Thursday, December 24, 2015

Leonard Cohen: The Land Of Plenty

The Land of Plenty” is the tenth and last track on the album, Ten New Songs, which was released in October 2001. Leonard Cohen wrote and produced the album with Sharon Robinson, who sings in all the songs, making this album a complete collaboration. This song blends realism and pessimism with hopeful reconciliation and redemption. Present in the song is a profound (yet mournful) sense of irony: what we see is not necessarily the same as what is often set before us.

The Land of Plenty
by Leonard Cohen & Sharon Robinson

Don’t really have the courage
To stand where I must stand.
Don't really have the temperament
To lend a helping hand.

Don’t really know who sent me
To raise my voice and say:
May the lights in The Land of Plenty
Shine on the truth some day.

I don’t know why I've come here,
Knowing as I do,
What you really think of me,
What I really think of you.

For the millions in the prison,
That wealth has set apart
For the Christ who has not risen,
From the caverns of the heart

For the innermost decision,
That we cannot but obey
For what's left of our religion,
I lift my voice and pray:
May the lights in The Land of Plenty
Shine on the truth some day.

I know I said I’d meet you,
I’d meet you at the store,
But I can’t buy it, baby.
I can’t buy it anymore.

And I don't really know who sent me,
To raise my voice and say:
May the lights in The Land of Plenty
Shine on the truth some day.

For the innermost decision
That we cannot buy obey
For what's left of our religion
I lift my voice and pray:
May the lights in The Land of Plenty
Shine on the truth some day.

I am taking a short winter break; happy and healthy holidays to all. I expect to return in a couple of weeks, when there will be a bit more light.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Space Repairs & Supply Ships: On The I.S.S.

The International Space Station

SpaceWalk on December 21, 2015: Mark Garcia writes for NASA: “The three-hour and 16-minute spacewalk was the third for Kelly, who is nine months into a yearlong mission and the second for Kopra, who arrived to the station Dec. 15. It was the 191st in support of assembly and maintenance of the orbiting laboratory. Crew members have now spent a total of 1,195 hours and 20 minutes working outside the orbital laboratory.”
Photo Credit: NASA
Source: Time

Things break down, and when this happens on the space station (orbiting, on average, 355 km or 220 miles above the Earth), astronauts have to fix it in zero gravity, as this photo of Scott Kelly, Expedition 46 commander, shows. In this case, the problem was the robotic arm, which means that a spacewalk was necessary, always a dangerous (yet exhilarating) task. “There have been 191 spacewalks at the International Space Station since 1998,” NASA writes.

As for this latest spacewalk, on December 21st, Jeffrey Kluger writes for Time: “The only answer was to don their extravehicular activity suits, go outside and fix the problem. They did just that on Dec. 21, and the supply ship is now cleared to arrive. In these two pictures, taken during the spacewalk, Kelly wears the red stripes that are the insignia of the commander. Kopra, the junior member of this road gang, is in all white.”

This task had to be completed ahead of the supply ship, which docked with the station earlier today. writes NASA: “Traveling about 253 miles over western Mongolia, the unpiloted ISS Progress 62 Russian cargo ship docked automatically with the Pirs docking compartment of the International Space Station at 5:27 a.m. EST today. Progress is delivering 2.8 tons of food, fuel, and supplies to the crew aboard the station.”

For more, go to [Time] & [NASA]

The First Day Of Winter: In Toronto (2015)

Canada’s Seasons

“Mon pays ce n’est pas un pays, c’est l'hiver.” 

Winter’s Blues:
Photo Credit
: ©Perry J. Greenbaum, 2015
In North America, we have entered the season of winter, which in Canada is associated with snow, icy cold winds, frost, bitter cold and short days with diminished sunlight. (The December solstice was on December 21, 2015, at 11:49 p.m. EST). In this photo taken yesterday from my sixth-floor window, looking northwest and overlooking the park, there is no evidence of snow, no evidence of the typical symbols associated with Canadian winters, other than the bare tree branches; it has been a mild December so far. The temperature is 9°C (54°F), with the air filled with mist and the skies grey when this photo was taken, around sunrise, which was at 7:48. a.m. Today, there will be slightly less than nine hours (8:55:49) of daylight here in Toronto. The days have already started to becoming longer than yesterday, with the addition of five seconds.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Phytoplankton Bloom In The North Atlantic Ocean

Ocean Art

Ocean PaintingA Van Gogh-like image is the creation of a natural phenomena, a huge bloom of phytoplankton, or microscopic marine plant life found in the waters of the North Atlantic.
Image Credit: NASA
SourceLive Science

The Impressionists resided among Nature to capture the colours and sentiments it presented to the artists. who then gave their “impressions” on canvas in a move away from representative art. Nature often makes its own paintings, and with the aid of science and satellites, we get to view Nature's handiwork. In “Water Art: Phytoplankton Bloom Turns Ocean into a Masterpiece” (December 14, 2015), Elizabeth Palermo writes in Live Science: “It may look like a painting by Vincent van Gogh, but this mass of swirling colors is really a satellite image depicting a huge bloom of phytoplankton, or microscopic marine plant life, in the waters of the North Atlantic Ocean. NASA acquired the image on Sept. 23 using its Suomi NPP weather satellite. The spacecraft is equipped with a special imaging tool known as the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), which collects visible and infrared imagery. To create this artful picture, NASA combined data from the red, green and blue infrared bands of VIIRS with additional data about the levels of chlorophyll (green pigments found in algae and plants) present in the North Atlantic Ocean. Like terrestrial plants, phytoplankton contain light-absorbing chlorophyll and need sunlight to live and grow.”

For more, go to [LiveScience

The Story Of A Syrian Climate Refugee Farmer

The Fertile Crescent

In this video (“Why This Refugee Farmer Left His Land” (December 17, 2015), by Eliene Augenbraun, for Scientific American, we have a first-hand and personal view of the effects of the drought and poor water management by the government on the farmers of Syria, contributing to the mass migration of Syrians. Some researchers link the civil war in Syria, which started as a democratic uprising in March 2011, with the serious drought (2006–2009) resulting from climate change in the region known as the Fertile Crescent.

The result are climate refugees, a subgroup of environmental refugees. It is certain that climate change of this magnitude—when and where it takes place—will lead to more civil wars and great upheavals of people—the northern African region of The Sahel, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, is vulnerable. Without water and arable farmland, there are no crops, no food and no source of income for the farmer. The land becomes barren, and people who depended on it for generations leave it.

