Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Showing posts with label Quantum Consciousness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Quantum Consciousness. Show all posts

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Jet Stream Procrastination Before the Apocalypse

Some claim that willpower and training emotion is the key to managing procrastination and achieving goals. Maybe we should ask what instincts we're trying to manage when dealing with time and Cyberspace. Image Source: Sugarroy Coaching.

A lot of New Year's resolutions probably concerned procrastination and the Internet. Einstein once said he was not much more intelligent than other people, but he felt he was able to focus on any given particular problem without getting distracted longer than anyone else. He did not lose the thread of concentration and followed questions to their ends.

I have discussed cyber-procrastination before and the transformation of reality and the economy (here, here - and here). Over a few months, I ran across two apparently contradictory blog posts on how to control time and life in the Cyber Age. One was a site on women's wellbeing and self-improvement run by Tara Mohr. The other was The Art of Manliness, devoted to the self-improvement of Millennial men. Although they come at the problem of willpower from two very different perspectives, they actually both point to the same thing: take the long view and encourage the factors needed to maintain focus over the long term. In other words, do not lose track of the big picture. Do not lose the plot. 

But the plot, they both conclude, depends on underlying emotions, the great subjective unconscious. I have a question for both of these bloggers. What do you do when consciousness, the very unquantifiable, nebulous stuff from which our emotions hail, has been radically redefined by Virtual Reality in less than a decade?

Is the Internet really only a distraction, something negative - a sick, proto-obsession, an addiction indulged in by millions - or are we collectively building a new world? Regardless, confronted by the Internet, could we do anything else at this time other than be totally immersed in it? Is Cyberspace not a collective project where the world labours on a new global collective unconscious and renders it visible, in a way that has never been seen before in all of human history? How does one deconstruct one's emotions about, and manage responses to, that?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

DCnU: Another Day, Another (Real?) Multiverse

All images in this post are from: Before It's News. Image from Another Earth (2011) © Fox Searchlight Pictures.

There have been a lot of loud complaints and a hell of a lot of kicking and screaming in the fanbase about DC Comics' September 2011 reboot, in which the famous pulp company tossed 75 years' worth of history out the window in an effort to catapult itself into the 21st century.  The open wound that is DC's handling of the Titans aside, I have written a post on how DC's shifts to new entertainment genres and new media (such as digital publishing) correspond with the transformation of the comic publisher's fictional universe.  I have asked whether those Fourth Wall and metafictional turns may lead to the discovery of new standards for heroic values in pop culture.  I've also talked about how comics stories, especially at DC, are the only forum in pop culture where quantum physicists' ideas of a multiverse have been consistently and constantly considered over several decades. 

"There may be inifinite Earths being infinitely created."

DC's characters, stories and tumultuous reboots actually contend with the problem of what it would mean to live in a mulitverse, assuming it existed. What would happen to reality?  Well, DC speculates, some of us would become superhuman, but at a terrifying price.  What would happen to people in that reality?  What would happen to values of right and wrong?  Good and evil?  No one else, not even the quantum physicists who are looking at the multiverse as a possible scientific fact, are pondering would it would mean for all of us if their wild theories aren't just theories.

"Reality may be more tenuous than imagined."

Now, some weird online stories about 'real' cases of people have surfaced (here) who claim they have shifted from one parallel universe to our world; these accounts are exactly mimicked in the storyline of an upcoming May 2012 DC title, World's Finest (with the great George Perez serving as co-artist): "Stranded on our world from a parallel reality, Huntress and Power Girl struggle to find their way back to Earth 2."  The oldest team of comic superheroes, the Justice Society of America, finds itself on the alternate Earth 2 in another new series, simply called Earth 2.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Configurations of a Third: The Multiverse

From the Internet emerging from binary code, to the extratemporal dimension between the virtual and the real, to Dark Matter generated between the Matter and Antimatter of the Big Bang, to a bizarre cosmic consciousness arising out of gravity's mesh with space-time - the Millennial idea that our dualist Cartesian reality, split between mind and matter, can form a third, post-Cartesian reality is everywhere. See below the jump for Brian Greene's recent discussion on Nova's The Fabric of the Cosmos: Universe or Multiverse.  While the Multiverse is not yet generally accepted among physicists, since 2010, the idea that there were and are many Big Bangs, generating many universes, has been gaining ground among quantum physicists, string theorists, and theoretical physicists studying cosmic inflation. Their critics argue vehemently that accepting an unprovable theory like this could undermine the very foundations of science.  What is perhaps more important than the challenging theory is the overall pattern - a fundamental sea-change in outlook - these Millennial Configurations of a Third, everywhere we look (see my earlier post on tripartite aspects of Millennial thought, here and here).

