Virtual Brains, Virtual Currencies, Real Revolutions

In collaboration with Exponential Finance

Your Brain in the Cloud: Access the Internet Directly with Your Mind

What if we could reverse-engineer the pattern-recognition units of our brains? Technologist and futurist Ray Kurzweil sees this as an imminent possibility, which would enable us to build virtual, cloud-based extensions of our minds with exponentially greater ability to organize and analyze information.

Ray Kurzweil is one of many ahead-of-the-curve speakers at 2015’s Exponential Finance conference, June 2-3 in New York City. Co-produced by Singularity University and CNBC, Exponential Finance provides insight into new technologies that leaders need to understand in order to make the most of the accelerating change happening across business sectors.

Peter Diamandis on How to Become a Billionaire

Exponential technologies are rapidly shifting the way we live and do business, says Singularity University's Peter Diamandis. Those who learn to take advantage of them are sure to ride the wave to extraordinary success.

Peter Diamandis is one of many ahead-of-the-curve speakers at 2015’s Exponential Finance conference, June 2-3 in New York City. Co-produced by Singularity University and CNBC, Exponential Finance provides insight into new technologies that leaders need to understand in order to make the most of the accelerating change happening across business sectors.

Brad Templeton: How Bitcoin Disrupts the Finance Industry

Should you invest in Bitcoin? Maybe not, says Brad Templeton, but that doesn't mean the digital currency isn't amazing in and of itself. Templeton explains what Bitcoin achieves and how it's set to spur further innovation.

Brad Templeton is one of many ahead-of-the-curve speakers at 2015’s Exponential Finance conference, June 2-3 in New York City. Co-produced by Singularity University and CNBC, Exponential Finance provides insight into new technologies that leaders need to understand in order to make the most of the accelerating change happening across business sectors.

Ray Kurzweil: Can You Read 100 Million Web Pages in a Few Seconds? Your Robot Assistant Will.

Comprehension is the human genius. But in a world where computers can process all of human history in a flash, that genius can be scaled. What possible industries would this eliminate risk from? Could scaled comprehension reliably create new business opportunities, each more efficient and profitable than the last?

We are talking about something more than augmenting human abilities with machine efficiency and power. We are talking about creating something that's simply more human: more capable of creativity, of understanding, of love, and of courage.

Ray Kurzweil is one of many ahead-of-the-curve speakers at 2015’s Exponential Finance conference, June 2-3 in New York City. Co-produced by Singularity University and CNBC, Exponential Finance provides insight into new technologies that leaders need to understand in order to make the most of the accelerating change happening across business sectors.

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  • There are numerous strategies for building and maintaining a high-performing team, but unfortunately they are not plug-and-play. What works for some companies will not necessarily work for others. Erin Meyer, co-author of No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, shares one alternative employed by one of the largest tech and media services companies in the world.
  • Instead of the 'Rank and Yank' method once used by GE, Meyer explains how Netflix managers use the 'keeper test' to determine if employees are crucial pieces of the larger team and are worth fighting to keep.
  • "An individual performance problem is a systemic problem that impacts the entire team," she says. This is a valuable lesson that could determine whether the team fails or whether an organization advances to the next level.

    She was walking down the forest path with a roll of white cloth in her hands. It was trailing behind her like a long veil.

    It was sweeping needles, leaves and soil lumps, drawing a pattern on the sandy pathway. The whiteness of the cloth contrasted with her black attire and the dark thick forest. As the path went up and down, the crowd following the woman at a distance would lose sight of her, only to see her again in a short while, like a white signpost.

    Once the procession reached the clearing surrounded by old trees, the woman in black kneeled down in the centre. She began to wrap something with the cloth, already quite tatty after the walk. Her face was tense and her hands were shaking as she tried to tie up the bundle with a string. Eventually, she brought her emotions under control, tightened the knot, and held the bundle to her breast. The onlookers formed a circle around her, maintaining, however, a respectful distance. They didn't want to disturb this intimate moment: a moment of farewell.

    The people who gathered there to view the ceremony sat on the moss and May-dewed grass. They walked carefully, making sure not to trample on dozen-centimetre-tall spruce trees with red ribbons tied around their tops. One could already see this year's bright green growths on the saplings.

