Which religion has the longest life expectancy?
The scales are not in favor for the most religious among us.
Americans received disturbing news in December 2017: for the second straight year, national life expectancy dropped, reversing a 20-year streak of increased longevity. Some believe this is due to the opioid crisis, which claimed over 64,000 lives in 2016—a statistic that continues to rise.
Of course, while opioid addiction now kills more Americans than breast cancer, other factors are in play, many related to another epidemic: obesity. Heart disease, cancer, stroke, and dementia are still major killers, while opioid deaths fall under “unintentional injuries,” the third-leading cause of death in the nation.
While there are myriad reasons why we die, looking outside of purely physical correlates makes sense. Psychological health and physical health are not separate domains. What you believe affects bodily processes, as these incredible experiments showed. The placebo effect is another prime example of this.
What role does religion play in health and longevity? This question has long been debated, with the religious claiming that their faith keeps them healthy. But is this the case? The data appear to show the opposite.
Thus we enter the confusing and contentious argument over economics and religion. Poorer countries tend to be more religious, perhaps reflecting the idea that redemption lies ahead since the present is not sufficient for sustaining life. The more economically developed a country is, the less religious its citizens. Even though Americans are dying earlier, economic prosperity has created a large contingent of atheists.
The social argument for religion—religious adherents are healthier due to their participation in a community—holds up, but is religion really the key factor? Crossfit and yoga communities offer similar benefits with an added incentive of physical activity. Social connection appears more important than belief in any system.
Which might be why a Pew study awards the religiously unaffiliated (atheists and agnostics) with the second-longest lifespan of any group, finishing just behind Jews and just ahead of Buddhists. Interestingly, all three of these groups tend to rely less on metaphysical ideas and more on community and best practices while alive. The three lowest-performing groups—Christians, Hindus, and Muslims—veer in the opposite direction, with much more reliance on the afterlife and dualistic philosophies, i.e. belief in a soul or spirit that continues after physical death.
This is a generalization not applicable to every member of each group. Plenty of Hindus and Muslims are casual observers that rely on their faith for cultural identity alone. Observant Jews and Buddhists pray to deities and meditate on the afterlife. On a larger scale, however, the latter groups tend to be more devotional in nature and practice than those with the longest life expectancies.
Beyond belief, economics appears to be the main driver for life expectancy. As Julia Belluz at Vox reports:
There’s one group in the US that’s actually doing better than ever: the rich. While poor and middle-class Americans are dying earlier these days, the wealthiest among us are enjoying unprecedented longevity.
This is disturbing news to the faithful, but from a bird’s eye view, it makes sense. If your basic survival needs are taken care of, the need for faith decreases. Life is already working out in your favor. Again, a generalization—millionaires can exhibit plenty of faith—but when you have access to top healthcare, organic food, and time and money for physical fitness, there’s less of a chance existential dread will kick in.
Foreign monks seen meditate during the yearly Makha Bucha ceremony in the north of Bangkok. (Photo by Geem Drake/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Not so if you live in a region plagued by malaria, droughts, AIDS, flooding, and other diseases and environmental catastrophes. The yearning for something better (or other) has long been a part of our psychological make-up. You’re more likely to identify with a glorious afterworld when this one isn’t working out so well.
Does religion follow economics or do certain economic realities manifest around particular religious ideologies? The former seems more likely, though that is speculation, an especially contentious one given how intimate faith is to some and how defensive they can become when their ideas are challenged. Factor in atheists and agnostics near the top of the list above, throwing a wrench into the whole idea of longevity and faith.
This topic requires the implementation of an important moral principle: humility. When dealing with religions of the afterworld, Christians, Muslims, and Hindus can’t all be right, if we go by the guidelines professed by each faith. This has always made for sticky dialogues, even among the more tolerant religious. If you sincerely believe Jesus is the only way to heaven, well, anyone not on board is cast out. And that "us vs them" mindset might not prove to be healthy in the long run.
