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The massive Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest is rapidly retreating. In this photo a developing forest can be seen above the glacier illustrating how the Mendenhall landscape is being dramatically altered by climate change. Photo courtesy of The National Science Foundation. Durelle Scott.

The Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest is rapidly retreating and the landscape is being dramatically altered by climate change. Photo: National Science Foundation -Durelle Scott via Flickr

The election is over. Lots of talk about immigration and personal digs about the candidates. Not much talk about climate change other than saying superficially that we need to stop it or that it’s a Chinese hoax.

Part of the problem is that it is at least partially a social science issue. Of course, there is a lot of scientific research, but research on why people believe that research or reject it is a whole other area of research. That is because climate change is not only a scientific issue but one that is political, social and cultural.

Why did “global warming” fall out of favor and get replaced by “climate change” if the main problem is that the Earth’s atmosphere land and water is warming due to manmade changes?  That’s all political, social and cultural.

How many times have you heard someone say (jokingly or seriously) on a very cold or snowy day “So much for global warming!” That is because we are hardwired to focus on the short-term. That is the position of George Marshall, Director of Projects at Climate Outreach and author of Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change.  “We tend to discount […] things happening in the future the further away they are,” says Marshall.

George Marshall founded the Climate Outreach and Information Network and has worked for twenty-five years in the environmental movement. I heard him on an episode of NPR’s podcast Hidden BrainOn that episode, “Losing Alaska”, they visited the shrinking Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska to consider why it is so hard for people to come to terms with explore why it’s so difficult for us to wrap our heads around climate change.

I agree with Marshall’s take on why some people ignore our changing environment and the explanation for it. It’s not the science. It’s more about confirmation bias, present-time focus, social conformity, group think, procrastination and valuing the messenger over the message. It’s rational versus emotional brains.

 

Our Moon is always up there and one half is always illuminated by sunlight and the nighttime half is in its own shadow, even though we don’t always see that.

I post a lot about the Moon and I’m hardly alone in being fascinated by it. You may have an astronomical interest in it, or maybe a more Romantic interest. Either way, you probably only think of the view of the Moon from Earth and not the other way.

Right now we are in the last quarter phase when we see half the moon’s day side, and half its night side. I recently discovered that the shadow line dividing day from night is called the lunar terminator.

Here’s another way to view the moon, if only theoretically. If you were on the moon now while it is in its last quarter phase, as it is today, and you were looking back at Earth, you’d see the Earth at its first quarter phase.

Perhaps some day, a lunar-living blogger will post regularly about the phases of the Earth.

 

firts-quarter-earth

As seen from the moon, the terminator on the first quarter Earth depicts sunrise, as the first quarter Earth waxes toward its full phase.

 

I’m a weather watcher. I’m also a nature watcher. Sometimes the Venn diagram overlaps those two areas.

I know by my blog stats that my posts here about predicting the weather by observing nature have a perennial popularity, even though they are not usually backed by science and are more of “weather lore.”

Meteorologists, on the other hand, look at things such as the La Niña conditions as very real. She is showing her effects in the Pacific now with cooler than normal sea surface temperatures across most of the eastern and central equatorial Pacific. It started in October and continued into this month.

I suppose it’s not exactly “chaos theory” when it comes to weather patterns, but I find it fascinating that cooler than normal sea surface temperatures far from where I live will affect my local weather. That is a big butterfly flapping its wings on the other side of the world.

Don’t confuse La Niña with its opposite partner El Niño which is officially the “El Niño-Southern Oscillation, or ENSO.  La Niña (Spanish, “the girl”) and El Niño (“the boy”) used to be seen as one thing and was once called El Viejo (“the old man”).

With all the talk about climate change, you often hear about what seem to be very small changes in the temperature of the oceans. But very small changes – a degree or two – have very big effects and La Niña and El Niño disrupt normal patterns of precipitation and atmospheric circulation not only in the Pacific but across the globe. A La Niña often, though not always, follows an El Niño.

During a period of La Niña, the sea surface temperature across the equatorial Eastern Central Pacific Ocean will be lower than normal by 3–5 °C.

