Monthly Archives: June 2014

25 Life Changing Lessons to Learn from Buddha

25 Life Changing Lessons to Learn from Buddha

by Luminita Saviuc

“If we could see the miracle of a single flower
clearly, our whole life would change.” ~ Buddha

There are so many beautiful, powerful and life changing lessons I have learned from studying Buddhism and from reading many of Buddha’s quotes. And today I want to share 25 of these beautiful lessons with you.

Here are 25 Life Changing Lessons from Buddha:

1. Love heals all things.

“Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.”

2. It’s not what you say but what you do that defines you.

“A man is not called wise because he talks and talks again; but if he is peaceful, loving and fearless then he is in truth called wise.”

“A dog is not considered a good dog because he is a good barker. A man is not considered a good man because he is a good talker.”

3. The secret of good health is to live fully in the NOW.

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future,
concentrate the mind on the present moment.”

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor
to worry about the future, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.”

 
4. Who looks inside awakens.

“The way is not in the sky. The way is in the heart.”

5. Words have the power to both hurt and heal.

“Words have the power to both destroy and heal. When
words are both true and kind, they can change our world.”

6. Let it go and it will be yours forever.

“You only lose what you cling to.”

7. No one can walk your path for you.

“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and
no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”

8. Happiness never decreases by being shared.

“Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle,
and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness
never decreases by being shared.”

9. Be kind to all.

“Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant with the weak and wrong. Sometime in your life, you will have been all of these.”

“Have compassion for all beings, rich and poor alike; each
has their suffering. Some suffer too much, others too little.”

“Teach this triple truth to all: A generous heart, kind speech, and
a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity.”

10. Don’t believe everything you are told to believe.

“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”

 
11. As you THINK so shall you be

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts and made up of our thoughts. If a man speak or act with an evil thought, suffering follows him as the wheel follows the hoof of the beast that draws the wagon…. If a man speak or act with a good thought, happiness follows him like a shadow that never leaves him.”

12. Let go of fear.

“The whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Never fear what will become
of you, depend on no one. Only the moment you reject all help are you freed.”

13. The truth has a way of always leaking out.

“Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.”

14. Control your mind or it will control you.

“To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one’s family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one’s own mind. If a man can control his mind he can find the way to Enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him.”

“It is a man’s own mind, not his enemy or foe, that lures him to evil ways.”

 
15. Doubt separates. Trust unites.

“There is nothing more dreadful than the habit of doubt. Doubt separates people. It is a poison that disintegrates friendships and breaks up pleasant relations. It is a thorn that irritates and hurts; it is a sword that kills.”

 
16. Nobody is more deserving of your love than you yourself are.

“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”

 
17. Knowing others is wisdom, knowing yourself is enlightenment.

“It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory
is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell.”

 
18. Spirituality isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.

“Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life.”

 
19. Replace jealousy with admiration.

“Do not be jealous of others’ good qualities, but out of admiration adopt them yourself.”

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20. Look for peace within yourself.

“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.”

 

21. Let go of attachment.

“To live a pure unselfish life, one must count
nothing as one’s own in the midst of abundance.”

22. Choose your friends wisely.

“An insincere and evil friend is more to be feared than a wild beast; a wild
beast may wound your body, but an evil friend will wound your mind.”

 
23. There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.

“There is no path to happiness: happiness is the path.”

 
24. Give up labels.

“In the sky, there is no distinction of east and west; people create
distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true.”

 

25. Love. Live. Let go.

“In the end these things matter most: How well did you love?
How fully did you live? How deeply did you let go?”

 

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Could Megalodon Still Live In The Deep Ocean?

Could Megalodon Still Live In The Deep Ocean?

by Justine Alford

The megalodon shark (C. megalodon) is widely regarded as both the largest shark to have ever lived on Earth and one of the largest vertebrate predators in history. Megalodons roamed the seas from around 28 million years ago until ~1.6 million years ago, when they were wiped out during the Pleistocene extinction.

Megalodons were, as we know, freaking huge. Some of the teeth discovered from this whopping great predator have been over 17 centimeters (7 inches) in total height, but the majority are between 3 and 5 inches (still, massive).  Reconstructions using jaws and other fossilized remains suggest that megalodons probably reached maximum lengths of up to 54 feet (16.5 meters), around 3 times larger than great whites (C. carcharias). They even make T-rex’s look like pansies in comparison.

 

Image credit: Matt Martyniuk, via Wikimedia Commons. 

The widespread distribution of megalodon fossils, in particular teeth, suggests that it was a cosmopolitan species that inhabited a wide range of marine environments, preferring warm and temperate shallower waters. They were at the top of the food chain and would have eaten large prey such as cetaceans (dolphins and whales).

As mentioned, megalodons went extinct an estimated 1.6 million years ago. But some people are not satisfied with this and are convinced that they might still exist. Unfortunately, some documentaries (that used fake footage) have many people completely convinced that they’re still hiding in the ocean. So let’s go through the common arguments and hopefully we can reach a sensible conclusion.

First off, nobody has direct evidence to suggest that they do still exist. No, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence- we know this. It’s very difficult to prove something doesn’t exist, but equally that doesn’t mean that megalodons are still lurking around somewhere.

There have been numerous eyewitness accounts of huge sharks throughout history and also various illustrations of gigantic washed up sharks, even some photographs. One photograph in particular which stirred up a lot of controversy was an image that was presented in a Discovery Channel documentary (which was fictional) showing the dorsal and caudal (tail) fins of a shark next to a submarine, spanning a whopping 64 foot. The image was fabricated. The documentary was in fact a “mockumentary”, which was stated in a very small disclaimer at the end. Plus, 64 foot (almost 20 meters) is larger than the estimates of the entire body size of megalodons! This was only dorsal fin to tail! The “scientists” that appeared in this documentary, entitled “Megalodon- The Monster Shark Lives,” were also actors. Sorry.

Sketches of huge sharks that washed up on beaches many years ago were also most likely either exaggerated great whites or basking sharks. Who knows for sure, but you can’t rely on a drawing as evidence, that’s not how science works. Eyewitness accounts are also extremely unreliable, particularly when dealing with rotting or decomposing animals. To the untrained eye, a whale shark or a basking shark could look like some kind of giant great white. It’s an easy mistake to make.