Water, in the 21st century, will be as valuable a resource as oil was in the last century. Nations that have the know-how—Israel is one exemplary example [see also a book review here]— of using scientific methods like desalination and nanotech to manage their water supply, especially in the midst of a drought, will be the winners. Such knowledge of water management might also be the catalyst for peace in a region that requires both.

For more, go to [ScientAmer]

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Defining Sphingolipids’ Role In Cancer Apoptosis

Cancer Research

Colon Cancer Cells: Charlotte Hsu, for the University of Buffalo, writes:  “The ones in red are unharmed. The ones in green are undergoing a highly orchestrated form of cellular death called apoptosis. A new study investigates the role that lipids play in this dying process.”
Image Credit: Virginia del Solar
Source: Science Daily

An article, by Charlotte Hsu, from the University of Buffalo and posted in Science Daily looks at the role that the organic compound sphingolipids plays in helping cancer cells die; this cellular death is called apoptosis. Cancer researchers have been looking to exploit apoptosis as a means to derive a therapeutic benefit since the early 1970s.

In “Probing the mystery of how cancer cells die (December 17, 2015), Hsu writes:
A new study by University at Buffalo scientists sheds light on this topic, tracing how levels of various sphingolipids spike inside cancer cells when the cells are undergoing a highly organized form of cellular death called apoptosis.
In normal cells, apoptosis—akin to cellular suicide—is carried out when a cell is damaged. The self-destruction is healthy: It’ thought to help the body rid itself of dysfunctional cells.
Cancer cells are adept at evading apoptosis, which is one reason they multiply out of control. But in the new study, the scientists forced the cells to commit suicide, then carefully tracked what happened inside the cells as they self-destructed.
“A better understanding of the machinery of apoptosis, at the fundamental level, can perhaps help us find new therapeutics for cancer,” said G. Ekin Atilla-Gokcumen, PhD, the study’s senior author and an assistant professor of chemistry in the UB College of Arts and Sciences.
That indeed is another of the many approaches cancer researchers are taking in what has been a long historical battle against a deadly and often implacable foe. The aim is to make the word cancer less ominous, less threatening, to defeat the sense of dread that it carries. Cancer still in many cases carries such a feeling, but less so today than a few decades ago—thanks to the advances brought about by research and its application in therapeutics. In many ways, we can earnestly say that this is the beginning of the end for cancer. And with its death, however achieved, people can sleep easier.

For more, go to [Science Daily]

Three Years Cancer-Free

Personal Milestones

@Home: On October 17th
Photo Credit: ©Perry J. Greenbaum

Today marks three years cancer-free. It was three years ago today that surgeons removed an orange-sized tumor from my lower colon, and with this the source of the unbearable pain and blockage of normal bowel functions. (This milestone is not the same as NED  (no evidence of disease), which comes after all treatment are completed and tests, including a CT scan, have been done; in my case, this is September 20th.)

After the surgery and a short hospital stay of four days post-op, I recuperated for approximately six weeks at home; initially, I was weak and unable to do simple tasks, including eating more than a few bites of food. But within time, I regained both my appetite and a good measure of my strength. In February, I started six months of adjuvant chemotherapy and tests, which is documented in my blog within a blog, “A Cancer Memoir.”

I still suffer side effects; I still am working toward full recovery; and I still am grateful for whatever good health I have. It often takes a personal tragedy, it has been said, to appreciate the importance of life and of living well. Change comes, but not easily. This is a lesson that is not easily learned. Life's lessons often take a lifetime of learning.

So, I continue learning and gaining knowledge, and I continue reading and writing. My intimate and up-close experience with cancer has naturally and predictably increased my interest in this disease; this is among the chief reasons of many that I write about it and post it on social media (see here): not only to increase the public knowledge of the latest medical research, but also to increase hope for persons undergoing the trials and tribulations of a cancer diagnosis and treatment.

If I have helped a few, such is good and encouraging news; if you feel up to it, consider sharing the news, either publicly or privately. Cancer does not have to be the end, no, not at all. It can often be the wake-up call, the catalyst to change. One thing is almost certain, post-cancer, no one is the same person he was pre-cancer. Not only physically, but in so many ways that define a person.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

A Better Understanding Of Gene Mutations Can Improve Cancer Diagnosis & Treatment

Medical Science

Personal Genomics: Science News writes: “Genetic analyses of tumors (melanoma cells shown)
offer great promise for improving diagnoses and treatment, but new studies show that not all
mutations can be treated equally.”
Image Credit: Julio C. Valencia; NCI Center for Cancer Research
SourceScience News

One of the promises of next-generation cancer treatment is personalized genomics and personalized profiling, which together form the fundamentals of individualized cancer care. Yet, in order to fully take advantage of such gene-sequencing techniques, it requires a better understanding of mutations at the genetic and molecular level. Moreover, a comparative analysis between cancerous cells and healthy cells gives a more accurate result on whether the genetic mutation is indeed related to the cancer in question, cancer researchers are finding out. Simply put, not all genetic mutations result in cancer.

In “Year in review: Cancer genetics grows up” (December 15, 2015), Rachel Ehrenberg writes for Science News: “But such genetic testing can be misleading if it isn’t conducted alongside tests of healthy cells from the same person, says oncologist Victor Velculescu of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He led a vast analysis comparing the genetic profiles of tumors and normal tissue of more than 800 cancer patients and found that nearly two-thirds of mutations in the studied tumors — many of which might be used to guide treatment — also showed up in patients’ healthy tissues (SN: 5/16/15, p. 10). For those patients, the mutations were probably just benign variants unrelated to the cancer. Analyzing healthy tissue can also reveal whether mutations found in tumors are heritable or not, Velculescu says, which is important for deciding whether a cancer patient’s family should receive genetic counseling.”

For more, go to [ScienceNews]

Friday, December 18, 2015

A Fundamental Physics Problem Is ‘Unsolvable’

Quantum World

The Spectral Gap—the energy difference between the ground state and first excited state of a system—is central to quantum many-body physics,” write Toby S. Cubitt, David Perez-Garcia & Michael M. Wolf in the abstract of the paper, Undecidability  of the spectral gappublished in the journal Nature (December 10, 2015).
Photo Credit: Viktoriya;
SourceScience Alert

The world of quantum physics has declared one problem as mathematically unsolvable: determining whether a material has a spectral gap, which is important for material scientists looking to exploit the properties of semi-conductors. This is not saying that it is not solvable today, but that it will likely remain unsolvable or unpredictable at the microscopic level. What is predicted at the microscopic level in regards to quantum materials (like semiconductors) does not neatly translate in a predictable way to what occurs at the macroscopic level.

