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Archive for the ‘science’ Category

I’m not much in the mood for blogging this week, but can’t let it be said I don’t rise to an occasion when a topic rears its ugly head. Not that I’m throbbing with any desire to stand at attention, nor to prostrate myself in order to take in the hard issues, but do feel it apt to take it in hand to act as an organ of communication, to attempt to erect some sort of rigid structure from which to dangle a thought or two since I’ve yet to go either soft or squishy when it comes to items in the news, no matter how resistant I may be to swallowing what’s rammed down my throat.

Yes, peeps, it’s Penis on Parade Week, an event designed to illustrate for once (or a whole bunch of times) and for all (within a certain age range) that the brain is actually a superfluous body part undamaged by redirection of blood flow.

I know by now it’s a case of flogging a deceased well-endowed equine, but REALLY! Could anyone have written a tale of a guy named Weiner taking his sausage social? If something like that had come across the desk of someone other than a teacher of twelve-year-olds it would have been tossed straightaway.

As fodder, of course, the story is quite the tempting mouthful, as Andy Borowitz reveals in his usual kinda-like-a-twelve-year-old fashion as he slides in his jabs:

Traffic snarled for miles around the Capitol building as the streets filled with the penis-photo recipients, whom police sources said ranged in age from 21 to 22.

While there was no official count of the marchers, Fox News estimated the size of the crowd at twenty million while MSNBC said the number was closer to fourteen.

But seriously, folks …

I am rubbing up against a hard issue today, too.

It’s this business over taking tips that has me grabbing for the tissues.

Those San Franciscans may not be the only ones voting on whether or not to make circumcision illegal for minors.

The New York Times reports “intactivists” are fighting for a similar ballot issue in Santa Monica, arguing that the procedure is “male genital mutilation.”

“This is the furthest we’ve gotten, and it is a huge step for us,” Matthew Hess, who wrote both bills, tells the newspaper, adding that folks in other cities have been calling for help, as well. “This is a conversation we are long overdue to have in this country. The end goal for us is making cutting boys’ foreskin a federal crime.”

Although I am all in favor of moving past the point where baby boys were all but automatically circumcised … and that was the case in America for many years … this palaver seems misguided, at best, perhaps racist and possibly a dangerous diversion.

Esthetically, it’s neither here nor there to me since flaccid form seems to have no influence over function, but I do know some men long for their lost foreskin … a few with the same passion they carry resentments for stolen toys. I suppose it does give a bit more to play with, and a bit more can make all the difference in the world to some guys and the idea that they should have had some say in the matter does have merit.

From a medical perspective, phimosis must be considered. Although this super-tight foreskin problem can sometimes be stretched away, very often the only solution is surgical.

Given the drastic reduction in rates of HIV transmission circumcision offers, there also seems to be a more general advantage.

Not particularly tolerant of religious dictates, especially those involving a blade, ritual circumcision seems an unnecessary harkening back to ancient times when bathing was unusual and cheesy foreskins invited infection, then passed those along.

Cutting your kid so he looks like you seems another silly reason, and any guy who spent time in the locker room checking out the extra bit at the end the quarterback’s dick and found it unattractive was doing too much peepee peeking and should make the decision on their own sons out of more solid objectives.

The main reason, however, I’m going at it on the topic is that diversion thing I mentioned. Making a big thing out of the business of mohels … and, by the way, I understand they aren’t paid; they only take tips … is a muddying of the waters that run between removal of penile foreskin and the horrors of what is euphemistically known as female circumcision.

No matter how often the “Intactivists” toss around the words “genital mutilation” what is done to boys is NOTHING like what happens to millions of girls around the world.

From WHO:

Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or injure female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women.

Procedures can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later, potential childbirth complications and newborn deaths.

An estimated 100 to 140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of FGM.

It is mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15 years.

In Africa an estimated 92 million girls from 10 years of age and above have undergone FGM.

FGM is internationally recognized as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.

If a bunch of people in Santa Monica want to go all high and mighty over the issue of circumcising boys, so be it, but I won’t respect them in the morning.

By the way, is Weiner with, or without?

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You know how some news stories grab attention and make sense on some level, yet grate away for a while leaving enough of a raw spot to require examination?