In the American TV show, Fringe, there are prime and parallel universes. The parallel universe Manhattan is spelt with one 't.' Image Source: Fox via Wiki.

If the Multiverse is our reality and we don't know it, what would it be like to live there if we did know it? According to Signs of the Times: "The trouble is that in an infinite multiverse, everything that can happen will happen - an infinite number of times. In such a set-up, probability loses all meaning. 'How do you compare infinities?' asks Andrei Linde of Stanford University in California." Multiverses have been consistently popular fictional narrative devices that address Linde's question. Multiverses are constants in fantasy and sci-fi works, most recently in the American FOX television show, Fringe, and of course, Scenes from a Multiverse.  But the only place where the cultural and social implications of a real Multiverse have been systematically and continually explored is in comic books.  Since the early 1960s, Marvel has produced stories about a bunch of alternate realities, pocket universes and multiple dimensions. Marvel tends to have a single narrative represent a single reality: their main narrative continuity is Earth-616. Their Ultimate imprint has presented popular alternate universe stories since the year 2000. TVTropes sees Marvel's Multiverse affected by a hierarchy of positive and negative realities: English writer "Warren Ellis' run on X-Man utilized another conception of the multiverse, where in addition to Parallel Universes, there's a 'spiral of realities' stretching above and below, with the universes 'downspiral' being significantly more chaotic and difficult for li[f]e to develop/survive in than the the relatively advanced and idyllic universes located 'upspiral.'" Marvel also has an omniverse, a collection of all possible universes and realities, inhabited by characters from other fictions and pulp houses, including its rival, DC.

Infinite Crisis #5 (April 2006).

DC Comics' assessment is even more complex, with frayed narratives and equally divided fictional realities; its Multiverses collide and break apart, causing total chaos, infinite crises, and a constant reevaluation of its characters and degrees of heroism. Since Wonder Woman #59 (1953), writers at DC have symbolically considered what living in a real, tangible Multiverse would do to our mentalities, lives and consciousness.  Since 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths, when DC attempted to crunch the whole Multiverse into one single fictional universe, America's oldest comics publisher has allowed events on the Multiversal level to dominate its main narrative storyline with increasing frequency and intensity. DC soon uncrunched their single universe and brought the Multiverse back. DC's writers have reevaluated our understanding of death, of time, of narrative sequence and continuity, and of morality (see also: here); and all of this arises when the unseeable and unmeasurable beyond our perception collides theoretically with tangible reality and coughs up a third synthetic unknown.

nU Alec Holland meets nU Abby Arcane. DCnU Swamp Thing #3 (January 2012).

In short, alternate realities and parallel dimensions have of course appeared in many modern works of literature and drama, some great, some popular; but only DC has been consistently speculating on what a collective Multiversal reality would be like, month in, month out, over almost sixty years. DC's Multiverse has evolved over that time, with its most radical stories ever published this fall.  The editors and writers at DC are saying the fabric of time and space could tear, turn itself inside out, and we could all find ourselves, the same but different, living in new realities, haunted by memories of our other existences.

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Friday, December 2, 2011


Image Source: Psychology Today.

A couple of years ago, I went to a conference where some new-fangled techniques in economic studies were discussed in one of the sessions. The novel methods involved presenting test subjects with economic choices, and then administering blood tests or brain scans to observe changes in hormonal levels and brain activity; it is an idea I touched on in an earlier post. At the time, I had a laugh; this bizarre hybrid of economics and psychobiology was chilling, yet funny, because of its dull literal-mindedness. 

When the economy tanks and everyone finds economists without answers, then economic analysts sometimes poach on other disciplines' territories to find new methods.  Occasionally, they move right into another field and make themselves at home. For example, they have been camping in the field of history, with an area of research they call Cliometrics.  They've also expressed some interest in economics as an applied philosophy. As one of my friends who works in philosophy said, if the economists were to stop by, he would go down to the front gate and say: "Nothing to see here, Boys, move on, move on."

