Harvard Scientists Think They’ve Pinpointed the Physical Source of Consciousness

Harvard Scientists Think They’ve Pinpointed the Physical Source of Consciousness

Human consciousness is perhaps one of the most complicated puzzles that scientists have been struggling to put together for ages. Even though we’ve advanced an incredible amount in science, we still have yet to get a grasp on it. But believe it or not, scientists may have pinpointed the physical origins of human consciousness.

There are three regions that are coming out as crucial to consciousness. A team of researchers at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre at Harvard Medical School have been working hard to pin it down.

Michael Fox, a lead researcher, said, “For the first time, we have found a connection between the brainstem region involved in arousal and regions involved in awareness, two prerequisites for consciousness.” He went on to say, “A lot of pieces of evidence all came together to point to this network playing a role in human consciousness.”

Science says that consciousness is made up of arousal and awareness. It has already been shown that arousal is normally regulated by the brainstem or the portion of the brain that is connected to the spinal cord. It helps us sleep and wake up using our breathing and heart rate. Awareness hasn’t been as easy to pin down.

For quite a while, scientists thought that it might lay somewhere within the outer layer of the brain known as the cortex. But much to their surprise, two cortex regions in the brain are appearing to work as a team in order to make up human consciousness.

But how did they figure this out?

Well, 36 patients in a hospital with brain lesions were studied. 12 of them were unconscious or in a coma and 24 of them were conscious. They were analyzed to figure out why some patients had stayed conscious while others were unconscious, though they had similar injuries.

The rostral dorsolateral pontine tegmentum is a small area of the brainstem and was found to be associated with unconsciousness. 10 our or 12 unconscious individuals had damage in this area of the brain where only 1 out of the 24 conscious patients did. This means that this portion of the brain is important when it comes to consciousness.

Researchers then looked at the connectome, also known as a brain map, to see all the various connections in our brains. Two specific areas were connected to the rostral dorsolateral pontine tegmentum. One of them was located in the ventral anterior insula and the other in the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex. In previous studies, both these areas have been known to play some part in arousal and awareness, but never before had they been connected to the brainstem.

More studies were conducted, all with the same conclusions:

“This is the most relevant if we can use these networks as a target for brain stimulation for people with disorders of consciousness,” said Michael Fox. This study could eventually lead to new treatments for individuals who are in comas or those who have healthy brains and can’t regain consciousness.

“If we zero in on the regions and network involved, can we someday wake someone up who is in a persistent vegetative state? That’s the ultimate question.”

This research could lead to a whole new world of possibilities in medical science.

Who knows? Maybe someday we’ll be able to cure someone who’s been in a coma for years. But for now, this is the beginning of exciting new medical developments in science.

7 incredible TED talks that explain how Big Data is changing the world

7 incredible TED talks that explain how Big Data is changing the world

Over the last 15 years, the emergence of Big Data has been perhaps the single largest change in how business is done. It’s important for everyone to understand what it is and how it’s changing the world.

Early on, companies struggled to create the basic infrastructure that was needed to make Big Data a reality.

Now, the infrastructure is being put into place, the data is being collected and rapid changes to how society functions are on the way.

Here are 7 TED talks on big data that are required watching for anyone interested in how big data will have a vast impact o the future direction of technology and society.

1) Susan Etlinger: “What Do We Do With All This Big Data?”

The question of what exactly to do with data is a problem that has stood out for more than a decade now. Data are arriving at a greater velocity, and from a greater number of sources, than ever before. However, truly ‘operationalizing’ it at the corporate or individual level is still a challenging process. Even highly informed decision-makers can misunderstand data and apply their biases to it. Susan Etlinger, a leading data analyst with Altimeter Group, urges a reassessment of how we truly make meaning from data sets.

2) Kenneth Cukier: “Bigger Data is Better Data”

Now that the Big Data transformation is truly underway, data will always be growing — never shrinking. This places enormous responsibility upon data analysts, of course, but also opens the door to technological advances that were unthinkable as little as a decade ago. Beginning with the example of self-driving cars, Kenneth Cukier — Data Editor of the venerable Economist — connects the dots to understand how Big Data will drive continued technological change. The intersection between Big Data and machine learning may produce unexpected benefits.

3) David McCandless: “The Beauty of Data Visualization”

For data to be of value to ordinary individuals, it must be visualized in some form. When data are visualized effectively, it becomes easier to process and act on. Even the most complex data — such as that involving military spending — can be transmuted into a new format. This allows people to make more intuitive and effective decisions. But, as data journalist David McCandless shows, the benefits do not end there. By using the power of visualization, data can indeed become beautiful.

