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Category Archives: SCIENCE

Director Catalbas hits the nail right

“It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.”
— Albert Einstein

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By Alex P. Vidal

NEW YORK CITY — One thing we like most about Department of Tourism (DOT) Western Visayas Director Helen J. Catalbas is she talks with a lot of sense.
A lawyer and writer, Director Catalbas attracts attention each time she shares her ideas and suggestions.
Reporters always go to the newsroom with a handful of positive news after listening to Director Catalbas.
She became the first government official to exhort all tourism establishments in the region to include high-speed Internet in the services they give their customers.
Director Catalbas has noticed that several tourism destinations in Western Visayas have low-speed Internet connection.
In technology parlance, low-speed is slovenly or second-rate.
To compound the matter, there are tourist spots and business establishments that don’t have Internet or wi fi services, at all, she observed.
There are establishments that don’t give a hoot if their Internet is lousy as long as they can make a profit from customers– students, businessmen, tourists–who are mostly Internet users.

UPGRADE

With Director Catalbas’ suggestions, we expect business establishments in Panay and Negros islands to take the matter seriously and start upgrading their Internet connection.
There are Internet providers that offer reasonable rates and won’t abuse their client-establishments so that these client-establishments won’t give their customers shoddy or inferior services to recoup their deficits.
A quality place, after all, deserves quality services.
In this age of technology, Internet has become part and parcel of our daily life. It has become a necessity. Most people nowadays can’t live a normal life without Internet.
Most universities and malls, in fact, are now equipped with free Internet services. In the advent of social media, Internet is the god.
Establishment owners all over the Philippines have realized that if they did not have Internet services, only lizards and ants patronized their stores.

 
 

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Scientific age’s 10 sets of premises

“There is nothing that will cure the senses but the soul, and nothing that will cure the soul but the senses” –– OSCAR WILDE

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NEW JERSEY — From Willis Harman’s Global Mind Change, the promise of the 21st century, we learned that there is a set of 10 premises, which, if encountered in a textbook a few decades ago, would hardly have aroused a question. It is humbling to the educated Westerner to realize that to an indeterminable extent, science, like the traditional belief systems of “primitive” cultures, describes a world that is shaped by its built-in assumptions, observes Harman.
The rational set of premises for a scientific age, according to Harman, are the following:
1. The only conceivable ways in which we can acquire knowledge are through our physical senses, and perhaps by some sort of information transmission through the genes. The sole way in which we extend our understanding of the nature of the universe is through empirical science–that is, the exploration of the measurable world through instrumentation that augments our physical senses.
2. All qualitative properties (at least the ones we can talk about scientifically) are ultimately reducible to quantitative ones (for example, color is reduced to wavelength, thought to measurable brain waves, hate and love to the chemical composition of glandular secretions).
3. There is a clear demarcation between the objective world, which can be perceived by anyone, and subjective experience, which is perceived by the individual alone, in the privacy of his/her own mind. Scientific knowledge deals with the former; the latter may be important to the individual, but its exploration does not lead to the same kind of publicly verifiable knowledge.
4. The concept of free will is a prescientific attempt to explain behavior that scientific analysis reveals is due to a combination of forces impinging on the individual from the outside, together with pressures and tensions internal to the organism.
5. What we know as consciousness or awareness of our thoughts and feelings is a secondary phenomenon arising from physical and biochemical processes in the brain.
6. What we know as memory is strictly a matter of stored data in the central nervous system, somewhat analogous to the storage of information in a digital computer.
7. The nature of time being what it is, there is obviously no way in which we can obtain knowledge of future events, other than by rational prediction from known causes and past regularities.
8. Since mental activity is simply a matter of dynamically varying states in the physical organism (primarily in the brain), it is completely impossible for this mental activity to exert any effect directly on the physical world outside the organism.
9. The evolution of the universe and of man has come about through physical causes (such as random mutation, natural selection), and there is no justification for any concept of universal purpose in the evolution, or in the development of consciousness, or in the strivings of the individual.
10. Individual consciousness does not survive the death of the organism; or if there is any meaningful sense in which the individual consciousness persists after the death of the physical body we can neither comprehend it in this life or in any way obtain knowledge about it.

