Life Long Learning

Recently someone asked me about my learning mode preference. We learn through a variety of modalities: what we see, hear, and feel, constructed into patterns that provide us tools for transforming our relationships and our world for our benefit. I would suggest that mostly, “our benefit” means that we get a ‘kick’ out of the new or novel thing that we find. Psycho-pharmocology would suggests this ‘kick’ comes from a production of dopamine which is based in our brain as a response to immediate success. Dopamine is disinterested. It can be activated by the success of a baby learning to stand, a scientist seeing the breathrough data, a gamer winning a video game, or just directly as a chemical interaction on the brain. My many fortunate years as a learner, but not as a master of any field of learning, has given me a particular view on learning. I haven’t fully worked through this view, so I am writing it here as it came to me as I began answering this question.

As a keen science follower, there are two sources that I access regularly

CSIRO NEWS & EDUCATION
The Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) performs research over a large number of fields from health to agriculture to new materials and technologies to environment to space.

The CSIRO publishes a regular update of the latest findings and research in an easy-to-read format: News or Blogs.  Often the reports show the practical value of the research. The health reports can be particularly helpful because it is explained in a manner that can be easily applied to our lifestyle eg Starch resistant Foods are good for you.

ABC Science
The popular Australian public broadcaster has a science department that also follows the latest worldwide developments in all scientific fields. http://www.abc.net.au/science/

Me as a Learner.
I’m primarily an auditory learner. Story gets me more than any other modality. I can often remember a good story years afterwards. I am also a great reader. However, these modalities build up a knowledge library. And the storage comes with the inspiration I find in the knowledge. Then I find that I can move knowledge around to look at various patterns, looking for new insights. So I think I have a good ‘pattern-making’ system. I think this is learnt through a combination of inherent talent and learning reward that comes with the ‘kick’ probably a dopamine hit in the brain, when i find something novel. In career, though, I am a physiotherapist and have now worked with bodies, mine and others for 34 years now. In particular I can now see many things about movement at a glance and I have a very sensitive touch from light to strong pressure or movement responses. That is a learning that begins with a newness in knowledge, visualisation, observation, and physical interaction and grows as an integration and development of all those aspects. Having, as an older person, become involved in game, play, and dance, and actively looking at the nature of my own ‘being’ in the world, I have found that there are many places of learning kinaesthetically, visually, and socially. I call them the places of tension, and I think across any modality a good way to learn is find the beginning of the tension, where the ability wavers but doesn’t fall down. I got an insight to that by joining a beginners singing class with Kirsten Cottone of Talent Quests Australia  , so that, at 56 I find my singing voice is improving quite a lot. Meanwhile I dance everyday in my own training and in that look closely at how my body is performing. Having come to dance in my 50’s, even as a physiotherapist I am also surprised to find how my body is becoming more trainable and my ability to make distinctions of movement improves.

CSIRO Snapshot

These articles from CSIRO Snapshot. Subscribe here.

A breath test for malaria

It may not have the ferocity of a lion or the killer instinct of a shark, but there’s a fair argument to be made that the humble mozzie is the world’s top killer. In 2013 alone, half a million people died from malaria. Thankfully, a collaborative team working with our scientists have identified a distinct chemical in the breath of malaria sufferers, making future detection as easy as a breath test.

Read about this new detection method on our blog.

Chocolate bunny

Nanotech prize a first for women in science

A nanoparticle is one billionth of a metre. It might be hard to appreciate how small that is but our resident nanoscientist Amanda Barnard understands this “invisible” world. So it’s no wonder that the Foresight Institute announced Amanda as this year’s awardee of the prestigious 2014 Feynman Prize for Nanotechnology (Theory) – it’s like the Nobel Prize of the nanoscience world. Not only is Amanda the first Australian in the Prize’s 22-year history to win the award, she’s also the first woman, shining a much-needed spotlight on the achievements of women in science.

Read about Amanda’s outstanding achievement on our blog.

Science Stuff May 2015

Extreme weather

Sydney storm

Sydney storm

How can we predict extreme weather events like the Sydney storm in Australia last week?

The wild storm that hit Sydney was the result of a weather system called an east coast low.

