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Archive for the 'Science' Category

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

Book Giveaway! The Five Horsemen of the Modern World, by Daniel Callahan

This week we are featuring The Five Horsemen of the Modern World: Climate, Food, Water, Disease, and Obesity, by Daniel Callahan.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Five Horsemen of the Modern World to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, April 22 at 1:00 pm.

Barron H. Lerner, author of The Good Doctor: A Father, A Son and the Evolution of Medical Ethics, writes:

“It is hard enough to write a wise book on a single major social problem, but Daniel Callahan has written a wise book about five of them, ultimately proposing important suggestions for moving forward. The Five Horsemen should be mandatory reading for anyone interested in climate change, food distribution, the water supply, chronic illness or obesity…. This book challenges us to look at the global and local ramifications of everything we know and do.”

You can also read the chapter,”Our Overheating, Fraying Planet”:

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

VIDEO: Jeffrey T. Kiehl on What Earth’s Past Tells Us About the Future of Climate Change

In the following video, Jeffrey T. Kiehl, author of Facing Climate Change: An Integrated Path to the Future, discusses how we can learn about future climate from Earth’s deep past. He offers a warning about the current trajectory we are on in terms of climate change:

“If we don’t start seriously working toward a reduction of carbon emissions, we are putting our planet on a trajectory that the human species has never experienced. We will have committed human civilization to living in a different world for multiple generations.”

(more…)

Tuesday, March 29th, 2016

The Psychology of Climate Change — Jeffrey T. Kiehl

Facing Climate Change, Jeffrey Kiehl

The following post is by Jeffrey T. Kiehl, author of Facing Climate Change: An Integrated Path to the Future:

Our reliance on fossil fuels as the main source to address our energy needs is untenable. The burning of these fuels is causing carbon dioxide levels to rapidly increase and thus warm the planet via the greenhouse effect. The burning of coal is destroying local air quality and placing many thousands at direct health risk. We are experiencing human caused climate change now. If we continue on our current path, planetary warming will reach unprecedented levels within decades. We can no longer afford to deny, ignore or diminish the problem of climate change. Yet, despite the overwhelming evidence for climate change we continue to burn these fuels and in the United States we continue to turn away from the warnings of what is happening to our world.

Denial is a classic way to avoid dealing with a disturbing issue. You can probably remember either consciously or unconsciously using this strategy to avoid or postpone action on a pressing problem. Disturbing information or situations evoke a sense of anxious dread within us. We feel overwhelmed by facing the situation and procrastinate. We all do this. Often when we actually do face the problem it turns out that addressing it was less painful than imagined. Our expectation of loss created a deep sense of fear that amplified the actual situation. Understanding the psychological processes that occur in situations of denial can actually help us penetrate the barriers preventing us from moving beyond the problem. This is why it is so important to explore the psychological dimensions of climate change. We can learn much from the experiences of clinical psychology, social psychology and neuroscience. These fields have delved into the many ways we make decisions and avoid making decisions. They shine a light of understanding on the darker shadow regions of denial, ignorance and diminishment. For example, the emotional reactions experienced around the issue of climate change mirror those of a physical or psychological trauma. Thus, the vast knowledge of trauma and its treatment can aid in dealing with the resistance to addressing the state of our climate system.

The physical, chemical and biological sciences have provided us with a comprehensive picture of climate change and our integral role in this problem. The manifold dimensions of psychology can provide ways to actually address the problem. By combining the studies of climate and psyche we not only see what is happening to our world and why, but also, how we can move beyond the problem to create a more flourishing world for future generations.

Monday, March 28th, 2016

Book Giveaway! “Facing Climate Change,” by Jeffrey T. Kiehl

This week we are featuring Facing Climate Change: An Integrated Path to the Future, by Jeffrey T. Kiehl.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Facing Climate Change: An Integrated Path to the Future to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, April 1 at 1:00 pm.

Here’s what Michael Mann says about the book:

Facing Climate Change is a must-read for anyone concerned about human-caused climate change and how we get past the psychological barriers standing between us and a solution to this existential threat.”

You can also read the chapter, “A Journey from Climate Science to Psychology”:

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016

David Helfand on Higher Education in the Twenty-First Century

A Survival Guide to the Misinformation Age

In his book A Survival Guide to the Misinformation Age: Scientific Habits of Mind, David J. Helfand offers a series of ways to better understand scientific data. Developing these sets of tools has never been more important as individuals are bombarded with a torrent of information—both true and misleading.

The book is part of a larger project of Helfand’s to confront the distinct educational challenges of the twenty-first-century. In addition to his new book, Helfand has also been instrumental in the development of Quest University Canada which has sought to offer a new model of higher education that emphasizes a deep engagement with questions and subjects. In the following video, Helfand explains the philosophy behind Quest and some of the failings of traditional education (you can also read more about Quest in the following New York Times article):

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016

David J. Helfand on Surviving the Misinformation Age

The Misinformation Age

“The virtually unlimited power of the Internet to propagate such faulty information has launched us into the Misinformation Age.”—David J. Helfand

The following post is by David J. Helfand, author of A Survival Guide to the Misinformation Age: Scientific Habits of Mind

Commenting on one of the recent string of articles in the New York Times discussing the collapse of world oil prices, a reader wrote:

“The cost of a barrel of oil drops by 75% and the cost of a gallon of gas drops by 25%. Somebody somewhere is making billions on the backs of American consumers.”

This, indeed, sounds like a major discrepancy, and I have no doubt many readers agreed with this commentator’s analysis. After all, it fits the current tropes of evil big oil companies, growing wealth inequality, and the fact the average consumer never gets a break.

Unfortunately, the logic is faulty and the conclusion is wrong. While this particular example is not of great import, it is symptomatic of the innumeracy and illogic that is rife in our society and that cripples our ability to make rational public policy decisions. For the record, here’s a correct analysis of the data in the article.

A barrel of oil contains 42 US gallons (I will refrain here from my usual diatribe about the continued use of irrational US units). The average price of West Texas Intermediate crude (the US benchmark) in 2013 was $97.98 per barrel, within a dollar or two of the highest annual average price ever recorded (that was in 2008). This means that the average gallon of oil in 2013 cost $2.33. If the price had actually fallen 75%, the cost of that same barrel today would have been $24.50 and the market has not yet hit that level; in recent weeks it has been hovering around $30.00 a barrel, meaning the average gallon of oil purchased this month cost about $0.71. That’s a drop of more than a factor of three—obviously much bigger than the decline of gas prices at the pump.

