Archive for April, 2010

Zero Should Be Released From Gravity

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

In a 2002 interview with Sputnik Observatory, Kagoshima architect Takasaki Masaharu, author of “An Architecture of Cosmology,” discussed his exploration of the relationship of energy, man, Earth and the elements, and why the symbol of life is shaped like Zero.

SPTNK: How do you define architecture?

MASAHARU: Well, architecture is made up of opposition from nature. It means that god created nature, and human creates architecture – so architecture itself is an artificial object on the Earth. What I suggest is to regard that architecture as the second nature, and what I work on is to recreate it and make it close to our Mother Nature. I call it “environmental animism.” For instance, this building was made of concrete which is solid, inorganic material. What I do is to put animate element, which is like humanistic energy, historic or symbolic thing into this concrete material, so that it ends up working for human.

SPTNK:  Please describe the meaning and details behind your work, Zero Cosmology?

MASAHARU: I call the cube “Zero Cosmology.” Among Japanese conceptual history, Indian Civilization was one of the major influential periods to Japan. We still use ideas, which are like “Mu” (zero) or “Ku” (space, emptiness) today. “Zero Cosmology” is a form that creates energy of “zero” inside of its space.

I call the antenna “Lotus” and this is about relationship of “Ten-Chi-Jin” (sky-ground-human). Normally when people seed in the ground, it grows up toward sky. I created this “Lotus” as a receiver of energy from the sky and also it is an object which connects between sky and ground. It is a lightning rod too. It is like a hand tries to hold the sky. I designed the shape as a symbol of life-producing unlimited energy. That’s why it shapes like Zero. It is “Micro Cosmo.” Zero is immeasurable. Immeasurable means that it doesn’t belong to Ten (sky) nor Chi (ground), it’s in-between. That’s why it has to be floating as if there’s no gravity (weight). Zero should be released from gravity.

SPTNK: Why is geometry so important to you?

MASAHARU: I always investigate between space and shape by using geometry. And then I try to find another new geometric pattern within the investigation. Each geometric shape works differently on people’s feeling, just like how a circle and a square give us a feel. I always think how it works upon them. I rather focus on how it works psychologically than physically. For example, soft and round shapes communicate for children and elders because they feel as if they are from those shapes.

SPTNK: What is the significance of the statue of man reaching up to the skies in your work?

MASAHARU: The consciousness which is parted from land is very important. I don’t think that people who live on high floor of a skyscraper have same perspective as people who live on ground level. Because they (referring to people who live on high floor) are totally parted from ground, so their consciousness is as well. They are rather familiar to the sky.

Invisibility Cloak Generates Virtual Images

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Photo via flickr by pfv

In a new twist from the liquid invisibility cloaks Sptnk reported here, researchers have designed a material that not only makes an object invisible, but also generates one or more virtual images in its place. Because it doesn’t simply display the background environment to a viewer, this kind of optical device could have applications that go beyond a normal invisibility cloak. Plus, unlike previously proposed illusion devices, the design proposed here could be realized with artificial metamaterials.

The team of engineers, Wei Xiang Jiang, Hui Feng Ma, Qiang Cheng, and Tie Jun Cui from Southeast University in Nanjing, China, describes the recently developed class of optical transformation media as “illusion media.” As they explain in a new study, any object enclosed by such an illusion medium layer appears to be one or more other objects. The researchers’ proposed device is designed to operate at microwave frequencies.

“The illusion media make an enclosed object appear like another object or multiple virtual objects,” Cui told  “Hence it can be applied to confuse the detectors or the viewers, and the detectors or the viewers can’t perceive the real object. As a result, the enclosed object will be protected.”

But as the researchers explain, illusion media is similar to an invisibility cloak, except for one main difference. In a perfect invisibility cloak, there are almost no scattering electric fields, so that the illusion space is only free space. In illusion media, on the other hand, the material creates scattered electric field patterns that generate virtual images. Any detector located outside the illusion medium layer will perceive the electromagnetic waves as if they were scattered from a virtual object.

“Generally speaking, different objects will generate different scattering patterns under the illumination of electromagnetic/optical waves,” Ciu explained. “Hence a detector can perceive an object according to its scattering pattern. Our illusion media will change the scattering patterns of the enclosed object to make it appear like another object or multiple virtual objects.”