Or as Technische Universität München (TUM) succinctly writes about this important finding in particle and quantum physics: “The findings are important because they show that even a perfect and complete description of the microscopic properties of a material is not enough to predict its macroscopic behavior.”

The reasons focus on the very nature of quantum physics, or at least the way theoretical physicists currently understand its laws and inner workings, which is itself based on how they have historically understood it for the last century or so. In “For the first time, researchers have proved that a fundamental physics problem is actually unsolvable” (December 10, 2015), Fiona Macdonald writes in Science Alert:
Researchers have a whole lot of unanswered questions when it comes to the worlds of particle and quantum physics, but one of the most fundamental of those is going to stay that way, with scientists proving for the first time that the problem is mathematically unsolvable.
The problem in question concerns the spectral gap, which is a term for the energy required for an electron to transition from a low-energy state to an excited state. What that really means is that no matter how perfectly and completely we can mathematically describe a material on the microscopic level, we’re never going to be able to predict its macroscopic behaviour. If you listen closely, you can almost hear the dreams of physicists everywhere being shattered.

Why are spectral gaps so important? They’re a central property of semiconductors, which are crucial components of most electrical circuits, and physicists had hoped that if they'd be able to work out whether a material is superconductive at room temperature (a highly desirable trait) simply by extrapolating from a complete-enough microscopic description.
But publishing their results in Nature, an international team of scientists has now shown that determining whether a material has a spectral gap is what’s known as “an undecidable question”.
This might be one of the cases where theoretical physicists “know” that a theory is true but can’t prove it, or in this case predict the future behaviour of a quantum material. It would seem that when one is working in the world of quantum theory, it has an otherworldly aspect to it. It would appear that there is much to Einstein’s claim of “spooky action at a distance.”

Yet, such inexplicable behaviour ought not spell defeat, but rather might eventually lead to a new or a more fuller understanding of the universe. This is what happened 50 years ago with Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, whose discovery of  Cosmic Microwave Background, or CMB, supported the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe.

For more, go to [ScienceAlert]

Thursday, December 17, 2015

To Read: 10 Physics Books Of 2015

Scientific Theories

Books On Your Shelf
Image Credit: Sandbox Studio, Chicago with Ana Kova
Source: Symmetry
Many physics books published today for the public try to explain concepts that are hard to understand, even for scientists; these include dark matter, black holes and much that takes place in the world of quantum physics. The world of tiny subatomic particles, theoretical physicists point out, influence the large domains of solar systems, galaxies and parallel universes.

This makes for fun reading and advances (or pushes) the mind to previously unexplored areas, often engendering bouts of speculation, and often bringing to mind stories for science fiction and science fantasy. These in turn sometimes turn to real engineering applications. The history of science informs us that what we know today changes in the future, and all the more so with the laws of physics.

It is, after all, 100 years ago (on November 25, 1915) that Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity was presented to the Prussian Academy of Science, in what are now known as the Einstein field equations. [see paper here]. It had an immediate effect, and it changed our view, our understanding, our knowledge, if you will, of the universe .

Mike Perricone for Symmetry writes: “This collection of 10 recently published books will keep you up-to-date on the new and the historical in particle physics and astrophysics. Covering topics from dark matter to spooky action at a distance to the still-lamented Superconducting Super Collider, they’re all worthy additions to a popular science bookshelf.”

For more, including a list of the books, go to [Symmetry]

United Pianos: 11 Musicians From 6 Continents

International Music

The Times of Israel reports on a wonderful initiative by the Israeli mission to the United Nations involving 11 pianists from 11 nations and six continents. Called “United Pianos,” the project was produced by CRC Media and by Israeli musician Idan Raichel and composer Tomer Biran, who, the article says, “have created a special rendition of a melody from Prokofiev’s ‘Peter and the Wolf’.”
The video features pianists from Israel, Turkey, USA, Vietnam, The Bahamas, Germany, India, Australia, Russia, South Africa and Poland. The pianists represent the nations of the world, and include men and women, Jews, Muslims and Christians, playing together and conveying a message of peace and inclusion. Meytal Cohen from LA, known for her viral drumming videos on YouTube, makes a special appearance in the video as well.
The video shows each pianist in his or her home country, playing a part of the arrangement, as the player’s national flag appears in the top left-hand corner of the screen. The two-minute piece is a riff on the theme symbolizing Peter from Sergei Prokofiev’s masterpiece, written – remarkably – over the course of four days in 1936.
“Music is a global language, it has the power to unite us together, by bridging cultural and political gaps,” said Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon to mark the release of the video.
Yes, indeed.

For more, go to [TOI]

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Glamorous & Luminous Macaws

Nature Photography

Florilegium#1, 2014: Winner of the William and Winifred Bowness Photography Prize, 
Monash Gallery of Art, Victoria, Australia. 
Photo Credit: Joseph McGlennon, 2014
Source: Aesthetica

There is no denying or doubt that this image is striking; if you have seen a macaw up close as I have, you will agree, I think, that this photo, gathered from multiple images taken at multiple locations over a period of time and gathered together by a technique that dates to the Age of Enlightenment, does the bird justice. Its original meaning was similar to that of an anthology, the gathering of excerpts from various sources to form a literary compilation.

What can be used for one thing can be applied to another; this has been used to depict plants, as the Latin word suggests. There is the noteworthy example of Banks Florilegium, 743 botanical line engravings, Wikipedia writes, “of plants collected by Sir Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander while they accompanied Captain James Cook on his voyage around the world between 1768 and 1771.” Thus, it comes as no surprise that this method can be applied in other ways (photography) and to other living things (birds) found in Nature.

Aesthetica writes: “The image was photographed in Madagascar, Tahiti and Singapore and is representative of a Florilegium landscape; a Latin term reconfigured in the Middle Ages meaning ‘to gather botanicals.’ ” It adds: “McGlennon has created a Florilegium landscape from the Age of Enlightenment. Florilegium#1 was composed with multiple photographs. The Macaws in their glamorous poses are surrounded by a landscape of stunning beauty. Each feather holds faint reflections making the birds appear luminous against their utopian backdrop. A soft breeze could be imagined to swiftly ruffle the feathers and disturb their perfect form. Your eyes make their way from the Macaws down to the branch on which they are resting. One bird looks to the camera more inquisitively than the other. Adorned with an opulent floral arrangement, the mixed flora adds vividness to the scene as purples, greens and speckles of orange gently navigates gaze. The shadowing that envelops the floral arrangements accentuates the crisp forms and brings depth to the work making the atmosphere tangible and easy to sense.”