4) Jennifer Golbeck: “The Curly Fry Conundrum”

Billions of people all over the world spend time engaging in social media every day. During this time, they might do all kinds of things online they don’t think twice about. It can be likened to mindlessly eating curly fries. Through the power of Big Data however, businesses derive a tremendous amount of information from even the most innocuous online behavior. In this talk, computer scientist Jennifer Golbeck draws back the curtain to demonstrate the power of these data points.

5) Deb Roy: “The Birth of a Word”

Deb Roy is an MIT researcher who focuses on cognitive science, particularly big questions on how children learn languages. To bring his understanding to the next level— and develop new insights that might aid in language learning for machines — he recorded 90,000 hours of footage chronicling every aspect of his infant son’s life. This talk is the result of searching that footage, more than 3,750 days’ worth, and synthesizing his findings into less than 20 minutes.

6) Glenn Greenwald: “Why Privacy Matters”

In the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations on the scope of U.S. government surveillance, former Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald became one of the most controversial figures in the mainstream media. This TED talk comes from Greenwald’s years of tireless work analyzing, commenting on and publicizing those revelations. In it, he advocates for the idea that privacy matters to everyone, even if you are not doing anything wrong.

7) Mallory Soldner: “Your Company’s Data Could Help World Hunger”

Business often focuses on the ways Big Data can be monetized. Cutting costs or improving sales are the end goals for the vast majority of commercial forays into Big Data. However, that data is so foundational to the people and experiences it describes, that it could be used for much greater purposes. Self-described ‘data activist’ Mallory Soldner puts this into perspective. Her talk shows how data collected by corporations can be applied to make powerful, lasting changes to long-standing humanitarian issues — often much more quickly than anyone would expect.

Data science is not about data alone, but about how we conceptualize data to make it an effective decision-making tool. Even experienced, educated data scientists must be careful not to take logical ‘shortcuts’ —actions that can make data seem intuitive while obscuring deeper and more significant meanings. This may become the central challenge of data science in coming years.

This article was inspired by a post on Rutgers University.

Stephen Hawking Has A Beautiful Message For Anyone Who Suffers From Depression

Stephen Hawking Has A Beautiful Message For Anyone Who Suffers From Depression

This is incredibly inspiring from Stephen Hawking.

Even though he usually speaks about physics and the forces that govern the Universe, he decided to turn his intelligence to help those in need.

At a packed lecture theater, he had these words to say to those who are suffering with depression:

“The message of this lecture is that black holes ain’t as black as they are painted. They are not the eternal prisons they were once thought.

“Things can get out of a black hole both on the outside and possibly to another universe. So if you feel you are in a black hole, don’t give up – there’s a way out…

“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at.

“It matters that you don’t just give up.”

As a man who has overcome such incredible obstacles and lived such a brave and amazing life, this advice couldn’t come from a better place.

Originally published on The Power of Ideas.

Harvard scientist believes he may have figured out how to stop the aging process

Harvard scientist believes he may have figured out how to stop the aging process

Can you imagine the profound shift in how we understand the human condition if someone actually figures out how to reverse the aging process?

One researcher at Harvard believes he has struck upon the answer and claims to have found a way to halt the aging process in mice.

Dr. David Sinclair from Harvard Medical School says that he has found a molecule that can reverse aging in mice:

“They drink it and we see that within a week they start to run further. And then we look at their organs and those are rejuvenated as well.”

This is incredibly exciting and yet concerning at the same time. The short version of telling the story of the research is that we allegedly have a protein in our systems which when we’re young repairs any damage to our DNA.

But as we get older, a new kind of protein blocks this original one, resulting in damage to our DNA which gives us the characteristics of being old.

Dr. Sinclair believes he’s found a molecule which goes between these proteins, resulting in the DNA repair process working again.

At present, he’s only seen this process working in mice and much work needs to be undertaken to be able to apply these findings to humans.

Of course, if this was to happen, would you ever want to be immortal? Do you want to live for hundreds or even thousands of years?

What if you could reverse the effects of aging, but we still had diseases like Alzheimer’s Disease? We may be able to prolong our life but not our quality of life.

Even if we could address these concerns, the question remains whether you want to go on living or whether you’ll lose your zest for life over time.

Finally, the reality is that if this treatment is available it will first be used by the rich. Will we see a situation where the rich improve the quality of their genes before others, resulting in a a society not only unequal in opportunity but also in genetics?

There is a lot to consider in the development of medicine that can reverse the course of aging. What do you think of extending our lifespans to live forever? Let us know in the comments.

