Europe against GMO crops! Please, sign the Avaaz petition!
I already did. It's us who decide, not Monsanto!!!

When you think you've seen it all, you read something like this. An absolute disgrace for the land of the free. I was completely stunned to read that someone could strip search a minor and get away with it.

I'm sorry, but I don't think there could be any reasons why a non-police officer or a doctor could ask you for a strip search and you should obey. Is this the way to fight drugs? By taking away every piece of privacy one could enjoy, like the rights over his/her own body! Since when the school officials have that rights. Should they have them? I don't think so. If a minor doesn't have the right to have sex, then no one except a doctor should be able to strip naked the poor kid.

I edited the article quite much, but you can read it at the source in its wholeness. You would notice how the whole story is dressed in a court terminology and clauses and it asks intelligent question like was she too gay at school, what kind of friends did she have, did she serve alcohol at a party. When the truth is that no matter what she has done, no person should have that kind of rights over a child. What does it mean "to strip search on suspicion". What's the next step? The police to be able to strip search you when they stop you with your car, on suspicion you hide a bomb inside you? Is this what freedom is about? To be humiliated "on suspicion"? Well, nice. That's certainly something worth fighting for.

And in any case, for me the point is very simple. There is an institution that we authorised to be able to limit our rights in order to prevent crimes and this is the police and the court. Everyone else should respect our rights. And the school officials are not the police and they shouldn't be able to strip search a young girl, just before they felt that way. If you suspect a crime, call the police. Period.

Strip-Search of Girl Tests Limit of School Policy

Published: March 23, 2009

SAFFORD, Ariz. — Savana Redding still remembers the clothes she had on — black stretch pants with butterfly patches and a pink T-shirt — the day school officials here forced her to strip six years ago. She was 13 and in eighth grade.

An assistant principal, enforcing the school’s antidrug policies, suspected her of having brought prescription-strength ibuprofen pills to school. One of the pills is as strong as two Advils.

The search by two female school employees was methodical and humiliating, Ms. Redding said. After she had stripped to her underwear, “they asked me to pull out my bra and move it from side to side,” she said. “They made me open my legs and pull out my underwear.”

Ms. Redding, an honors student, had no pills. But she had a furious mother and a lawyer, and now her case has reached the Supreme Court, which will hear arguments on April 21.

The case will require the justices to consider the thorny question of just how much leeway school officials should have in policing zero-tolerance policies for drugs and violence, and the court is likely to provide important guidance to schools around the nation.

In Ms. Redding’s case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, ruled that school officials had violated the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches. Writing for the majority, Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw said, “It does not require a constitutional scholar to conclude that a nude search of a 13-year-old child is an invasion of constitutional rights.”

“More than that,” Judge Wardlaw added, “it is a violation of any known principle of human dignity.”

The Supreme Court’s last major decision on school searches based on individual suspicion — as opposed to systematic drug testing programs — was in 1985, when it allowed school officials to search a student’s purse without a warrant or probable cause as long their suspicions were reasonable. It did not address intimate searches.

In a friend-of-the-court brief in Ms. Redding’s case, the federal government said the search of her was unreasonable because officials had no reason to believe she was “carrying the pills inside her undergarments, attached to her nude body, or anywhere else that a strip search would reveal.”

The government added, though, that the scope of the 1985 case was not well established at the time of the 2003 search, so the assistant principal should not be subject to a lawsuit.

Adam B. Wolf, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents Ms. Redding, said her experience was “the worst nightmare for any parent.”

“When you send your child off to school every day, you expect them to be in math class or in the choir,” Mr. Wolf said. “You never imagine their being forced to strip naked and expose their genitalia and breasts to their school officials.”

In a sworn statement submitted in the case, Safford Unified School District v. Redding, No. 08-479, Mr. Wilson said he had good reason to suspect Ms. Redding. She and other students had been unusually rowdy at a school dance a couple of months before, and members of the school staff thought they had smelled alcohol. A student also accused Ms. Redding of having served alcohol at a party before the dance, Mr. Wilson said.

Ms. Redding said she had served only soda at the party, adding that her accuser was not there. At the dance, she said, school administrators had confused adolescent rambunctiousness with inebriation. “We’re kids,” she said. “We’re goofy.”

The search was conducted by Peggy Schwallier, the school nurse, and Helen Romero, a secretary. Ms. Redding “never appeared apprehensive or embarrassed,” Ms. Schwallier said in a sworn statement. Ms. Redding said she had kept her head down so the women could not see that she was about to cry.

Ms. Redding did not return to school for months after the search, studying at home. “I never wanted to see the secretary or the nurse ever again,” she said.

In the end, she transferred to another school.


Grannies porn!