However, your local gas station pump does not deliver West Texas Intermediate crude. The oil (that’s the price on the ground at Cushing, Oklahoma, by the way) must be transported to a processing facility, be refined into gasoline and other products, have various additives mixed in, be transported to your local gas station, and be sold there, with federal and state taxes included. In fact, the average gasoline price in the US in 2013 was $3.49 a gallon. Subtracting the price of the oil, that leaves $3.49-$2.33 = $1.16 to cover all those costs plus the profits of any entities involved. During the last week of January this year, the average national gas price was $1.804 (down 48%, not 25%, by the way). Subtracting the current price of oil, the net cost is $1.09, a few cents lower than in 2013.

So much for profits at refineries, pipeline companies, trucking companies, and gas stations. There are still the producers at the wellhead who were getting a lot more money in 2013 for their product. Then, they may have been making “billions”. However, on average, it costs more than $30 a barrel to produce a barrel of oil in the US. That’s why Exxon-Mobil’s fourth quarter profits fell by a factor of two from a year earlier, why it lost more than half a billion dollars on oil production in three months, and why, by late January, Facebook had a larger market capitalization than Exxon-Mobil, which until a few years ago was the largest company in the world. Meanwhile, Royal Dutch Shell’s profits were down 56% and BP lost $3.3 billion dollars in the quarter.

The point of this analysis is not to generate sympathy for big oil companies, especially ones that deliberately contribute disinformation to the debate on climate change. My points are a) that plausible sounding statements, especially those that fit our pre-conceived notions, can be very wrong, and b) that the virtually unlimited power of the Internet to propagate such faulty information has launched us into the Misinformation Age.

(more…)

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

An Interview with David J. Helfand, author of “A Survival Guide to the Misinformation Age”

A Survival Guide to the Misinformation Age

The following is an interview with David J. Helfand, author of A Survival Guide to the Misinformation Age: Scientific Habits of Mind:

Question: Most people think we are living in the Information Age. Why the contrarian “Misinformation Age” in your title?

David J. Helfand: It is certainly true that the amount of information at our disposal is unprecedented, and the Internet democratizes access to this information in ways that are unique in human history. But we are now generating, worldwide, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data per day. If printed as standard characters, that represents the equivalent of 450,000 pages of text per person per day. Obviously, more than 99.99% of this “information” is not edited or vetted for accuracy. And the corollary of open access to the web for downloading information is that uploading information is equally unfiltered. The result? Unlimited opportunities for the propagation of misinformation, and unfettered access for individuals and organizations wishing to spread disinformation.

Q: Surely misinformation isn’t new, nor is the motivation of some to spread disinformation to advance vested interests. Why do you suppose the problem is greater today?

DJH: During the first 97% of the time members of the species homo sapiens have roamed the Earth, information was very limited but the important bits were generally of high quality. The member of the hunter-gatherer tribe who regularly led hunting parties toward the hungry lions instead of the zebras was quickly ignored (or eaten and eliminated from the gene pool; likewise with the one that gathered poisonous fruits). The sources of information—your clansmen—were unambiguous and there was an existential premium on good information.

Today the sources are anonymous, or at least often unknown to you, and their motivation for providing accurate information is negligible; there are no consequences for misinformation nearly as severe as the lions. Thus, if mis- or dis-information serves one’s purposes—either for accumulating money or power, or for the strong innate motivation of reinforcing group identity—there’s no barrier to broadcasting it. Couple this with the viral capacity of social media and the instant accessibility of nonsense for all, and you have what I think should rightly be called the Misinformation Age.

(more…)

Monday, February 29th, 2016

Book Giveaway! “A Survival Guide to the Misinformation Age,” by David J. Helfand

This week we are featuring A Survival Guide to the Misinformation Age: Scientific Habits of Mind, by David J. Helfand.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of A Survival Guide to the Misinformation Age: Scientific Habits of Mind to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, March 4th at 1:00 pm.

Here’s what Neil deGrasse Tyson says about the book:

A Survival Guide for the Misinformation Age is an impassioned plea for science literacy. Given the state of the world today, in which scientifically underinformed voters elect scientifically illiterate politicians, David Helfand has written the right book at the right time with the right message. Read it now. The future of our civilization may depend on it.”
You can also read the chapter “A Walk in the Park”:

Friday, December 18th, 2015

Sacred Knowledge: Hopkins Playlist for Psilocybin Studies

Sacred Knowledge

“As consciousness is returning to ordinary awareness after intense experiences of a mystical, visionary, or psychodynamic nature, most any style of music can be explored with delight.”

Psychedelics and music have long been linked, but at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, where William A. Richards conducts research, music plays an important part in ensuring the stability off entheogen study participants. In this excerpt from Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences, Richards explains the role of music in his work. The excerpt is followed by the playlist Richards compiled.

Part of a new guide’s orientation at Johns Hopkins entails becoming familiar with the supportive music used in a particular research study and the rationale for its selection. We have learned that in high-dose sessions, especially during the onset and intense period of entheogen effects, the supportive structure of the music is more important than either the guide’s or the volunteer’s personal musical preferences. In states of ego transcendence, the everyday self as the perceiver of music may no longer exist, having entered into a unitive awareness that is claimed to be quite independent of whatever sonic frequencies are coming into the ears through the headphones or loudspeakers. As the ego approaches its dissolution and when it begins to be reconstituted, however, the nonverbal structure of the music may provide significant support. Thus, sensitivity to the therapeutic potential of carefully selected music may be an important factor in enhancing psychological safety.

One playlist that has been carefully developed through trial and error and has been found to work well with many different people over time is included at the end of this book. It includes a significant amount of classical music, symphonic and choral, as well as some Hindu chant, in the intense portions of the session and lighter selections near the return to everyday reality at the end of the day. We discovered in early research in the 1960s, notably with some alcoholics who had never appreciated classical music, that Brahms symphonies and similar works resonated deeply within them and proved highly effective in providing nonverbal structure and support. Many of those people not only discovered an appreciation of classical music within themselves, but went out and purchased records, tapes, or compact disks to facilitate the continuing integration of their experiences and for future enjoyment. It may be noted that, as consciousness is returning to ordinary awareness after intense experiences of a mystical, visionary, or psychodynamic nature, most any style of music can be explored with delight. At this time, one’s personal favorite selections may be enjoyed with fresh appreciation.

