Justin: Disclaimer! Disclaimer!
Drenched, burning up, hyperventilating, laughing and crying at the same time in public with potential for delirium and seizures. These are the symptoms reported by a UK teenager after overdosing on too much coffee.
Strangely, we have been hearing reports with a similar symptoms from listening to too much of the following hour of programming. Mocking moderation, one show at a time, we persist with This Week In Science, coming up next.
Good morning, Kirsten.
Kirsten: Good morning, Justin. Welcome everybody to yet another hour of This Week In Science. We are here for an hour to talk about science news. We’ve got stories from all over the planet and beyond.
Justin: Many beyond the planet stories as well, yes.
Kirsten: Many – many beyond the planet?
Justin: Mm hmm.
Kirsten: Awesome. Well, we also have an interview today at the top of the hour – the half hour, I guess.
Justin: Top of the next half hour.
Kirsten: I want to call it the top of the morning. No.
Justin: Top of the morning to you.
Kirsten: Top of the morning to you, yes. Yes, we have an interview with Dr. Albert A. Harrison. He is a psychologist here at UC Davis. He’s written a book called Star Struck: Cosmic Visions in Science, Religion and Folklore. We’re going to talk with him about space travel, extraterrestrials, UFO, parapsychology, pseudoscience, skepticism, science.
Kirsten: Yes. And I’m going to ask him about his childhood.
Justin: We’re going to put the doctor on the couch.
Kirsten: That’s right. Why don’t you put your feet up, doctor?
Justin: Make yourself comfortable.
Kirsten: Tell me about your childhood.
Justin: Clear your mind.
Kirsten: Exactly. So the good doctor Harrison is going to be with us in about a half an hour. And in the meantime, we’ve got lots of science news for you. We’ve got dark matter challenges.
Kirsten: Yes. We’ve got memory challenges.
Kirsten: Yes and we’ve got…
Justin: All the same stories this morning.
Kirsten: Oh, starvation challenges.
Justin: Oh, (We’ll talk about that).
Kirsten: And the bird child-rearing challenges.
Kirsten: Yes. Anyway, there’s a lot of news coming for you. If you’d like to join us down here in the next half hour on the telephone, call us at 530-752-2777. You can also – I believe if the link isn’t broken, I haven’t checked it in a while, it streams – this show streams live from our website, so, you get out of your car, you can head to the website and stream it through – we have a link through KDVS I believe.
Unless that stopped. I haven’t looked at it. I have to check. I have to check that. But anyway, forums at the website…
Justin: You can – and there’s…
Kirsten: There’s lots of conversation going on there.
Justin: There’s a new website coming but we have the forums up right now. And I’m inviting any minion to ask me any question on any issue.
Kirsten: Oh, dear.
Justin: And I will give you an answer.
Kirsten: Oh, I’m sure it’ll be “an answer”.
Justin: It’s better than getting no answer.
Kirsten: That’s true. Sometimes…
Justin: I can answer all mysteries of the universe.
Justin: I can answer questions about your personal life. I can give you a dating advice. What…
Kirsten: Because – because…
Justin: … gardening advice. Whatever you need, I can give you an answer.
Kirsten: That’s right because Justin, he’s highly qualified to give answers.
Justin: I’m very good at giving answers.
Kirsten: Yes. Yes.
Justin: People who get answers from me come back for more answers later because they liked the results.
Kirsten: All right, all right. Past research has shown satisfied customers.
Justin: Yes. I’ve never – there’s never been anybody who came back and didn’t like the answer that I gave.
Kirsten: Yes, well.
Justin: Except – well…
Kirsten: I don’t know. Maybe…
Justin: Except for – never mind.
Kirsten: Maybe in the past, I have. Getting it going – let’s see. What? Getting It Going, published in the October 20th issue of the Astrophysical Journal. We’re getting ahead of ourselves here.
Justin: That’s not even out yet. We’re backwards in time.
Kirsten: We’re forwards in time. This is happening in the future. But it’s very interesting because the study itself has to do with matter and mass separating…
Kirsten: …from each other in the way that we have separated from time. Researchers at the University of Victoria in Canada are reporting the visualization of a giant area of galaxies, a cluster called Abell 520 located 2.4 billion light years away which in, you know…
Justin: It’s a little a ways.
Kirsten: …layman’s terms, far away.
Justin: Yes. Further than the corner store.
Kirsten: Well, just considering that like 60 billion light years, what is it 60 light years takes like 2 billion years to get to. Something like that, I don’t remember.
Justin: That doesn’t make sense. But okay.
Kirsten: It’s the multiplication and the math thing that actually didn’t do the calculation first. And I’m not one of those naturally gifted mathematicians where I can just pull it out of my ear.
Justin: Oh, don’t use the “because I’m a girl” defense.
Kirsten: No, no.
Justin: Don’t you dare.
Kirsten: Did I say that?
Justin: Oh, maybe I just assumed it.
Kirsten: Did I say that?
Justin: Never mind.
Kirsten: No. I’m…
Justin: Never mind.
Kirsten: I’m actually quite…
Justin: I’m recoiling quickly. Ow!
Kirsten: I’m actually quite good at math. Yes. Get back.
Kirsten: I did a good job in math when I was growing up. Push up, mister. It’s only, it’s only every once in a while I don’t do calculations ahead of time. And I think hey, that’ll be fun to say that on the spot and then it doesn’t turn out the way I would hoped it would.
Justin: But not because you’re a girl.
Kirsten: Not because I’m a girl.