    The woman in black was the 49-year-old South Korean writer Han Kang, who won the Man Booker International Prize 2016. The thing she wrapped with the white cloth was a manuscript. When the spruce saplings with red ribbons grow, they will become her book. It will happen, however, in the year 2114. Until then, for nearly 100 years, Kang's manuscript, in a tatty cloth, will have remained hidden from public view. Neither the writer nor her 18-year-old son will live to see its publication. The onlookers who gathered that day in the Nordmarka forest in the hills outside of Oslo won't bear witness to it either. 'Future Library' is being created for the generations to come, in the hope that in 100 years' time humanity will still exist and want to read books.

    Future Library is a project conceived by Scottish conceptual artist Katie Paterson. Each year, on the clearing where future books are growing, a writer selected by the Future Library Trust hands over their manuscript. Its content, form, volume and other details – except the title – will remain secret for 100 years. The first contributor who arrived in Oslo in 2014 was Margaret Atwood, renowned for her dystopian representations of the future. She was followed by British novelist David Mitchell, Icelandic poet and novelist Sjón, Turkish author Elif Shafak and, in 2019, Han Kang. The next contributor is Karl Ove Knausgård, who will hand over his manuscript on the forest clearing in May 2020. From among all the writers, he will have the shortest distance to cover to get there: he is a Norwegian, born in Oslo and still living there. There is space for 94 more authors.

    59°59'10.0 N 10°41'48.6 E

    Take Line no. 1 (T-bane) in downtown Oslo. While still within the city limits, the train goes above ground and up the hills overlooking both the fjord and the capital. At the end of the line, Frognerseteren station, follow the signs to the restaurant. Once there, follow the forest road lined with streetlights – in winter-time they light up the cross-country skiing route. After a slightly more than kilometre-and-a-half-long walk, enter a much narrower and steeper path. It is the start of the trail that climbs up to Frønsvollen hill. After 100 metres, you will see a sign in both English and Norwegian: 'Future Library Forest' / 'Framtidsbibliotekskogen.' You are here.

    A forest
    of unread books
    growing over 100 years

    Katie Paterson didn't expect her idea to turn into something more than three lines of text in the haiku-like form: that is how she tends to note down her project-related thoughts. Future Library has become, however, a large-scale undertaking; or, perhaps, it is still becoming one since there seems to be no form that could contain the project that unfolds over 100 years.

    "I began by drawing rings," she tells me. "I would draw tree's growth rings, imagining each to be a subsequent book chapter. I was pondering the relations between the tree and the book, the forest and the library – their interfusion. As I immersed myself in thoughts, I would doodle more rings on the sheets of paper."

    Paterson is 38 years old. Her art often engages with the cosmos and brings to mind scientific research projects, like her map of the sky with 27,000 dead stars or clocks that tell the time on different planets. Some of her artworks – for instance the bulb that emits the light of a full moon, or the spinning wheel that contains all the colours of the universe – were created in collaboration with scientists and engineers. She even invited the European Space Agency (ESA) to one of her projects. They helped her return to space a Campo del Cielo meteorite, which had travelled through our solar system for 4.5 billion years before it fell to Earth. Recently, NASA has expressed their wish to collaborate with her. One might look at Paterson through the prism of the places where she has exhibited: Tate Britain, Guggenheim Museum in New York, The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Copenhagen, or Turner Contemporary. This doesn't make much sense, however, since what is equally important are her open-air projects, located far from famous galleries. One fine example is "Hollow"an installation in the grounds of University of Bristol, which is composed of 10,000 wood pieces, each from different tree species from all parts of the world. Another project invites people to go to the beach and make sand replicas of the most famous mountains. Participants are provided with special Kilimanjaro- or Stromboli-shaped molds, and when the high tide washes their replicas away, they might ponder time and transience, which also come to mind in the context of Future Library.

