Archive for the ‘research’ Category

Building a Better Snowflake by Margaret Wertheim and Kenneth Libbrecht

In physics, research, science on August 19, 2014 at 02:49

From: Building a Better Snowflake: An Interview with Margaret Wertheim and Kenneth Libbrecht, Cabinet,

You are also following in the footsteps of the Japanese physicist Ukichiro Nakaya, who pioneered the classification of snowflakes. Tell us a bit about his work.

Nakaya was a student in the 1920s trained in nuclear physics. Like many physicists, he had trouble finding a job because there are only so many positions for nuclear physicists. He couldn’t get a job in Tokyo and ended up at the University of Hokkaido in the snowy north. There were no nuclear facilities there, so he had to find something else to do. In Hokkaido they get wonderful snow, so he decided this was an opportunity and started studying snowflakes. He was the first serious scientist to do this. He went outside and categorized things, but more importantly he started growing them in the lab under controlled conditions. Nakaya found out they grow differently at different temperatures—which is still a fundamental problem. We don’t understand why that is. He wrote a wonderful book called Snow Crystals about how you do science starting from nothing.

He tried to grow snow crystals on different kinds of threads. What did he use?

hexagonal_plate_FINALHe wanted to understand snow crystals as they fall out of the sky—which is basically single ice crystals. But when he tried growing them in the lab, mostly he got frost, which is a whole collection of crystals interfering with each other. This makes it hard to see what’s going on. It’s not easy to grow single crystals—you need something for them to grow on. In the sky, they grow on dust particles. Nakaya tried all sorts of things: silk, spiders webs, fine wires. Finally, he found that rabbit hair worked well. He decided it was because the hair is covered in a thin film of residual oil. It has these knobby things on it every now and then, and the knobby things are where the crystals start to grow. He was able to grow individual crystals provided he dried out the rabbit hair beforehand in a desiccator. We’re doing similar things, but we’ve got a different technique. I never liked the rabbit hair.

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Reposted with permission from: Cabinet


Archive Fever by Lorena Allam

In audio, Australia & Oceania, books, history, humanities, information, interview, research, theory on September 24, 2013 at 00:29

From: Archive Fever by Lorena Allam, Hindsight, ABC Radio National,

Australia is leading the world in a new approach to archives. It is challenging traditional archivists to embrace a more multilateral approach, one which suggests many versions of the past. But what does this mean archives are about become? Do they describe our past or our future? If we are to believe in Archive Fever then we might find our archives produce our history as much as they record it.

Listen to the broadcast

Archive Fever is the title of a book by Jacques Derrida that has caused much debate around the world. Years later archivists and researchers are still disseminating its meaning. It came at a time when archives were just beginning to face the challenge of the digital age and so were ripe for an new definition. This new definition is still being debated, but so far it looks like it will involve archivists being more open about their practises, and institutions being more open about the gaps in their collections.

Modern archival theory and practise is based on organisational and government records. So the rules for archiving personal papers, oral histories, pictures, ephemera etc, are all adaptations from this dominant model. This is one reason why there are gaps. The histories of minority groups, indigenous communities, women, children and even sports stars, are all underrepresented in our national collections. These are big gaps, but there are also small gaps for instance when a correspondence suddenly breaks into a phone call. Even today archives are essentially about paper, and if the correspondents speak to each other then, the chances are, there’ll be a gap in the record, and a gap in our knowing, and a gap in the conclusions we draw from that knowing.

Reposted with permission from: ABC Radio National

The Marvelous Marie Curie by Algis Valiunas

In biography, Europe, history of science, research, science, sociology on September 12, 2013 at 14:34

From: The Marvelous Marie Curie by Algis Valiunas, The New Atlantis,

Marie Curie (1867–1934) is not only the most important woman scientist ever; she is arguably the most important scientist all told since Darwin. Einstein? In theoretical brilliance he outshone her — but her breakthroughs, by Einstein’s own account, made his possible. She took part in the discovery of radioactivity, a term she coined; she identified it as an atomic property of certain elements. When scoffers challenged these discoveries, she meticulously determined the atomic weight of the radioactive element she had revealed to the world, radium, and thereby placed her work beyond serious doubt. Yet many male scientists of her day belittled her achievement, even denied her competence. Her husband, Pierre Curie, did the real work, they insisted, while she just went along for the wifely ride. Chauvinist condescension of this order would seem to qualify Marie Curie as belle idéale of women’s studies, icon for the perennially aggrieved. But such distinction better suits an Aphra Behn or Artemisia Gentileschi than it does a Jane Austen or Marie Curie. Genuine greatness deserves only the most gracious estate, not an academic ghetto, however fashionable and well-appointed.

Yet the fact remains: much of the interest in Madame Curie stems from her having been a woman in the man’s world of physics and chemistry. The interest naturally increases as women claim their place in that world; with this interest comes anger, sometimes righteous, sometimes self-righteous, that difficulties should still stand in the way. A president of Harvard can get it in the neck for suggesting that women don’t have the almost maniacal resolve it takes to become first-rate scientific researchers — that they are prone to distraction by such career-killers as motherhood. So Marie Curie’s singularity cannot but be enveloped in the sociology of science, which is to say these days, feminist politics.