No, I’m not talking about spending any time pondering what that fuckwit Camping is thinking as he has shifted doomsday to October since he’s clearly hoping to clear a few more million before the world or his credibility finally comes to an end. (And if you happen to know anyone stupid enough to even think about sending him some dosh, have them send it to me instead. I’ll get the word out just fine, thankyouverymuch, and I won’t publicized the idiocy of handing a load of cash over, so no worries about something like this showing up in the media:

“I’ve been mocked and scoffed and cursed at and I’ve been through a lot with this lighted sign on top of my car,” said Hopkins, 52, a former television producer who lives in Great River, New York. “I was doing what I’ve been instructed to do through the Bible, but now I’ve been stymied. It’s like getting slapped in the face.”)

What a moron … but not today’s topic …

The story that got me was this from the BBC: India’s Unwanted Girls.

India’s 2011 census shows a serious decline in the number of girls under the age of seven – activists fear eight million female foetuses may have been aborted in the past decade.

Horrible. Just horrible. But this is not a story about abortion. It’s not even a story about the illegal practice of prenatal determining of the sex of a fetus with the intention of aborting girls. It’s not about the consequences the imbalance of girls-to-boys when it becomes women-to-men, how few brides there will be, how many guys will be left high and dry and how that will impact future generations.

Nope. This is about the simple fact that in 2011 the female gender is disregarded to the point of being considered in negative value to the point of genocide, or “gendercide” as some choose to call it.

It’s not new, as Gendercide Watch makes very clear:

In many cultures, government permitted, if not encouraged, the killing of handicapped or female infants or otherwise unwanted children. In the Greece of 200 B.C., for example, the murder of female infants was so common that among 6,000 families living in Delphi no more than 1 percent had two daughters. Among 79 families, nearly as many had one child as two. Among all there were only 28 daughters to 118 sons. … But classical Greece was not unusual. In eighty-four societies spanning the Renaissance to our time, “defective” children have been killed in one-third of them. In India, for example, because of Hindu beliefs and the rigid caste system, young girls were murdered as a matter of course. When demographic statistics were first collected in the nineteenth century, it was discovered that in “some villages, no girl babies were found at all; in a total of thirty others, there were 343 boys to 54 girls. … [I]n Bombay, the number of girls alive in 1834 was 603.”

So neither new, nor improved.

The BBC’s take focuses around the availability of ultrasound technology and subsequent abortion and quotes someone who apparently didn’t study up on this history much …

Until 30 years ago, he says, India’s sex ratio was “reasonable”. Then in 1974, Delhi’s prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences came out with a study which said sex-determination tests were a boon for Indian women.

It said they no longer needed to produce endless children to have the right number of sons, and it encouraged the determination and elimination of female foetuses as an effective tool of population control.

A 1994 law outlawed sex-selective abortion, but the government has “been forced to admit its strategy has failed to put an end to female feticide.”

Well, yeah … Since laws against murder did squat to stop female infanticide, why would anyone expect this to work?

As illustrated well in my friend Rihaan Patel’s award-winning short film “The Death of Daughters” girls born does not lead to girl living. (Yeah, that’s a plug. He’s young and just getting started, so I thought I’d give him a mention.)

From Gendercide Watch:

Lakshmi already had one daughter, so when she gave birth to a second girl, she killed her. For the three days of her second child’s short life, Lakshmi admits, she refused to nurse her. To silence the infant’s famished cries, the impoverished village woman squeezed the milky sap from an oleander shrub, mixed it with castor oil, and forced the poisonous potion down the newborn’s throat. The baby bled from the nose, then died soon afterward. Female neighbors buried her in a small hole near Lakshmi’s square thatched hut of sunbaked mud. They sympathized with Lakshmi, and in the same circumstances, some would probably have done what she did. For despite the risk of execution by hanging and about 16 months of a much-ballyhooed government scheme to assist families with daughters, in some hamlets of … Tamil Nadu, murdering girls is still sometimes believed to be a wiser course than raising them. “A daughter is always liabilities. How can I bring up a second?” Lakshmi, 28, answered firmly when asked by a visitor how she could have taken her own child’s life eight years ago. “Instead of her suffering the way I do, I thought it was better to get rid of her.”

Another cultural quirk like female genital mutilation, preventing women from participating in life through bans on voting, owning property, driving, getting an education, leaving the house?

Can there be any doubt over why it’s okay for many to kill baby girls when the world has yet to come to any meaningful consensus on their worth? When the simple possession of a penis bestows esteem … no matter how stupid, useless, debauched, evil, profane or disgusting the bearer … and societies encourage this view, the issue of allowing more girls into the world can seem a silly waste of resources at best, and a dangerous game of numbers to some.

