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Massive iceberg breaks away from Antarctica
(CNN) A massive iceberg weighing more than one trillion tons has broken away from western Antarctica, according to a UK-based research team.
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(CNN) A massive iceberg weighing more than one trillion tons has broken away from western Antarctica, according to a UK-based research team.
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The US Defense Department Missile Defense Agency plans to conduct a long-planned flight test of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system within the next few days, according to a DOD official.
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The Martian surface may be even less hospitable to life than scientists had thought.
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation streaming from the sun “activates” chlorine compounds in the Red Planet’s soil, turning them into potent microbe-killers, a new study suggests.
These compounds, known as perchlorates, seem to be widespread in the Martian dirt; several NASA missions have detected them at a variety of locations. Perchlorates have some characteristics that would appear to boost the Red Planet’s habitability. They drastically lower the freezing point of water, for example, and they offer a potential energy source for microorganisms, scientists have said. [The Search for Life on Mars: A Photo Timeline]
But the new study, by Jennifer Wadsworth and Charles Cockell — both of the U.K. Centre for Astrobiology at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland — paints perchlorates in a different light. The researchers exposed the bacterium Bacillus subtilis, a common spacecraft contaminant, to perchlorates and UV radiation at levels similar to those found at and near the Martian surface. (Because Mars’ atmosphere is just 1 percent as thick as that of Earth, UV fluxes are much higher on the Red Planet than on Earth.)
The bacterial cells lost viability within minutes in Mars-like conditions, the researchers found. And the results were even more dramatic when Wadsworth and Cockell added iron oxides and hydrogen peroxide, two other common components of Martian regolith, to the mix: Over the course of 60 seconds, the combination of irradiated perchlorates, iron oxides and hydrogen peroxide boosted the B. subtilis death rate by a factor of 10.8 compared to cells exposed to UV radiation alone, the researchers found.
“These data show that the combined effects of at least three components of the Martian surface, activated by surface photochemistry, render the present-day surface more uninhabitable than previously thought and demonstrate the low probability of survival of biological contaminants released from robotic and human exploration missions,” Wadsworth and Cockell wrote in the study, which was published online today (July 6) in the journal Scientific Reports. (Scientists already knew about perchlorates’ toxic potential, but it usually takes high temperatures to “activate” the compounds, Wadsworth told Space.com.)
It’s unclear how deep this inferred “uninhabitable zone” goes on Mars, because the precise mechanism behind the cell-killing action isn’t understood, Wadsworth said.
“If you’re looking for life, you have to additionally keep the ionizing radiation in mind that can penetrate the top layers of soil, so I’d suggest digging at least a few meters into the ground to ensure the levels of radiation would be relatively low,” she told Space.com via email.
The European/Russian ExoMars rover, which is scheduled to launch toward the Red Planet in 2020 on a mission to search for signs for life, will feature a drill that can reach a maximum depth of 6.5 feet (2 m).
There’s an important caveat to the new results, however: B. subtilis is a garden-variety microbe, not an “extremophile” adapted to survive in harsh conditions, the researchers said.
“It’s not out of the question that hardier life forms would find a way to survive” at or near the Martian surface, Wadsworth told Space.com. “It’s important we still take all the precautions we can to not contaminate Mars.”
Copyright 2017 SPACE.com, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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Artificial intelligence research has been going through a recent revolution. AI systems can now outperform humans at playing chess and Go, recognizing faces, and driving safely. Even so, most researchers say truly conscious machines — ones that don’t just follow programs but have feelings and are self-aware — are decades away. First, the reasoning goes, researchers have to build a generalized intelligence, a single machine with the above talents and the capacity to learn more. Only then will AI reach the level of sophistication needed for consciousness.
But some think it won’t take nearly that long.
“People expect that self-awareness is going to be this end game of artificial intelligence when really there are no scientific pursuits where you start at the end,” says Justin Hart, a computer scientist at the University of Texas. He and other researchers are already building machines with rudimentary minds. One robot wriggles like a newborn baby to understand its body. Another robot babbles about what it sees and cries when you hit it. Another sets off to explore its world on its own.
No one claims that robots have a rich inner experience — that they have pride in floors they’ve vacuumed or delight in the taste of 120-volt current. But robots can now exhibit some similar qualities to the human mind, including empathy, adaptability, and gumption.
Beyond it just being cool to create robots, researchers design these cybernetic creatures because they’re trying to fix flaws in machine-learning systems. Though these systems may be powerful, they are simple. They work by relating input to output, like a test where you match items in column ‘A’ with items in column ‘B’. The AI systems basically memorize these associations. There’s no deeper logic behind the answers they give. And that’s a problem.
Humans can also be hard to read. We spend an inordinate amount of time analyzing ourselves and others, and arguably, that’s the main role of our conscious minds. If machines had minds, they might not be so inscrutable. We could simply ask them why they did what they did.
