Tag: BBC Horizon

More inward thoughts.

Each of us must care and love ourselves before we can love others.

(Apologies if this post rambles around a bit!)

Dr. Kristin Neff, Ph.D. is widely recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on self-compassion. Dr. Neff has a website over at Self-Compassion.org. If you go to that site you will quickly read (And while I have copied and pasted it 100% as found on that webpage, I have modified the layout to make it easier to read from a visual point-of-view.):

Definition of Self-Compassion:

Having compassion for oneself is really no different than having compassion for others. Think about what the experience of compassion feels like.

First, to have compassion for others you must notice that they are suffering. If you ignore that homeless person on the street, you can’t feel compassion for how difficult his or her experience is.

Second, compassion involves feeling moved by others’ suffering so that your heart responds to their pain (the word compassion literally means to “suffer with”). When this occurs, you feel warmth, caring, and the desire to help the suffering person in some way. Having compassion also means that you offer understanding and kindness to others when they fail or make mistakes, rather than judging them harshly.

Finally, when you feel compassion for another (rather than mere pity), it means that you realize that suffering, failure, and imperfection is part of the shared human experience. “There but for fortune go I.”

Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself “this is really difficult right now,” how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?

Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?

You may try to change in ways that allow you to be more healthy and happy, but this is done because you care about yourself, not because you are worthless or unacceptable as you are. Perhaps most importantly, having compassion for yourself means that you honor and accept your humanness. Things will not always go the way you want them to. You will encounter frustrations, losses will occur, you will make mistakes, bump up against your limitations, fall short of your ideals. This is the human condition, a reality shared by all of us. The more you open your heart to this reality instead of constantly fighting against it, the more you will be able to feel compassion for yourself and all your fellow humans in the experience of life.

Let me highlight a small section from this:

….having compassion for yourself means that you honor and accept your humanness. Things will not always go the way you want them to. You will encounter frustrations, losses will occur, you will make mistakes, bump up against your limitations, fall short of your ideals. This is the human condition, a reality shared by all of us.

This is the human condition; whatever one’s gender, status in life or age!

Moving on.

There is no question that I learnt something from my cycling accident last November 22nd and my subsequent emergency admission to hospital for sub-dural bleeding on December 24th. Something that I would not otherwise have understood so clearly and so starkly.

The remarkable power of the brain to heal itself; albeit very slowly compared with some minor physical injuries.

The BBC science series Horizon broadcast earlier this year the story of ‘Richard’. The full title was My Amazing Brain: Richard’s War.

Horizon follows the story of Richard Gray and his remarkable recovery from a life-changing, catastrophic stroke. Recorded by his documentary film-maker wife Fiona over four years, this film provides a rare account of the hard work that goes into post-stroke rehabilitation.

Initially bed bound and unable to do anything, including speak, the initial outlook was bleak, yet occasionally small glimmers of hope emerged. Armed always with her camera, Fiona captures the moment Richard moves his fingers for the first time, and then over months she documents his struggle to relearn how to walk again.

The story also features poignant footage delivered in a series of flashbacks, in which we see and hear Richard at his professional best. He was a peacekeeper with the United Nations, immersed in the brutal war in Sarajevo, Bosnia. We also hear from the surgeons and clinicians who were integral to Richard’s remarkable recovery, from describing life-saving, high-risk reconstructive surgery to intensive rehabilitation programmes that push the former soldier to his limits.

As the film starts, Fiona asks ‘will Richard, my Richard still be there?’ By the end the answer is clear.

Unfortunately unless you are in the UK it is not possible to watch the programme.

But Fiona, Richard’s wife, has produced a YouTube video. It so much deserves to be watched:

Moving on, yet again.

I am of no doubt that most, if not all, of us at some point in our lives wonder what on earth is the point in what we are doing or where we are at the stage in our own life’s journey. Certainly has applied to me in the past.

Frequently when we are a bit lost as to where on earth we are heading it helps enormously to hang on the shirt-tails of others.

Professor Clayton Christiansen has some really fabulous shirt-tails. For now just watch his presentation given at TEDx

“It’s actually really important that you succeed at what you’re succeeding at, but that isn’t going to be the measure of your life.”

For a slightly different perspective, watch Adam Leipzig.

Being human means a journey from birth through maturity and thence to death. It is likely that the last phase generates the greatest fear for us. But let’s not dwell on that for now!

Because I want to close my introspective journey by returning to self-compassion.