Justin: Ow! Stop picking me. We’re going to – I’m going to move my chair further away.
Kirsten: NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and two ground based optical telescopes have visualized these galaxies colliding, merging into a huge cluster very far away from here, that suggests that what we thought about dark matter might not be quite so right.
Dark matter is predicted to be – it’s a very mysterious substance that we can’t see. It’s predicted to make up about 25% of the invisible universe. But there are ways that researchers are attempting to visualize it.
It’s thought that dark matter contains a lot of mass. And with mass comes gravity.
Justin: Mm hmm.
Kirsten: So, the idea is that if you have galaxies with planets, stars, things that contain mass and other things like hot gases that maybe do not contain as much gas – if a collision were to occur, the mass would stay with the planets or the objects of mass. Whereas in this particular situation, what they have found is that it appears the dark matter has been flung AWAY from the galaxies.
Justin: Yes. Separated.
Kirsten: Separated. By as much, in some cases, as 2 million light years away.
Kirsten: Which means that they’re never – according to the way that they think it’s going to work, they’re not going to recombine, or they should not. It’s such a huge distance that it’s not going to come back together at any point.
Justin: But they will.
Kirsten: But they will.
Justin: No, they will. I had this other – it’s part of my whole thing of the universe being conduit and what have you. I think what’s going on here is sort of a stretching of space thing. Because the way that they have viewed dark matter is simply by seeing it’s gravitational lensing effects. So they look at the stuff that’s behind it and see how the gravity has been affected by it.
I think if these galaxies continue to move away, you won’t see this big mass, okay, in empty space…
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Justin: …floating there where these hot gases currently are in the middle of everything. I think that’s going to disappear.
Kirsten: Yes. Well, one thing that they’re suggesting is that this is so far away that it’s possible that the angle we’re observing from is not giving us the full story. So it’s been suggested by other people that we need to observe it a little bit longer, take some different views of it, if possible, get some different ideas as to what’s actually going on.
Justin: Let’s take a picture from the other side, see what it looks like.
Kirsten: Yes. Yes, let’s go over there and do it. Okay.
Justin: No, no.
Kirsten: Yes, that’s not going to happen. But it is possible that we could, one degree, I don’t know. But at 2.4 billion light years away, I wouldn’t – the distances that are being covered out there, it’s…
Justin: Subtle is the Lord. Malicious, he is not. Or is it malignant, he is not. I can’t remember. Anyway, that’s what Einstein said when somebody was trying to explain to him that the Ether had been reproven that light can travel at different speeds.
Justin: Yes. But, light as supposedly, provenly, testedly, moves at the same speed.
Kirsten: Speed of light.
Justin: The speed of light, and that’s all it can do. But this new study, oh, because of the quantum – proves that perhaps the Lord – is a little bit less subtle, a little more malicious.
Speed record is supposed to be impossible right? Two physicists are now claiming they have propelled photons faster than the speed of light.
Justin: Yes. Direct violation of the key tenets of Einstein’s special theory of relativity…
Justin: …thus, they said nothing under any circumstance can exceed the speed of light. So Günter Nimtz and Alfons Stahlhofen of the University of Koblenz, I believe that’s going to be in Germany, have been exploring a phenomenon in quantum physics called photon tunneling.
So that occurs when a particle slips across an apparently otherwise uncrossable barrier sort of going in like kind of a little bit like – what do you call it? The Buckaroo Banzai, when they go through the mountain.
Justin: A little bit of that.
Kirsten: It’s a little impenetrable, but somehow he goes through the mountain.
Justin: Somehow they go in one end of the mountain, come out the other end of the mountain.
Justin: And they found that based on the wave of the photon, they can – the distances… So the longer distances are very difficult, shorter distances, they and get through more stuff.
So basically, what they did was they set it up so that one was going through and one wasn’t going through. And the two things have ended the – suggestions that ultra fast transit between two prism so much faster than the speed of light experimenters couldn’t even measure it? Because the – yes, it’s…
So the thing is though, there’s another…
Kirsten: Maybe it didn’t happen.
Justin: There’s some Heisenberg probability but there’s an interesting explanation so that we can say, “Okay, light only travels at the same speed as light traveling.”
Justin: And it’s the – I’m trying to read and think at the same time because none of this make sense to me. The quantum still puzzles me to endless bounds but…
Kirsten: Well, who was it? Was it Niels Bohr or somebody who at one point said, if you think about quantum physics, then you don’t really understand it.
Justin: Yes, yes. Niels Bohr though which, he was…
Kirsten: Which is kind of – it’s a funny thing to say though because the whole like observing something places it in one state and gets rid of the uncertainty and the…
Justin: Then you can’t tell the momentum.
Kirsten: If you’re thinking about it, then maybe that’s observing it. And so, that’s – it makes my brain work.
Justin: I always think that Niels Bohr was the kookiest person ever on the planet because he was the most mind bogglingly – there’s a word I want to use for it that I can’t use on the air.
Kirsten: Smarty pants?
Justin: Well, that wasn’t it. But no, I absolutely think he’s one of the greatest minds of all time ever.
Kirsten: He thought he was pretty smart too.
Justin: He was just so willing to cast off all – like physical reality…
Justin: …in the pursuit of his mathematics. It was just kind of beautiful. Like, oh, no, no, no, no. The physical world. No, don’t worry about the physical world, it’s not really there. I mean you think it’s there and then so for that moment it’s there but you can’t tell like, really tell how or where it’s there because you just thought about it and now it’s gone. Wait, slow down, and all of it like a heavy famous…
Kirsten: I can’t keep up with you.