A couple of unexpected discoveries have also fuelled belief that megalodons still exist; coelacanths and the megamouth shark. Coelacanths are an extremely old species of fish that were thought to have been extinct since the end of the cretaceous period, around 65 million years ago. However, much to the excitement of the scientific community, one was caught in 1938 and another in 1952. Since then many have been spotted throughout the world. The coelocanth is a fairly easy species to miss – they typically live at great depths, and spend much of their time in caves. Just because we were wrong about coelacanths, it doesn’t mean that megalodons exist.

The megamouth shark was discovered only in 1976. This shark is a plankton feeder that can reach up to 15 feet (4.5 meters) in length, so it’s pretty big. Yes, this does highlight the fact that even relatively big shark species can escape our radar and spend years lurking in the oceans unnoticed, but once again that doesn’t prove that megalodons exist. The megamouth is a plankton feeder, and swims at great depths during the day, making its detection difficult.

Sharks also regularly shed teeth, but we haven’t discovered
any megalodon teeth that indicate they were recently lost.

Another idea that sometimes crops up – could megalodon be hiding in really deep oceans, escaping our detection? Probably not. Fossil evidence from megalodons suggests that they preferred shallower, warmer waters and would have inhabited areas rife with large prey needed to sustain their populations. They also used coastal areas as nursing grounds. Furthermore, it’s thought one of the factors that may have contributed to their extinction was the migration of their prey to colder waters, restricting the prey available to them. They just were not adapted to life deep in the oceans (we’re talking really deep here for something this ginormous to be able to escape detection).

So, we’ve only explored a tiny portion of our oceans. This is true. But the VAST majority of ocean life lives in the first few hundred meters, where the sunlight can reach. Below that, life becomes highly specialized and large animals are rare. Megalodons were HUGE and would need a constant supply of large animals to feed off. Maybe megalodons didn’t go extinct but evolved into a smaller, specialized shark capable of living deep in the oceans? Well then that wouldn’t be a megalodon anymore.

Even if they were, somehow, hiding in deep oceans like the giant squid – we still have documented evidence of the giant squid! Tentacles and bodies have been washing up for years, and footage of live animals has been shot over the last couple of years. I reiterate- megalodons were HUGE! If they still existed, we would know about it. They would be chowing down on massive sharks and whales all over the world. We would see bite marks on whales, scars from old attacks too large to be from any known shark. It would be a spectacular sight, but unfortunately not one that we are going to see.

We’re sure most people are happy with the idea that megalodons are extinct, but for the few individuals that are still hopeful they exist- we hope this is enough to convince you that science says no.

Just sitting in one’s jaw, as one does. Image credit:
Reconstruction by Bashford Dean in 1909, via Wikimedia Commons. 

 

Vast Majority Of Conservatives Think The Poor ‘Have It Easy,’ Poll Finds

Vast Majority Of Conservatives Think
The Poor ‘Have It Easy,’ Poll Finds

by Mollie Reilly

Pew Research Center has released a massive study detailing the American public’s deep-seated political divisions, analyzing not just the ideological disunity between the left and right wings but also the issues dividing the large political center.

Rather than just defining voters as liberal or conservative, the study breaks up voters into groups “based on their attitudes and values.” Liberals, for example, could be “next generation left” or “solid liberals,” while voters on the right are broken down as “steadfast conservatives,” “business conservatives,” or “young outsiders.”

Among the survey’s most striking findings is that about 80 percent of conservatives agree that “poor people have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything.” Meanwhile, over half of conservatives believe that an individual’s poverty is based on “lack of effort on his or her part,” rather than circumstances beyond their control:

Wide Differences Between Right and Left Over Why Some People are Poor

The survey found similar divisions over whether government programs help or harm society. More than 80 percent of conservatives in all three groups agreed that “government aid to the poor does more harm than good, by making people too dependent on government assistance,” while a majority of left-leaning respondents said the government does more good because “people can’t get out of poverty until their basic needs are met.”

Pew’s findings likely come as no surprise to those following the ongoing Capitol Hill debate over the merits of the social safety net.

The belief that such assistance breeds overreliance on government is a key component of Republican arguments against programs like food stamps, with lawmakers condemning what they call the “culture of permanent dependency” and holding up individuals like Fox News’ “food stamp surfer” as examples of typical beneficiaries. Conservatives make similar arguments in favor of slashing unemployment benefits — Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) argued last year that extending unemployment insurance past 26 weeks would be a “disservice” to jobless workers.

Click here to read the full Pew report.

 

Why the Path to Aliens, Ironically, Depends on Earth

Why the Path to Aliens, Ironically, Depends on Earth

By Neal Ungerleider

Humanity is closer to discovering extraterrestrial life than we ever expected — or, at least, life that shares a different origin than anything we know on Earth.

Astrobiology isn’t about chasing flying saucers, necessarily. Certainly, scientists search for origins of life on other planets, but astrobiology also uncovers new forms of Earth life we’ve never imagined before. The scientific tools to do so are advancing faster than ever, and as outer space travel increasingly becomes the domain of SpaceX and other private companies, NASA and foreign space agencies are focusing more resources on inner astrobiology.

Specifically, the study of and uses for alien-like life on Earth.

In 2010, geobiologist Felisa Wolfe-Simon’s team found a strange form of “arsenic life” in California’s Mono Lake. Unlike all other earthly life, it subsisted on the poisonous element arsenic instead of phosphorous. It was alien.

The science community raised serious questions about her team’s paper, encircling her and fellow authors in controversy. However, it was an unprecedented finding. Even if Wolfe-Simon and her group were wrong, their research helped pioneer a process to suss out microbial life not of this earth — on Earth.

Mono Lake
California’s Mono Lake is roughly 760,000 years old and contains high salt that harbors extremophiles, or alien-like organisms that thrive in environments that would eviscerate most other Earthly life.
 

A year later, Richard Hoover, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center who helped found NASA’s astrobiology program, made a startling claim: Some Martian meteorites showed proof of extraterrestrial life. According to Hoover, an asteroid uncovered by scientists in Antarctica in 1996 contained “microfossils,” tiny, microscopic gaps and fibers that indicated the presence of microbial life on Mars. This was the third time since 1997 Hoover asserted he’d found proof of extraterrestrial life in meteorites.

Soon, however, NASA officially distanced itself from Hoover’s claim after major issues arose with the peer review process. Hoover retired shortly after and is currently a visiting professor at the University of Buckingham in Great Britain.

Neither Hoover nor Wolfe-Simon managed to convince the larger scientific community that they had proof of extraterrestrial life. But both came closer than anyone before.