Or rather for our compassion for this beautiful planet that is the one and only home we have.

Dear Carl Sagan sums it up as perfectly as one could ever ask for.

Alright folks! I’m through!

Must go and hug a dog! (Or, more accurately, a dog memory!)

TIMOTHY BULLARD/Daily CourierPaul Handover with Pharaoh, a 12 year-old German Shepard that he uses on the cover of his new book about man’s best friend.

Tomorrow a clutch of dog recall advisories that have come in recently!

As they say a change is as good as a rest!

Once again I must say that I hold no qualifications whatsoever in the fields of psychiatry, psychology or any related disciplines. If you have found yourself to be affected to the point where you think you need proper counselling then, please, do seek help.

John Zande

A stirrer of brain cells!

I have just finished reading John’s recently published book On the Problem of Good. I am writing a review of the book that, fingers crossed, I will publish on Friday. But many of you that are recent converts to this blog (you poor, lost souls!) will not remember my review of John’s first book and my reaction to that book when I was only just into it.

So, for both today and tomorrow I am republishing two blog posts. Today, one that was originally published on the 16th September, 2015, and tomorrow the post that was first published on 1st October, 2015.


Of paradoxes, and headaches!

The interconnectedness of everything – even beyond our wildest imagination.

A while ago John Zande signed up to follow Learning from Dogs. Naturally, I went across to John’s blog to thank him. There I discovered that John is an animal lover and an author. For he states, referring to his book, that, “BUY IT. ALL PROCEEDS GO TO ANIMAL RESCUE AND SHELTER IN BRAZIL”. Fabulous!

John Zande cover_zpsz7wuq9cc

(I did buy the book, am about 20% through it and finding it very stimulating, – if you would like to buy it then click the image of the book on John’s home page.)

Anyway, a few days later we watched the BBC Horizon programme on multiple universes. Here’s how the BBC introduced the programme:

Which Universe Are We In?

Horizon, 2014-2015 Episode 17 of 19

Imagine a world where dinosaurs still walk the earth. A world where the Germans won World War II and you are president of the United States. Imagine a world where the laws of physics no longer apply and where infinite copies of you are playing out every storyline of your life.

It sounds like a plot stolen straight from Hollywood, but far from it. This is the multiverse.

Until very recently the whole idea of the multiverse was dismissed as a fantasy, but now this strangest of ideas is at the cutting edge of science.

And for a growing number of scientists, the multiverse is the only way we will ever truly make sense of the world we are in.

Horizon asks the question: Do multiple universes exist? And if so, which one are we actually in?

Horizon is always great to watch but this episode was incredibly stimulating and interesting. Later, in a exchange of comments to one of John’s posts, where I referred to that programme, John wrote:

The mulitverse is actually the more reasonable explanation for why there is something, and although I don’t understand the maths, the people who do say its simplistically beautiful. Matt Rave is an associate professor of physics and comments here regularly. He has a great book on it all, Why is There Anything?

raveThat lead me to purchasing Matthew Rave’s book that, likewise, is a most fascinating and unusual approach to this topic. His Amazon author’s page reveals that, “Dr. Matthew Rave is an assistant professor of physics at Western Carolina University, in the mountains of North Carolina. His research interests include interpretations of quantum mechanics, the geometric phase, solid state physics, and physics education.” Matthew Rave’s blogsite is here.

Matthew Rave’s book further illustrates the paradox, to my mind, that comes from thinking about why are we here, are we here and, if so, how do we know we are here?

So if that isn’t enough for you and me, then very recently The Conversation blogsite published the following from Geraint Lewis who is Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Sydney. It is republished here within the terms of The Conversation. Did I mention paradoxes and headaches!


We are lucky to live in a universe made for us

Geraint Lewis, University of Sydney

To a human, the universe might seem like a very inhospitable place. In the vacuum of space, you would rapidly suffocate, while on the surface of a star you would be burnt to a crisp. As far as we know, all life is confined to a sliver of an atmosphere surrounding the rocky planet we inhabit.

But while the origin of life on Earth remains mysterious, there are bigger questions to answer. Namely: why do the laws of physics permit any life at all?

Hang on, the laws of physics? Surely they are a universal given and life just gets on with it?

But remember that the universe is built of fundamental pieces, particles and forces, which are the building blocks of everything we see around us. And we simply don’t know why these pieces have the properties they do.