Moral Judgments Can Be Altered By Magnets

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

Photo via flickr by tdietmut

MIT neuroscientists have shown they can can sway people’s views of moral situation by disrupting brain activity in a particular region.

Previous studies have shown that a brain region known as the right temporo-parietal junction (TPJ) is highly active when we think about other people’s intentions, thoughts and beliefs. In this new study, researchers disrupted activity in the right TPJ by inducing a current in the brain using a magnetic field applied to the scalp. They found that the subjects’ ability to make moral judgments that require an understanding of other people’s intentions — for example, a failed murder attempt — was impaired.

The researchers, led by Rebecca Saxe, MIT assistant professor of brain and cognitive sciences, report their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Funding for the research came from The National Center for Research Resources, the MIND Institute, the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, the Simons Foundation and the David and Lucille Packard Foundation.

The study offers “striking evidence” that the right TPJ, located at the brain’s surface above and behind the right ear, is critical for making moral judgments, says Liane Young, lead author of the paper.

“You think of morality as being a really high-level behavior,” she says. “To be able to apply (a magnetic field) to a specific brain region and change people’s moral judgments is really astonishing.”

In one experiment, volunteers were exposed to TMS for 25 minutes before taking a test in which they read a series of scenarios and made moral judgments of characters’ actions on a scale of one (absolutely forbidden) to seven (absolutely permissible).

In a second experiment, TMS was applied in 500-milisecond bursts at the moment when the subject was asked to make a moral judgment. For example, subjects were asked to judge how permissible it is for a man to let his girlfriend walk across a bridge he knows to be unsafe, even if she ends up making it across safely. In such cases, a judgment based solely on the outcome would hold the perpetrator morally blameless, even though it appears he intended to do harm.

In both experiments, the researchers found that when the right TPJ was disrupted, subjects were more likely to judge failed attempts to harm as morally permissible. Therefore, the researchers believe that TMS interfered with subjects’ ability to interpret others’ intentions, forcing them to rely more on outcome information to make their judgments.

via MIT News

Dawn of the Anthropocene Age

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Photo via flickr by mattyp

According to a team of geologists and scientists,  we are entering a new age of geological time which they call the “Anthropocene Epoch.”

In their report in the “journal Environmental Science & Technology”, Jan Zalasiewicz and Mark Williams from the University of Leicester Department of Geology; Will Steffen, Director of the Australian National University’s Climate Change Institute and Paul Crutzen the Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist of Mainz University state that the dawning of this new epoch may include the sixth largest mass extinction in Earth’s history.

The scientists propose that, in just two centuries, humans have wrought such vast and unprecedented changes to our world that we actually might be ushering in a new geological time interval, and alter the planet for millions of years.

Zalasiewicz, Williams, Steffen and Crutzen contend that recent human activity, including stunning population growth, sprawling megacities and increased use of fossil fuels, have changed the planet to such an extent that we are entering what they call the Anthropocene (New Man) Epoch.

First proposed by Crutzen more than a decade ago, the term Anthropocene has provoked controversy. However, as more potential consequences of human activity—such as global climate change and sharp increases in plant and animal extinctions —have emerged, Crutzen’s term has gained support. Currently, the worldwide geological community is formally considering whether the Anthropocene should join the Jurassic, Cambrian and other more familiar units on the Geological Time Scale.

The scientists note that getting that formal designation will likely be contentious. But they conclude, “However these debates will unfold, the Anthropocene represents a new phase in the history of both humankind and of the Earth, when natural forces and human forces became intertwined, so that the fate of one determines the fate of the other. Geologically, this is a remarkable episode in the history of this planet.”

via ScienceDaily

In an interview with Sputnik Observatory, experimental geographer Trevor Paglen explains how humans, as geologic agents, have re-sculpted the Earth:

Another idea that I am interested in is thinking about humans as agents of geology, as geologic agents. That sounds a little bit weird, and I’ll explain what I mean by that. If we look at geology, historically, we look at the shape of the surface of the Earth; the sediments, layers, mountains, lakes, glaciers, you name it, the contours of the surface of the Earth. Historically, the main things that shape that are plate tectonics, the movement of plates on the surface of the Earth creating mountains, earthquakes, volcanoes, that sort of thing. It’s also shaped by rainfall, water erosion is an enormous contributor to the way the surface of the Earth is sculpted. It brings mountains down, creates lakes, rivers, all kinds of things like that. Other agents might be glaciers, you have an Ice Age, the ice is coming across the land and receding from the land and it really carves out the surface of the Earth in important ways. Now, for at least the past 100 years none of these have been the main factors shaping the surface of the Earth, sculpting the globe. Human activity has been the main thing that sculpted the surface of the globe. For example, mining. When we look at something like the Gold Rush or mining in Alaska, we literally are moving mountains in the span of very short periods of time. Unbelievable. We’re doing things in a few years that would take nature thousands of years to do. Human activity has become the main agent in sculpting the surface of the Earth. Not only in creating cities and these sorts of things, but creating mountains, tearing them down, creating new waterways and that sort of thing. It’s interesting to me. So in that project I’m thinking about what does that mean? Let’s think of ourselves as geologic agents. Let’s think about what we do in terms of geology and long, long time scales. Geologists work in what they call deep time, which is time that happens at a very different pace than human time, usually happens over thousands or millions of years.

Sputnik Observatory Nominated for Webby Award

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Sputnik Observatory has been nominated for ‘Best Navigation/Structure’ in the 14th Annual Webby Awards, and selected as an Official Honoree for the Cultural Institutions Category. Hailed as the “Internet’s highest honor” by the New York Times, The Webby Awards is the leading international award honoring excellence on the Internet.  Unlike other awards shows, The Webby Awards give the public an opportunity to decide who will take home a Webby. From now until April 29th, the public can cast votes in The Webby People’s Voice Awards ( The Winner is based on number of votes, so PLEASE vote, and pass the word along!

Thank you, fellow traveler.

Algorithm ‘Reads’ Memories

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Photo via flickr by paintMonkey

Perhaps we remember more episodes than we realize. Computer programs have been able to predict which of three short films a person is thinking about, just by looking at their brain activity. The research, conducted by scientists at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL (University College London), provides further insight into how our memories are recorded.

An extension of work which showed how spatial memories are recorded in the hippocampus, this Wellcome Trust-funded study led by Professor Eleanor Maguire looked at episodic’ memories —the complex, everyday memories that include much more information on where we are, what we are doing and how we feel.

To explore how episodic memories are recorded, the researchers showed ten volunteers three short films and asked them to memorize what they saw. The films were very simple, sharing a number of similar features, which included a woman carrying out an everyday task in a typical urban street. For example, one film showed a woman drinking coffee from a paper cup in the street before discarding the cup in a litterbin; another film showed a (different) woman posting a letter.

The volunteers were then asked to recall each of the films in turn while inside an fMRI scanner, which records brain activity by measuring related changes in blood flow. A computer algorithm then studied the patterns and had to identify which film the volunteer was recalling purely by looking at the pattern of their brain activity.

“The algorithm was able to predict correctly which of the three films the volunteer was recalling significantly above what would be expected by chance,” explains Martin Chadwick, lead author of the study. “This suggests that our memories are recorded in a regular pattern.”

Although a whole network of brain areas support memory, the researchers focused their study on the medial temporal lobe, an area deep within the brain believed to be most heavily involved in episodic memory. It includes the hippocampus and its immediate neighbors. However, the computer algorithm performed best when analyzing activity in the hippocampus itself, suggesting that this is the most important region for recording episodic memories. In particular, three areas of the hippocampus —the rear right and the front left and front right areas—seemed to be involved consistently across all participants.

“Now that we are developing a clearer picture of how our memories are stored, we hope to examine how they are affected by time, the aging process and by brain injury,” says Professor Maguire. The results are published in the journal “Current Biology”.

via Wellcome Trust

The ‘Junk’ That Makes Us Special

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

Photo via flickr by Nicholas_T

Scientists are finding that the blueprint for life is not all about genes. Recent research has revealed how much differences in non-coding DNA – stretches of the molecule that don’t produce proteins and used to be considered “junk” – shape who we are.

This ‘junk’ non-coding DNA, which makes up about 98 percent of the human genome, has been recognized in recent years to play a critical role in determining whether genes are active or not, and how much of a particular protein gets churned out.

Two teams have revealed dramatic differences between the non-coding ‘junk’ DNA of people whose genes are 99 percent the same. “We largely have the same sets of genes. It’s just how they’re regulated that makes them different,” says Michael Snyder, a geneticist at Stanford University in California who led a team of researchers with Jan Korbel, a geneticist at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany.

