2011 has been a novelty-filled year with an enormous amount of incredible and fantastic discoveries in all areas of the human experiences. Most people already know about the global revolutions that have significantly shaken up the order of things but how about the other news stories that didn’t necessarily gain front page coverage but may be just as significant? We’re going to give you the top 40 most paradigm-shifting stories of 2011 that will hopefully show you just how much incredible progress at understanding ourselves and our reality. If you wish to read up more, click on the titles to go to their source articles.
General Paradigm Shifts
The Amondawa people who live deep in the Amazonian rainforests of Brazil have no watches or calendars and live their lives to the patterns of day and night and the rainy and dry seasons. They also have no age – and mark the transition from childhood to adulthood to old age by changing their name. The team of researchers, led by University of Portsmouth, said that it is the first time they have been able to prove time is not a deeply entrenched universal human concept, as previously thought. They also have their own language which have a number system but it only goes up to four. They also found nobody in the community had an age. Instead, they change their names to reflect their life-stage and position within their society.
Humans may have a sixth sense after all, suggests a new study finding that a protein in the human retina, when placed into fruit flies, has the ability to detect magnetic fields. The researchers caution that the results suggest this human protein has the capability to work as a magnetosensor. Past research has suggested that in addition to helping animals such as sea turtles and migratory birds navigate, the ability to detect magnetic fields could help with visual spatial perception. The human protein only worked in the blue range of light, the researchers found.
Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have found that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society. The scientists, used computational and analytical methods to discover the tipping point where a minority belief becomes the majority opinion. The finding has implications for the study and influence of societal interactions ranging from the spread of innovations to the movement of political ideals. An important aspect of the finding is that the percent of committed opinion holders required to shift majority opinion does not change significantly regardless of the type of network in which the opinion holders are working. In other words, the percentage of committed opinion holders required to influence a society remains at approximately 10 percent, regardless of how or where that opinion starts and spreads in the society.
A recent study from the University of St. Gallen, in Switzerland led by forensics expert Pascal Scherrer and prison administrator Thomas Noll, finds that professional stock traders actually outperform diagnosed psychopaths when it comes to competitive and risk-taking behavior. According to Der Spiegel, Scherrer and Noll had a group of 28 stockbrokers participate in various simulations and intelligence tests, and then compared their results to a group of psychopaths. They found that the traders showed a higher degree of competitiveness than the psychopaths — and that the traders were surprisingly willing to cause harm to their competitors if they thought it would bring them an advantage.
Like all good narrators, we tend to forsake the facts when they interfere with the plot. We’re so addicted to the anecdote that we let the truth slip away until, eventually, those stories we tell again and again become exercises in pure fiction. We tweak our stories so that they become better stories. We bend the facts so that the facts appeal to the group. Because we are social animals, our memory of the past is constantly being revised to fit social pressures. The power of this phenomenon was demonstrated in a new Science paper by Micah Edelson, Tali Sharot, Raymond Dolan and Yadin Dudai. The neuroscientists were interested in how the opinion of other people can alter our personal memories, even over a relatively short period of time and the results confirmed the social conformity effect.
Researchers have found evidence for the existence of a hypnotic state — the key was in the glazed staring eyes. The researchers used high-resolution eye-tracking methodology and presented a set of well-established oculomotor tasks that trigger automatic eye behavior. They found the glazed stare was accompanied by objectively measurable changes in automatic, reflexive eye behavior that could not be imitated by non-hypnotized participants. In the field of hypnosis research this result means that hypnosis can no longer be regarded as mental imagery that takes place during a totally normal waking state of consciousness. On the other hand, the result may have wider consequences for psychology and cognitive neuroscience, since it provides the first evidence of the existence of a conscious state in humans that has previously not been scientifically confirmed.
Skin is able to detect ultraviolet light by using a receptor previously thought to only exist in the eye.
This eye-like ability of skin to sense light triggers the production of melanin within hours, more quickly than previously thought, in an apparent rush to protect against damage to DNA. “As soon as you step out into the sun, your skin knows that it is exposed to UV radiation,” says senior author Elena Oancea, assistant professor of biology at Brown University. “This is a very fast process, faster than anything that was known before.” Elena Oancea and Nadine Wicks have discovered that skin cells contain rhodopsin, a photosensitive receptor used by the eye to detect light, and use it as a self-defense measure against damage to DNA.