    "Immediately after receiving the invitation to become a writer for Future Library, I imagined the world one hundred years from now. The world a long time after I myself have died, when my child, however long they manage to hold on to life, will likely no longer exist, and neither will any of the ones I love, any of the human beings who are living and breathing together with me on the Earth in this moment. It was a frighteningly lonely image to conjure. But, cutting across that desolateness, I kept on imagining. Imagining the world one hundred years from now which, since even in this moment time is owing without fail, will arrive as an inevitable reality. The trees of the forests around Oslo, that will grow thick and dense in those hundred years. The leaves and branches of spring, the afternoon sunlight that will shine down on them. The evenings and cold, still nights that will come without fail," said Han Kang quietly, standing in the centre of the clearing, surrounded by the spruce trees that will become books, and one of them – her book.

    To understand how much can change over the coming century, imagine that in May 1914 – 100 years before the first manuscript was handed over to Future Library – the Great War hadn't broken out yet. It turned out to be the First World War, as 25 years later humankind decided to prove that it is capable of even more horrendous acts. Soon, such terms as the Holocaust, D-Day, or Little Boy came into use. People didn't even dream of the internet or mobile phones, not to mention mobile phones with internet access. It wasn't until 1926 that Henry Ford started to close his factories over Saturdays and Sundays, thus introducing the idea of the 'weekend'. In most European countries, women were granted suffrage after 1918. In the US, the 19th Amendment guaranteed women the right to vote in 1920. It wasn't until 1964 that the US abolished racial segregation. 100 years is a very long time.

    "Sometimes I imagine the world in the year 2114. I guess that the most optimistic scenario is the one in which no radical changes take place; the one in which everything stays almost exactly the same, with minor differences only," says Paterson.

    The curators decided to equip Future Library with a printing press and instruction manual in case 100 years from now humans lose their ability to produce paper books (provided, of course, that humankind survives). On the eve of Han Kang's manuscript handover, an informal dinner for Future Library's friends was held in a theatre in Oslo. At this small event, attended by slightly over 40 international guests, Anne Beate Høvind, the project technical director, entered the stage and discussed some unexpected practical problems. As she explained, the presses intended for industrial printing are not supposed to be turned off. "Once switched on, the machine operates continuously. When switched off, especially for a long time, it starts to rust," she clarified and added, smiling: "The printing problem hasn't been solved then. Well, I'm going to worry about it later, in about 10 years…"

    Overpowered by emotions, Han Kang didn't come to dinner. On the following day, she admitted to having a moment of doubt as to whether to condemn her book, the writing of which took such an immense effort, to a 95-year-long oblivion. Kang has a delicate voice. When she speaks, it is as if she was whispering. She seems fragile and shy, yet in her works she deals with the thorniest issues.

    Kang's most recent work, published in English under the title White Book, is an attempt to confront her own history. The narrator is her older sister, whom she never got to know since she died only two hours after birth. Their parents said that if she had survived, they wouldn't have decided to have more children. When Kang's mother was pregnant with her, she seriously considered having an abortion. The idea for the book, in which each chapter is a description of something white, was conceived far from Kang's hometown, but close to the editorial office of "Przekrój". She was working on it during a four-month residency at the University of Warsaw's Faculty of Oriental Studies. Although she felt lonely and isolated, since she didn't know the local language, she took to Warsaw at first (and liked it "till November", as she emphasized). She enjoyed strolling around the Łazienki Park, but the ubiquitous remnants of World War II kept haunting her. She was thinking about destruction and reconstruction, and realized that her sister's spirit was part of her. And since for her the colour white represents both life and death, she decided to hold a roll of white cloth during the manuscript handover ceremony in the Nordmarka forest.

    "On the one hand, it felt like a wedding ceremony, with the cloth as a veil. It was a wedding of the book and the forest. On the other hand, it seemed like a ceremony celebrating the birth of a child, in this case a new book. At the same time, I had a strong impression that it was a funeral, with the cloth as a mourning dress: the funeral of my book," observed Kang.

    At the ceremony, Kang, almost whispering, shared her dimly optimistic vision of the future: "And the moment I eventually write the first sentence; I have to believe in the world one hundred years from now. In the uncertain possibility that there will still be human beings who have survived, and who will read what I write. I have to hope that human history will not yet have vanished as a phantom, that this planet will not have become a huge ruin or grave of humans. It is a hope whose foundation is shaky, like the assumption that the people who run this project, and the writers of the present and future, who will die and be born in the course of the next hundred years, will continue this work as though carrying embers forward. Yet I have to believe, even in the tenuous possibility that a paper book's fate will be to survive long enough to reach the world one hundred years from now."

