Monthly Archives: January 2010

Mad Scientists

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If you are fascinated by leading edge technology and its’ applications, a new book by Michael Belfiore is right up your street.

Taking ideas which at first sight can appear more science fiction, than science fact he takes us on a tour of some of the most breathtaking projects run by DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency) in the USA.

From robot surgeons who seem more like a car assembly line, to inter-galactic internet networks, this highly readable book will inform and entertain you all the way.

The Department of Mad Scientists: How DARPA Is Remaking Our World, from the Internet to Artificial Limbs by M. Belfiore

USA Books UK Books Canadian Books

 

© David R. Durham

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Thalamus

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While you are sitting at your computer reading this, spare a thought for your thalamus. This tiny part of your brain, which is about the size of a walnut, processes all the millions of messages which reach your consciousness.

So, almost everything we are aware of in ourselves and in the outside world has come through this coordinating centre of your brain.

The same is true for mammals, although the size and structure varies with species.

Whilst the thalamus has been studied over many decades, there is still a lot left to be found out about it.

The thalamus has a deeply collaborative relationship with the cerebral cortex, which is the furrowed outer layer of gray matter in the cerebrum of the brain, associated with the higher brain functions, as voluntary movement, coordination of sensory information, learning and memory, and the expression of individuality.

Within its complex functioning, the thalamus has specialised messages for visual, auditory, somatic messages etc.

Source:
Exploring The Thalamus, by S. Murray Sherman and R. W. Guillery,
2001, Academic Press, San Diego, CA, USA.

© David R. Durham

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Mithras

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One of the side-effects of empire building is that often the temporary conquerors end up absorbing into their culture the culture of those they conquered.

This process has repeated itself throughout history, and the Roman Empire was no exception. At its height it reigned through much of Europe, North Africa and Asia Minor.

One area of influence on the Romans was a colourful variety of religions and cults. One of the more famous of these cults was Christianity. Another was the cult of Mithras, who became an idol of the Roman legions following their conquests in Asia Minor.

With an Indian Vedic tradition which was ancient even in Roman times, Mithras was the god who brought people together. In this sense, he observed the conduct and pledges of men, and also watched over plant and animal life.

So Mithras was considered as a benevolent god-force.

And down the centuries, several cultures have embraced Mithras, whilst emphasising his different aspects. Whether worshipped in private or in a public ceremony, to some he is the god of the dawn bringing new life through the rising sun, to others he was the master of fertilisation and rains, and to others he was recognised through the myth of the bull slayer.

The bull slaying blood sacrifice was a deeply symbolic affair, evoking cosmic forces and regeneration through the act of shedding the eternal life-force symbolised in the blood of the bull.

Source:
The Cults of the Roman Empire by Robert Turcan,
1996 (English Transaltion), Blackwell Publishing Limited, Oxford, UK.

© David R. Durham

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Aging IV

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One of the most promising areas of medical research from the point of view of an aging population is that of DNA manipulation.

One particular technique called Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT).

This procedure involves taking the out the nucleus of an egg cell, and placing next to it in the envelope surrounding it the somatic (body) cell to be created. An electrical cell is then sent through the cell to break the boundary between the nucleus and somatic and thus fool the egg into thinking it has been fetilised. Once this happens the cell starts to divide in the normal way.

This method can be used to create increasingly complex body parts, and even organs.

Because it uses the DNA material of the patient, these replacements do not get rejected by the body. Hence the patient does not need to take immune suppressant drugs to combat organ doner rejection.

It also has the advantage that doner organ shortages become a thing of the past.

Some examples of uses of this DNA technology are as follows:

Parkinson’s Disease:
Here cloned dopamine cells can be fed back into the brain, thus relieving the symptoms of this highly distressing disease.

Diabetes (Type 1):
Clones insulin producing B-cells can be created for the pancreas, to assist in the natural production of insulin.

Immune System:
Here a patients immune system can be regenerated through cloned cells.

Another interesting finding is that even if cells are cloned from original cells which have reached the end of their natural life, the cloned cell seems to go back to the beginning and starts its life all over again.

