Read HERE in The Irish Times (26th September ’19)
How are our memories, thoughts, and experiences stored in the brain?
The scientific search for what precisely makes a memory and the physical basis of self is older than science, psychology, or modern medicine.
The search even predates the theory of evolution and over the centuries has been led by priests and physicians, philosophers and physicists.
Only in recent time has a basic understanding of memory emerged from modern scientific investigations. Though such investigations are still in their infancy, some surprising findings have emerged.
In this public lecture, Assistant Professor in Trinity College Dublin’s School of Biochemistry and Immunology, Tomás Ryan, will discuss recent technology that he and his colleagues have developed that allows us to label and switch on (or off) specific memories.
Professor Ryan will also describe how such technology has allowed us to gain unprecedented insights into the true nature of memory loss, amnesia, and depression, before elaborating on the implications of such studies for our understanding of aging, dementia, mental health, and the nature of our own individuality.
The talk takes place in the Stanley Quek Theatre, Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute, Pearse Street.
Date: Wednesday, October 25th, 6:30 pm. Admission is FREE and all are welcome.
Click above to hear discussion on The Morning Show with Declan Meehan
(broadcast on 4/02/2016 on East Coast FM)
Dogs love their owners more than cats, according to a new study, which found far higher levels of the ‘love hormone’ oxytocin in dogs when they were interacting with their owners – versus cats.
Scientists are struggling to understand why a mysterious Star – nicknamed the Tabby Star -has been steadily dimming for the past century, and flickering at irregular intervals.
The oft heard statement “I’m not a morning person” may be supported by science, as geneticists have found genetic differences between people that refer to themselves as ‘early risers’ and ‘night owls’.
Zebras we all know, have stripes. The question is why, and it’s one that has baffled scientists at least as far back as Charles Darwin, who pondered what evolutionary advantage stripes gave to Zebras.
Click above to listen to discussion of Einstein, and his Theory of General Relativity on The History Show, RTE Radio 1
Broadcast on 29.11.15
Albert Einstein first presented his General Theory of Relativity to the Prussian Academy of Science almost exactly 100 years ago on the 25th November 1915. Science has since confirmed most of its predictions.
However, the one major aspect of the General Theory which has yet to be confirmed is the presence of something called gravitational waves, which are ripples in the space-time fabric caused by movement of energy across the Universe.
According to Einstein, space and time were each components of four dimensional reality, and that gravity was a force which pulled objects with mass along curves in space-time. Perhaps think of energy being like a mountaineer walking along the height contours of a geographical map.
Gravitational waves emerge from large objects with mass, according to Einstein, such as two stars closely orbiting each other. The waves then travel out into the Universe, as ripples in the fabric of space time, like a pebble dropped into a still lake.
Physicists get excited about gravitational waves because they can offer a final proof of Einstein’s General Theory, but also because they will carry information from the birth of the Universe, because gravitational waves were created when mass emerged somehow in those first moments.
In any case, gravitational waves have not yet been discovered yet, and the question is why?
This is one of the questions that will be addressed in a fascinating looking public lecture by Professor Mike Cruise taking place in St Patrick’s College Drumcondra on Wednesday evening 25th November this week.
This is 2015 Statutory Lecture of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) School of Cosmic Physics, to mark the 100th anniversary of General Relativity.
The public are all invited, but people are asked to register in advance of the talk at http://www.dias.ie/spscp2015
General Relativity shook up the science world in 1915, and over the past century it has stood up to testing and scrutiny remarkably well.
One prediction was that the speed of light, denoted as c in the famous equation e=mc2 was constant. That has proved correct, and it seems that the speed of light, as Einstein predicted, is the Universe’s ultimate speed limit.
Then there was the revolutionary idea that time was not constant, but relative. The passage of time depended on speed, and that as speed increased towards the speed of light, time would slow down.
This ‘time dilation’ effect has also proved correct. A simple proof lies in the fact that an atomic clock onboard a satellite will run slower than the same atomic clock on Earth. The people that design GPS systems – which are based on information from satellites received on Earth – know this and they must correct for it to ensure GPS works on the ground.
Another major prediction of General Relativity was that light waves would be distorted and bend around an object with a lot of mass, such as a Star. This was proved famously in 1919 and there’s an Irish connection to the story.
When Einstein announced General Relativity to the world, scientists were blown away by it, but the rest of the world was preoccupied with WW1.
It wasn’t until 1919, when the remarkable new theory was put to its first serious test by the British astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington.
Eddington, unlike other British and English-speaking scientists, kept track of the work of top German scientists like Einstein.
He was a Quaker and a pacifist, and, not antagonistic towards Germans or Germany. He was also one of Britain’s leading astronomers.
Eddington decided that the best way to test General Relativity was to travel to see a solar eclipse, and see – with our Sun blocked out – whether the light from other Stars did, in fact, bend as they went around the Sun.