    The story of Future Library is not only a story about faith and hope, but also fear. If predictions prove correct, in 2114 those humans who have survived will be too busy fighting for water or habitable land to think about an art project that dates back 100 years. According to the Australian think tank National Centre for Climate Restoration (Breakthrough), so many regions will become inhabitable around 2050 that great masses of people will have to move, nations will dissolve, and the world order as we know it today will collapse. Over a billion people will be forced to migrate and two billion will have limited access to water.

    The coming of the Anthropocene, the epoch in which human actions exert an impact on natural processes, has been discussed for almost 100 years. Although the term itself hasn't been officially recognized yet, the Anthropocene doesn't seem to care much. One million animal and plant species are at risk of extinction, glaciers are melting, and the temperature is rising regardless of the fact that the term hasn't been accepted.

    Half a century ago we landed on the moon. We boasted about being able to see from there a man-made artefact: the Great Wall of China. It turned out not to be true: the Great Wall is too narrow to be seen from the Moon with a naked eye. We can see from space, however, Dubai's artificial palm-shaped archipelago for the rich, Almeria's greenhouses with roofs made of white plastic (which cover an area half the size of Warsaw), open-pit mines, the cutting-down of the Amazon Rainforest, the illuminated India–Pakistan border, and the earliest evidence of the Anthropocene: the Pyramids of Giza. It isn't necessary to fly into space, however, to see what is happening on the Earth. 18 of the 19 hottest summers – those with the highest average temperatures – have been reported since 2001, with 2016 as the warmest year on record. This data is provided by NASA, but the numbers given by Climatic Research Unit and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are almost the same. In their October 2018 report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) alerted us that there are 12 years left to prevent the catastrophe. 12 wasted months later there are 11 years left, and the clock is ticking…

    Paterson claims, however, that Future Library makes her optimistic: "It is the forest that has such an effect on me. Whenever I'm there, I'm reminded of how old it is. Primeval forests are beyond time – when humans enter them, it is as if they travelled into the distant past. Hopefully, the forest we planted will be like that as well: the saplings on the clearing will grow as tall as the trees surrounding them. My optimism is tempered, of course, when I see what happens to our planet. I know that a lot of my projects immediately bring to mind climate change. This is also true for Future Library. I'm perfectly aware that the Earth is in horrific crisis, but it is not the struggle against the crisis that should define my art. My goal is to stir people's imagination. I'm interested in the entanglements and interfusions. The forest is turned into paper, the paper into a book, the book into a library, which, in turn, connects future readers with the authors who lived in the past. Future Library is mostly a project about time. It has to do with the environment and ecology as well, of course, but I'm not vain enough to claim that I can change the world through art."

    Nevertheless, she does change something. While you're reading this text, the manuscripts are held in a safe in Oslo Public Library, Deichmanske Bibliotek. Han Kang's new work lies next to the oldest book in the collection: a handwritten manuscript of the Vulgate bible of Aslak Bolt, written in 1250. Next year, the library will relocate to a new facility situated next to the famous Oslo Opera House in the Bjørvika neighbourhood, which has been undergoing urban redevelopment, or rather, has been built from scratch. Bjørvika – until recently an industrial port area – in now a modern neighbourhood, characterized by steel and glass design. The final touches are now being put on office and apartment buildings. The Opera House, the new Munch Museum and the new library are meant to be the flagships of this revamped neighbourhood, situated by the fjord.

    On the top floor of the new library, which will be fully operational by spring 2020, there will be a room made from wood. In this specially-designed room there will be 100 removable drawers, where manuscripts will be kept. Those which already hold manuscripts will be delicately illuminated. Each author will be able to choose their drawer. Han Kang was the first to chose. Other writers who have already handed over their manuscripts will come back to Oslo and have their pick.

    As Paterson explains: "The room is made from the trees cut down in the Nordmarka forest to plant new trees for Future Library. Manuscripts will be safe there. As for the forest itself… well, there is not much we can do. Ideally, we should leave it alone."