This is certainly one of the most exciting areas of DNA medical technology which is here right now, and advancing all the time.

Sources:
Robert Lanza, MD,
Aging, Biotechnology & The Future,
Eds. C. Y. Read, R. C. Green & M. A. Singer,
2008, John Hopkins University Press, USA.

© David R. Durham

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Valerian and Insomnia

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The herb Valerian has been used by people for several thousands years to assist with sleeping.

And studies over the last century have borne out that valerian is quite effective in reducing insomnia problems which are stress and anxiety related.

It is readily available over the counter, and may be a good first step to an improved night’s sleep.

However, stress and anxiety are not the only sources of insomnia, it can have many contributing factors. For instance:

Lifestyle:

  • Too much exercise or food shortly before going to bed
  • Drinking too many stimulantes such as caffeine during the day
  • Watching TV in bed
  • Physical Health:

  • Physical ailments and pain can lead to sleeplesness
  • Mental Health:

  • Depression and other mental health issues can affect our ability to sleep.
  • So, as with most forms of self-treatment, it can mask more serious issues, and if the insomnia persists then a medical assessment should be sought.

    For a more extensive discussion valerian and insomnia, clinical tests and other popular herbs, try this book:

    Herbs for the Mind, by Davidson & Connor

    USA Books UK Books Canadian Books

     

    © David R. Durham

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    Ambiguity

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    When I say what I mean do I mean what I say?

    This is a classic ambiguous question, and by using two different meanings of the same word ‘mean’, it creates a temporary pause in your mind. You have to stop, go inside and work it out.

    As your conscious mind is occupied, it is temporarily bypassed so any immediately subsequent statements can enter your unconscious mind unchecked, uncensored. In a simple sense, this is the essence of an hypnotic procedure. In hypnosis, we want to bypass your conscious mind and access your unconscious.

    Ambiguity has several applications in hypnosis, another classic use is to allow someone to find their own answers, own solutions, their own interpretations and their own internal representation.

    Why is this of value? However well you know someone, it is impractical to know them completely. So, for example, if I were to suggest to you that you should enjoy the coming weekend break, how many different ways could this be interpreted? Sleeping in, going hiking, having a massage, reading a book …. the list is almost endless. But, importantly, you know what this means for you.

    The use of ’empty’ words such as happy, memories, whenever, maybe, dreams and so on are not the sole preserve of hypnotic suggestions. They are used extensively when someone wants to be deliberately vague and where they want you to fill in the gaps. For instance they are used in horrorscopes, by psychics and in marketing.

    When you fill in the gaps, you take it inside your mind and make it yours. And when you make it yours, you are more likely to accept it and to believe what you are being told is true.

    In the richness of the English language there is plenty of scope for ambiguity. With words such as duck, ship, sale/sale, bear/bare etc.

    In fact any phrase or sentence where it is unclear from the context what the exact meaning is, is an ambiguous phrase or sentence. So if I said ‘they are running in the park’. Who are ‘they’, in which ‘park’ and why are they ‘running’?

    And as you begin to understand all of this, you will start to see that hypnosis is a natural process you go through on a regular basis, each day you dance between your conscious and unconscious minds in a never ending waltz. So wouldn’t it be nice if you could spot when it is happening to you, to become more aware of your thinking processes. And as you read these words, you are beginning to enjoy knowing about yourself more and more, and as you know yourself more and more you are waking up and becoming more and more aware.

    © David R. Durham

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    Ancestors

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    Many of us have recollections and probably photographs (or perhaps paintings) of our ancestors going back two or three generations, and maybe even further back in time.

    Indeed, there are some cultures where it is customary to celebrate and honour their ancestors in annual festivals.

    Within the DNA of our bodies however, is a record which goes back to our very earliest ancestors, hundreds of generations in the past.

    Our DNA does not deteriorate like materials such as parchment, clothing and even stone. It is a fully preserved living record carried down through the ages by the maternal side of our DNA.

    Scientists have been able to use DNA samples from bodies even 5,000 years old to trace distant relatives alive today.

    And when the European bloodline is investigated, it turns out that all Europeans alive today originate from just seven women.