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2017 in NATURE, PSYCHOLOGY, SCIENCE

 

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What day did you sneeze?

“Do you know how helpless you feel if you have a full cup of coffee in your hand and you start to sneeze?” — JEAN KERR

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By Alex P. Vidal

NEW YORK CITY — While standing in a long line at the Bank of America ATM machine in Jackson Heights, Queens on Thursday morning (a Thanksgiving day, November 24, in the United States), I sneezed twice.
An elderly Latina woman in front of me turned her back and sighed, “God bless you.”
“Thank you,” I replied.
“Today is what day, honey?” she snapped back with a smile. “Ah Thursday. Something better will happen to you because you sneezed on Thursday. If it’s Friday, you sneeze for sorrow.”
She continued: If I sneeze on Wednesday, I will receive a letter. On Tuesday, I kiss a stranger. On Monday, I sneeze for danger. On Saturday, I see my lover tomorrow. On Sunday, the devil will have me for the rest of the week. Oh lala.
She was being superstitious. I don’t believe in superstition but I thanked her nevertheless.

PUBLIC

In the bus, train, shopping centers, coffee shops, among other public places, I sneezed in the past and people were apt to say, “God bless you” or the German expression, “Gesundheit,” or the Italian word, “Felicita.”
In the old practice, they would clasp their hands and bow toward the one who sneezed, which is popular in Near and Far East until today.
The custom of asking God’s blessing started when early man believed that the essence of life–the spirit or soul–was in the form of air and breath and resided in one’s head, according to authors Claudia De Lys and Julie Forsyth Bachelor.
A sneeze might accidentally expel the spirit for a short time or even forever, unless God prevented it.
The act of bowing toward the sneezer was also reportedly counter-magic. For it meant, “May your soul not escape.”

SPIRITS

There were some ancients who believed that evil spirits which had previously entered the body jumped out when one sneezed. This meant danger to others for such spirits might now enter their bodies.
So the expression or blessing was to protect others as well as the one who sneezed. So serious was a sneezed considered in the Middle Ages that even today people speak of certain situations as “not to be sneezed at.”
We know today that a sneeze is one of our unconscious reflexes. However, medical men consider it almost as harmful to others as some of the primitive people did, explained Lys and Bachelor.
For, instead of “evil spirits,” sneezing expels harmful bacteria and is one of the most effective ways of spreading disease. So our best counter-charm, say the doctors, is to cover a sneeze with a handkerchief so our germs won’t jump down someone else’s throat.

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2016 in HEALTH, HISTORY, SCIENCE

 

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Tabula Rasa

“Wherever law ends, tyranny begins.” — JOHN LOCKE

By Alex P. Vidal

NEW YORK CITY — One of the British Empiricists, John Locke, lived at a time of great scientific discovery and political upheaval.
He was to become deeply involved in, and affected by, both.
Locke’s claim is that all thoughts and ideas issue from what we have taken in through the senses. Before we perceive anything, the mind is a tabula rasa or an empty slate, as bare and empty as a blackboard before the teacher arrives in the classroom.
But then we begin to sense things.
We see the world around us, we smell, taste, feel and hear.
And nobody does this more intensely than an infant. In this way what Locke called “simple ideas of sense” arises.
But the mind does not just passively receive information from outside it.

ACTIVITY

Some activity happens in the mind as well.
The single-sense ideas are worked on by thinking, reasoning, believing and doubting, thus giving rise to what he calls “reflection.”
So he distinguished between “sensation” and “reflection.”
The mind is not merely a passive receiver.
It classifies and processes all sensations as they come streaming in.
Locke (1632-1704) spoke out for intellectual liberty and tolerance.
He was also preoccupied with equality of the sexes, maintaining that the subjugation of women to men was “man-made.”
Therefore, it could be altered.
He had a great influence on John Stuart Mill, who, in turn, had a key role in the struggle for equality of the sexes.

LIBERAL

Locke was a forerunner of many liberal ideas which came into full flower later, during the French Enlightenment in the 18th century.
It was he who first argued for the principle of division of powers, by which the power of the state is divided between different institutions: the legislative power, or elected representatives; the judicial power, or law of courts; and the executive power, or the government.
Locke rejected many of the ideas of the other great Empiricist, Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), who believed in a powerful monarchy and that man has no right to rebel and break the “social contract.”

