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Greg Batmarx
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Open Source Advocate and Biosocial Revolutionary, Vegan all the way and Brain Researcher, Philosopher and Human. A Human Conundrum.
Open Source Advocate and Biosocial Revolutionary, Vegan all the way and Brain Researcher, Philosopher and Human. A Human Conundrum.

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Firefox is in the midst of trying to gain back browser market share, but that is not stopping Mozilla from working on other important tasks.
Project Things is a completely open framework designed to allow smart home devices to work without proprietary components.
For now, fragmentation could be one of the largest issues holding up adoption of smart home products. Even simple IoT items such as light bulbs are difficult to research and decide on for non-technical consumers. Creating a standardized method of connecting and controlling in-home devices would greatly improve the experience.

Mozilla's new standard is available to try now. Demo code has been provided for Raspberry Pi for building a custom Things Gateway. By providing the capability for any manufacturer or hobbyist to easily drop in support for Project Things, compatibility of products should improve over time.
The Things Gateway has a number of useful features included. Voice commands can be given from a regular computer instead of only at a smart home assistant device.
Full support for IFTTT-style logic is included alongside a mapping tool to indicate where devices have been placed around the home. Simulated sensors and smart products can be virtually implemented for testing purposes.
Mozilla has kept in mind that not everyone interested in smart home products are tech savvy. The decision to utilize simple logic commands that require no programming experience helps make the platform accessible to nearly all ages and skill levels. Focus is meant to be kept on building supported hardware devices and improving software features rather than on back-end communication.

An add-on system is supported to allow for the addition of proprietary protocols and devices to the Things Gateway. OAuth is being used to verify third-party applications' validity and safety.
It is expected that both Google Home and Amazon Alexa integration will be running smoothly. Support for Apple's HomePod is unlikely, but no official comment has been made by Apple. To follow the progress being made on Project Things, view Mozilla's IoT updates or GitHub page.
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Even if you haven’t ridden your bike in years, you probably remember how to do so without giving it much thought. If you’re a skilled piano player, odds are you can easily sit down and play a song you’ve rehearsed before. And, when you drive to work, you’re likely not actively thinking about your movements.
The skills needed to perform any of these activities are stored in your brain as procedural memories. Researchers from the Gladstone Institutes uncovered how a special type of neuron improves the efficiency of this type of learning. Their findings were published online today in the scientific journal Cell.
The scientists initially wanted to show how the specialized brain cells, called fast-spiking interneurons, cause movement disorders, such as Tourette’s syndrome, dystonia, and dyskinesia. As it turns out, that isn’t the case. But their work led them to an even greater discovery.

A Path to Unexpected Findings
The team, led by Gladstone Senior Investigator Anatol C. Kreitzer PhD, was trying to understand the basic mechanisms of the basal ganglia, which are a group of interconnected neurons in the brain that control movement and are associated with decision-making and action selection. Fast-spiking interneurons represent only about 1 percent of the neurons in that brain region, but are known to have an outsized role in organizing the circuit activity.
The leading hypothesis in the field was that these interneurons were involved in motor control, and that their loss might be related to movement disorders.
After 2 years of experiments showing us the contrary, we finally convinced ourselves that the hypothesis was wrong said Kreitzer, who is also a professor of physiology and neurology at UC San Francisco.
It’s not that the interneurons aren’t at all involved, but their loss doesn’t cause the symptoms we thought it would. That was a big surprise.
Instead, they discovered that the interneurons are much more important for learning and memory, and potentially more closely related to psychiatric disease than movement disorders.
Kreitzer’s team found that the interneurons play a fundamental role in brain plasticity, which is the brain’s ability to strengthen or weaken connections between neurons. By doing so, the brain can store information and procedural memory.
We showed the fast-spiking interneurons act like gatekeepers for plasticity said Scott Owen PhD, staff scientist in Kreitzer’s laboratory at Gladstone. They restrict when plasticity can occur, meaning that they can prevent changes in the connection strength between neurons. This is crucial for learning and memory and, more specifically, for enabling the basal ganglia to remember how to perform tasks.
Ultimately, the scientists explained how the interneurons function to improve the efficiency of procedural learning.

A New Principle with Broad Implications
Based on their discovery, Kreitzer and his team revised their assumptions about how fast-spiking interneurons may function elsewhere, suggesting that the neurons are critical for learning in other areas of the brain, too.
Now that we’ve identified a new principle for how the interneurons can control plasticity, our study is a first step in better understanding the mechanisms involved in other brain regions as well said Kreitzer. We believe our findings can be used as a general guide to determine how these neurons affect all neural circuits; the way that manifests itself in terms of behavior or disease will be different across different brain regions.
In other parts of the brain, these same neurons are known to be crucial for processing sensory input, such as vision or touch, and their dysfunction is associated with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Fast-spiking interneurons could be a key factor in controlling the efficiency of the learning process in those systems as well.
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In September, a group of more than 40 health and environmental experts released one of the most comprehensive reports to date on how dirty air affects human health—and the findings are grim.
The researchers linked air pollution to 6.5 million premature deaths in 2015, totaling 11.5 percent of all deaths worldwide that year. Air pollutants can also enter the food supply and contribute to climate change, so scientists around the world are seeking ways to thwart this ongoing problem.
One such solution, publicized last year by a pair of Belgian universities, has the potential to destroy pollutants before they enter the environment, with an added bonus: clean energy production.
The prototype device, designed by the University of Antwerp and KU Leuven, is only a few centimeters in size, but with further development, it could one day fight some of the most dangerous man-made pollutants on an industrial scale while producing energy.
AlterNet caught up with Sammy Verbruggen researcher and professor at the University of Antwerp and KU Leuven, to find out more about this process and how his team has continued to develop it since their research hit the newswires back in May.