It is expected that weak La Niña conditions will continue through the winter until probably February. But what does that mean for North America’s weather?

La Nina map

Cooler than normal sea surface temperatures indicative of La Niña conditions stretch across most of the eastern and central equatorial Pacific. (Source: earth.nullschool.net)

Usually, La Niña means below-average precipitation and above-average temperatures in the southern part of the United States, and colder and wetter conditions across the northern U.S. and Canada. It even affects the Atlantic Hurricane Season.

Though my East Coast has been in a drought, the Pacific Northwest had a very wet October, though that probably can’t be explained by just La Niña.

I hope the colder and wetter than normal prediction for the Paradelle area is wrong, but I’ll add it to what the wooly bears and other winter predictions showed this year and check back in the spring.

 

 

mirroring-pixa

Mirror scratching is not about making scratches on a mirror (and not DIY on how to remove them). It is about one of those odd mind-body phenomenon.

You have an itch, so you scratch it. Except sometimes scratching is not a good thing to do (poison ivy, scabs,  eczema) because it makes things worse.

There was a study done to test “whether central mechanisms of scratching-induced itch attenuation can be activated by scratching the limb contralateral to the itching limb when the participant is made to visually perceive the non-itching limb as the itching limb by means of mirror images.”  In simpler English, try scratching your left elbow if the right elbow itches.

Crazy, right? But it worked!  By scratching the non-itching place it seems to have activated a “mirror condition” so that the non-itching place was visually perceived as the itching place.

We have in our brains what are referred to as mirror neurons but this isn’t about that. This particular experiment used a real  mirror placed between the participant’s forearms “to create the visual illusion that the participant’s itching (right) forearm was being scratched while in fact the non-itching forearm was scratched”

The mind not only plays trick on us, but we can trick the mind.

 

galileosdaughter

I think it is pretty safe to assume that everyone has heard of Galileo Galilei. Not as well known is his eldest daughter.

Galileo was born on February 15, 1564, in Pisa, Italy. A mathematics professor, he made observations with implications for the future study of physics. He constructed a telescope (did not invent it) and made significant improvements to it. He supported the Copernican theory of a sun-centered solar system and so was accused twice of heresy by the Catholic church.

He had three children, but was closest to his eldest, Virginia. He saw her as much like himself in intellect, sensibility, and with an always-seeking spirit.

Virginia was born of his illicit affair with Marina Gamba of Venice. Her birth was in the summer of a new century – August 13, 1600.

That year was also when a Dominican friar, Giordano Bruno, who believed the Earth traveled around the Sun, was burned at the stake.

On her thirteenth birthday, Virginia entered a convent and remained there for the rest of her short life. She was devout but loved her father and remained in constant correspondence with him.

I learned about her when I read back in 1999 Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel which used whatever surviving letters (never published in translation) between them as a major source. It is a good tale of that divide and connections between science and spiritual belief that still exists.

Virginia became Maria Celeste as a nun. We can surmise that Celeste might be a celestial nod to her father. In the convent, she was the apothecary – a kind of science of that time. She sent her father herbal treatments. She asked her father for financial help for the convent. She may have helped him prepare some manuscripts.

It is not really clear how father and daughter reconciled his heresy and her devotion. But they did. Love conquers all?

Galileo was not an atheist. He remained a Catholic and believed in the power of prayer.

Unfortunately, though letters from Maria Celeste were discovered among Galileo’s papers, his responses to her have been lost. Maria Celeste’s letters are published as Letters to fathertranslated and edited by Dava Sobel.

We remember Galileo mostly for the telescope, which he found out about in 1609. It was a Dutch gadget and initially known as a spyglass or eyeglass. It was curiosity that made faraway objects appear closer and they were being sold in Paris. Galileo saw it as a device of use in the military and promoted it as that to the Italian government.

He improved the design, as others were also doing in other countries, grinding and polishing lenses himself. The Venetian senate was so amazed and obsessed with using it to look for distant ships from bell towers of the city, they renewed his contract at the University of Padua for life, and Professor Galilei’s salary jumped to 1000 florins per year (a 500% raise from his starting pay).