For more, go to [Aesthetica]

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Mozart: The Marriage Of Figaro (2003)

Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro (Le nozze di Figaro) is among the best operas produced. Wikipedia writes that this:
is an opera buffa (comic opera) in four acts composed in 1786 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, with an Italian libretto written by Lorenzo Da Ponte. It premiered at the Burgtheater in Vienna on 1 May 1786. The opera's libretto is based on a stage comedy by Pierre Beaumarchais, La folle journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro (first performed in 1784).
The synopsis can be found here. In this performance, with the Orchestra e Coro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Zubin Mehta at the podium, at the Teatro Comunale di Firenze, in 2003, the particulars are as follows:

Il Conte d’Almaviva: Lucio Gallo
La Contessa d’Almaviva: Eteri Gvazava
Figaro: Giorgio Surian
Susanna Patrizia Ciofi
Cherubino; Marina Comparato
Marcellina: Giovanna Donadini
Don Bartolo: Eduardo Chama
Don Basilio: Sergio Bertocchi
Barbarina: Eleonora Contucci
Antonio: Gianluca Ricci
Don Curzio: Carlo Bosi

This production is directed by Jonathan Miller.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Nanotech Drug-Delivery System Might Become More Effective Against Metastatic Melanomas

Cancer Research

Gene Mutation: Bisocience Technology writes about the latest research finding at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center in New Hampshire: “Melanoma, the most lethal form of skin cancer, is responsible for more than 80 percent of all skin cancer deaths and spreads readily to the lymph nodes and other organs. While early stage melanoma is curable, the later vertical growth phase (VGP) is frequently metastatic, with median survival times of less than nine months. Melanoma that progresses to this stage is often associated with the gene mutation BRAFV600E, which is found in about 50 percent of melanomas. This BRAF mutation activates certain enzyme pathways that are involved in many cell processes.”
Photo Credit & SourceBioscience Technology

An article, by Catharine Paddock, in Medical News Today says that a nanotech-based drug delivery system might prove effective against metastatic melanomas that spread via the lymphatic system. Where chemotherapy often becomes toxic in this case, a more precise (and less toxic) nanotech approach might be the right solution to better patient outcomes.

In “Melanoma treatment could benefit from nanotech drug delivery” (December 10, 2015), Paddock writes:
Once melanoma begins to spread to the rest of the body - usually through the lymphatic system - a patient's chances of survival reduce dramatically. Now a new study, led by Oregon State University in Portland, has revealed a three-drug delivery system using nanoparticles that migrate to the lymph nodes and thereby increase the effectiveness of the anticancer agents.
Effectiveness of current chemotherapy for metastatic melanoma is limited because levels needed to have a therapeutic effect in the lymphatic system are too toxic. Current treatments are hampered because producing drug levels in the lymph node high enough to eliminate tumors creates problems with toxicity. Another drawback is the cancer often also becomes resistant to treatment.
The researchers say the new approach, which they have tested on laboratory animals, can also decrease drug resistance and the toxic effects that this type of chemotherapy often brings.
The nanotech drug-delivery system could also be a step forward in the treatment of any cancer that tends to spread through the lymphatic system, says lead author Adam Alani, an assistant professor in Oregon State University's College of Pharmacy. In addition to melanoma, cancers of the breast, prostate, pancreas, gastric system, lung, and head and neck also tend to spread via the lymphatic system.
The team reports the findings in the Journal of Controlled Release.
Less is more in this case; less chemo is more effective if combined with a newer class of treatments that are more precise and target the cancer cells and not both the cancer and healthy cells, which is what happens with chemotherapy. This brings about in many side effects, including  CIPN (chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy), which I have had for more than 2½ years.

All the more reasons to applaud the latest research. Such a nanotech approach, along with newer treatments, like immunotherapy, virus-based gene therapies and engineered viruses (like the polio virus or the herpes virus), are viewed by cancer researchers as the future of cancer treatments—these are collectively called next-generation treatments. The goal is to use or embolden the body’s defense mechanism (via T cells) to fight cancer at its earliest stages before it progresses, weakens and overwhelms the body's immune system.

Also important, and which might (hopefully) become standard in the next five years, is personal genomics or patient profiling as another weapon in the physician’s arsenal to battle cancer. In an article (“A CEO’s View On Cancer, Virus-Based ‘Cures,’And ‘60 Minutes’ Vs. Reality;” April 8, 2015), by Arlene Weintraub, in Forbes, this is the view of Brad Thompson, CEO of Oncolytics Biotech, a Canadian company invested in virus-based immunotherapies.
Thompson believes that understanding the patients who don’t respond to virus-based treatments will be as important as celebrating those who do. And he’s so optimistic about the emerging science he offers a bold prediction: Within five years there will be a whole suite of these cancer-fighting engineered bugs on the market, he says, which physicians will be able to mix and match based on the exact profile of each patient’s disease.
This is a good, and one could add, an ideal use of human profiling.

For more, go to [MedNewsToday]

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1: Gil Shaham

Gil Shaham and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Myung-Whun Chung conducting, perform Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, opus. 26, at the Maison de la radio Auditorium in Paris, France. Wikipedia writes about this concerto:
The concerto was first completed in 1866 and the first performance was given on 24 April 1866 by Otto von Königslow with Bruch himself conducting. The concerto was then considerably revised with help from celebrated violinist Joseph Joachim and completed in its present form in 1867. The premiere of the revised concerto was given by Joachim in Bremen on 5 January 1868 with Karl Martin Rheinthaler conducting.
Bruch [1838–1920] was a German Romantic composer who wrote more than 200 works, including three violin concertos. None of his other works, however, achieved the recognition of achievement as this popular violin concerto does. It was played so much by violinists in Bruch’s lifetime that he tired of hearing it. Bruch’s other works merit attention, notably his “Kol Nidrei.”

Shaham was born in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, in 1971; he moved with his parents, both scientists, to Israel when he was two. Their parents had by then changed their family name from Bronstein to Shaham in accordance to the custom of the time to take on Hebrew names. (Bronstein means brown stone in Yiddish, while Shaham is Hebrew for a brown stone common to Israel.)

