called ‘the Higgs model’ and submitted it to Physics Letters, but it was rejected on the grounds that it did not warrant rapid publication.” – The University of Edinburgh

This one took a while to earn recognition, but after having his seminal paper on the Higgs model rejected back in 1966, Higgs was finally awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2013, after researchers at CERN detected evidence of the Higgs boson at their ATLAS and CMS experiments.

His original paper, “Spontaneous symmetry breakdown without massless bosons,” was published in Physical Review later that year.

6. Paper outlining nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, 1966

“The response to our invention was however meagre. The paper that described our achievements was rejected twice by the Journal of Chemical Physics to be finally accepted and published in the Review of Scientific Instruments.” – Richard Ernst, Nobel Prize

You might not have heard much about NMR spectroscopy, but it’s responsible for revealing details about the structure and dynamics of molecules – something that’s incredibly handy for chemists and biochemists.

But the first paper outlining the technology, “Application of Fourier Transform Spectroscopy to Magnetic Resonance,” received little attention at the time.

Richard Ernst received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1991.

7. The discovery of quasicrystals, 1984

“It was rejected on the grounds that it will not interest physicists.” – Dan Shechtman

Quasicrystals are structures that are ordered but not periodic, but when Dan Shectman first reported on these strange structures back in his 1984 paper “The Microstructure of Rapidly Solidified Al6Mn,” it was rejected by Physical Review Letters for being more relevant to metallurgic researchers.

It was published by Metallurgic Transactions A later that year, and Shechtman went on to win the Nobel Prize in 2011.

8. The first paper on polymerase chain reaction (PCR), 1993

“Dan Koshland would be the editor of Science when my first PCR paper was rejected from that journal and also the editor when PCR was three years later proclaimed Molecule of the Year.” – Kary Mullis, Nobel Prize

Kary Mullis was jointly awarded the 1993 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for “his invention of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method”.

PCR is the technique that is used every day in labs across the world to amplify DNA strands – but the first paper describing it was rejected by Science. No word as yet on why, but we bet the journal was pretty sore to miss out on that scoop.

If you want more healthy reminding of the long list of no’s behind success, check out the CV of failures a Princeton professor wrote earlier this year.

I don’t know about you, but I feel so much better now.

Map of Body’s Protein-Folding Machinery Wins a Major Medical Prize

The Lasker Awards are called the “American Nobels,” and one of the new winners says curiosity is his driving force

It’s speculation season once again for Nobel Prize watchers. Monday morning winners of the prestigious Lasker Awards for three areas of research in medicine and biology were named, and the so-called “American Nobels” often presage their European counterpart. Eighty-six Lasker laureates have gone on to receive a Nobel Prize, including 47 in the last three decades, according to the Lasker Foundation.

This year Kazutoshi Mori and Peter Walterwill receive a Lasker for discovering how the body fixes misshapen proteins—which would otherwise cause damage or disease—in a part of the cell called the endoplasmic reticulum. Another Lasker will go to Alim Louis Benabid of Joseph Fourier University in Grenoble, France, and Mahlon DeLong, the researchers behind deep-brain stimulation, a surgical technique to alleviate certain symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.Mary-Claire King will also receive a Lasker for her work contributing both to medical science and human rights. She uncovered the gene location and significance of theBRCA1 gene, which increases risk of hereditary breast cancer. She also developed techniques that use DNA to help reunite missing persons and their families.

Walter, one of this year’s winners, spoke with Scientific American about the import of his discoveries and his sheer love for basic research.

[An edited transcript of the interview follows.]

Roughly one third of all proteins are modified, folded and assembled in the endoplasmic reticulum. What are the consequences if something goes wrong there?
The endoplasmic reticulum is the weigh station the protein goes through on the way to become either secreted from the cell or be embedded in the plasma membrane.

Unfolded proteins create stress on the cell, and you potentially create situations where you now put less assembled proteins in the plasma membrane. Not only do you compromise the integrity of the membrane, but you also put in machinery that may no longer function properly. You now have cells that may inappropriately signal and become rogue cells that could become a danger to the organism. Rather than doing that, the cells try to establish equilibrium and then establish a balance between capacity and need. If that balance cannot be achieved, the cell submits to apoptosis—cell death. With retinitis pigmentosa, for example, it’s an inherited protein misfolding disease. Proteins don’t fold properly; the whole cell gets frustrated by having misfolded proteins, so the cell kills itself.

