Xenophilia (True Strange Stuff)

Blog of the real Xenophilius Lovegood, a slightly mad scientist

Archive for October 4th, 2011

MRI study finds that depression uncouples brain’s hate circuit

Posted by Anonymous on October 4, 2011

Professor Jianfeng Feng – A new study using MRI scans, led by Professor Jianfeng Feng, from the University of Warwick’s Department of Computer Science, has found that depression frequently seems to uncouple the brain’s “Hate Circuit”. The study entitled “Depression Uncouples Brain Hate Circuit” is published today (Tuesday 4th October 2011) in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

The researchers used MRI scanners to scan the brain activity in 39 depressed people (23 female 16 male) and 37 control subjects who were not depressed (14 female 23 male). The researchers found the fMRI scans revealed significant differences in the brain circuitry of the two groups. The greatest difference observed in the depressed patients was the uncoupling of the so-called “hate circuit” involving the superior frontal gyrus, insula and putamen. Other major changes occurred in circuits related to risk and action responses, reward and emotion, attention and memory processing.

The hate circuit was first clearly identified in 2008 by UCL Professor Semir Zeki who found that a circuit which seemed to connect three regions in the brain (the superior frontal gyrus, insula and putamen) when test subjects were shown pictures of people they hated.

The new University of Warwick led research found that in significant numbers of the depressed test subjects they examined by fMRI that this hate circuit had become decoupled. Those depressed people also seemed to have experienced other significant disruptions to brain circuits associated with; risk and action, reward and emotion, and attention and memory processing. The researchers found that in the depressed subjects:

The Hate circuits were 92% per cent likely to be decoupled

The Risk/Action circuit was 92% likely to be decoupled

The Emotion/Reward circuit was 82% likely to be decoupled

Professor Jianfeng Feng, from the University of Warwick’s Department of Computer studies said that:

“The results are clear but at first sight are puzzling as we know that depression is often characterized by intense self loathing and there is no obvious indication that depressives are less prone to hate others. One possibility is that the uncoupling of this hate circuit could be associated with impaired ability to control and learn from social or other situations which provoke feelings of hate towards self or others. This in turn could lead to an inability to deal appropriately with feelings of hate and an increased likelihood of both uncontrolled self-loathing and withdrawal from social interactions. It may be that this is a neurological indication that is more normal to have occasion to hate others rather than hate ourselves.”

via MRI study finds that depression uncouples brain’s hate circuit.

Posted in Biology, Mind | Leave a Comment »

Green tea helps mice keep off extra pounds

Posted by Anonymous on October 4, 2011

Green tea may slow down weight gain and serve as another tool in the fight against obesity, according to Penn State food scientists.

Obese mice that were fed a compound found in green tea along with a high-fat diet gained weight significantly more slowly than a control group of mice that did not receive the green tea supplement, said Joshua Lambert, assistant professor of food science in agricultural sciences.

“In this experiment, we see the rate of body weight gain slows down,” said Lambert.

The researchers, who released their findings in the current online version of Obesity, fed two groups of mice a high-fat diet. Mice that were fed Epigallocatechin-3-gallate — EGCG — a compound found in most green teas, along with a high-fat diet, gained weight 45 percent more slowly than the control group of mice eating the same diet without EGCG.

“Our results suggest that if you supplement with EGCG or green tea you gain weight more slowly,” said Lambert.

In addition to lower weight gain, the mice fed the green tea supplement showed a nearly 30 percent increase in fecal lipids, suggesting that the EGCG was limiting fat absorption, according to Lambert.

“There seems to be two prongs to this,” said Lambert. “First, EGCG reduces the ability to absorb fat and, second, it enhances the ability to use fat.”

The green tea did not appear to suppress appetite. Both groups of mice were fed the same amount of high-fat food and could eat at any time.

“There’s no difference in the amount of food the mice are eating,” said Lambert. “The mice are essentially eating a milkshake, except one group is eating a milkshake with green tea.”

via Green tea helps mice keep off extra pounds.

Posted in Biology, Health | 1 Comment »

Spock attends his last ‘Star Trek’ convention

Posted by Anonymous on October 4, 2011

Actor Leonard Nimoy gives the "Vulcan salute" to the crowd while riding in a parade in the town of Vulcan, Alberta, on April 23, 2010. Nimoy portrayed the character "Spock" in the original "Star Trek" television and movie series; he has announced he will no longer attend fan conventions. - Actor Leonard Nimoy gives the "Vulcan salute" to the crowd while riding in a parade in the town of Vulcan, Alberta, on April 23, 2010. Nimoy portrayed the character "Spock" in the original "Star Trek" television and movie series; he has announced he will no longer attend fan conventions. | ReutersLeonard Nimoy has attended his final “Star Trek” convention.