A HOPKINS PLAYLIST FOR PSILOCYBIN STUDIES (2008 VERSION)

States of Consciousness Research

Antonio Vivaldi. Guitar Concerti. Los Romeros, Iona Brown, Academy of St. Mar­tin in the Fields. Philips 412–624–2
Andante, Concerto RV532 in G Major for 2 guitars, strings, and continuo, 3:30
Largo, Concerto RV93 in D Major for guitar, strings, and continuo, 3:53
Largo, Concerto RV356 in A Minor, 2:20

Paul Horn. Inside the Taj Mahal. Kuckuck 11062–2
“Mumtaz Mahal,” 3:21

“Shah Jahan,” 5:36

Ron Korb. Flute Traveller: A Musical Journey Across Five Continents. Oasis Produc­tions, SOCAN NHCD 205
“Alto Flute,” 2:16

Russill Paul. PM Yoga Chants Gaiam. Relaxation 3142. CD included with the book The Yoga of Sound. Novato, Calif.: New World Library, 2004
“By the Stream,” 10:54
“Om Namah Shivaya,” 2:27

Edward Elgar. Enigma Variations. Leonard Bernstein. BBC Symphony. The Artist’s Album. DGG 457 691–2
No. 9, “Nimrod,” 6:08

Morten Lauridsen. A Robert Shaw Christmas: Angels On High. Robert Shaw. Shaw Chamber Singers. Telarc20 CD-80461
“O Magnum Mysterium,” 6:13

Russian Orthodox Chant. Sacred Treasures III, Hearts of Space. St. Petersburg Cham­ber Choir, 025041111423
“Alleluia, Behold the Bridegroom,” 5:29

Henryk Górecki. Symphony 3, Op. 36. Dawn Upshaw. David Zinman. London Sin­fonietta. Elektra Nonesuch 9 79282–2
Lento—Sostenuto Tranquillo ma Cantabile, 26:25

Johannes Brahms. Ein Deutsches Requiem, Op. 45. Herbert Blomstedt, San Francisco Symphony and Chorus. London 443 771–2
“Selig sind die, da Leid tragen,” 10:36
“Denn alles Fleish, es ist wie Gras,” 14:33

Johannes Brahms. Symphony 2 in D Major, Op. 73. Leonard Bernstein. New York Philharmonic. Sony. SMK 61829
Adagio non Troppo, 10:08

Johannes Brahms. Ein Deutches Requiem, Op. 45. Herbert Blomstedt. San Francisco Symphony and Chorus. London 443 771–2
“Wie lieblich sind Deine Wohnungen,” 5:34

J. S. Bach. Mass in B Minor. Robert Shaw. Atlanta Symphony and Chamber Chorus. Telarc CD-80233
Kyrie I, 10:21
Kyrie II, 4:24

Samuel Barber. String Quartet, Op. 11. Leonard Bernstein. New York Philharmonic. Sony SMK 63088
Adagio for Strings, 9:54

Antonio Vivaldi. Gloria in D Major, R589. Robert Shaw. Atlanta Symphony and Chamber Chorus. Telarc CD-80194
“Gloria in Excelsis,” 2:22

“Et in terra pax,” 5:58

J. S. Bach. Bach Stokowski. Leopold Stokowski. EMI CDM 7243 5 66385 2 5
“Komm süsser Tod,” BMV 478, 5:51

W. A. Mozart. Vesperae solennes de confessore, K/KV339. Kiri Te Kanawa. Sir Colin Davis. London Symphony and Chorus. Philips 412 873–2
“Laudate Dominum,” 5:11

Johannes Brahms. Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D Major, Op. 77. Jascha Heifetz. Fritz Reiner. Chicago Symphony. HMG 09026-61742–2
Adagio, 8:12

Henryk Górecki. Symphony 3, Op. 36. Dawn Upshaw. David Zinman. London Sinfonietta. Elektra Nonesuch 9 79282–2
Lento e Largo—Tranquillissimo, 9:22

Edward Elgar. Serenade for String Orchestra, Op. 20. Mark Elder. Hallé Symphony. CDHLL 7501
Larghetto, 6:29

Gabriel Fauré. Requiem, Op. 48. Choir of St. John’s College. Cambridge. George Guest. London 436 486–2
“In Paradisum,” 3:41

W. A. Mozart, Clarinet Concerto in A Major, KV 622. Jacques Lancelot. Jean-François Paillard. Orchestra de Chambre Jean-François Paillard. Erato 2292–45978–2
Adagio, 7:04

Arvo Pärt. Sanctuary. Richard Studt. Bournemouth Sinfonietta. Virgin Classics. CSC 7243 5 45314 2 2
“Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten,” 6:10

Bohuslav Matéj Cernohorsky. Cernohorsky Religious Works. Czech Madrigal Singers. Frantisek Xaver Thuri. Gioia Della Musica. Supraphon 11 1598–2 931
“Quare Domine, iraceris—Memento Abraham,” 8:58

Ludwig van Beethoven. Piano Concerto 5 (Emperor), Op. 73. Leon Fleisher. George Szell. Cleveland Orchestra. Sony SBK 46549
Adagio un Poco Moto, 8:25

Charles Gounod. St. Cecelia Mass. Barbara Hendricks. Georges Prêtre. French Radio New Philharmonic. EMI, CDC 7 47094 2
Sanctus, 5:18
Benedictus, 3:16

Russill Paul. The Yoga of Sound, Shakti Yoga. Relaxation, CD 3133
“Om Namah Shivaya,” 17:35

Richard Wagner. Tristan and Isolde. Jesús López-Cobos. Cincinnati Symphony. Telarc CD-80379
Prelude and Liebestod, 17:24

W. A. Mozart. Grosse Messe C-Moll. Leonard Bernstein. Chor und Symphonie­-orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks. Deutsche Grammaphon 431 791–2
“Ave Verum Corpus,” KV618 3:56

Gustav Mahler. Symphony 5. Lorin Maazel. Vienna Philharmonic. Sony SBK 89850
Adagietto, Sehr Langsam, 10:33