The family would return to the U.S., to New York City, where Gil’s father, Jacob Shaham, a well-known astrophysicist, joined the faculty of Columbia University in 1984; and his mother, Meira Shaham, worked as a medical geneticist. By then, Gil was already a student at The Julliard School and destined for international fame. He had already played with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Zubin Mehta conducting, two years earlier.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Dinosaurs Took Less Time To Evolve Than Scientists Previously Thought

Prehistoric Times

Faster Evolution: Scientific American writes:  “Animals escaping from an erupting volcano 235 million years ago in northwestern Argentina. These species, found as fossils in the Chanares Formation, include early mammal relatives (the dicynodont Dinodontosaurus in the left background, and the cynodont Massetognathus in the left foreground) and early dinosaur precursors (Lewisuchus in the right background, and Lagerpeton in the right foreground). By measuring radioactive isotopes in zircons crystals from the volcanic ash, scientists were able to determine the precise age of this fossil assemblage.”
Photo Credit:Victor Leshyk
Source: Scientific American

One of the better characteristics of science is that it is self-correcting; when a new theory comes out, it replaces an older theory once considered valid. Such is now the case with how dinosaurs evolved from reptiles, says Laura Geggel for Scientific American, who writes: “Dinosaurs took less than 5 million years to evolve from their reptile predecessors, the early dinosauromorphs, a new study finds. The finding revamps the time line between the dinosaurs and early dinosauromorphs. Until now, researchers thought that it took at least 10 million to 15 million years for the early dinosauromorphs to evolve into dinosaurs. ‘It really narrows the amount of time between the appearance of these early dinosauromorphs and the first dinosaurs," said study co-researcher Randall Irmis, a paleontologist at the University of Utah and a curator of paleontology at the Natural History Museum of Utah. "Rather than there being 10 [million] or 15 million years between when the first dinosauromorphs show up and the first dinosaurs, now it's just 5 million years.’” [See Photos of the Early Dinosauromorph Site in Argentina]

For more, go to [ScientAmer]

Friday, December 11, 2015

Magnetic Fields Power Supermassive Black Hole, Sagittarius A*, Found In Our Milky Way Galaxy

Black Holes: writes on its site: “In this artist’s conception, the black hole at the center of our galaxy is surrounded by a hot disk of accreting material. Blue lines trace magnetic fields. The Event Horizon Telescope has measured those magnetic fields for the first time with a resolution six times the size of the event horizon (6 Schwarzschild radii). It found the fields in the disk to be disorderly, with jumbled loops and whorls resembling intertwined spaghetti. In contrast, other regions showed a much more organized pattern, possibly in the region where jets (shown by the narrow yellow streamer) would be generated. 
Illustration Credit: M. Weiss;CfA
An article in Physics. org reports on an astounding finding where magnetic fields have been found near an event horizon of a supermassive black hole in our galaxy, the Milky Way. (An event horizon is the boundary around the “mouth” of the black hole, where light can no longer escape.) The one in question is named Sagittarius A*, about 25,000 light-years from Earth and about 4 million times more massive than the sun. The event horizon, however, is 8 million miles (12.9 million kilometres) wide, which is less than the average distance from Mercury to the sun.

The article (“Event Horizon Telescope reveals magnetic fields at Milky Way’s central black hole;” December 3, 2015) says:
Most people think of black holes as giant vacuum cleaners sucking in everything that gets too close. But the supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies are more like cosmic engines, converting energy from infalling matter into intense radiation that can outshine the combined light from all surrounding stars. If the black hole is spinning, it can generate strong jets that blast across thousands of light-years and shape entire galaxies. These black hole engines are thought to be powered by magnetic fields. For the first time, astronomers have detected magnetic fields just outside the event horizon of the black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy.

“Understanding these magnetic fields is critical. Nobody has been able to resolve magnetic fields near the event horizon until now,” says lead author Michael Johnson of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). The results appear in the Dec. 4th issue of the journal Science.
“These magnetic fields have been predicted to exist, but no one has seen them before. Our data puts decades of theoretical work on solid observational ground,” adds principal investigator Shep Doeleman (CfA/MIT), who is assistant director of MIT’s Haystack Observatory. This feat was achieved using the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT)—a global network of radio telescopes that link together to function as one giant telescope the size of Earth. Since larger telescopes can provide greater detail, the EHT ultimately will resolve features as small as 15 micro-arcseconds. (An arcsecond is 1/3600 of a degree, and 15 micro-arcseconds is the angular equivalent of seeing a golf ball on the moon.)
The next step for astrophysicists is to answer why certain black holes are so bright. If even light can’t escape a black hole, the expectation is that it would be dark. Yet, some black holes outshine the stars around them; one is the system ULX-1. What is known is that even as black holes suck in light, they also emit radiation.

The knowledge of black holes has a history of almost a century, Nola Taylor Redd writes (“Black holes, Facts, Theories & Definitions;” April 9, 2015) in “Albert Einstein first predicted black holes in 1916 with his general theory of relativity. The term "black hole" was coined in 1967 by American astronomer John Wheeler, and the first one was discovered in 1971.”

Supermassive black holes are among the the three kinds of black holes that astrophysicists have thus far identified; the other two are stellar black holes and intermediate black holes. What a fascinating galaxy we reside in, and are a part of; and a strange one, too.

For more, go to []

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Bahrain’s King Holds Chanukah Candle-Lighting Ceremony

Jewish Rituals

An article in The Times of Israel, originally published in JTA, reports that the King of Bahrain, a Islamic nation in the Persian Gulf, held Chanukah candle-lighting ceremonies. Officially called the Kingdom of Bahrain, the island nation (consisting of 33 islands) of 1.3 million, is a constitutional monarchy with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa as its head of state:

The Times Of Israel writes:
The king of Bahrain has hosted a candle-lighting ceremony at his palace to mark the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, bringing in a rabbi from Europe to conduct the service.
According to the Conference of European Rabbis, Monday’s ceremony in Manama, Bahrain’s capital, was the first of its kind in the Persian Gulf nation’s palace since the establishment of Israel in 1948.
Conference Director Rabbi Moshe Levin, who was invited by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, recited the traditional blessings while lighting the candles, and sang a verse of “Ma’oz Tzur,” the traditional Hanukkah hymn. Some 50 Jews were present for the ceremony.
“A little light drives off a lot of darkness,” Levin told the king, according to the press release. “Bahrain under your rule is a little light in a dark world of radical fundamentalism.”
This bodes well for Muslim-Jewish relations. Moreover, let us hope that this light spreads far and wide, not only in the Middle East, but also around the world. Today is the fourth day of Chanukah, an eight-day holiday; Happy Chanukah to all.