And move on they have, with zero sense of irony - to neuroscience, psychology and biology. It's a sign of how desperate economic researchers are.  They need to find solutions to serious problems that their theories partly engendered. So far, they have come up empty-handed. Rather than containing the recession, their methods have been politicized; their ideas have been appropriated by practitioners in politics; and the economy is not improving. And so since 2008, with pressing urgency, the economists have been moving on, in a bid to develop whole new ways of economic thinking and remake the world economy.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Turning Point

Where are we going again? One of Inge Morath's rediscovered 1955 Parisian ball photos. (Thanks to -T.) Image Source: Time via The Inge Morath Foundation / Magnum Photos.

Although I've criticized the Baby Boomers' iconoclastic destruction of social values and institutions (here and here), it's time to give them some due in that regard.  Their influence has been compounded by the parallel effect of the Tech Revolution, which has rendered past perspectives and morals obsolete.  However, the ensuing Millennial aporia - a confusion or lack of values - may not be entirely bad. One thing the Boomers initially successfully attacked, not without some justification, was the external labeling imposed by social behaviour and cultural expectations that stifled people and held them back. The only problem is they replaced the old labels with new ones and they also questioned people's capacity to devise alternatives.

We are at the turning point. People without external reference points or viable directions coming to them from society can have trouble orienting themselves.  What is expected from society when the outside prompts and social signposts are gone? What can one do, when everything, especially on the Internet, is a tabula rasa? What do the faithful do when organized religions seem to have lost capacity for building communities with motives grounded in genuine spirituality? What do the politically-minded do when political faiths furnish nothing but empty 18th and 19th century slogans unsuited to current conditions? Will they really take refuge in self-righteous blindnesses, vicious polarities, and internecine mutual accusations between Left and Right? The decline of externally imposed orders and cultural traditions is fracturing personal egos like so many billion eggshells.

On this blog, I've written posts (here, here and here) that indicate that economic troubles intensify aporia.  People experience heart-breaking levels of stress as they face the upheavals of the global economy. The middle classes are dying or evolving. Going bankrupt, losing everything, losing a house (or never having the chance to own one), losing faith in the system, losing faith in the American dream (if you're American) - or being absorbed into a grand global culture (no matter where you're from) - all of this is deeply unnerving.

In social, spiritual and material vacuums, conflicts grow. Yesterday, I posted pieces on the intenstification of weapons research and the implementation of psychological testing on military personnel, which is being conducted with a view toward civilian applications. Ignoring the signs on the horizons won't help. Those reports made me think of a passage in Daniel Deronda: "There comes a terrible moment to many souls when the great movements of the world, the larger destinies of mankind, which have lain aloof in newspapers and other neglected reading, enter like an earthquake into their own lives--where the slow urgency of growing generations turns into the tread of an invading army or the dire clash of civil war, and gray fathers know nothing to seek for but the corpses of their blooming sons, and girls forgot all vanity to make lint and bandages which may serve for the shattered limbs of their betrothed husbands." One day, the chaos that grew in the obscure distance is on your doorstep.

The obliteration of externally imposed values leaves one real option.  As we turn the bend toward the unimaginable and accelerating future, and the institutions that once defined authority and stability in our societies remain only as gin palace exteriors, there is a time lag that allows for individual and collective introspection.  There is a need to find new values internally.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program

The Watchmen's blood-spattered smiley face symbolized the bone-cracking ironies of pacifist, free love America during the Vietnam War, exemplified by the character the Comedian, a cynical, ruthless battlefield government op who wears a smiley face button.

From the 2011 annals of Millennial Anxieties, I bring you this tidbit from the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Ivory Tower's main paper in the United States. The Chronicle recently ran an interesting and chilling little piece on something called the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program. It has all the weirdness of military psych projects that I've blogged about here and here. It is a completely real, $125 million attempt to use positive psychology techniques among military personnel, and it is being implemented as you read this without prior testing.