Astrobiology research, conducted mostly under the aegis of NASA and a few other space agencies, is attempting to answer the big, existential questions of humanity — where we came from, how life came about, the origins of the solar system and whether there’s anything else in space lifelike at all. In an age when the vanguard of space travel is transitioning from governments to private corporations like SpaceX, NASA is redefining itself as a cutting-edge research institution.

Bonus: Discovering alien microbial life would be the holy grail of all funding goals.

In the meantime, though, what are we finding? And are astrobiology discoveries helping humans?

Turns out, the study of alien life and life’s origins has huge industrial applications here on Earth. Astrobiology research is helping everything from recycling to oil prospecting. And astrobiologists are using these applications to justify their continued search for extraterrestrial life. If researchers keep serving everyday industrial needs in sectors like health care, for example, it helps to secure funding from skeptical government bureaucrats and create revenue streams for these scientists to conduct their unusual research in the first place.

The alien catch-22. The search for E.T. depends just as much on heavy industry or big health care as it does on NASA.

Life (and patents) on Mars

European Space Agency ExoMars program
Personnel walk on the “Mars Yard Test Area,” a testing ground
where robotic vehicles (ExoMars Rover at left) of the European
Space Agency ExoMars program scheduled for 2018, are tested
in Stevenage, England, Thursday, March 27, 2014.
 

 

By 2020, the European Union and Russia — if God, the European budget crisis and international geopolitics cooperate — are expected to launch a Martian rover called ExoMars. It will complement the American Mars Curiosity Rover and its successor in surveying the Red Planet’s surface. When ExoMars begins its slow path across Martian soil, it will search for evidence of past microbial life.

Some of the ExoMars equipment comes from a device called the Mars Organic Analyzer (MOA), a system built to find amino acids that could indicate the presence of life. Created by Alison Skelley and Richard Mathies of the University of California, Berkeley, in conjunction with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, MOA searches for amino acids that spiral to the left instead of the right, like most other amino acids. Many scientists, Mathies and Skelley included, feel this “right-handedness” is a hallmark of organic life.

While the device was being tested in the dry, Mars-like deserts of Chile, Mathies says, “This instrument is a thousand times better at detecting biomarkers than any instrument put on Mars before.”

But a machine originally meant to detect alien life on another planet soon found different uses.

The MOA helped Mathies develop something completely terrestrial, even ordinary: A way to predict (and thus, avoid) the headaches and flushed skin associated with red wine.

The same biochips MOA used to analyze organic material could detect amines that contribute to red wine headaches. Mathies eventually spun the technology into a suitcase-sized prototype, which could determine in a number of seconds whether a particular variety of wine contained certain amines.

Mathies’ discovery is just one of several industrial advances made by astrobiologists, after studying outer space and extremophiles (that is, “strange” life that lives in underwater thermal vents, the far Arctic or other inhospitable environments). Other applications: bacteria used to manufacture super-strong plastics, polymers used to clean oil spills and detection mechanisms for counterfeit pharmaceuticals.

Lake Vostok
Scientists drilled into Lake Vostok, Antractica, a frozen lake
covered by nearly 4,000 meters of ice. Once they reached the
lake, they collected samples of some of Earth’s strangest life,
which can be used to help create biodegradable plastic-like materials.
 

Take the extremophiles in Antarctica’s Lake Vostok. The mysterious body of water is covered by approximately 13,000 feet of ancient glacial ice. Before scientists completed drilling core samples in 2012, Vostok was undisturbed by the surface world for at least 15 million years. They soon discovered, however, Vostok is home to some very unusual small organisms that thrive in salt-rich environments.

Researchers Ram Karan and Dahe Zhao found that these creatures — called halophiles — could help produce biofuel, chemical waste treatment or even biodegradable, plastic-like materials. This strange new organism, which humanity only unearthed within the past few years, turned out to have multiple applications.

Similarly, enzymes found in the alien ecosystems of searingly hot Yellowstone National Park geysers can treat wastes from chemical bleaching processes and are unusually useful at degrading hydrogen peroxide. They thrive in the high-temperature, pH-rich chemical stew of industrial bleaching solutions.

extremophiles
Scientists study strange forms of microscopic life found in Antarctica, in hot springs in Yellowstone Park and in the Chilean desert to get an idea of what extraterrestrial microbes could be like.
 

 

According to Lynne Rothschild, an astrobiologist and synthetic biologist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, the study of extremophiles has surprising commercial potential. In 2012, she told an audience at Stanford University that research into extremophiles could lead to important scientific discoveries in deflecting ultraviolet radiation (thanks to strange bacteria that live in radiation-rich environments), protecting ancient historic sites like the Lascaux Cave paintings in France from bacteria, and developing new antifreeze proteins for “everything from blood preservation to ice cream preservation.”

When scientists search Earth like they would search for extraterrestrial life, the industrial (and monetization) potential is vast.

Answering the big questions

Paul Davies
Paul Davies is a theoretical physicist, cosmologist,
astrobiologist and author.
 

Paul Davies, an English-born physicist and cosmologist, is one of Arizona State’s best known scientific figures. The author of a successful line of pop science books with names like How to Build a Time Machine and Are We Alone?, Davies heads up the University’s Beyond Center. Beyond focuses on answering big questions traditionally addressed by philosophy — “Why are we here?” and “Where did we come from?” — using the tools of scientific inquiry.

Davies explained his theory that the origin of life will be discovered through information theory rather than chemistry. In layperson’s terms, that means Davies and his colleague Sara Imari Walker believe that humanity will best understand life’s origins on Earth through analytical approaches typically used in computer science and mathematics — not, like most scientists believe, through chemistry or biology.

(Walker’s lab at Arizona State is deeply involved in this hypothesis. Her published papers would sound familiar to any tech geek: “The Algorithmic Origins of Life,” for example.)

It is an unorthodox opinion, but one that falls within the range of scientific plausibility. And it certainly attracts today’s innovation-hungry media and an all-star roster of bold-faced scientists. Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins, Microsoft Research’s Eric Horvitz and Craig Ventner all appeared onstage at one of Arizona State’s recent astrobiology-focused events, run by Lawrence Krauss’ Origins Project. The project centers around public education about developments in cosmology, biology and physics — the building blocks of astrobiology.

Lawrence Krauss
Theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss speaks at
The Amazing Meeting (TAM) in Las Vegas, Nev. in 2011.
 