Let's see what glorious news we have here. It's about banning porn with people older than 60 and disabled. Now, I find this idea for completely disgusting. Not that I'd love to watch such porn, but it's not about me or about the people that would watch it-it's about the people that would film it! And I'm sorry but I think this is strictly limiting their rights. What, when you turn 60, you're no longer considered human? You don't have the right to record a tape of you and your partner doing sex? As ugly as it might be, I don't see why it should be banned. If the people are considered to be brain-damaged and incapable to take care of themselves-ok. But when it comes to people that can think straight-absolutely NO!

It's simply not fair and totally not pretty to tell someone-yes, we really respect you and your age and what you have done for us, but no, you don't have the right to ruin my pretty world with your disgusting old flesh. Hello???

Proposed Ban on Making and Distributing Pornography Involving >60-Year-Olds and the Disabled (Including Spouses or Lovers Consensually Photographing Each Other):

Yup, the law (in Massachusetts) would make it a very serious crime — tantamount to child pornography — to make, and distribute "with lascivious intent," "any visual material that contains a representation or reproduction of any posture or exhibition in a state of nudity" involving anyone age 60 or over, or anyone who has "a permanent or long-term physical or mental impairment that prevents or restricts the individual’s ability to provide for his or her own care or protection."

The law is not limited to people who are mentally handicapped and thus unable to consent, or who are photographed against their will by their caretakers (the justification discussed in this story). The operative provisions cover people over 60 and the disabled whether or not they are incompetent. One provision, relating to people's being "deemed incapable of consenting," would cover only "an elder or a person with a disability adjudicated as incompetent by a court of the commonwealth," but I don't see how this would stop liability under the other provisions, since consent is no defense under the other provisions in any event. (Plus if they just wanted to bar exploitation of the incompetent, why not simply say "anyone adjudicated as incompetent by a court of the commonwealth," with no limitation to elders or persons with disabilities?)

Likewise, the law is not limited to hard-core pornography that would constitute unprotected "obscenity." It would apply to any pictures of nudes, so long as the defendant is acting with lascivious intent." Hard to see how this would be constitutional, or why it would make much sense.

The bill text is here; the provisions that would be amended are here and here; and the definitions of "elder" (anyone age 60 or older) and "person with a disability" ("a person with ) are here. If anyone can point me to a version that merges the existing text with the changes, I'd love to link to it.

UPDATE: Note that the law isn't limited to making pornography for commercial purposes (since the child pornography law that it builds on covers noncommercial child pornography, too). That means that if 60-year-old spouses or lovers — or spouses or lovers of someone who is disabled — decide to photograph each other naked with "lascivious intent," they would be committing a crime (inserted text underlined, especially relevant text italicized):

Whoever, either with knowledge that a person is a child under eighteen years of age, an elder or a person with a disability, or while in possession of such facts that he should have reason to know that such person is a child under eighteen years of age, an elder or a person with a disability and with lascivious intent, hires, coerces, solicits or entices, employs, procures, uses, causes, encourages, or knowingly permits such child, elder or person with a disability to pose or be exhibited in a state of nudity, for the purpose of representation or reproduction in any visual material, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for a term of not less than ten nor more than twenty years, or by a fine of not less than ten thousand nor more than fifty thousand dollars, or by both such fine and imprisonment.

(Note: I originally misread this as requiring a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years, but a commenter correctly pointed out that a court could in the alternative impose a fine of at least $10,000 — much better than a 10-year sentence, but still entirely improper.) source

And for the fun, a lovely youtube video, credit for which goes to Vasil:

What's reality? Who cares!

Ok, initially, I wanted to write about grannies porn, but considering it's still Easter for us, I decided it's not very appropriate. So I offer you an article about Reality. I find it especially important, because people often fall into the trap of trying to judge the reality to be entirely subjective or objective. The truth is that it doesn't matter as it's our brain that decides. Does that makes the reality subjective or objective-not at all. It just makes it personal. Because we all judge what's important and thus REAL to us based on our personal priorities and needs (so called personal relevance). As I shared on physorg, I did develop an attachment to certain mathematical functions I use all the time. Does this make me weird? Probably a little. But after all, when you're life depends on something, you have no choice but to make it important for you, so that you can control your life at best. It's natural to form priorities and everybody does it. This is no less serious than making a bond with your colleague or boss.

And also, it's a good article for all the people who are fans of someone (like me, constantly). You know how people imagine doing stuff with the object of their fan-hood(???), ok, adoration. They start feeling close to those people, to consider them friends and so on. Are they really loving that person or they are imagining that love? The truth is-it doens't matter. They are loving someone and as long as they don't mistake that fictional person for the real person, it's ok. After all, love is good by itself and in your head, it's always mutual. And it feels good.

So, as chaotic as my post may seem, it's not so bad. The idea is-science proves it, the more important something is for us, the more "real" it becomes in our minds. And as long as this bond serves it purpose, why not?!

Happy Easter!