“If we could capture some of the structure of consciousness, it’s a good bet that we’d be producing some interesting capacity,” says Selmer Bringsjord, an AI researcher at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. Although science fiction may have us worried about sentient robots, it’s really the mindless robots we need to be cautious of. Conscious machines may actually be our allies.
Self-driving cars have some of the most advanced AI systems today. They decide where to steer and when to brake by taking constant radar and laser readings and feeding them into algorithms. But much of driving is anticipating other drivers’ maneuvers and responding defensively — functions that are associated with consciousness.
“Self-driving cars will have to read the minds of what other self-driving cars want to do,” says Paul Verschure, a neuroscientist at Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona.
As a demonstration of how that might look, Hod Lipson, an engineering professor at Columbia University and co-author of a recent book on self-driving cars, and Kyung-Joong Kim at Sejong University in Seoul, South Korea built the robotic equivalent of a crazy driver. The small round robot (about the size of a hockey puck) moves on a loopy path according to its own logic. Then a second robot is set with the goal of intercepting the first robot no matter where the first one started, so it couldn’t record a fixed route; it had to divine the moving robot’s logic.
People expect that self-awareness is going to be this end game of AI when really there are no scientific pursuits where you start at the end.
Using a procedure that mimicked Darwinian evolution, Lipson and Kim crafted an interception strategy. “It had basically developed a duplicate of the brain of the actor — not perfect, but good enough that it could anticipate what it’s going to do,” Lipson says.
Lipson’s team also built a robot that can develop an understanding of its body. The four-legged spidery machine is about the size of a large tarantula. When switched on, its internal computer has no prior information about itself. “It doesn’t know how its motors are arranged, what its body plan is,” Lipson says
But it has the capacity to learn. It makes all the actions it is capable of to see what happens: how, for example, turning on a motor bends a leg joint. “Very much like a baby, it babbles,” Lipson says. “It moves its motors in a random way.”
After four days of flailing, it realizes it has four legs and figures out how to coordinate and move them so it can slither across the floor. When Lipson unplugs one of the motors, the robot realizes it now has only three legs and that its actions no longer produce the intended effects.
“I would argue this robot is self-aware in a very primitive way,” Lipson says.
Another humanlike capability that researchers would like to build into AI is initiative. Machines excel at playing the game Go because humans directed the machines to solve it. They can’t define problems on their own, and defining problems is usually the hard part.
In a forthcoming paper for the journal “Trends in Cognitive Science,” Ryota Kanai, a neuroscientist and founder of a Tokyo-based startup Araya discusses how to give machines intrinsic motivation. In a demonstration, he and his colleagues simulated agents driving a car in a virtual landscape that includes a hill too steep for the car to climb unless it gets a running start. If told to climb the hill, the agents figure out how to do so. Until they receive this command, the car sits idle.
Then Kanai’s team endowed these virtual agents with curiosity. They surveyed the landscape, identified the hill as a problem, and figured out how to climb it even without instruction.
“We did not give a goal to the agent,” Kanai says. “The agent just explores the environment to learn what kind of situation it is in by making predictions about the consequence of its own action.”
The trick is to give robots enough intrinsic motivation to make them better problem solvers, and not so much that they quit and walk out of the lab. Machines can prove as stubborn as humans. Joscha Bach, an AI researcher at Harvard, put virtual robots into a “Minecraft”-like world filled with tasty but poisonous mushrooms. He expected them to learn to avoid them. Instead, they stuffed their mouths.
“They discounted future experiences in the same way as people did, so they didn’t care,” Bach says. “These mushrooms were so nice to eat.” He had to instill an innate aversion into the bots. In a sense, they had to be taught values, not just goals.
In addition to self-awareness and self-motivation, a key function of consciousness is the capacity to focus your attention. Selective attention has been an important area in AI research lately, not least by Google DeepMind, which developed the Go-playing computer.
“Consciousness is an attention filter,” says Stanley Franklin, a computer science professor at the University of Memphis. In a paper published last year in the journal “Biologically Inspired Cognitive Architectures,” Franklin and his colleagues reviewed their progress in building an AI system called LIDA that decides what to concentrate on through a competitive process, as suggested by neuroscientist Bernard Baars in the 1980s. The processes watch for interesting stimuli — loud, bright, exotic — and then vie for dominance. The one that prevails determines where the mental spotlight falls and informs a wide range of brain function, including deliberation and movement. The cycle of perception, attention, and action repeats five to 10 times a second.
The first version of LIDA was a job-matching server for the U.S. Navy. It read emails and focused on pertinent information while juggling each job hunter’s interests, the availability of jobs, and the requirements of government bureaucracy.