Justin: …accent. But no, the idea here is that when you’re measuring the light going into this prism, you’re measuring like a very long train right in the center.
Justin: And you’re timing it as it leaves the station right at the center of the train. But by the time it arrives at its destination, it’s only the first two cars that get there. So you’re measuring the middle of those two cars. It looks like they’ve gotten there faster but you’re just taking a different type of measurement at the end.
So, even though some physicists are saying, “But aha! Faster than the speed of light.” Others are saying, “Not so fast actually. Maybe there’s more explanation.”
Kirsten: Yes, maybe not. Maybe you should go back and look at it another way and you’ll probably get not faster than speed of light. Faster than a speeding bullet. That’s Superman.
Oh, researchers in Israel – I was actually trying to find some more information on this paper that was published in Science. And I came across one news story that was published I guess, I think by an Israeli newspaper and I loved the way the headline was written. It was, “Israelis produced memory wiping drug” or…
Justin: Oh, yes.
Kirsten: … it was a very interesting headline. But what these researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel have actually…
Justin: The Weizmann Institute. That’s pretty cool.
Kirsten: There you go. What they actually did is they injected the brains of rats with a protein polypeptide called ZIP that’s been shown during the consolidation period that closely follows an experience to block memory, block long term memory.
So it’s been shown in very short timeframes like in the past being injected like one or two days after an event took place that it stopped an animal from being able to remember the event.
This time they were like, “Oh, why don’t we do this, 25 days later?” And so, they injected it into the brain of the rats 25 days later into the cortex of the rats specifically. And they found that it blocked their memory for a taste aversion.
Kirsten: Yes. The rats had been trained to sniff the saccharine sweet smelling water which normally rats really love sweet waters, this treat to animals like yes, yes, yes, it’s great.
But what they did is they let them enjoy the saccharine sweet water and then they gave them this compound. I believe it was a lithium – where was it? I don’t remember where my – I can’t find it. But they gave them something – here, yes, fed them lithium and that’s a metal that makes them sick. So they basically were like, “Yes, sugar sweet water!” Yes, sick rats.
And so, taste aversion is one of the strongest memories that is formed in mammals, in almost all kinds of animals actually; birds, rats, humans even.
Justin: Mm hmm.
Kirsten: It’s like you have an experience with food poisoning and all of a sudden you never go back to that Vietnamese restaurant ever again.
Justin: I have that with gin actually.
Kirsten: Alcohol poisoning, right.
Justin: I can’t drink gin.
Kirsten: So, there’s this – it’s a very strong reaction because you don’t want to poison yourself.
Kirsten: Poisoning yourself means death.
Justin: Bad, bad.
Kirsten: So survival instinct that’s been very hard wired for animals to avoid things that make them sick. So it’s a very strong memory. And it should be difficult to get rid of something that’s so strongly formed, specifically something 25 days after the fact of the training.
Kirsten: You know? So what they think there is a molecule, an enzyme that’s called PKM-zeta which they think actually is involved in putting glutamate, or neurotransmitter receptors into the membrane of the synapse where two neurons come together.
So they think this PKM-zeta is involved in the long term changes that happen to allow you to be able to remember things over long periods of time. And they think that ZIP goes in and goes ha, ha, ha “Kunk”. It is like the – the stick that you stick in between two gears to keep them from working.
Kirsten: And that PKM-zeta is like the little gear is going “I’m working, I’m working. I’m letting you remember.”
Justin: So this could be like, if you had an awkward experience say giving a speech where you just forgot what you’re going to say through the whole thing and then…
Justin: …very embarrassing and then you lost your confidence; you didn’t want to go do public speaking anymore.
Kirsten: Or maybe something like post traumatic stress disorder.
Justin: Something like that.
Kirsten: Yes. One thing is that being with rats, the specificity of it, all they did was teach them this and then test them on this. Who knows if it affected other aspects of memory? It is suggested that it didn’t affect their memory for the saccharine water that they actually were familiar with it and they weren’t afraid of it. But it just got rid of their aversion to it if they had been trained to avoid it.
Kirsten: Yes. So the question is what memories does it affect and how long does it – is it a permanent wiping of the slate? They haven’t done experiments long enough to see if it keeps maintaining that aversion or if it breaks down overtime.
Justin: I would sign up for a human test trial on that. No seriously like…
Kirsten: I would like to forget my childhood.
Justin: No, like – no, nothing like that. But I mean like there’s like – I wonder if you could do like anyway shape or form the memory of like how to satisfy the nicotine craving. Like I’ve got this horrible craving but I can’t remember what I’m supposed to do about it.
Kirsten: Yes, getting rid of cravings with an addition…
Justin: But would it get rid of the craving?
Kirsten: Maybe, I mean…
Justin: That would be asking too much.
Kirsten: I don’t know. It could be asking too much.
Justin: But it’s…
Kirsten: One of the really interesting things though is people really, still to this day, don’t understand long term memory and how it gets – it’s still guess work. We think that there are these permanent changes made to neurons that maintains the coordination of various neurons within the brain that allow you to remember things for long periods of time.
But there’s also the question of when you go back to access memory and you tell somebody about something that you’ve done or experienced, you’re changing the memory as you are remembering it because it’s kind of reinforcing the memory as you tell it at that point.