What is 'Real'? How Our Brain Differentiates Between Reality and Fantasy

March 23rd, 2009 By Lisa Zyga

( -- Most people can easily tell the difference between reality and fantasy. We know that characters in novels and movies are fictitious, and we also understand that historical figures - even if we’ve never met them personally - were real people. As obvious as this distinction may seem, however, scientists know very little about the specific brain mechanisms that are responsible for our ability to distinguish between real and fictional events.

Recently, research has identified two areas of the that are more strongly activated when people see real characters than when they see . These brain regions - in the anterior medial prefrontal and posterior cingulated cortices (amPFC and PCC) - are known to be involved during autobiographical memory retrieval and self-referential thinking. Based on this finding, scientists have hypothesized that our brains may distinguish between reality and fantasy because real things tend to have a higher degree of than fictional things do.

A new study tests this hypothesis that personal relevance is the critical factor in differentiating between reality and fantasy by using (fMRI) to compare the brain’s response when processing real and fictional characters.

“Perhaps the greatest significance of the study is that it has enabled us to get a step closer to understanding what ‘realness’ captures,” Abraham told “The categorical distinction between reality and fiction that we employ in daily life appears to be too simplistic and non-representative of our phenomenological experience. The term ‘real’ in itself does not have much explanatory power, as it means only that something objectively exists.”

The researchers’ experiments helped them investigate what “realness” is, as the brain defines it. Two weeks prior to the experiments, 19 volunteers were asked to submit names of their close friends and family, and also read through a list of famous people and fictional characters to confirm that they were familiar with them. During the experiments, the participants viewed names of individuals who were either friends/family (high personal relevance), famous people (medium personal relevance) or fictional characters (low personal relevance). The participants also answered questions, such as whether it was possible for someone to talk with one of the people/characters (interactions between real people and fictional characters were considered impossible).

As the researchers had predicted, the results showed that when participants answered questions about their friends and family (high personal relevance), stronger activation occurred in the amPFC and PCC regions, as compared with questions about famous people (medium activation) and fictional characters (low activation). As the scientists explained, our conceptual knowledge of real people is more extensive than our knowledge of famous people, and much more extensive than our knowledge of fictional characters. But this finding also raises further questions.

“I experience my mother and George Bush as being ‘more real’ than Cinderella, but why do I experience George Bush as being ‘less real’ than my mother?” Abraham said. “After all, both people objectively exist. Is it because I’ve never interacted with him? Is it because I know less about him? Would he have been more relevant for me if he waged war on my home country? These are all open questions that can only be answered when we define what constitutes ‘realness.’ And we have shown in this study that one factor that affects how real I perceive someone to be is modulated by how personally relevant the person is for me.”

The researchers further explained that personal relevance is not unequivocally related to what is real, since some individuals may experience personal relevance in certain fictional realms, such as in chronic computer gaming or religion. For instance, for a chronic gamer, a World of Warcraft character could yield greater activation in the amPFC and PCC than a real person of low personal relevance would. Abraham added that, although the current research doesn’t provide insight on a connection between fictional violence and real violence, future related research may help understand if a connection exists.

In addition to helping understand how the brain differentiates between reality and fantasy, this study could help researchers understand the brain’s , to which the amPFC and PCC belong. The default network is a group of brain regions that are generally more engaged during passive periods, such as when at rest or when performing undemanding tasks. During these periods, the brain tends to multitask, such as by reflecting on past events, planning future events, or thinking self-consciously.

This study shows that brain regions (the amPFC and PCC) in the default network are automatically engaged when an individual views a person’s name - even when the individual is not thinking specifically about their own personal relevance to the person. In other words, personal relevance is not relevant to this task, but it may be explained by the anticipatory nature of the brain. The default network may play a role in automatically evoking various associations with a stimulus in order to quickly react, if needed. This finding may help researchers further understand how the brain’s default network works. source

As you know, I very much hate the quest against internet piracy that some media companies blame for their ever-decreasing incomes. I can't help but paste here what I already said on the physorg site on the issue. I'd appreciate your opinions. Here's the article and my comment is below it.

Note-I'm not against people profiting from what they create. I'm against media-companies, trying to take progress and freedom 10 years back, because they have no idea how to profit in our evolving society. And admit it, actors and musician seldom earn big time trough selling-people simply don't buy so much anymore. They profit from publicities, concerts and other related stuff. So we're talking here only about labels' profits. Well, sorry that I don't feel particularly touched by their pleas.

Sweden: Internet use down after file-sharing law

April 3rd, 2009 By LOUISE NORDSTROM

(AP) -- Internet traffic dropped sharply in Sweden this week after a new law cracking down on online copyright violation went into force, experts said Friday.

Based on the European Union's Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive, the new law makes it easier to prosecute file-sharers because it requires Internet Service Providers to disclose the Internet Protocol-addresses of suspected violators to copyright owners.

Statistics from the Netnod Internet Exchange, an organization measuring , suggest that daily online activity dropped more than 40 percent after the law took effect on Wednesday.

