Who are we?

Kurt Andersen:The forces that have brought us to where we are today?  It depends on how far you want to wind the “way back” machine, I guess.  I suppose winding it really far back, monotheism has brought us where we are today in terms of most religions of the world.  I would say that the craving for, or at least the apparent craving, and at least in the west, to hedge my bet, for individual freedom of expression in all of its forms.  But certainly somewhere that is maybe, certainly one of the most significant forces that has shaped where we are today over the last 400 or 500 years.

More recently, I would say that the various technologies beginning, or at least having a spiking point in the middle of the 19th Century, with photography, and the telegraph, and the railroads which all came to be history in the same decade or two. But that really is a set of forces, technological innovation and capitalist, or I suppose non-capitalist, exploitation of those technologies have led us to where we are today. Because to me, the Internet and television and all the rest – jet planes even – are just refinements on what was essentially invented between 1825 and 1850.

I think that the first French Revolution that happened in 1789 had a pretty profound impact in terms of a specific moment.  If you go back to the Renaissance as a set of moments; but I’m not sure there was a . . . necessarily a particular moment that brought us to where we are today.

The technological innovations right at the middle of the 19th Century that I mentioned – telegraph, photography, speed, steam engines– obviously steam engines came a little earlier – but got going in the 1930s and ‘40s – that moment, if you can call 20 years a moment, is hugely influential.

I think you have to say that the American Revolution as a particular event was hugely significant.  The world would be very different had the United States of America not come into existence.  In Canada, because I can hear your Canadian accent, I think.  I mean North America.

What else?  It’s hard to know what events were the most significant.  You can do counterfactual history.  What if, the Germans had won World War II?  What if the Soviet Revolution had been suppressed in the early ‘20s?  So all those were important, but it’s hard to do counterfactual history anything more than kind of almost science fiction in a speculative way, because we live in with the history we’ve got.  We have the world we’ve gotten. The period from the American Revolution to 1850 or so, that’s 75 years, I would say probably the majority of the important events that got us to where we are today.

 

Recorded On: July 5, 2007

Monotheism and technology have shaped us profoundly.

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Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)
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In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.


Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Why are so many objects in space shaped like discs?

It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?

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  • Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
  • Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
  • Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.