So there’s – there are also it’s a – the memory is malleable and it’s not permanent. So…
Justin: But it’s so scary. This happened just the other day. Somebody mentioned the jingle to a car commercial for car dealership that hasn’t existed on the planet…
Kirsten: That’s stuck in your head.
Justin: …for 25 years.
Kirsten: It’s still in your head?
Justin: Well, and this was just something I would have seen as a kid on television, you know. And they like started to hum it and I knew all the words. I’m like, “Oh, my good gosh. How in the world is that still filed away somewhere…”
Kirsten: Where did that come from?
Justin: I could be using that space for something more important.
Justin: I think you would at some point want to wipe out a little bit of stuff just to free up some room.
Kirsten: Yes. That happened to me the other day I was on a YouTube and was looking at some video something and I came across at Kids Incorporated opening “Kids Incorporated K-I-D-S, yes.” And I knew all the words.
Kirsten: But what I didn’t realize is Fergie was in Kids Incorporated. Sarah Ferguson.
Kirsten: From the Black Eyed Peas?
Justin: I don’t know.
Kirsten: Never mind.
Justin: Researchers in the Department of Neuroscience at Mount Sinai High School of Medicine have identified taste receptors in the human intestines.
Kirsten: Oh, dear. That’s interesting.
Justin: Yes. Taste receptor T1R3 and the taste G-protein Glutacine are critical to sweet taste in the tongue. Researchers now show that these two sweet sensing proteins are also expressed in specialized taste cells of the gut where they sense glucose within the intestines.
So there’s a kind of like – you’ve got like a tongue up in there.
Kirsten: A sweet loving tongue, right?
Justin: Yes. But they’re actually saying that this could help explain for instance why artificial sweeteners don’t help you lose weight because the receptors are still in the – while it tastes yummy to the tongue, it also tastes yummy to your intestines.
And so, while the intestines are trying to soak up as much of this glucose, it’s also grabbing lots of other glucosey stuff, carbohydrates, all the rest of it along with it. So…
Justin: Yes. And it may have some other significant or maybe not so significant things to do with the other stuff. But the thing that’s really just I don’t – I didn’t really need to know that. That’s one of the little…
Kirsten: I think it makes sense. I’m not surprised actually the capsaicin receptor, the receptor for spice actually is found throughout or at least at the beginning and the end of your digestive tract. That’s why things can taste spicy and feel spicy, all the way along, yes.
Justin: Oh, yes, the…
Kirsten: So it’s not – I mean it’s not surprising that there would be so called taste receptors within the digestive tract that like all the way along the intestine because it is one long connected tube…
Justin: Of a tongue? Yuck!
Justin: When did the – it’s saying that sensing glucose so in the gastrointestinal tract is the first step for regulating blood sugar levels which I guess that makes sense. But having discovered the identity of this “get sweet” receptors may help add some new treatments for diabetes as well as better diets for the obese I guess.
Kirsten: Yes. Yes, it could.
Justin: It’s just one of those, file it under, kind of icky. It’s one of those – when we’re doing this folks for like minions…
Kirsten: You’re funny.
Justin: …when we’re doing the small talk at parties, this one might be a little bit of a buzz kill. If you’re…
Kirsten: You don’t need to bring that up.
Justin: …if you’re trying to endear a certain someone to you, this isn’t a story to use. But if you’re just, you know…
Kirsten: How about try this one?
Kirsten: People have been talking about… there was a movie a while back that came out a year or two ago about the climate of the earth changing within like two days and the whole premise was based on the idea that the conveyor belt, the “conveyor belt” that takes cold deep water from the arctic to the equator where it warms and then it’s carried back to the arctic, it stops and everything changes and we have a sudden deep freeze.
Justin: Laser beams of ice coming from the sky, which I didn’t really understand.
Kirsten: Yes, I don’t know. I don’t know. But it was a little far fetched as to how fast it happened and what exactly happened. But people have thought that this might have been a possibility that once upon a time in the Paleolithic era about 8,200 years ago, that there was a giant lake called Lake Agassiz that was spread out over central Canada and the northern United States.
It was this huge lake and then at one point, it was held there by glaciers but…
Justin: An ice dam.
Kirsten: Yes. But then that ice dam broke. And so a lot of fresh water from the lake was released…
Justin: Cold fresh water. Salty – yes.
Kirsten: …was released into the salt water of the ocean that then diluted the salt water and that after that point in time, they believe the conveyor belt stopped because the salty water was diluted and was more…
Justin: Huh? Well, it moved – the conveyor belt moved south?
Kirsten: Yes, moved south.
Justin: Far south, far, far to the south.
Kirsten: It goes south; it’s the cold dense water that gets lifted to the equator where it warms. And that there’s the change in the saltiness and it’s also the change in the temperature that keeps the conveyor belt going and that this increase in fresh water, diluted it out to change the conveyor belt, stopped it from happening. And it put the northern hemisphere into a deep freeze for a little while. And that we had, basically a little freezy ice age because of this.
Justin: Oh, yes.
Kirsten: But these Canadians have published in geophysical research letters that they don’t think that’s what happened. They took drill cores from the bottom of the Labrador Coast, and from the ocean bottom, and they looked at these sediment samples and they found no connection between the known time that the lake supposedly drained into the ocean and to the changes in the ocean circulation pattern.
So they think that there’s a much more complex story to be told and that it might have been due to a glacial melt at the end of the ice age that affected ocean currents MORE than draining the water from the lake did.
That’s what they think, which, it makes us go “What’s going on now? What’s happening? What do we need to be worried about now?” We don’t have a giant lake that’s going to drain into the ocean this time around but we are having significant glacial melts.