The sociology is important, as long as one remembers the singularity. For Marie Curie did have the almost maniacal resolve to do great scientific work. The work mattered as much to her as it does to most any outstanding scientist; yet can one really say it was everything? She passionately loved her husband and, after his premature death, loved another scientist of immense talent, perhaps of genius; she had the highest patriotic feeling for her native Poland and her adopted France, and risked her life in wartime; she raised two daughters, one, Irène, a Nobel Prize laureate in chemistry, the other, Ève, an accomplished writer, most notably as her mother’s biographer.

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Reposted with permission from: The New Atlantis


Dr. Gabor Maté on the Stress-Disease Connection with Amy Goodman

In interview, medicine, North America, philosophy, politics, psychology, research, video on September 12, 2013 at 14:19

From: Dr. Gabor Maté on the Stress-Disease Connection, Addiction and the Destruction of American Childhood with Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!,

DR. GABOR MATÉ: The hardcore drug addicts that I treat, but according to all studies in the States, as well, are, without exception, people who have had extraordinarily difficult lives. And the commonality is childhood abuse. In other words, these people all enter life under extremely adverse circumstances. Not only did they not get what they need for healthy development, they actually got negative circumstances of neglect. I don’t have a single female patient in the Downtown Eastside who wasn’t sexually abused, for example, as were many of the men, or abused, neglected and abandoned serially, over and over again.
And that’s what sets up the brain biology of addiction. In other words, the addiction is related both psychologically, in terms of emotional pain relief, and neurobiological development to early adversity.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about this whole approach of criminalization versus harm reduction, how you think addicts should be treated, and how they are, in the United States and Canada?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, the first point to get there is that if people who become severe addicts, as shown by all the studies, were for the most part abused children, then we realize that the war on drugs is actually waged against people that were abused from the moment they were born, or from an early age on. In other words, we’re punishing people for having been abused. That’s the first point.

The second point is, is that the research clearly shows that the biggest driver of addictive relapse and addictive behavior is actually stress. In North America right now, because of the economic crisis, a lot of people are eating junk food, because junk foods release endorphins and dopamine in the brain. So that stress drives addiction.

Now imagine a situation where we’re trying to figure out how to help addicts. Would we come up with a system that stresses them to the max? Who would design a system that ostracizes, marginalizes, impoverishes and ensures the disease of the addict, and hope, through that system, to rehabilitate large numbers? It can’t be done. In other words, the so-called “war on drugs,” which, as the new drug czar points out, is a war on people, actually entrenches addiction deeply. Furthermore, it institutionalizes people in facilities where the care is very — there’s no care. We call it a “correctional” system, but it doesn’t correct anything. It’s a punitive system. So people suffer more, and then they come out, and of course they’re more entrenched in their addiction than they were when they went in.

Watch the videeo & read the full transcript

Reposted according to copyright notice from: Democracy Now! website


Blinded by Sight by Francis B. Nyamnjoh

In Africa, anthropology, research, society, sociology on June 28, 2013 at 19:24

From: Blinded by Sight: Divining the Future of Anthropology in Africa by Francis B. Nyamnjoh, Africa Spectrum,

Using the metaphor of the elephant and the three blind men, this paper discusses some elements of the scholarly debate on the postcolonial turn in academia, in and of Africa, and in anthropology in particular. It is a part of the context in which anthropology remains unpopular among many African intellectuals. How do local knowledge practices take up existential issues and epistemological perspectives that may interrogate and enrich more global transcultural debates and scholarly reflexivity? Many an anthropologist still resists opening his or her mind up to life-worlds unfolding themselves through the interplay between everyday practice and the manifold actions and messages of humans, ancestors and non-human agents in sites of emerging meaning-production and innovative world-making. African anthropologists seeking recognition find themselves contested or dismissed by fellow anthropologists for doing “native”, “self” or “insider” anthropology, and are sometimes accused of perpetuating colonial epistemologies and subservience by fellow African scholars who are committed to scholarship driven by the need to valorise ways of being and knowing endogenous to Africa. This essay calls on anthropologists studying Africa to reflect creative diversity and reflexivity in the conceptualisation and implementation of research projects, as well as in how they provide for co-production, collaboration and co-implication within anthropology across and beyond disciplines.

Francis B. Nyamnjoh is a professor of Anthropology and head of Social Anthropology at the University of Cape Town. He served as Director of Publications at CODESRIA from 2003-2009, and taught at universities in Cameroon and Botswana previously. His current research is funded by the NRF, SANPAD, WOTRO, Volkswagen Foundation, CODESRIA and UCT.

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Reposted with permission from: Africa Spectrum


Hunting number 113 by Philip Ball

In history of science, politics, research, science on May 19, 2013 at 18:48

From: Hunting number 113 by Philip Ball, Homunculus,

The periodic table of the elements just got a new member. At least, maybe it did – it’s hard to tell. Having run out of new elements to discover, scientists have over the past several decades been making ‘synthetic’ atoms too bloated to exist in nature. But this is increasingly difficult as the atoms get bigger, and the new element recently claimed by a Japanese group – currently known simply as element 113, its serial order in the periodic table – is frustratingly elusive. These artificial elements are made and detected literally an atom at a time, and the researchers claim only to have made three atoms in total of element 113, all of which undergo radioactive decay almost instantly.