What keeps unfolded proteins from overwhelming the system?
There are various machineries in the cell called molecular chaperones that protect proteins from undergoing premature interactions and bind to unfolded proteins and keep them soluble until they can properly mature. We are standing on the shoulders of giants—work that helped identify the role of the chaperones led to the Lasker Award a few years ago, and those researchers, too, stood on the shoulders of others.

When you first embarked on this area of research in 1993, what were you hoping to find?
We wanted to find the molecular machinery that allows one component of the cell to talk to another. There was virtually nothing known about what was taking place. We used yeast—a system easily accessible genetically—and asked the question how does one part of the cell know what is going on in another part. That led us into the mode of discovery. It was a very, very simple question—and at the beginning we had simple answers. The deeper we dove, however, the more complex it became and the more beautiful it became. The single-cell organism findings applied directly to human physiology, with pretty much everything we learned from yeast applying to humans as well.

What did you find in these cells?
We discovered machinery by which the cell has the capacity to fold the protein properly and pathway by which this happened. We mapped the components of the pathway and everything turned out to be more exciting than we could have hoped for. It was basically pure curiosity. We had no preconceived notions that it would turn out to be anything as exciting as it was in the end.

How were you able to map out what was happening?
We had engineered yeast cells and put an enzyme into the cells that produces a color reaction. So, normally when proteins folded in the cell they turned blue but mutant cells didn’t allow that signal to arrive and they didn’t change color. That allowed us to map the pathway and understand it.

What questions still need to be answered in this arena?
There are many, many questions at every level. At the mechanistic level we try to understand the machinery as enzymes and little molecular machines, trying to see how we can manipulate them the best and push them a little bit one way or another. At another level we have multiple branches at the signaling level and we need to understand how they interact with one another. At a clinical level we need to understand where we can interfere or intervene with the signaling pathway to the benefit of the patient.

What is your research focusing on now?
We are trying to figure out the molecular pathways by which the cells make the decisions and decide if they need to kill themselves. We’re also mapping some of the components on that decision pathway and trying to figure out how to influence them one way or another and put them in disease models so we can see how we can effect a benefit. We are working on how to screen for and isolate small molecules to impact that pathway and test them in animal models for a number of different diseases.

What significance will the Lasker Award have for that research?
I think it’s very thrilling for us. I’m particularly proud that we started from the basic research interest and it’s now developed into clinical relevance. We only got here because of sheer curiosity and the generous funding we got for this foundational research. At the beginning it wasn’t clear where the benefit would be and we didn’t propose at the beginning any translational applications. They only developed after we understood what was going on. The emphasis on basic curiosity in clinical research is so important to drive our knowledge forward. This award will help with that in an enormous way—the publicity that comes with this and the focus on it for human health.

What is the greatest challenge currently facing researchers in basic biology and basic research?
I think that right now there is a climate in research funding where you have to justify translational applications at the onset. Curiosity isn’t enough to justify that something is worth pursuing now and I think to some degree it’s not always the most effective way of moving forward.

What do you tell your students interested in basic research working in the current climate?
My advice is to be patient and that the pendulum swings back. You need to educate the public about the importance of your work and to just really justify the value of what you are doing. I think science education is incredibly important and the general public needs to understand that these discoveries are essential.

Do you see therapeutic applications arising from your initial breakthrough in the foreseeable future?
I certainly hope so. We have very active collaborations with biotechnology companies to develop components that will affect these pathways. They are putting them through all the tests for cancer and other diseases. I hope one of them will develop into a tangible drug. It’s a very different approach for cancer, for example, because what we are looking at here are pathways for every cell.

Peter Higgs: I wouldn’t be productive enough for today’s academic system.

Physicist doubts work like Higgs boson identification achievable now as academics are expected to ‘keep churning out papers’
  • Peter Higgs: 'Today I wouldn't get an academic job. It's as simple as that'.
Peter Higgs: ‘Today I wouldn’t get an academic job. It’s as simple as that’. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Peter Higgs, the British physicist who gave his name to the Higgs boson, believes no university would employ him in today’s academic system because he would not be considered “productive” enough.

The emeritus professor at Edinburgh University, who says he has never sent an email, browsed the internet or even made a mobile phone call, published fewer than 10 papers after his groundbreaking work, which identified the mechanism by which subatomic material acquires mass, was published in 1964.

He doubts a similar breakthrough could be achieved in today’s academic culture, because of the expectations on academics to collaborate and keep churning out papers. He said: “It’s difficult to imagine how I would ever have enough peace and quiet in the present sort of climate to do what I did in 1964.”

Speaking to the Guardian en route to Stockholm to receive the 2013 Nobel prize for science, Higgs, 84, said he would almost certainly have been sacked had he not been nominated for the Nobel in 1980.

