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It's Poetry In Motion

Welcome, fellow Google+ User!

This Collection is as deep as any ocean, as sweet as any harmony. This is about Science, the Toolset of Consensus Knowledge and the Language of the Wise. How do we know anything, beyond beliefs and imperfect perceptions? Science! How do we feed the masses, fuel our vehicles, heal the sick? Science! How do a high school chemistry teacher with cancer and his junkie dropout former student become drug kingpins? Science, b@$&h!

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Enjoy your Streams, fellow Plussers!

~ +Eli Fennell​
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How Mammals Lost Their Third Eye To Gain Warm Blood

There's a gland in the brain called the Pineal Gland. It secretes the Light-Dark Cycle-sensitive hormone Melatonin, among other things.

In mammals, the gland is just a gland. In many of our cold blooded ancestors, however, it was and often still is associated with a specific sense organ: a Third Eyeball, also called the Parietal or Pineal Eye.

This eye, which is typically behind thin skin or a scale and is not useful for detailed visual perception, instead functions as a specialized 'Solar Calendar'. There is even evidence that some types of color perception began with the Pineal Eye, to track changes in the time of day.

In creatures with this organ, in fact, removal causes them to lose the ability for thermoregulation. Mammals, having evolved warm-bloodedness, lost this sensory organ but, due to their own thermoregulatory and behavioral needs, retained the underlying gland, continuing to use it to track Day-Night and Seasonal Cycles to the extent necessary, but based on input from the two remaining eyes, which inherited the functions of tracking Light-Dark Cycles and Color Vision, the latter of which eventually became more detailed and useful for other purposes (e.g. distinguishing good safe fruits from poisonous ones; this may also help explain why we associate some colors as 'brighter' or 'darker', thereby imputing luminescent qualities to shades, tones, and patterns of pure coloration).

#BlindMeWithScience #EvolutionaryBiology #ThirdEyeBlind
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Local Realism Loses Again In 100K Person Bell Test
Reports of Free Will's Death Greatly Exaggerated

Quantum Physics is full of strange, counterintuitive things which defy Newtonian and Relativistic concepts of reality, at least in certain domains of nature.

One of those things is called Quantum Entanglement, wherein two or more particles have one or more of their fundamental properties entwined, or Entangled. Separate them again, and the behaviors of the properties of the particles remain linked, apparently across all boundaries of space and even time in some cases, instantaneously.

It drove Einstein insane. Relativity depends mathematically on the Speed of Light barrier. Entanglement might allow for information transference at effectively superluminal velocities, potentially even allowing an effect to precede a cause. More fundamentally it challenges the Local Realism convention which became the basis of the physical sciences from Newtonianism onwards.

He and many other researchers spent many years proposing solutions, all of which centered on the idea that the apparent continuity of a link between the particles is a mere artifact of 'Local Hidden Variables', in the same way two cars may stop at the same line at the same time because of the stop signal and not due to some instantaneous correspondence between them.

A researcher named Bell eventually formalized how to test this by specifying the outer limits of such a condition, i.e. the levels beyond which continued correlations must be due to a direct rather than indirect relationship. In short, no Theory of Local Realism can ever reproduce all the predictions of Quantum Physics (without becoming it), therefore any imperfections in the apparent correlations between Entangled properties supports Local Realism, and a lack thereof eventually refutes it.

The case for Local Realism has not looked good ever since, with one Local Realism Preserving 'Loophole' after another falling in recent years to newer and better designed tests of Bell's Theorem and what Einstein called 'Spooky Action At A Distance' surviving each test.

The latest Loophole to fall is the so-called Freedom of Choice Loophole. This states that Local Hidden Variables may account for the Spooky Correlations of Quantum Entanglement, even if the results of measurements show otherwise, if the choice of how to measure the particle is not made independently of any influence of the particle.

Basically, you have to rule out that the measuring instruments, researchers, or both have not been influenced by any interactions (even past or future, potentially) with the particles being measured in their selection of which things to measure. Yes, even the possibility of a photon somehow influencing an actual person to measure it in a given way has to be ruled out.

Enter the Big Bell Test. 100K users played a smartphone game, designed to generate, through their collective inputs, random numbers to be used to determine how to measure Entangled particles in 12 Bell Test experiments. If any Boundary Condition exists for the Freedom of Choice Paradox, which it must or it would be unfalsifiable and therefore untestable, 100K random people playing games to generate random numbers should exceed it.

The results effectively closed the Loophole, shutting yet another door on Hard Local Realism (though not other forms such as Stochastic Local Realism), and helping usher in a Brave New Era of research bridging the sciences and the masses, physics and consciousness, on the bleeding edge.

#BlindMeWithScience #QuantumPhysics #BellsTheorem
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Sleep Phase Shifting and Melatonin Suppression Are Not Equivalent

Circadian rhythms are the biological rhythms which cycle with Day and Night primarily or, more generally, with cycles of Light and Dark (some of both, in fact). The neurotransmitter Melatonin is also influenced by Day-Night and Light-Dark (e.g. varying by season) cycles.

In modern times, Sleep Disorders are common, and one reason is the disruption of natural Light-Dark Cycles (Day and Night; Sun, Moon, and Starlight) due to artificial light sources, especially those which generate high output at higher (bluer) ends of the spectrum. Modern work and play habits like Shift Work also affect sleep cycles.

Due to their apparent association, Phase Shift (a forward or backwards progression of Sleep Onset, e.g. earlier each night or later) and Melatonin Suppression have often been treated as equivalent. Melatonin has often been prescribed as a sleep aid, in fact, though its efficacy has long been in doubt.

New research published in The Journal of Physiology casts further doubt on the association. By isolating participants in controlled Sleep Study conditions, with intermittent exposure to bright light across the Wake-Sleep Cycle, they could compare Phase Shifting with Melatonin Suppression.

Their results showed that, although the light exposure affected both measures, the magnitude of influence on the Sleep Phase was not equivalent to that on Melatonin Suppression (it was, in fact, much greater). They appeared, in fact, to be independent mechanisms, though somewhat correlated.

This isn't entirely surprising. Although Melatonin is a Light-Dark signal, its effects vary by the natural cycles of the organism. Nocturnal animals, in fact, track the same peaks and valleys of Melatonin as Diurnal animals, using the signal to aid in timing arousal rather than rest.

This finding will have ramifications for the understanding and treatment of a variety of Primary and Comorbid Sleep Disorders such as Phase Advance and Delay, Shift Work Sleep Disorder, and Depression with Insomnia.

#BlindMeWithScience #SleepResearch #Neuroscience
Rhythms of the Night
Rhythms of the Night
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Trees May Have A (Very Subtle) Pulse

It is often thought that plants are almost wholly quiescent creatures. In reality, though, if one pays close enough attention, one finds that plants are very active and busy creatures, which are both reactively and proactively responsive to their environment, and which can 'move' (often via directed growth patterns) albeit slowly in ways both dramatic and clever, at times almost animal-like when observed at an accelerated rate of time (e.g. Time Lapse Video). Some plants even have neuronal structures and systems, which are in some ways brainlike, and some also even engage in sophisticated biocommunication with other plants.

Now we may have another thing to add to the list: a pulse. New evidence published in Plant Signalling and Behavior argues that trees display subtle movements, following subcircadian rhythms, of their trunks and branches caused by movement of water through the tree by differential water pressure forces in the trunk and branches.

These movements are phasic, taking place over many hours (making them hard to observe), and are not linked to circadian (i.e. sleep or sleep-like; Day-Night related) water rhythms which have previously been noted.

Although popular reporting is comparing this with a heartbeat, the better comparison, used by the researchers themselves, would be to a pulse. A heartbeat would require a heart, after all, some central organ for driving the pulsation, but no such organ is being proposed here.

It is also worth considering that this may not be an entirely unique observation. Hints that such a thing were noted even in ancient times may be hidden in literary references and folk traditions dismissed as religiomagical, metaphysical, esoteric, or protoscientific, and it may fairly be said that a special reverence for trees has been common in human belief systems. Observations of the subtle movements of trees, following circadian and subcircadian rhythms, may well have influenced these.

#BlindMeWithScience #SecretLifeofPlants #Botany
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MIT Researchers Invent Device To Study Hypnagogia

There is a state of human Awareness which winks briefly into and then out of existence in the transition zone between waking and dreamless deep NREM sleep or the otherworldly dream realm of REM sleep.

In this state, we may experience brief but intense dreamlike awarenesses, which often seem to be extensions of cognitions left over from the day. These have been called Microdreams or Directive Thinking, and have often been felt to be associated with creativity and creative problem solving.