East coast lows are intense low pressure systems that form off the eastern coast of Australia. They can bring intense winds, flooding events, severe thunderstorms and unusual inland snowfalls. They can cause damage to coastal infrastructure and wreck or beach ships.

The problem is that these systems are hard to predict. They can form very rapidly and they will often form at night.

Lloyds Register Foundation funded research to help predict these extreme events by looking at ocean temperatures.

They supported researchers to study these events, including the east coast low that brought the massive coal ship, the Pasha Bulker, to ground at Newcastle in 2007.

Chris Chambers works on the project, and says ocean eddies are large features in the ocean that contain huge amounts of warm water. “They rotate and move gradually southward down the coast bringing warm water in huge pockets to the regions just offshore. Each of these pockets provides an enormous source of heat and water vapour to the atmosphere.”

“Next to one of these warm eddies there might be a cold eddy. This means that the ocean temperatures might change very quickly over a short distance. This also has an effect on the atmosphere and can strongly affect the rainfall.”

Researchers are now working on improved models of ocean eddies. Simulations of these eddies might tell us when to expect an east coast low.

Name Pluto

Pluto

The New Horizons spacecraft has begun sending back images of the much loved dwarf planet. As it gets closer, we will see features on Pluto’s surface for the first time. Craters, canyons, mountains will appear in New Horizons’ images. But what shall we call them?

A crowd-sourced naming campaign held by NASA and SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) let people vote on a long list of possible names.

Space archaeologist Dr Alice Gorman from Flinders University says, “It’s a wonderful way to get people involved in space exploration.” She believes that “it’s kind of opening it up and making the solar system more democratic.”

As Pluto is the Roman god of the underworld, so the themes for its names are exploration and the underworld.

Alice says there are some good options to choose from including a Yolngu word, Baralku. “It’s the name of the island of the dead in Yolngu culture, which is in northern Australia in Arnhem Land” she says.

“I’m impressed with the more than 40 000 thoughtful submissions,” said Mark Showalter from the SETI Institute, which is hosting the naming website, www.ourpluto.org. “Every day brings new lessons in the world’s history, literature and mythology. Participation has come from nearly every country on Earth, so this really is a worldwide campaign.”

On 14 July, New Horizons will pass Pluto at a speed of around 50 000 kilometres per hour. It will take thousands of images and then beam them back to Earth. At a distance of around 6 billion kilometres from Earth, it will take approximately 4.5 hours for data to get back home.

Scats track quokka cuisine

Quokka

Even though it has the cutest smile in the marsupial world, quokkas still need a good supply of food, water and rest spots to survive.

The biggest population of these adorable marsupials live on Rottnest Island off the coast of Perth in Western Australia.

To help these furry friends, researchers from Western Australian have mapped the plants they like to eat and the places they like to sleep on the island.

“The Rottnest Island population is resource limited,” says researcher Patricia Fleming. “It is likely that loss of a key plant species will alter the carrying capacity of the island.”

Quokkas eat grass, leaves, seeds and roots. To find out the exact plants they eat, researchers collected quokka poo from 210 places on the island and took it back to the lab to dry out and be studied.

After a close look, they found that the quokka diet has changed since it was last studied, 50 years ago. Fire, human influences and the quokkas themselves have all changed the plants that grow on the island.

Patricia also found out where quokkas like to rest – they prefer dense, abundant shrubs for shelter. These comfy spots are especially important at the end of summer when the cold nights arrive – a tough time of the year for a quokka.

This information will help land managers make sure Rottnest Island remains home for quokkas by planting what they like to eat and protecting the places they like to rest.

Scientists revive Brontosaurus

Brontosaurus

The history of the Brontosaurus is long and colourful. Over 100 years ago, there was a race to discover new dinosaurs, known as ‘the bone wars’. Paleontologist O.C. Marsh found many new dinosaurs during this time – in 1877 he described the Apatosaurus and in 1879, the Brontosaurus was greeted as a newly found dinosaur.

Several years later, Marsh’s evidence was revised. Scientists compared both dinosaurs to a new skeleton. They came to the conclusion that all three dinosaurs were the same species. Since Apatosaurus was named first, the name Brontosaurus was relegated to the dustbin.