Does this mean that focusing on the present rather than a supposed afterlife makes for better practices while alive? It just might be so, going by these data. You can only help yourself by paying attention to your health now. Putting it off for a perceived future does not make for a fruitful life today.
It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction
- It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
- If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
- The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent
Through computationally intensive computer simulations, researchers have discovered that "nuclear pasta," found in the crusts of neutron stars, is the strongest material in the universe.
- The strongest material in the universe may be the whimsically named "nuclear pasta."
- You can find this substance in the crust of neutron stars.
- This amazing material is super-dense, and is 10 billion times harder to break than steel.
Superman is known as the "Man of Steel" for his strength and indestructibility. But the discovery of a new material that's 10 billion times harder to break than steel begs the question—is it time for a new superhero known as "Nuclear Pasta"? That's the name of the substance that a team of researchers thinks is the strongest known material in the universe.
Unlike humans, when stars reach a certain age, they do not just wither and die, but they explode, collapsing into a mass of neurons. The resulting space entity, known as a neutron star, is incredibly dense. So much so that previous research showed that the surface of a such a star would feature amazingly strong material. The new research, which involved the largest-ever computer simulations of a neutron star's crust, proposes that "nuclear pasta," the material just under the surface, is actually stronger.
The competition between forces from protons and neutrons inside a neutron star create super-dense shapes that look like long cylinders or flat planes, referred to as "spaghetti" and "lasagna," respectively. That's also where we get the overall name of nuclear pasta.
Caplan & Horowitz/arXiv
Diagrams illustrating the different types of so-called nuclear pasta.
The researchers' computer simulations needed 2 million hours of processor time before completion, which would be, according to a press release from McGill University, "the equivalent of 250 years on a laptop with a single good GPU." Fortunately, the researchers had access to a supercomputer, although it still took a couple of years. The scientists' simulations consisted of stretching and deforming the nuclear pasta to see how it behaved and what it would take to break it.
While they were able to discover just how strong nuclear pasta seems to be, no one is holding their breath that we'll be sending out missions to mine this substance any time soon. Instead, the discovery has other significant applications.
One of the study's co-authors, Matthew Caplan, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, said the neutron stars would be "a hundred trillion times denser than anything on earth." Understanding what's inside them would be valuable for astronomers because now only the outer layer of such starts can be observed.
"A lot of interesting physics is going on here under extreme conditions and so understanding the physical properties of a neutron star is a way for scientists to test their theories and models," Caplan added. "With this result, many problems need to be revisited. How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like? And most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?"
Another possibility worth studying is that, due to its instability, nuclear pasta might generate gravitational waves. It may be possible to observe them at some point here on Earth by utilizing very sensitive equipment.
The team of scientists also included A. S. Schneider from California Institute of Technology and C. J. Horowitz from Indiana University.
Check out the study "The elasticity of nuclear pasta," published in Physical Review Letters.
Scientists think constructing a miles-long wall along an ice shelf in Antarctica could help protect the world's largest glacier from melting.
- Rising ocean levels are a serious threat to coastal regions around the globe.
- Scientists have proposed large-scale geoengineering projects that would prevent ice shelves from melting.
- The most successful solution proposed would be a miles-long, incredibly tall underwater wall at the edge of the ice shelves.
The world's oceans will rise significantly over the next century if the massive ice shelves connected to Antarctica begin to fail as a result of global warming.
To prevent or hold off such a catastrophe, a team of scientists recently proposed a radical plan: build underwater walls that would either support the ice or protect it from warm waters.
In a paper published in The Cryosphere, Michael Wolovick and John Moore from Princeton and the Beijing Normal University, respectively, outlined several "targeted geoengineering" solutions that could help prevent the melting of western Antarctica's Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier, whose melting waters are projected to be the largest source of sea-level rise in the foreseeable future.
An "unthinkable" engineering project
"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.
One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.
The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.
Source: Wolovick et al.
An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.
But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.
Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.
"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.
"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."
A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.
"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.