Friday, 8 November 2019

Cosmological crisis: We don't know if the universe is round or flat

Travel far enough in the universe and you could end up back where you began. Measurements from the Planck space observatory have shown that the universe might be shaped like a sphere rather than a flat sheet, which would change nearly everything we think we know about the cosmos.
The Planck observatory, which operated from 2009 to 2013, mapped the cosmic microwave background, a sea of light left over from the big bang.
One set of observations showed that there was more gravitational lensing – stretching of the light due to the shape of space-time, which can be distorted by heavy matter – than expected. Alessandro Melchiorri at the Sapienza University of Rome and his colleagues calculated that this could be because the shape of the universe is different from what we thought.
All other cosmological data suggests the universe is flat, meaning it has no curvature, similar to a sheet of paper. These Planck measurements indicate that it could be “closed”, or spherical, which would mean that if you travelled far enough in one direction, you would end up back where you started. That is because the extra lensing implies the presence of extra dark matter, which would pull the universe into a finite sphere instead of a flat sheet.
According to these observations, the universe is 41 times more likely to be closed than flat. “This is the most precise cosmological data and it is giving us a different picture,” says Melchiorri.
If the universe is indeed closed, that could be a major problem for our understanding of the cosmos. Another cosmological puzzle is that the nearby universe seems to be expanding faster than it ought to. This is tough to explain with our standard model of cosmology, which includes a flat universe, and the team calculated that this gets even tougher with a spherical universe, along with a few other cosmic mismatches we have yet to explain. It is so bad that they are calling it a “cosmological crisis”.
“In a closed universe, these anomalies are more serious than we thought,” says Melchiorri. “If nothing is in agreement, we have to think hard about our model of the universe and its formation.”
The usual explanation of the universe’s formation includes a period just after the big bang called inflation, when the universe rapidly expanded. Our current models of inflation naturally lead to a flat universe, so if the universe is actually closed, they would have to change.
“We need a new model, and we don’t know what that is yet,” says Melchiorri. Nobody has come up with a way to reconcile these Planck observations with the many cosmological measurements that disagree, which even include some of the other observations from the Planck observatory.
In fact, every other cosmological measurement that we have points to a flat universe. There are no other observations that hint the cosmos may actually be closed, and there is a chance that this Planck measurement is just a statistical fluke.
“If this is true, it would have profound implications on our understanding of the universe,” says David Spergel at Princeton University. “It’s a really important claim, but I’m not sure it’s one that’s backed by the data. In fact, I’d say the evidence is actually against it.”
More data in the next few years will show whether we need to take this anomaly seriously or if it is simply a statistical fluke, says Spergel. The Simons Observatory, which is currently being built in Chile, will be able to measure gravitational lensing even more precisely than Planck, and it should tell us whether or not there really is a cosmological crisis.
Journal reference: Nature Astronomy, DOI: 10.1038/s41550-019-0906-9

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

The Spider's Web: Britain's Second Empire (Documentary)

