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Tag Archives: Science

The Inside Story of the BICEP2 Experiment

“You may speculate from the day that days were created,
but you may not speculate on what was before that.”
—Talmud, Tractate Hagigah 11b, 450 A.D.

To go back to the beginning, if there was a beginning, means testing the dominant theory of cosmogenesis, the model known as inflation. Inflation, first proposed in the early 1980s, was a bandage applied to treat the seemingly grave wounds cosmologists had found in the Big Bang model as originally conceived. To call inflation bold is an understatement; it implied that our universe began by expanding at the incomprehensible speed of light … or even faster! Luckily, the bandage of inflation was only needed for an astonishingly minuscule fraction of a second. In that most microscopic ash of time, the very die of the cosmos was cast. All that was and ever would be, on a cosmic scale at least—vast assemblies of galaxies, and the geometry of the space between them—was forged.

For more than 30 years, inflation remained frustratingly unproven. Some said it couldn’t be proven. But everyone agreed on one thing: If cosmologists could detect a unique pattern in the cosmos’s earliest light, light known as the cosmic microwave background (CMB), a ticket to Stockholm was inevitable.

http://nautil.us/issue/59/connections/how-my-nobel-dream-bit-the-dust

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Posted by on October 26, 2018 in Reportages

 

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Finally, a cure for insomnia?

We live in a golden age of sleeplessness. The buzz of the all-night streetlamps, the natter of 24-hour news anchors, the scrolling Niagaras of social media feeds have built a world that is hostile to sleep. Night is no longer clearly delineated from day. The bedroom is no longer a refuge from the office. The physical and psychic walls that once held back the tides of work and social interaction have failed. As the essayist Jonathan Crary put it, sleeplessness is the inevitable symptom of an era in which we are encouraged to be both unceasing consumers and unceasing creators.

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/sep/14/finally-a-cure-for-insomnia

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2018 in Reportages, Uncategorized

 

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A giant crawling brain: the jaw-dropping world of termites

In July 2008, I rented a small yellow car in Tucson, Arizona, and drove it south towards Tombstone. My passengers included an entomologist and two microbial geneticists, and I was following a white van with government plates carrying nine more geneticists. We also had 500 plastic bags, a vacuum flask of dry ice, and 350 cryogenic vials, each the size and shape of a pencil stub. We had two days to get 10,000 termites.

The goal was to sequence the genes of the microbes in their guts. Because termites are famously good at eating wood, those genes were attractive to government labs trying to turn wood and grass into biofuels (“grassoline”). The white van and the geneticists all belonged to the US Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute. Perhaps by seeing exactly how termites break down wood, we’d be able to do it too.

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/sep/18/a-giant-crawling-brain-the-jaw-dropping-world-of-termites

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2018 in Reportages, Uncategorized

 

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On coincidence

In the 1920s, one of Carl Jung’s female patients proved particularly frustrating to him – notwithstanding her ‘excellent education’ and ‘highly polished Cartesian rationalism’. She was ‘psychologically inaccessible’, the Swiss psychiatrist later wrote in his Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle (1960), by which he meant that she wasn’t accepting his pseudo-scientific methods.

To better understand her subconscious mind, Jung had her recount her recent dreams. She told him that, the night before, she had dreamed that she’d been given a golden scarab as a piece of jewellery. As she was describing the dream, there was a tapping on the window and Jung turned around. ‘I opened the window immediately and caught the insect in the air as it flew in,’ he wrote. ‘It was a scarabaeid beetle, or common rose-chafer (cetonia aurata), whose gold-green colour most nearly resembles that of a golden scarab.’ Jung knew this was just what his skeptical patient needed to see. ‘I handed the beetle to my patient with the words, “Here is your scarab.” This experience punctured the desired hole in her rationalism and broke the ice of her intellectual resistance. The treatment could now be continued with satisfactory results.’

https://aeon.co/essays/just-how-meaningful-is-coincidence-beyond-the-statistics

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2018 in Reportages

 

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The ‘real you’ is a myth – we constantly create false memories to achieve the identity we want

We all want other people to “get us” and appreciate us for who we really are. In striving to achieve such relationships, we typically assume that there is a “real me”. But how do we actually know who we are? It may seem simple – we are a product of our life experiences, which we can be easily accessed through our memories of the past.

Indeed, substantial research has shown that memories shape a person’s identity. People with profound forms of amnesia typically also lose their identity – as beautifully described by the late writer and neurologist Oliver Sacks in his case study of 49-year-old Jimmy G, the “lost mariner”, who struggles to find meaning as he cannot remember anything that’s happened after his late adolescence.