The aim of the program is to train soldiers to be psychologically healthy and resilient and prevent conditions like post traumatic stress disorder.  Of course that's a good thing.  And it's to be expected that the military would explore dimensions of psychological warfare, which include tactics to make soldiers cope with extreme conditions and chaos.  Yet the program has been developed by a researcher who induced a reaction called 'learned helplessness' by shocking canine research subjects for the CIA.  He's also written a book on how to be genuinely happy, which is described as a "user-friendly roadmap for human emotion." Uhm.  What?

Several prominent American psychologists have expressed concern about the program, but as one put it, "the train has already left the station." And just in case you think this has nothing to do with you, it looks like the idea is to use the military as a test case for broader application to the civilian population and make everyone happier. 

I've never been quite clear on why happiness is generally assumed to be the only mood possible to indicate mental health.  After all, depression is a mental reaction that occurs naturally and it serves certain functions.  Within limits, it protects the individual from further stresses while the psyche seeks to heal.  Since when was it 'healthy' to be 'happy' after being traumatized?  And while being psychologically stronger and happier is obviously ultimately desirable, why are we farming out control over enabling our happiness, and our capacity to be happy, to outside parties?

Regarding mass application of psych techniques among civilians: think of sites like Facebook that already monitor our personal data, friends, behaviour and values, and manipulate the data for marketing purposes.  Consider that mass psych techniques have been implemented in the creation of some dating services. In these systems, people willingly create intimate personal psych profiles of themselves and pay to hand that information over to private companies; is it not inconceivable that some dating services are in fact big psych tests - rat-in-the-maze scenarios - wherein a private company (aka dating service) monitors clients' behavioural reactions when presented with various choices?  Now, would you like some military psych test mass results with that? I ask you: Who Watches the Watchmen?  See the details of the report below the jump.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Illusion of Time and the Multiverse

Image © Tiffany. Image Source: PBS.

PBS has a new 4-part series entitled The Fabric of the Cosmos on this month every Wednesday night. You can watch it in North America at 9:00 PM ET/PT on PBS (check local listings). Tonight's episode is called, "The Illusion of Time."

I09 reported on the series (the premiere was last week) and how popular Columbia prof and physicist Brian Greene is explaining something dear to the hearts of comic book editors everywhere: the existence of the multiverse and multiple copies of ourselves, inhabiting multi-realities. Is time the barrier between these dimensions?
Over the next month, NOVA is going to confirm what most sci-fi enthusiasts already suspect-that everything we've been taught about space and time just might be total B.S. The past is not just a series of faded events, the future isn't yet defined, and despite what science prudes say, we probably aren't alone.

The Fabric of The Cosmos, the four-part follow up to acclaimed physicist Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe, takes an intensely in-depth look at all we think we know-and then turns it upside down. So in the weeks leading to the November 2 series premiere on PBS, we'll be giving you a brief primer on what to expect from each brilliant episode. So far we've explored space, time, and a little concept known as quantum mechanics. Today, we take one step farther into the unknown, in order to understand the theory of the multiverse.

Just when you were positive that you were indeed a unique snowflake, "Universe or Multiverse?"—the final installment of The Fabric of The Cosmos—melts all those notions away. Brian Greene ventures to explain the hard-to-swallow, yet scientifically plausible theory of alternate realities. Imagine a world, eerily similar to our own, populated with familiar faces—namely, yours. Some physicists believe that it's entirely possible that somewhere out there, in the infinite abyss, we each have a doppelganger. Explore each of these Bizarro worlds with Brian Greene, and learn about the concrete science that continues to awe even the hardest of skeptics.
Check it out if you can! See below the jump for the preview.

Addendum: To watch this episode, go here on Youtube. (Dec. 3, 2011)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Hallowe'en Countdown 15: Skeptics and the Shadow People

Shadow People: Hat Man and the Hooded Figure. Image Source: Paranormal People Presents.

For the most part, skeptics pretty much dismiss the findings of ghost hunters and psychics.  But skeptics and non-skeptics alike acknowledge certain phenomena as verifiable aspects of human perception, even if they disagree on the sources of those aspects. Shadow People are great examples; in German, they are called Shattenwesen.

Image © Jason Jam. Image Source: Dr. Fong's House of Mysteries.

First off, a recap on how far we've gotten in this Countdown to Hallowe'en regarding skeptics and their investigations of ghosts and other paranormal phenomena.  Most modern ghost hunting shows are a type of Reality TV, with equally bad acting, but the additional prop of night vision cameras. 