Since then, Franklin’s team has used the system to model animals’ minds, especially behavioral quirks that result from focusing on one thing at a time. For example, LIDA is just as prone as humans are to a curious psychological phenomenon known as “attentional blink.” When something catches your attention, you become oblivious to anything else for about half a second. This cognitive blind spot depends on many factors and LIDA shows humanlike responses to these same factors.
Pentti Haikonen, a Finnish AI researcher, has built a robot named XCR-1 on similar principles. Whereas other researchers make modest claims — create some quality of consciousness — Haikonen argues that his creation is capable of genuine subjective experience and basic emotions.
The system learns to make associations much like the neurons in our brains do. If Haikonen shows the robot a green ball and speaks the word “green,” the vision and auditory modules respond and become linked. If Haikonen says “green” again, the auditory module will respond and, through the link, so will the vision module. The robot will proceed as if it heard the word and saw the color, even if it’s staring into an empty void. Conversely, if the robot sees green, the auditory module will respond, even if the word wasn’t uttered. In short, the robot develops a kind of synesthesia.
Conversely, if the robot sees green, the auditory module will respond, even if the word wasn’t uttered. In short, the robot develops a kind of synesthesia.
“If we see a ball, we may say so to ourselves, and at that moment our perception is rather similar to the case when we actually hear that word,” Haikonen says. “The situation in the XCR-1 is the same.”
Things get interesting when the modules clash — if, for example, the vision module sees green while the auditory module hears “blue.” If the auditory module prevails, the system as a whole turns its attention to the word it hears while ignoring the color it sees. The robot has a simple stream of consciousness consisting of the perceptions that dominate it moment by moment: “green,” “ball,” “blue,” and so on. When Haikonen wires the auditory module to a speech engine, the robot will keep a running monolog about everything it sees and feels.
Haikonen also gives vibration a special significance as “pain,” which preempts other sensory inputs and consumes the robot’s attention. In one demonstration, Haikonen taps the robot and it blurts, “Me hurt.”
“Some people get emotionally disturbed by this, for some reason,” Haikonen says. (He and others are unsentimental about the creations. “I’m never like, ‘Poor robot,’” Verschure says.)
Building on these early efforts, researchers will develop more lifelike machines. We could see a continuum of conscious systems, just as there is in nature, from amoebas to dogs to chimps to humans and beyond. The gradual progress of this technology is good because it gives us time adjust to the idea that, one day, we won’t be the only advanced beings on the planet.
For a long while, our artificial companions will be vulnerable — more pet than threat. How we treat them will hinge on whether we recognize them as conscious and as capable of suffering.
“The reason that we value non-human animals, to the extent that people do, is that we see, based on our own consciousness, the light of consciousness within them as well,” says Susan Schneider, a philosopher at the University of Connecticut who studies the implications of AI. In fact, she thinks we will deliberately hold back from building conscious machines to avoid the moral dilemmas it poses.
“If you’re building conscious systems and having them work for us, that would be akin to slavery,” Schneider says. By the same token, if we don’t give advanced robots the gift of sentience, it worsens the threat they may eventually pose to humanity because they will see no particular reason to identify with us and value us.
Judging by what we’ve seen so far, conscious machines will inherit our human vulnerabilities. If robots have to anticipate what other robots do, they will treat one another as creatures with agency. Like us, they may start attributing agency to inanimate objects: stuffed animals, carved statues, the wind.
Last year, social psychologists Kurt Gray of the University of North Carolina and the late Daniel Wegner suggested in their book “The Mind Club” that this instinct was the origin of religion. “I would like to see a movie where the robots develop a religion because we have engineered them to have an intentionality prior so that they can be social,” Verschure says. ”But their intentionality prior runs away.”
These machines will vastly exceed our problem-solving ability, but not everything is a solvable problem. The only response they could have to conscious experience is to revel in it, and with their expanded ranges of sensory perception, they will see things people wouldn’t believe.
“I don’t think a future robotic species is going to be heartless and cold, as we sometimes imagine robots to be,” Lipson says. “They’ll probably have music and poetry that we’ll never understand.”
(COMMENTARY: FOR THE SAKE OF THE PEOPLE OF NORTH KOREA IT IS TIME FOR THE GOVERNMENTS OF THE WORLD TO REMOVE THE ANIMAL KIM JONG UN FROM POWER “BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY”)(TRS)
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Recently released North Korea detainee Otto Warmbier has suffered severe neurological damage, and his family flatly rejects the regime’s explanation for his condition, reporters were told Thursday in his Ohio hometown.
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In 1979, psychologist Ellen Langer and her students carefully refurbished an old monastery in Peterborough, New Hampshire, to resemble a place that would have existed two decades earlier. They invited a group of elderly men in their late 70s and early 80s to spend a week with them and live as they did in 1959, “a time when an IBM computer filled a whole room and panty hose had just been introduced to U.S. women,” Langer wrote. Her idea was to return the men, at least in their minds, to a time when they were younger and healthier—and to see if it had physiological consequences.