 

Krauss described the purpose of Origins: “It brings together scientists from vastly different disciplines to look at forefront questions,” and uses astrobiology and the questions of humanity’s origins as an attention-getter that ropes the public into attending talks and conferences.

Similar research takes place a few hours’ flight away at the University of California, Berkeley. Mathies and colleagues work with NASA to conduct astrobiology research in conjunction with ASU and a few other universities. NASA’s astrobiology program is tasked with funding and promoting research into what they call the “study of the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe.” Astrobiology researchers at Berkeley have conducted groundbreaking research to try to find proof of extraterrestrial microscopic life here in the solar system.

Craig Stark is an astronomer at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland who studies the atmospheres of planets outside the solar system. That means he studies clouds on other planets. In a conversation with Mashable, Stark said these clouds are far different than any hovering above Earth. “They aren’t clouds made of droplets of water; they are made of drops of magnesium, silicates, fancy minerals similar to what you’d see in a volcanic ice cloud on this planet.”

Everything, for astrobiologists, comes down to the question of answering how life first arose — or if they can’t do that, connecting the dots of the conditions that led to life coming into existence. Because NASA and the European Space Agency are constantly fighting for funding, astrobiologists have to fight an uphill battle for their share of the cake. The patents that come with studying strange, novel forms of life help justify their funding.

By finding industrial applications, astrobiologists are able to subsidize their research into E.T. And the occasional huge outer space discovery doesn’t hurt.

Since the Hubble Space Telescope was deployed, scientists have identified 1,732 exoplanets outside the solar system. It’s a game-changer, Stark says. Because researchers are now able to observe and record data about exoplanets, it’s meant a shift from hypothetical guesses to a more substantial, evidence-based approach toward extraterrestrial life. It has made astrobiologists’ research efforts far easier.

And NASA wants to keep paving the astrobiology roadmap — whether it’s theorizing the origins of life or searching for extraterrestrial life.

 

Potentially habitable exoplanets
The Habitable Planets Catalog uses a ranking called the Earth Similarity Index. It identifies which of the discovered exoplanets are potentially habitable by humans.
 

The bureaucrats who love science

Since the end of the Space Shuttle program, though, NASA’s role has changed. The venerable space exploration agency, which has had funding challenges ever since the Apollo program, is now part of a space ecosystem in which private players like SpaceX play an increasingly bigger part. More than ever, NASA is a scientific development agency, which means engaging the public to ask legislators for more funds.

For astrobiologists, NASA serves as a clearinghouse. It distributes funding, connects similarly minded thinkers and coordinates research across multiple universities and continents. And because of limited funding, NASA relies mostly on university partners to conduct astrobiology research, says Mary Voytek, head of NASA’s astrobiology program.

Back in 2008, NASA put into place an astrobiology roadmap [PDF] for the next five years. The plans were stretched past the five-year deadline, reportedly due to the 2013 government shutdown. Voytek says her section was mostly unaffected, but that although “government agencies did as much as they possibly could to protect our greatest assets, we’re still recovering … When everyone’s gone, things grind to a halt.”

Academics are now working with NASA to develop a new astrobiology strategic plan, which will determine the future of America’s biological search for alien life. NASA’s new astrobiology roadmap is expected to release in late 2014.

Dr. Mary Voytek
Dr. Mary Voytek, director, Astrobiology Program, NASA
Headquarters, and Dr. Mike Mumma, principal investigator
for Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) Center for Astrobiology,
examine one of the stations that is part of a new astrobiology
exhibit at the GSFC visitor center.
 

Voytek spoke before the House of Representatives last year to promote her department’s extraterrestrial mandate. In what was essentially a request for more funding, she explained to the House Science committee that her scientists weren’t chasing little green men. Astrobiology is an investment in humanity’s future, by detecting potentially habitable Earth-sized planets, finding proof of water on ancient Mars and developing technological innovations that lead to further mapping of Mars.

The discovery of life outside Earth, whether microbial or otherwise, would at least be the biggest scientific advance since we decoded the human genome, and at most would be the biggest single event in humanity’s history. It would cause NASA’s astrobiology funding to swell, to say the least.

But without that game-changing discovery, astrobiologists continue to struggle for money, both due to NASA’s limited budget and a lack of public understanding for their research.

Answering the existential questions

The astrobiologists I spoke with saw their work as twofold: Their goals are finding biological signatures of life beyond Earth and discovering how life came about on this planet. But that work requires funding, which sometimes must be garnered from skeptical or hostile politicians.

Astrobiology and Extraterrestrial Life

Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Research Center (SETI) specialists testified on the scientific methods used to look for extraterrestrial life, including radio and optical astronomy techniques.

http://www.c-span.org/video/?319504-1/astrobiology-extraterrestrial-life

When two astrobiologists affiliated with another government-funded program called SETI, which searches for intelligent life beyond Earth, testified before Congress in May (video above), the hearing was packed. But some of the reactions were skeptical or puzzling. Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) asked the researchers about their thoughts on the sensationalist Ancient Aliens television program. Although many members of Congress, such as Reps. Donna Edwards (D-MD) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) asked insightful questions, most appeared to understand astrobiology mainly through science fiction movies.

To be sure, astrobiology’s industrial spinoffs help keep researchers on safe funding ground.

The interim solution is smaller, more niche astrobiology applications — temporary band-aids for a long-term problem. Industrial applications and commercial patents keep funders happy, while scientists continue to search for those magical Martian microbes.

“We’d be surprised if a little green man walked out [on] Mars,” Voytek says. Instead, she characterized the goal of her department and astrobiology researchers as a whole as finding the origins of life and clues to Earth’s place in the universe. If alien life is found in the process, well, it would only sweeten the deal.

North Korea threatens war on US over Kim Jong-un movie

North Korea threatens war on US over Kim Jong-un movie

North Korea has promised “merciless” retaliation if a forthcoming
Hollywood movie about killing Kim Jong-un is released, say agencies.

A North Korean foreign ministry spokesman said in state media that the movie’s release would be an “act of war”.

He did not mention the title, but a Hollywood movie called The Interview with a similar plot is due in October.

Hollywood actors James Franco and Seth Rogen star in the action-comedy film.

Rogen, who is also one of the directors of The Interview, has since responded on Twitter saying: “People don’t usually wanna kill me for one of my movies until after they’ve paid 12 bucks for it.”

Franco and Rogen play a talkshow host and his producer who are invited to interview Kim Jong-un, and are subsequently recruited by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to assassinate the leader.

The film’s teaser trailer, posted on Youtube, shows a lookalike actor playing Kim Jong-un, as well as fight scenes involving what appear to be North Korean tanks and helicopters, and a nuclear missile launch.

The North Korea spokesman was quoted by the state KCNA news agency as saying: “Making and releasing a movie on a plot to hurt our top-level leadership is the most blatant act of terrorism and war and will absolutely not be tolerated.”

He added that the “reckless US provocative insanity” of mobilising a “gangster filmmaker” to challenge the North’s leadership was triggering “a gust of hatred and rage” among North Korean people and soldiers.

“If the US administration allows and defends the showing of the film, a merciless counter-measure will be taken,” the spokesman was quoted as saying.


Hollywood actor James Franco stars in The Interview
as a talkshow host invited to interview Kim Jong-un

 

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un gives field guidance to the remodelling site of the May Day Stadium in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang on 20 June 2014.
Kim Jong-un took power after his father Kim Jong-il died
in 2011, which prompted a change in the film’s script

Apparent evidence emerged last week supporting claims that North Korea is further developing its missile technology. Some experts said they had identified a new anti-ship cruise missile shown in a North Korean propaganda film. Other observers were more sceptical.

North Korea is holding three Americans in custody. The latest to be detained is said to be a tourist named Jeffrey Edward Fowle who reportedly left a Bible at a hotel.

Rogen recently said he was inspired by journalists’ trips to North Korea.

He told Yahoo: “People have the hypothetical discussion about how journalists have access to the world’s most dangerous people, and they hypothetically would be in a good situation to assassinate them.”

He added that the film was originally about meeting Kim Jong-il, but they had to revise the script when he died in 2011 and his son Kim Jong-un took power.

What God Does To Your Brain

What God does to your brain 

By Julia Llewellyn Smith

The controversial science of neurotheology aims to find
the answer to an age-old question: why do we believe?

When neuroscientist Andrew Newberg scanned the brain of “Kevin”, a staunch atheist, while he was meditating, he made a fascinating discovery. “Compared with the Buddhist monks and Franciscan nuns, whose brains I’d also scanned, Kevin’s brain operated in a significantly different way,” he says.

“He had far more activity in the prefrontal cortex, the area that controls emotional feelings and mediates attention. Kevin’s brain appeared to be functioning in a highly analytical way, even when he was in a resting state.”

Would Newberg find something similar if he scanned my brain? I, too, am an atheist. This is largely the result of my upbringing (my father is a theoretical physicist, who, as a former director general of Cern, set up the Large Hadron Collider that is searching for the Higgs boson, or so-called “God” particle – though many physicists loathe that phrase), but also of prolonged investigations into other religions to see if I was “missing” something central to billions of people worldwide.

In this spirit, several years ago, I attended an “Alpha” course, a 10-week introduction to evangelical Christianity. It utterly failed to convince me but, during a service, another “recruit”, Mark, fell to his knees, babbling “in tongues”. When he came round, he was convinced he had been possessed by the Holy Spirit. I watched, bemused. Why had he entered this transcendental state, while I was completely unmoved? Was he deluded, or was he genuinely a conduit of God? Or were our brains simply wired differently?

“When people speak in tongues, they’re gone, they’re in a completely altered state. But most of the time they’re ­normal people like us, with jobs and children – they don’t show any sign of being delusional,” says Newberg. “Scans of their brains – when they’re ‘possessed’ – show very different results to scans of Buddhist monks or Carmelite nuns in prayer or meditation. There you see increased frontal lobe activity in the areas concerned with concentration, but the speakers in tongues had decreased activity in the same area, which would give them the sensation that someone else was ‘running the show’.”

And what about me? “I wouldn’t be surprised if you have a harder time letting go of frontal lobe activity, so you tend to observe and take a more critical eye of events, while other people’s brains allow them to simply surrender to events around them.”

Newberg is director of research at the Jefferson Myrna Brind Centre of Integrative Medicine, in Philadelphia, and co-author of, among other books, The Metaphysical Mind: Probing the Biology of Philosophical Thought. He is a leading neurotheologist, pioneering a new and highly controversial science that investigates whether – as many sceptics have long suspected – God didn’t create us, but we created God.

During brain scans of those involved in various types of meditation and prayer, Newberg noticed increased activity in the limbic system, which regulates emotion. He also noted decreased activity in the parietal lobe, the part of the brain responsible for orienting oneself in space and time.

“When this happens, you lose your sense of self,” he says. “You have a notion of a great interconnectedness of things. It could be a sense where the self dissolves into nothingness, or dissolves into God or the universe.”

Such “mystical”, self-blurring experiences are central to almost all religions – from the unio mystica experienced by Carmelite nuns during prayer, when they claim their soul has mingled with the godhead, to Buddhists striving for unity with the universe through focusing on sacred objects. But if Newberg and his colleagues are correct, such experiences are not proof of being touched by a supreme being, but mere blips in brain chemistry.

“It seems that the brain is built in such a way that allows us as human beings to have transcendent experiences extremely easily, furthering our belief in a greater power,” Newberg says. This would explain why some type of religion exists in every culture, arguably making spirituality one of the defining characteristics of our species.

Depending on your religious views, such discoveries are either deeply fascinating or profoundly disturbing. Throughout history, spirituality has been viewed as something outside science, just as the soul is separate from the body; both ineffable essences, transcending the materialist universe.

No wonder, then, that neurotheology (or biotheology), with its implications that the brain is merely a “computer of meat”, is hugely contentious in the US, where only 1.6 per cent and 2.4 per cent of the population declare themselves “atheist” or “agnostic”, respectively.

Some theologians, however, welcome the research, seeing it as proof that God equipped our bodies with the ability to believe.

“I get attacked by everyone,” says Patrick McNamara, associate professor of neurology at Boston University and author of The Neuroscience of Religious Experience. “Atheists hate me because I’m saying religion has some basis in the brain and fundamentalist Christians hate me because I’m saying religion is nothing but brain impulses.”

Graham Ward, Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford University and author of the forthcoming Unbelievable: Why We Believe and Why We Don’t, is sceptical about many neuroscientific attempts to explain God, pointing out that recent advances have weakened the theory that only one area of the brain is responsible for certain functions. “In any case,” he says, “the temporal lobes light up for any kind of excitement, not just religious experience.”

However, he agrees that it is imperative to examine religion scientifically. “Religion is at the root both of so many great civilisations and of so many wars, it has so much mythological power, we have to understand how it works and be alert to how dangerous it can be.”