Henrik Ponten of the Swedish Anti-Piracy Bureau welcomed the plunge in Internet traffic as a sign that file-swappers are reducing their activity for fear of getting caught. "There's no other explanation for it," he said.

Some criticized the new law as overzealous and said it puts as risk Sweden's position as a leader in online technologies.

"Half the Internet is gone. If this pattern keeps up, it means the extensive broadband network we've built will lose its significance," said Jon Karlung, chief executive of Banhof, a Swedish ISP.

Sweden has one of the highest Internet penetration rates in Europe but has also made a name for itself as a hub of illegal . source

Someone commented that people watch online mostly crappy movies that they wouldn't go to see on a cinema anyway and the response was that it's an irrational argument, because if they are crappy, you wouldn't bother to steal them. Here's what I said.

It's not an irrational argument, at all! People watch crappy movies online, because they are free and offer a fun way to waste time. If they have to pay for them, they'll spend the time in other way that is free. I would NEVER go to a cinema to watch 80% of the movies I find time to watch on the pc. No matter if the industry likes it or not. And the worst thing for the "industry" is that internet offers the possibility to write DISASTROUS review for every shitty movie you give money to watch and so to make sure NO ONE will ever watch it. Which I find quite cool, actually. Because when you "steal", you read the comments saying it's crab, but you say to yourself, "oh well, I have 2 hours to waste, what do I have to lose". But it's not the same if you have to pay for it (to clarify, here a ticket for a movie is 3 euros, which is approximately 1% of the average net monthly salary-do you SERIOUSLY think, someone will give so much money to watch crap?!)

As for the music, I won't even comment it-the only cds I've ever bought are of a group I'm fan of. If the music isn't available in youtube or in other ways, I'll simply listen to the radio of my phone. I have absolutely no problem with that. From the 20 stations I have, there's always at least one playing a song I like.

As for Swedden, I'm very sorry to hear that law passed. It was voted down today in France. The promised to revote it, but I sincerely hope it won't pass ever-nor in France, nor anywhere else. Because in the case, the industry is simply wrong. They're trying to bring the old statusquo back, when the time has changed. They have to find a way to profit from the new situation, not to try to destroy it. But I'm quite confident they'll learn the lesson one way or another.

And it really makes the broadband connection useless-why would I pay to use broadband, when I won't download anything big with it? Because I certainly won't pay to watch movies on my pc-the experience has nothing to do with a cinema, so I won't pay for it no matter what. Then let's just destroy the whole infrastructure and use dial ups.

Btw:check out these:

Software improves p2p privacy by hiding in the crowd

April 8th, 2009

Researchers at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science at Northwestern University have identified a new "guilt-by-association" threat to privacy in peer-to-peer (P2P) systems that would enable an eavesdropper to accurately classify groups of users with similar download behavior. To thwart this threat, they have released publicly available, open source software that restores privacy by masking a user's real download activity in such a manner as to disrupt classification. source

East meets West in our brain

A chicken, a cow and grass-which 2 of them relate to each other better? (Just answer without thinking). For me, it was the cow and the grass, for obvious reasons. It looks like this answer is more often given by Asians while connecting the chicken and the cow happened more often for Americans.

What's the point? The next article discuss the differences between Eastern and Western brain or the holistic/collectivist mind vs. the individualist/analytical mind. Interestingly enough as a physicist, I'm supposed to be analytical. But for me, it was obvious that the cow goes better with the grass, than the cow with the chicken. I just made a test and my cousin also answered the same way. And we live in moderately eastern country. Bulgaria after all is neighbour of Greece but obviously, we're biased to the East. Of course, it's hard to generalise, but still, I find it quite fascinating how easily I got in the Asian group- I got all the answers the way Asians do. Sure, you can find the reason for this in the recent or not so recent history-Bulgaria has the habit of getting into serious troubles requiring the deep cooperation between people in order to survive. But is survival the reason or the consequence of our mind-wiring? I don't know. But the article is very interesting-especially showing that those different types of thinking are not permanent and can be invoked quite easily. Which could be used to provoke certain types of behaviour when needed. If all it takes to become individualist when you need it is to imagine yourself in a competitive game, why not do it? If all it takes to become more collectivist/holistic is to imagine yourself isolated-why not do it, when the situation requires it? And to manage your states is always

And by the way, this article shows that we really are not THAT different! Our culture/society may require from us different attitudes, but in the end, we can be whatever we have to be.

P.S. I seriously cut the article, so just visit the link at the bottom to read it all. It's worthy your time!

East meets west: How the brain unites us all

AS A SPECIES, we possess remarkably little genetic variation, yet we tend to overlook this homogeneity and focus instead on differences between groups and individuals.

As advances in communications, transport and the internet shrink the modern world, some of these distinctions are breaking down. But one difference is getting more attention than ever: the notion that easterners and westerners have distinct world views.