Every day Langer and her students met with the men to discuss “current” events. They talked about the first United States satellite launch, Fidel Castro entering Havana after his march across Cuba, and the Baltimore Colts winning the NFL championship game. They discussed “current” books: Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger and Leon Uris’ Exodus. They watched Ed Sullivan and Jack Benny and Jackie Gleason on a black-and-white TV, listened to Nat King Cole on the radio, and saw Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot. Everything was transporting the men back to 1959.
When Langer studied the men after a week of such sensory and mindful immersion in the past, she found that their memory, vision, hearing, and even physical strength had improved. She compared the traits to those of a control group of men, who had also spent a week in a retreat. The control group, however, had been told the experiment was about reminiscing. They were not told to live as if it were 1959. The first group, in a very objective sense, seemed younger. The team took photographs of the men before and after the experiment, and people who knew nothing about the study said the men looked younger in the after-pictures, says Langer, who today is a professor of psychology at Harvard University.
Langer’s experiment was a tantalizing demonstration that our chronological age based on our birthdate is a misleading indicator of aging. Langer, of course, was tackling the role of the mind in how old we feel and act. Since her study, others have taken a more objective look at the aging body. The goal is to determine an individual’s “biological age,” a term that aims to capture the body’s physiological development and decline with time, and predict, with reasonable accuracy, the risks of disease and death. As scientists have worked to pinpoint a person’s biological age, they have learned that organs and tissues often age differently, making it difficult to reduce biological age to a single number. They have also made a discovery that echoes Langer’s work. How old we feel—our subjective age—can influence how we age. Where age is concerned, the pages torn off a calendar do not tell the whole story.
While we intuitively know what it means to grow old, precise definitions of aging haven’t been easy to come by. In 1956, British gerontologist and author Alex Comfort (later famous for writing The Joy of Sex) memorably defined senescence as “a decrease in viability and an increase in vulnerability.” Any given individual, he wrote, would die from “randomly distributed causes.” Evolutionary biologists think of aging as something that reduces our ability to survive and reproduce because of “internal physiological deterioration.” Such deterioration, in turn, can be understood in terms of cellular functions: The older the cells in an organ, the more likely they are to stop dividing and die, or develop mutations that lead to cancer. This leads us to the idea that our bodies may have a true biological age.
The road to determining that age, though, has not been a straight one. One approach is to look for so-called biomarkers of aging, something that’s changing in the body and can be used as a predictor of the likelihood of being struck by age-related diseases or of how much longer one has left to live. An obvious set of biomarkers could be attributes like blood pressure or body weight. Both tend to go up as the body ages. But they are unreliable. Blood pressure can be affected by medication and body weight depends on lifestyle and diet, and there are people who certainly don’t gain weight as they age.
Where age is concerned, the pages torn off calendar do not tell the whole story.
In the 1990s, one promising biomarker stood out: stretches of DNA called telomeres. They appear at the ends of chromosomes, serving as caps that protect the chromosomes from fraying. Telomeres have often been likened to the plastic tips that similarly protect shoelaces. It turns out that telomeres themselves get shorter and shorter each time a cell divides. And when the telomere shortens beyond a point, the cell dies. There’s a strong relationship between telomere length and health and diseases, such as cancer and atherosclerosis.
But despite a range of studies trying to find such a link, it’s been hard to make the case for telomeres as accurate biomarkers of aging. In 2013, Anne Newman, director of the Center for Aging and Population Health at the University of Pittsburgh, and her student Jason Sanders reviewed the existing literature on telomeres and concluded that “if telomere length is a biomarker of human aging, it is a weak biomarker with poor predictive accuracy.”
“Twenty years ago, people had high hopes that telomere length could actually explain aging, as in biological aging. There was a hope that it would be the root cause of aging,” says Steve Horvath, a geneticist and biostatistician at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Now we know that that’s simply not the case. In the last 10 to 15 years, people realized that there must be other mechanisms that play an important role in aging.”
Attention shifted to how fast stem cells are being depleted in the body, or the efficacy of mitochondria (the organelles inside our cells that produce the energy needed for cells to function). Horvath scoured the data for reliable markers, looking at, for example, levels of gene expression for any strong correlations to aging. He found none.
But that didn’t mean there weren’t reliable biomarkers. There was one set of data Horvath had been studiously avoiding. This had to do with DNA methylation, a process cells use to switch off genes. Methylation mainly involves the addition of a so-called methyl group to cytosine, one of the four main bases that make up strands of DNA. Because DNA methylation does not alter the core genetic sequence, but rather modifies gene expression externally, the process is called epigenetics.
Horvath didn’t think that epigenetics would have anything to do with aging. “I had data sitting there and I would not really touch them, because I thought there was no meaning in it anyway,” he says.
