Blindsight: weird phenomenon deepens the mystery of consciousness

Blindsight is a strange phenomenon that sometimes occurs when people have lost sight due to visual cortex damage but still respond to visual stimuli outside of their conscious awareness. New research into blindsight is offering clues, and even more riddles, about how we can "pay attention" outside of what we historically have considered conscious thought. From David Robson's fascinating article in BBC Future:

One of the first tasks (in a recent research effort) was to test exactly what blindsight patients are capable of without their conscious visual awareness – and the results have been quite remarkable. Of particular interest has been the fact that they can sense emotion: when presented with faces, they can tell whether it is happy or sad, angry or surprised, and they even start to unconsciously mimic the expressions. “Even though they did not report anything at a conscious level, we could show a change in attitude, a synchronisation of emotional expressions to the pictures in their blind field,” says (Tilburg University scientist Marco) Tamietto...

Besides mirroring expressions, they also show physiological signs of stress when they see a picture of a frightened face...

In 2008, Tamietto and (blindsight research pioneer Lawrence) Weiskrantz’s team put another blindsight patient through the most gruelling test yet... He was blind across the whole of his visual field, and normally walked with a white cane. But the team took away his cane and then loaded a corridor with furniture that might potentially trip him up, before asking him make his way to the other side.

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Aquarium coral poisons sleeping Alaska families and pets with toxic aerosolized slime


Zoanthid corals are a favorite with aquarium hobbyists -- beautiful and easy to grow (easy being a relative term -- coral's always a pain in the ass). Read the rest

Scientists remove first seeds from ‘doomsday’ Arctic seed vault. Why? War in Syria.

The Global Seed Vault in Norway. REUTERS

The ongoing war in Syria has led researchers to make the first withdrawal of seeds from a "doomsday" vault in an Arctic mountainside, to protect global food supplies. Read the rest

Why you should be very concerned about Greenland's literal meltdown


“NASA-supported researchers have found that ice covering Greenland is melting faster than previously thought. The action is happening out of sight, below the surface.”

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Jesus spotted in a brain scan, but the patient's doctor doesn't see it


A scan of a stroke victim's brain following emergency surgery reveals what her husband claims is a sign of divine intervention. A “figure” in the MRI looked to them both like an apparition of Jesus Christ. Read the rest

Sex probably won't give you a heart attack

"Based on our data, it seems very unlikely that sexual activity is a relevant trigger of heart attack," said Ulm University medical researcher Dr. Dietrich Rothenbache about a new study. From UPI:
In relation to their heart attacks, only 0.7 percent of participants they'd had sex within an hour before their heart attack and more than 78 percent of participants said they hadn't had sex in at least 24 hours before having the heart attack. Based on this, and a total of 100 adverse cardiovascular events among the participants in 10 years of following up with them, researchers said sexual activity does not appear to be a risk factor for heart attack.

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Neil DeGrasse Tyson talks with Edward Snowden


This week on the Startalk podcast, America's best-loved astronomer talks with my favorite whistleblower (MP3). Read the rest

Scientists discover that giraffes "hum" at night


Giraffes aren't known for their vocalizations, a limitation thought to be caused by their long necks, but biologists have know determined that they do "hum" at night. According to cognitive biologist Angela Stöger at the University of Vienna, the animals produce a low frequency hum with "a complex acoustic structure." Hear it below!

"It could be passively produced – like snoring – or produced during a dream-like state – like humans talking or dogs barking in their sleep,” Stöger told New Scientist.

Stöger adds that the hum could also be how giraffes communicate with each other when it's too dark to see.

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What mentally ill animals can teach humans

An increasing amount of scientific evidence suggests that animals, from chimpanzees to coyotes to parrots, can suffer from the same mental illnesses as humans. Understanding the biology behind animal depression, OCD, and PTSD could provide insight into why people suffer from mental illness and how these conditions evolved. From BBC Earth:

In a 2011 study, scientists found signs of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in chimpanzees that had been used in laboratory research, orphaned, trapped by snares, or been part of illegal trade.