Edinburgh University’s authorities then took the view, he later learned, that he “might get a Nobel prize – and if he doesn’t we can always get rid of him”.

Higgs said he became “an embarrassment to the department when they did research assessment exercises”. A message would go around the department saying: “Please give a list of your recent publications.” Higgs said: “I would send back a statement: ‘None.’ ”

By the time he retired in 1996, he was uncomfortable with the new academic culture. “After I retired it was quite a long time before I went back to my department. I thought I was well out of it. It wasn’t my way of doing things any more. Today I wouldn’t get an academic job. It’s as simple as that. I don’t think I would be regarded as productive enough.”

Higgs revealed that his career had also been jeopardised by his disagreements in the 1960s and 70s with the then principal, Michael Swann, who went on to chair the BBC. Higgs objected to Swann’s handling of student protests and to the university’s shareholdings in South African companies during the apartheid regime. “[Swann] didn’t understand the issues, and denounced the student leaders.”

He regrets that the particle he identified in 1964 became known as the “God particle”.

He said: “Some people get confused between the science and the theology. They claim that what happened at Cern proves the existence of God.”

An atheist since the age of 10, he fears the nickname “reinforces confused thinking in the heads of people who are already thinking in a confused way. If they believe that story about creation in seven days, are they being intelligent?”

He also revealed that he turned down a knighthood in 1999. “I’m rather cynical about the way the honours system is used, frankly. A whole lot of the honours system is used for political purposes by the government in power.”

He has not yet decided which way he will vote in the referendum onScottish independence. “My attitude would depend a little bit on how much progress the lunatic right of the Conservative party makes in trying to get us out of Europe. If the UK were threatening to withdraw from Europe, I would certainly want Scotland to be out of that.”

He has never been tempted to buy a television, but was persuaded to watch The Big Bang Theory last year, and said he wasn’t impressed.


Are You A Right Brain Or Left Brain Thinking ?

Have you ever heard people say that they tend to be more of a right-brain or left-brain thinker? From books to television programs, you’ve probably heard the phrase mentioned numerous times or perhaps you’ve even taken an online test to determine which type best describes you. Given the popularity of the idea of “right brained” and “left brained” thinkers, it might surprise you learn learn that this idea is little more than a myth.

What Is Left Brain – Right Brain Theory?

According to the theory of left-brain or right-brain dominance, each side of the brain controls different types of thinking. Additionally, people are said to prefer one type of thinking over the other. For example, a person who is “left-brained” is often said to be more logical, analytical, and objective, while a person who is “right-brained” is said to be more intuitive, thoughtful, and subjective.

In psychology, the theory is based on what is known as the lateralization of brain function. So does one side of the brain really control specific functions? Are people either left-brained or right-brained? Like many popular psychology myths, this one grew out of observations about the human brain that were then dramatically distorted and exaggerated.

The right brain-left brain theory originated in the work of Roger W. Sperry, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1981. While studying the effects of epilepsy, Sperry discovered that cutting the corpus collosum (the structure that connects the two hemispheres of the brain) could reduce or eliminate seizures.

However, these patients also experienced other symptoms after the communication pathway between the two sides of the brain was cut. For example, many split-brain patients found themselves unable to name objects that were processed by the right side of the brain, but were able to name objects that were processed by the left-side of the brain. Based on this information, Sperry suggested that language was controlled by the left-side of the brain.

Later research has shown that the brain is not nearly as dichotomous as once thought. For example, recent research has shown that abilities in subjects such as math are actually strongest when both halves of the brain work together. Today, neuroscientists know that the two sides of the brain work together to perform a wide variety of tasks and that the two hemispheres communicate through the corpus collosum.

“No matter how lateralized the brain can get, though, the two sides still work together,” explains science writer Carl Zimmer in an article for Discover magazine. “The pop psychology notion of a left brain and a right brain doesn’t capture their intimate working relationship. The left hemisphere specializes in picking out the sounds that form words and working out the syntax of the words, for example, but it does not have a monopoly on language processing. The right hemisphere is actually more sensitive to the emotional features of language, tuning in to the slow rhythms of speech that carry intonation and stress.”

While the idea of right brain / left brain thinkers has been debunked, its popularity persists. So what exactly does this theory suggest?