That telescope cause a huge shift in the way we perceive the world we live in and the universe beyond or world.

Galileo used his improved telescope to make detailed drawings of the Moon’s phases, and he discovered 4 of Jupiter’s 67 moons (Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto), though he considered them to be planets. In a 1610 letter, Galileo commented on them and said “I render infinite thanks to God for being so kind as to make me alone the first observer of marvels kept hidden in obscurity for all previous centuries.”

He reminds me of Charles Darwin in that both had a hard time with their discoveries knowing that this new knowledge would clash with existing religious beliefs. Galileo wrote a famous letter about science and religion and that conflict obviously concerned him – and his daughter, and probably some of you reading this today.

Galileo at age 42.
Galileo at age 42, when Virginia was 6, in a portrait by Domenico Robusti.

A sphinx, a mythical creature with the head of a human and the body of a lion.
Photo: La Granja, Spain, mid-18th century via Wikipedia

I first think of chimeras creatures from Greek mythology. One was a fire-breathing hybrid that was part lion, with the head of a goat and a tail that looked like a snake. But the term has come to mean any mythical or fictional animal with parts taken from various animals, or even something non-animal made of very disparate parts.

This summer, a lot of virtual explorers have been playing the video game “No Man’s Sky which seems to have knocked Pokémon Go out of the top of the news feed this month. This game allowed players to discover overnight 10 million different alien species – chimeras – in the game galaxy.

Okay, it’s just a game, but what is intriguing about its design is that the company that built it (Hello Games) did not animate.create all the game’s alien creatures. Their galaxy is populated by the computer program using a process called procedural generation.

chimeras in No Man’s Sky

The game uses “Superformula,” an algorithm discovered by botanist Johan Gielis, that describes symmetrical and asymmetrical shapes (boulders, leaves, animal horns) and creates life forms. Those life forms are chimeras made of organs and parts that are remixed over and over by the algorithmic engine.

It is smart enough to consider what type of chimera would fit in the surrounding area, and then chooses a variety of types. Not unlike mythology, you may get a lion’s body with the head of a rhino and the legs of a gazelle.

It has to also consider things like balance and weight and create an appropriate skeletal frame. You can’t have that rhino head on a chipmunk body.

This idyllic space exploration and whimsical chimera creatures are interesting as a game, but they may begin to exist in the real world too.

A report from MIT’s technologyreview.com says that “Human-Animal Chimeras Are Gestating on U.S. Research Farms.” It’s not a project to create the chimeras of mythology, but an approach to generating human organs by growing them inside pigs or sheep.

There was a funding ban put in place in the U.S. for this type of research, but some research centers went ahead anyway trying to grow human tissue inside pigs and sheep with the goal of creating hearts, livers, or other organs needed for transplants.

This creates immediate ethical issues for some people. Adding human cells to animal embryos comes close to merging the species.

Have you ever read The Island of Doctor Moreau, the science fiction novel by H. G. Wells, or seen one of its film adaptations? Wells’ “exercise in youthful blasphemy” is about a shipwrecked man who ends up on the island home of Doctor Moreau. The doctor creates human-like hybrid beings from animals. Wells was interested in themes including pain and cruelty, moral responsibility, human identity, and human interference with nature.

This type of research was pushed into the news last September when the National Institutes of Health announced it would not support studies involving such “human-animal chimeras” until it had reviewed the scientific and social implications more closely.

But this month, the NIH said they plan to lift the moratorium on funding of certain controversial experiments that use human stem cells to create animal embryos that are partly human. The new policy permits scientists to get federal money to make embryos, known as chimeras, under certain carefully monitored conditions.

The ethical concerns remain, such as the possibility of  inadvertently (or intentionally?) creating animals that have partly human brains. That might endow them with some semblance of human consciousness or human thinking abilities.

What is a chimera developed human sperm and eggs and breed and produce human embryos or fetuses inside animals or hybrid creatures?

Yes, chimeras still sound like science fiction, but so much of science fiction has become in some form science fact.

 

Cross-posted from One-Page Schoolhouse

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