How it works
The Belgian research teams created a small device with two rooms separated by a membrane. Air is purified on one side, and the degradation of pollutants produces hydrogen gas, which is stored on the other side.
The technology is based on the use of specific nanomaterials in a process called photocatalysis Verbruggen told AlterNet by phone. The process uses a semiconductor that is irradiated by light energy to generate free charge carriers. These charge carriers, in turn, produce reactive oxygen species that can attack fouling components.
Specifically, the device can eliminate any organic compound, which includes pesticides like DDT, as well as industrial pollutants such as dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Many of these organic pollutants are particularly concerning because they “bio-magnify throughout the food chain and bio-accumulate in organisms,” according to the World Health Organization.
As pollutants are broken down protons are extracted from the molecules and migrate to another compartment of the device, where they are reduced to hydrogen gas Verbruggen explained. Cell devices like this are most commonly used to extract hydrogen from water, but it turns out the process is even more efficient with polluted air, which is a huge revelation.
It’s actually easier to perform these reactions with fouled components rather than pure water.

Large-scale potential creates keen interest
The team’s research generated fast buzz. We received quite a lot of interest from all regions of the world, especially regions centered around India and China Verbruggen told us.
Air pollution caused more than 4 million premature deaths in 2015 in India and China alone, and both countries continue to struggle with dangerously high pollution levels.
Although China has seen marginal improvements in the three years since it “declared war” on air pollution, inhalable pollutant levels remain over four times higher than WHO’s recommended limit, and cities like Beijing still experience “airpocalypses.” In November, the air grew so toxic in India’s capital, New Delhi, that officials made the unprecedented decision to close 4,000 schools for almost a week.
This process can indeed help industrializing countries curb pollution, but maybe not in the way they’d expect.
They’re really interested to incorporate this in cities, but in my personal point of view, that would become quite difficult Verbruggen said. Then you have to turn it into an active system rather than a passive system, and you have to invest energy to suck pollution out of the air.
Rather than vacuum pollution from dirty city air, the device is better suited to capture waste gases before they ever enter the environment. When mounted at a manufacturing facility, for example, the device could passively capture and eliminate volatile organic compounds that would otherwise be emitted or flared off, while producing hydrogen gas that can be converted into electricity onsite via a fuel cell.
The beneficial energy recovery should be a net gain Verbruggen explained, and as soon as you start investing energy to direct polluted air toward the device, the net balance will become negative again.

The next step
After the warm reception of their first prototype, Verbruggen and his team are working to perfect their process.
We have to take it step by step Verbruggen told us. We are now working on several prototypes that are more easily manufactured with cheaper materials, and we’re also investigating some alternative materials that can interact better with sunlight. As soon as we have a suitable combination of both, then we can start thinking about the next step, which is upscaling to larger dimensions.
The device only needs light to function, but it will need to absorb light energy far more efficiently to be viable on a larger scale.
The catalysts we’re using now basically only absorb UV light, which is a very minor part of the solar spectrum he explained. Now we’re trying to modify these materials so they can also efficiently interact with visible light in order to expand the activity window of our device.
It may be a while before we see manufacturers using devices like this to prevent pollution, but Verbruggen told AlterNet and other outlets that he is optimistic about the concept.
There's still a lot of work to do to make this applicable to daily life he told Mic. It's not like we discovered the holy grail yet, but this is a new field of opportunities.
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It’s a fact of life, for lifeforms big and small, that the mind declines with age. Now researchers at UC San Francisco have identified the buildup of one brain chemical as a key culprit behind age-related learning and memory impairments.
Tuning levels of this chemical in the worm C. elegans, they could delay and even reverse the declines of old age.
For C. elegans, a tiny worm that lives only about two weeks, old age and its handicaps come fast, which makes them a convenient model for studying aging. A seven-day old worm has only five percent of the learning capacity of a one-day old worm.

You look at a person, a fly, a mouse, and a worm. They all look very different from each other, of course. But the amazing thing is the basic building blocks turn out to be the same said Kaveh Ashrafi PhD, a professor of physiology and member of the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences, who led the new research.
In both C. elegans and humans, the chemical kynurenic acid (KYNA) accumulates with age. As it builds up, KYNA interferes with the activity of glutamate, a brain chemical essential for learning and memory. In humans, it has previously been linked to neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
In the study published Jan. 31, 2018, in Genes and Development, researchers looked at the effect of KYNA on the worms’ ability to learn an association between a neutral smell and food.