The 80-year-old actor, best-known for playing Mr. Spock in the original TV series that began in September 1966, formed four fingers into a V for Vulcan sign and intoned to fans Spock’s most famous phrase: “Live long and prosper.”

Nimoy has said the convention in suburban Chicago celebrating the 45th anniversary of “Star Trek” would be his last.

He spoke for an hour about his life and career, and thanked fans for their support over the years. Some held signs saying: “We love you Leonard! Live long & prosper.”

Creation Entertainment organizes the “Star Trek” conventions. Company CEO Adam Malin says the company has toured and collaborated with Nimoy for nearly three decades and that Nimoy “will be missed.”

via Spock attends his last ‘Star Trek’ convention – Chicago Sun-Times.

Posted in Science Fiction | Leave a Comment »

New pursuit of Schrödinger’s cat

Posted by Anonymous on October 4, 2011

Quantum mechanics is more than a hundred years old, but we still don’t understand it. In recent years, however, physicists have found a fresh enthusiasm for exploring the questions about quantum theory that were swept under the rug by its founders. Advances in experimental methods make it possible to test ideas about why objects on the scale of atoms follow different rules from those that govern objects on the everyday scale. In effect, this becomes an enquiry into the sense in which things exist at all.

In 1900 the German physicist Max Planck suggested that light—a form of electromagnetic waves—consists of tiny, indivisible packets of energy. These particles, called photons, are the “quanta” of light. Five years later Albert Einstein showed how this quantum hypothesis explained the way light kicks electrons out of metals—the photoelectric effect. It was for this, not the theory of relativity, that he won his Nobel prize.

The early pioneers of quantum theory quickly discovered that the seemingly innocuous idea that energy is grainy has bizarre implications. Objects can be in many places at once. Particles behave like waves and vice versa. The act of witnessing an event alters it. Perhaps the quantum world is constantly branching into multiple universes.

As long as you just accept these paradoxes, quantum theory works fine. Scientists routinely adopt the approach memorably described by Cornell physicist David Mermin, as “shut up and calculate.” They use quantum mechanics to calculate everything from the strength of metal alloys to the shapes of molecules. Routine application of the theory underpins the miniaturisation of electronics, medical MRI imaging and the development of solar cells, to name just a few burgeoning technologies.

Quantum mechanics is one of the most reliable theories in science: its prediction of how light interacts with matter is accurate to the eighth decimal place. But the question of how to interpret the theory—what it tells us about the physical universe—was never resolved by founders such as Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg and Erwin Schrödinger. Famously, Einstein himself was unhappy about how quantum theory leaves so much to chance: it pronounces only on the relative probabilities of how the world is arranged, not on how things fundamentally are.

Most physicists accept something like Bohr and Heisenberg’s Copenhagen interpretation. This holds that there is no essential reality beyond the quantum description, nothing more fundamental and definite than probabilities. Bohr coined the notion of “complementarity” to express the need to relinquish the expectation of a deeper reality beneath the equations. If you measure a quantum object, you might find it in a particular state. But it makes no sense to ask if it was in that state before you looked. All that can be said is that it had a particular probability of being so. It’s not that you don’t “know,” but rather that the question has no physical meaning. Similarly, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle is not a statement about the limits of what we can know about a quantum particle’s position, but places bounds on the whole concept of position.

Einstein attacked this idea in a thought experiment in which two quantum particles were arranged to have interdependent states, whereby if one were aligned in one direction, then the other had to be aligned in the opposite direction. Suppose these particles move many light years apart, and then you measure the state of one of them. Quantum theory insists that this instantly determines the state of the other. Again, it’s not that you simply don’t know until you measure. It is that the state of the particles is literally undecided until then. But this implies that the effect of the measurement is transmitted instantly, and therefore faster than light, across cosmic distances to the other particle. Surely that’s absurd, Einstein argued.

But it isn’t. Experiments have now established beyond doubt that this instantaneous action at a distance, called entanglement, is real—that’s just how quantum mechanics is. …

…even if you accept the paradoxical aspects of the theory and just use the maths, the fundamental questions won’t go away. …

Many physicists, such as Roger Penrose of Oxford University, believe that this collapse is a real physical event, similar to radioactive decay. If so, it requires an ingredient that lies outside current quantum theory. Penrose argues that the missing element is gravity, and that we’d understand wavefunction collapse if only we could marry quantum theory to general relativity, one of the major lacunae in contemporary physics.

Physicist Dirk Bouwmeester of the University of California at Santa Barbara and his co-workers hope to test that idea by placing tiny mirrors in quantum “superposition” states, meaning that they are in several places at once, and then watch their wavefunction collapse into a single location, triggered by a measurement in which photons are reflected from them. Ignacio Cirac and Oriol Romero-Isart at the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany, recently outlined a method for placing objects of about a nanometre in size, containing thousands or millions of atoms, into superposition states using light to trap and probe them, which would allow tests of such wavefunction-collapse theories.