Zero tolerance for such attitudes is the only answer; international courts where offenders, both individuals and offending nations are called to account as well as local jurisdictions with the will and the power to enforce laws demanding equal treatment, equal rights. Poor countries with stone age perspective and well-entrenched customs should be sanctioned out of their socks, taken to task, forced in all possible ways to abandon the old traditions and move the female portions of their populations into the mainstream of everything.

It will happen. Not in my lifetime, for sure, but it will, and maybe even before the rapture … rupture … whatevahhh. If it does take that long, watch out, because God is going to be really pissed off at how her girls have been treated.

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My friend Paul Sandstone over at Café Philos has a thread going now that ties in … a bit … with that World Ends Next Saturday nonsense I wrote about a couple of days ago.

Beginning with the the question, “Belief in God is Natural?”, Paul sites early reports on a Cognition, religion and Theology project at Oxford, and carries on from there with what I consider appropriate skepticism.

There are, at this hour, a handful of early reports that the Centre for Anthropology and Mind, which is associated with the prestigious University of Oxford, has concluded its Cognition, Religion and Theology Project — and that the Project has found it’s natural to believe in God.

But I doubt those reports are true. I cannot be certain and this in only a hunch — but it seems like the early reports have misinterpreted the Project’s findings.

The reports are saying such things as, “Human beings have natural tendencies to believe in God…“, and, “Religion comes naturally, even instinctively, to human beings…“, and, “Holding religious beliefs may be an intrinsically human characteristic…“.

Curiosity drove me to dig into the roots of the Oxford study which revealed it is funded by the John Templeton Foundation, an organization whose slogan is “Supporting Science — Investigating the big questions”.

Okay.

So, who was this Templeton dude? Seems an apt question, since getting an idea of the roots of what are considered “the big questions” may have a lot to do with whatever answers come out of the project.

Well … turns out Mr. Templeton just may have had an agenda when he set up his foundation.

He was a lifelong member of the Presbyterian Church. He served as an elder of the First Presbyterian Church of Englewood (NJ). He was a trustee on the board of Princeton Theological Seminary, the largest Presbyterian seminary, for 42 years and served as its chair for 12 years.

Meanwhile … back at Café Philos …

Now, let’s return to the early reports of the Project’s findings. When those reports say things like, “Human beings have natural tendencies to believe in God…”, they might be subtly misinterpreting the findings. That is, I would not at all be surprised if the Project found a natural human tendency to see agency behind events. But, for a number of reasons, I would be greatly surprised if the Project actually found a natural human tendency to see God behind events. Or even a natural human tendency to see any deity — let alone the deity that gets capitalize as “God” — behind events.

Paul goes on to make many valid points and interesting observations on humans, religion and gods of all shapes and sizes, which brought me to thoughts about apes. (Go figure … )

In the world of brilliant science and big questions, I have a few heroes, one being Frans de Waal, professor of Primate Behavior at Emory University and all-around smart guy.

Dr. de Waal was recently interviewed by a publication called “Religion Dispatches”, during which the subject of religion was raised … or religion as a moral dictate, guidebook, whatever.

Dr. de Waal’s take differs from, say, that of well known atheist … and smart guy … Richard Dawkins … another Paul refers to at the café … addressing the “big question” of tending toward religion as an offshoot of an evolutionary mandate toward compassion. (Waters that have been considerably muddied by what calls itself religion.)

Regarding Dawkins:

Atheists—some of them, at least—have talked themselves into a corner and they don’t know how to get out of it, because we need to find a way of explaining where morality comes from. I think the way to do that is to return to Darwin. Darwin tried to place morality within human evolution. And that’s what I’m trying to do, at least with my primate studies. I’m trying to say, look at the behavior of other primates—there are enough indications that they have what Darwin would call the social instincts needed to get to morality. They don’t exactly have it, but they’re close enough for me to see that there’s a continuity. I think that’s the way out of the dilemma. Talking about whether God exists or not just really doesn’t do any good for that problem.

Exactly.

A study at Oxford may come up with all sorts of illustrations of why humans believe in god, subscribe to religions, drink the Kool-aid, but unless some redefining is done when it comes to either what is god or what is human or what counts where how, what good does it do, and what does it mean?