Justin: We do.
Kirsten: And is the glacial melt going to have effects like it did, 9,000 years ago?
Justin: We do or we don’t yet. The Greenland, if you look at it, it looks like a big giant land mass but there’s very little land. It’s like…
Kirsten: All ice. Well, but that’s not…
Justin: …a crescent, a crescent land.
Kirsten: Wait. But that’s the glacial melt that would be the problem. I was saying that’s not a giant lake though.
Justin: Well, yet
Kirsten: It’s not a lake of fresh water.
Justin: Yet. So it becomes – that’s how you get those things, it’s the inner core of a glacier melting with the ice dam staying and then when that – and there’s a big (unintelligible) but we got years to handle that.
Kirsten: We got years.
Justin: We got dynamite now.
Justin: And we have a scientist in New Mexico who’s going to solve all our problems.
Kirsten: I love those.
Justin: Fertilize the ocean with more plankton. That’s his solution. Plankton growing in the ocean emits a gas known as dimethyl sulfide, DMS that once in the atmosphere helps spur cloud formation and in turn would cool the planet; offset some of the global warming caused by human emitted greenhouse gases.
As the earth inches towards its climate tipping point of the runaway warming, this Wingenten – I can’t even – Wingenter, Wingenter, that’s his name, Oliver Wingenter says his technique could be used to buy more time to make the sociological changes necessarily to cut the greenhouse gas emissions.
Just hoping that this is something that will give us a little more time, he said. I’m paraphrasing his sounding of his voice.
Justin: He said he came up with the idea of while actually collecting data to see if there was a way for plankton to absorb greenhouse gases but hadn’t realized until after his research that DMS could further cloud formation and that that would be of an even better idea.
So it’s kind of interesting, there is a little bit of the well, what will affect will that have on the ocean and stuff. But I think, a lot of things eat plankton so, they’re probably happy.
Whales would be happy, I’m sure.
Kirsten: DMS is actually a very great signal for seabirds. Seabirds tune in to DMS and they go, “Um, there’s plankton down there.” And then they go and they attack.
Justin: Yes, plankton farming is future of the world.
Kirsten: That’s one interesting idea.
Justin: Yes. It beats – well, we like the other ones. We take a giant mirror and we put it in space and we reflect the wave from the earth, the light, and the other one is you take airplanes and you put some sort of…
Kirsten: I like plankton farming better.
Justin: It’s the – yes. There’s a sulfide explosion, sulfur into the atmosphere. There’s a lot of nasty ones out there.
Kirsten: Yes. What’s going on in the bird world? It turns out there are 3% of bird species that breed cooperatively where there’s one pair, a male and a female who mate. And the female lays eggs. But then the female doesn’t have to do all the work of rearing the young.
She can run off and get her hair done, you know. Her sisters or her older siblings that – not older siblings – her young that have aged to reproductive maturity but are not yet breeding with someone themselves kind of stick around the nest. It’s a nice…
Kirsten: Yes, babysitters. It’s lots of happy babysitters in the family. But researchers have been trying to figure out who this benefits and how it benefits them. Andrew Russell of the University of Sheffield in the UK looked at the Superb Fairy-wren of Southeastern Australia. I love bird names. They’re fabulous.
He published in the August 17th issue of Science Magazine that the chicks that were born to females breeding cooperatively as opposed to those chicks in pairs, the parents in pairs, didn’t grow any larger. They didn’t benefit from getting more food. They all grew to the same size.
What they found though is that the eggs laid by the females who are in these family breeding groups were smaller than other females. And the yolks had fewer fats and proteins. So the chicks actually start out smaller in the cooperative breeding group and then get to the same size as all other chicks.
And so, what they’re suggesting is that it’s not necessarily the chicks that this is benefiting but the females because the females don’t have to put out as much energy to be able to raise — to lay the eggs, raise the young. They can increase their survivability.
Justin: Working moms.
Kirsten: And yes, they’re smart, smart working moms. And I think that’s it for our first half of the show.
Justin: We’ll be back for our second half hour of the show right after these very important message type things.
Kirsten: Stay tuned.
Kirsten: And we are back after our messages. We’d like welcome Dr. Albert Harrison into the studio. Thank you very much for joining us.
Albert Harrison: Well, good morning and thank you for having me today.
Kirsten: It’s a great pleasure. It’s really – it’s not often that we get people in the studio so this is a lot of fun getting to…
Albert: And I like studio and especially KDVS.
Kirsten: Have you come down here before?
Albert: Yes, I’ve been down once or twice and I just think it has immense character.
Kirsten: Oh, it definitely does.
Justin: That’s a good word for it. I would have… might done it – yes. Character is nice.
Albert: Too many studios are like hospital operating rooms in my opinion, so.
Kirsten: This definitely is not sanitary.
Dr. Harrison you are a Professor Emeritus of Psychology here at UC Davis and you’ve written several books about the human condition in space.
Albert: Yes. I’ve taught here as an active faculty member from 1967 through 2005. For about 30 years now, I’ve been involved in psychology as it broadly applies to space and space exploration.
My primary area of interest and one that very strong today is in working with NASA to try to improve the conditions and performance of astronauts and cosmonauts.
But over the years, I spread out into other areas including the search for extraterrestrial life and an entirely different area, the planetary defense which refers to the protection of Earth from asteroids and comets. So it’s a broad-based and a very weird situation for most psychologists.
