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40 Ways to Carve Up England
On 18 September, Scotland voted to stay in the UK by 55% to 45%: a wider margin than most expected, but still close enough to warrant the constitutional re-think promised by Westminster in the run-up to the referendum.
This result will finally require an answer to the famous West Lothian Question (1): With certain matters devolved to separately elected assemblies in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, why should Members of Parliament (MPs) elected in those countries to sit in the House of Commons be able to vote on matters that affect only England?
The easy answer is of course that they shouldn't; the difficult one is how to solve that democratic paradox. One solution could be to exclude Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh MPs from debates and votes pertaining to English matters only. Another would be to keep the vote open, but to require England-only legislation to get a majority of English MPs behind it. Either solution would create two classes of MPs - hardly an elegant outcome, let alone a more democratic one.
A third option would be to create an English Parliament, provide it with similar powers as the other three assemblies, and leave residual 'federal' matters to the Westminster Parliament.To give such an assembly a fresh start, it should perhaps convene outside of London – maybe in Winchester, the ancient English capital, or in either Meriden or Fenny Drayton, two villages east of Birmingham disputing each other's claim to be the geographical centre of England.
While this would satisfy those who feel that England itself is the least-recognised, longest-suffering colony of the British Empire, the result would be a bit lopsided. England's 53 million inhabitants represent 83% of the United Kingdom's population. Placing its representative body on a par with the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Irish Assembly would create a constitutional imbalance that would make either the English or the three smaller nations very unhappy (and quite possibly all four of them).
This could be solved by devolving central powers to English regions rather than to England as a whole. That would not just be mathematically opportune. Regionalism is a strong force in England. The attachment to city, county or region often is stronger and more tangible than the more abstract notion of nation. The economic situation is also highly divergent regionally.
But how would you carve up England? Alasdair Gunn – he of the equipopulous EU map (see #668) – explores two avenues of Anglo-fragmentation. One is to transpose the administrative units of other countries on England. The other is to imagine existing, often fairly random subdivisions hardening into political borders after power devolves down from Westminster.
Often, the administrative divisions of foreign countries are mentioned to give examples of what a devolved England might look like. However, few plans for devolution give detail on what these divisions would look like, writes Mr. Gunn in the legend of this collection of maps called If England were...
Each map shows England, subdivided into 'foreign' units of government of approximately equal population. The maps are arranged left to right, top to bottom.
England would be the equivalent of two Indian states (averaging 26 million each), or three Bangladeshi divisions (app. 18 million each). Although Sikkim, the smallest of India's 29 states, has less than a million inhabitants and 8 others have less than 10 million, its largest, Uttar Pradesh, has 200 million. Two other states – Maharashtra and Bihar – have over 100 million inhabitants. Dhaka is the most populous of Bangladesh's 7 divisions, numbering 48 million. The central coastal division of Barisal has less than 9 million.
The average administrative units of Brazil, the US and South America are fairly equipopulous – between 5.8 and 7.5 million inhabitants – with England corresponding to 7 Brazilian states, 8 American ones, or 9 South African provinces. Of course, the actual size of these units varies widely: Sao Paulo (44 million) is almost 100 times more populous than the 27th-ranking Brazilian state, Roraima (less than 0.5 million).
England would be equivalent to 10 German Länder (5.3 million each), 14 Australian states (3.8 million) or 16 Canadian provinces (3.3 million). That would be almost triple the number of states of Australia itself (24 million, 5 states), and considerably more provinces than Canada (36 million, 10 provinces).
Italian regions, Japanese prefectures and Polish voivodeships generally have pretty small circumscriptions, with England the equivalent to 18 regioni (of about 3 million each; Italy itself has 20), 19 todōfuken (circa 2.75 million each; Japan has 45), or 22 województwa (about 2.4 million each; Poland itself only has 16).
Curiously, Russian circumscriptions are even smaller – most are large in area, but thinly populated. England could fit in 30 Russian federal subjects (each counting 1.75 million inhabitants). But Tanzania's administrative divisions are even closer to its citizens. A Tanzanian region on average contains no more than 1.5 million people. Tanzania itself (46 million) counts 30. England would contain 35 Tanzania-sized regions.
Under the title Tortured Geography, Mr. Gunn proposes 27 more ways to carve up England: The administrative boundaries used by government departments, quangos (2) and other public sector authorities vary wildly, with the same names often referring to very different areas.
There is indeed very little overlap between the country's three environment agency regions, 4 public health regions, 4 HMRC (3) valuation office agencies, 5 Arts Council regions, 6 Homes & Communities Agency regions or 6 Forestry Commission areas – and that's just comparing the smallest numbers of subdivisions.