    It is not a coincidence that this project was developed in Oslo. It is, in fact, a municipal project: the only person who could officially accept Han Kang's manuscript is the mayor of the capital of Norway—Marianne Borgen. Only in Scandinavia can a high-ranking official show up on the forest clearing, get there on foot and without security, and instead of turning their speech into a rally, thank previous generations of politicians, who 120 years ago decided that Nordmarka should be under protection and that it should be the people's forest.

    In 2018, electric cars accounted for over 49% of all new cars bought in Norway. The government exempted their owners from the car tax and the 25% VAT, while Oslo city council waived parking fees and congestion charges. This exemplifies how systemic solutions are far more effective than individual spurts. Which doesn't mean, however, that you, Dear Reader, should go back to using plastic straws or drinking water from plastic bottles, waiting for politicians to tackle the climate crisis.

    Future Library is one of the projects that accompanies the redevelopment of the Bjørvika neighbourhood. As Høvind clarifies: "The city council announced a competition for public art projects that engage with the nature of time." A few steps away from the Opera House, you can also find the Losæter city farm. On this quite big plot of land, local people grow vegetables and fruit. There are chickens roaming around the rows and a beautiful arc-shaped bakery made from wood and glass. The city employs a farmer who takes care of the land, relying on traditional agricultural methods. This project was conceived by the American artist Amy Franceschini. The room of unread books is not far from the farm.

    Paterson expresses her hope that "future generations will somehow benefit from the project." "These are just books," she says, "but they show that we think about those who haven't been born yet. They demonstrate that not all of us want them to inherit nothing but havoc and devastation."

    Høvind also imagines the world 100 years from now: "I'll be dead … that's all I know. I'm scared, but I do whatever I can because of a sense of great duty. I believe that we need projects rooted in cathedral thinking," she explains.

    'Cathedral thinking' is a term that applies to projects that don't unfold over years, but over generations. It is thinking and designing in a non-egotistical way, where the satisfaction is derived from the process itself, not the final result. As its name suggests (and as those who haven't come across the term before can quickly infer), cathedral thinking has its roots in the Middle Ages and the building of cathedrals. The idea and its execution were separated by hundreds of years, and subsequent generations continued to work on the same design. The builders knew they would never witness the final effect of their work. At that time, such future-oriented thinking was motivated by the desire to secure one's place in heaven. Today we need it to make heaven on Earth. Or, at least, to escape hell.

    Cathedral thinking optimistically assumes that the future matters, stoically forcing us to ponder the meaning of life and the passing of time. "I'm sure I won't have a chance to read the books collected in Future Library, but this young boy here… who knows?" Paterson points at her son, who is sitting on her lap. "His life is still being measured in months, not years. He is intimately related to this project. I was in the forest while pregnant – back then spruce saplings hardly protruded above the ground. Last year we went there together again, and I had to carry him around. This year he was the loudest participant of the ceremony. He will be growing together with the forest."

    Han Kang closed her speech on the Nordmarka forest clearing with the following words: "If it is possible to call prayer the moment when, in spite of all the uncertainty, we have to take just one step towards the light, in this moment I feel that perhaps this project is something close to a century-long prayer." She could reveal only one fact about her book: its title. "My Dear Son, My Love," she whispered.

    Translated from the Polish by Joanna Mąkowska.

    Reprinted with permission of Przekrój. Read the original article.

    • Scientists have long thought that water exists on the lunar surface, but it wasn't until 2018 that ice was first discovered on the moon.
    • A study published Monday used NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy to confirm the presence of molecular water..
    • A second study suggests that shadowy regions on the lunar surface may also contain more ice than previously thought.

    For the first time, scientists have confirmed the presence of water on the sunlit surface of the moon, a discovery with major implications for future moon missions and deep-space exploration.

    Since the 1990s, a series of observations have suggested the moon harbors ice, but scientists haven't been able to confirm whether the data was signaling the presence of water (H2O) or a chemical relative called hydroxyl, which is oxygen bonded with hydrogen. In 2018, scientists confirmed that water — in the form of ice — exists in the moon's polar regions.

    Now, a new study confirms that water — not just hydroxyl — exists on sunlit surfaces of the moon.