For 100 years, scientists thought Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus were the same dinosaur. But recently, old information regarding the Brontosaurus has been formally re-assessed.

The researchers studied the evolutionary relationship of different dinosaurs using their remaining fossil bones. They found conclusive evidence that Brontosaurus is distinct from Apatosaurus and can now be reinstated as its own unique genus.

Science is a constantly changing subject, not just a dusty pile of old facts. The Brontosaurus’ resurrection is an example of how new research can change previously accepted science.

Biggest ever asteroid impact found in Australia

asteroid_impact

Deep underground in the centre of Australia is evidence of the biggest asteroid impact in the Earth’s history

It wasn’t just a single impact, but a twin strike from a meteorite that may have split into two as it plummeted towards Earth.

Researchers unexpectedly found signs of the collisions in the middle of Australia, at the tripoint where South Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory meet. They were drilling almost two kilometres into the Earth’s surface, investigating the geothermal energy in the area.

The drill core they pulled out contained traces of rocks that had turned to glass, a sign of the extreme temperature and pressure caused by a major impact.

The exact date of the event remains unclear. The surrounding rocks are 300 to 600 million years old.

The researcher who found the craters, Andrew Glikson, says it’s all very much a mystery. “We can’t find an extinction event that matches these collisions. I have a suspicion the impacts could be older than 300 million years,” he says.

“There are two huge deep domes in the crust, formed by the Earth’s crust rebounding after the huge impacts, and bringing up rock from the mantle below,” says Andrew.

The two impact zones total more than 400 kilometres across, in the Warburton Basin in Central Australia. “The two asteroids must each have been over 10 kilometres across,” says Andrew.

Robots explore underwater volcano

Pumicerock

When mysterious lumps of pumice stone washed up on beaches in Tasmania, Australia, Rebecca Carey knew that they must be coming from an underwater volcano.

Rebecca is a Tasmanian volcanologist (someone who studies volcanos), and she had been tracking the travelling pumice for more than a year. She knew these large chunks of floating solidified magma were coming from a huge underwater volcanic eruption around 1000 kilometres north of Auckland.

The eruption was first noticed by a plane passenger who saw large rafts of pumice floating on the water.

Rebecca is now travelling to the volcano that produced the pumice, aboard US ship Roger Revelle, to find out more about its eruption. Researchers are keen to take a closer look as we know little about deep underwater volcanic magma eruptions.

“We are interested in how those pumice particles are transported once they leave the vent,” says Rebecca.

Rebecca says the team will use two robots to find out more about the Havre volcanic eruption. One is an autonomous underwater vehicle, called Sentry. The other is a remotely operated vehicle, called Jason.

Sentry is equipped with sonar, cameras, and chemical and magnetic sensors. It will float around, mapping the site and keeping itself out of trouble.

Jason will allow scientists on the ship to access the seafloor remotely. Scientists will pilot Jason down to the ocean bed to collect samples of rock, sediment and marine life.

While the scientists are learning about volcanos, they want you to follow the exploration, and ask questions along the way.

“We have a website which will report our activities and findings in real time, by posting photos of everyday life on the ship and videos of the footage the robots recover.” says Rebecca. “School children are encouraged to follow our voyage online and they will be able to ask the scientists questions.”

Space weather on Friday the 13th

Weeather_space

A minor geomagnetic storm was forecast for around midday (Australia time) Friday the 13 of March. The storm is a result of three solar flares from the Sun that occurred earlier this week.

The coronal mass ejections from these solar flares may strike a glancing blow to the Earth this Friday, according to scientists from the Space Weather Prediction Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States.

Coronal mass ejections are bursts of gas and magnetic fields that are released from the Sun. It takes a coronal mass ejection, on average, 98 hours to reach the Earth.

We don’t feel the effect of a solar flare here on the Earth’s surface because we are protected by the atmosphere and the Earth’s magnetic field. But intense solar flares can disturb high altitude satellites, including geostationary communications satellites and the GPS constellation.

Will these solar flares disrupt our technology and leave us without our Friday night plan? Probably not, as the solar flares observed this week were a tenth of the size of the most intense flares.

They may, however, produce a strong aurora near the North and South Poles. So if you are anywhere near the poles, Friday night could be a good time to turn your head towards the sky.