Alan Hovhaness. Symphony 2, Op. 132: Mysterious Mountain. Gerard Schwarz. Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. Telarc 80604
Andante con Moto, 7:42

Joseph Canteloube. Songs of the Auvergne. Dawn Upshaw. Kent Nagano. Orchestre de l’Opèra National de Lyon. Erato 0630–17577–2
“Bailèro,” 5:36 “Perl’èfon,” 3:09

Richard Strauss. Death and Transfiguration. André Previn. Vienna Philharmonic. Telarc CD-80167
Moderato, 2:20
Tranquillo, 6:03

Russill Paul. The Yoga of Sound, Nada Yoga. Relaxation CD 3133
“Evening Shadows Fall,” 23:29

J. S. Bach. Bach Stokowski. Leopold Stokowski. CDM 7243 5 66385 2 5
Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor, BMV 582, 14:51

Enya. Watermark. Reprise 9 26774–2
“Storms in Africa II,” 2:59

Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Shaka Zulu. Warner Brothers Collection. Rhino/ WEA 081227998622
“King of Kings,” 4:07

Adiemus. Pure Moods. Virgin 724384218621
“Adiemus,” 3:59

John Lennon. The John Lennon Collection. Abbey Road Capitol 077774644624
“Here Comes the Sun,” 3:03

Gipsy Kings. Mosaique. Nonsuch 075596089227
“Caminando Por la Calle,” 4:22

Mercedes Sosa. Polygram International, Serie Millennium, 042283231429
“Gracias a La Vida,” 4:22

Leontyne Price. The Essential Leontyne Price: Spirituals, Hymns, and Sacred Songs. RCA 090266815722
“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” 3:24

Louis Armstrong. What A Wonderful World. Intercontinental 600 607707405826
“What a Wonderful World,” 2:21

Thursday, December 17th, 2015

Sacred Knowledge: The Mystical Experience Questionnaire

Sacred Knowledge

“You are convinced now, as you look back on your experience, that in it you encountered ultimate reality (i.e. that you “knew” and “saw” what was really real).”

This week, our featured book is Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences, by William A. Richards.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Sacred Knowledge!

In Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences, William A. Richards uses the potential of entheogens to occasion mystical experiences to call for their responsible medical use. In the New Yorker, Michael Pollan detailed the psychological evidence for this claim, based in part on a Mystical Experience Questionnaire co-developed by Richards, a 2006 version of which is reproduced below.

Thirty-six volunteers, none of whom had ever taken a hallucinogen, received a pill containing either psilocybin or an active placebo (methylphenidate, or Ritalin); in a subsequent session the pills were reversed. “When administered under supportive conditions,” the paper concluded, “psilocybin occasioned experiences similar to spontaneously occurring mystical experiences.” Participants ranked these experiences as among the most meaningful in their lives, comparable to the birth of a child or the death of a parent. Two-thirds of the participants rated the psilocybin session among the top five most spiritually significant experiences of their lives; a third ranked it at the top. Fourteen months later, these ratings had slipped only slightly.

Furthermore, the “completeness” of the mystical experience closely tracked the improvements reported in personal well-being, life satisfaction, and “positive behavior change” measured two months and then fourteen months after the session. (The researchers relied on both self-assessments and the assessments of co-workers, friends, and family.) The authors determined the completeness of a mystical experience using two questionnaires, including the Pahnke-Richards Mystical Experience Questionnaire, which is based in part on William James’s writing in “The Varieties of Religious Experience.” The questionnaire measures feelings of unity, sacredness, ineffability, peace and joy, as well as the impression of having transcended space and time and the “noetic sense” that the experience has disclosed some objective truth about reality. A “complete” mystical experience is one that exhibits all six characteristics.

The questionnaire, a scientific research document, asks participants to reflect on their experience.

States of Consciousness Questionnaire and Pahnke-Richards Mystical Experience Questionnaire

Instructions: Looking back on the extended session you have just experienced, please rate the degree to which at any time during that session, you experienced the following phenomena. In making each of your ratings, use the following scale:

0 – none; not at all. 1 – so slight cannot decide 2 – slight 3 – moderate 4 -strong (equivalent in degree to any previous strong experience or expectation of this description) 5 – extreme (more than ever before in my life and stronger than 4)

Items and Scoring: There are 100 items in the States of Consciousness Questionnaire. Forty-three items on this questionnaire comprise the Pahnke-Richards Mystical Experience Questionnaire which provides scale scores for each of seven domains of mystical experiences: Internal Unity (6 items); External Unity (6 items); Transcendence of Time and Space (8 items); Ineffability and Paradoxicality (5 items); Sense of Sacredness (7 items); Noetic Quality (4 items); and Deeply-Felt Positive Mood (7 items). Data on each scale are expressed as a proportion of the maximum possible score. The remaining 57 items in the questionnaire served as distracter items and were not scored. Numerals associated with each item indicate the numerical sequence of the items.

I. Internal Unity
26. Loss of your usual identity.
35. Freedom from the limitations of your personal self and feeling a unity or bond with what was felt to be greater than your personal self.
41. Experience of pure Being and pure awareness (beyond the world of sense impressions).
54. Experience of oneness in relation to an “inner world” within.
77. Experience of the fusion of your personal self into a larger whole.
83. Experience of unity with ultimate reality.

II. External Unity

14. Experience of oneness or unity with objects and/or persons perceived in your surroundings
27. With eyes open, seeing something in your surroundings more and more intensely and then feeling as though you and it become one.
47. Experience of the insight that “all is One”.
51. Loss of feelings of difference between yourself and objects or persons in your surroundings.
62. Intuitive insight into the inner nature of objects and/or persons in your surroundings.
74. Awareness of the life or living presence in all things.

III. Transcendence of Time and Space

2. Loss of your usual sense of time.
12. Feeling that you experienced eternity or infinity.
15. Loss of your usual sense of space.
29. Loss of usual awareness of where you were.
34. Sense of being “outside of” time, beyond past and future.
42. Feeling that you have been “outside of” history in a realm where time does not exist.
48. Being in a realm with no space boundaries.
65. Experience of timelessness.

IV. Ineffability and Paradoxicality
6. Sense that the experience cannot be described adequately in words.
19. Experience of a paradoxical awareness that two apparently opposite principles or situations are both true.
23. Feeling that you could not do justice to your experience by describing it in words.
59. Sense that in order to describe parts of your experience you would have to use statements that appear to be illogical, involving contradictions and paradoxes.
86. Feeling that it would be difficult to communicate your own experience to others who have not had similar experiences.

