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Wed, 26 Jan 2022
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The eye: A classic example of natural design

eye closeup
From Cicero in antiquity to John Ray three centuries ago, the eye has traditionally been held up as a marvel of design. Even Charles Darwin, after publishing his theory of evolution, privately admitted "The eye to this day gives me a cold shudder." And it should have. Ray had extolled the many wonders of the human vision system, and since then those wonders have only continued to mount.

John Ray was a leading 17th-century botanist. He is remembered for formalizing the concept of the biological "species." He is also remembered as the father of the 18th- and early 19th-century Natural Theology movement which emphasized nature's designs. Ray's study of the natural world led him to be increasingly impressed with its design.

Myriad Examples of Design

Of Ray's myriad examples of design, he paid particular attention to vision systems. The pupil, Ray noted, dilates and contracts in dim and bright conditions, respectively, to control the light entering the eye. That incoming light forms an image, but after passing through the lens of the eye it is inverted. Nonetheless, the nerves somehow present the image "in its right or natural Posture" to the soul.

Bizarro Earth

Why no one is freaking out about the looming massive earthquake threat in the Pacific Northwest

A monstrous earthquake in the Pacific Northwest is a certainty. We just don't know when.
Earthquake Illustration
For many people, natural disasters inspire both fascination and fear. They're a sign of nature's power to not only create, but also destroy. At the same time, they're a reminder of the human potential for ingenuity when it comes to protecting ourselves from the forces we cannot control.

In this case, there are two opposing forces: the North American Plate, an enormous tectonic plate that carries the entire continental United States on its back, versus the 90,000-square-mile Juan de Fuca Plate, located in the ocean off Washington, Oregon, and Northern California. For the past 200 million years, these two have been squaring off in an epic wrestling match in an area known as the Cascadia Subduction Zone, or CSZ. Trust us, nobody wants to see the end of this round. Yet only a few people seem truly bothered: seismologists, emergency management professionals, and those who have experienced earthquakes before.

It's certain that the Northwest will experience a devastating earthquake again, says Chris Goldfinger, an oceanographer at Oregon State University and one of the world's leading experts on subduction zone earthquakes. "We have no idea of the timing and how urgent it is," Goldfinger tells Pop Mech. "People tend to ignore it in that case." The majority of the public, as well as most governments in the Northwest, aren't yet pushing to implement the extensive infrastructure changes and early-warning communications systems needed to save tens of thousands of lives.

The Juan de Fuca Plate has been steadily pushing against the Pacific Coast as it slides beneath the North American Plate. But the roughly 47-million-square-mile North American Plate isn't budging. Instead, it's locked tightly against the Juan de Fuca's surface.

Blue Planet

Why the Yamnaya population should be seen as quintessentially European

The Yamnaya made knife blades like this one and other tools of bronze.
I was about to post a comment under a new preprint at bioRxiv, but the comment section isn't there anymore. Hopefully, this is just a temporary glitch.

The preprint in question is titled Reconstructing the spatiotemporal patterns of admixture during the European Holocene using a novel genomic dating method [LINK]. It's co-authored by Harvard/Broad MIT scientist Nick Patterson who occasionally comments at this blog.

My impression is that the authors see the people associated with the Yamnaya culture as Asians who simply used "far" Eastern Europe as a springboard to expand into other parts of Europe.

If so, they're dead wrong.

Comment: See also: And check out SOTT radio's: MindMatters: Zoroastrianism: The Ancient System of Values That Sought to Change The World, And Did


Impossible material made possible inside a graphene sandwich

layer of cuprous iodide
© 2021 Kimmo Mustonen, Christoph Hofer und Viera Skákalov
A single layer of cuprous iodide encapsulated in between two sheets of graphene (gray atoms).
New results in "Advanced Materials"

Atoms bind together by sharing electrons. The way this happens depends on the atom types but also on conditions such as temperature and pressure. In two-dimensional (2D) materials, such as graphene, atoms join along a plane to form structures just one atom thick, which leads to fascinating properties determined by quantum mechanics. Researchers at the University of Vienna in collaboration with the Universities of Tübingen, Antwerp and CY Cergy Paris, together with Danubia NanoTech, have produced a new 2D material made of copper and iodine atoms sandwiched between two graphene sheets. The results were published in the journal Advanced Materials.

The design of new materials allows for either improved efficiency of known applications or totally new applications that were out of reach with the previously existing materials. Indeed, tens of thousands of conventional materials such as metals and their alloys have been identified over the last hundred years. A similar number of possible 2D materials have been predicted to exist, but as of now, only a fraction of them have been produced in experiments. One reason for this is the instability of many of these materials in laboratory conditions.

In the recent study, the researchers synthesized 2D cuprous iodide that was stabilized in a graphene sandwich, as the first example of a material that does not otherwise exist in normal laboratory conditions. The synthesis utilizes the large interlayer spacing of oxidized graphene multilayers, which allows iodine and copper atoms to diffuse into the gap and to grow the new material. The graphene layers here have an important role imposing a high pressure on the sandwiched material that thus becomes stabilized. The resulting sandwich structure is shown in the illustration.

Cloud Grey

Even in the depths of sleep our brains are alert to stranger danger, new study reveals

sleep woman
© (B2M Productions/DigitalVision/Getty Images)
Even as we slumber, our industrious brains continue working to keep us alive. They ensure our heartbeats and breathing remain on track, wash off the waste they've accumulated throughout the day, and sort and file our memories. Now it seems they achieve all this and more while also monitoring our surroundings for stranger danger, a new study suggests.

"Unfamiliar voices should not be speaking to you at night - it sets off an alarm," University of Salzburg cognitive neuroscientist Manuel Schabus told New Scientist.