The researchers found that by keeping KYNA levels low throughout the worm’s life, they could prevent the onset of age-related decline, the worms kept learning. In older worms already impaired, lowering KYNA levels could counteract the impairments, raising hope that interventions later in life may be effective in reversing neurological decline.
The reason that KYNA increases with age is still a mystery, but the new study offers an intriguing hint, by linking KYNA buildup in aging worms to elevated levels of insulin, a hormone that controls blood sugar in both worms and humans.
In contrast, earlier experiments by Ashrafi’s team had found that fasting, which has been linked to longevity, reduced levels of KYNA in worms and improved learning and memory.
Ashrafi thinks that KYNA is the linchpin through which fasting makes the brain better at learning, while aging makes it worse. These are two sides of the same coin he said.
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Oligarchic rule, as Aristotle pointed out, is a deviant form of government. Oligarchs care nothing for competency, intelligence, honesty, rationality, self-sacrifice or the common good.
They pervert, deform and dismantle systems of power to serve their immediate interests, squandering the future for short-term personal gain.
The true forms of government, therefore, are those in which the one, or the few, or the many, govern with a view to the common interest; but governments that rule with a view to the private interest, whether of the one, of the few or of the many, are perversions Aristotle wrote.
The classicist Peter L.P. Simpson calls these perversions the sophistry of oligarchs meaning that once oligarchs take power, rational, prudent and thoughtful responses to social, economic and political problems are ignored to feed insatiable greed. The late stage of every civilization is characterized by the sophistry of oligarchs, who ravage the decaying carcass of the state.
These deviant forms of government are defined by common characteristics, most of which Aristotle understood. Oligarchs use power and ruling structures solely for personal advancement.

Oligarchs, though they speak of deconstructing the administrative state, actually increase deficits and the size and power of law enforcement and the military to protect their global business interests and ensure domestic social control. The parts of the state that serve the common good wither in the name of deregulation and austerity. The parts that promote the oligarchs’ power expand in the name of national security, economic growth and law and order.
For example, the oligarchs educate their children in private schools and buy them admissions into elite universities (this is how a mediocre student like Jared Kushner went to Harvard and Donald Trump went to the University of Pennsylvania), so they see no need to fund good public education for the wider population.
Oligarchs can pay teams of high-priced lawyers to bail them and their families out of legal trouble. There is no need, in their eyes, to provide funds for legal representation for the poor. When oligarchs do not fly on private jets, they fly in first class, so they permit airlines to fleece and abuse “economy” passengers. They do not use subways, buses or trains, and they slash funds for the maintenance and improvement of these services. Oligarchs have private clinics and private doctors, so they do not want to pay for public health or Medicare. Oligarchs detest the press, which when it works shines a light on their corruption and mendacity, so they buy up and control systems of information and push their critics to the margins of society, something they will accelerate with the abolition of net neutrality.
Oligarchs do not vacation on public beaches or in public parks. They own their own land and estates, where we are not allowed. They see no reason to maintain or fund public parks or protect public land. They hand such land over to other oligarchs to exploit for profit. Oligarchs cynically view laws as mechanisms to legalize their fraud and plunder. They use their lobbyists in the legislative branch of government to author bills that increase and protect their wealth, through the avoidance of taxes and other means. Oligarchs do not allow free and fair elections. They use gerrymandering and campaign contributions to make sure other oligarchs are elected over and over to office. Many run unopposed.

Oligarchs look at regulations to protect the environment or the safety of workers as impediments to profit and abolish them. Oligarchs move industries to Mexico or China to increase their wealth while impoverishing American workers and leaving U.S. cities in ruins. Oligarchs are philistines. They are deaf, dumb and blind to great works of art, reveling in tawdry spectacles, patriotic kitsch and mindless entertainment. They despise artists and intellectuals who promote virtues and self-criticism that conflict with the lust for power, celebrity and wealth. Oligarchs always unleash wars on culture, attacking it as elitist, irrelevant and immoral and cutting its funding. All social services and institutions, such as public housing programs, public parks, meals for the elderly, infrastructure projects, welfare and Social Security, are viewed by oligarchs as a waste of money. These services are gutted or turned over to fellow oligarchs, who harvest them for profit until they are destroyed.
Oligarchs, who do not serve in the military and who ensure their children do not serve in the military, pretend to be great patriots. They attack those who oppose them as anti-American, traitors or agents for a foreign power. They use the language of patriotism to stoke hatred against their critics and to justify their crimes.
They see the world in black and white, those who are loyal to them and those who are the enemy. They extent this stunted belief system to foreign affairs. Diplomacy is abandoned for the crude threats and indiscriminate use of force that are the preferred forms of communication of all despots.

There is little dispute that we live in an oligarchic state. The wealthiest 1 percent of America’s families control 40 percent of the nation’s wealth, a statistic similar to what is seen globally: The wealthiest 1 percent of the world’s population owns more than half of the world’s wealth. This wealth translates into political power.
The political scientists Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin Page of Northwestern, after examining differences in public opinion across income groups on a wide variety of issues, concluded In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule—at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover … even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.
Oligarchs accelerate social, political, cultural and economic collapse. The unchecked plunder leads to systems breakdown. The refusal to protect natural resources, or the economic engines that sustain the state, means that poverty becomes the norm and the natural world becomes a toxic wasteland. Basic institutions no longer work.
Infrastructure is no longer reliable. Water, air and soil are poisoned. The population is left uneducated, untrained, impoverished, oppressed by organs of internal security and beset by despair. The state eventually goes bankrupt. Oligarchs respond to this steady deterioration by forcing workers to do more for less and launching self-destructive wars in the vain attempt to restore a lost golden age. They also insist, no matter how bad it gets, on maintaining their opulent and hedonistic lifestyles. They further tax the resources of the state, the ecosystem and the population with suicidal demands. They flee from the looming chaos into their gated compounds, modern versions of Versailles or the Forbidden City.
They lose touch with reality. In the end, they are overthrown or destroy the state itself. There is no institution left in America that can be called democratic, and thus there is no internal mechanism to prevent a descent into barbarity.