Health and Wellness
Although it may seem intuitive, it is now scientifically established that happy people have an advantage over unhappy ones–they may be healthier and may live longer. An extensive review of literature using seven types of evidence indicates that high subjective well-being (SWB), such as life satisfaction, optimism, and positive emotions, causes better health and longevity. The review, published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being (2011), examined 160 studies which showed compelling evidence that positive feelings predict health and longevity. The findings of the review, based from seven types of evidence which are longitudinal studies, physiology and health, experimental manipulations of emotions, animal studies, quasi-experimental studies in natural settings, and interventions that influence subjective well-being ( SWB). In sum, these converging studies form a compelling proof that SWB, such as happiness, causally influences health and longevity.
Eating chips, chocolate and cake may be damaging to a child’s intelligence, according to researchers at Bristol University. Their study suggests a link between a diet high in processed foods and a slightly lower IQ. They suggest poor nutrition may affect brain development. The eating habits of 3,966 children taking part in the The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children were recorded at the ages of 3, 4, 7, & 8.5. The researchers said three types of diet emerged: Processed diets which were high in fat, sugar and convenience foods, traditional diets of meat, potato and vegetables, and health conscious diets of salads, fruit and fish. The children all took IQ tests when they were 8.5. The researchers found a link between IQ and diet, even after taking into account other factors such as the mother’s level of education, social class and duration of breast feeding. A diet high in processed food at the age of three was linked to a slightly lower IQ at the age of eight and a half, suggesting early eating habits have a long term impact. Although the relationship between diet and IQ was very strong, the impact was quite small. Processed foods were linked with IQs only a few points lower.
The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) has just completed a detailed review of more than 7,000 clinical studies covering links between diet and cancer. The most authoritative ever report on bowel cancer risk has confirmed that red and processed meat increase risk of the disease and concluded that the evidence that foods containing fibre protect against bowel cancer has become stronger. Their recommendation is to limit intake of red meat to 500g (cooked weight) per week and avoid processed meat entirely, essentially declaring it unsafe for human consumption.
Cuddling and caressing help boost satisfaction in long-term relationships, according to a new study of middle-aged and older couples. The study also found that tenderness is more important to men than to women, that men are more likely to report being happy in their relationship, and that women are more likely to be satisfied with their sexual relationship, said the researchers from the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University. The participants were 40- to 70-year-old men and their female partners. Men were more likely to be happy in a relationship if they were in good health and if it was important to them that their partner experienced orgasm during sex. Frequent cuddling and kissing also predicted relationship happiness for men, but not for women. Both women and men were happier the longer they had been together and if they had higher levels of sexual functioning, the investigators found.
Stress can kill on a dramatic scale, according to a new study of immature dragonflies forced to live next to scary predators. In a newly published study, dragonfly larvae living within sight and smell of a predators such as fish had 2.5 to 4.3 times higher mortality than dragonfly larvae living in a predator-free environment — even though the dragonfly larvae were protected by a cage and could never be eaten by the predators. It was particularly surprising because dragonfly larvae are typically so hardy and robust — they can withstand dirty water, crowded conditions and even being out of the water they normally live in for short periods of time — qualities that make them good subjects to study in the lab. Because of that, researchers suspect that stress can have significant impacts on mortality in other organisms.
Immature remarks aside, hugging trees has now been shown to have scientific validity after all. Contrary to popular belief, touching a tree does make you healthier. In fact you don’t even have to touch the tree to get better, just being within its vicinity has the same effect. In a recently published book, Blinded by Science, the author Matthew Silverstone, proves scientifically that trees improve many health issues such as; mental illnesses, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), concentration levels, reaction times, depression and the ability to alleviate headaches. The answer to how plants and trees affect us physiologically turns out to be very simple. It is all to do with the fact that everything vibrates, and different vibrations affect biological behaviors. It has been proven that if you drink a glass of water that has been treated with a 10Hz vibration your blood coagulation rates will change immediately on ingesting the treated water. It is the same with trees, when touching a tree its different vibrational pattern will affect various biological behaviours within your body. This vibrational idea is backed up throughout the book by hundreds of scientific studies to provide overwhelming proof that ‘tree hugging’ as it has been called has scientific basis.
