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Thousands of strange ‘Nazca Lines’ discovered in the Middle East

Peru’s Nazca Lines, the mysterious geoglyphs etched into the desert centuries ago by indigenous groups, are world famous – and now thousands of similar patterns have been found in the Middle East.

Satellite and aerial photography has revealed mysterious stone ‘wheels’ that are more numerous and older than the Nazca Lines in countries such as Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

The structures are thought to date back 2,000 years, but why they were built is baffling archaeologists and historians.

‘In Jordan alone we’ve got stone-built structures that are far more numerous than the Nazca Lines, far more extensive in the area that they cover, and far older,’ David Kennedy, a professor of classics and ancient history at the University of Western Australia, told Live Science.

He added: ‘People have probably walked over them, walked past them, for centuries, millennia, without having any clear idea what the shape was.’

The local Bedouin, a nomadic people found in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Libya, Egypt and Israel, call them the ‘works of the old men’.

They are often found on lava fields – but don’t fall into any pattern, according to Kennedy, whose research into them will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal Of Archaeological Science.

He explains that they come in a huge variety of forms, some being ‘kites’, structures that funnelled animals, some being seemingly random meandering lines of stone and others being rectangular.

None are believed to be aligned with the stars, which has added to the mystery surrounding their purpose.

They were actually first discovered in 1927 by an RAF pilot called Lt. Percy Maitland, but it wasn’t until Professor Kennedy and his team began studying aerial and Google Earth photographs that their true extent was revealed.

A final count has yet to be completed, but Kennedy is certain they run into the thousands.

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Tengri

In Turkic mythology, Tengri is a pure, white goose that flies constantly over an endless expanse of water, which represents time. Beneath this water, Ak Ana (“White Mother”) calls out to him saying “Create”. To overcome his loneliness, Tengri creates Er Kishi, who is not as pure or as white as Tengri and together they set up the world. Er Kishi becomes a demonic character and strives to mislead people and draw them into its darkness. Tengri assumes the name Tengri Ülgen and withdraws into Heaven from which he tries to provide people with guidance through sacred animals that he sends among them. The Ak Tengris occupy the fifth level of Heaven. Shaman priests who want to reach Tengri Ülgen never get further than this level, where they convey their wishes to the divine guides. Returns to earth or to the human level take place in a goose-shaped vessel.

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Brains of Buddhist Monks Scanned in Meditation Study

In a laboratory tucked away off a noisy New York City street, a soft-spoken neuroscientist has been placing Tibetan Buddhist monks into a car-sized brain scanner to better understand the ancient practice of meditation.

But could this unusual research not only unravel the secrets of leading a harmonious life but also shed light on some of the world’s more mysterious diseases?

Zoran Josipovic, a research scientist and adjunct professor at New York University, says he has been peering into the brains of monks while they meditate in an attempt to understand how their brains reorganise themselves during the exercise.

Since 2008, the researcher has been placing the minds and bodies of prominent Buddhist figures into a five-tonne (5,000kg) functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine.

The scanner tracks blood flow within the monks’ heads as they meditate inside its clunky walls, which echoes a musical rhythm when the machine is operating.

Dr Josipovic, who also moonlights as a Buddhist monk, says he is hoping to find how some meditators achieve a state of “nonduality” or “oneness” with the world, a unifying consciousness between a person and their environment.

“One thing that meditation does for those who practise it a lot is that it cultivates attentional skills,” Dr Josipovic says, adding that those harnessed skills can help lead to a more tranquil and happier way of being.

“Meditation research, particularly in the last 10 years or so, has shown to be very promising because it points to an ability of the brain to change and optimise in a way we didn’t know previously was possible.”

When one relaxes into a state of oneness, the neural networks in experienced practitioners change as they lower the psychological wall between themselves and their environments, Dr Josipovic says.

And this reorganisation in the brain may lead to what some meditators claim to be a deep harmony between themselves and their surroundings.

Shifting attention

Dr Josipovic’s research is part of a larger effort better to understand what scientists have dubbed the default network in the brain.

He says the brain appears to be organised into two networks: the extrinsic network and the intrinsic, or default, network.

The extrinsic portion of the brain becomes active when individuals are focused on external tasks, like playing sports or pouring a cup of coffee.

The default network churns when people reflect on matters that involve themselves and their emotions.

But the networks are rarely fully active at the same time. And like a seesaw, when one rises, the other one dips down.

This neural set-up allows individuals to concentrate more easily on one task at any given time, without being consumed by distractions like daydreaming.

“What we’re trying to do is basically track the changes in the networks in the brain as the person shifts between these modes of attention,” Dr Josipovic says.

Dr Josipovic has found that some Buddhist monks and other experienced meditators have the ability to keep both neural networks active at the same time during meditation – that is to say, they have found a way to lift both sides of the seesaw simultaneously.

And Dr Josipovic believes this ability to churn both the internal and external networks in the brain concurrently may lead the monks to experience a harmonious feeling of oneness with their environment.

Self-reflection

Scientists previously believed the self-reflective, default network in the brain was simply one that was active when a person had no task on which to focus their attention.

But researchers have found in the past decade that this section of the brain swells with activity when the subject thinks about the self.

The default network came to light in 2001 when Dr Marcus Raichle, a neurologist at the Washington University School of Medicine in the US state of Missouri, began scanning the brains of individuals who were not given tasks to perform.

The patients quickly became bored, and Dr Raichle noticed a second network, that had previously gone unnoticed, danced with activity. But the researcher was unclear why this activity was occurring.

Other scientists were quick to suggest that Dr Raichle’s subjects could have actually been thinking about themselves.

Soon other neuroscientists, who conducted studies using movies to stimulate the brain, found that when there was a lull of activity in a film, the default network began to flash – signalling that research subjects may have begun to think about themselves out of boredom.

But Dr Raichle says the default network is important for more than just thinking about what one had for dinner last night.

“Researchers have wrestled with this idea of how we know we are who we are. The default mode network says something about how that might have come to be,” he says.

And Dr Raichle adds that those studying the default network may also help in uncovering the secrets surrounding some psychological disorders, like depression, autism and even Alzheimer’s disease.

“If you look at Alzheimer’s Disease, and you look at whether it attacks a particular part of the brain, what’s amazing is that it actually attacks the default mode network,” says Dr Raichle, adding that intrinsic network research, like Dr Josipovic’s, could assist in explaining why that is.

Cindy Lustig, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Michigan, agrees.

“It’s a major and understudied network in the brain that seems to be very involved in a lot of neurological disorders, including autism and Alzheimer’s, and understanding how that network interacts with the task-oriented [extrinsic] network is important,” she says. “It is sort of the other piece of the puzzle that’s been ignored for too long.”

Dr Josipovic has scanned the brains of more than 20 experienced meditators, both monks and nuns who primarily study the Tibetan Buddhist style of meditation, to better understand this mysterious network.

He says his research, which will soon be published, will for the moment continue to concentrate on explaining the neurological implications of oneness and tranquillity – though improving understanding of autism or Alzheimer’s along the way would certainly be quite a bonus.

By Matt Danzico

BBC News, New York

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ALMA antennas under the Milky Way

Four antennas of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) gaze up at the star-filled night sky, in anticipation of the work that lies ahead. The Moon lights the scene on the right, while the band of the Milky Way stretches across the upper left.

ALMA is being constructed at an altitude of 5000 m on the Chajnantor plateau in the Atacama Desert in Chile. This is one of the driest places on Earth and this dryness, combined with the thin atmosphere at high altitude, offers superb conditions for observing the Universe at millimetre and submillimetre wavelengths. At these long wavelengths, astronomers can probe, for example, molecular clouds, which are dense regions of gas and dust where new stars are born when a cloud collapses under its own gravity. Currently, the Universe remains relatively unexplored at submillimetre wavelengths, so astronomers expect to uncover many new secrets about star formation, as well as the origins of galaxies and planets, when ALMA is operational.