The political role of corporate power, the corruption of the political and representative processes by the lobbying industry, the expansion of executive power at the expense of constitutional limitations, and the degradation of political dialogue promoted by the media are the basics of the system, not excrescences upon it the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin wrote in Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism
The system would remain in place even if the Democratic Party attained a majority; and should that circumstance arise, the system will set tight limits to unwelcome changes, as if foreshadowed in the timidity of the current Democratic proposals for reform. In the last analysis, the much-lauded stability and conservatism of the American system owe nothing to lofty ideals, and everything to the irrefutable fact that it is shot through with corruption and awash in contributions primarily from wealthy and corporate donors. When a minimum of a million dollars is required of House candidates and elected judges, and when patriotism is for the draft-free to extol and for the ordinary citizen to serve, in such times it is a simple act of bad faith to claim that politics-as-we-now-know-it can miraculously cure the evils which are essential to its very existence.
The longer we are ruled by oligarchs, the deadlier our predicament becomes, especially since the oligarchs refuse to address climate change, the greatest existential crisis to humankind. The oligarchs have many mechanisms, including wholesale surveillance, to keep us in check. They will stop at nothing to maintain the sophistry of their rule. History may not repeat itself, but it echoes. And if we don’t recognize these echoes and then revolt, we will be herded into the abattoirs that tyrannies set up at the end of their existence.

Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.
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Philosophers and mystics have long contemplated the disconcerting notion that the fixed self is an illusion. Neuroscientists now think they can prove it or, at least, help us glimpse this truth with some help from psilocybin, the psychoactive property in magic mushrooms.
Researchers around the world are exploring the drug’s transformative power to help people quit smoking; lower violent crime; treat depression, anxiety. and post-traumatic stress disorder; and trigger lasting spiritual epiphanies in psychologically healthy people, especially when coupled with meditation or contemplative training.
There are some limitations to psilocybin studies, they tend to be small, and rely on volunteers willing to take drugs and, thus, open to an alternate experience. But the research could have major implications in an age characterized by widespread anxiety. Psilocybin seems to offer some people a route to an alternate view of reality, in which they shed the limitations of their individual consciousness and embrace a sense of interconnectedness and universality. These trips aren’t temporary, but have transformative psychological effects. Even if we don’t all end up on mushrooms, the studies offer insights on how we might minimize suffering and interpersonal strife and gain a sense of peace.

Consider a study of 75 subjects, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology last October. The study concluded that psilocybin leads to mystical experiences that can have long-term psychological benefits in conjunction with meditation training. The greater the drug dosage, the more potent the positive psychological effect was six months later.
Participants showed significant positive changes on longitudinal measures of interpersonal closeness, gratitude, life meaning/purpose, forgiveness, death transcendence, daily spiritual experiences, religious faith and coping the study concluded.
Meanwhile, in July, psychologist Richard Williams of John Hopkins University revealed an experiment involving clergy and psilocybin. Williams is enlisting priests, rabbis, and Zen Buddhist monks to take drugs, meditate, and “collect inner experiences.” (No Muslim or Hindu clerics agreed to participate.) The study will last a year, so no results are out yet. But Williams told The Guardian in July 2017 that so far, the clerics report feeling simultaneously more in touch with their own faith and greater appreciation for alternate paths.
In these transcendental states of consciousness, people… get to levels of consciousness that seem universal. So a good rabbi can encounter the Buddha within him Williams said.
To understand how mushrooms can change our worldviews, we must first explore how brains shape our sense of self.

The shared dream
Our awareness of existence, the ability to distinguish between the self and others, is created by the brain, neuroscientist Anil Seth explains in his TED talk Your brain hallucinates consciousness. He says, Right now, billions of neurons in your brain are working together to generate a conscious experience, and not just any conscious experience, your experience of the world around you and of yourself within it.
Yet when you are unconscious, you continue to exist without perceiving your own presence. You cease to participate in reality but continue to live. When roused back into consciousness, you lack a narrative to explain the time away. The narrative of the story that seems to be your life is just a function of your brain’s mechanisms, not who you really are.
Still, the hallucination of consciousness is one we’re all having in tandem. When we agree about our hallucinations, we call it “reality,” according to Seth. In this agreed-upon reality, we are each separate individuals, whose stories begin with our births and end with our deaths.
But there are other ways to experience reality, which you may have already glimpsed, even if only fleetingly. Sometimes our consciousness shifts. The boundaries of the self seem to become less rigid and we commune with another person or thing, as can happen during drug-induced epiphanies, sure, but can also happen when people fall in love, meditate, go out in nature, or experience a great meeting of minds.
In The Book philosopher Alan Watts writes that we aren’t individuals existing in lonely bodies. We’re a flowing segment in the continuous line of life.
He and others, mystics, monks, poets, and philosophers from numerous traditions, argue that people are sad and hostile because we live with a false sense of separation from one another and the rest of the world.
This feeling of being lonely and very temporary visitors in the universe is in flat contradiction to everything known about man (and all other living organisms) in the sciences Watts wrote in The Book. We do not ‘come into’ this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree.
Seeing the interconnectedness and timelessness of existence provides a grand scale. It helps put your problems in perspective. That’s why scientists are trying to find ways to trigger the epiphany Watts talks about. Drugs can help, especially since we think we now know how the brain generates the illusion of self.