Scientists analysing remains at a prehistoric burial ground in Jordan have uncovered a grave in which a fox was buried with a human, dated thousands of years before cats and dogs were kept as companions. They believe that the unprecedented case – in which the remains of the animal and the man were then partially transferred to an adjacent grave – points to some kind of emotional link between human and fox. Their study suggests that the fox may have been kept as a pet and was being buried to accompany its master, or mistress, to the afterlife. If so, it marks the first known burial of its kind and suggests that long before man hunted foxes using dogs, our ancestors were keeping them as pets. The cemetery, at Uyun-al-Hammam, in northern Jordan, is about 16,500 years old, which makes the grave 4,000 years older than the earliest known human-dog burial.
According to the British Geological Survey (BGS), we could now be headed into a magnetic reversal. The South Atlantic Anomaly is growing and spreading westwards from South Africa as the Earth’s internal magnetic field rapidly weakens in this region. “The Earth’s magnetic field, generated deep within the planet, is a shield against particle radiation from space,” the BGS article continues. “In the South Atlantic this shield is much weaker than elsewhere across the globe and radiation from space therefore penetrates deeper into the atmosphere. This region is known as the South Atlantic Anomaly (SAA) and the radiation in the SAA is a known hazard to satellites, spacecraft and high-altitude aircraft.” The earth’s magnetic field strength declines dramatically during a magnetic reversal. This reduces our shielding and allows more and more radioactivity onto our planet which can cause mutations and transformations of biological systems and consciousness.
According to biologists, we may be on the verge of discovering the fourth domain of life. The bold statement is the result of an analysis of water samples collected from the world’s seas. Jonathan Eisen at the University of California, Davis, Genome Center has identified gene sequences hidden within these samples that are so unusual they seem to have come from organisms that are only distantly related to cellular life as we know it. So distantly related, in fact, that they may belong to an organism that sits in an entirely new domain.
Scientists have captured the first image of a “quaternary” rainbow – the fourth rainbow caused by the bending of light through water in the air. This refraction frequently creates a visible second rainbow, but until now, no-one had caught sight of the fainter third and fourth arcs that the process creates in a different part of the sky. The first tertiary, or third, rainbow has only just been caught on film. Unfortunately, the pictures are not as striking as more familiar images of double rainbows – and some image processing was the only way to make the arcs visible at all. That is principally due to the fact that the tertiary and quaternary rainbows are by definition far fainter than their more familiar cousins.
A new study has found that ornamental fish across the U.S. — all 182.9 million of them — are at risk of becoming aggressive due to cramped, barren housing. researcher Ronald Oldfield’s paper is the first to scientifically study how the environment of home aquariums affects the aggressive behavior of ornamental fishes. Oldfield compared the behavior of Midas cichlid (Amphilophus citrinellus) in a variety of environments: within their native range in a crater lake in Nicaragua, in a large artificial stream in a zoo, and in small tanks of the sizes typically used to by pet owners. The study looked at just juvenile fish in order to remove the possibility of aggressive behavior related to mating. The experiments were also set up so that the fish weren’t competing for food and shelter. In addition to tank size, he tested the complexity of an environment and the effects of the number of fish within tanks. Tanks with more complexity, and of a larger size, helped to reduce aggressive behaviors. Tempers were observed to literally flare, however, in the less desirable aquariums, with perturbed fish flaring their fins. More frustrated fish nipped, chased, charged, and even murdered each other.
Antiprotons appear to ring the Earth, confined by the planet’s magnetic field lines. The antimatter, which may persist for minutes or hours before annihilating with normal matter, could in theory be used to fuel ultra-efficient rockets of the future. Charged particles called cosmic rays constantly rain in from space, creating a spray of new particles – including antiparticles – when they collide with particles in the atmosphere. Many of these become trapped inside the Van Allen radiation belts, two doughnut-shaped zones around the planet where charged particles spiral around the Earth’s magnetic field lines. Satellites had already discovered positrons – the antimatter partners of electrons – in the radiation belts. Now a spacecraft has detected antiprotons, which are nearly 2000 times as massive.