11 Little Known Laws of Mindfulness That Will Change the Way You Live Your Life

11 Little Known Laws of Mindfulness That Will Change the Way You Live Your Life

Ever heard of mindful living? It’s become incredibly popular in recent years thanks to countless scientific research studies showing its benefits.

The truth is, mindfulness practice has been around for centuries thanks to spiritual teacher Gautama Buddha, who founded Buddhism.

The basis of mindfulness is being aware of what’s happening in the present moment without judging it or wishing it were different.

While the practice offers many benefits, you need to consistently keep at it to reap the rewards.

Below we’ll talk about the 11 principles of mindfulness so you can adopt them in your daily life.

1) Your only reality is THIS MOMENT, right here, right now.

This famous quote from Buddha sums up this principle best: “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”

The past is an illusion. The future hasn’t arrived. The only thing that’s real is what’s happening right now.

2) A negative thought is harmless unless you believe it.

Thoughts come and go all the time. It’s natural. Suffering occurs when we attach ourselves to our thoughts. The reality is, our thoughts don’t really mean anything and they’re not who we are. When you take a step and observe your thoughts from a distance, you realize that if you’re observing them, then they can’t be you. Eckhart Tolle says it best:

“What a liberation to realize that the “voice in my head” is not who I am. Who am I then? The one who sees that.”

3) You will not be punished for your anger, you will punished by it.

We all get angry from time to time, but acting on this anger rarely results in something positive. It’s easy to get angry, but true courage involves doing something productive about it. When you realize that the present moment is all we have,  you’ll come to understand that life is too short to spend time being upset and angry.

As Lao Tzu said:

“The best fighter is never angry.”

4)  Inner peace is knowing how to belong to oneself, without external validation.

Many people are concerned about what other people think of them. But you don’t look to others to find yourself. You are who you are and what others think about you doesn’t make a difference to that. Osho provides some inspirational advice to not care what other people think of you:

“Nobody can say anything about you. Whatsoever people say is about themselves. But you become very shaky, because you are still clinging to a false center. That false center depends on others, so you are always looking to what people are saying about you. And you are always following other people, you are always trying to satisfy them. You are always trying to be respectable, you are always trying to decorate your ego. This is suicidal. Rather than being disturbed by what others say, you should start looking inside yourself…

Whenever you are self-conscious you are simply showing that you are not conscious of the self at all. You don’t know who you are. If you had known, then there would have been no problem— then you are not seeking opinions. Then you are not worried what others say about you— it is irrelevant!

Your very self-consciousness indicates that you have not come home yet.”

5) Everything is created twice, first in your mind and then in your life.

Our brains are powerful instruments and they create the world around us. And the truth is that you won’t act unless your brain knows what you’re doing. So have your plans and goals in place, and then take action.

“The future depends on what you do today.” – Mahatma Gandhi

6) We ourselves must walk the path.

Life comes with many challenges and adversities for everyone, but the one thing with have control over is how much effort and willpower we put into something. We can’t attach our happiness or success towards outside objects. It all lies within us.

“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” – Buddha

7) To strongly believe in something, and not live it, is dishonest.

Don’t bend to what “society” wants you to be. Don’t change who you are so other people will accept you. It’s important to be authentic and follow your heart. Characterize yourself by your actions and you will never be fooled by other people’s words.

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” – Dr. Seuss

8) The right path and the easy path are rarely the same path.

You’ll eventually come to realize that struggle is what makes you grow, and it’s always worth it. While every step may be tough, it will lead you to where you want to go. Just because something seems difficult doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. In fact, it’s all the more reason to chase your goals.

“Those who have failed to work toward the truth have missed the purpose of living.” – Buddha

9) If you want the benefits of something in life, you have to also want the costs.

So many people ask themselves questions like “what am I passionate about?” to find their purpose in life. However, a better question is “what is worth suffering for?” This will help you find what you truly want to do, and your life will be more fulfilling because of it.

Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at the moment.” – Eckhart Tolle

10) Over-committing is the antithesis of living a peaceful, mindful life.

So many of us have a massive to-do lists filled with tasks that we couldn’t possibly finish in one day. We think we have to be busy all the time. However, sometimes it can be more rewarding to focus on one task at a time and mindfully be absorbed by it. We also need time to rest and appreciate the beauty of life.

“You must learn to let go. Release the stress. You were never in control anyway.” – Steve Maraboli

11) When you try to control too much, you enjoy too little.

As human beings, what is it that’s so alluring about control? We desire the certainty and comfort. The irony is that there is actually no such thing as control. We are never in control. Ever. The sooner we grasp this and learn to go with the flow a little more, the easier life will be.

Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.” – Chinese Proverb

Originally published on The Power of Ideas.