The Right Brain

According to the left-brain, right-brain dominance theory, the right side of the brain is best at expressive and creative tasks. Some of the abilities that are popularly associated with the right side of the brain include:

  • Recognizing faces
  • Expressing emotions
  • Music
  • Reading emotions
  • Color
  • Images
  • Intuition
  • Creativity

The Left Brain

The left-side of the brain is considered to be adept at tasks that involve logic, language and analytical thinking. The left-brain is often described as being better at:

  • Language
  • Logic
  • Critical thinking
  • Numbers
  • Reasoning

The Uses of Right-Brain, Left-Brain Theory

While often over-generalized and overstated by popular psychology and self-help texts, understanding your strengths and weaknesses in certain areas can help you develop better ways to learn and study. For example, students who have a difficult time following verbal instructions (often cited as a right-brain characteristic) can benefit from writing down directions and developing better organizational skills.


Researchers discover new form of 12-sided quasicrystal.

A team of researchers working at Germany‘s Martin-Luther-Universität has discovered a new form of a 12-sidded quasicrystal. In their paper published in the journal Nature, the team describes how they accidently created the previously unknown crystalline structured material while investigating interfacing properties between various substances.

Researchers discover new form of 12-sided quasicrystal

Quasicrystals are substances that look a lot like crystals but have one major exception—the  of their structure is non-repeating. They were first discovered in 1982 by Daniel Shechtman—he won the Nobel Prize in chemistry for it in 2011. Since that time they have been created in the lab in various ways and have even been found in nature—as part of a meteorite that fell in Russia (which because it was found to have been created by a non-heat related astrophysical process, showed that applying heat wasn’t necessary to create them). In this latest effort the researchers created one using perovskite oxides, potentially extending the number of  that can be created by such .

The team in Germany was investigating the ways perovskite behaved when used as a layer on top of a metal base. After exposure to extremely high temperatures, they noted that the material began to shape into a pattern, which they naturally assumed was a crystal. Upon closer inspection, they found that the 12-sided pattern didn’t repeat itself—the mark of a . The team notes that perovskite oxides are not normally noted for forming into quasicrystals, and in fact, no one really thought it was possible.

The discovery extends the types of quasicrystals that are known to exist, though not all of them have 12 sides of course. Their unusual structures make possible the creation of materials with unusual properties which scientists are just now beginning to find. Finding ways to create them using materials not normally associated with such odd structures may pave the way to a much broader array of end products—now that scientists know that it is possible, the door has been opened to creating all sorts of new materials from perovskite oxide based quasicrystals (now called barium titanate), such as thermal insulators or coatings for electronic components.


The discovery of quasicrystals—crystalline structures that show order while lacking periodicity—forced a paradigm shift in crystallography. Initially limited to intermetallic systems, the observation of quasicrystalline structures has recently expanded to include ‘soft’ quasicrystals in the fields of colloidal and supermolecular chemistry. Here we report an aperiodic oxide that grows as a two-dimensional quasicrystal on a periodic single-element substrate. On a Pt(111) substrate with 3-fold symmetry, the perovskite barium titanate BaTiO3 forms a high-temperature interface-driven structure with 12-fold symmetry. The building blocks of this dodecagonal structure assemble with the theoretically predicted Stampfli–Gähler tiling having a fundamental length-scale of 0.69?nm. This example of interface-driven formation of ultrathin quasicrystals from a typical periodic perovskite oxide potentially extends the quasicrystal concept to a broader range of materials. In addition, it demonstrates that frustration at the interface between two periodic materials can drive a thin film into an aperiodic quasicrystalline phase, as proposed previously. Such structures might also find use as ultrathin buffer layers for the accommodation of large lattice mismatches in conventional epitaxy.


The 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

The 2013 Nobel Prize honours three scientists who have solved the mystery of how the cell organizes its transport system. Each cell is a factory that produces and exports molecules. For instance, insulin is manufactured and released into the blood and chemical signals called neurotransmitters are sent from one nerve cell to another. These molecules are transported around the cell in small packages called vesicles. The three Nobel Laureates have discovered the molecular principles that govern how this cargo is delivered to the right place at the right time in the cell.

Randy Schekman discovered a set of genes that were required for vesicle traffic. James Rothman  unravelled protein machinery that allows vesicles to fuse with their targets to permit transfer of cargo. Thomas Südhof revealed how signals instruct vesicles to release their cargo with precision.

Through their discoveries, Rothman, Schekman and Südhof have revealed the exquisitely precise control system for the transport and delivery of cellular cargo. Disturbances in this system have deleterious effects and contribute to conditions such as neurological diseases, diabetes, and immunological disorders.