    Publishing their findings in the journal Nature Astronomy on Monday, researchers examined the lunar surface using NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). This airborne observatory is mounted on a customized Boeing 747 that flies at an altitude of about 45,000 feet. That's high enough to rise above Earth's lower atmosphere, which contains water vapor that prevents land-based observatories from getting a clear view of the moon.

    Using SOFIA, the team took a close look at two sites near, one near the lunar equator and another near the Clavius crater, one of the largest craters on the moon. The researchers observed light signals that could only have come from molecular water.

    "We had indications that H2O – the familiar water we know – might be present on the sunlit side of the Moon," Paul Hertz, director of the Astrophysics Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in a statement. "Now we know it is there. This discovery challenges our understanding of the lunar surface and raises intriguing questions about resources relevant for deep space exploration."



    Credits: NASA/Daniel Rutter

    Still, it's not as if the moon is dripping wet. The observations suggest that a cubic meter of the lunar surface (in the Clavius crater site, at least) contains water in concentrations of 100 to 412 parts per million. That's roughly equivalent to a 12-ounce bottle of water. In comparison, the same plot of land in the Sahara desert contains about 100 times more water.

    But a second study suggests other parts of the lunar surface also contain water — and potentially lots of it. Also publishing their findings in Nature Astronomy on Monday, the researchers used the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to study "cold traps" near the moon's polar regions. These areas of the lunar surface are permanently covered in shadows. In fact, about 0.15 percent of the lunar surface is permanently shadowed, and it's here that water could remain frozen for millions of years.

    Some of these permanently shadowed regions are huge, extending more than a kilometer wide. But others span just 1 cm. These smaller "micro cold traps" are much more abundant than previously thought, and they're spread out across more regions of the lunar surface, according to the new research.

    Credit: dottedyeti via AdobeStock

    Still, the second study didn't confirm that ice is embedded in micro cold traps. But if there is, it would mean that water would be much more accessible to astronauts, considering they wouldn't have to travel into deep, shadowy craters to extract water.

    Greater accessibility to water would not only make it easier for astronauts to get drinking water, but could also enable them to generate rocket fuel and power.

    "Water is a valuable resource, for both scientific purposes and for use by our explorers," said Jacob Bleacher, chief exploration scientist in the advanced exploration systems division for NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, in a statement. "If we can use the resources at the Moon, then we can carry less water and more equipment to help enable new scientific discoveries."

    • For his new book, "Clean: The New Science of Skin," physician James Hamblin didn't shower for five years.
    • Soap is a relatively simple concoction; you're mostly paying for marketing and scent.
    • While hygiene is important, especially during a pandemic, Hamblin argues that we're cleaning too much.

    A few months ago, James Hamblin made a splash when announcing he hadn't showered or used much soap in five years. The physician, Yale public health lecturer, and staff writer at The Atlantic experimented on himself as research for his latest book, "Clean: The New Science of Skin."

    Hygiene rituals are as old as recorded civilization. While Muslims and Hindus created elaborate cleaning rituals, European Christians thought bathing increased your chances of falling ill thanks to miasma theory. For centuries, changing your linen shirt supposedly bestowed cleanliness—not soap and water. Many Christians during this era only had one bath in their entire lives: baptism.

    While easy to shake your head in disbelief, Hamblin points out that many current hygiene and skincare rituals have moved us too far in the opposite direction. You certainly want to wash more than yearly, yet our expensive rituals may be more harmful than helpful.

    Modern hygiene and skincare is also a time suck. As Hamblin points out, if you spend a half-hour showering and applying products every day, you'll devote over two years to showering-related activities over the course of a century-long life.

    In his previous book, "If Our Bodies Could Talk," Hamblin investigated numerous body myths. In "Clean," he focuses on our largest organ. Skin is an environment unto itself. What follows are six important lessons in his book, ranging from hygiene practices to capitalistic greed.

    As Hamblin notes in the introduction, abandoning soap doesn't apply to washing your hands, especially during a pandemic. As a physician, he performs this ritual multiple times a day.