Psychologists have conducted a wealth of experiments that seem to support popular notions that easterners have a holistic world view, rooted in philosophical and religious traditions such as Taoism and Confucianism, while westerners tend to think more analytically, as befits their philosophical heritage of reductionism, utilitarianism and so on. However, the most recent research suggests that these popular stereotypes are far too simplistic. It is becoming apparent that we are all capable of thinking both holistically and analytically - and we are starting to understand what makes individuals flip between the two modes of thought.

One of the pioneers of this research is Richard Nisbett from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. In his book The Geography of Thought, he recounts a study done in 2001 in which he asked American and Japanese students to describe animated videos of underwater scenes. As befits the stereotype, the Americans were more likely to start by mentioning prominent objects such as brightly coloured moving fish or aquatic plants, while the vast majority of the Japanese students started by saying something about the context - the scene looked like a stream, or the water was green. They also mentioned more relationships between the objects and their environment. In another experiment, using eye-tracking equipment and a picture of a tiger in a jungle, Nisbett found that Americans tended to look at the tiger more quickly and focus on it for longer than did Chinese people, whose gaze flicked more often between the animal and the background.

Over the years, Nisbett and others have amassed evidence to suggest that such differences in visual attention influence the way in which people from east and west think about the world. For a start, they affect how people categorise objects, with east Asians tending to group things according to how they relate to each other and Americans tending to rely on shared features. When shown pictures of a chicken, a cow and some grass, and asked to decide which two objects belong most closely together, for example, most American kids choose the chicken and cow, since they are both animals, while Taiwanese children tend to group the cow and the grass together because one eats the other (International Journal of Psychology, vol 7, p 235).

There also seem to be distinctly eastern and western views of causality. Americans are more likely to explain murders and sports events by invoking the traits and abilities of individuals, while Chinese tend to refer to historical factors. One study compared English-language newspaper accounts of a recent killing in the US, in which a postal worker shot his boss along with several bystanders, with Chinese newspaper reports of a graduate student who shot his adviser and bystanders. The English-language papers speculated heavily on the killer's state of mind, while the Chinese papers emphasised his relationships with his superiors and the wider societal factors that could have led to the killings, such as the lack of religion in China or recent massacres elsewhere in the world .

Cultural differences may even extend to the way people wield logic. Chinese people are happier with contradictions and try to find a middle ground between two opposing positions, while Americans are more inclined to reject one proposition for the other. For example, Nisbett found that when faced with a brief vignette of daughters rebelling against their mothers, three-quarters of Americans suggested that one party was at fault. By contrast, three-quarters of Chinese students assessed the situation from both sides and tried to reconcile the differences between mothers and daughters (American Psychologist, vol 54, p 741).

Westerners appear to perceive the world in an analytic way, narrowing their focus onto prominent objects, lumping them into categories and examining them through logic. Easterners take a more holistic view: they are more likely to consider an object's context and analyse it through its changing relationships with its environment.

Certainly it is appealing to think that a single dimension - individualism/collectivism - can account for much of the difference in people's behaviour around the world. That might explain why many psychologists have been happy to go along with it. However, recently it has become apparent that the east-west dichotomy is not as clear-cut as this.

For a start, the simplistic notion of individualistic westerners and collectivist easterners is undermined by studies designed to assess how people see themselves, which suggest that there is a continuum of these traits across the globe. In terms of individualism, for example, western Europeans seem to lie about midway between people in the US and those in east Asia.

Experiments suggest that while the psychology of westerners may be superficially distinct from easterners, when social isolation is an issue there is little difference between the two. In fact, Oyserman's analysis of 67 similar studies reveals just how easily social context can change the way people think. For example, psychologists have "primed" east Asian volunteers to adopt an individualistic mode of thought simply by getting them to imagine playing singles tennis, circling single-person pronouns or unscrambling sentences containing words such as "unique", "independence" and "solitude". In many of the experiments volunteers from a single cultural background - be it eastern or western - show differences in behaviour as large as those you normally get when comparing people from traditionally collectivist and individualist cultures.

Clearly, the dichotomy between holistic eastern and analytical western thinking is more blurred than the stereotypes suggest. If we all flip between different modes of thought depending on social context, says Oyserman, psychologists should be trying to find out which contexts provoke the holistic and which the analytical mindset, rather than perpetuating a false divide.. source

Although this blog isn't dedicated to science, but to the social side of the life, sometimes I can't help but post some interesting stuff I find on the net. And since the brain is the closest link between science and the spirit, here's what I found about it.
But first-a lovely thought, I shared with some of you in Facebook:

"Man knows himself only to the extent that he knows the world; he becomes aware of himself only within the world, and aware of the world only within himself. Every object, well contemplated, opens up a new organ within us." Goethe

I think there's something glorious in the idea that the process of observing something in details, makes us experience the thing as though we're it. It's very odd, but in the same time, it's magnificent. Like when you see a pretty flower, and start enjoying it, you feel the flower in you. You are the flower. Isn't this beautiful?