That, and competition from teams in the United States and Russia, makes the claim controversial. The first group to sight a new element enjoys the privilege of naming it, an added spur to the desire to be first. Just as in the golden years of natural-element discovery in the nineteenth century, element-naming tends to be nationalistic and chauvinistic. No one could begrudge Marie and Pierre Curie their polonium, the element they discovered in 1989 after painstakingly sifting tonnes of uranium ore, which they named after Marie’s homeland. But the recent naming of element 114 ‘flerovium’ – after the founder of the Russian institute where it was made – and element 116 ‘livermorium’, after the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory where it originated, display rather more concern for bragging than for euphony.

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Reposted with permission from: Philip Ball


Neo – Humanism by Roland Benedikter

In ethics, humanities, information science, philosophy, research, science, society on May 11, 2013 at 19:15

From: Neo-Humanism by Roland Benedikter, The European: The Transhumanist Delusion,

Technological changes have turned discussions about human self-perception from a peripheral topic into a substantive one. Our conditio humana, that which we have thus far embraced as the essence of human identity, is being put into question. For example, neurotechnologies of the newest generation aim to increase human freedom by transcending established boundaries of human capability. They do so by entering into our own flesh and blood: Brain implants have made it possible to link man and machine at the neural level and have produced simple patterns of neural-technological interaction. Some advocates harbor the ultimate hope of constructing a system of interactivity on a global level: It promises universal agency without the need to even get up from our chair.

While we can measure the degree to which technologies transcend physical and physiological boundaries, we can merely speculate about the ethical consequences of these developments and about their effect on human self-perception. The merging of human consciousness and technology changes not only the latter, but also the former. And the question is whether technology will become more human in the long run, or whether humans will become more technical.

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Reposted with permission from: The European


Philosophometry by Justin E. H. Smith

In books, information, philosophy, research, theory on May 11, 2013 at 19:06

From: Philosophometry by Justin E. H. Smith, Berfrois,

I may have mentioned already that I am in the beginning stages of a massively ambitious, multi-year project: I have been asked to write a very long, but not nearly long enough, book called A Global History of Philosophy, to 1750. The manuscript is due in 2017.

In the era of Wikipedia (and we will be much deeper into that era by 2017) we seriously need to rethink the purpose of presenting facts to readers at all. How can I write a book that relates the global history of philosophy, and at the same time provides readers something that online, collaborative information sources cannot? Again, one option is to offer the sort of idiosyncratic interpretation that one is allowed to have as the author of a book, rather than of an encyclopedia entry, but as I’ve already said, the Russellian danger there is one that I also wish to avoid. One possible way I’ve been considering to navigate a path that steers clear of both Russell and Wikipedia is what I’ve started thinking of as ‘philosophometry’ (check Google; you heard it here first!), but which might also perhaps be called ‘quantitative metaphilosophy’.

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Reposted with permission from: Berfrois


Rediscovering Gandhi by Tridip Suhrud

In Asia, books, history, poetry, politics, religion, research, theory, writers on March 16, 2013 at 15:54

From: Rediscovering Gandhi: New insights from recent books on Gandhi by Tridip Suhrud, The Caravan,

IN CONVERSATIONS, social theorist Ashis Nandy fondly recalls an exchange between philosopher Ramachandra Gandhi and poet Umashankar Joshi. The philosopher argued that MK Gandhi was inconceivable without his spiritual strivings, while the poet—and one suspects Ashis Nandy too—insisted that Gandhi’s significance lay in his willingness to engage and transform the “slum of politics”.

This divide between the religious, spiritual Gandhi and the political one or, more aptly, the divide between Gandhi the ashramite and Gandhi the satyagrahi has come to shape not only our academic engagement with the life and thought of Gandhi, but also our memory of the man whom we revere, revile or remain indifferent to. The dichotomy is a superficial one. Gandhi saw himself as a satyagrahi and an ashramite. His politics was imbued with spiritual strivings and his relationship with religion was a deeply political one.

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Reposted with permission from: The Caravan


Artificial wombs by Dick Pelletier

In civilisation, medicine, nature, research, science on March 12, 2013 at 15:38

From: Artificial wombs: is a sexless reproduction society in our future? by  Dick Pelletier, IEET,

Although naysayers believe that this bold science makes us less human, most experts predict that artificial wombs will one day be accepted by mainstream society as more people recognize its many benefits. Babies would no longer be exposed to alcohol or illegal drugs by careless mothers, and the correct body temperature would always be maintained, with 100% of necessary nutrients provided.

Concerns over losing emotional bond between mother and newborn are unwarranted, say scientists. Artificial intelligence advances expected over the next two decades will enable doctors to reproduce exact parent emotions and personalities via vocal recordings, movement, and other sensations. The developing infant would be maintained in a safe secure environment, connected electronically to the mother 24/7.

In the near term though, experts predict most women will probably gestate their children the old-fashioned way; but career-minded females might welcome a concept that allows them to bear children and raise a family without becoming pregnant, a physical condition that often weakens their job status.

