Some of the biggest philosophical and ethical questions of this century may be raised on scientific frontiers — as we gain a better understanding of the deep structure of space and time and the wilder “microworld.” Astrophysicist Martin Rees paints a fascinating picture of how we might be changed by what we do not yet know:
"If science teaches me anything, it teaches me that even simple things like an atom are fairly hard to understand. And that makes me skeptical of anyone who claims to have the last word or complete understanding of any deep aspect of reality."
"Where did the thought of the Higgs boson come from? Does this particle exist only in our mind? Can it be manipulated by our thoughts? Is it possible that matter isn’t so much a thing as it is a perspective? If so, could it be that by changing this perspective we might discover that our essential nature isn’t matter-based after all?
Maybe the most important thing we have learned with the discovery of the Higgs boson is that there are a lot more questions to be answered and a lot more discoveries to be made – discoveries of both cosmic proportion and, perhaps more importantly, spiritual dimension.”
Read Eric Nelson’s full commentary on how the Nobel Prize for the “God Particle” discovery prompts deeper questions about ourselves.
Photo by Rene Passet
You will not believe how the pediatric neuro-oncologist uses the venom from a scorpion’s sting to paint the malignant tumors in children’s brains and lymphatic systems. And, in the process, tap the human spirit.
"Inside the brain it is very difficult to tell the difference between normal brain and cancer. It’s all about millimeters. You’re a millimeter off, take a few grams of tissue that belong safely in the brain, then the patients wake up not as perfect as when they went into the surgery."
To solve this problem, Dr. Olson looked to the natural world. He found his answer in an unlikely candidate: the Israeli Deathstalker scorpion. which has the most powerful venom of any scorpion. The Deathstalker’s venom contains chlorotoxin, a peptide that attaches to certain brain cancer cells while leaving surrounding healthy cells untouched.
Pair this targeting peptide with a fluorescent dye (a beacon) and Dr. Olson came up with“tumor paint.” This method of lighting up cancer cells is 100,000 times more sensitive than an MRI in detecting cancer cells. And, more importantly, the tumor paint shows surgeons precisely what to cut out while leaving healthy cells in place.
We’re fascinated with outer space, but there’s a place on earth that’s just as alien — and just as mysterious. It’s the bottom of the ocean, and Sylvia Earle has walked there:
"[I walked] on the bottom, two and a half hours, and I later spoke with an astronaut friend, Buzz Aldrin, and he said, ‘Well, that’s about as long as we had to walk on the moon, two and a half hours.’ But what they did not have on the moon, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong and those who came later, they didn’t have just this avalanche of life, this great diversity all around. Everywhere you looked, there were little fish with lights down the side. Of course, the corals themselves are alive. There were little burrows of creatures that were dwelling in the sediments on the sea floor. The water itself is like minestrone, except all the little bits are alive."
And that life of the ocean sustains all life on earth. Sylvia Earle takes us there with singular urgency and passion.
I kind of think of this interview as a show for those of us on summer holiday. As you’re driving or hiking or sailing, geomorphologist David Montgomery helps you see the world around you differently — through the lens of geology. As I was driving through the Black Hills (Paha Sapa in Lakota) of South Dakota this past week, I looked at the canted rock formations differently. And I found a deeper appreciation for the push and pull between religion and science has shaped advances in geology from the beginning.
And, if you’re looking for some good dinner table conversation, you really ought to listen to David Montgomery talk about how Noah’s Flood might actually be rooted in an historical event — of the Mediterranean rising so high that it spilt over into the valley of the Black Sea. Or, my favorite line: plate tectonics is to geology what DNA is to biology.
Montgomery tells us how the evolution of landscapes and geological processes shape ecology and humanity, and , how we should read rocks for the stories they tell about who we are and where we came from:
"Geology really is, essentially, the scientific creation story. How did it really work? What can we tell from the nature of the universe around us that would inform us in our thinking about how we got to the place we are now? I think that really is central to our sort of view of ourselves as a species, our place in the universe, as well as sort of your personal relationship to the universe. What am I doing here?"
This 1944 infographic on electromagnetic radiation makes your chart of electromagnetic radiation invalid.
Courtesy of the fine folks at Lawrence Livermore, you can tour the 10,000 x 6,958 pixel version to your heart’s content. Do it. You can’t overdose on this kind of cool.
Best thing since the XKCD radiation dose infographic.
Are we in the matrix? Physicist James Gates reveals why string theory stretches our imaginations about the nature of reality. Also, how failure makes us more complete, and imagination makes us more knowledgeable.
"Insight is not a matter of memory, of knowledge and time, which are all thought. Insight is the total absence of the whole movement of thought as time and remembrance. So there is direct perception. It is as though I have been going North for the last ten thousand years, and my brain is accustomed to going North, and somebody comes along and says, that will lead you nowhere, go East. When I turn round and go East the brain cells have changed. Because I have an insight that the North leads nowhere.
I will put it differently. The whole movement of thought, which is limited, is acting throughout the world now. It is the most important action, we are driven by thought. But thought will not solve any of our problems, except the technological ones. If I see that, I have stopped going North. I think that with the ending of a certain direction, the ending of a movement that has been going on for thousands of years, there is at that moment an insight that brings about a change, a mutation, in the brain cell.” —Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986)
Sujata Krishna offered this passage from Questioning Krishnamurti after listening to our show with Rex Jung. During the interview, he described how the brain, with training, can actually change shape, beef up like a muscle that’s been trained:
"I think there are some strategies to cultivating creativity. It takes a lot of time to change the structure of your brain and there are several studies out there now. You know, the famous juggling study where they have novices who don’t know how to juggle. They image them, then they juggle for three months, they image them again and they see that literally a portion of their brain, a small chunk, but a portion of their brain is beefed up like a muscle in service of that concerted thing that they’re doing with their brain and that is the thing.
The important thing is they’re doing a very new thing in a concerted way. And their brain says, hey, if we’re going to be doing this thing in the environment over and over and over, I’m going to build tissue to do that so that we can do it easier and more efficiently. So if you’re going to be creative, pick one thing, get a lot of experience in that one thing, and do it over and over and over.”
Think about that. We can actually change the shape of our brains. Time to get to work. Putting that idea to work, methinks this magnified image of stained neurons is a fitting pairing.
Image by Mr. McGill / Flickr
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
How do we prime our brains to take the meandering mental paths necessary for creativity? New techniques of brain imaging, neuroscientist Rex Jung says, are helping us gain a whole new view on the differences between intelligence, creativity, and personality.
"With intelligence, there’s the analogy I’ve used is there’s this superhighway in the brain that allows you to get from point A to point B. With creativity, it’s a slower, more meandering process where you want to take the side roads and even the dirt roads to get there."
One of our most popular interviews in which Dr. Jung unsettles some old assumptions — and suggests some new connections between creativity and family life, creativity and aging, and creativity and purpose.
“It immediately looked right.”
It’s been 60 years since the double helix structure of DNA, the key to life itself, was first revealed to the world. The BBC’s “Science in Action” walks the listener along the journey of this discovery with some of the scientific giants of the time. The delight is still there in those voices. So wonderful.
Also clears up some of the debate over the credit of Crick and Watson. Their approaches to modeling and sense of beauty moved the idea forward… through actual base pairing cut-outs!
(h/t Krista Tippett)