There are many observational facts about our universe, such as electrons weighing almost nothing, while some of their quark cousins are thousands of times more massive. And gravity being incredibly weak compared to the immense forces that hold atomic nuclei together.

Why is our universe built this way? We just don’t know.

But what if…?

This means we can ask “what if” questions. What if the electron was massive and quarks were fleeting? What if electromagnetism was stronger than the nuclear strong force? If so, what would that universe be like?

Let’s consider carbon, an element forged in the hearts of massive stars, and an element essential to life as we know it.

Initial calculations of such stellar furnaces showed that they were apparently inefficient in making carbon. Then the British astronomer Fred Hoyle realised the carbon nucleus possesses a special property, a resonance, that enhanced the efficiency.

But if the strength of the strong nuclear force was only fractionally different, it would wipe out this property and leave the universe relatively devoid of carbon – and, thus, life.

The story doesn’t end there. Once carbon is made, it is ripe to be transmuted into heavier elements, particularly oxygen. It turns out that oxygen, due to the strength of the strong nuclear force, lacks the particular resonance properties that enhanced the efficiency of carbon creation.

This prevents all of the carbon being quickly consumed. The specific strength of the strong force has thus resulted in a universe with an almost equal mix of carbon and oxygen, a bonus for life on Earth.

Death of a universe

This is but a single example. We can play “what if” games with the properties of all of the fundamental bits of the universe. With each change we can ask, “What would the universe be like?”

The answers are quite stark. Straying just a little from the convivial conditions that we experience in our universe typically leads to a sterile cosmos.

This might be a bland universe, without the complexity required to store and process the information central to life. Or a universe that expands too quickly for matter to condense into stars, galaxies and planets. Or one that completely re-collapses again in a matter of moments after being born. Any complex life would be impossible!

The questions do not end there. In our universe, we live with the comfort of a certain mix of space and time, and a seemingly understandable mathematical framework that underpins science as we know it. Why is the universe so predictable and understandable? Would we be able to ask such a question if it wasn’t?

Our universe appears to balance on a knife-edge of stability. But why?

We appear to be very lucky to live in a universe that accommodates life. Zdenko Zivkovic/Flickr, CC BY

One of a multiverse

To some, science will simply fix it all. Perhaps, if we discover the “Theory of Everything”, uniting quantum mechanics with Einstein’s relativity, all of the relative masses and strengths of the fundamental pieces will be absolutely defined, with no mysteries remaining. To others, this is little more than wishful thinking.

Some seek solace in a creator, an omnipotent being that finely-tuned the properties of the universe to allow us to be here. But the move from the scientific into the supernatural leaves many uncomfortable.

There is, however, another possible solution, one guided by the murky and confused musings at the edge of science. Super-strings or M-theory (or whatever these will evolve into) suggest that the fundamental properties of the universe are not unique, but are somehow chosen by some cosmic roll of the dice when it was born.

This gives us a possible explanation of the seemingly special properties of the universe in which we live.

We are not the only universe, but just one in a semi-infinite sea of universes, each with their own peculiar set of physical properties, laws and particles, lifetimes and ultimately mathematical frameworks. As we have seen, the vast majority of these other universes in the overall multiverse are dead and sterile.

They only way we can exist to ask the question “why are we here?” is that we happen to find ourselves in a universe conducive to our very existence. In any other universe, we simply wouldn’t be around to wonder why we didn’t exist.

If the multiverse picture is correct, we have to accept that the fundamental properties of the universe were ultimately dished out in a game of cosmic roulette, a spin of the wheel that we appear to have won.

Thus we truly live in a fortunate universe.

The ConversationGeraint Lewis, Professor of Astrophysics, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.



How to follow that, eh?

Let me give way to Hariod Brawn and part of an extensive comment she left back then:

John Zande is most certainly one of the most thoughtful, perceptive, well-informed and sharp-witted bloggers I have ever come across, and I wish him well with his book, which by the way, appears so far to have been met only with a deluge of 5-star reviews on Amazon. I daresay that you and I will both lengthen that list.

Here! Here!

The history of dogs and humans

The secret life of the dog.

No, that subtitle is wrong. It should be: Science brings to light the wonderful history of dogs and humans!

Approximately seven years ago I published a series of posts. Each post was a segment of a BBC Horizon documentary entitled: The Secret Life of the Dog. Inevitably as so often happens when BBC programmes unofficially find their way on to YouTube those videos have long disappeared from sight.