    Doctor hasn’t showered for five years | Today Show Australia

    An obsession with soap might be creating allergies

    In the quest to protect our children against bacteria, we might inadvertently create lifelong allergies. An uptick in peanut allergies is indicative of this trend. Our skin is the first line of defense against disease, and it knows how to protect itself. In fact, the organisms and bacteria that live on our skin are doing important work; the more we wash them away, the more susceptible we become to foreign invaders.

    Nut allergies might only be one consequence of overwashing. Allergic rhinitis, asthma, and eczema might in part be caused (or provoked) by too many antibacterial soaps (or soap in general). As Hamblin writes, "Soaps and astringents meant to make us drier and less oily also remove the sebum on which microbes feed."

    Your skin is crawling with mites

    Speaking of foreign invaders, skin science verifies an old Buddhist idea: there is no self. As Hamblin puts it, "Self and other is less of a dichotomy than a continuum." In fact, "you" are a collection of organisms and bacteria, including Demodex. A half-millimeter in length, these "demon arachnids" are colorless and boast four pairs of legs, which they use to burrow into the skin on our face.

    Yes, all of our faces.

    While these mites were originally discovered in 1841, it wasn't until 2014 that a group of researchers in North Carolina used DNA sequencing to understand their impact. Though you might recoil at the suggestion, it turns out that these critters potentially act as natural exfoliants. While housing too many of these mites results in skin disease, your face is their home. If not for them you might be even more susceptible to breakouts and infections.

    Think unchecked capitalism is bad? Thank soap.

    Soap is chemically simple. Combine fat and alkali to create surfactant molecules. The fat can be animal- or plant-based—three fatty acids and a glycerin molecule create a triglyceride. Combine this mix with potash or lye, apply heat and pressure, and wait for the fatty acids to rush away from the glycerin. Potassium or sodium binds to fatty acids. That's soap.

    You actually pay for scent and packaging. In 1790, the first patent in history was approved for an ash processing method that produced soap. It wasn't an immediate hit; the balance was off. Too much lye resulted in a lot of burnt skin. A century passed before companies convinced Americans regular washing was necessary. Thanks to ingenious marketing—we still have radio-inspired "soap operas" today, though barely—soap became a must-have. A luxury became a common good.

    As with everything capitalism, a little doesn't generate much revenue. Marketers convinced the public that a lot was needed. As Hamblin phrases it, "Capitalism sells nothing so effectively as status. And if a little bit was good, a lot would be better." Soap infected mainstream consciousness. Soon, we needed a lot of everything, all thanks to simple chemistry.

    A little baby is reaching out of a bath tub to get at a tablet of Pear's soap. The drawing is entitled 'He won't be happy till he gets it'! (1888)

    Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

    The skincare industry is almost entirely unregulated

    Hamblin tried another project for this book: he launched a skincare line. One day he went to Whole Foods and purchased raw ingredients: jojoba oil, collagen, shea butter, a few other things. After mixing them in his kitchen, he ordered glass jars and labels from Amazon. In total, he spent $150 (which included his company website) to launch Brunson + Sterling. He then posted two-ounce jars of Gentleman's Cream for $200 (on sale from $300!).

    Hamblin didn't sell any jars, but that wasn't the point. At an expo, he noticed one-ounce jars of SkinCeuticals's C E Ferulic selling for $166, even though that topical acid is no more effective at improving health than eating an orange. Collagen is another hype machine. Drinking collagen does nothing for your skin as it's broken down by enzymes in your digestive tract. Even still, plenty of companies claim it gives you glowing skin even though the charge is rubbish.

    Even more incredibly, Hamblin didn't have to report any ingredients to the FDA. He also didn't need to note its effects or provide evidence of safety. He simply needed to apply for a business license. The FDA can't even make him (or anyone) recall products. The government's safety system relies on a code of honor—and there are plenty of businesses that are less than honorable.

    Marketing and hype. Thanks, soap.

    Disinfectant decoy

    The ongoing joke about the happiness one derives from finding Clorox wipes in the supermarket will be with us for some time to come, as the CEO announced they won't have enough supply until 2021. That said, do we need to Clorox everything? Probably not, Hamblin suggests. In fact, for Clorox to work, you have to leave it on the surface for about 10 minutes.

    "The product isn't 'killing 99.9% of germs' in the way that anyone actually uses it—a quick wipe-down."