Frans de Waal:

Where everything started for me was maternal care. It’s advantageous for female mammals to be sensitive to the mood states of their offspring, so they react when their offspring are distressed or in danger. That also explains why empathy is more developed in females than males in many species, including humans. From there it spread to other areas of social life. It’s contagious: if you have a cooperative society, you need to be concerned about the well-being of those you depend on.

If I live in a society where I depend on others, I need to be concerned if those others are doing well, and that’s where empathy and altruism come in. It’s also why we think you find empathy in all mammalian species. It’s not limited to humans, and it’s not limited to primates. It’s probably universal in mammals.

It seems if there is A God guiding Earthlings toward altruism through whatever means, it might be hairy. After all, there were Monkey Gods B.C..

Do we need them, though? Until a chimp waves from a balcony in Rome, I’m thinking … not …

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During a long and pleasant conversation with Tom yesterday, we covered a bit of the territory involving the latest palaver over the … dumb da dumb doomend of the world, which according to some nut case in Oakland should be rolling around a week from Saturday.

May 21, 2011, is the latest attempt to get a jump on Judgment Day, courtesy of Oakland, Calif.-based Family Radio, a nonprofit evangelical Christian group.

Apparently, this particular flavor of nut has cracked before, but this time is really sure.

Family Radio, whose president, Harold Camping, predicted the End of Days before: Sept. 6, 1994. Camping had been “thrown off a correct calculation because of some verses in Matthew 24,” a company spokesman told ABC News this month.

The Christian radio broadcaster is apparently more confident this time around, spending big bucks on 5,000 billboards, posters, fliers and digital bus displays across the country.

And why not? Spend, spend and spend some more, I say, as what the hell else would one do on the last days?

Really. What?

Say the end really is nigh, there’s a week or a month or a year left before the planet explodes, implodes, offloads … whatever … and we somehow know this to be fact.

What?

What do we do differently?

Okay, we spend time with our loved ones, touch all the bases that need touching, convey all the emotions as best we can. Depending on the time allowed, perhaps we watch the sunset from a pyramid or ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower or swim the English Channel or otherwise check off bucket-list items.

Some might choose to get in all the get-backs they’ve been venomizing over for years. but the idea of taking an enemy out loses impact when we’re all in for it, dunnit? Why do some asshole the favor of an early checkout?

And there’s the point … we ARE all in for it. Sure, probably not at the same time under the same circumstances in the same conflagration or whatever, but the fact o’ the matter is, none of us get out of this alive so we might as well live as if we’ll die someday, somehow, somewhere.

That, of course, is hardly the point of the predictors of pending extinction, however, and maybe … just maybe … they’ve got the better handle on the big picture: End of the World = money in the bank.

Those who buy into the idea might very well run up their credit cards in what they are convinced is a “live for today” frenzy, but there’s hell to pay if they’ve been sold a bill of goods that doesn’t deliver.

For some, though, it delivers well enough …

Edgar Whisenant didn’t get it right the first time, either, when he predicted a mid-September 1988 Rapture, even publishing the books “88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988” and “On Borrowed Time.” No Apocalypse, no problem. The former NASA engineer simply pushed his predictions off to three subsequent years and wrote books along the way, none of which reportedly sold as well as the first two.

Interestingly, there’s no little advice on stuff you should have on hand to … and this I so don’t get … survive the end of the world.

Here’s just one list:

# Canned food something that does not need refrigeration
# Canned meats, spam , chicken, tuna etc you need at least 3 ounces of protein per person per day.
# Water can be stored in the 2 ½ gallon containers with the pour spout which are sturdy and easily stackable. Other sources of emergency water are discussed in the water section.
# Blankets should be available for all
# Water filter Brita or pump type
# Sugar cubes for energy, breakfast bars
# Small grill , propane barbeque or camping grill ( power is likely to be out)
# Cash for purchases if the power is out using small bills because change may not be possible.
# Parachute cord 100ft 550 pound test
# Duct tape one roll to seal around doors and window, tape bags together for emergency shelter or rain gear, and general mending.
# Needles and thread just sturdy thread clothes will need to be mended and occasionly a cut will need to be sewn shut as well
# Survival manual one that has a lot of pictures and information in it several are recommended on this site
# Plastic tarps with grommets at least 2 of 10 ft x 10ft each.
# Plastic coated playing cards
# Battery operated radio preferably crank type rechargeable and two changes of batteries
# Dishwashing soap and clean dish towels 2 or paper towels water can be scarce
# Manual can opener either the ecko hand crank type or the smaller survival type
# Trash bags 30 gallon or larger two for each person with twist ties. They can be used as emergency ponchos, trash bags, emergency toilets ( the plumbing may not work)
# Buy a 3 gallon paint bucket, one cheap toilet seat $5 and use the seat on the bucket and deodorise with aqua chem, an RV tank sanitizer to control the smell. Otherwise twist tie the bag closed it will smell bad in a confined area.
# Some sturdy dishes metal plates work fine and can be found at camping stores. A family sized mess kit will have pots plates and cups inside along with some silverware usually but check it.
# One or more really good flashlights. The new LED lights use a lot less power and last longer than regular bulbs.
# Bug repellent larger size since bugs will come in out of the rain as well
# General medications like aspirin ibuprophen, pepto bismol, mouthwash,
# Deodorant you may be living cramped for quite a while and a couple of washcloths and towels.
# Air matteresses are good but blankets and bedding are a must for sleeping.
# Candles the power is likely to be out a long time and it gets real dark without it.
# Box of wooden matches in plastic with the striker so they do not get wet
# Butane lighter at least one more is better one of the long ones to light the candles and stoves
# Coleman lantern and Coleman stove
# Two gallons of the liquid fuel they are interchangeable and it can be used to start a barbeque pit or wood fire later if the wood is wet.
# Prescription medications at least enough for two weeks lots of times you can get a 30 day supply for travel etc and just rotate it out to keep it fresh.
# Towels and wash cloths with a bar of soap
# Diapers and extra trash bags if you have infant children any lotions or powders you may need and dry or canned formula.
# Several changes of clothing which are comfortable and right for the season
# Tooth paste and brushes
# A portable toilet seat and extra 20 gallon size trash bags with wire ties for your shelter if indoors.
# Handy wipes or baby wipes, water may make cleaning up difficult.
# Sanitary napkins for any women likely.

Well, that could push the edges of the credit envelope, but if the 22 of May dawns there’s always next year … Yikes! 2012! … to fall back on if MasterCard comes a knocking.

Think I might just put together a series of eBooks on fun stuff to do in those last 48 hours of Earth …

Amorous Armageddon: End of the World Sex That’s Out of This World ($9.99)

Ashes, Ashes All Fall Down: Entertaining Kids In the Final Hours ($9.99)

Sudden Death: Fun Games for Judgment Day($9.99)

… and an iPhone app that will send and manage goodbyes, last wishes, apologies and excuses in 4,000 languages. ($1.99)

Better get on this before the world ends, or I do …

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Still pondering that David Eagleman article I wrote about the other day on time, and will eventually get to the bit on drummers I found interesting, but tonight it’s a different angle that has me twisting in the wind when I should be sleeping.

That bit about time going faster when it’s the familiar around us makes sense in ways I’m feeling these days. Maybe it’s the fact I have a birthday in a couple of months. Perhaps it’s the time I spend with Sam and Cj. Who knows? But what it’s boiling down to is a linking of age and time and how that makes it go so bloody fast.

Does it not make sense that time is relative, and not only to the spinning planet and ancient universe, but also to each individual? Sure, in geological terms a human life is an eye blink, as how could any of us even begin to comprehend the eons needed to carve a Grand Canyon or push India up against the Himalayas? We barely have the patience to wait to see how our own little dramas play out, so how the hell can we incorporate the truly slow grind or non-linear time that has the grind happening ahead as well as behind us?

I’m beginning to see life as through a telescope. When we’re young, we put the “wrong” end to our eye so everything seems so far away, beyond the chance of touch and so densely crammed into the picture that details are difficult to make out. As we age, it’s the other lens we gaze into, the one that brings things closer, and as we become progressively more familiar with what we behold, we begin to range wider for new sights to examine.

Time, it seems, telescopes as well. At ten, one year is a tenth of life. By 50, that percentage is so greatly reduced that there’s no wonder one Christmas seems to follow another with barely enough time to put a shopping list together in between.

At twenty we’re rushing toward life, anxious to get started on whatever path our feet might find. At sixty we’re wishing we hadn’t run those gamuts so quickly and have grown too aware of the speed the ground is passing under our feet.