So imagine the joy when Jean and I were browsing the web site Top Documentary Films to find that the full BBC Horizon episode was available.

The documentary is an hour long and is unmissable viewing for anyone who is interested in the history of mankind back in the days of hunting and gathering. If you are also a lover of dogs and you haven’t seen the programme then, in two words WATCH IT!

Here’s a clip from the Horizon episode. A deeply emotional and moving clip.

Now I can’t insert the Top Documentary video as I can with a YouTube video.

But I can link to it, and republish the written introduction.

Here it is: BBC Horizon: The Secret Life of the Dog


secret-life-dogWe have an extraordinary relationship with dogs – closer than with any other animal on the planet. But what makes the bond between us so special?

Research into dogs is gaining momentum, and scientists are investigating them like never before. From the latest fossil evidence, to the sequencing of the canine genome, to cognitive experiments, dogs are fast turning into the new chimps as a window into understanding ourselves.

Where does this relationship come from? In Siberia, a unique breeding experiment reveals the astonishing secret of how dogs evolved from wolves. Swedish scientists demonstrate how the human/dog bond is controlled by a powerful hormone also responsible for bonding mothers to their babies.

Why are dogs so good at reading our emotions? Horizon meets Betsy, reputedly the world’s most intelligent dog, and compares her incredible abilities to those of children. Man’s best friend has recently gone one step further – helping us identify genes responsible for causing human diseases.

Trust me, if you haven’t seen this documentary and you have dogs in your life it will change the way you appreciate and love your wonderful dogs.

I’m going to close this post with a photograph you have seen many times before, via the home page of this blog.

Simply because I know for thousands of you who have dogs in your lives there is nothing more special, nothing more intimate, nothing more magical than the eye-to-eye bond between your dog and you.

Pharaoh - just being a dog!


Knowing you is special beyond words!

Men, Women and Memory!

Are men’s brains the same as women’s?

The wonderful BBC science programme, BBC Horizon, recently showed a fascinating programme entitled: Is your Brain Male or Female?  The programme is introduced on the Horizon website:

Dr. Mosley and Prof. Roberts.

Dr Michael Mosley and Professor Alice Roberts investigate if male and female brains really are wired differently.

New research suggests that the connections in men and women’s brains follow different patterns, patterns which may explain typical forms of male and female behaviour. But are these patterns innate, or are they shaped by the world around us?

Using a team of human lab rats and a troop of barbary monkeys, Michael and Alice test the science and challenge old stereotypes. They ask whether this new scientific research will benefit both men and women – or whether it could drive the sexes even further apart.

Now I haven’t a clue as to how long this fascinating programme will remain on YouTube, but if you aren’t in the UK or don’t have access to the BBC iPlayer then don’t hesitate to watch it now.

Essentially, science shows that the ‘hard-wired’ differences are minute and the vast bulk of the preferences between the genders, trucks versus dolls, for example, is subtle conditioning from parents and the wider world; for instance, advertisements.

One thing that did jump ‘off the page’ at me was the evidence supporting how malleable or plastic is the brain.  In other words, we are never too old to learn.

As if to reinforce that aspect of the flexibility of our brain, just yesterday morning I read an item on the BBC News website about memory.

As someone whose memory is a long way from where it used to be, this item really caught my attention:

How to save your memory

By David Robson from Headsqueeze.

Are there ways to stop yourself losing your memory? The latest brain research suggests there’s hope for the forgetful…

Memory loss has to be one of our biggest fears. Names, words, facts and faces – nothing is spared.

As the latest video from the Head Squeeze team describes above, mental deterioration was once thought to be an inevitable consequence of ageing, thanks to the steady erosion of our brain matter: we lose about 0.5% of our brain volume every year. The hippocampus – the region responsible for memory and learning – was thought to weather particularly badly; by the time we are 90, many of us have lost around a third of its grey matter.

Fortunately, recent research has shown that the brain is not concrete, but certain regions can adapt and grow. In 2000, a study of London taxi drivers, for instance, showed that the 4-year training of London’s 25,000 streets showed a remarkable growth in the hippocampus compared to bus drivers who early learnt a fixed number of routes. The scientists think that, by memorising the maps of London, the brain had built many more of the “synaptic connections” that allow the brain cells to communicate with each other. In other words, it may be possible to train the brain to compensate for some of the neural decline that accompanies our expanding waistlines and receding hairlines.