Schabus and colleagues observed this brain alarm in 17 volunteers. After a night to adjust to the new surroundings of the sleep lab, volunteers underwent polysomnography to record their brain waves, oxygen levels, heart and breathing rates, and movements.

Comment: See also:


Cambrian explosion becomes more explosive

Fossil of Trilobite Walliserops trifurcatus​
© Wikimedia Common
Fossil of Trilobite walliserops trifurcatus​
A period of 410,000 years seems like a long time for most people, but it's relatively brief for scientists who study Earth's history. Moreover, from a naturalistic perspective, this period of time would be considered implausibly brief for the required changes in the transition of life-forms from simple to complex. Several new research studies affirm the explosiveness of animal life in Earth's history and carry implications for evolution and creation.

Life Exploded onto the Scene

The Cambrian explosion refers to the sudden, simultaneous appearance of the greatest number of phyla ever witnessed during the 3.8-billion-year history of Earth's life. A phylum is a broad category of life-forms that share a common basic body plan. In eighteenth-century botanist Carl Linnaeus's taxonomic classification system, a phylum ranks just below a kingdom in terms of inclusiveness.

Presently, there are a total of 30 phyla that comprise all Earth's life. The Cambrian explosion, more than a half-billion years ago, saw the sudden appearance of all, or virtually all, these 30 phyla plus many more that became extinct. Estimates of the total number of phyla that appeared in the Cambrian explosion event range from 50 to 100.1 The new phyla that appeared in the Cambrian explosion (a largely marine event) included the first animals to possess skeletons, digestive tracts, circulatory systems, and complex internal and external organs. Not until the Cambrian explosion was there sufficient oxygen in Earth's atmosphere and oceans for such animals to exist.



Monster black hole spotted on dwarf galaxy 'giving birth' to stars

black hole star formation Henize 2-10
© NASA/ESA/Zachary Schutte/Amy Reines
A Hubble Space Telescope image shows the Henize 2-10 galaxy, with a hidden supermassive black hole at its centre. A pullout of the central region of dwarf starburst galaxy Henize 2-10 traces an outflow, or bridge of hot gas 230 light-years long, connecting the galaxy's massive black hole and a star-forming region
The Hubble telescope just spotted a 500-light-year-long 'umbilical cord' for baby stars

A black hole has been spotted 'giving birth' to stars in a nearby dwarf galaxy - suggesting the voids aren't as violent as previously thought, NASA has revealed.

Black holes are often described as 'destructive monsters' because they tear apart stars, consuming anything that comes too close, and hold light captive. But new evidence from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope shows a black hole at the heart of the dwarf galaxy Henize 2-10 that's creating stars, not gobbling them up.


'Strange history' of photons challenges our understanding of quantum interactions

Photons and Atoms
© iStock/MickeyCZ
Straight on through: atoms can be excited by photons that do not appear to interact with the medium
A surprising property of how resonant photons interact with an absorbing medium has been uncovered by physicists in Canada. They say they have found that even photons passing straight through the medium energize atoms within it, causing atoms to spend nearly as much time in their excited states as those that have absorbed photons. They see their result as a challenge to theorists trying to describe how light interacts with matter quantum mechanically.

Aephraim Steinberg and colleagues at the University of Toronto made the discovery while investigating what happens to a beam of photons passing through a cloud of atoms when the photons' frequency is equal to that of one of the atomic transitions. Intuitively, they say, it would be expected that those photons exciting atoms within the cloud would be absorbed and then at best re-emitted in a random direction. As such, the flux of photons coming from excited atoms that are detected in the forward direction would be miniscule.

Indeed, they point out, this idea that only absorbed, or "lost", photons contribute to the excitation springs naturally from theory that tells us the total time atoms spend in the excited state is directly proportional to the number of photons that are lost.


Quantum computing in silicon hits 99 per cent accuracy

UNSW team
© UNSW/Kearon de Clouet
The UNSW team: Dr Asaad Serwan, Prof. Andrea Morello and Dr Mateusz Madzik.
Australian researchers have proven that near error-free quantum computing is possible, paving the way to build silicon-based quantum devices compatible with current semiconductor manufacturing technology.

"Today's publication shows our operations were 99 per cent error-free," says Professor Andrea Morello of UNSW, who led the work with partners in the US, Japan, Egypt, and at UTS and the University of Melbourne.

"When the errors are so rare, it becomes possible to detect them and correct them when they occur. This shows that it is possible to build quantum computers that have enough scale, and enough power, to handle meaningful computation."

The team's goal is building what's called a 'universal quantum computer' that won't be specific to any one application.

"This piece of research is an important milestone on the journey that will get us there," Prof. Morello says.

Microscope 2

Tech bros propose replacing women with 'synthetic wombs'

Pregnant woman
© Getty Images / JGI; Tom Grill
Taking away the responsibility of pregnancy from women could result in less wealth inequality by gender, one billionaire argued.

Several prominent tech entrepreneurs discussed the possibility of replacing natural birth with synthetic wombs, arguing that such technology would remove the "burden" of pregnancy and allow women to work more.

After Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk warned on Tuesday that society "should be much more worried about population collapse," Musk's fellow tech leaders came up with one solution for declining birth rates.
"We should be investing in technology that makes having kids much faster/easier/cheaper/more accessible... Synthetic wombs, etc," proposed Sahil Lavingia, the founder of digital product trading platform Gumroad.

Comment: This idea will contribute even more to dehumanisation of the humanity. Children needs the love and connection with their parents. It plays a very important role in their development.

This will indeed create a Matrix like dystopian society of robotized and emotionless population. A free army of slaves for the PTB that can be even more controllable.

See also: