Giovanni Aldini may not be a household name, but his contributions to science cannot be ignored. Neither can his macabre demonstrations of the power of electricity on the human body. Aldini was a real-life “mad scientist,” and it’s rumored that Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” was based on his life.
The adage that children exposed to violence grow up faster has some fresh genetic evidence to support it. Examining data from a study that tracked 1,100 British families through the 1990s, researchers at Duke University have found that children exposed to two or more kinds of violence exhibited shorter telomeres, parts of our DNA that cap the ends of chromosomes and prevent them from unraveling. “They also get shorter as cells divide, meaning that the gradual loss of telomeres over time is a decent proxy for a person’s actual age.”
What’s the Big Idea?
Children who grow up in stressful home environments age faster than children reared by well-adjusted families. That means they are put at earlier risk for developing age-related diseases like heart disease, diabetes and dementia. The link between violence, telomere loss and age-related disease led Duke psychology professor Terrie Moffitt to conclude that early action is the key to preventing serious disease. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” said Moffitt. “Some of the billions of dollars spent on diseases of aging…might be better invested in protecting children from harm.”
“Imagining living in a universe without purpose may prepare us to better face reality head on. I cannot see that this is such a bad thing. Living in a strange and remarkable universe that is the way it is, independent of our desires and hopes, is far more satisfying for me than living in a fairy-tale universe invented to justify our existence.”—Lawrence M. Krauss, A Universe Without Purpose (http://huff.to/JFmvFd)
A seemingly trivial task – playing a particular video game – may lessen flashbacks and other psychological symptoms following a traumatic event, according to research presented here at the British Psychology Society Annual Conference.
“I know that the molecules in my body are traceable to phenomena in the cosmos. That makes me want to grab people on the street and say: ‘Have you HEARD THIS?”—Neil DeGrasse Tyson (Happy National Physics Day!)
This might sound like a surreal condition but it’s one each of us experiences every night. Once we fall asleep, the prefrontal cortex shuts itself down; the censor goes eerily quiet. Meanwhile, neurons all across the brain start shooting out squirts of acetylcholine. But this isn’t the usual excitement of reality; this activity is semi-random and unpredictable. It’s as if the mind is entertaining itself with improv, filling night-time narratives with whatever spare details happen to be lying around.
According to Mednick, the reason dreams are such an important source of creativity is that, once the uptight prefrontal cortex turns itself off, we are exposed to a surfeit of surprising connections and strange ideas. Instead of deleting our errant thoughts, we embrace the sheer freedom of our associations. Most of these will be the surreal babble of the dreaming brain, but sometimes, if we’re lucky, we’ll find our answers in the middle of the night.