Challenging your brain could be one way of preserving your recollections – though the value of commercial brain training apps is debatable; some experiments seem to show that while people may become a whizz at the games on their screen, the improvements fail to transfer to daily life. But other, more traditional activities – like learning a musical instrument or a second language – do seem to have some protective benefits, at least on short-term recall. Ideally, it is probably best to keep your brain active throughout your life, well before you begin to approach your dotage.

Exercise and a healthy diet are also thought to offer some protection against dementia. As can an active social life – since regular contact with other people is also thought to excite our neurons and preserve our synapses. Ensuring that you regularly get a good night’s sleep helps too.

Of course, nothing can guarantee health and vitality in old age. But these few simple measures might give you the best possible chances of preserving your wits against the ravages of time.

For more videos subscribe to the Head Squeeze channel on YouTube. This video is part of a series produced in partnership with the European Union’s Hello Brain project, which aims to provide easy-to-understand information about the brain and brain health.

If you would like to comment on this video or anything else you have seen on Future, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.

So it’s clear now.

All I need to do is to learn a new language while in between my training to be the oldest trainee cabbie in London and applying for second violin position at the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and I’ll never forget anything else in my life.

Oh, anyone seen where I left my car keys?

Or perhaps, harking back to the opening question of the differences between our sexes, I should be closing, thus:

Anyone seen where I left my dolls?

The truth about exercise!

A powerful new look at exercise from a recent BBC Horizon programme.

The first 15 seconds of the BBC Horizon Programme – The Truth About Exercise – sum it up in a nutshell.

Exercise!  I know I should but I don’t particularly enjoy it, I begrudge the time and I never seem to make much progress!

So say many of us!

I’m 68 next birthday and while I try and watch my weight and eat a healthy diet I know my overall fitness is far from what it should be.  A neighbour lent me a bicycle the other day because I had this notion that riding into town, just over a mile away, would make a great healthy difference.  In my younger days, I would ride dozens of miles on a bike and think nothing of it.  But when I jumped on the bike and set off up the road, in less than 300 yards I had come to a halt stumped by the very first incline!  So much for my fitness!

Thus when we watched this BBC Horizon programme, I could hardly believe what was being proposed.  That surprising new research suggests many of us could benefit from just three minutes of high intensity exercise a week.  Yes, I did write three minutes a week!

Here’s how the video is introduced,

Like many, Michael Mosley want to get fitter and healthier but can’t face hours on the treadmill or trips to the gym. Help may be at hand.

He uncovers the surprising new research which suggests many of us could benefit from just three minutes of high intensity exercise a week.

He discovers the hidden power of simple activities like walking and fidgeting, and finds out why some of us don’t respond to exercise at all

Using himself as a guinea pig, Michael uncovers the surprising new research about exercise, that has the power to make us all live longer and healthier lives.

The video is 58 minutes long and I thoroughly recommend that you find a comfortable seat and remain undisturbed while you watch every minute of this mind-blowing programme.

P.S. Jean and I were down in Phoenix last week and a local fitness store had a sale of exercise bikes.  I purchased what looked like a well-built bike, listed at $249, for $159.  Now a week later, I can confirm that 20 seconds of ‘flat out’ pedalling really does have one heaving for breath.  So watch the video!!

P.P.S.  Doesn’t need to be said but if any reader is motivated by the video to buy a bike and adopt the exercise regime they should take into account their own health and, if in any doubt, see a doctor first.

The Lost World of Lake Vostok

A breath-taking film from the BBC Horizon series about a vast hidden lake under the Antarctic ice sheet.

My apologies for putting very little effort into today’s Post.  It’s because Jean and I will be in Phoenix for much of Tuesday (I’m writing this on Monday, 7th!) and it felt easier on me to drop this in for your elucidation than try and write something in a scrabble on Tuesday evenning.

Jean and I watched this last week-end and, …. well just watch it!

It sometimes seems as if our planet has no secrets left – but deep beneath the great Antarctic ice sheet scientists have made an astonishing discovery. They’ve found one of the largest lakes in the world. It’s very existence defies belief. Scientists are desperate to get into the lake because its extreme environment may be home to unique flora and fauna, never seen before, and NASA are excited by what it could teach us about extraterrestrial life. But 4 kilometers of ice stand between the lake and the surface, and breaking this seal without contaminating the most pristine body of water on the planet is possibly one of the greatest challenges science faces in the 21st century.

