October 20, 2014

© 2014 Microsoft CorporationDoes Everything Happen for a Reason?
Konika Banerjee and Paul Bloom: Where does this belief come from? One theory is that it reflects religious teachings—we think that events have meaning because we believe in a God that plans for us, sends us messages, rewards the good and punishes the bad. But research from the Yale Mind and Development Lab, where we work, suggests that this can’t be the whole story. (The New York Times)

Voodoo Death
Scientists are just beginning to understand how cultural beliefs can lead to psychological stress, illness, and even death. American physiologist Walter Cannon was one of the first people to write about the potentially fatal consequences of these intense beliefs. In 1942, reports were streaming in from around the world about “voodoo” death: South American Tupinamba men, condemned by medicine men, died of fright. Hausa people in Niger withered away after being told they were bewitched. Aboriginal tribesmen in Australia, upon seeing an enemy pointing a hexed bone at them, went into convulsions and passed away. (Daphne Chen, Pacific Standard)

Mindful Commuters
As harried commuters filed aboard a Metro Red Line train at Cleveland Park—jockeying for seats, hoisting bulging tote bags—Denise Keyes gazed straight ahead, took deep breaths, and searched for inner peace. There were no lit candles, no incense, no chanting of “om.” But Keyes was meditating. Finding stillness on a subway during rush hour might sound impossible. But those who practice “mindful commuting” swear it brings tranquility to the daily misery of crowded trains, late buses, honking horns, and traffic jams. (Katherine Shaver, The Washington Post)

EXCERPT
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

Atul Gawande: This is a book about the modern experience of mortality—about what it’s like to be creatures who age and die, how medicine has changed the experience and how it hasn’t, where our ideas about how to deal with our finitude have got the reality wrong. As I pass a decade in surgical practice and become middle aged myself, I find that neither I nor my patients find our current state tolerable. But I have also found it unclear what the answers should be, or even whether any adequate ones are possible. I have the writer’s and scientist’s faith, however, that by pulling back the veil and peering in close, a person can make sense of what is most confusing or strange or disturbing. (Science of Us, New York Magazine)

VIDEO
How Do Astronomers Find Exoplanets?

NASA’s Kepler spacecraft has discovered nearly 3,000 possible exoplanets by tracking slight fluctuations in starlight to reveal their orbits. This is one of several methods employed in the hunt for the next habitable world. John Matson explains. (Scientific American)

Category: Field Notes

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