Wild crows can recognise individual human faces and hold a grudge for years against people who have treated them badly. This ability – which may also exist in other wild animals – highlights how carefully some animals monitor the humans with whom they share living space. Field biologists have observed that crows seem to recognise them, and a few researchers have even gone to the extreme of wearing masks when capturing birds to band them, so that they could later observe the birds without upsetting them. Whenever a person wearing the same mask approached those crows later, the birds scolded them loudly.
Stanford scientists have plugged in to algae cells and harnessed a tiny electric current. They found it at the very source of energy production – photosynthesis, a plant’s method of converting sunlight to chemical energy. “We believe we are the first to extract electrons out of living plant cells,” said WonHyoung Ryu, the lead author of the paper published in the March issue of Nano Letters. The Stanford research team developed a unique, ultra-sharp nanoelectrode made of gold, specially designed for probing inside cells. They gently pushed it through the algal cell membranes, which sealed around it, and the cell stayed alive. From the photosynthesizing cells, the electrode collected electrons that had been energized by light and the researchers generated a tiny electric current.
Thousands and possibly millions of king crabs are marching through icy, deep-sea waters and up the Antarctic slope. “They are coming from the deep, somewhere between 6,000 to 9,000 feet down,” said James McClintock, Ph.D., University of Alabama at Birmingham Endowed Professor of Polar and Marine Biology. Shell-crushing crabs haven’t been in Antarctica, Earth’s southernmost continent, for hundreds or thousands, if not millions, of years, McClintock said. The king crabs’ large numbers on the slope suggest that they are increasing in number at a rate faster than anticipated. McClintock and his fellow researchers are exploring causes for the invasion, which they believe is linked to human-induced climate warming.
Space & Physics
Entanglement is the strange quantum phenomenon in which two or more particles become so deeply linked that they share the same existence. Jay Olson and Timothy Ralph at the University of Queensland in Australia say they’ve discovered a new type of entanglement that extends, not through space, but through time. They found that entanglement is so deeply enmeshed in the universe that a measurement in the past has an automatic influence on the future. What they’re saying is that it’s possible to travel into the future without being present during the time in between.
In a new study, scientists have created a sonic analogue of a black hole in the lab – that is, a sonic black hole in which sound waves rather than light waves are absorbed and cannot escape. The researchers created the sonic black hole in a Bose-Einstein condensate made of 100,000 rubidium atoms slowed to their lowest quantum state in a magnetic trap. This cold cluster of atoms acts like a single, large quantum mechanical object. In order to transform this condensate into a sonic black hole, the scientists had to find a way to accelerate some of the condensate to supersonic speeds so that the condensate would contain some regions of supersonic flow and some regions of subsonic flow. The scientists achieved this acceleration by shining a large-diameter laser on the condensate in such a way as to create a steplike potential and a harmonic potential. When the condensate crosses the “step” in the steplike potential, the condensate accelerates to supersonic speeds. The scientists demonstrated that the condensate could accelerate to more than an order of magnitude faster than the speed of sound.
A team of physicists have coaxed sparks from the vacuum of empty space. According to theory, a mirror can absorb energy from virtual photons onto its surface and then re-emit that energy as real photons. The effect only works when the mirror is moving through a vacuum at nearly the speed of light — which is almost impossible for everyday mechanical devices. Per Delsing, a physicist at the Chalmers University of Technology, and his colleagues circumvented this problem using a piece of quantum electronics known as a superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID), which is extraordinarily sensitive to magnetic fields. The team fashioned a superconducting circuit in which the SQUID effectively acted as a mirror. Passing a magnetic field through the SQUID moved the mirror slightly, and switching the direction of magnetic field several billion times per second caused it to ‘wiggle’ at around 5% the speed of light, a speed great enough to see the effect. The result was a shower of microwave photons shaken loose from the vacuum, the team claims. The group’s analysis shows that the frequency of the photons was roughly half the frequency at which they wiggled the mirror — as was predicted by quantum theory.