Kirsten: Yes. But it sounds fascinating; I mean to get to spend your time thinking about, “Oh, what is it like to be traveling through space?”
Justin: Or even before the travel. Is there a protocol for say, an astronaut strapped in with the clock winding down ground control? I’ve kind of had a change of heart. Maybe space really isn’t for me. I mean is there…
Albert: I could give you…
Justin: …do you talk somebody through that or you could give a…?
Albert: I can give you a serious answer to that, and that is if it happened, you’d never hear about it.
Albert: No, that is not the time. That is not the time to have second doubts. The astronauts, despite some ribbing, they’re highly qualified, competent, they’re superbly trained individually, as in groups. And they can’t wait to get in space, the big moment; the whole reason is to do that.
But the people I’ve talked to about being afraid told me that they were too busy to be afraid. Sometimes they got a little nervous thinking about it in retrospect, but they were so busy, so well trained that fear didn’t enter into it.
Kirsten: Right. And as…
Justin: I always assumed their radio silence was to drown out the …. “Wait no, I didn’t really, I changed…”
Kirsten: Just wondering though, I mean being up in space especially like right now, we’ve got people who are up on the – who went up on the shuttle and they had something happen to the exterior of the shuttle that in past flights, actually ended in a horrific catastrophe, you know.
And so that’s got to add stress to the situation and…
Albert: It does and doesn’t add stress. I was in the room where they were working on the shuttle and the fact is that the tiles are very tricky. Some of them fall off…
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Albert: …that they get gouged. I actually was able to handle a couple of tiles that were being stripped off. Now, nobody can guarantee what’s going to happen at any given landing. It’s extremely difficult, dangerous, who knows. But one or two tiles I suspect that it’s important for NASA to acknowledge that be aware of it, conduct the (stellar) checks as they can. But if I were in the shuttle like that, that wouldn’t be a big worry for me frankly. I suspect they’ve gotten to see the tiles fall off the spaceship too.
Kirsten: Plenty of times. So you’ve written a really interesting book in addition to many others that you’ve written. But your most recent is called Starstruck: Cosmic Visions in Science, Religion and Folklore.
And I’ve been reading through it and I find the whole idea of how we as humans view space and are placed in it. And how that is so informed historically or was informed historically by myth and folklore and religion and now, science…
Kirsten: …and how that all ties together into what we think.
Albert: That’s what I do. There’s many people are thinking about our place in the universe in light of new scientific findings. But they don’t all make scientific interpretations of what’s going on.
And my overall view was that what we’re seeing is brainstorming going on about our place in the universe comes from scientists. It comes from people who believe in the reality of UFOs as being flown by extraterrestrials. And it appears in various religions.
And the different groups tend to distance themselves from each other. Yet, in some ways, they’re trying to deal with the same basic underlying issues – who are we? How did we get here? What’s going to happen next?
The reason I got fascinated by this as a psychologist is the tremendous acrimony or negativism that different groups sometimes direct towards each other.
And why is it that some people accept one type of evidence, others don’t, why do people – why are some people very close-minded, why are some so open-minded that their brains might fall out.
And so, I tried to put in this larger context of people as a whole thinking about these issues. And in this way, I depart from my earlier work which was really strictly from the perspective of scientist or at least, so I think.
Kirsten: What is that scientific perspective exactly? No. So you mentioned the difference in how maybe people view things. And I’m up against that right now. We’ve made this website called the unicornmuseum.org. And it’s a parody of the creation museum that was recently opened in Kentucky. And…
Kirsten: We’re getting people commenting and sending in e-mails. And it’s the stark – the line that falls between the two groups of people who are commenting is amazing. And the people are hurling insults and, putting up Straw Men and, attacking each other and not the logic behind it. And I just – it’s really interesting to witness.
Albert: Yes and it’s –I think if you’re — you may be able to stand back and look at it with something like that really hits the heart of so many people.
Albert: Either tremendous faith and science and cynicism towards religion, agnosticism, atheism or a real fundamental belief in the religion perhaps including that of a specific faith.
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Albert: You’ll find the same thing in UFOs versus skeptics that what happens is that when the evidence isn’t there, people imagine it. And then they go out after one another once they’ve run out of rational kinds of arguments. And it is knock down drag out tremendous kind of acrimony in some situations.
Albert: And it’s fascinating to watch. What I found is that there are number of people out there who are excellent scientists. I would say that again, excellent scientists, who are interested in what many other scientists consider to be fringe topics.
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Albert: And they pursue research in these areas but they do it secretly. And without giving any names, one that comes to mind is a person I know who works for a very respected research institute, doing very respectable work but in his garage is building a device to communicate with UFOs.
Albert: Now, what’s different here from the people you run into on TV is that a lot of these scientists are very socially aware. They know what – how other people are going to react to their activities and they simply don’t mention it.
Kirsten: Right. It’s in the garage.
Kirsten: Don’t tell anybody.
Albert: It is going to stay in the garage.
Albert: And unless they have reason to think that…
Kirsten: It works.
Albert: …it’s worth telling you about it, yes.
Justin: If I ever get to build my own home, I’m going to insulate it with tinfoil. That way, I don’t have to wear the hat. See, I can look like I’m not wearing the hat. I just want to – I haven’t had a chance to read your book yet. But judging…
Kirsten: I’ve been hugging it.
Justin: …by its cover, which is fair, I’m pretty good at doing that. I have to say, I really do enjoy the fact that you have cover art without a sleeve. It’s a hardback with cover art but no — because that’s the first thing that gets removed from any book in my collection…
Albert: Well, thank you.