Can’t we all … all of us of a certain age … recall the huge abyss that lay between eleven and twenty-one while wondering where the hell decade between thirty and forty got to? For sure Mick Jagger sings “Time Is On Our Side” with a far different take on the lyrics now, and I won’t even mention how “When I’m Sixty-Four” feels as that decade looms. (That was, after all, “many years from now … “)

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
~William Shakespeare

And tomorrow comes just that much faster the more you’ve had …

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If you’ll give me a minute or two, I’m about to go off on yet another tangent about time, all in my good time, of course.

The fact that my time is very likely different from your time is the grabber here, and not just different now, but variable depending on your circumstances and mine.

WTF is this woman on about now? (Yes, I can hear you … )

It’s this from the New Yorker that gave me pause … and led my paws to the keyboard of my poor, dying Mac … on time spent and discussed with David Eagleman, one of the more interesting people around these days, a thirty-nine-year-old assistant professor of neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

He is a man obsessed by time. As the head of a lab at Baylor, Eagleman has spent the past decade tracing the neural and psychological circuitry of the brain’s biological clocks. He has had the good fortune to arrive in his field at the same time as fMRI scanners, which allow neuroscientists to observe the brain at work, in the act of thinking. But his best results have often come through more inventive means: video games, optical illusions, physical challenges. Eagleman has a talent for testing the untestable, for taking seemingly sophomoric notions and using them to nail down the slippery stuff of consciousness. “There are an infinite number of boring things to do in science,” he told me. “But we live these short life spans. Why not do the thing that’s the coolest thing in the world to do?”

As head of a department that has most showing up wearing watches that haven’t worked for ages, Eagleman has a take on time I’d like to wrap my head around, but the second I feel I’m grasping an idea both the thought and the second are beyond me. The concept, for example, that time is a dimension, or that which asks, ” … how much of what we perceive exists outside of us and how much is a product of our minds?”

According to the guy at Baylor “brain time” … that’s our reality, not microseconds or millennia, since we don’t actually get either of those at any level that’s helpful … is subjective:

“Try this exercise,” he suggests in a recent essay. “Put this book down and go look in a mirror. Now move your eyes back and forth, so that you’re looking at your left eye, then at your right eye, then at your left eye again. When your eyes shift from one position to the other, they take time to move and land on the other location. But here’s the kicker: you never see your eyes move.” There’s no evidence of any gaps in your perception—no darkened stretches like bits of blank film—yet much of what you see has been edited out. Your brain has taken a complicated scene of eyes darting back and forth and recut it as a simple one: your eyes stare straight ahead. Where did the missing moments go?

Rather like the fact that one’s nose is always in the vision path but edited out of perceptions, it is true that we miss an awful lot of what is right in front of us. There are, of course, reasons our brains leave out many salient details, but it’s important we realize this happens, and happens all the time.

All the time being non-constant, as it is, some of the time shifts things around a good deal … like when you’re scared shitless and time slows in that aggravating way that allows perception of every little article of terror and laminates all.

I can still distinctly recall every detail of a car accident I was in when I was 14 … the images out the window as single frames of spinning world, the sound of metal under force, the smell of black rubber smoking across tarmac, the realization that my head was about to hit safety glass and the hope that I wouldn’t end up a bloody mess and that my father wouldn’t kill me for being in a situation I was so not supposed to have set myself up for. The whole experience took less than a few seconds, but I could easily manage a couple of pages of description that would feel about the same duration if read … slowly.

Eagleman studies this.

In one story, a man is thrown off his motorcycle after colliding with a car. As he’s sliding across the road, perhaps to his death, he hears his helmet bouncing against the asphalt. The sound has a catchy rhythm, he thinks, and he finds himself composing a little ditty to it in his head.

“Time is this rubbery thing,” Eagleman said. “It stretches out when you really turn your brain resources on, and when you say, ‘Oh, I got this, everything is as expected,’ it shrinks up.”

Being a wimp when it comes to things like jumping off high places, this goes far to explain what it is about that sort of nutso stuff appeals. Although the idea of having the sensations seem to last longer is nothing I’d vote for, I can almost understand why others would like that.

One of the seats of emotion and memory in the brain is the amygdala, he explained. When something threatens your life, this area seems to kick into overdrive, recording every last detail of the experience. The more detailed the memory, the longer the moment seems to last. “This explains why we think that time speeds up when we grow older,” Eagleman said—why childhood summers seem to go on forever, while old age slips by while we’re dozing. The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass.