V. Sense of Sacredness
5. Experience of amazement.
8. Sense of the limitations and smallness of your everyday personality in contrast to the Infinite.
31. Sense of profound humility before the majesty of what was felt to be sacred or holy.
36. Sense of being at a spiritual height.
55. Sense of reverence.
73. Feeling that you experienced something profoundly sacred and holy.
80. Sense of awe or awesomeness.

VI. Noetic Quality
3. Feeling that the consciousness experienced during part of the session was more real than your normal awareness of everyday reality.
9. Gain of insightful knowledge experienced at an intuitive level.
22. Certainty of encounter with ultimate reality (in the sense of being able to “know” and “see” what is really real ) at some time during your session.
69. You are convinced now, as you look back on your experience, that in it you encountered ultimate reality (i.e. that you “knew” and “saw” what was really real).

VII. Deeply-Felt Positive Mood
10. Experience of overflowing energy.
18. Feelings of tenderness and gentleness.
30. Feelings of peace and tranquility.
43. Experience of ecstasy.
50. Feelings of exaltation.
60. Feelings of universal or infinite love.
87. Feelings of joy.

Source: RR Griffiths, WA Richards, U McCann, R Jesse. 2006. “Psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance.” Psychopharmacology (Berl). 187(3), 268-83, commentaries 284-292. Available on the Council of Spiritual Practices’ Psilocybin Research page (pdf).

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015

Mysterious Molecules: The Sacred Knowledge of Entheogens

Sacred Knowledge

“How can we not explore this, if it can recalibrate how we die?”

This week, our featured book is Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences, by William A. Richards. Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Sacred Knowledge!

In Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences, William A. Richards argues that, if used responsibly and legally, psychedelics have incredible potential to assuage human suffering and constructively contribute to the quality of life on our planet. Richards’ book comes at a time when many are questioning the blanket prohibition on and demonization of such substances. In the New Yorker this February, Michael Pollan’s article “The Trip Treatment” delved into the ongoing second wave of psychedelics research, with an assist from Richards. And in an interview with Noah Berlatsky in The Guardian, Richards explains the promise of his research.

As the drug war subsides, scientists are eager to reconsider the therapeutic potential of these drugs, beginning with psilocybin… The effects of psilocybin resemble those of LSD, but, as one researcher explained, “it carries none of the political and cultural baggage of those three letters.” LSD is also stronger and longer-lasting in its effects, and is considered more likely to produce adverse reactions. Researchers are using or planning to use psilocybin not only to treat anxiety, addiction (to smoking and alcohol), and depression but also to study the neurobiology of mystical experience, which the drug, at high doses, can reliably occasion. Forty years after the Nixon Administration effectively shut down most psychedelic research, the government is gingerly allowing a small number of scientists to resume working with these powerful and still somewhat mysterious molecules.

As I chatted with Tony Bossis and Stephen Ross in the treatment room at N.Y.U., their excitement about the results was evident. According to Ross, cancer patients receiving just a single dose of psilocybin experienced immediate and dramatic reductions in anxiety and depression, improvements that were sustained for at least six months. The data are still being analyzed and have not yet been submitted to a journal for peer review, but the researchers expect to publish later this year.

“I thought the first ten or twenty people were plants—that they must be faking it,” Ross told me. “They were saying things like ‘I understand love is the most powerful force on the planet,’ or ‘I had an encounter with my cancer, this black cloud of smoke.’ People who had been palpably scared of death—they lost their fear. The fact that a drug given once can have such an effect for so long is an unprecedented finding. We have never had anything like it in the psychiatric field.” (more…)

Tuesday, December 15th, 2015

One Discovery of Transcendence – William Richards, “Sacred Knowledge”

Sacred Knowledge

“For the first time, I had encountered the limitations of language in trying to express mystical forms of consciousness.” — William A. Richards

This week, our featured book is Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences, by William A. Richards.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Sacred Knowledge!

In Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences, William A. Richards argues that, if used responsibly and legally, psychedelics have incredible potential to assuage human suffering and constructively contribute to the quality of life on our planet. In the preface, he recounts what transpired during his “first deep foray into transcendental forms of awareness.”

When my own first intense encounter with mystical consciousness occurred, I was a twenty-three-year-old graduate student of theology and psychiatry. Studying at the University of Göttingen in Germany, formally known as the Georg-August Universität, I had volunteered to participate in a research project with a drug I had never heard about called psilocybin. Synthesized and distributed to psychiatric researchers and clinicians by the Sandoz Pharmaceutical Company in Switzer­land, this new drug was the primary psychoactive substance in the psilocybe genus of mushrooms that indigenous peoples had called “magic” or “sacred” and appear to have used in their religious practices for at least three thousand years and perhaps since as long ago as 5000 BCE. On this date in the modern world, December 4, 1963, however, the dark ages of psychedelic research still prevailed and, in the context of Western psychopharmacological investigations, drugs like psilocy­bin usually were administered without preparation or guidance.

At the time, it was hoped that the radically different, sometimes disorganized or psychotic states of consciousness that often ensued, fortunately temporary in duration, would advance our understanding of schizophrenia and similar states of mind. Hanscarl Leuner, the professor of psychiatry conducting the investigations in the Nervenklinik in Göttingen, just had published a scientific monograph on his observations titled Die experimentelle Psychose (The Experimen­tal Psychoses). In those days psychedelic drugs were freely available to qualified researchers in Europe and in the United States, sent through the mail. Psilocybin was marketed as Indocybin. The distribution of LSD, known as Delysid, as stated in a 1964 Sandoz pamphlet, was simply “restricted to psychiatrists for use in mental hospitals and psychiatric clinics.”