Science Stuff

LEDBLUE IS THE NEW COLOUR

Not all lights were created equal. Some lights use more energy than others to create a glow. Incandescent globes shine white hot, wasting a lot of electricity as heat. Fluorescent lights use much less electricity, but better still are light emitting diodes, or LEDs.

LEDs are responsible for the light behind lots of computer screens, smartphones and other devices. They are very efficient, creating a lot of light for only a small amount of electricity. The Nobel Prize in Physics this year was awarded for the invention of blue LEDs to Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amano, both from Japan, as well as Shuji Nakamura,spiderr from the United States.

Why blue? For 30 years, blue LEDs were the missing part of the puzzle. After red LEDs were invented, green ones soon followed. But blue was tricky, and without blue, we couldn’t make white light. White is made from the three primary colours of light – red, blue and green.

Eventually, scientists cracked the problem and created blue LEDs. They did it by growing crystals of a chemical called gallium nitride. That was made only 20 years ago, but already blue LEDs have become part of the devices many of us use each day.

The best thing about bright LEDs is that they need so little electricity to run. That makes it easy for them to be powered by solar energy. Cheap solar panel torches can give light to the 1.5 billion people in the world who live without access to an electricity grid. It can allow them to read, cook,  work and walk around safely after dark.

Many of us take light for granted. How many lights surround you right now? About a quarter of the world’s electricity is used to make light. If we switched to low-energy LEDs, we could make a real difference to the environment. Now that’s a brighter future.

Volcanoes

Our planet is not all it seems. Based on the soil at our feet, we might imagine that the world is rock and dirt all the way down. But what we can see is just the crust of Earth: the outer surface. Beneath is hot, flowing rock called the mantle.

Compare Earth to a hard-boiled egg. The egg’s shell is Earth’s crust, and the white layer of egg is Earth’s mantle. This is a handy model, but even the shell of an egg is too thick to represent the crust – that’s how thin it is compared with the rest of Earth.

We can see signs of the mantle in volcanoes, where the flowing rock from this hidden part of the planet rises to the surface. Underground, the hot rock is known as magma, but when it erupts to the surface, it is called lava – and it is extremely dangerous. Volcanoes are like a crack in the Earth’s shell, and they let lava, ash, gas and steam escape. Sometimes they even explode.

Last month, Japan’s Mount Ontake volcano erupted. Lives were lost, because there was very little warning before the eruption, and people were hiking around the volcano.

This recent eruption of Mount Ontake was explosive. The hot molten rock met liquid water, making the water expand into steam almost immediately. Steam has more energy than liquid water, and takes up more space. So, when the water around the volcano on Mount Ontake suddenly turned into steam, there was an explosion. The steam had enough energy to throw rocks into the sky.

On the other side of the world, in Iceland, the Bárðarbunga (Bardarbunga) volcano is erupting. It has been erupting for weeks and weeks. It has not exploded like Mount Ontake, but this is the largest eruption that Iceland has seen for centuries. Before the lava began to flow, there were more earthquakes in the area than usual – a warning that an eruption was on the way.

Spider_BiggestWORLDS BIGGEST SPIDER

The spider was a Goliath birdeater tarantula, and the lucky entomologist to make the rare sighting was Piotr Naskrecki. He spotted the spider in the deep rainforests of Guyana, South America.

The Goliath birdeater is the largest spider in the world: about the size of a dinner plate. It sports some rather imposing two-inch fangs, but its venom isn’t deadly to humans.

When Piotr made the discovery, he first thought it was a small, furry mammal. When he realised what he was looking at – as mentioned in his blog – he was “ecstatic about finally seeing one of these wonderful, almost mythical creatures in person”. Clearly, he was the right person to have had this unique experience.

Despite their potentially hair-raising qualities, these spiders are pretty interesting creatures. For starters, they make a distinct clicking noise as they walk, described by Piotr as “not unlike that of a horse’s hooves hitting the ground (albeit, admittedly, not as loud)”. When threatened, they create a hissing sound by rubbing their leg hairs together. They can even release a cloud of hair from their abdomen – something Piotr was the victim of, causing him to “itch and cry for several days”.