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Reposted with permission from: IEET


Tianeptine and Psilocybin by Sarah Ackley

In law, medicine, politics, psychology, research, science on February 4, 2013 at 19:32

From: Tianeptine and Psilocybin: The Science and Politics of Antidepressants by Sarah Ackley, The Hypocrite Reader,

Antidepressants are the most commonly prescribed class of drugs in the United States, prescribed more often than drugs that treat high cholesterol or headaches. However, with the bad press they’ve received in recent years, the slew of side effects they cause, and the increasing popularity of alternative and natural medicine, many are seeking alternatives to traditional antidepressants. Assuredly, many alternative antidepressants don’t work very well; St. John’s wort, a popular herbal remedy, has debatable efficacy, with most American studies showing that it is no more effective than placebo. However, there is important scientific evidence to support the use of two alternative antidepressants, tianeptine and psilocybin; yet these two drugs haven’t been researched in large clinical trials or adopted as conventional treatments in the United States. As we explore the critical research on traditional American antidepressants, as well as the trajectories of these two alternatives, we can begin to understand why these two treatments haven’t been approved for use in this country while other potentially less effective antidepressants remain the gold standard for mood disorders. The system in which drugs are researched, approved for use, and marketed to consumers has determined how, or even whether, we weigh the side effects and benefits of promising drugs. The medical establishment’s traditional definitions that conventional treatments are scientifically proven, while alternative treatments are not, do not hold in all cases.

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Reposted with permission from: The Hypocrite Reader


Psychocivilization and Its Discontents by Magnus Bärtås, Fredrik Ekman and José Delgado

In ethics, government, interview, medicine, psychology, research, science on January 27, 2013 at 03:31

From: Psychocivilization and Its Discontents: An Interview with José Delgado by Magnus Bärtås, Fredrik Ekman and José Delgado, Cabinet,

The letter from Professor Delgado carries two insignias. One is made of Hebrew letters on what looks like a Torah scroll. Under the scroll it says “lux et veritas”—light and truth. The other insignia reads “Investigacion Ramon y Cajal.” In our letter to him, we have explained that we are two artists who have been studying his “astonishing research,” and that we are interested in his views on the relationship between humans and machines. José M.R. Delgado has written that he will be most happy to receive us at his home in Madrid.

Delgado’s name is a constant on various conspiracy websites dedicated to the topic of mind control; those with names like The Government Psychiatric Torture Site, Mind Control Forum, and Parascope. The Internet has in fact become the medium of conspiracy theorists. The network functions as an endless library where the very web structure lends itself to a conspiratorial frame of mind. The idea that every phenomenon and person can be connected to another phenomenon and person is the seed of the conspiracy theorist’s claim to “make the connections between things,” track the flow of power, and show how everything hangs together within some larger murky context.

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Reposted with permission from: Cabinet


Life’s Matrix by Philip Ball

In astronomy, biology, literature, nature, philosophy, research, science on January 14, 2013 at 06:41

From: Life’s Matrix by Philip Ball,

In myth, legend, literature and the popular imagination, then, water is not a single thing but a many-faced creature: a hydra, indeed. This is the essence of water’s mystery, and it remains even when water is picked apart by science. Water is the archetypal fluid, the representative of all that flows, and yet science shows it also to be a profoundly anomalous liquid, unlike any other. Some scientists doubt whether water inside living cells, the very juice of life, is the same stuff as water in a glass; at the molecular scale, they think its structure may be altered; perhaps cell water even congeals into a kind of gel. Water behaves in unexpected ways when squeezed or cooled below freezing point. Life needs water, but it remains a profound mystery why water, a lively and reactive substance, didn’t break apart the complex molecules of the earliest life forms on Earth almost as soon as they were formed.

When a substance becomes mythical, it works curious things on our imagination, even without our knowing it. Substances like this are ancient, and they have magical powers. Gold and diamonds, bread and wine, blood and tears are agents of transformation in story and legend. But none, I think, surpasses the beauty, the grandeur, the fecundity and the potency of water. This is why water is, and must always be, much more than a simple compound of hydrogen and oxygen, or a dance of molecules. To explain its role in our imaginations, its life-giving potential, its bizarre and perplexing properties, its sweet nourishment and its glittering surface-to fully explain these things, we do perhaps have to reduce water to its mundane constituents. But even when we do so, we have to remember what we are dealing with: not just a chemical compound, but a fundamental part of nature, with aspects that are serene, enchanting, enlivening, profound, spiritual and even terrible. In the voice of the babbling stream, says Wordsworth, ‘is a music of humanity’. And Bachelard bids us listen well to this music: ‘Come, oh my friends, on a clear morning to sing the stream’s vowels! Not a moment will pass without repeating some lovely round word that rolls over the stones.’

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Reposted with permission from: Philip Ball


Property Rights in Space by Rand Simberg

In economics, ethics, politics, research, science, science fiction, space, technology, transportation on January 5, 2013 at 05:42

From: Property Rights in Space by Rand Simberg, The New Atlantis,

Space contains valuable resources. These provide a compelling reason for entrepreneurs, investors, and governments to pursue space exploration and settlement. Asteroids are known to be rich in valuable elements like neodymium, scandium, yttrium, iridium, platinum, and palladium, most of which are rare on Earth. Because of the high price that these minerals command, harvesting them from space could possibly justify even very costly mining expeditions. This is the hope of Planetary Resources, a company recently formed and funded by Google executives Larry Page and Eric Schmidt with the intent of mining asteroids. Similarly, Microsoft billionaire Naveen Jain has founded the company Moon Express, with plans to use robots to start mining the Moon — as early as next year, it claims. Meanwhile, Texas-based Shackleton Energy Company plans to mine ice in Shackleton Crater at the lunar south pole to provide propellant for planetary missions, and is raising funds for the venture now.