The edge of our solar system is filled with a turbulent sea of magnetic bubbles, according to new NASA research. Scientists made the discovery by using a new computer model, which is based on data from NASA’s twin Voyager probes. The unmanned Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, which launched in 1977, are plying the outer reaches of our solar system, a region known as the heliosheath.
There is a space-time vortex around Earth, and its shape precisely matches the predictions of Einstein’s theory of gravity. Researchers confirmed these points at a press conference at NASA headquarters where they announced the long-awaited results of Gravity Probe B. “The space-time around Earth appears to be distorted just as general relativity predicts,” says Stanford University physicist Francis Everitt, principal investigator of the Gravity Probe B mission. Pulling off the experiment was an exceptional challenge. But after a year of data-taking and nearly five years of analysis, the GP-B scientists appear to have done it.
Researchers working with Gerhard Rempe at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Garching have stored quantum information in a single atom. The researchers wrote the quantum state of single photons, i.e. particles of light, into a rubidium atom and read it out again after a certain storage time. This technique can be used in principle to design powerful quantum computers and to network them with each other across large distances.
Researchers from Australia and Japan have successfully teleported wave packets of light, potentially revolutionizing quantum communications and computing. The team, led by researchers at the University of Tokyo, say this is the first-ever teleportation, or transfer, of a particular complex set of quantum information from one point to another. Professor Elanor Huntington, of the School of Engineering and Information Technology at UNSW’s Canberra campus, explains that teleportation — the transfer of quantum information from one location to another using normal, “classical” communications — is a fundamental quantum communication technique.
Recent observations of Pluto reveal that the icy orb’s atmosphere has expanded dramatically since 2000, and for the first time researchers have detected carbon monoxide. The findings may be evidence of seasonal changes in climate linked to Pluto’s most recent close approach to the sun, but scientists still aren’t sure about how those variations unfold over the course of each 248-year orbit. Pluto is the only object orbiting in the frigid realm beyond Neptune that is known to have an atmosphere. That tenuous sheath of gas was discovered in 1988 when the “dwarf planet” passed between Earth and a distant star, blocking some of the star’s light. Although telescopic observations at various wavelengths since the early 1990s have since identified several substances in Pluto’s surface ices—including nitrogen, methane, and carbon monoxide—only methane had been detected previously in its atmosphere. Now scientists can add carbon monoxide to the mix. New observations of the atmosphere’s emissions at various wavelengths, particularly at the 1.3-millimeter wavelength, betray the presence of the gas for the first time.
A group of three researchers from KEK, Shizuoka University and Osaka University has for the first time revealed the way our universe was born with 3 spatial dimensions from 10-dimensional superstring theory in which spacetime has 9 spatial directions and 1 temporal direction. This result was obtained by numerical simulation on a supercomputer. In this study, the team established a method for calculating large matrices (in the IKKT matrix model), which represent the interactions of strings, and calculated how the 9-dimensional space changes with time. In the figure, the spatial extents in 9 directions are plotted against time. If one goes far enough back in time, space is indeed extended in 9 directions, but then at some point only 3 of those directions start to expand rapidly. This result demonstrates, for the first time, that the 3-dimensional space that we are living in indeed emerges from the 9-dimensional space that superstring theory predicts.
Scientists have linked two diamonds in a mysterious process called entanglement that is normally only seen on the quantum scale. This demonstrates that quantum mechanical effects are not limited to the microscopic scale. “It’s big enough you can see it,” Walmsley told LiveScience of the diamonds.”They’re sitting on the table, out in plain view. The laboratory isn’t particularly cold or particularly hot, it’s just your everyday room.”
According to a new study, it was found that one of the four known fundamental forces, electromagnetism – measured by the so-called fine-structure constant and denoted by the symbol ‘alpha’ – seems to vary across the Universe. The first hints that alpha might not be constant came a decade ago when Professor John Webb, Professor Victor Flambaum, and other colleagues at UNSW and elsewhere, analysed observations from the Keck Observatory, in Hawaii. Those observations were restricted to one broad area in the sky. In the new study Professor Webb said that “In one direction – from our location in the Universe – alpha gets gradually weaker, yet in the opposite direction it gets gradually stronger.”