And, do they live up to their name by eating birds? Well, they can, but they generally feed on smaller creatures that are much easier to catch, such as earthworms. So, birds don’t have to worry too much, and neither do you unless you’re planning on a late-night stroll in a South American rainforest anytime soon.

THE POO TREATMENT

The idea behind using faeces as a medicine lies in the bacteria that live in your gut, which are known as gut flora. When you are sick, the balance of the gut flora is disrupted. Introducing a healthy strain of bacteria into the gut (via foreign fecal matter) is thought to restore the normal balance and help fight the problem.

In the past, this has been investigated by doctors who – believe it or not – transplanted fresh poo into the guts of patients who had an intestinal infection. The process is known as FMT, or fecal microbiota transplantation. It worked in treating the condition, but was rather impractical.

As an alternative, doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital in the United States tried giving frozen FMT capsules to 20 patients who had an intestinal infection of Clostridium difficile bacteria. This infection causes bloating, diarrhoea and pain. The current treatment is not working effectively, so doctors are looking to replace it using FMT. In the trial, patients took 15 FMT capsules over two consecutive days. After six months, 90 per cent of the patients were cured!

But, where did the poo come from? Where else, but volunteer donations! Before the donated feces were used in the treatment, they went through a careful process of screening and testing.

While the trial was successful, it was only a small study. Larger studies are needed to confirm the results and improve the treatment. As for us, we can all be thankful that doctors are hard at work to keep us healthy – even if the medicine doesn’t sound all that appetising.

COMETLANDERCATCHING A COMET

The Rosetta spacecraft has just completed a high-speed chase to catch comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Rosetta was launched ten years ago from Earth. Since then, it has travelled over six billion kilometres, going around the Sun five times before meeting the comet halfway between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars.

It’s been a tricky trip to the comet. Over the last few months, Rosetta has made many manoeuvres to make sure it is going the right way. It had to change its speed to match how fast the comet was moving. If it didn’t do that, it would fly right past it.

This will be the most detailed study of a comet ever. Rosetta carries the gear for 11 science experiments, including tools to measure the gas and dust around the comet. It has already found out that the comet is releasing water vapour, and loses two small glasses worth of water each second.

The lander Philae detached from Rosetta successfully and arrived softly on the comet, but it seems its harpoons didn’t fire. The harpoons were supposed to tether the lander to the comet, and Philae might have landed in a tricky spot. As people figure out more details about the landing, Philae is getting started on its primary mission. It carries a multi-purpose sensor to study the comet’s surface. The lander also has tools to drill into the comet, take samples and analyse them.

Comets are like pieces of history frozen in time. They haven’t changed much since the solar system formed over four thousand billion years ago. Rosetta and Philae may well find out new details about the start of our solar system.

PenguinRoverPENGUIN ROVER 
 

Animal scientists often need to approach their research subjects in the wild. But, this can be very disruptive to the animals and change their behaviour. If an animal behaves differently when people are around, it is hard for people to observe the animal’s natural behaviour.

As an alternative, French researchers sent rovers into a penguin colony in Antarctica. The rovers used a radio-frequency identification (RFID) antenna to successful identify a colony of king penguins. But, the researchers really wanted to know whether the rovers affected the penguins more or less than a human observer.

To find out, the scientists first attached heart rate monitors to 34 incubating king penguins. Later on, they found that when a person was collecting data, the penguins’ heart rates rose four times more than when a rover was doing the same job. When people were nearby, fights broke out between penguins and the colony became disorganised. The rover caused much less disturbance to the colony than a person did.

The rover was also tested in a colony of emperor penguins. This time, the rover caused some distress. But, when the rover was disguised as a baby penguin chick, the birds allowed it to approach – and some even tried to communicate with it!

The researchers hope these promising results will be seen with other animals, and that the rovers can be used for other purposes, such as carrying recording devices to study animal sounds. For some animals, though, scientists will have to perfect their rover disguises first!

Dodo_scanDODOs

A team of scientists created a detailed, digital 3D model of the dodo by scanning skeletons of the bird with modern laser scanning technology. The skeletons included the world’s only complete dodo skeleton, housed at the Natural History Museum in Port Louis, Mauritius.