The basic technology for space travel necessary for off-planet development has of course existed for several decades; the United States did, after all, put a man on the Moon in 1969. And recent advances in spacefaring technology, like the SpaceX Falcon Heavy launcher, promise to reduce the cost of transporting people and goods to and from outer space. This new rocket will deliver about fifty metric tons of payload to low-Earth orbit at a price of $120 million, allowing material to be shipped to space for about a thousand dollars per pound — far less than the tens of thousands of dollars per pound that technologies like NASA’s retired space shuttle cost to ferry cargo. And if SpaceX or some other company can achieve the goal of partial or full reusability, the price of launching goods into orbit will likely drop much further, especially if market forces bring more competitors into the field.

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Reposted with permission from: The New Atlantis


The Polyglot of Bologna by Michael Erard

In Europe, history, humanities, languages, research on January 5, 2013 at 05:12

From: The Polyglot of Bologna by Michael Erard, Berfrois,


Without a doubt, the most important book in English devoted to Cardinal Giuseppe Mezzofanti (1774-1849), the polyglot of Bologna, is The Life of Cardinal Mezzofanti, written by an Irish priest, Charles William Russell, and published in 1858. When I first began research on hyperpolyglots, I knew I was going to have to spend considerable time with Russell’s book, which contains a wealth of information about Mezzofanti, his time, and his language abilities, not to mention other famous language learners. I had discovered the book by chance in the collection of the Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. The only way to get the required time to hunt through its treasures was to get some sort of research funding, I thought. Soon I discovered that the book, because it is in the public domain, had been scanned and republished in hardcopy, and was also available for free online.

Before I say something about what makes Russell’s book so valuable for the hyperpolyglot hunter, let me say a bit about what a “hyperpolyglot” is. A hyperpolyglot is someone who knows six or more languages, according to Richard Hudson, a linguist at University College London. Some have criticized the word as an ugly string of syllables – the word “polyglot” trips off no tongues – but it’s useful for distinguishing ordinary multilingualism from the massive accumulation and use of languages that Mezzofanti and others displayed. For a long time, the hyperpolyglot was a sort of language learner whom many people had anecdotes about but who had never been investigated seriously. Is hyperpolyglottery a new kind of multilingualism, feeding off a globalized world of cheap communications? Is it a personal eccentricity, this passion or obsession for languages? Is it driven by a certain type of brain that remembers well, loves patterns, and finds pleasure in repetition? It’s all these things, to varying degrees, but to get my hands around the phenomenon, I was going to have to hunt for hyperpolyglots and start with Mezzofanti.

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Reposted with permission from: Berfrois


Ancient religious texts among the 25,000 new images online

In archaeology, art, books, history, information science, religion, research on January 3, 2013 at 16:25

From: Ancient religious texts among the 25,000 new images online, Past Horizons Archaeology,

Launched in December 2011,  the Cambridge Digital Library has already attracted tens of millions of hits on its website. Among the 25,000 new images being made freely available are a 2,000-year old copy of  The Ten Commandments on the famous Nash Papyrus and also one of the most remarkable ancient copies of the New Testament; the Codex Bezae.

While the latest release focuses on faith traditions – including important texts from Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism – many of the manuscripts being made available are also of great political, cultural and historical importance.

One, the tenth-century Book of Deer, is widely believed to be the oldest surviving document from Scotland, and it contains the earliest known examples of written Gaelic.

A thirteenth-century Life of Edward the Confessor provides an account of the early English saint and king, produced by a later king for political purposes, and boasts masterpieces of English illumination, including a very graphic portrayal of the Battle of Hastings.

The extensive Cairo Genizah collections, which are being gradually released through the digital library, provide fascinating glimpses into the everyday life of a Jewish community in Egypt over a period of a thousand years. Based at the crossroads of trade and intellectual exchange, the archive of this community represents one of the most important sources for understanding the wider medieval world.

The Library is also beginning to release digital versions of its Islamic and Sanskrit collections, which include both secular and religious texts. The Islamic manuscripts collection includes some of the earliest surviving Qur’ans, while the Library’s Sanskrit manuscripts cover all the major religious traditions of South Asia and include some of the oldest known manuscripts of key religious texts.

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Reposted with permission from: Past Horizons


Tears of Laughter by Christopher Turner

In animals, art, biology, history, nature, research, science on December 8, 2012 at 21:38

From: Tears of Laughter by Christopher Turner, CABINET,

Nearly half a millennium after Leonardo, contemporary scientists have discovered a neurological explanation for the affinity between physical expressions and emotional sensations of joy and grief. In the centuries between, scientists took over where artists left off in urgently pursuing the question. Charles Darwin notably fused the two approaches, using the art of photography to further his scientific inquiry. In order to formulate The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872) with scientific veracity, Darwin broke with both schematic artistic representations of the passions and aristocratic conventions preventing extreme displays of emotion. He hoped to use photography to portray emotional subtleties—like the close similarity between the laughing and crying face—with a renewed realism.