The ALMA project is a partnership of Europe, North America and East Asia in cooperation with the Republic of Chile.

Image Credit: ESO/José Francisco Salgado
Explanation of the image from: http://www.eso.org/public/images/potw1108a/

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Artificial cranial deformation

Artificial cranial deformation, head flattening, or head binding is a form of permanent body alteration in which the skull of a human being is intentionally deformed. It is done by distorting the normal growth of a child’s skull by applying force. Flat shapes, elongated ones (produced by binding between two pieces of wood), rounded ones (binding in cloth) and conical ones are among those chosen. It is typically carried out on an infant, as the skull is most pliable at this time. In a typical case, headbinding begins approximately a month after birth and continues for about six months.

Intentional head moulding producing extreme cranial deformations was once commonly practised in a number of cultures widely separated geographically and chronologically, and so was probably independently invented more than once. It still occurs today in a few places, like Vanuatu.

Early examples of intentional human cranial deformation predate written history and date back to 45,000 BC in Neanderthal skulls, and to the Proto-Neolithic Homo sapiens component (12th millennium BCE) from Shanidar Cave in Iraq. It occurred among Neolithic peoples in SW Asia.

The earliest written record of cranial deformation dates to 400 BC in Hippocrates’ description of the Macrocephali or Long-heads, who were named for their practice of cranial modification.

In the Old World, Huns and Alans are also known to have practised similar cranial deformation. In Late Antiquity (AD 300-600), the East Germanic tribes who were ruled by the Huns, adopted this custom.

In the Americas the Maya, Inca, and certain tribes of North American natives performed the custom. In North America the practice was especially known among the Chinookan tribes of the Northwest and the Choctaw of the Southeast. Tribes like the Choctaw, Chehalis, and Nooksack Indians practised head flattening by strapping the infant’s head to a cradleboard. The practice was also known among the Australian Aborigines.

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Paracas Candelabra

The Paracas Candelabra, also called the Candelabra of the Andes, is a well-known prehistoric geoglyph found on the northern face of the Paracas Peninsula at Pisco Bay in Peru. Although the exact age of the Candelabra geoglpyh is unknown, archaeologists have found pottery around the site dating back to around 200 B.C. This pottery likely belonged to the Paracas people, although whether they were involved in the creation of the geoglyph is not known. The reason for the Candelabra’s creation is also unknown, although it is most likely a representation of the trident, a lightning rod of the god Viracocha, who was seen in mythology throughout South America. It has been suggested that the Candelabra was built as a sign to sailors, or even as a symbolic representation of a hallucinogenic plant called Jimson weed.

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Vesole! (.gif animation)

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Flow (psychology)

Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity. Proposed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the positive psychology concept has been widely referenced across a variety of fields.

According to Csíkszentmihályi, flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. To be caught in the ennui of depression or the agitation of anxiety is to be barred from flow. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task although flow is also described as a deep focus on nothing but the activity – not even oneself or one’s emotions.

Colloquial terms for this or similar mental states include: to be on the ball, in the moment, present, in the zone, wired in, in the groove, or owning.

Csíkszentmihályi identifies the following ten factors as accompanying an experience of flow

  1. Clear goals (expectations and rules are discernible and goals are attainable and align appropriately with one’s skill set and abilities). Moreover, the challenge level and skill level should both be high.
  2. Concentrating, a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention (a person engaged in the activity will have the opportunity to focus and to delve deeply into it).
  3. loss of the feeling of self-consciousness, the merging of action and awareness.
  4. Distorted sense of time, one’s subjective experience of time is altered.
  5. Direct and immediate feedback (successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so that behavior can be adjusted as needed).
  6. Balance between ability level and challenge (the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult).
  7. A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.
  8. The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so there is an effortlessness of action.
  9. A lack of awareness of bodily needs (to the extent that one can reach a point of great hunger or fatigue without realizing it)
  10. Absorption into the activity, narrowing of the focus of awareness down to the activity itself, action awareness merging.

Not all are needed for flow to be experienced.

