Is Religion Good for You?
Lionel Tiger: There have been efforts to have essentially atheist religions. One was utilitarianism, the greatest good for the greatest number and that didn’t work because it didn’t have any good music. There were really poor costumes, no great architecture and so on, so it becomes a kind of bureaucrat’s religion, but it is not very exciting. Another effort was Marxism of course and the State would be the equivalent of the church and then the State would wither away and everyone would live in wonderful harmony with themselves and with nature and of course it turned out to be completely wrong because the communist model of human behavior was a wrong model and so we don’t for this… for this purpose we don’t have an adequate replacement if you will. This is not to say there shouldn’t be one. People can, in my opinion anyway, do whatever the hell they want, whatever the heaven they want, but the fact is that there is a poverty of effective intergenerational institutions that would do what religions do. For one thing religions are very good about the life cycle which we all have. We get born and there is usually a ceremony. We have first communion or mitzvah or initiation or whatever. We then get married and there is a ceremony for that. We have children. There is a ceremony for that and then we die and all of these absolutely general phases of life there is religion. They have a plan. They have a piece of the prayer book that deals with the issue. They can usually provide a kind of array of social services at a relatively low cost because it is wholesale. They’ve done if before and so that is one of the things that religions succeed in doing and while there are secular versions of that they don’t seem to be as prominent in many environments as the religious one. Again, please understand. I’m not suggesting people should be religious or shouldn’t be, but as a social scientist it’s my job to ask why are they religious when they are and many people are.
Question: Are religious people healthier?
Lionel Tiger: There is a mixture of evidence here. For example, there are always these studies with somebody who is dying or has a bad illness and everyone is told to pray for so and so and the expectation is that they’ll live longer or that they’ll get cured. Well that is very poor. There is no real evidence that prayer in this sense, massive prayer helps an individual. What may help, however, is personal optimism. I wrote a book in 1979 I think called Optimism: The Biology of Hope because I was interested in how humans succeed in overestimating the odds in our favor and I concluded somehow that if you’re a hunter gatherer as we are you better get up in the morning and think it is a great day to catch an elephant because if you get up in the morning and you say I don’t want to catch an elephant today, I’m going back to sleep well unless you have an elephant in the freezer, which there wasn’t, you’re going to be very hungry by evening. So there was I’m sure great selection for optimism in homo sapiens and the same is true in sexual selection. My favorite statement on this comes not from Darwin, who actually understood the process, but from George Bernard Shaw who said, and you can use any combination that interests you, he said, “Love consists in overestimating the difference between one woman and another.” And if you don’t make that overestimate, whether it is to a woman or to a man then you won’t get involved in the whole conniption of getting close to somebody and maybe spending your life with them and maybe having little replicates of yourselves, so optimism is important, but it is a personal issue. Whether there is a kind of formal advantage to religion I don’t know except that when we have crisis, 9/11 or whatever several things happen. People pray more. They go to church and furthermore, as we could see especially in New Orleans after Katrina, the churches were there to help well before the government. Now you could say the government was especially inept, but the fact is that religions are set up for this, so in that sense people who are religious might well be healthier because they help each other more.
"People who are religious might well be healthier because they help each other more."
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.