Literature Review: Winter Campfire

by Carl Strang

The Winter Campfire was my first winter series in this blog. In it I reviewed ideas pertaining to science and spirituality. Today’s post looks at relevant scientific papers from the past year. Sadly, none address the main question I was left with in the end: does time, as an independent entity, exist apart from our subjective experience of it? If not (or if so, given general relativity), how do we accommodate this in our understanding of reality?


Morag I. Scrimgeour, et al. The WiggleZ Dark Energy Survey: the transition to large-scale cosmic homogeneity. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 2012; 425 (1): 116 DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2966.2012.21402.x

From a ScienceDaily article describing a mapping study. At the largest scale, matter in the universe is uniformly distributed, which supports the standard model of cosmology based on Einstein’s equations.

Robert Nemiroff, Ryan Connolly, Justin Holmes, Alexander Kostinski. Bounds on Spectral Dispersion from Fermi-Detected Gamma Ray Bursts. Physical Review Letters, 2012; 108 (23) DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.108.231103

From ScienceDaily. The near-simultaneous arrival of 3 gamma ray photons at a space telescope, photons which had traveled 7 billion light years without distortion, supports a smooth space-time structure rather than one composed of tiny, Planck-length units which would have interfered with the rays’ similarly tiny wavelengths. (Loop quantum gravity, the leading contender to string theory or M-theory, thus suffers a blow with this result).

J-D. Bancal, S. Pironio, A. Acín, Y-C. Liang, V. Scarani, N. Gisin. Quantum non-locality based on finite-speed causal influences leads to superluminal signalling. Nature Physics, 2012; DOI: 10.1038/NPHYS2460

From ScienceDaily. They are proposing a test, involving 4 entangled particles, which may be feasible in the future and which may determine whether entanglement (described by Einstein as “spooky action at a distance”) happens through faster-than-light connection or communication among the particles (which would violate general relativity, and thus seems less likely, but might open the door to faster-than-light applications) or whether it happens by connections outside normal spacetime (which would imply a hidden connectedness of everything in the universe). The other possibility, that entanglement is the result of connections established beforehand, has been ruled out by other experiments.

Van J. Wedeen, Douglas L. Rosene, Ruopeng Wang, Guangping Dai, Farzad Mortazavi, Patric Hagmann, Jon H. Kaas, and Wen-Yih I. Tseng. The Geometric Structure of the Brain Fiber Pathways. Science, 30 March 2012: 1628-1634 DOI: 10.1126/science.1215280

They used a new technique to map the spatial relationships of nerve fibers in the brain, and found a basic pattern of fibers crossing at right angles in 3 dimensions, the whole curved topologically as the brain curves. They did similar analyses of 4 nonhuman primate brains and found considerable homology among the 5 species. This basic framework provides understanding of how embryological development coupled with evolution has been able to produce increasingly complex brains with relatively simple adjustments.

University of Chicago Medical Center (2012, October 1). Homolog of mammalian neocortex found in bird brain. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 1, 2012, from­ /releases/2012/10/121001151953.htm

They describe a study published in the National Academy of Sciences that shows how the avian analog to the mammalian neocortex is clustered nuclei within a structure called the dorsal ventricular ridge. The same cells that layer to form the neocortex develop into these nuclei in birds. The neural pathways from the two different anatomical structures previously were known to be similar. The different arrangement makes possible an anatomical division of labor or specialization for different higher brain functions in birds.

Carissa L. Philippi, Justin S. Feinstein, Sahib S. Khalsa, Antonio Damasio, Daniel Tranel, Gregory Landini, Kenneth Williford, David Rudrauf. Preserved Self-Awareness following Extensive Bilateral Brain Damage to the Insula, Anterior Cingulate, and Medial Prefrontal Cortices. PLoS ONE, 2012; 7 (8): e38413 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0038413

As described in a ScienceDaily article. A patient with damage to these brain areas, thought from past research to be the seat of self-awareness, passes every test for that capacity, seeming normal except for a loss of some memory formation ability. This demonstrates that self-awareness is more diffuse, involving a much larger part of the brain.

E.G. Milán, O. Iborra, M. Hochel, M.A. Rodríguez Artacho, L.C. Delgado-Pastor, E. Salazar, A. González-Hernández. Auras in mysticism and synaesthesia: A comparison. Consciousness and Cognition, 2012; 21 (1): 258 DOI: 10.1016/j.concog.2011.11.010

They found at least one instance of a person who could “see auras” in other people, who also has synesthesia in which his brain has associations between areas that normally are separate, particularly the face-recognition and color processing areas, as well as touch-mirror synesthesia, in which a person experiences the touch or pain sensations of another person the synesthete is observing.

William R. Rice, Urban Friberg, and Sergey Gavrilets. Homosexuality as a Consequence of Epigenetically Canalized Sexual Development. The Quarterly Review of Biology, 2012; 87 (4)

As described in ScienceDaily. Though there have been indications that homosexuality has a heritability component and thus is gene-caused or at least gene-influenced, efforts to find specific genes have failed. This modeling study describes the likely cause as an epigenetic fault. There are controls on gene expression which provide protections from the effects of opposite-sex hormones during development. These epigenetic controls normally are not passed on, but when they accidentally are passed on, from fathers to daughters or mothers to sons, they can produce effects including same-sex orientation. Note: sexual orientation was not addressed in the Winter Campfire series, but I decided to include this study here in part because this study is important and deserves wider attention, and in part because sexuality is a part of our experience as human beings, an important aspect of our nature, and so it is at least obliquely connected to The Wave Dreaming.


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