This state comes and goes so quickly it hardly lends itself to study. Some pathological cases, such as Narcoleptics, experience abnormally intense/prolonged Hypnagogia, sometimes with vivid hallucinations (distinguished from other types of hallucinations by the percipient knowing they are not real images but mental ones), but we can only derive so much from inherently clinical cases, who may also have other sleep cycle abnormalities (e.g. enhanced/prolonged REM dreaming).

Now, a team at the MIT Media Lab aims to change this with a technology called Dormio. By using special sensors to measure physiological responses such as muscle tension and eye movements, Dormio detects when the person is falling asleep (without need for cumbersome if more precise sleep measurement systems like PSG's), then issues a verbal command to think of a predetermined thing, followed by a gentle command to sleep. This is then followed up by periodically asking the person to report their cognitions. This is, of course, all meant to be done while minimally arousing the sleeper periodically, and thereby keeping them in this transition state longer.

In an early Proof of Concept experiment to see if enhanced Hypnagogia with Dormio would also enhance creativity, participants who completed three sessions were compared with a control group on an Alternative Uses Task, requiring them to list as many alternative uses of a thing as possible (e.g. ways to use a paperweight other than as a paperweight), and they performed significantly better than the controls.

That said, for all the excitement around this, there may be dangers in prolonged Hypnagogia as well, especially given its association with certain known sleep disorders and psychopathologies, and the mere fact that more time spent in the transition zone between Waking and Stage 1 (Light) NREM Sleep means less Stable (Stage 2) and Slow Wave (Stages 3 and 4), and probable effects of some type on REM Sleep as well. For the nonce, Dormio is likely best used as a tool of research, rather than a brain toy.

Even for that, though, this may be invaluable, especially coupled with the tools and insights of the Psychological, Cognitive, and Neuroscientific fields, granting insight into Hypnagogia in the mind of normal people like we have never seen it before.

#BlindMeWithScience #ConsciousnessResearch #Hypnagogia
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Frequent Low-Intensity Lucid Dreaming Correlated with Higher Rates of Psychopathology

Lucid dreams are one of the least studied aspects of the dreaming experience. Freud, whose influence on Psychoanalysis brought Dream Interpretation out of the occult domain and into the mainstream, knew of them only by rumors of such, and even expressed some skepticism.

In popular culture, lucid dreams are typically viewed as positive, i.e. as promoting mental well-being and enhancing the enjoyment of the dream state, but new research suggests that their effect on mental well-being may depend on another factor: dream intensity.

Researchers at Ben Gurion University compared the rates of Psychopathology between normal dreamers, and two types of frequent lucid dreamers: those who report frequent low-intensity lucid dreaming and those who report frequent high-intensity lucid dreaming.

Although no difference was found between normal dreamers and frequent high-intensity lucid dreamers, both were found to have significantly lower rates of Psychopathology than frequent low-intensity lucid dreamers (who, consequently, had the highest rates).

This suggests that, at least in specific relation to absence of Psychopathology, lucid dreaming is not inherently superior to normal dreaming and may, in fact, be a risk factor if it is associated with low intensity dreams, though normal low-intensity dreamers may be no better off.

This suggests that some minimal level of dream intensity, rather than lucidity or lack thereof, is critical to our mental health and that some lucid dreamers may inhibit this, though it may also be that health issues may impact dream intensity. As other studies have found that very high dream arousal can also be associated with higher rates of Psychopathology and sleep disorders, it would appear there is a 'Goldilocks' level of dream arousal which doesn't specifically care whether you're lucid or not.

These findings should give pause to anyone trying to deliberately provoke lucid dreaming. If the dreams you provoke through this are typically low-intensity, you may be harming yourself, and should at least consider limiting the frequency of these experiences, though of course not every lucid dreamer is trying to be lucid, and for natural lucid dreamers, dream intensity may be useful as a diagnostic criteria for risk of Psychopathology.

#BlindMeWithScience #ConsciousnessResearch #LucidDreaming
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Insomnia Patients Better Than Traditional Sleep Measures At Knowing When They're Still Awake

Insomnia is a condition characterized by a constellation of sleep-related symptoms, by subjective and objective measures, including decreased total sleep, decreases in total time spent in most or all sleep stages, relative increases in Light Sleep versus Stable and Slow Wave NREM Sleep, variable relative changes in proportion and density of REM Sleep, and general reports of less, less restful, and more disturbed and fragmented sleep, with often more arousing and negative dream imagery.