In July 2017 director Michael Oswald’s latest film, The Spider’s Web: Britain’s Second Empire was premiered at the Frontline Club in London. It has since had several screenings in London and public screenings can be organised from November onwards.  This fascinating interview just published in Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten explores what inspired co-producers Michael Oswald and John Christensen to make a film documentary about London’s role as the world’s pre-eminent tax haven.  Oswald and Christensen also talk about how London might develop once Brexit kicks in, exploring the possibility of deepening the City’s tax haven role through further tax cuts for the rich and more rolling back of financial market regulation and other social protections.
The key inspiration, according to Michael Oswald, was Nicholas Shaxson’s best-selling Treasure Islands, which explained the way in which the formal British Empire morphed into a spider’s web of tax havens gathering financial wealth from across the world and funnelling it through to the City. As Oswald explains, this helped to re-establish London as the financial capital of Capital:
At the time of the British Empire, Britain structured its economy not around manufacturing and productive sectors, but around finance. City of London banks provided the financing for the Empire and the colonies would pay interest to the City.
As Britain’s Empire declined, City of London institutions were increasingly confronted by circumstances that limited their ability to function and make a profit. It was out of this need that various financial interests sought to fashion for themselves spaces in which they could continue to operate and profit. In order to create these spaces they used the expertise developed during empire and the territorial remnants of the Empire, such as Britain’s dependent territories, financial expertise and networks established during Empire and the knowledge of how to establish, run and benefit from an international financial system.”
Much of the expertise built up during the final decades of the formal empire was focused on ways to avoid paying taxes both in the colonies and in Britain itself.  In the 1920s and 30s offshore companies and trusts were increasingly used to avoid and evade paying taxes.  In the 1950s, with the emergence of the London-based Eurodollar market, international banks found themselves able to operate in a virtually unregulated financial market which the authorities – in this case the Bank of England – treated in a totally laissez-faire fashion.
As Christensen says in the interview, successive British governments have not only turned a blind eye to the British spider’s web of tax havens, they have actively supported its growth by blocking international attempts to tackle it:
“Britain has consistently voted against creating a globally representative inter-governmental body to shape a framework of rules to strengthen international cooperation on tax matters. Britain has successfully resisted international pressure to take effective action against its tax havens in the Channel Islands, the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, and other British dependencies.
I have observed British officials blocking attempts to strengthen international cooperation on tax information exchange by keeping discussion on offshore trusts off the agenda. This happened as recently as 2015 when Prime Minister David Cameron pushed to have trusts excluded from information exchange processes. This is a pivotal issue since offshore trusts are key to the British tax haven secrecy model. Britain has also spent years blocking EU attempts to make progress towards a common approach to taxing multinational companies (the Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base).”
Fast forward to the present and it seems clear, especially post-financial crisis, that Britain’s reliance on the City as the engine of growth in the UK economy is a risky development strategy. Christensen again:
“The British economy is heavily reliant on external trade in services which is dominated by financial services. Any shock to the financial services sector, for example arising from being denied access to the EU Single Market, would be highly damaging to the economy.”
Which raises the inevitable question about where the British spider’s web might go post-Brexit.  Many of the services previously provided from London cannot be provided without the Single Market, which will require London-based banks and law firms to establish permanent establishment with the EU-27.  The British tax havens see new market possibilities in China, India, the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa, but this will probably involve laundering ever larger amounts of dirty money and enabling ever more tax avoidance.  The problem, as Christensen sees it, is that Britain has failed to plan for industrial diversification for decades and now faces limited development options:
Prime Minister May and her finance minister have already indicated that deepening Britain’s tax haven role is an option. This is a sign of weakness since a race-to-the-bottom on regulation, secrecy and corporate taxation would probably expose Britain to risks relating to financial stability and fiscal sustainability.”
Is this a viable development strategy?  Unquestionably there will be winners: oligarchs, kleptocrats and the multifarious aristocrats, bankers, lawyers, spooks and retired politicians who benefit from Britain’s tax haven empire.  For the vast majority of people in Britain, however, hosting the world’s largest tax haven has no benefits whatsoever and offers only the prospect of further relative decline and social division.  As Oswald comments in the interview:
This is something we explore in the documentary, in the case of the US and the UK, services do not make up for the reduction in industrial capacity. Michael Hudsonexplains that it is through attracting international capital whose origins may very well be criminal that this has become a possibility in the US and the UK.”
Read the full interview here.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

The secrets of the pineal gland....

DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine) is a hallucinogenic tryptamine drug that occurs naturally in many plants and animals. It is also referred to as the "spirit molecule" due to the intense psychedelic experience.

Sunday, 28 July 2019

Consciousness is a Big Problem for Science (by Gaia)

Can Science Explain Consciousness?

Science has provided humanity with an incredible understanding of our physical world. But when it comes to the issue of the human mind, progress has been slow and littered with issues. Materialist science is attempting to prove that consciousness is merely a byproduct of the complex processes in the brain, and inseparable from the physical body. In simpler terms, your “mind” is the resulting process of neurons firing in your brain, nothing more and nothing less. Unfortunately, there is no actual neurological proof to support this idea, and for many who are deeply studying the question of the mind, these scientists are not looking in the right place, or using the right methods.