If religion is merely a product of the mind, then perhaps its effects can be simulated artificially – with potentially powerful results. In the Nineties, Canadian cognitive neuro­scientist Michael Persinger invented a “God helmet”, which, he claimed, simulated religious experiences by directing complex magnetic fields to the parts of the brain that include the parietal lobe.

Evangelical Christians demonstrated outside the lab where Persinger tested the helmet, outraged at his suggestion that God could be replicated via a machine. But more than 80 per cent of those who wore the helmet reported sensing a presence in the room that many took to be their deity. They also became deeply emotional and, after the experiment, were filled with a sense of loss.

READ: Nuns prove God is NOT a figment of the mind

This led Persinger to conclude that divine visions – not to mention every other type of out-of-body experience, from the Virgin Mary being visited by the Holy Spirit to UFO sightings – were probably nothing more than people being subjected to energy fields connected to shifts in the Earth’s plates or environmental disturbances.

In 2001, Persinger tried the helmet on possibly the world’s most vocal atheist, Prof Richard Dawkins, who reported that his breathing and sensation in his limbs were affected, but insisted he had not seen God. Still upbeat, Persinger argued that earlier tests had shown Dawkins had far less sensitivity than others in the temporal lobes.

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/54557808“>Persinger vs Dawkins: The God Helmet</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user2823294“>Tommy Decentralized</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com“>Vimeo</a>.</p>

Or, perhaps Dawkins is simply lacking the “God gene” or VMAT2, to be precise, that controls the flow of mood-regulating chemicals, called monoamines, in the brain. According to US molecular geneticist Dr Dean Hamer, subjects with this gene were more susceptible to self-transcendent, spiritual experiences. Many neuroscientists now think spiritual tendencies involve genes relating to the brain’s dopamine and serotonin neurotransmitters.

Another, more recent, study by researchers at Auburn University in Alabama showed that subjects who perceived supernatural agents at work in their daily lives tended to use brain pathways associated with fear when asked to contemplate their religious beliefs. Those with beliefs based on doctrine tended to use pathways associated with language. On the other hand, atheists tended to use pathways connected with visual imagery.

Perhaps, the team suggested, non-believers try visually to imagine a supernatural agent as a test of its existence and subsequently reject the idea as unlikely when that image does not fit with any known image in their memory.

The researchers also found individuals with a stronger ability to attribute mental states – such as beliefs, desires and intents – to themselves and to understand that others may have different mental states from their own. This ability, known as the “theory of mind”, is thought to have evolved in humans over thousands of years – suggesting religion is a by-product of human evolution.

Spirituality, after all, serves a vital human purpose. Numerous studies show that religious belief is medically and psychologically (not to mention socially) beneficial. Reports have shown that churchgoers live an average seven years longer than heathens. They report lower blood pressure, recover quicker from breast cancer, have better outcomes from coronary disease and rheumatoid arthritis, have greater success with IVF and are less likely to have children with meningitis.

Patients with a strong “intrinsic faith” (a deep personal belief, not just a social inclination to go to a place of worship) recover 70 per cent faster from depression than those who are not deeply religious.

Changes in brain chemistry can also make people lose their religion. McNamara has used MRI scans on people with Parkinson’s disease.

“We discovered a subgroup who were quite religious but, as the disease progressed, lost some aspects of their religiosity,” he says. Sufferers’ brains lack the neurotransmitter dopamine, making McNamara suspect that religiosity is linked to dopamine activity in the prefrontal lobes. “These areas of the brain handle complexity best, so it may be that people with Parkinson’s find it harder to access complex religious experiences.”

 

 

 

 


Buddhist monks say they feel at one with the universe,
but it may just be a chemical shift in their brains

“When religion is operating the way it ought – when we’re not talking about fanatics blowing up non-believers – it strengthens the prefrontal lobes, which helps inhibit impulses better,” McNamara says. “Religious activities such as prayer, ritual, abstaining from alcohol, strengthen the ability of frontal lobes to control primitive impulses.”

Such advantages aside, religions give their followers the benefits of a supportive social network – since research has shown lack of social contact can be more harmful to health than obesity, alcoholism and smoking 15 cigarettes a day. “Being part of a group is very important psychologically. In times of prosperity, people tend to question large movements, but during periods of economic stress, fundamentalist movements flourish,” says McNamara.

Interestingly, those who describe themselves as born-again do not show any evidence of this particular benefit in experiments. On the contrary, recent research by the Centre for the Study of Ageing at Duke University, North Carolina, revealed that there was significantly greater hippocampal atrophy (brain damage associated with depression, Alzheimer’s and dementia) in people who reported a life-changing religious experience, compared to religious people who did not describe themselves as born again.

The human psyche hates any form of cognitive dissonance – or challenge to ingrained beliefs – and so scientists think the struggles through which born-again Christians go in order to overcome their old modes of thinking cause severe stress to their brains.

In general, though, it seems that, if I want to be psychologically healthy, I need to ape the faithful. And it turns out I’m already working along the right lines. A few years ago, conscious of lacking regular social ties (before I worked from home, an office provided that), I made an effort to join community groups. I’ve also, recently, like many other people become interested in subjects such as yoga and mindfulness, a secular type of meditation.

Sceptics such as me used to consider such fields flaky, but now their health benefits are proven – not least in the way they strengthen prefrontal lobes – it would be foolish to dismiss them.

“We’ve granted quasi-religious status to well-being pursuits such as mindfulness; it’s like soft Buddhism, and it’s no bad thing,” says Ward. “We are so busy, so wound up, so the recognition that we are not machines and need to find therapeutic ways to deal with our stress is very welcome, however it comes about.”

Amen to that.

How God Changes Your Brain by Andrew Newberg is available here

Pope excommunicates Italian Mafia members

Pope excommunicates Italian Mafia members

By Delia Gallaghe

Using his strongest language to date, Pope Francis told Italian Mafia members on Saturday that they are excommunicated from the Catholic Church.

“Those who in their life have gone along the evil ways, as in the case of the mafia, they are not with God, they are excommunicated,” Francis said in an outdoor Mass in Piana di Sibari, Calabria.

It is the first time a Pope has spoken of excommunication for the Mafia. Excommunication, which excludes Catholics from the church, can be imposed by church authorities or incurred automatically for certain grave offenses.