Csíkszentmihályi may have been the first to describe this concept in Western psychology, but as he himself readily acknowledge he was most certainly not the first to quantify the concept of flow or develop applications based on the concept.

For millennia, practitioners of Eastern religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism have honed the discipline of overcoming the duality of self and object as a central feature of spiritual development. Eastern spiritual practitioners have developed a very thorough and holistic set of theories around overcoming duality of self and object, tested and refined through spiritual practice instead of the systematic rigor and controls of modern science.

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Russia opens talks with NASA and ESA with plans for manned lunar base

On January 19, 2012, Roscosmos, the Russian Space Agency began talking to the United States and Europe about the stuff dreams are made of… a manned research base on the Moon.

The agency’s chief, Vladimir Popovkin, led off the discussion with officials from NASA and the European Space Agency for a permanent facility. “We don’t want man to just step on the Moon,” Popovkin told Vesti FM radio station, according to the Ria Novosti news agency. “Today, we know enough about it, we know that there is water in its polar areas … we are now discussing how to begin [the Moon's] exploration with NASA and the European Space Agency.”

But that’s not all. One giant leap for mankind often begins with one small step – or two. In this instance, Russia is planning to launch two unmanned missions to the Moon within the next 8 years. According to Popovkin, the plan is to either set up a stationary base on the lunar surface, or to put a working laboratory into orbit around it.

The Rusian made a lot of positive contributions towards lunar exploration – in particular, the Luna missions which set many milestones. Of these, they were the first to successfully land a craft of the Moon, the first to photograph the far side, the first to achieve a soft landing and send back panoramic, close-up images, the first to become an artificial lunar satellite, the first to deploy rover missions and the first to return lunar soil samples which they shared with the international scientific community.

Something similar has been announced already in 2006 from NASA (http://www.daviddarling.info/encyclopedia/M/Moon_base.html), here are a few pictures from that plan:

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Osnovne sile

Osnovna síla je mehanizem, s katerim delujejo delci drug na drugega, ki ga ni mogoče pojasniti z drugim, še osnovnejšim mehanizmom. Vsak opažen fizikalni pojav, od trkov galaksij do obnašanja kvarkov v protonu, se da pojasniti z osnovnimi silami. Zaradi svoje pomembnosti je preučevanje osnovnih sil ena glavna dejavnosti fizikov zadnjih petdeset let.

Tradicionalno štejemo med osnovne sile štiri interakcije: gravitacijo, elektromagnetno interakcijo, šibko jedrsko silo in močna jedrska sila. Kljub temu pa obstaja močno prepričanje, da so vse štiri naštete sile le različne manifestacije ene same, še osnovnejše, interakcije. Sredi 60-ih let 20. stoletja so uspešno združili elektromagnetno interakcijo in šibko jedrsko silo v elektrošibko interakcijo. Nekoliko bolj spekulativna je združitev elektrošibke teorije z močno jedrsko silo v veliko teorijo poenotenja. Kako združiti to poenoteno silo s četrto – gravitacijo – ostaja odprto vprašanje, s katerim se ubada teorija kvantne gravitacije.

Izraz »osnovne sile« se je ohranil kljub temu, da je nekoliko zavajajoč, saj ene med njimi – gravitacije – ne opisujemo več kot silo v Newtonovem pomenu: na telo z maso ne deluje na daljavo nobena »gravitacijska sila«, kot to opisuje gravitacijski zakon, ampak jo v okviru splošne teorije relativnosti razlagamo kot ukrivljenost prostor-časa, ki ga sestavlja gravitacijsko podaljšanje časa in ukrivljenost prostora.

Sodobni pogled na tri osnovne sile – elektromagnetno ter šibko in močno jedrsko – je, da telesa ne interagirajo neposredno eno z drugim, ampak ustvarjajo okoli sebe polje, ki vpliva na obnašanje oddaljenih teles. Kvantna teorija polja povezuje ta polja z enim ali več delci, za katere se meni, da so rezultat neke osnovne simetrije v naravi.

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