The same place could be in the North & East for one agency, in the East for another, and in the Midlands for a third. Even the most obviously standalone unit, Metropolitan London, is separate only half of the time, and otherwise attached to three different regions.The smallest set of subdivision are the counties, but even these are not confusion-free.
There are, in fact, three different types of counties, only two of which are shown here. England's historical counties, first established in Saxon times, officially haven't been abolished, but on most maps they've been replaced by either the administrative counties (as introduced by the 1972 Local Government Act) or the ceremonial counties (as defined by the 1997 Lieutenancy Act).
Some historical counties have disappeared off the map entirely. Middlesex, for instance, has been subsumed by Greater London and clings to life as a post code reference and in the names of a university and a cricket club, among others (see also #605).
And even if the name survives, the administrative and/or ceremonial county may have little overlap with the historical one. The continued confusion between these three types of county means that some places can belong to two or even three different counties, depending on which definition is used.
Administrative counties date from the 19th century but were reorganised by the 1972 Act. They reflect the altered demographic reality, re-dividing the ancient counties into local government areas more adapted to modern times and often taking non-historical names and shapes. Quite a few of these counties have already been renamed or reshaped.
The 1997 Act provided for the appointment of lord-lieutenants (i.e. the Queen's regional representatives) to what were consequently called ceremonial counties – the basis for which in most cases are the unaltered (but sometimes conjoined) administrative counties of the 1972 act. The ceremonial county of Bedfordshire, for example, also includes the administrative county of Luton.
So – what will be the face of post-West Lothian England? Will economics be the deciding factor, and will it look like the map of the 39 LEPs (4)? Or perhaps the institutional factor will decide, and it will resemble the 7 local government association regions. God forbid it should come out as the 10 European Regional Development Fund Programme areas.
Perhaps the smartest move of all might be to add another configuration to the already saturated mix and in a carefully choreographed confusion of change ensure that everything stays exactly as it was.
Strange Maps #683
 So called because it was first raised in 1977 by Tam Dalyell, Member of Parliament for West Lothian, a constituency in Scotland.
 A quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation, which exercises certain powers that have been devolved to it from central government.
 Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, a.k.a. the taxman.
 Local Enterprise Partnerships, which a few years ago replaced the Regional Development Authorities.
Some evidence attributes a certain neurological phenomenon to a near death experience.
Time of death is considered when a person has gone into cardiac arrest. This is the cessation of the electrical impulse that drive the heartbeat. As a result, the heart locks up. The moment the heart stops is considered time of death. But does death overtake our mind immediately afterward or does it slowly creep in?
Some scientists have studied near death experiences (NDEs) to try to gain insights into how death overcomes the brain. What they've found is remarkable, a surge of electricity enters the brain moments before brain death. One 2013 study out of the University of Michigan, which examined electrical signals inside the heads of rats, found they entered a hyper-alert state just before death.
Scientists are beginning to think an NDE is caused by reduced blood flow, coupled with abnormal electrical behavior inside the brain. So the stereotypical tunnel of white light might derive from a surge in neural activity. Dr. Sam Parnia is the director of critical care and resuscitation research, at NYU Langone School of Medicine, in New York City. He and colleagues are investigating exactly how the brain dies.
Our cerebral cortex is likely active 2–20 seconds after cardiac arrest. Credit: Getty Images.
In previous work, he's conducted animal studies looking at the moments before and after death. He's also investigated near death experiences. “Many times, those who have had such experiences talk about floating around the room and being aware of the medical team working on their body," Dr. Parnia told Live Science. “They'll describe watching doctors and nurses working and they'll describe having awareness of full conversations, of visual things that were going on, that would otherwise not be known to them."
Medical staff confirm this, he said. So how could those who were technically dead be cognizant of what's happening around them? Even after our breathing and heartbeat stops, we're conscious for about 2–20 seconds, Dr. Parnia says. That's how long the cerebral cortex is thought to last without oxygen. This is the thinking and decision-making part of the brain. It's also responsible for deciphering the information gathered from our senses.
According to Parnia during this period, "You lose all your brain stem reflexes — your gag reflex, your pupil reflex, all that is gone." Brain waves from the cerebral cortex soon become undetectable. Even so, it can take hours for our thinking organ to fully shut down.
Usually, when the heart stops beating, someone performs CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). This will provide about 15% of the oxygen needed to perform normal brain function. "If you manage to restart the heart, which is what CPR attempts to do, you'll gradually start to get the brain functioning again," Parnia said. “The longer you're doing CPR, those brain cell death pathways are still happening — they're just happening at a slightly slower rate."
CPR may help retain some brain function for longer. Credit: Getty Images.