In 1957 the Russians established a remote base in Antarctica – the Vostok station. It soon became a byword for hardship – dependent on an epic annual 1000km tractor journey from the coast for its supplies. The coldest temperature ever found on Earth (-89°C) was recorded here on the 21st July 1983. It’s an unlikely setting for a lake of liquid water. But in the 1970’s a British team used airborne radar to see beneath the ice, mapping the mountainous land buried by the Antarctic ice sheet. Flying near the Vostok base their radar trace suddenly went flat. They guessed that the flat trace could only be from water. It was the first evidence that the ice could be hiding a great secret.

But 20 years passed before their suspicions were confirmed, when satellites finally revealed that there was an enormous lake under the Vostok base. It is one of the largest lakes in the world – at 10,000 square km it’s about the extent of Lake Ontario, but about twice as deep (500m in places). The theory was that it could only exist because the ice acts like a giant insulating blanket, trapping enough of the earth’s heat to melt the very bottom of the ice sheet.

Optimistically unrealistic!

A reflection of our unconscious minds – and the potential perils ahead.

Last Monday, March 12th, the BBC aired a programme under their excellent Horizon science series.  This programme was entitled, Out of Control?  Here’s how the programme was introduced,

We all like to think we are in control of our lives – of what we feel and what we think. But scientists are now discovering this is often simply an illusion.

Surprising experiments are revealing that what you think you do and what you actually do can be very different. Your unconscious mind is often calling the shots, influencing the decisions you make, from what you eat to who you fall in love with. If you think you are really in control of your life, you may have to think again.

The whole 60 minute programme was fascinating right from the start when Professor Nobre introduced the secret world of our unconscious mind.  Professor Anna Nobre heads The Brain & Cognition Laboratory, a cognitive neuroscience research group at the Department of Experimental Psychology in the University of Oxford.

For starters, how much of your mind do you think is your conscious mind as opposed to your unconscious mind?  Watch this clip and be amazed!

“Are you in control of your unconscious, or is it in control of you?”

So let me link how our mind works to something more relevant today than possibly any other aspect of life.

I’m thinking of the fundamental question that bothers me and, perhaps millions of others.  That question being: “Why, with the overwhelming scientific evidence that man is critically threatening the planet’s biosphere upon which we all depend, is there not an equally overwhelming global commitment for change to a sustainable way of life?

Take, for example, this compelling story.

Last Saturday the BBC News website published a report by Richard Black, the BBC’s Environment correspondent, that opened thus,

An eminent UK engineer is suggesting building cloud-whitening towers in the Faroe Islands as a “technical fix” for warming across the Arctic.

Scientists told UK MPs this week that the possibility of a major methane release triggered by melting Arctic ice constitutes a “planetary emergency“. [my emboldening]

The Arctic could be sea-ice free each September within a few years.

and later goes into this detail (do please read it all, it’s only a few minutes of quiet reading),

On melting ice

The area of Arctic Ocean covered by ice each summer has declined significantly over the last few decades as air and sea temperatures have risen.

For each of the last four years, the September minimum has seen about two-thirds of the average cover for the years 1979-2000, which is used a baseline. The extent covered at other times of the year has also been shrinking.

What more concerns some scientists is the falling volume of ice.

Analysis from the University of Washington, in Seattle, using ice thickness data from submarines and satellites, suggests that Septembers could be ice-free within just a few years.

Data for September suggests the Arctic Ocean could be free of sea ice in a few years

“In 2007, the water [off northern Siberia] warmed up to about 5C (41F) in summer, and this extends down to the sea bed, melting the offshore permafrost,” said Peter Wadhams, professor of ocean physics at Cambridge University.

Among the issues this raises is whether the ice-free conditions will quicken release of methane currently trapped in the sea bed, especially in the shallow waters along the northern coast of Siberia, Canada and Alaska.

Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, though it does not last as long in the atmosphere.

Several teams of scientists trying to measure how much methane is actually being released have reported seeing vast bubbles coming up through the water – although analysing how much this matters is complicated by the absence of similar measurements from previous decades.

Nevertheless, Prof Wadhams told MPs, the release could be expected to get stronger over time.  “With ‘business-as-usual’ greenhouse gas emissions, we might have warming of 9-10C in the Arctic.  That will cement in place the ice-free nature of the Arctic Ocean – it will release methane from offshore, and a lot of the methane on land as well.”

This would – in turn – exacerbate warming, across the Arctic and the rest of the world.