Now, on the articles I posted. I won't comment too much, since if I start, the post will become oddly long, but still.
  1. Psychoactive compound activates mysterious-the sacred plants for Castaneda are no longer so sacred. They kind of found how the "funny" substances in them work, but I didn't like the implication-that this offers an opportunity to block this action in humans. Should I say how unethical is this? Because this plants are used for spiritual development for CENTURIES! And now, we will block them, because the rich and bored american kids can abuse them?! Well, they abuse beef, should we ban it?
  2. Researchers develop 'wireless' activation of brain circuits-this one is more technical, but the point is that they found a way to distantly activate neurons in the brain. Which is exiting if you're sci fi fan!
  3. Childhood trauma has life-long effect on genes and the brain-and finally, this is the most important. It suggests that memories, especially traumatic can be passed to the children, trough the DNA (well, not exactly DNA, but the epigenetics, but anyway). And that's just another proof that the memories of our ancestors live in our blood.

Psychoactive compound activates mysterious receptor

February 12th, 2009

( -- A hallucinogenic compound found in a plant indigenous to South America and used in shamanic rituals regulates a mysterious protein that is abundant throughout the body, University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers have discovered.

Scientists have been searching for years for naturally occurring compounds that trigger activity in the protein, the sigma-1 receptor. In addition, a unique receptor for the hallucinogen, called dimethyltryptamine (DMT), has never been identified.

Biochemical, physiological and behavioral experiments proved that DMT does, in fact, activate the sigma-1 receptor.

"We have no idea at present if or how the sigma-1 receptor may be connected to hallucinogenic activity," says senior author Arnold Ruoho, chair of pharmacology at the UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health. "But we believe that the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) may be interested in biological mechanisms underlying psychoactive and addictive drug action."

In addition to being a component of psychoactive snuffs and sacramental teas used in native religious practices in Latin America, DMT is known to be present in some mammalian tissues, and it has also been identified in mammalian blood and spinal fluid. Elevated levels of DMT and a related molecule have been found in the urine of schizophrenics.

Ruoho speculates that the hallucinogen's involvement may mean that the sigma-1 receptor is connected in some fashion to psychoactive behavior. When his team injected DMT into mice known to have the receptor, the animals became hyperactive; mice in which the receptor had been genetically removed did not.

"Hyperactive behavior is often associated with drug use or psychiatric problems," says Ruoho. "It's possible that new, highly selective drugs could be developed to inhibit the receptor and prevent this behavior."

The study revealed an additional neurologic link by confirming that the sigma-1 receptor and some compounds that bind to it inhibit ion channels, which are important for nerve activity.

The Wisconsin researchers found that DMT is derived from the naturally occurring amino acid tryptophan and is structurally related to the neurotransmitter serotonin. This finding, Ruoho says, illustrates the mantra often used in the biological processing of natural molecules: Nothing goes to waste.

DMT may also reflect the presence of an even larger family of natural compounds that arise from other structurally related amino acids that may further regulate the receptor, Ruoho adds.

"It may well be that these different, naturally derived chemical forms regulate the sigma-1 receptor in tissue and organ-specific ways," he says. source

Researchers develop 'wireless' activation of brain circuits

February 23rd, 2009

Traditionally, stimulating nerves or brain tissue involves cumbersome wiring and a sharp metal electrode. But a team of researchers at Case Western Reserve University is going "wireless."

And it's a unique collaboration between chemists and neuroscientists that led to the discovery of a remarkable new way to use light to activate brain circuits with nanoparticles.

By using semiconductor nanoparticles as tiny solar cells, the scientists can excite neurons in single cells or groups of cells with infrared light. This eliminates the need for the complex wiring by embedding the light-activated nanoparticles directly into the tissue. This method allows for a more controlled reaction and closely replicates the sophisticated focal patterns created by natural stimuli.

"There are many different things you'd want to stimulate neurons for-injury, severed or damaged nerve to restore function- and right now you have to put a wire in there, and then connect that to some control system. It is both very invasive and a difficult thing to do," says Strowbridge.

IIn principle, the researchers should be able to implant these nanoparticles next to the nerve, eliminating the requirement for wired connections. They can then use light to activate the particles.

This study used brain slices to show that light can trigger neural activity. The next step is to see if this innovative technology can be used to stimulate longer pathways within the intact brain. Clinical development of the technology could lead to new methods to activate specific brain regions and damaged nerves. source

Childhood trauma has life-long effect on genes and the brain

February 23rd, 2009

( -- McGill University and Douglas Institute scientists have discovered that childhood trauma can actually alter your DNA and shape the way your genes work. This confirms in humans earlier findings in rats, that maternal care plays a significant role in influencing the genes that control our stress response.