For more, go to [TOI]

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Beijing Smog Captured By ‘Brother Nut,’ Performance Artist

Capital Cities

Brother Nut’s Vacuum: “The artist known as Brother Nut vacuumed the dust near
the Beijing National Stadium on Nov. 15, Day 87 of his project to turn the city’s pollution
into a tangible brick.” 
Photo Credit: Dong Dalu, CFP
Source: NYT

An article, by Chris Buckley and Adam Wu, in The New York Times says that a performance artist, nicknamed Brother Nut, has spent 100 days vacuuming the dust particles of Beijing, turning these into solid bricks, symbolizing the accumulated smog that Beijing residents breathe in and accumulate in their bodies.

Smog, a word describing a mixture of smoke and fog, is today mostly photochemical smog from automobile exhausts. In “Amid Smog Wave, an Artist Molds a Potent Symbol of Beijing’s Pollution“ (December 1, 2015), Buckley and Wufrom write about the portrayed image of what can be described as a toxic red clay brick:
Beijing has been swamped for days in a beige-gray miasma of smog, bringing coughs and rasping, hospitals crowded from respiratory ailments, a midday sky so dim that it could pass for evening, and head-shaking disgust from residents who had hoped the city was over the worst of its chronic pollution.
But “Brother Nut,” a performance artist, has something solid to show from the acrid soup in the air: a brick of condensed pollution.
For 100 days, Brother Nut dragged a roaring, industrial-strength vacuum cleaner around the Chinese capital’s landmarks, sucking up dust from the atmosphere. He has mixed the accumulated gray gunk with red clay to create a small but potent symbol of the city’s air problems.
Brother Nut is neither crazy nor misguided. There is no escaping the smog of Beijing, a byproduct of coal-fired plants, automobiles, trucks and a society dependent on industrialization, yet with little pollution controls. This was the case with western nations, bringing to mind London’s Great Smog of 1952, where for five days (December 5–9, 1952), London was engulfed in a thick smog that was responsible for killing upwards of 12,000 individuals. It was only later (in 1956 & in 1968) that the British government brought in legislation to clean its air.

Such was also the case in the United States, particularly in Los Angeles (July 26, 1943) and New York City (November 24, 1966)—both notable and notorious smog days. The U.S. started to take air pollution seriously in 1963, but it is only in 1970 with the passage of its Clean Air Act (last amended in 1990) that it had more comprehensive legislation. For example, it was in 1970 that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A,) was set up.

Thus, China is following a historical trend, of allowing industrialization to settle before taking action. Even so, the Chinese government can’t wait too much longer. A scientific paper, published by Berkeley Earth, says that outdoor air pollution is responsible for 1,6 million deaths in China each year. China needs to get serious about pollution controls and environmental protections, if it is to reduce (and hopefully eliminate) its serious life-threatening smog problems. If it pus as much effort and intelligence into this problem as it has done in the last few decades in scientific and economic progress, then it will likely succeed.

For more, go to [NYT]

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Our Connection To Nature: David Suzuki (2000)


This is from the 2000 video, The Nature Connection. The purpose behind his video is to connect children with nature by introducing young and growing minds to their outdoor non-urban surroundings; one of the leaders is David Suzuki, world renown conservationist, who is famous in Canada for the CBC documentary show, The Nature of Things:
Dr. David Suzuki leads a group of children on twelve field trips to discover different aspects of the environment and learn how we are all "connected" to nature. Through their adventures, the children learn to appreciate their relationship with the environment and what they can do to protect it. The collection is designed to inform, stimulate and motivate parents and their children to take up an environmental project. It encourages the natural instinct children have for discovery, and increases their awareness of the beautiful and complex web of life and our place in it.”
An alienation from Nature is an alienation from a major and essential part of our world that engenders and betters our humanity. There is beauty in the world that can be found outside the confines of an electronic screen or of a shopping mall or cafe. That the natural world is worth preserving needs to go beyond talk, but requires action, such as this video demonstrates. International talks (COP21) have been taking place in Paris since November 29th, bringing together the leaders of 195 nations, and an agreement of some sort might be reached by December 11th.

Although politically important, what is more important is how such an agreement is understood locally at the thousands and tens of thousands of communities around the Earth. A notable example is the forest-conservation plans of Madagascar. Communities that preserve their forests and adopt climate-smart agricultural practices ought to be rewarded and receive some compensation, because as we keenly know what happens locally has ramifications internationally. This is the kind of forward-looking thinking that emboldens change and encourages others to become part of the solution to what ails our planet.

To be stewards of the Earth requires an acknowledgement that unlimited human activity in “conquering Nature” and what she possesses will eventually lead to our defeat. This is not mere poetic language, but is based on the many scientific facts before us. We humans have choices, and the ones we make today will influence the generations that come after us.

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Aleppo Codex In Israel

Book Review

The Aleppo Codex: In an article for The New York Times (“High Holy Whoodunit”; July 25, 2012), Ronen Bergman writes on the codex’s importance to Judaism and the Jewish People: “According to tradition, early in the sixth century, a group of sages led by the Ben-Asher family in Tiberias, on the Sea of Galilee, undertook the task of creating a formal and final text. The use of codex technology — a method that made it possible to record information on both sides of a page, in book form, as a cheaper alternative to scrolls — had already evolved in Rome. Around A.D. 930, the sages in Tiberias assembled all 24 holy books and completed the writing of the codex, the first definitive Tanakh, or Hebrew Bible. From Tiberias, the codex was taken to Jerusalem. But Crusaders laid waste to the city in 1099, slaughtering its inhabitants and taking the codex. The prosperous Jewish community of Fustat, near Cairo, paid a huge ransom for it. Later, in the 12th century, it served Maimonides, who referred to it as the most accurate holy text, as a reference for his major work, the Mishneh Torah. In the 14th century, the great-great-great-grandson of Maimonides migrated to Aleppo, bringing the codex with him. There it was kept, for the next 600 years, in a safe within a small crypt hewed in the rock beneath Aleppo’s great synagogue.”
Photo Credit: ©Perry J. Greenbaum

The Aleppo Codex
by Matti Friedman
Algonquin Books, 298 pp., $33.95

The Aleppo Codex, known as the keter (כֶּתֶר) or crown in Hebrew, is considered by scholars to be as accurate a copy of the Hebrew Bible as there can be, a bound book of approximately 500 pages that dates to the tenth century, and which was safely and securely housed in Aleppo, Syria, for six centuries before being transferred to Israel in late 1957. Tradition and modern scholarship says that Maimonides studied and used the codex in the 12th century to publish the Mishneh Torah (Hebrew: מִשְׁנֵה תּוֹרָה), a code of Jewish religious law. His praise of it forever established its reputation and made it more valuable and venerable.

