There are 2 types of god. Only one is within the boundary of science.

Does God exist? The answer rests outside the "normal" boundaries of science.

MICHIO KAKU: Well, when you talk about religion, I like to quote from Galileo. Galileo said, the purpose of science is to determine how the heavens go. The purpose of religion is to determine how to go to heaven. So in other words, science is about natural law. It's about the laws of nature. While religion is about ethics, about how to go to heaven, how to be a good person, how to earn the favor of God. So you see, as long as you keep these two separate, there's no problem at all. The problem occurs when people from the natural sciences begin to pontificate upon ethics and when religious people begin to pontificate about natural law. That's where we get into trouble. Now, the boundary of the two, the question arises. Can you prove the existence of God? Well, first of all, let's be clear about this.

There are two kinds of God. Einstein was very clear about this, two kinds of God. The first God is a personal god, the God that you pray to, the God that gives you your bicycle for Christmas, the God that smites the Philistines and destroys your enemies. That's the personal God. Einstein did not believe that the God of the universe created us just so you can get that wagon for a Christmas present. You see, Einstein believed in another god, the god of Spinoza, the god of liveness, the god of order, harmony. The universe could have been random. It could have been chaotic. It could have been messy. But the universe is actually quite elegant, quite simple, and in fact, is gorgeous. You can put the laws of physics as we know them on a simple sheet of paper amazing. It didn't have to be that way.

Therefore, you ask the question, is the existence of God provable? Well, what is science? Science is based on things that are testable, reproducible, and falsifiable. But you see, the existence of God is not testable. It's not reproducible. We cannot reproduce God at will. You cannot put an angel inside a box and demand that miracles take place. It doesn't work that way. That's why religion is based on faith rather than things that are objectively testable, falsifiable, and reproducible. Now, that doesn't mean that God doesn't exist. I don't know. I don't know if God exists or not. All I'm saying is that science is limited by looking at what is testable, reproducible, and falsifiable. There are areas where you push the boundaries of that, like the Big Bang.

You cannot reproduce the Big Bang. You cannot test the Big Bang. It's like a detective story. You can only look at the clues, the clues left over from the Big Bang. So to calculate the instant of creation is, in some sense, outside science, because it's not reproducible. You cannot reproduce the Big Bang. But you can then trace the history of what happened afterwards, like a murder mystery. And that's where a lot of science is done. And that's why I say that the existence of God is not within the normal boundaries of science.

  • Science is about natural law, while religion is about ethics. As long as you keep these two separate, Kaku says, there's no problem at all. Problems arise, however, when the natural sciences begin to "pontificate upon ethics" and when religious people begin to pontificate about natural law.
  • Albert Einstein believed in the "god of Spinoza" — not a personal god, but one who has set order and harmony in the fabric of the universe. "You can put the laws of physics as we know them on a simple sheet of paper — amazing! It didn't have to be that way," says Kaku.
  • The existence of God is not testable because such a review is not reproducible or falsifiable, as most scientific investigations are. In this sense, Kaku says the question and answer whether God exists rests outside the "normal" boundaries of science.

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How do 80-year-old 'super-agers' have the brains of 20-somethings?

Most elderly individuals' brains degrade over time, but some match — or even outperform — younger individuals on cognitive tests.

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At some point in our 20s or 30s, something starts to change in our brains. They begin to shrink a little bit. The myelin that insulates our nerves begins to lose some of its integrity. Fewer and fewer chemical messages get sent as our brains make fewer neurotransmitters.

As we get older, these processes increase. Brain weight decreases by about 5 percent per decade after 40. The frontal lobe and hippocampus — areas related to memory encoding — begin to shrink mainly around 60 or 70. But this is just an unfortunate reality; you can't always be young, and things will begin to break down eventually. That's part of the reason why some individuals think that we should all hope for a life that ends by 75, before the worst effects of time sink in.

But this might be a touch premature. Some lucky individuals seem to resist these destructive forces working on our brains. In cognitive tests, these 80-year-old "super-agers" perform just as well as individuals in their 20s.

Just as sharp as the whippersnappers

To find out what's behind the phenomenon of super-agers, researchers conducted a study examining the brains and cognitive performances of two groups: 41 young adults between the ages of 18 and 35 and 40 older adults between the ages of 60 and 80.

First, the researchers administered a series of cognitive tests, like the California Verbal Learning Test (CVLT) and the Trail Making Test (TMT). Seventeen members of the older group scored at or above the mean scores of the younger group. That is, these 17 could be considered super-agers, performing at the same level as the younger study participants. Aside from these individuals, members of the older group tended to perform less well on the cognitive tests. Then, the researchers scanned all participants' brains in an fMRI, paying special attention to two portions of the brain: the default mode network and the salience network.

The default mode network is, as its name might suggest, a series of brain regions that are active by default — when we're not engaged in a task, they tend to show higher levels of activity. It also appears to be very related to thinking about one's self, thinking about others, as well as aspects of memory and thinking about the future.

The salience network is another network of brain regions, so named because it appears deeply linked to detecting and integrating salient emotional and sensory stimuli. (In neuroscience, saliency refers to how much an item "sticks out"). Both of these networks are also extremely important to overall cognitive function, and in super-agers, the activity in these networks was more coordinated than in their peers.

Default Mode Network

Wikimedia Commons

An image of the brain highlighting the regions associated with the default mode network.

How to ensure brain health in old age

While prior research has identified some genetic influences on how "gracefully" the brain ages, there are likely activities that can encourage brain health. "We hope to identify things we can prescribe for people that would help them be more like a superager," said Bradford Dickerson, one of the researchers in this study, in a statement. "It's not as likely to be a pill as more likely to be recommendations for lifestyle, diet, and exercise. That's one of the long-term goals of this study — to try to help people become superagers if they want to."

To date, there is some preliminary evidence of ways that you can keep your brain younger longer. For instance, more education and a cognitively demanding job predicts having higher cognitive abilities in old age. Generally speaking, the adage of "use it or lose it" appears to hold true; having a cognitively active lifestyle helps to protect your brain in old age. So, it might be tempting to fill your golden years with beer and reruns of CSI, but it's unlikely to help you keep your edge.

Aside from these intuitive ways to keep your brain healthy, regular exercise appears to boost cognitive health in old age, as Dickinson mentioned. Diet is also a protective factor, especially for diets delivering omega-3 fatty acids (which can be found in fish oil), polyphenols (found in dark chocolate!), vitamin D (egg yolks and sunlight), and the B vitamins (meat, eggs, and legumes). There's also evidence that having a healthy social life in old age can protect against cognitive decline.

For many, the physical decline associated with old age is an expected side effect of a life well-lived. But the idea that our intellect will also degrade can be a much scarier reality. Fortunately, the existence of super-agers shows that at the very least, we don't have to accept cognitive decline without a fight.


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