Justin: …is that paper sleeve. It’s annoying. You can’t sit there and read with that thing on there. So you remove that and then you usually have a plain boring looking cover on the book. This one’s actually – I like the way it’s integrated.
Albert: Well, I really appreciate that. And the credit there is all due to Marion Berghahn and Berghahn Publishers. They do anthropology work. People can’t see the cover on the radio obviously but there’s a statue that can be interpreted in various ways.
Some people say, “Oh, that’s great. It looks like he’s looking to a telescope.” All the people say, “Hey, what’s this person getting smacked in the eye with?” likely to leave it, you get one shot. And most of the reactions have been positive. Thanks.
Kirsten: I’m glad to hear that you’ve had positive reactions from it. I’m definitely enjoying it. One thing that you do in the book is you bring in a lot of examples from movies at the starts of your chapters.
Albert: Sure. Sure.
Kirsten: The entertainment factor of – what I take to be examples of our popular mythologies.
Albert: Mm hmm. Yes. That’s deliberate. And the reason I do that and I do that in all my books. It may be movies. It may be a historical event. But try to find something to introduce the chapter that people have heard about can relate to.
Albert: And if I get you to think about George Burns in “Oh, God” and the implications of that movie or “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” which is extremely important for understanding our views about space, then hopefully it gets everybody thinking about these things. And it’s some kind of a common touchstone, you know what I mean.
Average people haven’t run radio telescopes, been out on flying saucer spotting, expeditions or calculated trajectories for comets and asteroids. So you need to find something that people can relate to. And frankly, I relate to it too. So it’s a kind of a gimmick but it’s hopefully a very positive and useful gimmick and it’s fun to do.
Kirsten: Absolutely. How do you feel about science fiction as maybe a modern mythology that also informs science? Because since the 1950’s, when science fiction was first becoming popular, we have had advancement in science that was kind of predicted by science fiction.
Albert: Yes. And in fact, the way you asked the question kind of answers it because that’s absolutely true. There’s a lot of elements in science fiction that have become incorporated in science or at least prompted people to think about is this possible or is that possible.
If you look at the people who are involved in the search for extra terrestrial intelligence, this is the scientific search now. Many of them have a profound interest in science fiction. Also in Ham Radio, so they were interested in distant communication.
It depends who you ask how many ideas from science fiction end up in science but the science fiction writer, Ben Bova is able to identify a number of places where some of his ideas such as Star Wars, appeared 30, 40 years before the reality.
The big problem is knowing where the science ends and the fiction begins.
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Albert: And I was – I have read some science fiction. I knew Paul Anderson. I’ve went to a workshop on science fiction that he put on. And he said that if you’re going to do science fiction right, you have to have an understanding of science and you have to know where the science ends and the fiction begins. And you may blur the line for the reader but you can’t – don’t trick yourself or you’ll do a lousy story.
Kirsten: That’s really interesting because I think there are a lot more physicists and astrophysicists, people who are actually active scientists who have or were active scientists who have gone into science fiction writing.
Albert: And if you look at astrophysics and some other parts of physics, what you’ll find is that there’s a lot of very intriguing theories. And these aren’t consistent with sort of everyday observations such as you drop an apple and it falls.
And what happens in this area of thinking about our place in the cosmos is people pick some of these ideas, try to extrapolate them to conclude, for example, the faster than light communication is possible or that there’s a greater consciousness that exists in any individual mind and so forth and so on.
So here are some of our most brilliant scientists and theoreticians producing ideas that other people are taking and running with them, not necessarily in directions that the physicists say would do it themselves, a fascinating kind of thing to watch.
Albert: Look. How is it that somebody who has trouble getting through physics 10, I mean can sit there and have a big discussion about wormholes, shortcuts to the universe or quantum communication? One reason is nobody – very few people understand these things so it’s easy to do it. Yes.
Kirsten: Right. How much do we really understand? We’re still grasping so much at what our universe is contained.
Albert: Very much ongoing and continue to be…
Justin: And all theoretical physics basically starts with some sort of science fiction because you’re postulating things that haven’t been proven that aren’t real. And it’s later that these things get tested and that we start to find out that not so much of it is fiction but there’s actually fact in there…
Albert: Yes. And a lot of these things are very, very hard to test. And then, people will be – they’ll eagerly grasp on to an experiment and over-interpret it or they’ll refuse to accept the data.
Remember, I’m a psychologist and I’m interested in psychology and culture.
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Albert: And this work is a labor of love in the sense that you can see some of my own conflicts and concerns and attempts to try to put things together, as I go through the various topics.
Justin: Do you have to limit yourself in your own self analysis though? I mean I do it to myself but I’m not a professional. I’ve been…
Albert: I think you have to be very attentive to whatever evidence is available – if evidence is available and usually there is. You have to be careful to do reality checks.
As a psychologist who works largely with astronomers, planetary scientists, astrophysicists, engineers and things like that, I have to be very, very careful on my psychology because they’re not in a position to evaluate my work.
So what I’ve been doing for the last 30 years is making sure that I get independent verification, you might say or independent evaluation of my work from other psychologists.
Kirsten: Before you go and give it to the astrophysicists.
Albert: Is this – yes – is this real psychology? Have I gone too far?
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Albert: I suspect in some cases, the answer is no, it isn’t and yes I have. But I am attentive and try to be professional and watch out.
It’s sort of like anthropologist going Egyptian, once they’ve been in the culture long enough, they go native, you know…
Kirsten: You never go back.