It is housed in the Israel Museum (at the “Shrine of the Book”), in Jerusalem, but access to it is controlled by the Ben-Zvi Institute, founded by Israel’s second president, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi. He is an important figure in this story, as are a few others, including Asher Baghdadi, sexton of the great synagogue at Aleppo; Moshe Tawil, the chief rabbi of Aleppo who decided to send the codex to Israel; Murad Faham, the Aleppo cheese merchant who smuggled the codex to Israel; Shlomo Moussaieff, a jewelry tycoon and buyer of ancient artifacts and manuscripts; and Meir Benayahu, an aide to Ben-Zvi and the institute's first director.

Two months after its arrival in Israel, in February 1958, the codex was at the centre of legal proceedings, where the Aleppo Jews sued the government of Israel for the rights of ownership; the court was the Jerusalem Rabbinic Court. Matti Friedman writes: “The hearings were held before three rabbis, instead of judges, but otherwise followed the recognizable formula of a trial” (116). After a long trial, the Aleppo Jews had to concede defeat and there was, in 1962, “an out-of court settlement” (137). The trusteeship agreement, Friedman writes, “gave the community theoretical part ownership of the manuscript, while effectively ensuring that it would remain in the hands of the state and would never leave Ben-Zvi’s institute” (137-8).

With this agreement, the Aleppo Jews lost control of a book that they had held for centuries, but did so unwillingly. How and why this book was transferred to Israel has everything to do with events that happened shortly after November 29, 1947, when the United Nations made a historic vote. Friedman explains the story in a succinct paragraph in an article (“The Continuing Mysteries of the Aleppo Codex;” June 30, 2014) for Tablet:
In 1947, in a riot that followed the United Nations vote on the partition of Palestine, the codex disappeared, surfacing 10 years later in mysterious circumstances in the new state of Israel. The codex is currently held in the Israel Museum, in the same building as the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is controlled not by the museum, however, but by a prestigious academic body, the Ben-Zvi Institute, founded by Israel’s second president, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi. Somewhere along the way in the mid-20th century, 200 priceless pages—around 40 percent of the total—went missing. These include the most important pages: the Torah, or Five Books of Moses.
These form the heart of the Torah, the Hebrew Bible. What remains of the original codex is what Friedman refers to as a “mutilated codex” (143). It begins with the impending death of Moses found in the Torah’s last book, Deuteronomy, and where Moses, forbidden by G-d to enter the land, gives a farewell address to the People of Israel, which includes both blessings and curses (chapter 28). The mutilated codex does not contain the blessings, but gives warnings of what will happen to the nation of Israel should it deviate from the right path (“derech”) of G-d’s commandments:
It continues with a list of curses:
Cursed shall be the issue of your womb and the produce of your soil, the calving of your herd and the lambing of your flock. Cursed shall be in your comings, and cursed shall you be in your goings.
The Lord will let loose against your calamity, panic and frustration in all the enterprises you undertake, so that you shall soon be utterly wiped out because of your evildoing in forsaking me.
One can read into this as much (or as little) as one wishes, but it is hard to deny the power of the words and how these relate to what happened to the codex. That these words are now the first words of the mutilated codex says much, perhaps too much.

The Aleppo Codex is part a story of historical preservation and continuity, interwoven with the re-birthing of the state of Israel; it is also a moral lesson of greed and monetary remuneration and how the two can come together when something of great value is placed in front of you. It is also a fine detective story on what might have happened to the 200 missing pages. There are possible answers, evidence pointing in a particular direction (270-71), but nothing proven, nothing conclusive. Powerful and influential political and religious figures have built a wall of silence, thus preventing the facts from leaking out (266-70) .

Today, there are two versions of the event (“the missing 200 pages“): the first and official version (posted on the Israel Museum site) is that the 200 pages were burned during the Aleppo riots in 1947 and that the codex was delivered to the Israeli government incomplete; the second version, which the author suggests is the more likely story, is that the book was delivered intact, except for a few pages, and that the missing pages were in fact later sold to a dealer or to many dealers who seek to buy such ancient artifacts and manuscripts. The book is as much about the murky (and sometimes deadly) world of the buying and selling of ancient artifacts as it is about the ethical ideas of why the public ownership of such documents is sacred.

Faith and obsession, words that can be used to describe religious feelings, can also be used to describe non-religious feelings, or secular emotion, as well. These are human emotions, human values. To possess something rare, which no one else has, is something that some people not only feel is important and necessary, but is something that they receive some pleasure in doing. Even if in the doing it is not particularly ethical or, broadly speaking, not in the public interest. In such cases, it is not too far-fetched to talk about a breach of public trust.

Such thoughts or ideas do not seem to take much prominence—if at all—in the minds and consciousness of such individuals when such decisions are made. The Aleppo Codex contains an inscription, Friedman writes (9), saying:
Blessed be he who preserves it
and cursed be he who steals it
and cursed be he who sells it
and cursed be he who pawns it.
It might not be sold and it may not be defiled forever,
Until recently, this admonition was taken seriously.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Misty Morning In Toronto

December Day

Foggy View: This photo, taken from our sixth floor apartment (in the NW direction) just before 8 a.m.(but after the sunrise of 7:37 a.m) this morning shows the extent of the fog covering the park near our house. For some reason, this scene reminds me of a particular Victorian painting, but I can’t recall which one. As for the other details of the weather, the temperature was minus 1°C (30°F). The scheduled high for today is 8°C (46°F). It has been a warm December thus far.
Photo Credit: ©Perry J. Greenbaum. 2015

Tonight starts the eight-day Jewish holiday of Chanukah (Hebrew: חֲנֻכָּה). Happy Chanukah to all who celebrate the holiday known as the “Feast of Dedication” or the “Festival of Lights.”

Forget The Backwards Time Machine


The Hand Of Time:
Photo Credit: Darren Tunnicliff; Flickr, 2008
Source: Science Alert
An article, by Fiona Macdonald, in Science Alert says that physicists at Federal University of ABC, Santo André, Brazil, have confirmed that time moves forward always, even in the microscopic world of quantum physics. In “Physicists confirm that time moves forward even in the quantum world” (December 4, 2015), Macdonald writes:
For the first time, an experiment has confirmed that the laws of thermodynamics hold true even at the quantum level – which means that even in the quantum world, you can’t unspill that glass of milk.
The reason time runs the way it does in our everyday lives is because of the second law of thermodynamics, which states that over time all systems become more disordered, or increase in entropy. And that process is irreversible, which is why time only moves forward. But theoretical physicists had predicted that on the quantum level, the process might go both ways.