Capturing particular expressions, inherently transitory, volatile, and ephemeral, at first seemed almost impossible with the long exposure time photography then required. (Eadweard Muybridge had only just begun his experiments recording sequences of a horse in motion the year Expression came out.) Darwin described the spasms a laughing fit provoked, which would have rendered any photograph a blur: “During excessive laughter the whole body is often thrown backward and shakes, or is almost convulsed. The respiration is much disturbed; the head and face become gorged with blood, with the veins distended; and the orbicular muscles are spasmodically contracted in order to protect the eyes. Tears are freely shed,” he noted, appending a key observation, “Hence . . . it is scarcely possible to point out any difference between the tear-stained face of a person after a paroxysm of excessive laughter and after a bitter crying-fit.”­

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Reposted with permission from: CABINET


U.S. Grants License for Laser-Powered Uranium Enrichment by Sharon Weinberger

In news, North America, research, science, technology on November 19, 2012 at 22:50

From: U.S. Grants License for Laser-Powered Uranium Enrichment by Sharon Weinberger, Scientific American,

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) this week granted a licence to allow construction of a plant that uses a controversial uranium enrichment process — one that critics fear could pose a serious nuclear-proliferation risk. The plant, which would be built through a partnership between General Electric (GE) and Hitachi in Wilmington, North Carolina, could be used to enrich uranium to make fuel for nuclear reactors quickly and cheaply using a process that involves a laser.

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Reposted with permission from: Scientific American


Scientists create ‘tree of life’ mapping all known bird species

In biology, ecology, research, science on November 18, 2012 at 22:34

From: Scientists create ‘tree of life’ mapping all known bird species, Mongabay,

The international team researchers used DNA-sequencing data — when available — to show the evolutionary relationships between living bird species. It also shows bird speciation rates across time and geographies.

“We have built the first ever family tree showing the evolutionary relationship among the species of birds. We used fossils and genetic data to estimate the ages of all the different branches of the bird tree so that we could assess how diversity has accumulated through time,” said co-author Gavin Thomas of the University of Sheffield in a statement. “Our work is indebted to researchers from museums and universities who have collected astounding amounts of genetic data from birds around the world.”

See at Mongabay

Reposted with permission from: Mongabay


It is a duty that we should save seeds for the future by Vandana Shiva

In Asia, biology, community, culture, ecology, ethics, nature, research, science on November 9, 2012 at 00:16

From: It is a duty that we should save seeds for the future by Vandana Shiva, America Latina en Movimiento,

(…) Biodiversity is not empty, it is not pure nature, none of the varieties that have been evolved over centuries by peasant societies, particularly the women, are landrace. I think it’s just a wrong term to use because there’s intelligence in every bit of their breeding.
And as we think of how do we achieve systems of development, particularly rural development, there can be objectives of providing food of high quality, good nutrition, how do we assure that rural communities are not excluded, that women are not excluded, I think the first step along with development [is] food security as well as social inclusion, it is to start removing the boundaries and walls that have lead to exclusion. In my view the most important wall is a very invisible wall that gets higher and higher and higher.
This is a wall I have called the creation boundary. This is a wall that is destroying our biodiversity, that is pushing our rural communities to marginalization and poverty, and it is a wall that has discounted the knowledge of peasant societies, especially the women.
And this wall started to get put in place when knowledge was suddenly demarcated between scientific knowledge and other [types of] knowledge that aren’t knowledge.

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Reposted with permission from: America Latina en Movimiento


Alan Turing creator of Artificial Languages by Federico Gobbo

In humanities, languages, philosophy, research on November 5, 2012 at 21:43

From: Alan Turing creator of Artificial Languages by Federico Gobbo, InKoj, Philosophy & Artificial Languages,

ABSTRACT. In this paper an evaluation of the contribution to philosophical investigation by Alan Turing is provided in terms of creation of Artificial Languages (ALs). After a discussion of the term AL in the literature, and in particular within the theoretical model offered by Lyons, the legacy of Turing is  presented with a special attention to what remains after a century by his birth and what is still to be investigated in this area.

The definition of AL highly depends on two factor: the ambiguity of the English word ‘language’; the (scientific) context in which AL is used. In fact, unlike other so-called ‘natural’ languages – such as French – in the English language the word ‘language’ indicates both artificial and ‘natu ral’ languages – only when that adjective is expressed. In French, langage is the general term, which includes both artificial and natural languages, while langue explicitly denots ‘natural’ ones. Esperanto follows the French model in this respect. This lackness had great consequences on the antonym of the expression ‘natural language’, that is ‘artificial language’ (AL). From the point of view of linguistics and philosophy of language, Lyons (1991) ad- dresses this question in detail, giving a taxonomy of languages in terms of degree of naturalness.

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Reposted with permission from: InKoj


Polymers Are Forever by Alan Weisman

In ecology, ethics, nature, research, science on November 1, 2012 at 13:18

From: Polymers Are Forever: Alarming tales of a most prevalent and problematic substance by Alan Weisman, Orion Magazine,

“Any idea what these are?” Thompson is guiding a visitor along the shore of the Plym River estuary, near where it joins the sea. With a full moonrise just a few hours off, the tide is out nearly two hundred meters, exposing a sandy flat scattered with bladderwrack and cockle shells. A breeze skims the tidal pools, shivering rows of reflected hillside housing projects. Thompson bends over the strand line of detritus left by the forward edge of waves lapping the shore, looking for anything recognizable: hunks of nylon rope, syringes, topless plastic food containers, half a ship’s float, pebbled remains of polystyrene packaging, and a rainbow of assorted bottle caps. Most plentiful of all are multicolored plastic shafts of cotton ear-swabs. But there are also the odd little uniform shapes he challenges people to identify. Among twigs and seaweed fibers in his fistful of sand are a couple dozen blue and green plastic cylinders about two millimeters high.