Albert: …kind of thing, never go back.
Kirsten: I’m wondering – I guess the big question at this point to so many scientists, I’ve seen people writing about it now is why do people – now that we have scientific facts coming at us so quickly now that, for the last 500 years, science has come to the forefront as a method for observing our world -why do people hold on to things like astrology, the belief in ghosts, these kind of pseudoscience beliefs?
Albert: They’re – a lot of these beliefs have formation very early in life and a lot of these beliefs are based on different ways of thinking about the universe or thinking about reality. For example, intuition versus science. There’s people who would much rather go with the gut feeling than with the big table of statistics and things.
And religion, remember that religion has been around for many, many, many tens or hundreds of thousands of years beginning, I understand, with the great sky God which gets us back to where we are now.
Albert: But what happens then is that, parents instill this. You hang around with people who believe the same thing you do. It’s reinforced. Today with the internet you can sort of build a world which supports your point of view by virtue of the websites you visit and the e-mail listservs that you’re on and things.
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Albert: But I don’t think that those differences will ever completely disappear. To me, I was brought up as a Congregationalist and I was – I went to Sunday school and stuff. And – but I, I really have trouble trying to comprehend how people can believe the world was formed 6,000 years ago.
Albert: By the way, most people who go to church don’t…
Kirsten: Don’t believe that.
Albert: …don’t really believe that.
Kirsten: Yes, we know.
Albert: And there’s a lot to be said for the religious world view. And not when it flies in the face of, in my opinion, not when it flies in the face of empirical established fact.
Kirsten: Right. I mean it kind of seems as though science is a methodology for allowing us to study the universe that we live in and that religion adds, for some people, it adds that mysticism. It adds that ability to believe in something larger than ourselves.
And do you think that, as people are pushing forward with science and – I mean here, in the United States, we’re not so much seeing a decrease in religious activism or in just the number of people who belong to churches. But in Europe, we’re seeing a decrease in the religious proportion of the population.
Justin: There’s a great example which is – there was this… a British researcher who teaches at somewhere at this University, who was teaching a class and got student who was a creationist. And she had – she kind of complained to the faculty that nobody prepared her for this possibility that she would encounter somebody like this because she’s like, “I would never have assumed I would ever have s student…
Justin: ….who would have this frame of mind.” They’d never – she had never encountered it in her own country. And people here are like, “Oh, yes. You just, try to not call on them when they raise their hand after every statement.”
Albert: Yes. The U.S. seems to have a fairly good commitment to fundamentalist religions in many parts. And there’s religious themes in space exploration, people ascending from earth in fiery chariots to demonstrate human perfection in space…
Albert: …I mean, it’s a – so it’s a fascinating, fascinating kind of thing to me and one that I grapple with I think I myself like the idea of some kind of a meaning or spirituality based on an idea of a universe full of life.
Albert: And in fact, the NASA historian, Steven J. Dick, proposes exactly such a religion called Cosmotheology. But it’s really – it’s not so much ritual and promises of an after life and things like that. It’s a way of looking at ourselves in a larger context than one that for many people would provide a sense of meaning and worthwhileness.
Albert: So, and then if you ever get a guest that could completely deal with science and religion, be sure to call me up on the phone because it’s a pretty vexing problem, you know.
Kirsten: It absolutely is. I was wondering – is it because of religion or is it more so just the human condition to want to believe in life in outer space?
Albert: In some ways, belief in life in outer space is analogous to belief in other kinds of life in outer space, that of God, the angels, other figures, no. And it does seem as if that for many people, there is a desire to see something out there, something that’s a very positive.
In fact, if you look at work that’s done on SETI and people’s beliefs, the – it’s almost always a positive kind of expectation about what they’d be like. They’re not going to come here and have us for dinner or blow our planet into the sun.
Justin: Voyager gave directions on that record on how to get there.
Kirsten: Turn left.
Justin: Yes. I mean that’s kind of like, if you had a negative – possibly a negative view, that wouldn’t be the best idea, telling how to find this.
Albert: The reality is that very high powered broadcasting has been going on since World War II and which means it is now about – we’ve got a sphere of electronic waves, you might say, progressing beyond earth at the rate of one light year per year and now 60 light years out.
Justin: Mm hmm.
Albert: We’re going to be able very, very shortly to have a really good idea which extra solar of planets are promising sights for life. Any advanced civilization will have acquired that long ago, I suspect, can’t prove it.
Justin: Yes. But the problem is that when by the time they show up here with a bottle of wine, we may already be gone.
Albert: That is definitely a problem.
Kirsten: And hopefully, it’s because we’ve, gotten space travel under control and we’re like, “See you later, Earth.”
Justin: Have you looked around at, yes, have you looked around at these people lately? We’re stuck with them. You and I aren’t getting out alone. It’s not happening. We’re stuck with the rest of these folks.
Kirsten: Good thing too. Dr. Albert Harrison, Starstruck: Cosmic Visions in Science, Religion and Folklore is his book. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Kirsten: It has been fascinating talking with you.
Albert: Oh, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
Kirsten: I have so many more questions so unfortunately we’re out of time. But I hope that we can get you back on the show sometime.
Albert: Absolutely. And thanks again. It was really fun.
Kirsten: Yes, I had a great time.
Justin: Yes, me too. And if you learned anything from today’s show, remember…
Kirsten: It’s all in your head.
Listen the podcast here: http://www.twis.org/audio/2007/08/21/145/