That’s because when you start dealing with really, really small particles, the laws of physics – such as the Schrödinger equation – are 'time-symmetric' or reversible. "In theory, forward and backward microscopic processes are indistinguishable," writes Lisa Zyga for
Now physicists led by the Federal University of ABC in Brazil have performed an experiment that confirms that those theories don’t match up with the reality, with thermodynamic processes remaining irreversible even in quantum systems. But they still don’t understand why that’s the case.
This puts a damper on the idea of time travel and a time machine that can take objects, including people, backwards in time. This also means, that at least until such reality changes, humans will have to continue to live with the idea that time moves forward, as we currently all do. With this we all age, some of it more intimately aware of the process than others. There is no escaping to the past, to our youthful years, except in our memories. Entropy, and the second law of thermodynamics, is unmoved by our science fiction fantasies, the work of fabulists, and our human desires to repair the past, including in some cases the rewriting of history.

For more, go to [ScienceAlert]

Saturday, December 5, 2015

LISA Pathfinder To Probe Space For Gravitational Waves

Space Missions

LISA Pathfinder in low-earth orbit
Photo Credit & Source: ESA

The European Space Agency’s LISA Pathfinder lifted off on Thursday, December 3rd at t 04:04 GMT on a Vega rocket from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. LISA is headed to an operational point, called L1, which is 1,5 million kilometres from the Earth towards the Sun. The spacecraft will travel for 10 weeks to reach this point in space, which is mid-February 2016; and it will begin its six-month mission at the beginning of March 2016, where it will act as a physics lab in space. The purpose of the mission is to confirm one of Einstein’s predictions contained in his General Theory of Relativity: gravitational waves. The space agency says: “Gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of spacetime, predicted a century ago by Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, published on 2 December 1915. Einstein’s theory predicts that these fluctuations should be universal, generated by accelerating massive objects. However, they have not been directly detected to date because they are so tiny. For example, the ripples emitted by a pair of orbiting black holes would stretch a million kilometre-long ruler by less than the size of an atom. LISA Pathfinder will test the extraordinary technology needed to observe gravitational waves from space. At its core is a pair of identical 46 mm gold–platinum cubes separated by 38 cm, which will be isolated from all external and internal forces acting on them except one: gravity.”

LISA Pathfinder planned journey through space.
Photo Credit & SourceESA

Friday, December 4, 2015

A Non-Physicalism View Of Human Consciousness

The Human Mind

“Physicalism is the thesis that everything is physical, or as contemporary philosophers sometimes put it, that everything supervenes on the physical. The thesis is usually intended as a metaphysical thesis, parallel to the thesis attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher Thales, that everything is water, or the idealism of the 18th Century philosopher Berkeley, that everything is mental. The general idea is that the nature of the actual world (i.e. the universe and everything in it) conforms to a certain condition, the condition of being physical. Of course, physicalists don't deny that the world might contain many items that at first glance don't seem physical — items of a biological, or psychological, or moral, or social nature. But they insist nevertheless that at the end of the day such items are either physical or supervene on the physical.”

Daniel StoljarStanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy2015

Subjectively: A detail from “Wheatfield under Thunderclouds,” by Vincent Van Gogh. 1890
Photo Credit: Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Source: Van Gogh Museum

I am revisiting this topic once again: human consciousness and whether science has the means to define it. This time I post an essay (“I feel, therefore I am”; December 01, 2015), by Margaret Wertheim, in Aeon. Wertheim, a science writer and author, writes on how physicalism influences the thinking of many of today’s practitioners of neuroscience:
The idea that the laws of nature might be able to account for conscious experience – a position known as physicalism – steadily gained supporters in the 19th century and was given a particular boost with the advent of Maxwell’s equations and other powerful mathematical frameworks devised by physicists in their golden age. If the invisible field of a magnet can result from natural laws, then might the same not be true for feelings?
Yet, as some philosophers of the early 20th century began to point out, physicalism contains a logical flaw. If consciousness is a secondary byproduct of physical laws, and if those laws are causally closed – meaning that everything in the world is explained by them (as physicalists claim) – then consciousness becomes truly irrelevant. Physicalism further allows us to imagine a world without consciousness, a ‘zombie world’ that looks exactly like our own, peopled with beings who act exactly like us but aren’t conscious. Such zombies have no feelings, emotions or subjective experience; they live lives without qualia. As Chalmers has noted, there is literally nothing it is like to be zombie. And if zombies can exist in the physicalist account of the world, then, according to Chalmers, that account can’t be a complete description of our world, where feelings do exist: something more is needed, beyond the laws of nature, to account for conscious subjective experience.
Predictably, neuroscience, being a branch of science, puts forth contrary ideas. Let’s take the example of the Van Gogh painting above; you all view the same painting, but not every individual sees the same thing. There is not only a wide variation among individuals on what they see as important, but also on how they view the colours on the canvas (or in this case on the screen). The result is similar at a museum where individuals can view the original painting and focus on different parts, or details, of it.  With art, there is no right answer on what is important, essential; it is a result of human experience, subjective by its definition and being, and which is malleable and changes over time; this is not a result of biochemical or neurochemical reactions in the brain.

Sorry, to disagree with the neuroscientists, particularly the neurobiologists, on this one. But it seems that they as a group are determined to view human consciousness through the lense of objective reality, considering this a measurable scientific entity. They are entering territory where many before them failed. Human consciousness cannot be bound by the objective instruments of science; it will escape its grasp. This is a kind of hubris, denying the hard reality of the wide variety of subjective human experiences that are not at all predictable. Or the same. Or reductive.

In a highly cited paper, “Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness,” published in Journal of Consciousness Studies 2(3):200-19, 1995, David J. Chalmers, a philosopher and cognitive scientist, writes about the problem before us:
Consciousness poses the most baffling problems in the science of the mind. There is nothing that we know more intimately than conscious experience, but there is nothing that is harder to explain. All sorts of mental phenomena have yielded to scientific investigation in recent years, but consciousness has stubbornly resisted. Many have tried to explain it, but the explanations always seem to fall short of the target. Some have been led to suppose that the problem is intractable, and that no good explanation can be given.
There are many explanations, many attempts to define human consciousness, and these will continue. After all, science likes neat categories, but the human mind does not comply. Not easily; not always. Making informed and good decisions does not, ought not, suggest that the human mind can be reduced in idea to slower (and low-performing) computers fitted with inadequate search engines and storage memory. This is a variation of an idea—materialism, dating to the ancient Greek philosophers—which was cast aside centuries ago.

When all is said and done, I will side with the human; he makes better jokes and tells better stories. This has everything to do with the subjective nature of human consciousness.

For more, go to [Aeon]