Wavefunction collapse is one reason why the world doesn’t follow quantum rules all the way up from the nano world to that of our everyday experience. If it did, these rules wouldn’t seem counter-intuitive. It’s only because we’re used to our coffee cups being on our desk or in the dishwasher, but not both at once, that it seems unreasonable for photons or electrons to behave in this way.

At some scale, the quantum-ness of the microscopic world gives way to classical, Newtonian physics. Why? The generally accepted answer is the process of decoherence. Crudely speaking, interactions of a quantum entity with its teeming environment act like a measurement, collapsing superpositions into a well-defined state. So, large objects obey classical physics not because of their size per se but because they contain more particles and thus experience more interactions, so decohering instantly.

But that doesn’t fully resolve the issue—as shown by Schrödinger’s famous cat. In his thought experiment, Schrödinger imagined a cat that is poisoned, or not, depending on the outcome of a quantum event. The experiment is concealed inside a box. Since the outcome of the event is undetermined until observation collapses the wavefunction, quantum theory seemed to insist that, until the box is opened, the cat would be both alive and dead. Physicists used to evade that absurdity by insisting that somehow the bigness of the cat would bring about decoherence even without observation, so that it would be either alive or dead but not both.

Yet one can imagine suppressing decoherence by creating a Schrödinger cat experiment that is well isolated from its surroundings. Then what? Ask old-school “shut up and calculate” physicists if the cat can be simultaneously alive and dead, and they are likely to assert that this will still be censored somehow or other. But less conservative physicists may well now answer “why not?”

Perhaps we can simply do the experiment. The size of a cat makes it still nigh impossible to suppress decoherence, but a microscopic “cat” is more amenable to isolation. Cirac and Romero-Isart have proposed an experiment in which the cat is replaced by a virus, held in a light trap and coaxed by laser light into a quantum superposition of states. They say it might even work for tiny aquatic animals called tardigrades or water bears, which, unlike viruses, are unambiguously living or dead. It’s not obvious how to set up an experiment like Schrödinger’s, but simply placing a living creature in two places at once would be mind-boggling enough.

For whatever reason, the fact is that everyday objects are always in a single state and we can make measurements on them without altering that state: we have never sighted a Schrödinger cat. …
via New pursuit of Schrödinger’s cat | Prospect Magazine.

Posted in Physics | Leave a Comment »

How the brain makes memories: Rhythmically!

Posted by Anonymous on October 4, 2011

The brain learns through changes in the strength of its synapses — the connections between neurons — in response to stimuli.Now, in a discovery that challenges conventional wisdom on the brain mechanisms of learning, UCLA neuro-physicists have found there is an optimal brain “rhythm,” or frequency, for changing synaptic strength. And further, like stations on a radio dial, each synapse is tuned to a different optimal frequency for learning.

The findings, which provide a grand-unified theory of the mechanisms that underlie learning in the brain, may lead to possible new therapies for treating learning disabilities.

The study appears in the current issue of the journal Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience.

“Many people have learning and memory disorders, and beyond that group, most of us are not Einstein or Mozart,” said Mayank R. Mehta, the paper’s senior author and an associate professor in UCLA’s departments of neurology, neurobiology, physics and astronomy. “Our work suggests that some problems with learning and memory are caused by synapses not being tuned to the right frequency.”

via How the brain makes memories: Rhythmically! | Machines Like Us.

Posted in Biology | Leave a Comment »

Comet Meets Sun, October 1, 2011

Posted by Anonymous on October 4, 2011

This amazing video from the SOHO mission (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory) shows a sun-diving comet hitting the solar surface on October 1, 2011 and unexpectedly a huge explosion occurs shortly after. Are the two events related? Probably not, but solar scientists don’t know for sure. The region where the CME originated was on the opposite side of the Sun from the comet hit, so that is very great distance. Scientists say there is no known mechanism for comets to trigger a CME.

via  UniverseToday | NASA/ESA SOHO & NASA SDO Comet Meets Sun, October 1, 2011 – YouTube.

Posted in - Video, Space | Leave a Comment »

World’s largest telescope underway to spot aliens

Posted by Anonymous on October 4, 2011

British scientists have taken on the leading role in building critical scientific instruments for the world’s biggest optical telescope worth 1 billion pounds which will hunt for life in other galaxies.

The European Extremely Large Telescope, the largest instrument of its kind ever built, will examine some of the oldest parts of the universe and could help scientists identify other Earth-like habitable planets, reports the Telegraph.

Now project bosses have approved designs drawn up by Oxford and Durham University researchers for instruments which will help astronomers take pictures of stars and planets in distant galaxies for the first time.