Not only did I know nothing about psilocybin, LSD, or mescaline, I had not yet even heard the term “psychedelic,” though it had been coined seven years earlier by Humphrey Osmond, a British psychiatrist, in a letter to Aldous Huxley. However, two of my new friends reported to me that they had volunteered for an interesting research project in the nearby psychiatric clinic that entailed receiving an experimental drug. Its name was hard to remember, but it was reputed to provide some insights into early childhood. One friend had experienced himself sitting in his father’s lap and, since his father had been killed in World War II, this was profoundly comforting and meaningful to him. The other had seen visionary imagery of Nazi SS soldiers marching in the streets that he called “a hallucination.” I was intrigued and, being curious about the psychodynamic processes in my early childhood and having never seen a “real hallucination,” decided to walk over to the clinic and inquire whether I also could qualify as a participant in the research project. I viewed my own mind as a psychological laboratory in those days, took myself much too seriously, and sometimes went without breakfast to write down my dreams in the morning. Somewhat pompously, I called this discipline “collecting my phenomenological data.” (I was fond of big words then! In retrospect I realize that a healthy breakfast might have done me much more good.) (more…)

Monday, December 14th, 2015

Book Giveaway! Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences

Sacred Knowledge

Sacred Knowledge is not only timely and relevant to a whole host of current social/legal issues, but also addresses, with seemingly effortless ease, many of the deeper/subtler metaphysical implications of psychedelics—their therapeutic and spiritual potential. Richards’ clear prose makes articulating such difficult topics look easy.” — G. William Barnard, Southern Methodist University

This week, our featured book is Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences, by William A. Richards. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its authors on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Sacred Knowledge. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, December 18th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

Michael Mann on the Assault on Climate Science

The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, Michael Mann

“Let’s end the McCarthy-like assault on science led by the Lamar Smiths of the world. Our nation is better than that.”—Michael Mann, New York Times

Yesterday, we linked to Michael Mann’s important op-ed in the New York Times on social media but also wanted to feature it here on our blog. In his piece, The Assault on Climate Science, Mann describes the recent efforts of Lamar Smith, the Texas Republican who is chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, to challenge and obfuscate the findings of scientists regarding climate change. Smith, a climate-change-denier, has “issued various subpoenas to Kathryn D. Sullivan, the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, demanding all internal notes, emails and correspondence concerning a study its scientists published in the journal Science.” As Mann argues that while Smith is entitled to ask for all pertinent scientific data and findings — and should do so — asking for correspondence between scientists risks the confidentiality that is crucial for frank discourse.

As Mann points out, this kind of intimidation of scientists is not new — Mann himself was the victim of it in 2005. At the time, many politicians — both Republicans and Democrats — came to his defense. The picture in 2015 is far bleaker as Republicans have done nothing to rein in the actions of Lamar Smith.

Mann concludes by writing:

While there is no doubt climate change is real and caused by humans, there is absolutely a debate to be had about the details of climate policy, and there are prominent Republicans participating constructively in that discourse. Let’s hear more from these sensible voices. And let’s end the McCarthy-like assault on science led by the Lamar Smiths of the world. Our nation is better than that.

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

The Science of Cooking Your Thanksgiving Turkey via Herve This (and a Dishwasher!)

Thanksgiving, Turkey

“Use the dishwasher! For the next holiday meal, I recommend that you prepare two turkeys. Cook one in the dishwasher, in a plastic bag, for several cycles of your machine.”—Herve This

With Thanksgiving just a couple of days away, we thought we provide some more practical (or somewhat practical) advice on cooking a turkey from none other than Hervé This, author of several books that explore the coming together of food and science to develop new ways of thinking about cooking, flavor, taste, and how we eat.

In an interview with Nature, This suggested the dishwasher as a possible cooking method:

Q: Another professional technique is to cook food for long periods at low temperatures in a vacuum-sealed bag. How might a home chef emulate this ‘sous-vide’ method?

Herve This: Use the dishwasher! For the next holiday meal, I recommend that you prepare two turkeys. Cook one in the dishwasher, in a plastic bag, for several cycles of your machine. In this way, you can get low temperatures. Butterfly the other turkey and cook it on the grill, creating the maximum expanse of delicious crispy skin. Then serve the moist, flavourful meat from the dishwasher turkey with the grilled skin. A good accompaniment would be foie gras, also cooked in the dishwasher at low temperature.

Now for those not comfortable with Maytag cuisine, here is an excerpt from Kitchen Mysteries: Revealing the Science of Cooking, also by Hervé This, on the science of roasting a turkey:

Since it is juicy, tender meat that we want, it is clear why there is no question of opening the oven while the meat is roasting. The water vapor that is released in a limited quantity could escape and then be replaced by the vaporization of a certain quantity of the juices. Opening the oven dries out the turkey. Neither, however, should one humidify the oven before putting the turkey in. In the presence of too much water, the surface water cannot evaporate, and the skin will not get crispy.

Having thus resolved the problem of the surface, the serious problem of tenderness within remains. We cannot disappoint our guests, who fear the pro­verbial dryness of the turkey.

Since tenderness results necessarily from the deterioration of the connec­tive tissue, let us consider this tissue. It principally contains three kinds of pro­teins: collagen, already discussed many times, reticulin, and elastin. Neither reticulin or elastin are notably altered by the heat of the oven, but the triple helixes of the collagen molecules can be broken up and form gelatin, which is soft when it is in water, as we all know.

Calculating the cooking time requires some skill, because the denaturation of the collagen and the coagulation of the muscle proteins (actin and myosin, mainly) take place at different temperatures and different speeds in the different parts of the turkey. It is necessary to know that the temperature of 70° (158°F) is essential for transforming the collagen into gelatin and tenderizing the mus­cles. But the longer the turkey remains at a high temperature, the more water it loses and the more its proteins risk coagulating. The optimal cooking time, consequently, is the minimum time it takes to attain the temperature of 70°C (158°F) at the center of the turkey.

(more…)

Friday, October 16th, 2015

How Evolutionary Psychology Can Affect Political Change — Gillian Barker

Beyond Biofatalism, Gillian Barker

“[P]o­litical discussion needs to be informed by the fullest available understanding of human patterns of development and behavior and their broader ramifications. This means that it must be grounded in a grasp of the workings of evolved and evolutionary processes of change in human development, behavior, and social arrangements. But it will benefit too from a lively dialogue with older traditions of thought about political change that look far beyond a narrow and economistic cost–benefit analogy…. Evolutionary thinking about human behavior—evolutionary psychology properly understood—can be a useful and vital part of that discussion.”—Gillian Barker

The following is an excerpt from the conclusion to Beyond Biofatalism: Human Nature for an Evolving World, by Gillian Barker. In it, Barker argues that evolutionary thinking and evolutionary psychology—properly understood—can play an important part in affecting political and social change:

The critique of the syntheses of evolutionary psychology by writers like Steven Pinker, Robert Wright, and Richard Dawkins shows that a proper understanding of the dynamics of evolution, development, and behavior does not support the conservative interactionism that they espouse. Their point of view is that the inbuilt qualities of human nature impose powerful restrictions upon the kinds of social change that are feasible and acceptable. But the arguments supporting this view make use of misleading metaphors, misapply cost–benefit thinking to the evaluation of change, and blur the distinction between fact and value in consequential ways—making assumptions about values that bias their judgments of matters of empirical fact and treating normative conclusions about what is good for humans and human societies as if they emerge straightforwardly from the facts of human evolutionary history.