Abrupt methane releases from frozen regions may have played a major role in two events, 55 and 251 million years ago, that extinguished much of the life then on Earth.

Meteorologist Lord (Julian) Hunt, who chaired the meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Climate Change, clarified that an abrupt methane release from the current warming was not inevitable, describing that as “an issue for scientific debate”.

But he also said that some in the scientific community had been reluctant to discuss the possibility.

“There is quite a lot of suppression and non-discussion of issues that are difficult, and one of those is in fact methane,” he said, recalling a reluctance on the part of at least one senior scientists involved in the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment to discuss the impact that a methane release might have.

Reams of other factual evidence shows that mankind may have only a few years left to stop the planet going into a runaway condition that would then extinguish much of the life on Earth!

So what’s stopping us?

Dr. Sharot

Well back to that Horizon programme.  In the programme, Dr. Tali Sharot of University College London explains how we are all optimists despite the risks.  I.e. our unconscious mind deliberately prevents negative information from affecting our conscious mind, our conscious judgment.

In an experiment, an individual is asked to guess the likelihood of a whole range of outcomes, 80 in all.  Ergo, you see a gentleman guessing the likelihood of cancer as 18%, of a bone fracture as 10%, of Alzheimer’s as 2%, and so on.

In some cases he guessed a pessimistic probability, in others an optimistic probability.  After each guess he was shown the correct probability.  E.g. cancer 30% vs his estimate of 18%, for a bone fracture 34% vs his guess of 10%, and the risk in reality of Alzheimer’s is 10% versus his instinct of just 2%.   I’ve just quoted his optimistic guesses, in many questions his guess was a pessimistic view, i.e. he guessed a higher likelihood than the statistical reality.

Then he was asked all 80 questions again, having seen the accurate probability compared to his intuitive guess.

So here’s the fascinating outcome.

Where his instinct was a negative guess versus the statistical probability then he adjusted his mind and was able to quote a more accurate figure the second time around.  But where the reality was more pessimistic than his first guess, then that adjusted knowledge wasn’t retained.  In other words, our beliefs only change when we can adjust to a more positive view of the future.

I just hope I have made that clear.  Readers may like to view an article written by Dr. Sharot published in TIME Magazine in May, 2011, called The Optimism Bias or read the introduction to a lecture given in Seattle in June, 2011;  “A sunny outlook doesn’t just make you a more pleasant companion: Tali Sharot argues that optimism is a tool for survival and happiness that gets us through hard times—even an economic recession. Sharot, author of The Optimism Bias, uncovers myths about optimism, illuminates the ways it can affect our lives, examines why optimism is necessary for us to function, and illustrates how the human brain is extremely adept at turning lead into gold.

A summary of a publication, Sharot, T. (2011). The optimism bias. Curr Biol 21(23), R941-R945, reads,

The ability to anticipate is a hallmark of cognition. Inferences about what will occur in the future are critical to decision making, enabling us to prepare our actions so as to avoid harm and gain reward. Given the importance of these future projections, one might expect the brain to possess accurate, unbiased foresight. Humans, however, exhibit a pervasive and surprising bias: when it comes to predicting what will happen to us tomorrow, next week, or fifty years from now, we overestimate the likelihood of positive events, and underestimate the likelihood of negative events. For example, we underrate our chances of getting divorced, being in a car accident, or suffering from cancer. We also expect to live longer than objective measures would warrant, overestimate our success in the job market, and believe that our children will be especially talented. This phenomenon is known as the optimism bias, and it is one of the most consistent, prevalent, and robust biases documented in psychology and behavioral economics.

More fascinating information can be found at the Affective Brain Lab.

So here’s the crunch!

Our bias towards an optimistic future is a “tool for survival and happiness that gets us through hard times.”  But if that ancient bias is preventing mankind from recognising just how close we may be to some form of ‘tipping point’ then this tool for survival may be our undoing.

But if on the other hand, we now unite in changing our ways, first by community then by town then by country our future is incredibly optimistic.

 “A single candle may light a thousand others and they in turn many thousands more” – Buddha

The secret life of the dog, Concluding Part

Concluding this fascinating insight into the extraordinary relationship between dogs and man.

If this is your first sight of this multi-part article about dogs then you will need to start at the beginning:

Part One is here.

Part Two is here.

Part Three is here.

Part Four is here.

Part Five is here.

By Paul Handover