    Hamblin suggests regularly wiping down your countertop with soap and water. Regularly killing germs isn't the healthiest practice. Similar to antibiotics, overuse makes cleaning products ineffective. Hamblin continues, "some chronic conditions seem to be fueled by the fact that so many of us are now not being exposed to enough to the world."

    The takeaway: read beyond what's posted in bright shiny letters on the cover of cleaning products. And consider using them less than you might think you need.

    Animals smell. You're an animal.

    The soap advertisements that kicked off modern marketing relied on one concept: B.O. We think of body odor as a given, but that too is an invention. Our feet "smell" thanks to Bacillus subtilis. This bacteria has potent antifungal properties. Shoes weren't available for most of history, a period in which smelly feet bestowed a strong evolutionary trait. As Hamblin writes, we didn't evolve to smell, we evolved in harmony with protective microbes that we just happen to find unpleasant.

    While a number of players in the wellness and skincare industries likely have good intentions, so much of what is sold is unnecessary, and even damaging. The marketing machine makes us feel "less than" in order to sell us products that complete us. As Hamblin concludes, evidence-based companies would take an opposite approach to skincare and hygiene: less is more. As that will never produce million-dollar companies, we continue to sacrifice health in the name of branding.


    Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His new book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."

    • A new study finds drinking large amounts of coffee and tea lowers the risk of death in some adults by nearly two thirds.
    • This is the first study to suggest the known benefits of these drinks are additive.
    • The findings are great, but only directly apply to certain people.

    Coffee and tea are two of the most consumed beverages on the planet. Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world. They are both enjoyed by billions of people for various reasons, and an increasing number of studies suggest they are good for you.

    Recently, another study attesting to the health benefits of these drinks was published in Japan. A several-year review of the health and dietary habits of nearly 5,000 type 2 diabetics shows that those who drink more coffee and tea can enjoy a dramatically reduced death rate.

     Maybe you should enjoy this article with a cup of coffee or tea.

    The study involved 4,923 type 2 diabetics living in Japan. The average participant was 66 years old. All of the participants were taken from the rolls of the Fukuoka Diabetes Registry, a study geared at learning about the effects of new treatments and lifestyle changes on the health of diabetics.

    The participants filled out questionnaires concerning their health, diet, habits, and other factors. Among the questions were two focused on determining how much green tea or coffee, if any, the participants consumed over the course of a week. The health of the participants was recorded for five years. During this time, 309 of the test subjects died from a variety of causes.

    Subjects who drank more than one cup of tea or coffee per day demonstrated lower odds of dying than those who had none. Those who consumed the most tea and coffee, more than four and two cups a day, respectively, enjoyed the most significant reductions in their risk of death. This level of consumption was associated with a 40 percent lower risk of death.

    Most interestingly, the effects of drinking tea and coffee appear to combine to reduce risk even further. Those who reported drinking two or three cups of tea a day and two or more cups of coffee were 51 percent less likely to die during the study, while those who drank a whopping four or more cups of tea and two or more cups of coffee had a 63 percent lower risk of death.

    So, should I start swimming in a vat of coffee and green tea?

    Not quite.

    The primary takeaway from this study is that Japanese adults with type 2 diabetes who drink a lot of green tea and/or coffee die less often than similar people who do not. If this effect is caused by something in the drink, lifestyle choices people who drink that much tea all make, or something else remains unknown. The finding must be considered an association at this point.

    The eye-popping reductions in mortality rates are compared to the risk of death of others in the study. The people who died reported drinking less tea and coffee than those who lived. Unless you have several demographic and conditional similarities to the subjects of this study, you probably won't suddenly be at a two-thirds lower risk of death than your peers because you drink green tea.

    Like all studies that depend on self-reporting, it is also possible that people misstated how much they consumed any one item. The study also did not look into other factors like socioeconomic status or education level, also known to impact death rates and potentially linked to coffee and tea consumption.

    However, it is yet another study in the pile that suggests that coffee and green tea are good for you. That much is increasingly agreed upon. This study also suggests the benefits are additive, which is a new development.

    So, while it isn't time to start the IV drip of green tea, a cup or two probably won't hurt.