It has been one of the great mysteries of human existence but scientists have cracked what happened to our Neanderthal ancestors, who ruled the globe for 300,000 years then suddenly vanished. Modern humans, who evolved in the cradle of Africa, arrived in Europe with more than ten times the population of the Neanderthals and took over their habitats. This dramatic increase in numbers meant the Neanderthals were unable to compete for animals and scarce food supplies during the freezing sub-zero winters. ‘Faced with this kind of competition, the Neanderthals seem to have retreated initially into more marginal and less attractive regions of the continent and eventually – within a space of at most a few thousand years – for their populations to have declined to extinction….around 40,000 years ago.’
Some of the human X chromosome originates from Neanderthals and is found exclusively in people outside Africa, according to an international team of researchers led by Damian Labuda of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Montreal and the CHU Sainte-Justine Research Center. “This confirms recent findings suggesting that the two populations interbred,” says Dr. Labuda. His team places the timing of such intimate contacts and/or family ties early on, probably at the crossroads of the Middle East. When the Neanderthal genome was sequenced in 2010, is was compared 6000 chromosomes from all parts of the world to the Neanderthal haplotype. The Neanderthal sequence was present in peoples across all continents, except for sub-Saharan Africa, and including Australia.
Radiocarbon dating confirmed: Bosnia’s Moon Pyramid was built about ten thousand years ago. The research project of the Bosnian Valley of the Pyramids is the largest archaeological project in the world. Over the past seven years researchers spent 340.000 working hours excavating the pyramids, and some 700 people from 42 countries/ six continents applied for positions as volunteers in 2011. Backed by experts from other countries like Italy, Russia and Egypt, who unanimously confirmed the existence of the Bosnian pyramids, the attacks of those who spoke out against the project seem to have ceased.
A new satellite survey of Egypt reportedly found 17 lost pyramids along with more than 1,000 tombs and 3,000 ancient settlements. The survey used infra-red images to detect underground buildings, the BBC reports. Satellites above the earth were equipped with cameras that could pin-point objects on the earth’s surface less than three-feet wide. The infra-red imaging then highlighted different materials under the surface, it states.
Hidden for centuries, the ancient Maya city of Holtun, or Head of Stone, is finally coming into focus. Three-dimensional mapping has “erased” centuries of jungle growth, revealing the rough contours of nearly a hundred buildings, according to research presented earlier this month. Using GPS and electronic distance-measurement technology last year, the researchers plotted the locations and elevations of a seven-story-tall pyramid, an astronomical observatory, a ritual ball court, several stone residences, and other structures. The findings at Head of Stone—named for giant masks found at the site—could shed light on how “secondary” Maya centers were organized and what daily life was like for Maya living outside of the larger metropolitan areas such as Tikal, about 22 miles to the north, according to Kathryn Reese-Taylor, a Preclassic Maya specialist at Canada’s University of Calgary.
Paleontologists working high in a remote range of Antarctic mountains have found a new species of primitive dinosaur dating back to nearly 200 million years ago — a time when one of the coldest parts of the world was a temperate forest. William Hammer of Augustana College found the new creature — a four- to five-foot ornithischian or bird-hipped dinosaur that he believes is related to the fabrosaur or heterodontosaur. These dinosaurs were the forerunners of the bigger and more spectacular ornithischians like stegosaurus,ankylosaurus and the duck-billed dinosaurs. The fossils came from a site on Mt. Kirkpatrick, in the Central Trans-Antarctic Mountains, which divide east and west Antarctica. It’s the same place where Hammer and colleagues found Antarctica’s first dinosaur in 1990 — the 22-foot, meat-eating Cryolophosaurus, or “frozen crested reptile.”
Around 520 million years ago, a walking cactus roamed the Earth. Its body had nine segments, each bearing a pair of armour-plated legs, covered in thorns. Jianni Liu from Northwest University in Xi’an discovered this bundle of spines and named it Diania cactiformis – the “walking cactus from Yunnan”. And she thinks that it sits at the roots of the most successful group of animals on the planet. If Liu is right, it was an animal that was “close to the point of becoming a true arthropod”.