He got funding from the Royal Irish Academy, still very much in existence, to travel to a remote part of Brazil to view the eclipse in 1919.
The other Irish connection to this story was that the instrument he used to observe the eclipse, a coelostat, was made by the famous Irish scientific instrument makers – Grubb Brothers, of Rathmines.
The original coelostat used by Eddington, which has been restored by the Paris Observatory is currently on public display at DIAS.
Eddington observed that light – exactly as Einstein predicted – bent around the Sun. This result made news headlines around the world, and 4 years after he announced General Relativity, Einstein became famous.
Whomever confirms the presence of Einstein’s waves, will, no doubt, be also the subject of global headlines.
There are many space missions ongoing, and planned, which hope to find the elusive waves – even one wave – and these will be mentioned by Prof Cruise in his lecture.
“Even one such detection with high precision would rule out many competing theories of gravity,” said Prof Cruise in an email.
The great quest of modern physics is to find a way to unite Einstein’s General Relativity, which relates to large macro objects, with Erwin Schrodinger’s Quantum Mechanics, which describes the weird behaviour of tiny particles.
(Another Irish connection here – Schrodinger became an Irish citizen after he arrived here fleeing Nazi Germany, and became the first Director of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies)
This quest will be helped by finding gravitational waves because it would rule out many competing theories of gravity which have been devised, in an ad hoc way, to try and marry Relativity with Quantum Mechanics.
“In addition to proving Einstein right at a certain level of accuracy,” Prof Cruise continued, “the detection of gravitational waves, will allow us a very different view of the Universe than is currently available from optical, radio or X-ray telescopes.”
To find out more about this fascinating topic, why not go along to the DIAS lecture on Wednesday?
Listen to the discussion The Morning Show with Declan Meehan on East Coast FM (broadcast on 26th August 2015)
Black Holes could be a cosmic door to another Universe, Stephen Hawking told a scientific conference in Toronto this week.
A Black Hole, just in case you didn’t know, is a deformation of the fabric of spacetime caused by a star collapsing under the weight of its own gravity.
Scientists have assumed that everything that went into a Black Hole was destroyed, but Hawking postulates that matter can survive and pass into an parallel Universe.
Meanwhile, Cancer cells have been re-programmed back to normal cells, according to researchers at the prestigious Mayo Clinic in the US.
The scientists have found instructor molecules, called microRNAs, which tell cells when to stop dividing, are absent, or not working properly in human cancer cells.
The plan now is to find ways to inject microRNAs directly into tumours to halt, or even reverse cancer, the researchers say.
Whether Violent Video Games trigger criminal aggression has been up for debate for decades, and many scientific studies have tried to find an answer.
This week, the American Psychological Association, said they had reviewed 300 separate studies on this topic between 2005 and 2013.
Their conclusion was that violent video games ARE one of the factors that can lead to criminal aggression, particularly in those with depression and antisocial tendencies.
Body Mass Index (BMI) is a standard way for health professionals to try to measure whether someone is at risk of health problems due to their weight.
However, BMI’s true effectiveness as a way to measure individual health has been questioned by many, who say more accurate strategies are required.
This is an issue of great importance to many Irish people, as, half of all Irish adults, as measured by BMI are either overweight or obese.
If that’s the case, then how does science explain how some people accurately report events when their brain was clinically dead?
Meanwhile, the Universe has a lot of other weirdness that cannot be explained, such as the odd behaviour of sub-atomic particles.
Does the explanation lie in the existence of parallel universes and how they are interacting with our own?
We do know, however, that a staggering 50 per cent more short men suffer dementia than tall men. The reasons are largely environmental.
Click below hear a discussion of these topics on The Morning Show with Declan Meehan – broadcast on East Coast FM on 6th November 2014
Discussion of some of the week’s’ top science news stories on East Coast FM’s The Morning Show with Declan Meehan (broadcast on 11 September 2014)
Click HERE to listen
Ever wonder whether science could shed light on so-called ‘near death experiences’ or what happens to us after we die? Ever wonder how long we might live? Or ponder whether we could we even life forever? What will be mankind’s ultimate future? Will we merge with machines?
The near-death experience
In 1968 Gillian MacKenzie had a near-death experience during a complicated pregnancy.
Gillian was prepared for an emergency Caesarian section, and while she was being wheeled towards the operating theatre she describes the feeling of leaving her body through her head. She says she then floated towards a pinprick of light and entered a tunnel, where she was surrounded by white light and experienced feelings of bliss.
While surrounded by the light Gillian heard a male voice proclaim, “you know who I am!”. The voice then introduced her to her dead grandfather, who said she would have to put up a good case if she wanted to return. She told them that she had to go back as her husband Hamish “doesn’t know how to iron his shirts”.
She then remembers being up on the ceiling of the operating theatre looking down on herself haemorrhaging. She even saw the bags of blood being used for the blood transfusion.