How cargo is transported in the cell

In a large and busy port, systems are required to ensure that the correct cargo is shipped to the correct destination at the right time. The cell, with its different compartments called organelles, faces a similar problem: cells produce molecules such as hormones, neurotransmitters, cytokines and enzymes that have to be delivered to other places inside the cell, or exported out of the cell, at exactly the right moment. Timing and location are everything. Miniature bubble-like vesicles, surrounded by membranes, shuttle the cargo between organelles or fuse with the outer membrane of the cell and release their cargo to the outside. This is of major importance, as it triggers nerve activation in the case of transmitter substances, or controls metabolism in the case of hormones. How do these vesicles know where and when to deliver their cargo?

Traffic congestion reveals genetic controllers

Randy Schekman was fascinated by how the cell organizes its transport system and in the 1970s decided to study its genetic basis by using yeast as a model system. In a genetic screen, he identified yeast cells with defective transport machinery, giving rise to a situation resembling a poorly planned public transport system. Vesicles piled up in certain parts of the cell. He found that the cause of this congestion was genetic and went on to identify the mutated genes. Schekman identified three classes of genes that control different facets of the cell´s transport system, thereby providing new insights into the tightly regulated machinery that mediates vesicle transport in the cell.

Docking with precision

James Rothman was also intrigued by the nature of the cell´s transport system. When studying vesicle transport in mammalian cells in the 1980s and 1990s, Rothman discovered that a protein complex enables vesicles to dock and fuse with their target membranes. In the fusion process, proteins on the vesicles and target membranes bind to each other like the two sides of a zipper. The fact that there are many such proteins and that they bind only in specific combinations ensures that cargo is delivered to a precise location. The same principle operates inside the cell and when a vesicle binds to the cell´s outer membrane to release its contents.

It turned out that some of the genes Schekman had discovered in yeast coded for proteins corresponding to those Rothman identified in mammals, revealing an ancient evolutionary origin of the transport system. Collectively, they mapped critical components of the cell´s transport machinery.

Timing is everything

Thomas Südhof was interested in how nerve cells communicate with one another in the brain. The signalling molecules, neurotransmitters, are released from vesicles that fuse with the outer membrane of nerve cells by using the machinery discovered by Rothman and Schekman. But these vesicles are only allowed to release their contents when the nerve cell signals to its neighbours. How is this release controlled in such a precise manner? Calcium ions were known to be involved in this process and in the 1990s, Südhof searched for calcium sensitive proteins in nerve cells. He identified molecular machinery that responds to an influx of calcium ions and directs neighbour proteins rapidly to bind vesicles to the outer membrane of the nerve cell. The zipper opens up and signal substances are released. Südhof´s discovery explained how temporal precision is achieved and how vesicles´ contents can be released on command.

Vesicle transport gives insight into disease processes

The three Nobel Laureates have discovered a fundamental process in cell physiology. These discoveries have had a major impact on our understanding of how cargo is delivered with timing and precision within and outside the cell.  Vesicle transport and fusion operate, with the same general principles, in organisms as different as yeast and man. The system is critical for a variety of physiological processes in which vesicle fusion must be controlled, ranging from signalling in the brain to release of hormones and immune cytokines. Defective vesicle transport occurs in a variety of diseases including a number of neurological and immunological disorders, as well as in diabetes. Without this wonderfully precise organization, the cell would lapse into chaos.

James E. Rothman was born 1950 in Haverhill, Massachusetts, USA. He received his PhD from Harvard Medical School in 1976, was a postdoctoral fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and moved in 1978 to Stanford University in California, where he started his research on the vesicles of the cell. Rothman has also worked at Princeton University, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Institute and Columbia University. In 2008, he joined the faculty of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, USA, where he is currently Professor and Chairman in the Department of Cell Biology.

Randy W. Schekman was born 1948 in St Paul, Minnesota, USA, studied at the University of California in Los Angeles and at Stanford University, where he obtained his PhD in 1974 under the supervision of Arthur Kornberg (Nobel Prize 1959) and in the same department that Rothman joined a few years later. In 1976, Schekman joined the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley, where he is currently Professor in the Department of Molecular and Cell biology. Schekman is also an investigator of Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Thomas C. Südhof was born in 1955 in Göttingen, Germany. He studied at the Georg-August-Universität in Göttingen, where he received an MD in 1982 and a Doctorate in neurochemistry the same year. In 1983, he moved to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, USA, as a postdoctoral fellow with Michael Brown and Joseph Goldstein (who shared the 1985 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine). Südhof became an investigator of Howard Hughes Medical Institute in 1991 and was appointed Professor of Molecular and Cellular Physiology at Stanford University in 2008.

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