Their study revealed dramatic differences between the non-coding ‘junk’ DNA of people whose genes are 99 per cent the same: five people of European descent, two others whose family origins lay in East Asia and three of west African origin. They found that transcription factors – proteins that attach to stretches of non-coding ‘junk’ DNA and affect how nearby genes make proteins – act at very different locations on the genomes of different people.

Humans have hundreds of different transcription factors, but Synder’s team focused on two that are known to be particularly promiscuous about where they attach to the genome: a protein involved in immune response, NF-kappa-B, and another that helps convert DNA to RNA, called Pol-II.

Snyder’s team didn’t study what effect these differences have, but he notes that points on the genome where transcription factor binding differed between people tended to be near genes implicated in schizophrenia, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and other ailments. He suggests, therefore, that these differences in transcription factor binding may affect disease risk.

To find out what causes transcription factors to work differently in different people, a team led by Ewan Birney, a geneticist at the European Bioinformatics Institute in Cambridge, UK, performed a similar analysis to Korbel’s team, except they compared cells from two families, each with a mother, father and two children.

This detail led them to conclude that inherited non-coding DNA sequences – not mutations in genes – may drive the lion’s share of differences in where transcription factors attach.

Kelly Frazer, a genomicist at the University of California, San Diego, says the new studies help explain why many common mutations linked to diseases are located so far from any gene. For instance, a certain mutation that increases the risk of heart attack by 60 per cent is not close to a gene.

She also suggests that by homing in on non-coding ‘junk’ DNA, researchers could begin to unravel what truly makes people different. “I think these two papers are the beginning of a field that’s going to be growing rapidly in the next few years,” she says.

via KurzweilAI and New Scientist Life

People See Shape of Time

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

Photo via flickr by h.koppdelaney

As Sci-fi fans know, Time Lords—time-traveling humanoids with the ability to understand and perceive events throughout time and space—exist, but according to David Brang of the department of psychology at the University of California, San Diego, they really do walk among us. They are members of an elite group with the power to perceive the geography of time, a newly found category of ‘time-space synesthetes’ who experience time as a spacial construct.

Synesthesia is the condition in which the senses are mixed, so for example, a sound or a number has a color. Brang suspects that ‘time-space synesthesia’ happens when the neural processes underlying spatial processing are unusually active. In other words, they ‘see time.’

“In general, these individuals perceive months of the year in circular shapes, usually just as an image inside their mind’s eye,” states Brang. “These calendars occur in almost any possible shape, and many of the synaesthetes actually experience the calendar projected out into the real world.”

Brang and colleagues recruited 183 students and asked them to visualize the months of the year and construct this representation on a computer screen. Four months later the students were shown a blank screen and asked to select a position for each of the months. Uncannily, four of the 183 students were found to be time-space synaesthetes when they placed their months in a distinct spatial array—such as a circle—that was consistent over the trials.

One of Brang’s subjects was able to see the year as a circular ring surrounding her body. The “ring” rotated clockwise throughout the year so that the current month was always inside her chest with the previous month right in front of her chest.

Brang did not speculate on whether time-space synesthetes could regenerate, or if they have two hearts: both key characteristics of Time Lords.

via KurzweilAI and New Scientist

In a 2002 interview, Hinderk Emrich, Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the Hannover Medical School, discussed with Sputnik Observatory the possibility our sensorial evolution into synesthetes:

We have the evolution of biological systems. This is an evolution by Darwinian processes, by mutations, and so on. You have the evolution of brain, of course. The brain has this encephalization that means extremely growth of cortical structures. But we have not only these two types of evolution. We have also the cultural evolution, that means that in the past of about 10,000 years, enormous material of knowledge has evolved and we have to cope with this knowledge. And our brains have to cope with all of these fantastic possibilities of cognition. For example, it is very difficult for mathematicians to cope with the problem: how can I visualize the four-dimensional or five dimensional space? And synesthetes could, since they live in a hyperreality, a more complex reality, could internally represent more complex realities. So possibly synesthesia is a mode of cognitional evolution of mind. This is a speculation, we don’t know it, but in some regards synesthetes are higher, they have a more pronounced capacity of memorizing and they have very often mathematical abilities. And they can visualize complex realities so it is possible that synesthesia is one mode of the evolution of senses.

Invisible Extraterrestrials?