That Insomniacs get less sleep overall and by most specific measures of different stages, is not denied. However, a curious phenomenon has long been noted in Polysomnography studies where Insomniacs often report subjectively longer time to get to sleep than the PSG says. This has been called Sleep Misperception, and was assumed to be a failure of the Insomniac to know when they transitioned. The PSG was assumed to be right. A reverse phenomenon was also noted: Good Sleepers (normally used as Controls in Sleep Disorder Studies) sometimes reported falling asleep faster than the PSG.

This view of Sleep Misperception has even led to characterizations of Primary Insomnia itself as a partly if not largely Psychological problem, and the view that Insomniacs feel like they get less sleep than they 'really' do.

Recent research by a team including researchers from Brigham Young University, the University of Pittsburgh, and the Medical University of South, however, may have laid this view largely to rest.

Instead of just comparing reports to sleep onset from Insomniacs and Good Sleepers to global brain sleep state measures from Polysomnography, they used the subjective reports and PSG states in conjunction with PET scans to analyze glucose metabolism activity in local brain networks associated with waking awareness. They found higher activation, in different patterns, in some of these regions, i.e. similar to their usual waking states, on nights when the participants reported positive or negative Sleep Misperception compared with PSG readings.

In short, the Insomniacs were right: some of their local brain networks associated with waking awareness continue to chug away when their global brain states and outer behaviors all seem to say they are asleep. Conversely, when Good Sleepers disagreed with the PSG, they were engaging active inhibitory processes in these networks prior to global sleep state onset.

Since the only definition of asleep that matters to most of us is the one where we are no longer externally aware, it seems we have overrelied on objective measures, which is problematic when by definition the things being measured are all related to a subjective phenomenon. We only know anyone ever sleeps, because we experience and report it. Our efforts, thus, begin from the subjective, and become worthless when they become unmoored from that.

It seems the only Misperception going on in Sleep Studies was of the type for which they say, "There are some mistakes only a Ph.D. can make."

Or, perhaps, "There are some ideas about sleep which only a person who has never had sleep problems could invent."

#BlindMeWithScience #SleepStudies #ConsciousnessResearch
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Virus Researchers Identify New Evolutionary Pathway

Viruses are excellent cases of Evolution In Action, as we see with the annual need to update Flu vaccines. Just quite how they're so good at evolving, however, has been somewhat elusive.

We've known for a long time that just a few gene mutations can significantly alter the evolutionary pathways of viruses, but had not understood how such 'minor' modifications have such dramatic effects.

Until now.

A team of researchers at the University of California San Diego and their colleagues, studying bacterial viruses, discovered that their mutant genes have a neat trick up their sleeves: some are 'unstable' and code for multiple proteins. These proteins are like 'keys' it tries to fit into the 'locks' or receptors on host cells.

These multi protein genes allow viruses to test multiple 'keys' whenever the shape of the host 'lock' changes (or, potentially, in some cases it may match a receptor for a new host species), like the ultimate professional lockpicker's set of Skeleton Keys.

With this simple mechanism, the virus can essentially 'test drive' a variety of solutions to infecting the host without overcommitting to specific adaptations, until a successful match is found between protein and receptor.

#BlindMeWithScience #Evolution #EvolutionaryBiology
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We May Have Been Upside-Down About How The Brain Learns

For some seven decades, conventional understanding has held that neural learning occurred in the synapses, while the neuron from which the synapses branch out is the computational 'hardware' itself.

Now, in a paper in Scientific Reports, a team of researchers at Bar-Ilan University argues compellingly that this picture has been wrong. In contrast to the old model, in which learning takes place in the synaptic 'branches', their new model proposes that much of it takes place in the dendrites, closer to the 'root' of the neuron.

This new model describes a much more efficient learning process, with implications for modelling faster, more efficient artificial/virtual neural networks.

tl;dr - We've been reading the 'manual' of how the brain learns upside-down for ~3/4ths of a Century, and now that we've figured it out, our theories and applications of neural research should go more smoothly.

#BlindMeWithScience #Science #Neuroscience
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