Turning off default mode
"Normal consciousness relies, at least in part, on the brain’s Default Mode Network (DMN), according to neuroscientist Robin Carhart-Harris, head of psychedelic research in the brain sciences division of the Imperial College of London medical school.* The DMN is a network of interacting brain regions that acts as a cognitive transit hub, integrating and assimilating information. As the name implies, it’s the usual system of organization for your mind. Carhart-Harris says the DMN “gives coherence to cognition” by connecting different regions of the brain, and is considered the “orchestrator of the self.”
Carhart-Harris and his colleagues found what seems to be an important function of the DMN inadvertently. While studying brain networks, they got curious about what changes might occur when people are under the effects of hallucinogens. In studies analyzing the effects of psilocybin on brain wave oscillation and blood flow, they found that when the DMN was inactive, an alternate network of consciousness seemed to arise.
When some study subjects tested psilocybin, they reported a strong sense of interconnectedness, as well as spiritual, magical, and supernatural feelings.
In the alternate mode, brains produced a different world that offered other sensations and realizations than in everyday life. In this mode, the self wasn’t the protagonist of the narrative.
Meanwhile, scans of blood flow and brain wave oscillations showed new, unusual, but orderly and synchronous, connections forming between cortical regions, as if the brain was reorganizing its network. This led Carhart-Harris to posit that the DMN generates the feeling we each have that we’re individuals, a feeling that manifests very strongly as reality. And that means we can temporarily switch off, or mute, this part of the brain.

Ego switch
According to psychoanalytic theory, the feeling of having a personal identity is known as the ego. It’s the boundary-maker and gatekeeper, drawing lines and dividing me from you. But as psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud notes in his 1930 essay Civilization and Its Discontents, the ego is mutable. Our sense of identity can shift—from infancy to adulthood, within relationships, and with certain practices, like meditation.
Living in a society means living within certain limits, for our own safety and that of others. We need the ego to draw lines, protecting us from people who may take advantage of too much kindness or too open a spirit. But muting the ego can be a good thing. Switching off the default mode changes the connections between cortical regions and activates new modes, new sensations and thoughts, allowing us to “lose the inhibiting influence on one’s own narrative, which leads to insights that are kept from consciousness,” Carhart-Harris says.
Experiencing this state of uninhibited consciousness can lead to lasting changes, even after the psilocybin wears off. For someone who is severely depressed, changing brain activity with psilocybin may be able to jolt them out of a cognitive rut, wherein their default mode repeats negative thoughts and feelings in a damaging loop, Carhart-Harris explains. And in someone who is psychologically healthy, the additional perspective provided by a peek at the alternate consciousness can also improve overall well-being.
As Shelby Hartman wrote in Quartz last January, the data from three trials of psilocybin in 36 healthy volunteers showed that brief drug-induced mystical experiences changed people over time, leading them to report better moods, heightened altruism and forgiveness, more closeness with others, and a sense of connection six months later. Two-thirds of study subjects rated the experience during a psilocybin session so meaningful that it fell within their top five life events, up there with the birth of a first child, for example. The researchers believe the memory of the drug experience, the trip, if you will, continues to influence people long after the drug itself has technically worn off.

Change you can believe in
"Psychologists distinguish radical transformative experiences as “quantum changes,” as opposed to incremental behavioral-based shifts. But the two are not mutually exclusive.* An epiphany prompted by psilocybin can give rise to a new enthusiasm, curiosity, or sense of wonder that can trigger behavioral changes or new interests, spurring travel, dance, contemplation, meditation, an interest in nature, people, or other cultures. Likewise, no momentary experience is so magical and profound as to make every moment thereafter easy to manage, which is why practitioners of meditation may experience illumination when sitting, but still struggle in day-to-day life.
Dissolving the ego doesn’t happen once and for all. The default mode network will resume its duties, and it can be hard to stay in touch with alternative states of consciousness. The epiphanies some people experience on drugs, then, offer a touchstone to which we can return when the brain’s default mode is on. That’s why neuroscientists are so interested in finding out how mystical experiences can be combined with meditation practices and other forms of spiritual guidance, the better to bring about lasting change.
In the Buddhist tradition, practitioners meditate to cultivate a mind that is conscious of simultaneous modes, able to navigate the two planes of connected consciousness while recognizing the self’s presence. The Tibetan Buddhist monk Chogyam Trungpa called this simultaneous perception “basic sanity.”
For Trungpa, expanded perceptions of alternative forms of consciousness were not a particular prize, but a tool to be applied to everyday life. An epiphany may be initially thrilling, but that’s not the point. Trungpa advocated existential cool. You don’t have to shout from the rooftops about how we’re all one interconnected organism, or feel lonely when the ego howls its song of alienation.
Extraordinary experiences become normal, and personal dramas become boring, once you perceive the brain’s prankster at work, and then you can really relax.
As Trungpa writes in his 1984 text, Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior Life is a humorous situation but it is not mocking us.
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The release of LibreOffice 6.0 marks the first major update to the productivity suite since the LibreOffice 5.4 release back in July 2017. It also coincides with the anniversary of the very first release of LibreOffice in January 2011.
So, as you’d expect for a celebratory release, there are heaps of improvements on offer.
LibreOffice 6.0 is compatible with more office file formats than ever before, adds a number of new features, and improves the overall user interface.