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

Photo via flickr by Vermin Inc

At the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences first ever conference on alien life in November 2009, Lord Martin Rees, a leading cosmologist, astrophysicist, president of Britain’s Royal Society and astronomer to the Queen of England, told the audience that he believes the existence of extra terrestrial life may be beyond human understanding.

“They could be staring us in the face and we just don’t recognize them. The problem is that we’re looking for something very much like us, assuming that they at least have something like the same mathematics and technology,” Rees suggested.

During the conference that Rees chaired entitled ‘The Detection of Extra-terrestrial Life and the Consequences for Science and Society,’ Rees claimed “I suspect there could be life and intelligence out there in forms we can’t conceive. Just as a chimpanzee can’t understand quantum theory, it could be there as aspects of reality that are beyond the capacity of our brains.”

Father Jose Funes, a Jesuit astronomer at the Vatican Observatory and one of the organisers of the conference, said: “As a multiplicity of creatures exists on Earth, so there could be other beings, also intelligent, created by God.”

However, Frank Drake, the founder of SETI and Drake’s Equation, told the conference that satellite TV and the “digital revolution” was making humanity invisible to aliens by cutting the transmission of TV and radio signals into space. The earth is currently surrounded by a 50 light year-wide “shell” of radiation from analogue TV, radio and radar transmissions. According to Drake, digital TV signals would look like white noise to a race of observing aliens.

Although the signals have spread far enough to reach many nearby star systems, they are rapidly vanishing in the wake of digital technology, said Drake. In the 1960s, Drake spearheaded the conversion of the Arecibo Observatory to a radio astronomy center. As a researcher, Drake was involved in the early work on pulsars. Drake also designed the Pioneer plaque with Carl Sagan in 1972, the first physical message sent into space. The plaque was designed to be understandable by extraterrestrials should they encounter it.

Milan Cirkovic of the Astronomical Observatory in Belgrade, points out that the median age of terrestrial planets in the Milky Way is about 1.8 gigayears (one billion years) greater than the age of the Earth and the Solar System, which means that the median age of technological civilizations should be greater than the age of human civilization by the same amount.

via Telegraph UK and The Daily Galaxy

In 2002, Lord Martin Rees sat with Sputnik Observatory, exploring the possibility that there could be alien nanoscale life on Earth that we wouldn’t recognize:

It’s worth looking for primitive life on Mars, on the frozen oceans of Europa, maybe in other places. But I’m also very much in favor of attempts to look for evidence for any artificial signals or any artifacts from some intelligent life beyond the solar system. And efforts are being made by a number of groups, particularly SETI Institute in Mountainview, California, to search systematically for particular kinds of signal that might be manifestly artificial. Now, of course, these signals would be very hard to detect and the nearest sources of them would be many tens of light years away. So if you detected a signal and try to send one back, it would take many, many decades. And so there’s no scope for snappy repartee, as it were, if we detect a signal, we would have time to make a measured response. But even if we detect no signal, then we can’t conclude that there’s no life or even no intelligent life out there because only a particular subset of such life may be sufficiently like us to be sending out signals that we could recognize. There could be all kinds of intelligent life out there that we wouldn’t recognize. There could be tiny nanoscale life here on Earth that we wouldn’t recognize. And so there are all kinds of possibilities.

Lord Martin Rees reasoned further the possibility that there could be another universe less than a millimeter away from ours, that we don’t know about:

If you look at what happens in our own universe, what seems to have happened is that it started off very hot and dense, then it expanded, then it cooled down. And as it cooled, it developed structures in it. Instead of being almost uniform, globs of different scale condensed out and they turned into stars and galaxies and, around some of those stars, planets formed. On some of those planets, the mysterious steps that lead to simple life got started. And that led eventually to complex life. So all those processes seem to have happened in our universe and it’s taken about 14 billion years to get to its present state. Now, if we look beyond the universe we can see, we have to ask, could there be other cosmos beyond what astronomers observe? And there are lots of ideas. One is that the big bangs sort of sprout one after the other, in a sense, in what some people call an eternal inflation theory. There’s another fascinating idea that these other universes exist separated from us in some extra spatial dimension. There could even be another universe less than a millimeter away from ours which we don’t know about, because that small distance is measured in some fourth spatial dimension which we can’t move in because we’re trapped in our three. Rather as if you imagine a whole lot of bugs on a big sheet of paper, their two-dimensional universe, they might be unaware of another set of bugs on another sheet of paper. So there may be other universes separated from ours in an extra spatial dimension.