Dr. Parnia's latest, ongoing study looks at large numbers of Europeans and Americans who have experienced cardiac arrest and survived. "In the same way that a group of researchers might be studying the qualitative nature of the human experience of 'love,'" he said, "we're trying to understand the exact features that people experience when they go through death, because we understand that this is going to reflect the universal experience we're all going to have when we die."
One of the objectives is to observe how the brain acts and reacts during cardiac arrest, through the process of death, and during revival. How much oxygen exactly does it take to reboot the brain? How is the brain affected after revival? Learning where the lines are drawn might improve resuscitation techniques, which could save countless lives per year.
"At the same time, we also study the human mind and consciousness in the context of death," Parnia said, “to understand whether consciousness becomes annihilated or whether it continues after you've died for some period of time — and how that relates to what's happening inside the brain in real time."
For more on the scientific perspective on a near death experience, click here:
That's as fast as a bullet train in Japan.
The way an elephant manipulates its trunk to eat and drink could lead to better robots, researchers say.
Elephants dilate their nostrils to create more space in their trunks, allowing them to store up to 5.5 liters (1.45 gallons) of water, according to their new study.
They can also suck up three liters (0.79 gallons) per second—a speed 30 times faster than a human sneeze (150 meters per second/330 mph), the researchers found.
The researchers wanted to better understand the physics of how elephants use their trunks to move and manipulate air, water, food, and other objects. They also wanted to learn if the mechanics could inspire the creation of more efficient robots that use air motion to hold and move things.
Photo by David Clode on Unsplash
While octopuses use jets of water to propel themselves and archer fish shoot water above the surface to catch insects, elephants are the only animals able to use suction both on land and underwater.
"An elephant eats about 400 pounds of food a day, but very little is known about how they use their trunks to pick up lightweight food and water for 18 hours, every day," says lead author Andrew Schulz, a mechanical engineering PhD student at the Georgia Institute of Technology. "It turns out their trunks act like suitcases, capable of expanding when necessary."
Sucking up tortilla chips without breaking them
Schulz and his colleagues worked with veterinarians at Zoo Atlanta, studying elephants as they ate various foods. For large rutabaga cubes, for example, the animal grabbed and collected them. It sucked up smaller cubes and made a loud vacuuming sound, like the sound of a person slurping noodles, before transferring the vegetables to its mouth.
To learn more about suction, the researchers gave elephants a tortilla chip and measured the applied force. Sometimes the animal pressed down on the chip and breathed in, suspending the chip on the tip of its trunk without breaking it, similar to a person inhaling a piece of paper onto their mouth. Other times the elephant applied suction from a distance, drawing the chip to the edge of its trunk.
Elephants inhale at speeds comparable to Japan's 300 mph bullet trains.
"An elephant uses its trunk like a Swiss Army knife," says David Hu, Schulz's advisor and a professor in Georgia Tech's School of Mechanical Engineering. "It can detect scents and grab things. Other times it blows objects away like a leaf blower or sniffs them in like a vacuum."
By watching elephants inhale liquid from an aquarium, the team was able to time the durations and measure volume. In just 1.5 seconds, the trunk sucked up 3.7 liters (just shy of 1 gallon), the equivalent of 20 toilets flushing simultaneously.
Soft robots and elephant conservation
The researchers used an ultrasonic probe to take trunk wall measurements and see how the trunk's inner muscles work. By contracting those muscles, the animal dilates its nostrils up to 30%. This decreases the thickness of the walls and expands nasal volume by 64%.
"At first it didn't make sense: an elephant's nasal passage is relatively small and it was inhaling more water than it should," Schulz says. "It wasn't until we saw the ultrasonographic images and watched the nostrils expand that we realized how they did it. Air makes the walls open, and the animal can store far more water than we originally estimated."
Based on the pressures applied, Schulz and the team suggest that elephants inhale at speeds comparable to Japan's 300-mph bullet trains.
"By investigating the mechanics and physics behind trunk muscle movements, we can apply the physical mechanisms—combinations of suction and grasping—to find new ways to build robots," Schulz says.
"In the meantime, the African elephant is now listed as endangered because of poaching and loss of habitat. Its trunk makes it a unique species to study. By learning more about them, we can learn how to better conserve elephants in the wild."
The paper appears in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. The US Army Research Laboratory and the US Army Research Oﬃce 294 Mechanical Sciences Division, Complex Dynamics and Systems Program, funded the work. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the sponsoring agency.
Source: Georgia Tech
Original Study DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2021.0215
The experience of life flashing before one's eyes has been reported for well over a century, but where's the science behind it?
