Jan 10, 2018


Why psychedelics like magic mushrooms kill the ego and fundamentally transform the brain

For so long, psychedelics like magic mushrooms and LSD were the domain of hippies of the 60s and 70s, and all the culture that surrounds that demographic: freedom, open-mindedness, willingness to try new things, a friendly and relaxed nature that transcends their own communities.

For decades, this baffled neuroscientists and researchers; they wanted to figure out the scientific basis behind the personality shifts and “spiritual experiences” associated with psychedelic trips.

In one study, researchers found that patients of chronic depression who had been taking antidepressants for years (with little to no improvement in their mental health) reportedly experienced significant decreases of depressive symptoms just one week after taking psilocybin.

Even several months later, they found that these patients still experienced the same improvements.

Why are women accused of witchcraft? Study in rural China gives clue

From medieval witch hunts in Europe to contemporary “witch doctors” in Tanzania, belief in witchcraft has existed across human societies throughout history. Anthropologists have long been fascinated by the phenomenon, but have struggled to study it with quantitative methods – our understanding of how and why it arises is therefore poor.

. . .

Our conclusion is that witch accusation has evolved from competition between households. Labelling may have become a way for people to get ahead of their rivals and gain a competitive advantage in reproduction or resources. However, the sources of competition may be different in different cases.

There are other explanations that may apply too. All around the world conceptions of witchcraft share many common features. For example, middle aged women are the most common victims, and accusations of poisoning are frequently involved. But there are also many differences. Another idea for the origins of witchcraft denunciations is that they are common when patriarchal institutions are trying to establish dominance over matriarchal ones. This could possibly also apply in this case as Buddhism, the most common religion in the area, is more male-dominated whereas the traditional social structure in the region is “matrilineal”, where descent is usually traced through the female line.

How Tuberculosis Symptoms Became Ideals of Beauty in the 19th Century

“Consumption, I am aware, is a flattering malady,” wrote Charlotte Brontë in 1849. But, she continued in regards to her sister, “Anne’s illness has of late assumed a less alarming character than it had in the beginning: the hectic is allayed; the cough gives a more frequent reprieve. Could I but believe she would live two years — a year longer, I should be thankful: I dreaded the terrors of the swift messenger which snatched Emily from us, as it seemed, in a few days.”

Anne would die in 1849, at the age of 29; Emily had died in 1848, at the age of 30, both from what is now recognized as tuberculosis. But why was such a deadly fate ever considered “flattering,” as Charlotte noted? The strange entwining of the symptoms of tuberculosis with women’s fashion in the late 18th to mid-19th centuries is explored in Carolyn A. Day’s Consumptive Chic: A History of Beauty, Fashion, and Disease, recently released by Bloomsbury Academic.

“How is it possible that a disease characterized by coughing, emaciation, relentless diarrhea, fever, and the expectoration of phlegm and blood became not only a sign of beauty, but also a fashionable disease?” Day, an assistant professor at Furman University in South Carolina, asks in an introduction. In the subsequent pages of her slim book, illustrated with fashion plates and examples of corsets and dresses that emphasized emaciated collar bones and encouraged a stooped posture, Day explores the evolution of the scientific understanding of tuberculosis, along with its influence on beauty. She concentrates on the years between 1780 and 1850, when at its peak tuberculosis caused around 25 percent of deaths in Europe, even as it was glamorized.

Australian Hawks Caught Starting Fires to Force Prey Into Wide Open Spaces

Bob Gosford is an Australian lawyer and bird lover who stumbled on an odd quest one day when he read an account of an indigenous Australian who watched a hawk apparently use a burning twig to spread fire. Gosford was fascinated and wondered whether others had seen the same phenomenon—and he and his co-authors have now tracked down 20 more examples that they share in a recent paper published in the Journal of Ethnobiology.

The paper comes in response to skepticism about the behavior. Gosford and his co-authors found evidence that this behavior was well known to indigenous cultures and to firefighters. They believe the raptors are spreading fires to scare prey out of hiding and make it easier to catch dinner. The birds in question are black kites, whistling kites, and brown falcons, all birds of prey found in Australia (black kites are also found in Europe, Africa, and Asia and may be the single most common raptor).