But it turns out that identity is often not a truthful representation of who we are anyway – even if we have an intact memory. Research shows that we don’t actually access and use all available memories when creating personal narratives. It is becoming increasingly clear that, at any given moment, we unawarely tend to choose and pick what to remember.

https://theconversation.com/the-real-you-is-a-myth-we-constantly-create-false-memories-to-achieve-the-identity-we-want-103253

 
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Posted by on October 2, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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Common Cyborg

I’m nervous at night when I take off my leg. I wait until the last moment before sleep to un-tech because I am a woman who lives alone and has been stalked, so I don’t feel safe in my home on crutches. How would I run? How would I fight back? Instead of taking Klonopin, I read the Economist. The tone is detached. There is war, but always elsewhere.

*

When I tell people I am a cyborg, they often ask if I have read Donna Haraway’s ‘A Cyborg Manifesto’. Of course I have read it. And I disagree with it. The manifesto, published in 1985, promised a cyberfeminist resistance. The resistance would be networked and coded by women and for women to change the course of history and derange sexism beyond recognition. Technology would un-gender us. Instead, it has been so effective at erasing disabled women1 that even now, in conversation with many feminists, I am no longer surprised that disability does not figure into their notions of bodies and embodiment. Haraway’s manifesto lays claim to cyborgs (‘we are all cyborgs’) and defines the cyborg unilaterally through metaphor. To Haraway, the cyborg is a matter of fiction, a struggle over life and death, a modern war orgy, a map, a condensed image, a creature without gender. The manifesto coopts cyborg identity while eliminating reference to disabled people on which the notion of the cyborg is premised. Disabled people who use tech to live are cyborgs. Our lives are not metaphors.

https://granta.com/common-cyborg/

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2018 in Reportages

 

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What Happens If China Makes First Contact?

Last January, the Chinese Academy of Sciences invited Liu Cixin, China’s preeminent science-fiction writer, to visit its new state-of-the-art radio dish in the country’s southwest. Almost twice as wide as the dish at America’s Arecibo Observatory, in the Puerto Rican jungle, the new Chinese dish is the largest in the world, if not the universe. Though it is sensitive enough to detect spy satellites even when they’re not broadcasting, its main uses will be scientific, including an unusual one: The dish is Earth’s first flagship observatory custom-built to listen for a message from an extraterrestrial intelligence. If such a sign comes down from the heavens during the next decade, China may well hear it first.

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/12/what-happens-if-china-makes-first-contact/544131/

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2018 in Asia, Reportages

 

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The Weird, Ever-Evolving Story of Your DNA

In 1555, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V announced his plans to abdicate, and his 28-year-old son, Philip II, became the king of Spain the following year. The throne was Philip’s natural—hereditary—right. The Habsburg dynasty, to which Charles and Philip belonged, had raised strategic matrimony to an art form, using marriage bonds among relations distant and close to seize control over much of Europe. Power came with a price, however: severe, recurring mental and physical problems. Charles’s mother was Joan the Mad; his son Philip was said to be “of weakly frame and of a gloomy, severe, obstinate, and superstitious character.” Philip’s descendant Charles II was 4 before he could talk and 8 before he could walk. He died in 1700, not yet 40, childless and sterile. Geneticists have calculated that he was more inbred than he would have been had his parents been siblings. After his death, the Spanish Habsburg dynasty collapsed, crushed under the weight of a heredity that as yet had no name.

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/07/carl-zimmer-she-has-her-mother-s-laugh/561710/

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2018 in Reportages

 

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The macho sperm myth

Before science was able to shed light on human reproduction, most people thought new life arose through spontaneous generation from non-living matter. That changed a smidgen in the middle of the 17th century, when natural philosophers were able (barely) to see the female ovum, or egg, with the naked eye. They theorised that all life was spawned at the moment of divine creation; one person existed  inside the other within a woman’s eggs, like Russian nesting dolls. This view of reproduction, called preformation, suited the ruling class well. ‘By putting lineages inside each other,’ notes the Portuguese developmental biologist and writer Clara Pinto-Correia in The Ovary of Eve (1997), ‘preformation could function as a “politically correct” antidemocratic doctrine, implicitly legitimising the dynastic system – and of course, the leading natural philosophers of the Scientific Revolution certainly were not servants.’

https://aeon.co/essays/the-idea-that-sperm-race-to-the-egg-is-just-another-macho-myth

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2018 in Reportages

 

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Why being a philosopher in the heatwave is so particularly unbearable

I hate heat. The place where I dream to be nowadays is on the Svalbard islands north of Norway, halfway to the North Pole. But since I am stuck at my home, all I can do is turn on the air conditioner and read… about the ongoing heatwaves and global warming, of course.

And it’s quite something to read about. Temperatures rising over 50C is no longer big news, it happens regularly in the crescent from Emirates to southern Iran, in parts of India, in the Death Valley, and now we learn that the prospects are much darker, threatening not only desert areas. In Vietnam, many farmers decide to sleep during the day and work at night because of the unbearable heat.

https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/uk-weather-heatwave-global-warming-climate-change-philosopher-a8475721.html

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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