But some time in 2009, Horvath gave in and analyzed a dataset of methylation levels at 27,000 locations on the human genome—an analysis “you can do in an hour,” he says. Nothing in his 10 years of analyzing genomic datasets had prepared him for the results. “I had never seen anything like it,” he says. “It’s a cliché, but it really was a smoking gun.”
Because their minds were taken back to a time when they were younger, their bodies went back too.
After a few more years of “labor intensive” work, Horvath identified 353 special sites on the human genome that were present in cells in every tissue and organ. Horvath developed an algorithm that used the methylation levels at these 353 sites—regardless of the cell type—to establish an epigenetic clock. His algorithm took into account that in some of these 353 sites, the methylation levels decreased with age, while in others they increased.
In 2013, Horvath published the results of his analysis of 8,000 samples taken from 51 types of healthy tissue and cells, and the conclusions were striking. When he calculated a single number for the biological age of the person based on the weighted average of the methylation levels at the 353 sites, he found that this number correlated well with the chronological age of the person (it was off by less than 3.6 years in 50 percent of the people—a far better correlation than has been obtained for any other biomarker). He also discovered that for middle-aged people and older, the epigenetic clock starts slowing down or speeding up—providing a way of telling whether someone is aging faster or slower than the calendar suggests.
Despite the correlation, Horvath says that biological age, rather than being for the whole body, is better applied to specific tissues and organs, whether it’s bone, blood, heart, lungs, muscles, or even the brain. The difference between the biological age and chronological age can be negative, zero, or positive. A negative deviation means that the tissue or organ is younger than expected; a zero indicates that the tissue is aging normally; and a positive deviation means the tissue or organ is older. Data show that different tissues can age at different rates.
In general, diseases speed up the epigenetic clock, and this is particularly striking in patients with Down’s syndrome or in those infected with HIV. In both cases, the tissues tend to age faster than normal. For instance, the blood and brain tissue in those infected with HIV show accelerated aging. Obesity causes the liver to age faster. And studies of people who died of Alzheimer’s disease show that the prefrontal cortex undergoes accelerated aging. Horvath also analyzed 6,000 samples of cancerous tissue and found that the epigenetic clock was ticking much faster in such cases, showing that the tissue had aged significantly more than the chronological age.
Despite this wealth of data, there is a gaping hole in our understanding of this striking correlation between methylation markers and biological age. “The biggest weakness of the epigenetic clock is that we just don’t understand the precise molecular mechanism behind it,” says Horvath. His speculation—and he stresses it’s just speculation—is that the epigenetic clock is related to what he calls the “epigenetic maintenance system,” molecular and enzymatic processes that maintain the epigenome and protect it from damage. “I feel that these markers are a footprint of that mechanism,” says Horvath. But “why is it so accurate? What pathway relates to it? That’s the biggest challenge right now,” he adds.
Even without understanding exactly how and why it works, the epigenetic clock gives researchers a tool to test the efficacy of anti-aging interventions that can potentially slow aging. “It’d be very exciting to develop a therapy that allows us to reset the epigenetic clock,” says Horvath.
While Horvath is thinking about hormonal treatments, Langer’s work with elderly men at the monastery in New Hampshire suggests that we can use the power of our mind to influence the body. Langer didn’t publish her results in a scientific journal in 1979. At the time, she didn’t have the resources to do a thorough study for the leading journals. “When you run a retreat over the course of five days, it’s very hard to control for everything,” Langer says. “Also, I didn’t have the funds to have, for instance, a vacationing control group. I could have published it in a second-rate journal, but I didn’t see any point to that. I wanted to get the information out there and I wrote it first in a book for Oxford University Press, so it was reviewed.”
Also, her argument that mind and body are one was potentially a little too path-breaking for the journals. “I think they were unlikely to buy the theoretical part of it,” she says. “The findings, improving vision and hearing in an elderly population, were so unusual that they were not going to rush to publish and stick their necks out.” Since then, Langer has pursued the mind-body connection and its effects on physiology and aging in rigorous studies that have been published in numerous scientific journals and books.
Traditionally, the mind-body problem refers to the difficulty of explaining how our ostensibly non-material mental states can affect the material body (clearly seen in the placebo effect). To Langer, the mind and body are one. “Wherever you put the mind you are necessarily putting the body,” she says.
So Langer began asking if subjective mental states could influence something as objective as the levels of blood sugar in patients with Type 2 diabetes. The 46 subjects in her study, all suffering from Type 2 diabetes, were asked to play computer games for 90 minutes. On their desk was a clock. They were asked to switch games every 15 minutes. The twist in the study was that for one-third of the subjects, the clock was ticking slower than real time, for one-third it was going faster, and for the last third, the clock was keeping real time.
Most of us are slaves to our chronological age.