One of the co-authors on the paper claims that as a firefighter in the 1980s, he extinguished seven separate fires he watched a whistling kite light. The behavior has never been caught on film, but the team wants to change that this year. They've reached out to local fire managers to try encourage them to record bird behavior near flames.

Oxygen is Disappearing From the World's Oceans at an Alarmingly Rapid Pace

The ocean is running out of oxygen at a rapid speed—and the depletion could choke to death much of the marine life these waters support. A sweeping review published Thursday in Science documented the causes, consequences and solutions to what is technically called “deoxygenation.” They discovered a four-to-tenfold increase in areas of the ocean with little to no oxygen, which researchers say is alarming because half of Earth’s oxygen originates from the ocean.

Oxygen is crucial for marine life in the oceans. Without oxygen, marine life will die off or relocate. “Animal life in the ocean needs oxygen to breathe,” Lisa Levin, study co-author and biological oceanographer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, told Newsweek. “If we want a healthy ocean, we need an ocean with oxygen in it.”

The team of scientists is from the United Nations Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission’s working group, created in 2016 and called the Global Ocean Oxygen Network. They noted that the amount of water in the open ocean without oxygen has quadrupled in 50 years. It is more than twice as bad for coastal waters, such as estuaries and seas. In those sites, low-oxygen areas have increased tenfold since 1950. This paper is the first to look at both ocean and coastal waters, which are often studied separately.

Light shed on mystery space radio pulses

Fast radio bursts (FRB) are one of the most persistent puzzles in astronomy. While usually short-lived, one source in the sky was sending out repeated flashes.

Now, a team says the emission may be caused by a dead star located in a very powerful magnetic environment.

Details were reported here at the 231st American Astronomical Society meeting.

The first FRB was discovered in 2007, in archived data from the Parkes Radio Telescope in Australia. Astronomers were searching for new examples of magnetised neutron stars called pulsars, but found a new phenomenon - a radio burst from 2001.

Sexuality, race, and gender: 3 explosive insights about America’s 100 largest churches

Last October, evangelicalism was rocked by the launch of ChurchClarity.org, an organization that reports churches’ LGBTQ+ policies and rates congregations based on their level of clarity. The website angered Christians on both sides of the issue. Some conservatives attacked the CC’s liberal leadership, while some progressives claimed that labeling churches undermined progress.

Nevertheless, Church Clarity persisted.

Over the past two months, CC published scores for 500 congregations and have 700 more in the pipeline. But today, they announced their most significant accomplishment to date: a detailed analysis of America’s 100 largest churches. Using Outreach Magazine’s popular annual list, CC’s staff uncovered three explosive insights about America’s mega-churches.

New Whistleblower Site FaithLeaks Releases Confidential Documents About Child Sexual Abuse in Jehovah’s Witnesses Community

The founders of MormonLeaks, a transparency organization that has released hundreds of controversial documents related to inner-workings of the Mormon Church, recently launched FaithLeaks, an ambitious and far-reaching project that aims to expose corruption and abuse across other religious organizations. Today, the new group has published dozens of pages of documents related to sexual assault allegations within the Jehovah’s Witness Church, documents which are presumably part of a database that church officials have refused to relinquish in an unrelated sexual molestation trial, resulting in a one and a half year legal battle and millions of dollars in fines.

The 69 pages of documents detail how Jehovah’s Witnesses authorities and church officials handled allegations of repeated sexual assault by one of its local leaders. The interviews and detailed notes compiled by church authorities about molestation and rape allegations are horrific. The 33 documents also provide a staggering play-by-play of how the Watchtower Tract and Bible Society—the parent corporation and governing body for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, often simply referred to as “the Watchtower”—handled the case internally over the course of nearly a decade—playing therapist, prosecutor, jury, and judge—and the lengths to which they went to keep these accusations away from the “worldly court of law.”

The documents show that in 1999, a committee of Jehovah’s Witnesses elders found allegations from two women that their father had sexually abused them to be credible, yet held off on forming an internal judicial committee to take their own form of judicial action against the alleged abuser because one of the daughters was not willing to face the father and formally make the accusations against him, as judicial committee policy requires. Once she went through with the process years later, a spiritually guided trial was held and he was disfellowshipped. However, a year later he was reinstated. The documents show that Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders cast shade on one accuser and her husband for trying to take this matter to secular law enforcement.

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