Gillian has no explanation for her experience, which remains as vivid now as it was then. She is 80 years old and not religious but, she says, the experience has erased all fear of dying. “I’m travelling hopefully,” is how she describes her views of the afterlife.
How long can we live?
Nick Bostrom is a scientist, futurologist and philosopher and the Director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University.
Is it possible that technology will change human nature? This is the type of question that Nick Bostrom considers on a daily basis in his work.
Technology, he believes, is changing human nature. Once we develop machines that surpass human intelligence – and he’s fully convinced this will happen– these machines may work out how to make humans live forever.
Part of this process may include uploading an entire brain onto a machine; by extracting and uploading the neuronic architecture of a person’s brain onto a hard drive, it will be possible to transfer a person’s memories, personality and consciousness into an engineered body.
For more on Nick Bostrom:
Can we defeat ageing?
Aubrey de Grey, 50, is the Chief Science Officer of the SENS Research Foundation, a biomedical charity research organization based in California that was set up to defeat ageing.
De Grey believes that the ageing process in humans is similar to how a machine, like a car, ages. There is an accumulation of wear and tear over time, and without regular maintenance the doors of the car might fall off. With maintenance, this can be postponed.
There are a number of biomedical reasons why we age, says Aubrey. He believes these these issues will be addressed in coming decades, so that anyone aged 50 or younger might stand to benefit.
De Grey believes ageing can be defeated and that this is the natural course of medical development. He argues that medicine has always sought to extend life, and that it will eventually become possible to extend human life indefinitely.
For more on Aubrey de Grey:
Can we stay active and healthy for longer?
Advances in the use of stem cell technology means we will soon be able to perform effective repairs on various parts of our bodies.
This type of treatment is known as “regenerative medicine”, and it will be used to repair cells in arthritic bone, or even damaged heart or brain tissue.
Frank Barry is the Director of the REMEDI Institute at NUI Galway, and he explains what this technology can do now, and what it might be able to do in the future.
For more on Frank Barry:
Should science be striving for immortality?
Daniel Callahan, 83, is co-founder and President Emeritus of The Hastings Center, a leading bio-ethical research centre in the US.
Daniel believes that a lifespan of around 80 years is sufficient for a person to achieve what he or she needs to over the course of a lifetime.
And while life extension might be good for individuals, he feels it won’t be good for wider society as an increase in population will accelerate global warming and drain resources, among other things.
He also thinks most old people don’t want to live forever. It’s interesting to note, he says, that the research into life-extending technology is driven by people in their 40s or 50s who, perhaps, find it hard to imagine letting go of life.
For more on Daniel Callahan:
Are we merging with machines?
Futurologist are predicting that humans will eventually become cyborgs, i.e we will merge with machines. But many of us are on that path already: if you have a prosthetic joint or an artificial heart valve, you’re already partially bionic.
But advances in neuroscience and robotics are ushering in a new era of human-machine interactions where thought-controlled artificial limbs are now a reality.
One of the leading labs spearheading thought-control research is that of John Donoghue, Brown University, in the US, who we talk to here.
John explains how his researchers learned how to translate thoughts into electrical signals that allow an amputee to control an artificial limb.
For more on John Donoghue:
Liam Geraghty talks to Danish man Dennis Sorenson, 36, who earlier this year received the world’s first bionic hand that provides its user with sensory feedback. Dennis lost his hand and most of his arm during an accident with a firecracker several years ago.
The economics of the afterlife
Millica Bookman is the author of Do They Take Credit Cards in Heaven? This book looks at cultural views of the afterlife from the perspective of economics.
Take “outsourcing”, for example. Millica describes how “sin eaters” in 17th-century England were paid to take away the sins of the dead by eating bread left on the chest of the deceased.
She also describes how the ancient Greeks believed they had to pay to enter the afterlife, which is why a coin was placed in the mouth of the deceased before burial.
Unusual traditions have sprung up in modern times too. In China, for example, people often place Viagra in coffins, while in the West people are often laid to rest with things like a bottle of wine or reading glasses for company.
Does consciousness survive after the brain dies?
Peter Fenwick is a consultant neuro-psychiatrist at the Institute of Psychiatry in London. He has researched near-death experiences over many decades, as well as the science of what happens when we die.
Peter’s research led him to question the nature of human consciousness, and his results point towards the idea that consciousness continues in some form after the brain dies.
Steven Laureys is a Belgian neuroscientist and leader of the Coma Science Group at the Liège University Hospital in Belgium.
Steven studies near-death experiences in coma patients, and he believes that the near death-experiences of bliss, being out of body, and seeing a tunnel can all be re-created by stimulating the brain in particular ways.
For more on Peter Fenwick view interview below:
For more on Stephen Laureys:
What does science have to say about some famous mysterious places, including Ireland’s Newgrange?
Discussion on The Morning Show on East Coast FM with Declan Meehan