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2016 in CULTURE AND HERITAGE, HISTORY, SCIENCE

 

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Broca’s Brain

“They were apes only yesterday. Give them time. Once an ape–always an ape. No, it will be different…Come back here in an age or so and you shall see…” –THE GODS, DISCUSSING THE EARTH, IN THE MOTION PICTURE VERSION OF H.G. WELLS’ ‘The Man Who Could Work Miracles (1936)’

By Alex P. Vidal

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NEW YORK CITY — IF we think we are a gift to mankind because we possess extra-ordinary geniuses, would we allow our brains to be stored in formalin to retard spoilage and displayed in museum after we die?
Many of us today probably possess brains that are qualified to be preserved for purposes of research and benefit of science. Like Broca’s brain.
In his book, Broca’s Brain, reflections on the romance of science, the late astrophysicist Carl Sagan discussed the exploration of the universe; that is, it is about science. Sagan analyzed diverse topics–from a crystal of salt to the structure of the cosmos, myth and legend, birth and death, robots and climates, the exploration of the planets, the nature of intelligence, the search for life beyond the Earth.
“But, as I hope will emerge, these topics are connected because the world is connected, and also human beings perceive the world through similar sense organs and brains and experiences that may not reflect the external realities with absolute fidelity,” explained Sagan.
In all of our four-billion-year history of life in our planet, in all of our four-million-year history of the human family, Sagan said, “there is only one generation privileged to live through that unique transitional moment: that generation is ours.”

MUSEUM OF MAN

During his visit at Musee de l’Homme or Museum of Man in Paris in the 70’s, Sagan saw a container from the shelf and examined it closely. The label read P. Broca. “In my hands was Broca’s brain,” quipped Sagan.
P. Broca was Paul Broca, a surgeon, a neurologist and an anthropologist, a major figure in the development of both medicine and anthropology in the mid-19th century. Sagan said, Broca performed distinguished work on cancer pathology and the treatment of aneurysms, and made a landmark contribution to understanding the origin of aphasia–an impairment of the ability to articulate ideas.
Sagan described Broca as “a brilliant and compassionate man” who was concerned with medical care for the poor.
“Under cover of darkness, at the risk of his own life, he successfully smuggled out of Paris in a horse-drawn cart 73 million francs, stuffed into carpetbags and hidden under potatoes, the treasury of the Assistance Publique which–he believed, at any rate–he was saving from pillage. He was the founder of modern brain surgery. He studied infant mortality. Toward the end of his career he was created a senator,” Sagan disclosed.
Broca founded a society of “freethinkers” in 1848. Almost along among French servants of the time, narrated Sagan, “he was sympathetic to Charles Darwin’s idea of evolution by natural selection.”

GRATITUDE

T.H. Huxley, “Darwin’s Bulldog,” remarked that the mere mention of Broca’s name filled him with a sense of gratitude, and Broca was quoted as saying, “I would rather be a transformed ape than a degenerate son of Adam.” For these and other views he was publicly denounced for “materialism” and, like Socrates, for corrupting the young.
Broca died in 1880, perhaps of the very sort of aneurysm that he had studied so brilliantly, disclosed Sagan. At the moment of his death he was working on a comprehensive study of brain anatomy. He had established the first professional societies, schools of research, and scientific journals of modern anthropology in France. His laboratory specimens became incorporated into what for many years was called the Musee Broca. Later it merged to become a part of the Musee de l’Homme.
“It was Broca himself, whose brain I was cradling, who had established the macabre collection I had been contemplating,” recalled Sagan. “He had studied embryos and apes, and people of all races, measuring like mad in an effort to understand the nature of human being. And despite the present appearance of the collection and my suspicions, he was not, at least by the standards of his time, more of a jingoist or a racist than most, and certainly not that cold, uncaring, dispassionate scientist, heedless of the human consequences of what he does. Broca very much cared.”

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2013 in EDUCATION, PSYCHOLOGY, SCIENCE

 

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