The E-ELT will be sensitive enough to take images of previously unseen objects, such as cold stars and more planets, and learn more about their atmosphere, what they are made of and whether they could support life.

The telescope could also shed light on mysterious “dark matter”, which is thought to make up most of the universe, and help scientists understand how galaxies and black holes evolved after the big bang.

If it is given approval, the E-ELT will be tens of times more sensitive than any other visible light-sensing telescope on Earth.

Its 40m wide mirror – made of 1,000 separate segments and measuring almost half the length of a football pitch – will have more than four times the diameter of any other ground-based telescope and will be able to gather 15 times more light than the largest similar facilities in use today. …

via World’s largest telescope underway to spot aliens.

Posted in Aliens, Space, Technology | Leave a Comment »

The National Mustard Museum

Posted by Anonymous on October 4, 2011

mustard_andydr copy

This museum boasts a collection of more than 5,600 mustard varieties. From historical memorabilia to an extensive array of mustard pots, this temple to one of the world’s most popular condiments has it all.

via 7 Bizarre Food Museums | 7CoolList.

A mustard museum? ABSOLUTELY! According to Barry Levenson, founder & curator of the National Mustard Museum, you can blame it all on the Boston Red Sox. In the wee hours of October 28, 1986, after his favorite baseball team had just lost the World Series, Barry was wandering an all-night supermarket looking for the meaning of life. As he passed the mustards, he heard a voice: If you collect us, they will come.

He did and they have. In 1992, Barry left his job as an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Wisconsin to open this most improbable museum, now one of Wisconsin’s most popular attractions. The Mustard Museum has been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, the popular game show To Tell the Truth, as well as countless features on other national television and radio shows, and in major newspapers everywhere.

So, why all the fuss? Well, with more than 5,300 mustards from all 50 states and more than 60 countries, our collection of Mustard History is a sight to behold. From the exquisite Gibbons Collection of mustard pots to antique tins & jars and vintage advertisements, the National Mustard Museum is truly a shining temple to the “King of Condiments”.

via mustardmuseum.com

I don’t even like mustard, but I bet there would be at least one in this collection that I would enjoy.

Posted in Strange | Leave a Comment »

Yeti hunt: Russian and American scientists pool ‘Cold War’ evidence

Posted by Anonymous on October 4, 2011

Abominable snowman: Russia and the U.S. are joining forces to find the yetiIts legend has long haunted the icy wastes of the Himalayas and Siberia.

Yet for all the mysterious sightings and strange footprints in the snow, the Yeti has proved remarkably elusive to those seeking solid evidence of its existence.

Now, however, the Abominable Snowman has an international team of scientists on its trail in a Russian region which one expert claims is home to around 30 of the creatures.

An expedition and conference – the largest of its kind since 1958 – will this week bring together scientists from Russia and the U.S. who have even agreed to share secret Cold War evidence in the effort to prove the humanoid beasts exist.

It follows a rise in apparent Yeti sightings in the Kemerovo region 3,000 miles – and four time zones – east of Moscow.

One of the most recent was reported by 82-year-old Raisa Sudochakova, who claims her dogs howled in fear and ran when they saw the Yeti.

She said: ‘It was still a tall creature, but not giant. It was covered with long brown-grey hair, like a bear. It wasn’t a bear – I have lived all my life in Siberia and wouldn’t make that mistake. This creature walked like a human, or almost like a human.’ …

via Yeti hunt: Russian and American scientists pool ‘Cold War’ evidence | Mail Online.

The Yeti are laughing. They are, of course, actually grey aliens in bio-mechanical suits. They are reading this right now and saying, “Well, let’s move to the other place for awhile, but leave some hair and tracks just for fun.”

Posted in Cryptozoology | 1 Comment »

Dead Sydney runner lucky to be alive again

Posted by Anonymous on October 4, 2011

Jamie Donaldson recovering in hospital. (Nine News)

A 31-year-old Sydney man who had a heart attack and died for more than five minutes after running a half marathon at the weekend says he is lucky to have collapsed near paramedics.

Jamie Donaldson made it to the finish line of the Sydney Running Festival at the Opera House after running 21km yesterday before collapsing.

“I had the good fortune of collapsing at the finish line — if it had of been somewhere else I probably wouldn’t be around at all,” he told Nine News.

Startling video shows paramedics working desperately to bring the father-of-two back to life with a defibrillator.

On the third attempt, his heart started pumping again.

Mr Donaldson is fit and healthy, and this was the third long distance run he had taken part in this year.

But on this occasion he had underestimated the impacts of heat and dehydration.

“It sounds to me like I was bordering on the end,” he said.

“I’ve been told I was dead for six minutes.”

via ‘Dead’ Sydney runner ‘lucky to be alive again’.

Posted in Sports, Strange | Leave a Comment »


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