“The scans enable us to reconstruct how the dodo walked, moved and lived to a level of detail that has never been possible before,” says team leader, Leon Claessens. Leon is a vertebrate paleontologist at the college of the Holy Cross in Worcester, the United States.

Dodos once lived on Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean about 2000 kilometres from Africa. They were around one metre tall and weighed 10–18 kilograms. Dodos became extinct in the 1600s, in one of the first known cases of human-caused extinction. The birds disappeared only 90 years after humans settled on the island.

Very little is actually known about these birds and details of their biology and behaviour have remained a mystery – until now.

The 3D scans revealed dodo knee and ankle bones that were previously unknown to science. The research team also found that the dodo has only a small keel, the bone that extends from the sternum (breastbone) and is attached to the wing muscles. The dodo’s keel is smaller than the one found in their closest relative, the extinct Rodrigues solitaire, who used its wings in combat. With a small keel, scientists think the dodo didn’t use its wings in this way and was less aggressive.

“All the new information on the dodo is providing scientists with a much clearer picture of this iconic bird”, says Leon. He adds that it “appears to have been a lot less clumsy and cumbersome than portrayed in popular culture, but instead was a successful and dynamic bird adapted to life on Mauritius, which had no place to escape once humans arrived on the island.”

In future work, the scientists plan to use the 3D models to examine exactly how fast a dodo could walk or run, and what it might have been eating with its massive beak.

Brain_ElectroresearchBRAIN TO BRAIN COMMUNICATION

Researchers from the University of Washington hope to explore new ways for humans to communicate with each other. They have set up a demonstration in which a video game is played using the brain of one person – and the hand of another.

The researchers used two machines in the demonstration. The first, an electroencephalography (EEG) machine, picks up activity in the brain. The second, a transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) coil, delivers information to another brain using pulses of electricity.

To play the video game, people had to fire cannons at the right time. One volunteer, or ‘sender’, watched the game. When they thought about firing a cannon, their brain activity was picked up by the EEG. The electrical signals were sent to the TMS coil, which was positioned over the brain of the ‘receiver’ volunteer. The receiver was sitting in another room with their hand positioned over the game’s control pad. When the TMS coil fired, the receiver’s hand moved, hitting the control pad and firing the cannon.

Dr Marc Kamke, Research Fellow from the Queensland Brain Institute, says the demonstration is a good example of what neuroscientists can do and the techniques they can use.

Marc adds that the demonstration setup was novel, but doesn’t add a lot to what neuroscientists already know. The brain-to-brain connection was also very specific to the setup, and if the TMS was positioned over another part of the brain – for example, the visual cortex – it would have caused the receiver to see flashes of light.

The University of Washington researchers are next looking to transmit more complex processes, such as concepts, thoughts and rules.

GECKOTECHARTIFICIAL GECKO FEET

Inspired by gecko feet, a research lab at Stanford University in America developed the climbing device, which recently allowed a person who weighed 70 kilograms to climb a sheer glass wall. The team have also used the structure of gecko feet to design super-sticky tape and climbing robots called Stickybots.

To walk on walls and ceilings, geckos have hair-like fibres called setae on their feet that stick to surfaces. These fibres are tipped with hundreds of spatulas, so small they are on the nanoscale.

Mimicking the gecko’s feet, there are tiny wedges of silicon polymer on the surface of the new climbing device. These wedges are made from similar stuff as some kitchen spatulas, but are about the same thickness as a human hair. They are not sticky when touched lightly to a surface. But when you place a load on them, such as your body, the wedges flatten out, pressing on to the surface and sticking.

These tiny wedges can be removed and repositioned by the climber many times and will stick to surfaces including glass, plastic, varnished wood and metals.

If you copied gecko feet exactly, a human would need giant sticky pads on their hands about the size of two tennis rackets. To make the hand pads smaller and dependable, the researchers tweaked the gecko’s sticky system. They made sure the climber’s weight is distributed evenly over the surface of each hand’s sticky pad.

To do this, each pad is divided up into postage stamp-sized tiles that all flatten and stick to the surface, even if that surface is uneven. An array of springs and flexible cords within the pad distributes the load evenly – making sure that all of the tiles have the same maximum load. If they didn’t do this, one tile would become overloaded and fail, overloading its neighbours and causing a wave of failing tiles over the entire pad.