If the critique calls into question the pessimistic conclusions of influential writing on evolutionary psychology, recently pub­lished research in evolutionary and developmental biology has re­vealed patterns of responsive change in behavioral capacities in humans and other species that require a very different conception of evolved human nature. The dynamics of evolution, develop­ment, and behavior that this research has uncovered indicate that there is a much more lively interaction between changes in the be­havior of an organism and its environment than mainstream evo­lutionary psychology has assumed. The mechanisms of responsive change include niche construction and the environmentally cued “switches” characteristic of adaptive developmental and behav­ioral plasticity. Together these indicate that there are sometimes key points at which a small environmental intervention may trigger a distinct new process of sustained and accumulating change. They also suggest that change can sometimes be rapid and relatively smooth. It is as if there are leverage points where an environmental change across some specific threshold opens a new pathway for behavioral change that in turn has an impact on the environment. The new pathway may lead to further change, or it may arrive at a kind of stability or resilience.

(more…)

Thursday, October 15th, 2015

Interview with Gillian Barker, author of “Beyond Biofatalism”

Beyond Biofatalism, Gillian Barker

“To get beyond [biofatalism] is to begin to explore the evidence that human cognition and behavior are much more flexible in certain ways than [biofatalism] suggests, and so human societies are much more open to a range of possibilities than we often tend to think.”—Gillian Barker

The following is an interview with Gillian Barker, author of Beyond Biofatalism: Human Nature for an Evolving World

Question: What do you mean by “biofatalism”, and what does it mean to get beyond it?

Gillian Barker: When people are discussing aspects of today’s societies that seem to call for change—problems like racism, sexism, violence, economic inequality, and global warming—a certain form of pessimism is very common. We’ll never escape these problems, many people say, because they are an expression of tendencies that are “in our genes” or “hardwired” as a result of our evolutionary history. Sometimes this view is criticized as a form of genetic determinism, but that isn’t really a good label.

Most people who make claims like this aren’t genetic determinists; they think that environment makes a difference to human behavior. But they think that the environmental changes that would be required to create more peaceful, egalitarian, or ecologically sound societies would be extreme, requiring intolerable sacrifices. So according to this picture, our nature—the set of cognitive capacities and behavioral tendencies built by our evolutionary past—traps us in social arrangements that are unjust, unhappy, and ultimately unsafe. Not because environmental interventions are ineffective, but because we can’t stand the kinds of environments that would be needed to create better societies: no environmental change can save us from ourselves. That is biofatalism. To get beyond it is to begin to explore the evidence that human cognition and behavior are much more flexible in certain ways than this picture suggests, and so human societies are much more open to a range of possibilities than we often tend to think.

Q: Are you saying that evolutionary psychology is wrong about human nature?

GB: We can learn a great deal from human evolutionary history, but efforts to draw lessons from evolution for our thinking about human social and political choices have drawn on too narrow a selection of evidence. It is time to broaden our perspective to include insights from evolutionary biology more generally, from ecology and developmental biology, and from social psychology. These sciences can offer a picture of human nature that is quite different from the one most familiar in mainstream evolutionary psychology, and can give us reasons to expect that individual human behavior and human societies may both be surprisingly responsive to certain kinds of environmental intervention.

Q: Do you mean that nurture wins out over nature in shaping our psychology?

GB: No—as many others have also noted, these old metaphors of “nurture” acting to shape the material provided by “nature,” or of “nature” resisting the forces of “nurture,” are not very useful ones any more. The interaction between genes and environment is far more complex than they suggest. We are evolved to have “adaptive plasticity,” the capacity to adjust our own developmental patterns and behavior to enable us to succeed in different environments. But we are also evolved to modify our own environments, and each other’s—to engage in what some evolutionists call “niche construction.” The combination of these two evolved tendencies means that we should expect that human social behavior can be remarkably sensitive to some kinds of environmental variation, and remarkably resistant to others. We are only just starting to learn about these patterns of social response, but what is apparent that there is a lot to learn! The picture is much more subtle and interesting than the older “nature-vs-nurture” debate suggested.

(more…)

Wednesday, October 14th, 2015

Gillian Barker Questions the Work of Steven Pinker and Other Evolutionary Thinkers

Beyond Biofatalism: Human Nature for an Evolving World

The following is the preface to Beyond Biofatalism: Human Nature for an Evolving World, by Gillian Barker:

I have watched with hopeful fascination the growing interest of social scientists and a larger public in applying evolutionary thinking to human behavior. Our need to understand the roots of human choices and social patterns has never been more pressing. Climate science, ecology, and the other sciences that examine human impacts on the Earth—and on its capacity to sus­tain us—have demonstrated that the course that the human spe­cies is now traveling is a disastrous one. Indeed, I believe that they show that human survival, especially peaceful survival with a good quality of life, requires some fundamental changes in our patterns of behavior starting as soon as possible. But just what changes are the best ones to pursue, and what are the most effective means for bringing them about? These are ancient and difficult questions, but new tools might help to resolve them. The evolutionary approach has been impressively successful in expanding our grasp in many areas of the life sciences, including medicine and the behavior of other animals, and I have dared to anticipate that evolutionary thinking would open a new avenue to a clearer understanding of how we might begin to make the needed changes. I have been en­couraged in this hopeful thought by the energetic entry of first­class evolutionary thinkers like Steven Pinker, David Buss, and Robert Wright into the task of pulling the quite complex and detailed relevant research and analysis together into an overall interpretation of the main implications of human evolutionary history.

