These 5 Common Myths About Space Will Make You Question Everything You’ve Been Taught In School

These 5 Common Myths About Space Will Make You Question Everything You’ve Been Taught In School

While most of you have probably dreamed about being in outer space and being awed by different planets and suns, the truth is that most of what we know about space has come from Hollywood movies and science fiction shows. There’s a lot more to know, and science is only scratching the surface to find what lies out there.

Watch this video to see 5 common myths about space.

Astronomers Observe Strange Quantum Distortion in Empty Space for the First Time Ever

Astronomers Observe Strange Quantum Distortion in Empty Space for the First Time Ever

A team of scientists from INAF Milan and the University of Zielona Gora have observed a remarkable first ever vacuum birefringence. The Vacuum birefringence is a strange quantum phenomenon that had never been observed through a Very Large Telescope (VLT), only observed on an atomic scale.

It’s a phenomenon described when a neutron star is surrounded by an intense magnetic field that rises to a region in an empty space where matter randomly appears and vanishes.

A research team lead by Roberto Mignani were able to observe neutron star RX J1856.5 – 375 using the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT). Neutron stars are not strongly visible but are 10 times bigger than our sun and have significantly strong magnetic fields percolating their surface and surroundings. The neutron star RX J1856.5 – 375 is about 400 light years from Earth.

According to Einstein and Newton, vacuums are empty spaces where light can pass through unchanged. However, research shows that space is full of virtual particles popping in and out of existence and strong magnetic fields such as the surrounding neutron stars, are capable of changing such vacuums.

Using the VLT, researchers were able to push the known limits of a telescope and explore deeper on neutron stars. Using the FOR2 instrument on the VLT, neutron stars were able to be seen with just visible light. Analyzing this data, researchers found the linear polarization occurring at a significant degree of approximately 16%, which is most likely due to the strange vacuum birefringence in the area around RX J1856.5 – 375.

Robert Mignani describes “The high linear polarization that we measured with the VLT can’t be easily explained by our models unless the vacuum birefringence effects predicted by QED are included”. Mignani is confident that future telescopes will provide detailed answers about similar strange quantum effects surrounding neutron stars.

Originally published on The Power of Ideas.

Mindfulness As Effective As CBT For Psych Disorders

Mindfulness As Effective As CBT For Psych Disorders

Mindfulness group therapy may be just as effective as individual cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for treating a wide range of psychiatric symptoms, including those related to anxiety and depression, according to a study published in the journal European Psychiatry. Over the course of eight weeks, Swedish researchers studied 215 men and women with depression, anxiety, and… (more…)

Neuroscience Learns What Buddhism Has Known For Ages: Consciousness is Everywhere

Neuroscience Learns What Buddhism Has Known For Ages: Consciousness is Everywhere

A new theory in neuroscience suggests consciousness is an intrinsic property of everything, just like gravity.

The theory, called Integrated Information Theory, states that consciousness appears in physical systems that contain many different and highly interconnected pieces of information. Based on that hypothesis, consciousness can be measured as a theoretical quantity, which the researchers call phi.

The theory treats consciousness as an intrinsic, fundamental property of reality.

Buddhists have a similar belief in what we in the West call ‘panpsychism’ — the belief that consciousness is everywhere and that we have to reduce the suffering of all conscious creatures.

The idea of universal consciousness

The idea of universal consciousness, is a prominent thought in Buddhism. And it has been largely dismissed by modern science — until recently.

There are already pressing and practical needs for a way to measure consciousness. Doctors could use phi to tell if a person in a vegetative state is effectively dead, how much awareness a person with dementia has, when a foetus develops consciousness, how much animals perceive, or even whether a computer can feel.

This is perhaps the more urgent task with the birth of computer intelligence. We need to be able to answer the question of whether a machine is conscious. Does it feel anything? If so, what rights does it have? What will be our ethical obligations towards it?

These may seem arcane questions, but as machine intelligence gets more sophisticated we’ll need to have a rigorous ethical framework to answer these questions. Integrated Information Theory may just offer us this approach.

For a perspective on how systems can acquire consciousness, see the idea on Ideapod, If Consciousness Emerges From Physical Systems, It Will Emerge From Artificial Systems Too. There’s a flourishing conversation happening around the post.

Originally published on The Power of Ideas.