Could this technology mean we could climb buildings like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible? Maybe, but as we are not built like geckos, keeping our climbs to small walls might be the best idea until the technology develops.

THE FISH SMELL LIKE CORAL

On the Great Barrier Reef, the harlequin filefish shelters in coral branches overnight. Researchers have found that these fish not only look like coral, they smell like it too.

“By feeding on corals, the harlequin filefish ends up smelling enough like its food that predators have a hard time distinguishing it from the surrounding coral habitat,” says study lead author Dr Rohan Brooker, a marine biologist at James Cook University. “For many animals, vision is less important than their sense of smell,” he adds.

On the reef there are many predators, so it’s worth having a good way of camouflaging yourself. Although these sneaky smells are effective, the harlequin filefish still has to be careful. Each fish has to shelter in the same coral it has eaten otherwise predators will sniff it down. And what does it smell like? We will never know, as people can’t smell underwater.

The experiment took place off the coast of Far North Queensland, at the science research station on Lizard Island. Researchers studied harlequin filefish and a fish that eats them, the blue-spotted rock cod. They also studied the reaction of a small crab that lives on coral branches.

After the fish had eaten coral, the cod were less likely to notice them. The small crabs couldn’t tell the fish from coral and went towards them, thinking they were shelter.

We don’t know many animals that chemically camouflage themselves by smelling like their environment, but perhaps it’s because we haven’t looked. We tend to use our eyes more than our noses when we investigate the world. This research could be the beginning of following our noses to find a whole new world of smell-a-likes.

THE SECRET LIFE OF SOILS

We use antibiotics to help fight infections, such as a festering sore on your arm or a chest infection. Growing in these infections are unwelcome bacteria that your immune system is having a hard time fighting off. Antibiotics can kill the bacteria for us.

Unfortunately, infectious bacteria are becoming resistant to the antibiotics we already have.  Researchers are now working hard looking for new antibiotics.

Most of the antibiotics we use today come from soil bacteria. Bacteria produce these molecules to keep other bacteria away from their turf. But we can only use antibiotics from bacteria that can be grown in the lab. These only make up a tiny proportion of all the bacteria living in soil. Most bacteria, around 99 per cent, cannot be grown outside their natural homes, be it soil or on the surface of a glacier.

To get round this problem, researchers have developed a tiny growing cell, called an iChip. It grows bacteria while keeping them in their snug soil home. They first catch a single cell and surround it with membranes that let food and water through, and then they place the whole thing back in the soil.

Using this technique, researchers have found thousands of new bacteria in soil from their own backyards! One extract from one of these bacteria is a molecule called teixobactin that might work as an antibiotic. Trials of this molecule on humans will start in a couple of years.

Reality vs Terminology – The Main Game?

Let’s start with the premise that language is an expressive code for a perceptual code from a receptive code of some thing that exists external to our code-making apparatus, including that part of our code-making apparatus we aren’t using in making the code while we are in attention to it.

There are two implications from this:

  1. We cannot perceive everything that exists; and of what we perceive, we are not describing that perception with accuracy but only generally. Receptive and perceptual coding is predefined by the physical structure that it is, only codes for what it codes for, and therefore does not necessarily code for everything that exists. In physical terms, receptor codes are loops of neural circuits, complex but static pathways stimulated by limited energy gradients conducted by the receptor nerves at the periphery of our physical awareness. Humans have millions of these loops receptive to external energy sources. Expressive coding has two portions: millions of additional loops among receptor code loops creating relationships between codes – a perceptual integration of the external world; and an additional intricate network looping among perceptual integration apparatus and motor (movement) effector loops such as associated with the human larynx. The motor effector loops that drive the larynx, literally give voice to the codes of perceptual integration. So there are four basic layers of coding that provides us with language, or, in other words, four physical re-interpretations of the energies of the world.
  1. Language itself, once commenced, began looping itself through perceptual fields, and the integrations of this constant internal looping makes increasingly varied relationship connections with elements of the derived world. The variations of looping create a capacity to deconstruct the world into elementals so long as a vocal attribute can be associated with the elemental. Language develops as vocal loops become associated with elemental loops. This looping provides the ‘naming’ of the elemental. Once the neural loops could do the trick of coding a ‘name’ a ‘noise’ for an external elemental, that trick could continue to be used to name parts of an external object, and also larger groups or patterns of external objects as elementals. Eventually, the trick of deconstructing form into elementals that can be named and reconstructing those elementals into something new, could be used to create a type of new elemental, and abstract form that doesn’t exist in the environment. Language is one such abstract set of elementals. Here are the foundations of thinking or internal speech. Once an elemental has been defined by ‘naming’ it can then be appropriated by additional loops with connections to special looping functions such as emotions, motor effect, language and another neural area recognised for extraordinary planning functions. As these loops become more diverse and increasingly resonant, we develop the consciousness – a constant internal conversation that relates both to the internal and external world and a conversation about that conversation. As consciousness or internal language becomes increasingly more complex, mathematics, sciences, philosophy, and social relationships become increasingly complex, giving rise to religion, and government and all various forms of community.