“The question we were asking was would blood sugar level follow real or perceived time,” says Langer. “And the answer is perceived time.” This was a striking illustration of psychological processes—in this case the subjective perception of time—influencing metabolic processes in the body that control the level of blood sugar.
Although Langer did not explore a connection between the mind and epigenetic changes, other studies suggest such a link. In 2013, Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin at Madison and his colleagues reported that even one day of mindfulness meditation can impact the expression of genes. In their study, 19 experienced meditators were studied before and after a full day of intensive meditation. For control, the researchers similarly studied a group of 21 people who engaged in a full day of leisure. At the end of the day, the meditators showed lowered levels of activity of inflammatory genes—exactly the kind of effect seen when one takes anti-inflammatory drugs. The study also showed lowered activity of genes that are involved in epigenetically controlling expressions of other genes. The state of one’s mind, it seems, can have an epigenetic effect.
Such studies taken together provide clues as to why the week-long retreat in New Hampshire reversed some of the age-related attributes in elderly men. Because their minds were taken back to a time when they were younger, their bodies too went back to that earlier time, bringing about some of the physiological changes that resulted in improved hearing or grip strength.
But it’s important to point out that biological aging is an inexorable process—and there comes a time when no amount of thinking positive thoughts can halt aging. If body and mind are one and the same—as Langer suggests—then an aging body and aging mind go hand-in-hand, limiting our ability to influence physiological decline with psychological deftness.
Still, Langer thinks that how we age has a lot to do with our perceptions of what aging means—often reinforced by culture and society. “Whether it’s about aging or anything else, if you are surrounded by people who have certain expectations for you, you tend to meet those expectations, positive or negative,” says Langer.
Most of us are slaves to our chronological age, behaving, as the saying goes, age-appropriately. For example, young people often take steps to recover from a minor injury, whereas someone in their 80s may accept the pain that comes with the injury and be less proactive in addressing the problem. “Many people, because of societal expectations, all too often say, ‘Well, what do you expect, as you get older you fall apart,’ ” says Langer. “So, they don’t do the things to make themselves better, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
It’s this perception of one’s age, or subjective age, that interests Antonio Terracciano, a psychologist and gerontologist at Florida State University College of Medicine. Horvath’s work shows that biological age is correlated with diseases. Can one say the same thing about subjective age?
People’s perception of their own age can differ markedly from person to person. People between the ages of 40 and 80, for example, tend to think they are younger. People who are 60 may say that they feel like they are 50 or 55, or sometimes even 45. Rarely will they say they feel older. However, people in their 20s often perceive their age to be the same as their chronological age, and may say they feel somewhat older.
Terracciano and colleagues have found that subjective age correlates with certain physiological markers of aging, such as grip strength, walking speed, lung capacity, and even the levels of C-reactive protein in the blood, an indication of inflammation in the body. The younger you feel you are, the better are these indicators of age and health: You walk faster, have better grip strength and lung capacity, and less inflammation.
Subjective age affects cognition and is an indicator of the likelihood of developing dementia. Terracciano and colleagues looked at data collected from 5,748 people aged 65 or older. The subjects’ cognitive abilities were evaluated to establish a baseline and they were then followed for a period of up to four years. The subjects were also asked about how old they felt at each instance. The researchers found that those who had a higher subjective age to start with were more likely to develop cognitive impairments and even dementia.
These correlation studies have limitations, however. For example, it’s possible that physically active people, who have better walking speed and lung capacity, and lower levels of C-reactive protein in their blood, naturally feel younger. How can one establish that our subjective age influences physiology and not the other way around?
That’s exactly what Yannick Stephan of the University of Grenoble in France and colleagues tried to find out. They recruited 49 adults, aged between 52 and 91, and divided them into an experimental and control group. Both groups were first asked their subjective age—how old they felt as opposed to their chronological age—and tested for grip strength to establish a baseline. The experimental group was told they had done better than 80 percent of people their age. The control group received no feedback. After this experimental manipulation, both groups were tested again for grip strength and asked about how old they felt. The experimental group reported feeling, on average, younger than their baseline subjective age. No such change was seen in the control group. Also, the experimental group showed an increase in grip strength, while the grip strength of the control decreased somewhat.
These correlations do not necessarily mean that feeling young causes better health. Terracciano’s next step is to correlate subjective age with quantitative biological markers of age. While no study has yet been done to find associations between the newly developed epigenetic markers and subjective age, Terracciano is keen to see if there are strong correlations.
Still, the message seems to be that our chronological age really is just a number. “If people think that because they are getting older they cannot do things, or cut their social ties, or incorporate this negative view which limits their life, that can be really detrimental,” says Terracciano. “Fighting those negative attitudes, challenging yourself, keeping an open mind, being engaged socially, can absolutely have a positive impact.”
(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME NEWS)
(NEW YORK) — How long has our species been around? New fossils from Morocco push the evidence back by about 100,000 years.