There is a special brand of ghost hunter who dismisses other ghost hunters with a real tone of authority. This is the low tech ghost hunter who nonetheless claims to be more 'scientific.' I actually love it when technology loses some of its automatically-assumed scientific cachet and when low tech solutions are considered to have more street cred.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Artificial Intelligence Grows: From DNA to Telepathy

Image Source: Geeky Gadgets.

There are some new developments in artificial intelligence. There are two paths in the field of A.I., which sooner or later are set to converge.  One is the deliberate creation of artificial intelligence systems.  The other is the artificial intelligence system we already have - the Internet and Cyberspace.  Two reports indicate that researchers are pushing the boundaries on both fronts.

The 21 July issue of Nature published results from researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).  Geeky Gadgets: "What they did was build simple neural networks composed of four neurons each that exhibited a capability to employ an input/output network."  This artificial neural network was created "out of DNA, creating a circuit of interacting molecules that can recall memories based on incomplete patterns, just as a brain can."  They "asked, instead of having a physically connected network of neural cells, can a soup of interacting molecules exhibit brainlike behavior?"  The answer is yes; moreover this system can complete an incomplete pattern, an essential component of conscious recognition.  See the report here (ref: Nature, Volume: 475, Pages: 368–372 Date published: (21 July 2011) DOI: doi:10.1038/nature10262 Received Accepted Published online .

Meanwhile Business Insider is reporting that the National Security Agency (NSA) is building an artificial intelligence system that can read minds (Hat tip: Dobroyeutro).  It's based on the personal information accumulated on the internet, through marketing schemes, and on social networks:
It's called "Aquaint" (Advanced QUestion Answering for INTelligence), and PBS's James Bamford takes a stab at explaining how it works: "As more and more data is collected -- through phone calls, credit card receipts, social networks like Facebook and MySpace, GPS tracks, cell phone geolocation, Internet searches, Amazon book purchases, even E-Z Pass toll records -- it may one day be possible to know not just where people are and what they are doing, but what and how they think. "Whether it works or not, we know that it's so intrusive that at least one researcher has quit over the idea of placing such a powerful system in the hands of the an agency with little to no accountability."

Friday, July 15, 2011

Google Consciousness: The Antisocial Network

Graphic pushing the latest arrival in social networking: Google Plus.

When he sent me a Google Plus invitation last week, my friend C. jubilantly declared that Google has finally hit on a, "Facebook killer, Skype killer, Twitter killer." Everyone is stampeding off Facebook's guerilla marketing ghetto to join the new network. I'm always struck by the intense popular desire for things on the Internet that are practically impossible on the Internet: exclusivity, no ads, peace and quiet - and ironically - individuality through mass conformity.  The herd is running as fast as it can to the newest place on the Web where 'you can just be yourself,' a 'real individual,' again.  One more time!  That's its selling point - it's the anti-Facebook.

I have written about problems with Facebook (here, here and here).  Facebook annoyingly erodes natural memory, reviving acquaintances from decades ago, who under normal circumstances would have faded into obscurity; it attacks privacy behind a smiley face; its highly sophisticated and integrated marketing platforms and harvesters sell private data to God only knows whom; and its info leaks recently came home to the Mother Ship, when Harvard sociologists got into hot water for turning the entire Harvard class of 2009 into unwitting guinea pigs, making them them the unconsulted subjects of a university Facebook study.

Now, we have this shiny alternative. Paul Allen estimates that despite the fact that Google Plus launched on 28 June, is in beta 'field-testing' status, and you can only get into it by invitation, it will have 20 million users by this weekend:
According to independent analysis done by Paul Allen, founder of Ancestry.com, Google's new social network Google Plus will hit 20 million users by this weekend. And he estimates that the current user base has already surpassed the 10 million mark. What's most surprising about Google Plus, however, is how quickly it has grown. The size of the user base has increased by 350% in just 6 days, says Allen.
Six days! Imagine if people mobilized like that to do something good in this world.  The exponential growth of the Internet is hard to grasp.  I was going to wait to put up this post until later this month, but by that point, Google Plus will probably be at 1 billion users and this will be old news.  Some social media strategists think that this rapid network growth will open the doorway to new utopias (see below the jump).