    For the full story behind this fascinating tale of scientific imagination and investigation get the following book ….

    The Seven Daughters of Eve
    by Bryan Sykes

    USA Books UK Books

     

    © David R. Durham

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    Aging III

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    Quality Of Life

    Looking beyond a mere numbers game, what does ‘older’ age have to offer in terms of benefits and rewards?

    And how does our relative age influence our thinking about ourselves, others, and life in general?

    Since our words, acting as labels, influence our thinking. Does it help if, for instance, we re-label the latter phase of our life from ‘Old Age’ to ‘Mature Years’?

    There is also a relative perspective on age itself. When you’re 30 years old, then someome who is 50 is starting to look old. But to a 70 year old, a 50 year old person is still a young ‘n.

    So when do we start to get old? The common retirement age of 65 is a relatively new invention. It was created by the Prussian general Otto Von Bismark, when he was pressed to give a pension to old and loyal soldiers. ‘What’ he asked ‘is their average life-span?’ When he was advised that it was 66, he granted a pension from the age of 65.

    There seems to be a fluid trade-off between age and youth, depending on how we are defining the quality of life. There are many ingredients to quality, and within these qualities there is room for several perspectives.

    When we are younger we may have more energy, however what experience and skills do we have to channel it through? In contrast, an older person may have less energy, but they may well be able to channel it more skillfully and be more serene about the outcome.

    With greater age, there comes the potential for a wider range of interests, which we have cultivated through the years. This range of interests and skills can seriously enrich our lives, if we chose to express them.

    An older person may not have the capacity to do hard labor, or to fight in wars, but who wants those anyway?

    So our perspective is key to our perception of the quality of life in older age. And this will come from a combination of personal choice, subjective experience and cultural conditioning.

    What can also influence our quality perception of older age, is our definition of pleasure. Whilst it may seem self-evident that our tastes and needs do change over our lifetime, if we persist in defining pleasure in terms of the pursuits of youth, we are misleading ourselves.

    Our self-perception can also have a bearing on our experience of older age. How do we define ourselves? What do we believe ourselves to be? If our belief system only allows us to be bodies, then we are severely limiting our self-view and subsequent experience in older age.

    So, in a way, our personal and collective views on older age reveal a lot about our understanding of humanity, and what it means to be human.

    Sources:
    1. The Long Life, by Helen Small,
    2007, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.

    © David R. Durham

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    Dreams

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    Dreams are a never ending source of entertainment and personal insight in our nightly world.

    They offer experiences of fear, joy, running, flying and so on, which feel as real as our experiences in our waking lives.

    C. G. Jung regarded them as offering a hidden doorway from our ego-consciousness mind into the secretive recesses of our psyche. The psyche, that broader and deeper area of our consciousness which predates the formation of our ego-mind.

    Dreams have a highly symbolic format, which may need some thought and assistance to understand. What are they really trying to tell us?

    Sometimes dreams seem to be derived from our cultural mysths and ledgends. At other times they may be our representation of archetypal energies; those patterns of being and behaving, and our perception and responses, through which we live out the drama of our lives.

    In a therapeutic setting, our dreams may well give important insights into our unfolding lives. Here dreams may be created through several layers of our being; from our baser physical needs to our subtler spiritual yearnings.

    Perhaps they are areas of our being that we have cut off from or repressed which are looking for an opportunity to find expression.

    One way of working with our dreams and to reap the rewards of their messages, is to have a dream diary by our bedside. Then we can jot them down before we forget them.

    Interpreting our dreams is very much a personal matter. Dream dictionaries may be a good way to get us started in their interpretation, but this is just a guide and is not definitive.

    Another approach is to engage with our dreams in a conscious way. For instance by re-entering our dream and asking it what this or that means within it. This method can also be used to encourage dreams to develop further and reveal more. This skill may take some practice, and is one of the key abilities of a shaman’s repertoire.

    Sources:
    1. Memories, Dreams & Reflections,
    C. G. Jung,
    1995, Fontana Press, London, UK.

    2. The Transpersonal
    John Rowan,
    2008, Routledge, London, UK.

    © David R. Durham

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