The Pope’s remarks will resonate strongly in this part of southern Italy, where the Mafia are known to attempt to portray themselves as upstanding religious men in good rapport with the Catholic Church, in order to maintain local credibility.

During a one-day visit to Calabria, the Pope denounced the local mafia, called ‘Ndrangheta, as an example of “the adoration of evil and contempt for the common good.”

According to reports, ‘Ndrangheta is one of the wealthiest international crime organizations, with an annual turnover of 53 billion euros ($72 billion), much of it from the global cocaine trade.

Calabria also suffers from 56% youth unemployment, which the Mafia exploits with promises of jobs for disillusioned young people.

“They must be told, No!” the Pope said to a crowd of over 100,000 gathered for the outdoor Mass.

Prosecutor: Pope faces threat from the mafia

Earlier during his visit, Pope Francis met with relatives of a 3-year-old boy, Nicola Campolongo, who was the victim of an alleged Mafia hit in January. Nicknamed Coco, the boy was with his grandfather when they were both shot and their bodies subsequently burned in a car.

It is not the first time the Pope has spoken out against the Mafia. In March in Rome at a meeting with families of victims, the Pope called directly on Mafia bosses to repent, saying “hell … awaits you if you continue on this road.”

Some anti-mafia prosecutors have worried that the Mafia may target Pope Francis, who is also reforming the Vatican, including its scandal-scarred bank, the Institute for Religious Works.

“The strong will of Pope Francis, aiming to disrupt the gangrene power centers, puts him at risk. He disturbs the Mafia very much,” Nicola Gratteri, a prosecutor in Calabria, told CNN in November.

 

How the most ideologically polarized Americans live different lives

How the most ideologically
polarized Americans live different lives


By Drew DeSilver

For America’s most ardent liberals and conservatives, polarization begins at home.

In what may seem like stereotypes come to life, a new Pew Research Center study on political polarization finds that conservatives would rather live in large houses in small towns and rural areas — ideally among people of the same religious faith — while liberals opt for smaller houses and walkable communities in cities, preferably with a mix of different races and ethnicities. And sizable minorities of both groups say they’d be dismayed if someone from the “other side” were to marry into their family.


Those findings, and others in the Pew Research report, illustrate how ideological and partisan loyalties can both reflect and reshape Americans’ everyday lives.

According to the report, people with consistently conservative views overwhelmingly favor small towns and rural areas as places to live: 41% say they’d live in a rural area if they could live anywhere in the U.S., while 35% pick a small town. Conversely, 46% of people with consistently liberal views say they prefer to live in cities. (About two-in-ten of those in every category choose the suburbs.)

And when given the choice, three-quarters of consistent conservatives say they’d prefer to live in a community of larger houses with more space between them, even if that means having to drive to shops, restaurants and other amenities. Consistent liberals were almost exactly the opposite: 77% said they prefer denser communities where amenities were in walking distance, even if that meant living in smaller houses. (Speaking of amenities, 73% of consistent liberals said being near art museums and theaters was important, versus just 23% of consistent conservatives.)

What about neighbors? 76% of consistent liberals said racial and ethnic diversity was an important factor in deciding where to live, compared with just 20% of consistent conservatives. The latter put much more value on where many people in a place share their religion: 57% called that important, versus just 17% of consistent liberals.

Fully half of consistent conservatives, and 35% of consistent liberals, say it’s important to live in a place where most people share their political views. And some researchers have, in fact, found evidence that such preferences factor into where Americans decide to move.

A 2013 paper published in the “Annals of the Association of American Geographers,” for instance, analyzed millions of voter files from 2004, 2006 and 2008 from seven states, identifying people who relocated within that time span. The researchers concluded that, while jobs and family concerns are the most important factors in deciding where and whether to move, “Republican migrants show a preference for moving to areas that are even more Republican,” and “Democrats display a similar preference for their own, though the tendency is not as strong.” The researchers concluded that “[w]hether the role of partisanship is central or ancillary, if it is part of the decision process, it has the potential to recast the political landscape of the United States.”

Most — but not all — Americans are comfortable with political diversity in their households, the Pew Research report found: Just 9% say they’d be unhappy if an immediate family member married a Republican, about the same percentage (8%) as those who say that about marrying a Democrat. Even among partisans discomfort levels are fairly low: About as many Republicans (17%) and Democrats (15%) say they’d be unhappy if a family member married someone from the other party.

But discomfort rises among the most ideological segments of the population. 23% of consistent liberals say they’d be unhappy about a Republican marrying into their family; 30% of consistent conservatives say that about the prospect of a Democratic in-law.

How about you? Do you find yourself gritting your teeth when listening to your in-laws’ political views? Do you feel like a conservative island in a deep blue sea, or vice versa? Do neighborhood barbecues devolve into partisan condiment-flinging? Tell us how political polarization — yours or others’ — affects the way you live.

 

 

Which countries Americans like … and don’t

Which countries Americans like … and don’t

By Bruce Stokes

The trend among the U.S. public increasingly has been to turn away from international issues and focus on the home front. But while Americans have long been accused of lacking interest in the rest of the world, they have never lacked strong opinions about other countries.

As 2013 wanes, a Pew Research Center survey conducted Oct. 30-Nov. 6 found that Americans have strongly favorable views of some allies and negative opinions about a range of others. Some of this is driven by U.S. partisan politics. And history suggests all such opinions are subject to change.

Topping Americans’ most favored nations list are Canada (81%) and Great Britain (79%), long-time allies. Notably, they also see commercial competitor Japan (70%) in a positive light.

Nations seen unfavorably by Americans include:

  • Oil-rich Saudi Arabia (57% unfavorable), which has recently been at odds with the U.Sover its policies in the Middle East, particularly when it comes to Syria.
  • China (55% unfavorable), an economic and geopolitical competitor which the publics of many nations see replacing the U.S. as the world’s superpower.
  • Former Cold War adversary Russia (54% unfavorable), a country whose relations with the U.S. have been frosty, particularly after it granted temporary asylum to Edward Snowden, who leaked documents about NSA surveillance.
  • Neighbor Mexico (52% unfavorable).

Brazil, an emerging economic power, is seen favorably by 60% although a quarter of the public had no opinion. Americans appear most divided about India, with 46% having a favorable view and 33% an unfavorable opinion.

While the American public has an unfavorable view of Russia and China, there is no evidence that the public sees those countries as a cause for alarm: only 23% see China as an adversary and only 18% regard Russia as one.