"The Antisocial Network" (12 July 2011) © Jonathan Rosenberg. Image Source: Scenes from a Multiverse.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Freud would have a Field Day

Gray and Gold (1942). Oil on canvas. By John Rogers Cox.

Thank you very much to J. for sending me a link to extensive work by John Suler of the Department of Psychology at Rider University about individual and group behaviour onlineHis work is called The Psychology of Cyberspace (read it here).  It examines how the mentality of people is changing as they interact on the internet, which he calls cyberpsychology; he investigates how cyberpsychology is altering our whole society, starting with the way computers have split the already-fractured self. He covers topics such as anonymity, disinhibition, the psychology of avatars, cyberspace as dream worlds, addiction to computers, online gender-switching, apocalyptic thinking, integrating online and offline living, in-person versus cyberspace relationships, virtual communities, and the ethics of cyberspace research.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Cause and Effect: Time and Western Civilization?

Time as a chessboard, not an arrow. Ballet on Time Chessboard by Lawrence Alfred Powell.  Image Source: Redbubble.

In my post from November 25th, I discussed Stephen Hawking's assumption that time travel backwards is impossible. From MSNBC's report: "'Down at the smallest of scales, smaller even than molecules, smaller than atoms, we get to a place called the quantum foam. This is where wormholes exist. Tiny tunnels or shortcuts through space and time constantly form, disappear, and reform within this quantum world. And they actually link two separate places and two different times. The tunnels, unfortunately, are far too small for people to pass through — just a billion-trillion-trillionths of a centimeter -- but physicists believe it may be possible to catch a wormhole and make it big enough for people, or spaceships, to enter,' Hawking writes. 'Theoretically, a time tunnel or wormhole could do even more than take us to other planets. If both ends were in the same place, and separated by time instead of distance, a ship could fly in and come out still near Earth, but in the distant past. Maybe dinosaurs would witness the ship coming in for a landing. ... Ultimately, scientists may find that only travel into the future is possible, as the laws of nature may make travel to the past impossible so the relationship between cause and effect is maintained.'"

I noted Hawking's reservations in my earlier post, "that time, the entire Fourth Dimension, must follow the rules of cause and effect.  Incidentally, the principle of causality underpins the entire conception of western civilization, so it's interesting that Hawking has run headlong up against that brick wall and steadfastly backed away from it."  Two things struck me here: first, that Hawking's assessment is so dependent upon the notion of this causality that he had to invent a wall of radiation or similar force to prevent the universe from acting in a way that he considers to be illogical.  It looks like there is room for a blind spot here.  Second, the principle of causality underpins practically every area of human inquiry, especially in the Western tradition, in everything from theology to the scientific method.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

New: The Brain Scan Job Interview

Image: Wellcome Images via MRI-scam.com.

Coming soon to a job interview near you: the brain scan job interview. This is just what the doctor ordered to get us out of the recession! I09 is reporting via BBC that UK employers have discovered a new way to assess prospective employees: "A study in the UK aims to figure out what the brains of business leaders look like, at least inside an fMRI machine. The brain images could be used in future as models for "ideal brains" in a business setting." Once corporations start with this level of bio-psychometric testing, the schools and service and entertainment industries won't be far behind.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Problem with Memory 2: The Science of Memory

Memory chip. Image Source: Venture Beat.

How do we remember?  What does the brain do, exactly, to create memories? What are we to make of a report like this one at Live Science, which states that memory is not just a product of brain cells forming connections - wherein nerves reorganize themselves and send messages between themselves to establish a memory; but individual brain nerve cells can also hold short-term memories?  There's a piece here from October 25 at Phys.org which further explains how memories are born.  A memory is created when our brain makes groups of its cells "fire in unison" - each memory has a different pattern.  Scientists are trying to find treatments or prevention for Alzheimer's and dementia by administering drugs to older rats which stimulate their neurotransmitters.  This research has been headed by Profesor Etan Markus at the University of Connecticut.  An earlier report from 2006 on memory creation in the brain is here.