Using a sample of 36 brains; 12 suicide victims who were abused; 12 suicide victims who were not abused and 12 controls, the researchers discovered different epigenetic markings in the brains of the abused group. These markings influence the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) function, a stress-response which increases the risk of suicide.

This research builds upon findings published last May that showed how child abuse can leave epigenetic marks on DNA.

“We know from clinical experience that a difficult childhood can have an impact on the course of a person’s life”, said Dr. Turecki.

“Now we are starting to understand the biological implications of such psychological abuse,” added Dr. Szyf.

“The function of our DNA is not as fixed as previously believed, said Dr. Meaney. “The interaction between the environment and the DNA plays a crucial role in determining our resistance to stress thus the risk for suicide. Epigenetic marks are the product of this interaction.”

Epigenetics is the study of changes in the function of genes that don’t involve changes in the sequences of DNA. The DNA is inherited from our parents; it remains fixed throughout life and is identical in every part of the body. During gestation and even later in development, however, the genes in our DNA are marked by a chemical coating called DNA methylation. These marks are somewhat sensitive to one’s environment, especially early in life. The epigenetic marks punctuate the DNA and program it to express the right genes at the appropriate time and place.

The researchers discovered that maternal care influences hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) function in the rat through epigenetic programming of certain receptors in the brain. In humans, child abuse alters HPA stress responses and increases the risk for suicide. source

The city that loves me...or not

Hello again! I'm sorry for the delay, but sometimes I just have to work. One would argue that I have to work in a constant manner, but the practise shows that this is impossible-the work follow its own tempo and I can only bear with it, not change it too much.
Anyway, since I'm in stall moment for a little while, I decided to post here a very interesting article on the effect the city has on our brain. It looks like living in crowded city makes us less attentive (and aware) and diminishes our self-control. One could wonder if this intentional, but I think it's more a natural consequences of our evolution. If you think about it, the city offers immense opportunities for developing your talents, without having to work from sunrise to sunset. And I mean it. I spend every weekend outside the town, on green, as the french say. I have taken care of gardens and cattle. It really takes so much of your energy and time. It's generally colder there and more or less, you're less inclined to do more sophisticated things like thinking and engineering. From the other side, if you have someone to take care of you there, it's the best place to create. But that's another story. If you have an expensive mansion on the top of a skyscraper, you'll be just as creative.

The point is that the city naturally distracts us and stresses us. It hurts our most important functions-attention! It deplets our energy. The article imply that the building of parks and gardens can reduce that effect and I agree-it's so soothing to stand below a tree, in its shadow, or to watch flowers. But I think we ought to think how to reduce the effect of the crowdiness for us. Because cities are the next evolutionary step-we have to make it the best we can. And this starts from us, in the inside. We have tobe more pleasant, more unintrusive and everyone to watch his/her steps/road more carefully. If we all behave better, we will feel better. And that's what we all need.

Why I'm saying all this? Because I came to very important conclusion. Our respect for our fellow citizens is proportional to the way we feel in our environment-if it's dirty and polluted, we avoid to watch around and we avoid to watch people in the face. Thus, we're unpleasant, sometimes even rude, because when someone draws our attention, we have to start looking around and to feel bad, because of the unpleasant surroundings. And thus, the whole society becomes grim. On the contrary-if the surroundings are pretty and attractive, we'll pay more attention to people, we'll enjoy their company, even when they are strangers and we will all have a better time communicating with each other. And that's the key to a good and healthy life.

How the City Hurts Your Brain

By Jonah Lehrer / Source: Boston Globe

The city has always been an engine of intellectual life.

And yet, city life isn't easy. While the modern city might be a haven for playwrights, poets, and physicists, it's also a deeply unnatural and overwhelming place.

Now scientists have begun to examine how the city affects the brain, and the results are chastening. Just being in an urban environment, they have found, impairs our basic mental processes.

After spending a few minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things in memory, and suffers from reduced self-control. While it's long been recognized that city life is exhausting -- that's why Picasso left Paris -- this new research suggests that cities actually dull our thinking, sometimes dramatically so.

"The mind is a limited machine,"says Marc Berman, a psychologist at the University of Michigan and lead author of a new study that measured the cognitive deficits caused by a short urban walk. "And we're beginning to understand the different ways that a city can exceed those limitations."

One of the main forces at work is a stark lack of nature, which is surprisingly beneficial for the brain. Studies have demonstrated, for instance, that hospital patients recover more quickly when they can see trees from their windows, and that women living in public housing are better able to focus when their apartment overlooks a grassy courtyard. Even these fleeting glimpses of nature improve brain performance, it seems, because they provide a mental break from the urban roil.