Our own body is party to this process and so our enquiry into our own mind-brain. Given that our body is represented in the brain by a code of neural looping, even the body cannot be said to be represented as a whole truth. And then, even our brains cannot be said to be more than a partial representation of its reality.

So, can we say with any reason what we are? Abdu’l-Baha explained the world and ourselves as a shadow or reflection of the spiritual world. We could call the spiritual world, the real world. We could surmise, then, that reality is not limited to our meagre three or four dimensions, but not limited at all. Perhaps we are part of a 4 dimensional being, and that is a part of a 5th dimensional being and so on and so forth. Yet all this supposition is just an extrapolation of some basic loops of language that other loops have ‘named’ mathematics, and so quite limited in its access to any greater reality, altogether. The story of dimensions, therefore, might not be even close to guessing at the reality. Yet we might wonder could we access our greater reality. Could it be that the disciplines of the Great Educators are just what we need to evolve the requirements for that perception?

Consider that, even if we are working as a 4 dimensional being, then that being would have its own coding and would still only be representing as that code, a part of reality, a code or symbol of reality, perhaps some kind of averaging or grouping of elements of reality.

From this we can say that terminology is never reality. That is not to say it is not honest in itself but that, without understanding that terminology is, at best, only an impression of reality, then we will probably be failing to use terminology honestly. We could say that, as an evolutionary process, language and terminologies exist as a function ie a workability in which language is a tool for optimising human relationships and development.

As a tool, though, language is not limited to honest usage, and cultural uses of language can support the dishonest use of language. Philosophical terminologies are often derived from internal linguistic looping layering processes. These terminologies have a very low relationship to reality. The terminology of theism and atheism is a case in point. While philosophers have designed these terms, there is no actual thing (form with identifiable characteristics) that the term describes except through the internal circular logics of the terms design. To wit, there is no religion that claims it is a group of theists, rather that a philosopher might use the term as a description of what the philosopher believes they are seeing. The philosopher might recognise that their perceptual code is limited, and so use the term as a tool to access the truth of religious idea. However, the philosopher who believes that the term ‘theist’ is a true thing, might, then, also believe that there is something that is theist and something that is not a ‘theist’ (an atheist). They might even imagine that there is a person that is described that they are atheist or theist. Even a person may then describe themselves by these terms, claiming that they are this term. Yet, even presuming honesty, if the language that is now quite abstract, a completely fabricated story of who we are, is not workable as an optimiser of human functions, then we may be seeing, in the complex modern world, a movement of language into a realm of dysfunction.

The conclusion, here, is that language in all its facets for human relationship, science, mathematics, and community, is a fantastic vehicle for the re-creation of the world. Yet, it is a tool that has been built out of some limited physical conditions and therefore its access to reality is probably very limited. Our stories can support the fantastic recreation of the world or it might support a dysfunction. Presuming we prefer a highly function, workable, society, acknowledging that the stories of our life are all not reality, and that, in a physical form, we will always be limited, it can still mean that we can be as access to anything that might take us closer to reality. It could be that there are many pathways to that access including trying to get behind language even just to see how the world is, or using language to explore the extent we can take our own creativity and relationships; and perhaps there is a way that looks for something as knowable as it is unknowable, that we might call God, a pervasive essence in all reality and an emanator of reality.