LibreOffice 6.0 Features
Better File Compatability
The headline improvement in LibreOffice doesn’t sound particularly sexy but it is nonetheless a vital part of any office suite: file compatibility.
LibeOffice 6.0 boasts better file compatibility with Microsoft Office documents, lets you open AbiWord and QuarkExpress files in LibreOffice (with zero fuss), and gains ability to export as EPUB ebook files.
Alongside improved file compatibility with Microsoft Office files those upgrading will benefit from a healthy batch of bug fixes, stability tweaks, and the general polish.

New Notebook bar Options
Much has been written about the LibreOffice Ribbon UI, a lot of it by us! In LibreOffice 6.0 the feature (which is actually called the Notebook Bar) gets some welcome improvements.
You’ll find two new Microsoft Ribbon-style Notebook bar options are available in LibreOffice 6.0.
The first is called Groupedbar Full. This, as the name might imply, groups a large number of options together, meaning more buttons are in sight:
There’s also the new Tabbed Compact, which is, in this release, only available in Writer. Tabbed Compact is a streamlined version of the standard Tabbed Notebook Bar and looks great.
The Ribbon UI is one of the best hidden features of LibreOffice, and while it’s still not ready for prime-time use (do keep that in mind) is helps make it easier for more some to switch from Microsoft Office to LibreOffice full time.
Remember: you have to turn on an experimental setting to use this feature, but we’ve written a post which walks you through how to enable the Ribbon UI in LibreOffice.

Elementary Icons Included by Default
The elementary icon set is now included in all versions of LibreOffice 6.0. It’s not (yet) the default icon set (Tango remains in place) but it is included.
So, if you (or something you know) uses LibreOffice on Windows or macOS, but want a little touch of Linux, just enable the elementary icon set via the Tools > Options > View > Icon Style setting. After applying you’ll see elementary’s gentle, soft coloured icons in toolbars, dialogs and menus throughout the suite.
Mmm!

EPUB Export
LibreOffice 6.0 is able to export Writer documents to EPUB. This popular and widely used ebook format is well supported across operating systems and mobile devices so it’s great to see LibreOffice add support for it.
The office suite is also now able to open and import AbiWord, PageMaker and QuarkXPress files too. I’m not sure most of us will need to, but it’s nice to know we can, right?
These file formats are a little more niche than the ubiquitous typical Microsoft Office document file format (OOMXL) but it’s great that see the software cater to them nonetheless.
Better yet, the libraries which support these new export and import formats are being made available as free, open source software in order to allow other applications to make use of them too.

Other changes
There’s a new splash screen shown when you launch the app.
The redesigned help system now uses your operating system’s default web browser (Firefox on Ubuntu, unless you’ve chosen otherwise) to display help pages. This is a great way to ensure you’re always reading the most up-to-date information.
That said, you don’t have to be online to use LibreOffice help. Most LibreOffice installs include local copies of documentation for offline reference.
A slate of new table styles and gradients are available to prettify documents.
It’s now possible to rotate an image in LibreOffice Writer. You previously needed to use an external image editor or app to do this.
LibreOffice 6.0 also improves LibreOffice Online, a cloud-based feature that allows collaborative editing of documents using a web browser.
For a full rundown of every change do see the full release notes.

LibreOffice 6.0 features at a glance
Better compatibility with Microsoft Office documents
Support for AbiWord, QuarkExpress and PageMaker files
Ability to save documents as ePub ebook files
Improved ‘Ribbon’ UI
Elementary icons included by default
New online help
OpenPGP document signing/encryption
‘Grammar by’ spellchecking
Noto fonts included by default
Easier to insert characters
LibreOffice 6.0 Download
You can download LibreOffice for free from the official project website. Here you’ll find installers for Windows, macOS and Linux (including Ubuntu).

Download LibreOffice
You can also install LibreOffice form Flathub. Click the button below to download the ‘flatpakref’ file, and then double-click on it to open in the GNOME Software app.
Download LibreOffice Flatpak
You can also install LibreOffice 6.0 on Ubuntu 16.04 LTS (or later) by adding the official upstream PPA.
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Why can't Iran have a secular, democratic government? It’s a question Americans often ask of their longstanding Middle East adversary, especially when they see images of anti-regime protesters taking to the streets of major Iranian cities and towns to demand greater freedom.
Unlike citizens of the Islamic Republic, however, citizens of the United States tend to have short memories. The historical reality is that Iran did have a secular, democratic government, led by Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh between 1951 and 1953, but Mossadegh was removed from power in a coup organized and funded by the CIA and Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, also known as MI6.