Alternative theories propose non-local consciousness: the idea that our brains are merely the physical conduit for the mind, not the source of its origin. These theories often explore fringe cases, such as near-death experiences, precognition, and psychic phenomena, in hopes that they can provide a more complete picture of the human mind. Of course, the majority of this evidenceis not measurable to the extent that most mainstream, materialist scientists would accept. Responding to eye-witness accounts describing near-death experience, Neil DeGrasse Tyson said:

“Give me something that does not have to flow through your senses, because your senses are some of the worst data taking devices that exist, and modern science did not achieve maturity until we had instruments that either extended our senses or replaced them.”

Indeed, from the simplest microscope to the large hadron collider, it is impossible to imagine scientific progress without such instruments. But, if our senses are considered fallible as scientific instruments, what should we make of the mind we use to process and interpret this collected data? Human consciousness must be considered as unreliable as our senses, perhaps even more unreliable, as we know far less about the mind than we do about our sense organs.

This paradoxical reality is a serious issue for science: how can we study the human mind if the only tool we have at our disposal is the human mind itself?

In his book, Why Science Is Wrong, science podcaster Alex Tsakiris sums up the problem: “If my consciousness is more than my physical brain, then consciousness is the X-factor in every science experiment. It’s the asterisk in the footnotes that says, ‘We came as close as we could, but we had to leave out consciousness in order to make our numbers work.’”

Does Consciousness Exist Outside The Brain?

Part of this “consciousness problem” in scientific study is the “observer effect”: the theory that simply observing a situation or phenomenon necessarily changes that phenomenon. On a quantum level, physicists found that even passive observation of quantum phenomena can change the measured result, leading to the popular belief that a conscious mind can directly affect reality.

According to physicist John Wheeler, quantum mechanics implies that our observations of reality influence its unfolding. We live in a “participatory universe,” in which mind is as important as matter. Our belief in what is possible might actually create those possibilities, and it might reinforce the physical nature of our entire universe. If we do, in fact, co-create a shared consciousness, then our beliefs would necessarily influence our science.

Dan Siegel, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine, has argued for decades that we can not simply look inside the brain when trying to understand the mind: “I realized if someone asked me to define the coastline but insisted, is it the water or the sand, I would have to say the coast is both sand and sea,” says Siegel. “I started thinking, maybe the mind is like the coastline. Your thoughts, feelings, memories, attention, what you experience in this subjective world is part of mind.”

Those exploring the outer frontiers of consciousness study are willing to take this idea much, much further. Ervin Laszlo, PhD is one of many thinkers who proposes the idea of a cosmic consciousness, describing it as a web that connects the entire universe. This field manifests locally in the human brain, theoretically meaning that the brain is able to connect to the consciousness of the entire universe. He calls this deep dimension of consciousness the Akashic Field, borrowing the term from ancient Hindu philosophy. In support of this theory, he presents numerous case-studies of near-death experiences, after-death communication, and recollections of past lives.

Laszlo writes: “We are beginning to see the entire universe as a holographically interlinked network of energy and information. We, and all things in the universe, are non-locally connected with each other and with all other things in ways that are unfettered by the hitherto known limitations of space and time.”

Those “known limitations of space and time” are the border walls of materialist science, and in the last century, quantum mechanics has begun to tear that wall down, one brick at a time. Quantum entanglement proves that tiny particles can communicate instantaneously in defiance of our known rules governing space and time. Many have hypothesized that if these tiny particles can remain connected outside of standard physical means, than the entire universe is inherently connected, as Laszlo and others have suggested.  And while that may someday be proven true, we have barely scratched the surface when it comes to the quantum implications of the mind.

Although there is extensive evidence for non-local consciousness, it is rarely embraced by mainstream scientists because it can’t be measured using currently available technology, and that makes significant progress challenging. Accepting non-locality forces the rejection of a purely materialist worldview, and that is a huge disruption for our current scientific paradigm, which dominates consensus thinking on how we understand the world. Yet, the study of consciousness is slowly forcing materialistic science to admit it may not be able to explain everything.

As Nikola Tesla famously said, “The day science begins to study non-physical phenomena, it will make more progress in one decade than in all the previous centuries of its existence.” The study of human consciousness could be the motivating factor pushing us towards that new frontier.