I delved into the resulting works of synthesis with increasing dismay. Though they are rich with illuminating insights and in­triguing empirical results, the overall interpretations that they offer seemed to converge on all-too-familiar motifs of gender differences and tendencies toward aggression, intolerance, and so­cial competition—conclusions that do not square with my own reading of the basic research and my own reasoning about it. The picture that they present is pessimistic, suggesting that human nature is inflexible enough that substantial change to our social arrangements and patterns of behavior may be out of the ques­tion, whereas I see grounds for optimism in many of the same sources. Additional research from related areas of biology, psy­chology, and philosophy, including some that has been published since the major works of synthesis were written, reinforce my sense that the picture these works present is misleading.

(more…)

Tuesday, October 13th, 2015

Book Giveaway! “Beyond Biofatalism,” by Gillian Barker

This week our featured book is Beyond Biofatalism: Human Nature for an Evolving World by Gillian Barker.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Beyond Biofatalism to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, October 16 at 1:00 pm.

“Had you read only popularizers of evolutionary psychology, you might be forgiven for thinking that the message about human potential from evolutionary theory is grim. Gillian Barker, in this succinct and well-written book, shows that specific empirical findings in evolution, social psychology, and behavioral ecology—evolutionary psychology writ large—suggest that human biology, as biology more generally, is open to more varied social futures than is commonly thought” — Helen Longino, Stanford University

For more on the book you can read the chapter Human Nature and the Limits of Human Possibility:

Friday, August 28th, 2015

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds — Donald Prothero on the Oldest Human Skeleton

“For only the past 30,000 years has there been a single species of homi­nin dominating the planet. Now Homo sapiens threatens to wipe out nearly every other species, as well as itself, making them just as extinct as the fossils described in this book.”—Donald R. Prothero

Donald R. Prothero concludes The Story of Life in 25 Fossils: Tales of Intrepid Fossil Hunters and the Wonders of Evolution by examining the discovery “Lucy,” the oldest human skeleton. In the following excerpt, Prothero examines Lucy’s legacy and the efforts of paleontologists and anthropolgists to discover more fossils of human ancestors:

Lucy’s Legacy

The rush to find hominins from the “Dark Continent” soon spread across East Africa, especially in regions with long sedimentary records in fault ba­sins along the Great Rift Valley. Louis Leakey’s son Richard, who was ini­tially uninterested in anthropology, eventually adopted his father’s mantle. Seeking to escape his father’s shadow, he began to excavate in Lake Rudolf (now Lake Turkana) in northern Kenya in the 1970s. There, many more skulls were found, including the best-preserved specimen of Homo habilis, the oldest species in our genus, Homo. Richard moved on to prominent po­sitions in the Kenyan government (especially fighting the poaching of rhi­nos and elephants). His wife, Meave, working with local people, carried on the Leakey legacy. His mother, Mary, continued to make significant finds, especially the spectacular trackway of hominins at Laetoli in Tanzania.

Kenya and Tanzania were in the news almost every year with the spec­tacular finds of the Leakeys. In the late 1960s, Louis Leakey had lunch with President Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya and Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia. The emperor asked Leakey why there had been no discoveries in Ethio­pia. Louis quickly persuaded him that fossils would be found if he gave the order to let scientists explore for them. Soon anthropologist F. Clark How­ell of Berkeley was working on the northern shore of Lake Turkana, where the Omo River flows out of Ethiopia. Howell and his colleague Glynn Isaac spent many years collecting in the Omo beds, which have abundant volca­nic ash dates. Unfortunately, these deposits were formed in flash floods that produced gravelly and sandy streams, which tend to break up and abrade fossils, so no well-preserved hominin specimens were found.

Meanwhile, other rising young anthropologists were eager to make their own discoveries in a region that had been almost exclusively the territory of the Leakeys and their allies. Two of them were Donald Johanson and Tim White. Both were seeking to make their professional fortunes by explor­ing sites not under the control of the Leakeys. Through French geologists Maurice Taieb and Yves Coppens and anthropologist Jon Kalb, they learned about beds in the Afar Triangle, the rift valley that is opening between the tectonic plates where the Gulf of Aden meets the Red Sea. These beds al­ready had yielded numerous fossils of mammals, suggesting that they were at least 3 million years old, which made them potentially older than any hominin fossil found so far in Kenya or Tanzania. Johanson, White, Taieb, and Coppens received permission to work in these beds and began to exca­vate at Hadar in 1973.

After months of exploring and prospecting for fossils, and finding a few hominin fragments, on November 24, 1974, Johanson took a break from writing field notes to help his student Tom Gray search an outcrop. He spotted the glint of bone out of the corner of his eye, dug out the fossil, and immediately recognized that it was a hominin bone. They continued to un­earth more and more bones, until they found almost 40 percent of a skele­ton of a hominin. It was the first skeleton, rather than isolated bones, found of any hominin older than the Neanderthals of the late Pleis­tocene. That night as they celebrated over the campfire, they were playing a tape of the Beatles when “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” came on. Sing­ing lustily along, a member of the crew named Pamela Alderman suggested that the fossil be nicknamed “Lucy.” Later, it was formally named Australo­pithecus afarensis, in reference to the Afar Triangle, where it was found.

A year after the discovery of “Lucy,” the crew returned to Hadar, where they found a large assemblage of A. afarensis bones. Nicknamed the “First Family,” it was the first large sample of fossils of both juvenile and adult hominins from beds dating to 3 million years ago, and it gave anthropolo­gists a look at how much variability was typical in a single population. This can be important when deciding whether a newly discovered fossil that is slightly different from specimens found earlier should be considered a new species or genus or just a member of a variable population.

When the analysis of “Lucy” was conducted, Johanson and White de­termined that the skeleton was that of an adult female that had stood about 1.1 meters (3.5 feet) tall. The most important evidence was the knee joint and the hip bones, which show the critical features that prove that A. afarensis walked upright with its legs completely beneath its body, as do modern humans. It had a relatively small brain (380 to 430 cc) and small canines, like those of advanced hominins, yet still had a pronounced snout, rather than a flat face. This was yet another blow to the “big brains first” theory of human evolution, which was still in vogue in the mid-1970s. Its shoulder blade, arms, and hands are quite ape-like, however, so A. afarensis still climbed trees, even if it was fully bipedal. Yet the foot shows no signs of a grasping big toe, so its legs and feet were adapted entirely for walking on the ground and its toes could not grasp branches.

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