“They’re called nurdles. They’re the raw materials of plastic production. They melt these down to make all kinds of things.” He walks a little farther, then scoops up another handful. It contains more of the same plastic bits: pale blue ones, greens, reds, and tans. Each handful, he calculates, is about 20 percent plastic, and each holds at least thirty pellets.

“You find these things on virtually every beach these days. Obviously they are from some factory.”

However, there is no plastic manufacturing anywhere nearby. The pellets have ridden some current over a great distance until they were deposited here—collected and sized by the wind and tide.

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Reposted with permission from: Orion Magazine


The politics of spirituality by Courtney Bender and Omar M. McRoberts

In academia, North America, politics, research on October 11, 2012 at 05:37

From: The politics of spirituality: What does spirituality mean in America today? posted by Courtney Bender and Omar M. McRoberts, The Immanent Frame,

Social scientists frequently juxtapose spirituality to religion and identify the former by way of what it lacks in comparison to the latter. In particular, spirituality would appear to lack institutions, authority structures, community, and even history—all of which are considered integral to religion, such as it is widely understood today. Congregational identity, membership, and attendance are key markers for studies of Americans’ religious convictions, and the congregation, therefore, is taken to be an especially important, if not the definitive, site for the political and social mobilization of religious Americans. Against this backdrop, the rising number of “religious nones” (as well as shifts in congregational styles [see Chaves 2009]) emerge not only as new empirical facts but, insofar as their presence is measured against a norm of voluntary participation, also appear to engender a certain anxiety on the part of the scholars who study them (e.g., Olson 2010; Putnam and Campbell 2010). Though “religious nones” may be believers, they appear to lack the kinds of social connectivity that are recognizable to scholars, and that the latter have deemed essential to voluntary political participation. Insofar as spirituality emerges as a term associated with such individuals—and one that seems to sound the alarms about the problems of individualism—it appears as either the weak cousin or the crazy uncle of the norm that continues (or that should continue) to endure (see, e.g., Bellah et al. 1985), or as the spark of regeneration and the movement toward a “new” social order (e.g., York 1995).

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Reposted with permission from: The Immanent Frame


How Your Cell Phone Hurts Your Relationships by Helen Lee Lin

In internet, psychology, research, science, sociology, technology on October 4, 2012 at 06:34

From: How Your Cell Phone Hurts Your Relationships by Helen Lee Lin, Scientific American,

Most of us are no stranger to this scenario:  A group of friends sits down to a meal together, laughing, swapping stories, and catching up on the news – but not necessarily with the people in front of them!  Nowadays, it’s not unusual to have one’s phone handy on the table, easily within reach for looking up movie times, checking e-mails, showing off photos, or taking a call or two.  It’s a rare person who doesn’t give in to a quick glance at the phone every now and then.  Today’s multifunctional phones have become an indispensable lifeline to the rest of the world.

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Reposted with permission from: Scientific American


Why Do We Use Spatial Metaphors to Talk about the Web? by PJ Rey

In internet, research, society, technology, theory on October 2, 2012 at 06:54

From: Why Do We Use Spatial Metaphors to Talk about the Web? by PJ Rey, The Society Pages,

I’ve been thinking a lot about this question lately. I even wrote an essay awhile back for The New Inquiry. But, honestly, none of the answers I come up seem complete. I’m posting this as a means of seeking help developing an explanation and to see if anyone knows of people who are taking on this question.

I think question is important because it relates to our “digital dualist” tendency to view the Web as separate from “real life.”

So far, I see three, potentially compatible, explanations:

1. Capitalism’s infinite need for expansion. Couching digital information in a language of space and territory, makes it easily integrated into the existing systems of property ownership and commodification. Digital information is equated to something we already know how to buy and sell: land. It provides a new target for imperialistic ambitions.

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Reposted with permission from: The Society Pages


Conquest in Space: Dreaming about Mars by Binoy Kampmark

In civilisation, ethics, literature, North America, politics, research, science, science fiction, space, war on October 1, 2012 at 01:51

From: Conquest in Space: Dreaming about Mars by Binoy Kampmark, The Montreal Review,

With NASA’s latest efforts on Mars with the Curiosity rover, humanity is now bracing itself for the hope of finding life past, present or future, on a distant plant. Much of this is drivel, suggesting a continued obsession of humankind’s “inner child” (“We discover ourselves through discovering others”) but the prospects are intriguing. Colonising Mars will enable us to export rapacity and problems and possibly unearth a few scientific gems on the way.

In a more specific way, the Mars mission – shall we say missions? – demonstrate again that science is as political as any pursuit of knowledge. The selfless scientist is an extinct species, or at the very least a rare one. Like sports personalities, they are guns for hire, hoping to receive the gold medal at the end of the race.