The bones, about 300,000 years old, were unearthed thousands of miles from the previous record-holder, found in fossil-rich eastern Africa. The new discovery reveals people from an early stage of our species’ evolution, with a mix of modern and more primitive traits.
“They are not just like us,” said Jean-Jacques Hublin, one of the scientists reporting the find. But they had “basically the face you could meet on the train in New York.”
Coupled with other evidence, the Moroccan fossils suggest that Homo sapiens may have reached its modern-day form in more than one place within Africa, said Hublin, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and the College of France in Paris.
Previously, the oldest known fossils clearly from Homo sapiens were from Ethiopia, at about 195,000 years old.
It’s not clear just when or where Homo sapiens came on the scene in Africa. Hublin said he thinks an earlier stage of development preceded the one revealed by his team’s discovery.
We evolved from predecessors who had differently shaped skulls and often heavier builds, but were otherwise much more like us than, say, the ape-men that came before them. Our species lived at the same time as some related ones, like Neanderthals, but only we survive.
Hublin and others described the new findings in two papers released Wednesday by the journal Nature. The discovery could help illuminate how our species evolved, Chris Stringer and Julia Galway-Witham of the Natural History Museum in London wrote in a Nature commentary.
The Moroccan specimens were found between 2007 and 2011 and include a skull, a jaw and teeth, along with stone tools. Combined with other bones that were found there decades ago but not correctly dated, the fossil collection represents at least five people, including young adults, an adolescent and a child of around 8 years old. Analysis shows their brain shape was more elongated than what people have today.
“In the last 300,000 years, the main story is the change of the brain,” Hublin said.
When these ancient people lived, the site in Morocco was a cave that might have served as a hunting camp, where people butchered and ate gazelles and other prey. They used fire and their tools were made of flint from about 25 miles (40 kilometers) away.
So where did the fully modern human body develop? The researchers say evidence suggests primitive forms of Homo sapiens had already widely spread throughout Africa by around 300,000 years ago. The different populations may have exchanged beneficial genetic mutations and behaviors, gradually nudging each other toward a more modern form of the species, Hublin said. In this way, he said in an interview, modern Homo sapiens may have arisen in more than one place.
So if there’s a Garden of Eden, he said, it’s the continent as a whole.
Some experts who didn’t participate in the research called that idea possible, although not yet demonstrated. But John Shea, an anthropologist at Stony Brook University in New York, said it’s more useful to think of the different local populations as a single one, connected the same way a big city is connected by subway stops.
“These are parts of a network,” through which ideas and genes flowed, he said.
Shea said it made sense to find such old traces of early Homo sapiens in northwestern Africa. He agreed that it doesn’t mean our species first appeared there.
“When it comes to evidence for human origins in northwest Africa versus eastern Africa versus southern Africa, it’s a tie,” he wrote in an email.
Richard Potts of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History said the Morocco fossils “appear to reflect the very early transition to Homo sapiens, very possibly denoting the outset of the lineage to which all people belong.”
The site is about 34 miles (55 kilometers) southeast of the coastal city of Safi, northwest of Marrakech. Its age was determined chiefly by analyzing bits of flint found there, and the authors concluded they were around 315,000 years old. Hublin said that since a different method suggested a younger age for the site, he considers the bones to be about 300,000 years old.
Richard Roberts of the University of Woollongong in Australia, an expert in determining ages of ancient sites, supported that conclusion.
“I’d say the authors have presented pretty convincing evidence for the presence of early modern humans at this site by 300,000 years ago and perhaps a little earlier,” Roberts wrote in an email.
(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF FORBES)
I normally write about the weather and climate of Earth. I write about Earth’s climate because as the American Meteorological Society reminds us in its statement on climate change
Prudence dictates extreme care in accounting for our relationship with the only planet known to be capable of sustaining human life
As a former NASA scientist, I am also fascinated by the weather and climate of our neighboring planets. There are many lessons about Earth’s climate provided by them. This weekend my attention was caught by a stunning new image of Mars released by NASA. As you look at the image, the obvious question is, “what is that large pit or depression?”
Before boring deeper into this question (and yes I was trying to be cute….”boring into the pit”….get it? Ok, I digress), I want to explore some of the other features in the image. The image is provided by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). According to NASA’s website, MRO was launched in 2005 to
search for evidence that water persisted on the surface of Mars for a long period of time. While other Mars missions have shown that water flowed across the surface in Mars’ history, it remains a mystery whether water was ever around long enough to provide a habitat for life.
MRO has one of the largest cameras ever to fly on a planetary mission, which enables unprecedented looks at features on the surface of the planet (like the dust devil below). And if you want to check out something really cool, click this link for weekly weather reports and images from Mars provided by the Mars Color Imager (MARCI) on MRO. You are welcome!