Stressful events can even leave marks on animals' genes. In 2014, researchers found that African grey parrots that were housed alone suffered more genetic damage than parrots that were housed in pairs...

"All you can do with animals is to observe them," says (University of Mississippi neurogenetics researcher Eric) Vallender. "Imagine if you could study mental disorders in humans only by observing them. It would be really hard to tell what's going on in their brain."

Faced with these obstacles, scientists have begun looking at animals' genes.

"A lot of mental disorders can be quite different. But what we do know is that they have a very, very strong genetic component to them," says Jess Nithianantharajah of the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health in Melbourne, Australia.

All mental disorders, from depression to schizophrenia, involve abnormal behaviours. Those behaviours are influenced by genes just like other behaviours.

So the idea is to identify genes that can cause abnormal behaviours in humans and other animals. By tracing the origins of these genes, we can trace the origins of mental disorders.

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Scale model of the solar system in Nevada's Black Rock Desert


“On a dry lakebed in Nevada, a group of friends build the first scale model of the solar system with complete planetary orbits: a true illustration of our place in the universe.” A film by Wylie Overstreet and Alex Gorosh [HT: Mark Day]

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Native American Church members fight harassment by authorities


“Peyote Drummer,” photogravure, Edward Sheriff Curtis, 1927.

Editor's note: The Oklevueha Native American Church, or ONAC, is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the legal freedom to observe Native American spiritual traditions. Some of these involve sacramental or medicinal use of various plants: Peyote, Ayahuasca, San Pedro, Cannabis, Mushrooms and others. I am an ONAC member. While law varies state by state, those who grow or use these plants--Native Americans, or otherwise--risk arrest, property confiscation, legal harassment, and police abuse. One of ONAC's members in California was recently arrested, and his property confiscated, shortly after local law enforcement were notified they have no right to do these things. ONAC is holding a press conference today to announce their response. —Xeni Jardin

There will be a press conference today, 2 PM at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel in Santa Rosa California, at 170 Railroad Street.

Noted Constitutional and Civil Rights Lawyer Matt Pappas will be announcing lawsuits and other legal actions against a number of Law Enforcement and County officials and entities.

These legal actions have become necessary because of repeated abuses of power and evidence of collusion by these groups to deprive members of the Native American Church of their Native Ceremonies and Sacraments by raiding their sacred grounds, confiscating their objects of worship and destroying the sacraments and medicines.

All of these items are protected under the 1st, 4th and 14th Amendments to the US Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000. These protections have repeatedly been upheld by numerous court cases around the country including the US Supreme Court, US District Courts and State Supreme Courts. Read the rest

What happens to an astronaut's body during a year in space

NASA astronaut and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko are halfway through the year they are spending in space. Above is a NASA chart with some fun facts about what Kelly will experience.

“I think the legacy of this mission will be based on the science of having us in space for a year,” Kelly said. “The great data we collected, what we learned about being in space for this long and how that will help our journey to Mars someday.”

Below, NASA's mini-documentary "A Year In Space" narrated by Lando, er, Billy Dee Williams:

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Chunk of gallium melts in your hand

A cool addition to my growing cabinet of curiosities.

Sagan, Hawking, and Clarke have a gabfest (1988)


Watch these three guys discuss "God, The Universe and Everything Else," which includes extraterrestrials, creativity, science fiction, education, the Cold War, fractals, and so much more.

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A great brief video introduction to consciousness and its myriad mysteries


Here's what we know, and what we know we don't know, and what we don't know we know, and what we don't know we don't know. Read the rest

New close-ups from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft show off Pluto's mysterious complexity

NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

The New Horizons spacecraft sent back new close-up images of Pluto, and they are stunning. Read the rest

Is the Five Second Rule real?


Paul Dawson, a professor of Food Science at Clemson University, investigated the history of the "Five Second Rule" and ran experiments to see how much bacteria actually transfers from the floor onto dropped food. Read the rest

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