Aside from the obvious fears of aging Baby Boomers, why is there pressure to figure out how memory works?  Consider that those who know exactly how neurobiology and neuropsychology overlap in order that we may comprehend differences in time will conceivably be able to control, manufacture and bend memories - in advertising, in cinema, in public life, on the internet, in the military.  Phys.org just came out with a report that scientists have discovered how to erase memory: "Researchers working with mice have discovered that by removing a protein from the region of the brain responsible for recalling fear, they can permanently delete traumatic memories."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

On Distant Horizons: The Anti-Tech Backlash

Image © Josh Neuman.

For those of us who feel a sense of unease about the exponential pace of technological change, the relentless pressure to absorb the flood of blinking information, to respond to the plugged-in socializing, there is a question as to whether some quieter aspects of life from the past are being irretrievably lost.  One of my friends recently commented on people who are old enough to remember life before the Tech Revolution hit full force, which is the common experience of anyone belonging to Generation X or older.  He remarked that life before technology hit in earnest had a certain tempo and mood, and computers came along like two uninvited guests at the end of a dinner party, who spoil the dynamic.  He said that some people who remember the way things were before computers hit have 'drunk the Kool Aid' and are now hardcore tech enthusiasts; they seem to have forgotten the completely different pace and quality of life that once existed.  Knowledge, even about things like pop culture, was once hard won and required real dedication.  Even now, topics that require deep, quiet and focussed contemplation over time in order for their truths to come to light are swamped by a daily ocean of shallow facts that take up a lot of our time, concentration and energy.  Are our simian brains even able to engage in addictive, repetitive behaviour like this - indulging in these elaborate proxies for living - over long periods without sustaining damage?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Historical First: Atom Photographed, Quantum Computers Steps Away

A picture of a single Rubidium 85 Atom (2010). Image: M. Andersen/ T. Grünzweig/A. Hilliard/M. McGovern/U. of Otago.

There is a story out at Physorg (here; hat tip: Lee Hamilton's blog) about scientists at the University of Otago who have managed to hold a Rubidium 85 atom in a laser beam and photograph it through a microscope.  Scientists, led by Mikkel Andersen of the Department of Physics, laboured for three years to take this photo.  Andersen has given an interview to NPR which you can listen to here.

By proving they can trap individual atoms, the Otago team is steps away from creating quantum computing circuits of communicating atoms, which can perform complex calculations simultaneously at the atomic level.  Andersen: "What we have done moves the frontier of what scientists can do and gives us deterministic control of the smallest building blocks in our world."  Earlier developments in this field had already prompted physicist Michio Kaku to say that the Silicon Valley will become a rustbelt within the next twenty years (in a 2008 interview here).  Kaku uses Moore's Law to predict how quickly computing will evolve in the next generation. By about 2030, he assumes we could build machines that could run at the speed of human thought, that is, 500 trillion bytes per second.  But right now our most advanced computers have the intelligence of a "retarded cockroach."

Monday, September 13, 2010

Retrocognition, or, Psychic History

Matter of Time (2009). © By lone-momo.  Reproduced with kind permission.

The turn of the Millennium is a relentless, clichéed reality, important only because of how we set up our calendar.  We expect these years to be significant, even if they're not.  And if they're not, we have to make them important with strange ideas. Today's fringe theory is Retrocognition or Postcognition.  This is a fad from the turn of the last century, wherein people claim to be able to see past events psychically, and experience trapped pockets of former times.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Robots: Reading Your Mind

A participant in the P300 study practices for the deception detection test. Courtesy Rosenfeld Lab.

Time is reporting that Northwestern University researchers are coming closer to the infamous, oft-rumoured, conspiracy-theory-inspiring technology of reading brainwaves in order to track terrorists.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Arrow of Time - A Physics Problem Solved by Biologists?

Arrow of Time, by Vladimir Kush.

Yesterday, I blogged about Deepak Chopra's efforts to link problems related to theories of gravity to the Arrow of Time problems in physics.  This kind of speculation on the meaning and direction of time, if locked into the mysteries of how gravity works at macro- and microcosmic levels, will lend itself to debates on aging, consciousness and death - and thus to issues of spirituality and religion.  This is all pretty dicey.  Now enter the biologists.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

How is Gravity Related to Time?

There are some strange, strange ideas floating around right now on the edges of quantum physics.  What's brewing is a peculiar and unfortunate marriage of science and religion, all of it hinging on the relationship between gravity and time.