Naturally, the event of seeing the first colour photos of Mars has sent NASA administrators into a state of frenzy. In the words of Charles Bolden, “It is a huge day for the nation, it is a huge day for all of our partners who have something on Curiosity and it is a huge day for the American people.” Strikingly, the mission’s significance is framed, less in terms of humanity than in terms of America – the narrative of Independence Day and the space race. John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, affirmed it. “We are actually the only country that has landed surface landers on any other planet.”

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Reposted with permission from: The Montreal Review


Here There Be Monsters by Brendan Fitzgerald

In academia, community, education, internet, media, research, universities on September 30, 2012 at 04:14

From: Here There Be Monsters by Brendan Fitzgerald, The Morning News,

The first warning came in 2008. Kelly, a history professor at George Mason, had launched a new course called “Lying About the Past.” For two months, his students studied “the history of historical hoaxes”—photographs of the Loch Ness monster, forged Hitler diaries, Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds broadcast. Then, they created their own hoax—a deception Kelly previewed on the first day of the semester on his blog.

“We will work together as a group to create an online historical hoax that we will then turn loose on the internet to see if we can actually fool anyone,” wrote Kelly. He signed off: “You have been warned.”

Kelly’s students decided on a project they called “The Last American Pirate.” They invented a man named Edward Owens. He was a Virginian. He lost his money and job after the Panic of 1873. Desperate, he turned to robbing boats on the Chesapeake Bay to regain his lost wealth. And with that, once Owens’s background was complete, the students lowered him delicately into history, like optimistically introducing a Chinese mystery snail into an Appalachian lake.

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Reposted with permission from: The Morning News


Mental Disorder or Neurodiversity by Aaron Rothstein

In biology, books, nature, psychology, research, science, society on September 30, 2012 at 03:52

From: Mental Disorder or Neurodiversity by Aaron Rothstein, The New Atlantis,

One of the most famous stories of H. G. Wells, “The Country of the Blind” (1904), depicts a society, enclosed in an isolated valley amid forbidding mountains, in which a strange and persistent epidemic has rendered its members blind from birth. Their whole culture is reshaped around this difference: their notion of beauty depends on the feel rather than the look of a face; no windows adorn their houses; they work at night, when it is cool, and sleep during the day, when it is hot. A mountain climber named Nunez stumbles upon this community and hopes that he will rule over it: “In the Country of the Blind the One-Eyed Man is King,” he repeats to himself. Yet he comes to find that his ability to see is not an asset but a burden. The houses are pitch-black inside, and he loses fights to local warriors who possess extraordinary senses of touch and hearing. The blind live with no knowledge of the sense of sight, and no need for it. They consider Nunez’s eyes to be diseased, and mock his love for a beautiful woman whose face feels unattractive to them. When he finally fails to defeat them, exhausted and beaten, he gives himself up. They ask him if he still thinks he can see: “No,” he replies, “That was folly. The word means nothing — less than nothing!” They enslave him because of his apparently subhuman disability. But when they propose to remove his eyes to make him “normal,” he realizes the beauty of the mountains, the snow, the trees, the lines in the rocks, and the crispness of the sky — and he climbs a mountain, attempting to escape.

Wells’s eerie and unsettling story addresses how we understand differences that run deep into the mind and the brain. What one man thinks of as his heightened ability, another thinks of as a disability. This insight about the differences between ways of viewing the world runs back to the ancients: in Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates discusses how insane people experience life, telling Phaedrus that madness is not “simply an evil.” Instead, “there is also a madness which is a divine gift, and the source of the chiefest blessings granted to men.” The insane, Socrates suggests, are granted a unique experience of the world, or perhaps even special access to its truths — seeing it in a prophetic or artistic way.

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Reposted with permission from: The New Atlantis


Days of the Locust: An Interview with Jeffrey Lockwood by David Serlin and Jeffrey Lockwood

In biology, ecology, Europe, history, North America, religion, research, society, writers on September 28, 2012 at 04:37

From: Days of the Locust: An Interview with Jeffrey Lockwood by David Serlin and Jeffrey Lockwood, CABINET Magazine,

In the summer of 1875, an infestation of Rocky Mountain locusts measuring 198,000 square miles—a square 450 miles on each side, containing an estimated 3.5 trillion locusts—descended upon the midwestern United States, the largest locust swarm ever recorded. (By comparison, the second-largest swarm, in Kenya in 1954, covered fewer than one hundred square miles.) Although an unprecedented convergence of specific climatic, agricultural, and ecological conditions was responsible for creating the 1875 outbreak, many communities interpreted the locust swarm as an objective sign of pending apocalypse and confirmation that the modern world could not escape the wrath of an angry God. By the early years of the twentieth century, however, the Rocky Mountain locust, with its turbo-charged capacity for devastation and destruction, had vanished, leaving scientists, theologians, and historians to ponder the cause of its mysterious disappearance.

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Reposted with permission from: CABINET Magazine


Bumblebees Quickly Learn Best Paths to Sweet Flowers by Katherine Harmon

In biology, nature, research, science on September 23, 2012 at 07:35

From: Bumblebees Quickly Learn Best Paths to Sweet Flowers by Katherine Harmon, Scientific American,

Bumblebees, it turns out, don’t bumble. Using tiny radar tracking devices, motion-activated cameras and artificial flowers, scientists have learned how the bees themselves quickly learn the best routes to take when they go foraging from flower to flower. In fact, their cognitive competence in this area seems to match that of bigger-brained animals.

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Reposted with permission from: Scientific American

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