American views about some countries have a decidedly partisan flavor. More Republicans than Democrats have a favorable impression of Israel (74% of Republicans vs. 55% of Democrats). Tea Party Republicans have especially positive views of Israel: 86% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who agree with the Tea Party view Israel favorably, compared with 68% of Republicans and GOP leaners who do not agree with the Tea Party.

Democrats are more likely than Republicans to view China, Mexico and France favorably. Roughly a third of Democrats (36%) have a favorable opinion of China compared with 23% of Republicans. The partisan gap is about as large in opinions of Mexico (Democrats are 14 points more favorable) and France (17 points more favorable).  There are no significant partisan differences in views of Great Britain, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Russia.

However strongly Americans may feel about other countries, either pro or con, their views can also change dramatically over time. Just 29% of Americans had a favorable opinion of France in 2003, at the height of disagreement between Washington and Paris over the Iraq war; now 59% see France positively. Just 29% of Americans saw China unfavorably in 2006; now 55% do.

Do we need to rescue our kids from the digital world?

Do we need to rescue our kids from the digital world?

By Jane Wakefield

My children live in the digital world as much as they live in the real one.

Whether they are chatting to their friends on Xbox Live or FaceTime or viewing their profiles on Instagram, these days it seems that there is always a virtual guest in our house.

Their expectations of life are fundamentally different to mine at their ages – eight and 10. They were among the first generation to swipe a dumb screen and wonder why nothing happened; the first to say when a toy was broken: “Don’t worry, we can just download a new one”; and the first to be aware that the real world runs seamlessly into the digital one.

These digital natives understand the etiquette of the digital world – how to text, how to email, how to get wi-fi and how to watch whatever they want, whenever they want. And homework is a whole lot easier now that they have the virtual font of all knowledge at the their fingertips – Google.

As the author of the book Growing Up Digital, Don Tapscott has spent a lot of time looking at how the generation born in the age of computing will differ from those before.

“Generation M [mobile] are growing up bathed in bits,” he says. “Their brains are actually different.”

For him, the way the brain is wired is dictated by how you spend your time.

“My generation grew up watching TV – we were passive recipients. Today children come home and turn on their mobile devices, they are listening to MP3s, chatting to their friends, playing video games – managing all these things at the same time.”

Privacy dead?

All the data our children are creating and uploading, coupled with their casual ability to bring their friends into the house via a tablet screen, makes parents question whether they are growing up in a world where privacy just won’t mean anything.

“At a time when our lives are recorded and analysed by countless services, organisations and the state, educating young people about the importance of privacy and considering what information they share should be high on the agenda,” the deputy director of Big Brother Watch, Emma Carr, says.

Boy with hundreds of digital images going around his head

Our children are creating a very large digital footprint, but will they have more control over data than us?

“We are seeing the first cases of people being forced to hand over social media passwords before they are offered employment, cyberbullying has become a clear issue, and stories about commercial companies and the government snooping on our communications are now commonplace.

“It is imperative that we teach our children about how our communications are now accessed and the ramifications that that may bring.”

Mr Tapscott is not convinced.

“The idea that privacy is dead is deeply unfounded but the way we protect privacy is going through a fundamental change,” he says.

“Kids are quite aware of the whole privacy question and intuitively understand idea of using data responsibly.”

That resonates with me – I can barely take a picture these days without one of my children asking suspiciously: “Are you going to post it on Facebook?”

Even taking a picture for this article created a stream of questions: “What are you writing about me?” “Why can’t you just get a picture of a kid on an iPad from Google?”

As well as making me realise that my kids have little respect for copyright, it also made me see that they are pretty sophisticated consumers.

“Actually they are scrutinisers,” said Mr Tapscott. “When I was young if I saw a picture, it was just a photo, these days kids look at pictures and ask whether it has been photoshopped.”

As for data privacy, there is evidence that companies are beginning to understand that individuals want to wrest back control of what could be their greatest asset, their data. Companies are now developing apps and dashboards that allow people to store all the information that they share online in one place.

Some think eventually we will even sell our data as a commodity to the advertisers so desperate to throw it back at us in a personalised form. Respect Network is setting up a platform that will allow peole to choose who they share their data with.

Meanwhile, the amount of control individuals have over the information that exists online about them is also being challenged.

Last month the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled in favour of the “right-to-be-forgotten” principle, ordering Google to remove links to sites with information about an individual’s financial history that he had deemed out-of-date.

Such rules may be welcomed by our children as they seek to wipe out the profiles they created when they were teenagers or younger to replace with a more sober, grown-up digital CV.

And there could be a lot of data to wipe – according to the Pew Internet Centre, up to half of US children have a mobile phone by the time they are 12 and increasingly parents are creating email accounts and social media profiles for their new-born babies.

Anecdotal evidence suggests many parents these days are more likely to buy their toddler a tablet than a cuddly toy.

Porn filters

Having such an early interaction with technology has led to a glut of studies questioning whether our children spend too much time immersed in the addictive digital world and too little time crossing roads, playing in mud and chasing butterflies.

Boy using a tablet, lent against a tree

Can we get the balance right between life online and life outdoors?

A lot of it comes down to sensible parenting, thinks Mr Tapscott.

“Parents need to make choices. Say no devices at dinner, in restaurants. Draw up a social contract about when technology can be used,” he says.

He is not a fan of the trend towards net filters, where ISPs around the world, including the biggest four in the UK, increasingly offer parents the option to block out pornography.

“The best way to deal with pornography is not to prevent access but talk to our kids about it,” he insists.

The really important question for the optimists such as Mr Tapscott is how schools deal with our tech-savvy youngsters.

“For the first time in history, children are an authority on something really important – how the digital world is changing our institutions.”

He is not convinced schools have understood the enormity of that change:

“Children don’t learn the way we learnt, but the classroom hasn’t changed since the industrial revolution.”

While there are plenty of schools doing innovative stuff with technology, there is also evidence that many teachers remain scared of its potential.

Just this month, a report from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers called for government guidelines on the amount of time children should spend on net-connected devices.

Director Mark Langhammer said: “We’re hearing reports of very young children who are arriving into school quite unable to concentrate or socialise properly because they’re spending so much time on digital games or social media.”

But far from restricting access, Mr Tapscott thinks we need to stop seeing online as bad and offline as good.

“There is a lot of cynicism about net addiction, losing social skills, being an army of narcissists only interested in Facebook and selfies. I found that none of that is true.

“They are the smartest generation ever.”