With a handful of exceptions, Madeleine Albright in 2000, Barack Obama in 2009 and 2015, most mainstream U.S. politicians have little to say about any of this sordid history. In Washington, D.C., Iranian hostility toward the U.S. has long been treated as inexplicable and irrational, while the CIA’s role in the 1953 coup, which set off a chain of events that resulted in the rise of Iran’s ayatollahs and the Islamic Revolution of 1979, has vanished into a memory hole.
It was left to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, of all people, to remind Americans of the catastrophic consequences of that coup in a televised debate with Hillary Clinton during the Democratic presidential primaries in February 2016:
Mossadegh back in 1953. Nobody knows who Mossadegh was. Democratically elected prime minister of Iran. He was overthrown by British and American interests because he threatened oil interests of the British. And as a result of that, the Shah of Iran came in, terrible dictator, and as a result of that, you had the Iranian Revolution coming in, and that’s where we are today. Unintended consequences.

What Sanders called unintended consequences the CIA calls blowback.
In fact, as I explain in this week’s episode of my six-part video series on blowback, the CIA first coined the term in the wake of Operation Ajax, the agency’s codename for the coup against Mossadegh.
Possibilities of blowback against the United States should always be in the back of the minds of all CIA officers involved in this type of operation,” noted an internal CIA lessons-learned report on Mossadegh’s fall in 1954. “Few, if any, operations are as explosive as this type.
Yet the U.S. government never got out of the regime change business in the subsequent decades, and continued to orchestrate coups, assassinate foreign leaders, topple elected governments, and invade sovereign nations.
Even today, the hawks in the Trump administration are bent on changing the government in Tehran. Again. Have they learned nothing?
Consider the verdict of Michael Morell former deputy director of the CIA, on the consequences of a U.S.-backed regime change effort inside the Islamic Republic: Not only are you unlikely to be successful, but you are likely to have huge blowback.
There’s that word again: blowback. But is anyone in this administration even listening?
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Being vegan, or if you prefer to not have the label but following a plant-based diet, is no longer taboo or a laughing matter.
The results are in and more and more people across the globe are choosing an animal free diet. In the U.S. alone, veganism has risen by 600% since 2014. Why this has happened can be attributed to a number of different reasons.
An increased awareness towards the atrocities that are taking place on factory farms.
Compassion towards animals.
A drive for increased personal health and wellness.
A growing concern towards the environmental destruction caused by meat eating.
A shift in consciousness within ourselves that leads to greater connection to the body, earth and animals.
One thing is for sure, as we shift and our awareness continues to grow, people are taking responsibility and making big changes in their lives.

According to the video below:
Veganism in the U.S. has increased by 600% in the past three years alone. Six percent of Americans identified as vegans in 2017, compared to only one percent in 2014. Non-dairy milk sales have also increased by 61% since 2012, which is causing traditional cow milk sales to decrease. According to data released by GrubHub, people chose vegan food 195% more in the first half of 2017 than the year before.
The trend is spreading globally too, people identifying as ‘vegans’ increased 350% in the UK, compared to a decade ago. Vegetarianism rose by 400% in the last 10 years in Portugal. In HongKong, 22% of people are practicing a plant-based diet. In China, even the government is getting on the plant-based train, by encouraging people to cut their meat consumption in half. Researchers think China’s plant-based market will grow more than 17% by 2020. Based on these numbers, it’s clear that more and more people are shifting toward plant-based diets
I wrote another article a few months ago about how adopting a plant-based diet was set to become the next mega trend in 2018. But, it seems as though this is not simply a “trend” as these numbers are only growing as more and more people are starting to see for themselves just how simple, cost-effective, and delicious a plant-based diet can be.