There is more to this, but I seem to have run out of time. I may need to find something to scare me to slow things down a bit, but for now I’ll near the edge by trying to post this blog as my Mac heats up and meltdown threatens.

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Being I’m neither new nor a scientist, it could well be that I’m spending too much time reading New Scientist these days. I know the story about wind farms suggesting wind and waves are not renewable resources confused the shit out of me, and if anyone bothering to click on that link and read could please explain the content I’d be grateful.

There’s no doubt I like a challenge and trying to wrap my head around sciency stuff is a pastime I enjoy whether that be grasping toward black holes in efforts to understand dense gravity or trying to incorporate an inner clock to include time travel.

Something I did not expect to run across in my daily perusal of Stuff Science, however, was this article on religion.

What form would the ideal religion take? Some might argue that instead of redesigning religion, we should get rid of it. But it is good for some things: religious people are happier and healthier, and religion offers community. Besides, secularism has passed its zenith, according to Jon Lanman, who studies atheism at the University of Oxford. In a globalised world, he says, migrations and economic instability breed fear, and when people’s values feel under threat, religion thrives.

For starters, the unsubstantiated “information” contained in the piece feels decidedly un-sciency for New Science with few links and no backup. Attribution given to Mr. Lanman … who “studies” atheism … doesn’t cover the postulation that “religious people are happier and healthier and religion offers community”, so is therefor “good”.

A bowling league offers community fercryinoutloud, and manages to do so without prompting any genocides I’ve heard of. As for the “happier and healthier” … well, someone’s obviously never seen the impact of Catholic guilt.

I do get that this article is fluff even though quoted sources apparently attend Oxford … ooooooh! …

Today’s religions come in four flavours, according to Harvey Whitehouse, also at Oxford. First, the “sacred party”, such as incense burning, bell ringing and celestial choral music in Catholicism. Second, “therapy”: for example, the practices of healing and casting out devils among some evangelical Christians. Third, “mystical quest”, such as the Buddhist quest for nirvana. And finally, “school”: detailed study of the Koran in Islam or reading the Torah in Judaism.

Okay … a “sacred party” where all but a few are relegated to the sidelines, “therapy” that encourages people to grow even wackier, a “mystical quest” that could just as easily mean a search for Atlantis, and “school” where the only study is some really old books.

On what level does that make any sense, except perhaps to an undergrad needing to fill pages? The fact that the piece gets even more graphic lets down the side even more discouragingly:

Numerous festivals, holidays and rituals would keep followers hooked. “Rites of terror” such as body mutilation are out – although they bind people together very intensely, they are not usually compatible with world religions (New Scientist, 19 December 2009, p 62). Still, highly rousing, traumatic rituals might still feature as initiation ceremonies, because people tend to be more committed to a religion and tolerant of its failings after paying a high price for entry.

The everyday rituals will focus on rhythmic dancing and chanting to stimulate the release of endorphins, which Robin Dunbar, also at Oxford, says are key to social cohesion. To keep people coming back, he also prescribes “some myths that break the laws of physics, but not too much”, and no extreme mysticism, as it tends to lead to schisms.

So, body mutilation is out, but dancing and chanting lead to social cohesion? Can’t help but wonder what’s going on at parties at Oxford these days, but whatever is happening seems to have the effect of leading attendees to assume their thoughts have more merit than they do.

With many gods and great tolerance of idiosyncratic local practices, the new religion will be highly adaptable to the needs of different congregations without losing its unifying identity. The religion will also emphasise worldly affairs – it would promote the use of contraceptives and small families and be big on environmental issues, philanthropy, pacifism and cooperation.

Yeah … that’ll do it.

Of course, there are those fiddly bits concerning money and power that root religions before they flower, tax-free status and a whole bunch of non-negotiable rules, but if you attend Oxford and get your papers published in New Scientist, coming up with “Utopianity” must seem an accomplishment.

The thought that humans need a new religion is, in itself, an excuse not to have to think much further than the end of the block … upon which stands a church most likely … as developing more effective ways of fostering the human in humanity would take a lot more creativity.

Since science should be all about creativity, I will be sending a link to this post along with my subscription cancellation.

(Apologies: this post was slapped together during infrequent minutes of Internet access and while babying my computer. Conducive to good writing? Not so much …)

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