At the age of 16, when Tony Kofi was an apprentice builder living in Nottingham, he fell from the third story of a building. Time seemed to slow down massively, and he saw a complex series of images flash before his eyes.
As he described it, “In my mind's eye I saw many, many things: children that I hadn't even had yet, friends that I had never seen but are now my friends. The thing that really stuck in my mind was playing an instrument". Then Tony landed on his head and lost consciousness.
When he came to at the hospital, he felt like a different person and didn't want to return to his previous life. Over the following weeks, the images kept flashing back into his mind. He felt that he was “being shown something" and that the images represented his future.
Later, Tony saw a picture of a saxophone and recognized it as the instrument he'd seen himself playing. He used his compensation money from the accident to buy one. Now, Tony Kofi is one of the UK's most successful jazz musicians, having won the BBC Jazz awards twice, in 2005 and 2008.
Though Tony's belief that he saw into his future is uncommon, it's by no means uncommon for people to report witnessing multiple scenes from their past during split-second emergency situations. After all, this is where the phrase “my life flashed before my eyes" comes from.
But what explains this phenomenon? Psychologists have proposed a number of explanations, but I'd argue the key to understanding Tony's experience lies in a different interpretation of time itself.
When life flashes before our eyes
The experience of life flashing before one's eyes has been reported for well over a century. In 1892, a Swiss geologist named Albert Heim fell from a precipice while mountain climbing. In his account of the fall, he wrote is was “as if on a distant stage, my whole past life [was] playing itself out in numerous scenes".
More recently, in July 2005, a young woman called Gill Hicks was sitting near one of the bombs that exploded on the London Underground. In the minutes after the accident, she hovered on the brink of death where, as she describes it: “my life was flashing before my eyes, flickering through every scene, every happy and sad moment, everything I have ever done, said, experienced".
In some cases, people don't see a review of their whole lives, but a series of past experiences and events that have special significance to them.
Explaining life reviews
Perhaps surprisingly, given how common it is, the “life review experience" has been studied very little. A handful of theories have been put forward, but they're understandably tentative and rather vague.
For example, a group of Israeli researchers suggested in 2017 that our life events may exist as a continuum in our minds, and may come to the forefront in extreme conditions of psychological and physiological stress.
Another theory is that, when we're close to death, our memories suddenly “unload" themselves, like the contents of a skip being dumped. This could be related to “cortical disinhibition" – a breaking down of the normal regulatory processes of the brain – in highly stressful or dangerous situations, causing a “cascade" of mental impressions.
But the life review is usually reported as a serene and ordered experience, completely unlike the kind of chaotic cascade of experiences associated with cortical disinhibition. And none of these theories explain how it's possible for such a vast amount of information – in many cases, all the events of a person's life – to manifest themselves in a period of a few seconds, and often far less.
Thinking in 'spatial' time
An alternative explanation is to think of time in a “spatial" sense. Our commonsense view of time is as an arrow that moves from the past through the present towards the future, in which we only have direct access to the present. But modern physics has cast doubt on this simple linear view of time.
Indeed, since Einstein's theory of relativity, some physicists have adopted a “spatial" view of time. They argue we live in a static “block universe" in which time is spread out in a kind of panorama where the past, the present and the future co-exist simultaneously.
The modern physicist Carlo Rovelli – author of the best-selling The Order of Time – also holds the view that linear time doesn't exist as a universal fact. This idea reflects the view of the philosopher Immanuel Kant, who argued that time is not an objectively real phenomenon, but a construct of the human mind.
This could explain why some people are able to review the events of their whole lives in an instant. A good deal of previous research – including my own – has suggested that our normal perception of time is simply a product of our normal state of consciousness.
In many altered states of consciousness, time slows down so dramatically that seconds seem to stretch out into minutes. This is a common feature of emergency situations, as well as states of deep meditation, experiences on psychedelic drugs and when athletes are “in the zone".
The limits of understanding
But what about Tony Kofi's apparent visions of his future? Did he really glimpse scenes from his future life? Did he see himself playing the saxophone because somehow his future as a musician was already established?
There are obviously some mundane interpretations of Tony's experience. Perhaps, for instance, he became a saxophone player simply because he saw himself playing it in his vision. But I don't think it's impossible that Tony did glimpse future events.
If time really does exist in a spatial sense – and if it's true that time is a construct of the human mind – then perhaps in some way future events may already be present, just as past events are still present.
Admittedly, this is very difficult to make sense of. But why should everything make sense to us? As I have suggested in a recent book, there must be some aspects of reality that are beyond our comprehension. After all, we're just animals, with a limited awareness of reality. And perhaps more than any other phenomenon, this is especially true of time.