Does It Have To Be All-Or-Nothing?
While choosing to eat a plant-based diet is a great decision for many reasons, people often feel as though this is an all-or-nothing approach to diet, but really it doesn’t have to be this way. The options aren’t, planet-based or nothing. There are many things you can do that will have an impact on your health, the environment, and animal welfare. While it’s best to go straight plant-based, for many reasons, start small might be the right choice for some people.
Adopting a Reducetarian type of diet can be a huge step in the right direction and a great way to ease into a more plant-based way of living.
By drastically cutting back your intake of animals and animal products you are still making a huge impact. Doing so allows you to get a feel for all of the delicious foods that can be made animal free and you can afford to choose more ethical choices for when you do decide to consume meat or animal products.
By keeping an open mind and considering that consuming less is still better than not trying at all, we can all do our part to take responsibility for our actions and take an active role in creating the type of world that we want to live in.
By doing this, no doubt it will affect the lives of those around you and they too might become curious about what it means to simply eat less meat, or consume more plants.
Eating a more ethical and responsible diet doesn’t have to be about the label, we don’t need to identify with a label, another article I wrote talked about how some aggressive vegans are turning people off from even considering a change in lifestyle, in that case, is doing more harm than good.
Let’s all have compassion towards one another and where everyone is at in terms of their dietary preferences, chances are many of these “hardcore vegans” were once bacon loving big mac eaters as well. By simply raising awareness instead of preaching, judging, and getting defensive, people will be more inclined to at least consider this as an option.
Either way, these numbers are growing and it’s incredible to see! The first step towards change is by raising awareness and this is one aspect of our world that is definitely changing. Woo hoo! This is a reason to celebrate.
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I’ve been writing for decades about the mind-body problem, the deepest of all mysteries, and I’m trying to finish a book tentatively titled Mind-Body Problems. And yet only recently have I realized that few people outside philosophy and mind-related scientific fields are familiar with the phrase mind-body problem.
I also realized that I knew nothing about the origins of the phrase. Google didn’t provide an immediate answer, so I reached out to David Chalmers a prominent philosopher of mind.
Good question he said when I asked on Facebook who coined mind-body problem. He passed my query on to other scholars. I’ve culled the information below from responses of Chalmers, Galen Strawson, Eric Schliesser, Charles T. Wolfe, Godehard Bruntrup, Victor Caston and Paolo Pecere to whom I am very grateful.
A Google N-gram on “mind-body problem” shows the phrase spiking from 1910 to 1925, dipping for a couple of decades and then rising again in the 1950s.
The earliest reference I can find on Google Books dates back to 1879, when the prominent American scholar Felix Adler lectured on atheism to the Ethical Culture Society.
An excerpt:
If then, consciousness, or mind, in something like its traditional sense, cannot successfully be explained away by the new epistemology, we must resolutely face the metaphysical question of the relation of the mind to the physical world in which it has its setting. The central and crucial part of this question is, of course, to be found in the mind-body problem… If we refuse to accept the pan-objective epistemology already considered which would do away with consciousness in the traditional sense, we must recognize that the relation of the mind to the body forms a real and inescapable problem… How can two things so different from each other as mind and body interact? To which, it seems to me, the sufficient answer is to be found in the rather obvious query, Why can they not? Are we so sure that unlike things cannot influence each other? The only way really to decide this question is to go to experience and see.
Adler, who was born and partially educated in Germany, might have borrowed the phrase mind-body problem from German scholars. By the mid-19th century Gustav Fechner and other Germans were referring to the "Körper-Seele Problem," “Leib-Seele Problem” and "Psychophysisches Problem,” all of which roughly translate to mind-body problem. (“Körper” and “Leib” mean body and “Seele” means soul.)

Scholars pondered the mind-body problem, of course, well before the phrase was coined. In Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind, published in 1801, English cleric Thomas Belsham attempted to explicate the relationship between mind and matter. So did Scottish philosopher Dugald Stewart in a three-part work, also titled Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind, the first of which was published in 1792, according to Wikipedia. In 1714 Leibniz presented this vivid critique of physical, mechanistic explanations of mind:
Moreover, we must confess that the perception, and what depends on its, is inexplicable in terms of mechanical reasons, that is, through shapes and motions. If we imagine that there is a machine whose structure makes it think, sense and have perceptions, we could conceive it enlarged, keeping the same proportions, so that we could enter into it, as one enters into a mill. Assuming that, when inspecting its interior, we will find only parts that push one another, and we will never find anything to explain a perception.
Descartes often gets credit with being the first thinker to worry about the connection between mind and matter. But according to the Oxford Reference, Descartes only appreciated the problem after he received a letter in 1643 from Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia (1596–1662), the daughter of King James I of England and VI of Scotland, pointing it out.
The third-century scholar Alexander of Aphrodisias also anticipated Descartes. Alexander wrote in his treatise On the Soul:
In general, it would also make sense to ask those who say that the soul is a form of the body in this way, just what joins and holds the two of them together, given that they are separate from one another and differ in their natures, so that what is composed from them is and remains a single thing? For it is difficult to find something responsible for the unity of such things, both when they first come together and after they have come together.

Socrates, via Plato, posed the mind-body problem even earlier, in 399 B.C..
Talking to his students in his prison cell, Socrates complained about philosophers who explain the world in terms of physical things, such as “air, and ether, and water, and other eccentricities.” How, Socrates asked, would such a philosopher explain what he is doing in this prison?
Well, Socrates replied to his own question, the philosopher might point out that he, Socrates is made up of bones and muscles… and as the bones are lifted at their joints by the contraction or relaxation of the muscles, I am able to bend my limbs, and this is why I am sitting here in a curved posture. But that would be a lousy explanation, Socrates pointed out, because the “true cause” of his situation is that the Athenians have thought fit to condemn me, and accordingly I have thought it better and more right to remain here and undergo my sentence. Socrates continues:
It may be said, indeed, that without bones and muscles and the other parts of the body I cannot execute my purposes. But to say that I do as I do because of them, and that this is the way in which mind acts, and not from the choice of the best, is a very careless and idle mode of speaking.
To my mind, that is a clear expression of the mind-body problem, and the limits of physical explanations. Yes, we’re bodies, physical things subject to physical forces. But we also have minds, which have causes, such as our sense of right and wrong, of “the best”, that cannot be reduced to physiology.
Viewing ourselves as nothing but bodies leads to what Socrates called a strange confusion of causes and conditions.
Science has come a long way since Socrates, and yet the mind-body problem still provokes strange confusion. Or, worse, indifference. One of my goals as a writer is to get people to care about the mind-body problem, to make them realize that it is the central mystery of existence, the one toward which all other mysteries converge. It really asks, What are we? But getting people to care can be hard...

John Horgan directs the Center for Science Writings at the Stevens Institute of Technology. His books include The End of Science and The End of War.

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