This research arrives just as humans cross an important milestone: For the first time in history, the majority of people reside in cities. For a species that evolved to live in small, primate tribes on the African savannah, such a migration marks a dramatic shift. Instead of inhabiting wide-open spaces, we're crowded into concrete jungles, surrounded by taxis, traffic, and millions of strangers. In recent years, it's become clear that such unnatural surroundings have important implications for our mental and physical health, and can powerfully alter how we think.

This research is also leading some scientists to dabble in urban design, as they look for ways to make the metropolis less damaging to the brain. The good news is that even slight alterations, such as planting more trees in the inner city or creating urban parks with a greater variety of plants, can significantly reduce the negative side effects of city life. The mind needs nature, and even a little bit can be a big help.

Consider everything your brain has to keep track of as you walk down a busy thoroughfare like Newbury Street. There are the crowded sidewalks full of distracted pedestrians who have to be avoided; the hazardous crosswalks that require the brain to monitor the flow of traffic. (The brain is a wary machine, always looking out for potential threats.) There's the confusing urban grid, which forces people to think continually about where they're going and how to get there.

The reason such seemingly trivial mental tasks leave us depleted is that they exploit one of the crucial weak spots of the brain. A city is so overstuffed with stimuli that we need to constantly redirect our attention so that we aren't distracted by irrelevant things, like a flashing neon sign or the cellphone conversation of a nearby passenger on the bus. This sort of controlled perception -- we are telling the mind what to pay attention to -- takes energy and effort. The mind is like a powerful supercomputer, but the act of paying attention consumes much of its processing power.

Natural settings, in contrast, don't require the same amount of cognitive effort. This idea is known as attention restoration theory, or ART, and it was first developed by Stephen Kaplan, a psychologist at the University of Michigan. While it's long been known that human attention is a scarce resource -- focusing in the morning makes it harder to focus in the afternoon -- Kaplan hypothesized that immersion in nature might have a restorative effect.

Imagine a walk around Walden Pond, in Concord. The woods surrounding the pond are filled with pitch pine and hickory trees. Chickadees and red-tailed hawks nest in the branches; squirrels and rabbits skirmish in the berry bushes. Natural settings are full of objects that automatically capture our attention, yet without triggering a negative emotional response -- unlike, say, a backfiring car. The mental machinery that directs attention can relax deeply, replenishing itself.

"It's not an accident that Central Park is in the middle of Manhattan," says Berman. "They needed to put a park there."


"We see the picture of the busy street, and we automatically imagine what it's like to be there," says Berman. "And that's when your ability to pay attention starts to suffer."

This also helps explain why, according to several studies, children with attention-deficit disorder have fewer symptoms in natural settings. When surrounded by trees and animals, they are less likely to have behavioral problems and are better able to focus on a particular task.

Studies have found that even a relatively paltry patch of nature can confer benefits.

But the density of city life doesn't just make it harder to focus: It also interferes with our self-control. In that stroll down Newbury, the brain is also assaulted with temptations -- caramel lattes, iPods, discounted cashmere sweaters, and high-heeled shoes. Resisting these temptations requires us to flex the prefrontal cortex, a nub of brain just behind the eyes. Unfortunately, this is the same brain area that's responsible for directed attention, which means that it's already been depleted from walking around the city. As a result, it's less able to exert self-control, which means we're more likely to splurge on the latte and those shoes we don't really need. While the human brain possesses incredible computational powers, it's surprisingly easy to short-circuit: all it takes is a hectic city street.

"I think cities reveal how fragile some of our 'higher' mental functions actually are," Kuo says. "We take these talents for granted, but they really need to be protected."


City life can also lead to loss of emotional control. Kuo and her colleagues found less domestic violence in the apartments with views of greenery. These data build on earlier work that demonstrated how aspects of the urban environment, such as crowding and unpredictable noise, can also lead to increased levels of aggression. A tired brain, run down by the stimuli of city life, is more likely to lose its temper.

When a park is properly designed, it can improve the function of the brain within minutes. As the Berman study demonstrates, just looking at a natural scene can lead to higher scores on tests of attention and memory.

Given the myriad mental problems that are exacerbated by city life, from an inability to pay attention to a lack of self-control, the question remains: Why do cities continue to grow? And why, even in the electronic age, do they endure as wellsprings of intellectual life?

Recent research by scientists at the Santa Fe Institute used a set of complex mathematical algorithms to demonstrate that the very same urban features that trigger lapses in attention and memory -- the crowded streets, the crushing density of people -- also correlate with measures of innovation, as strangers interact with one another in unpredictable ways. It is the "concentration of social interactions" that is largely responsible for urban creativity, according to the scientists. The density of 18th-century London may have triggered outbreaks of disease, but it also led to intellectual breakthroughs, just as the density of Cambridge -- one of the densest cities in America -- contributes to its success as a creative center. One corollary of this research is that less dense urban areas, like Phoenix, may, over time, generate less innovation.

The key, then, is to find ways to mitigate the psychological damage of the metropolis while still preserving its unique benefits. source

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