Like Earth, Mars has polar ice caps. Unlike Earth, the polar ice caps on Mars are a combination of carbon dioxide and water ice. The University of Arizona’s Phoenix Mars Mission website is a great source of information on Martian polar caps. The website notes
Carbon dioxide is an atmospheric gas made of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms. In its frozen, solid state, carbon dioxide is known as dry ice. Rather than melting into liquid carbon dioxide, like water ice melts into liquid water, dry ice sublimates directly into carbon dioxide gas when the temperature reaches about -79 degrees C (-110 degrees F).
This is where things take a very different turn than Earth. During Martian summer, the carbon dioxide ice undergoes the process of sublimation (solid phase to vapor). During the winter, it becomes a solid again. Fall cloud cover starts the winter season ice cap growth.
The HI-RISE instrument on MRO took the image above during late summer season in the Martian Southern Hemisphere. The “swiss cheese” looking pattern shows the residual of bare surface and “dry ice.” The low sun angle allows MRO to detect very detailed views of the surface topography and that strange “pit.” One possibility is the pit is an impact crater. Things impact Mars, Earth, and the moon all of the time. A recent paper in Nature Geosciences documents some interesting details of the bombardment history of Mars. Another theory is that the depression may be a collapse pit.
There is no conclusive answer at this point on what it may be according to Lisa May, formerly Lead Program Executive for the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters. May is the founder and CEO of Murphian Consulting LLC. She provides planning, execution, and systems engineering services to clients ranging from tech startups to the UAE Space Agency. She messaged me the context of these fascinating missions
Right now, there are six operating spacecraft in orbit around Mars—two from Europe, one from India, and three NASA ones. NASA’s most recent orbiter, MAVEN, was launched in 2013 to learn how Mars lost its atmosphere, and the European Space Agency’s Trace Gas Orbiter is currently aerobraking into its final orbit where it will study Mars’ atmospheric composition.
May also added the MRO has been sending stunning high-resolution images of Mars for over a decade, but she is quick to point out another part of its mission
Besides supporting Mars science, the images are used to select landing sites for rovers and landers.
Dr. Marshall Shepherd, Dir., Atmospheric Sciences Program/GA Athletic Assoc. Distinguished Professor (Univ of Georgia), Host, Weather Channel’s Sunday Talk Show, Weather (Wx) Geeks, 2013 AMS President
(I PULLED THIS ARTICLE FROM TV CHANNEL 3 AND CNN)
A volcanic eruption Sunday prompted the temporary raising of the highest aviation alert, the Alaska Volcano Observatory (AVO) said Sunday.
The event, which took place on Alaska’s Bogoslof Island, part of the Aleutian island chain, caused the issuance of a code “red” aviation alert, which was subsequently downgraded to “orange.”
The cloud from the eruption reached at least 35,000 ft., and possibly as high as 45,000 ft., the Observatory said.
“We actually went to color code red this afternoon because of numerous lightning detections and increased seismic signals,” Jeffrey Freymueller of the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks tells CNN.
“Lightning in the Aleutians is mostly due to volcanic plumes, as the meteorological conditions for lightning are not common,” Freymueller said.
“The combination of lightning and seismic data allowed us to go to red within about half an hour of the start of the eruption.”
The eruption lasted for about 50 minutes, the AVO said.
Flight path concern
The volcano sits under the flight path of many flights from Asia to North America and its ash cloud could adversely affect aircraft. “Ash and aircraft do not mix, as volcanic ash is abrasive, melts at jet engine temperatures, and can cause engine failure,” according to the United States Geological Survey.
Aircraft are often instructed to fly around or over ash clouds, although in some circumstances air traffic has been grounded due to the hazards from airborne ash. In 2010 the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland caused the cancellation of flights around Europe for six days.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) last week said that flights were being rerouted around a similar ash cloud when the volcano previously erupted, according to CNN partner CBC.
‘Heightened state of unrest’
An image taken by AVO scientists around 14 minutes after the start of the eruption, from nearby Unalaska Island, showed a large white-gray mushroom cloud form over the site. Ash fallout was occurring to the west of the site, according to AVO.
Bogoslof volcano remains at a heightened state of unrest and in an unpredictable condition,” according to a report issued by the Observatory, which added that “additional explosions producing high-altitude volcanic clouds could occur at any time.”
It warns that continuing low-level activity could “pose a hazard in the immediate vicinity of the volcano.”
Previous volcanic activity earlier in 2017 “significantly changed the shape and coastline of the island” and the land mass tripled in size between early 2015 and January of this year.
There have been eight documented eruption events at Bogoslof, the most recent one in 1992. Previous eruption events have lasted weeks to months, according to the AVO. This current eruption sequence started in December, 2016.
The parents of the JCC bomb hoaxer accused of a vast, relentless two-year campaign of vicious threats and internet crime do their best to explain the inexplicable
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