Science & Space

To explore the human potential is the driving force behind Wim Hof (aka: The Iceman). Though not alone in his quest to master the mind and body, Wim’s approach to tapping into our ability is breaking new scientific ground. Thermoregulation and the effects of extreme cold on our immune system, cellular health and longevity are being investigated with exciting results, thank’s to one Dutch man and his ice endeavours.

“We Can Do More Than We Think We Can”, says Hof. And if his 21 Guinness World Records are anything to go by—he is right, the limits of human potential are unwritten.

I interviewed The Iceman on his method, discussing how a deeper connection to nature can unlock the human potential and where he hopes the discoveries will lead.

What drew you to the cold and is it the temperature or the wilderness that fortifies you?

My curiosity drew me to the cold, like many other disciplines. Subconsciously, I was looking for a deeper understanding. Only when I came in contact with the cold, did I begin to feel this. It is such a direct, deep sensation that it goes beyond imagination. Both the wilderness and the cold are elements of nature—we are nature we just need to get back to that sense of being. 

Who seeks out your methods—and how diverse are there reasons?

People from all walks of life from doctors to carpenters, phycologists and postmen. People who seek more energy, fight burnouts, treat auto immune diseases, enhance sports performance, improve mood disorders.

How does your workshop expand on your online course?

It is like listening to music via record vs a live concert. The online video course has been composed to enable the practitioner to master the techniques however the workshop is an experience with many people sharing deep sensations—a unique and life changing event!

How do you teach people in hot climates about the benefits of ice/cold immersion?
People in hot climates benefit most from the breathing techniques as well as the mindset created by insights derived from scientific non-speculative research.

Can conditioning in hot environments produce efficacious results to the body and mind—or is this a unique virtue of the cold?

In both hot and cold conditions the body needs to work in its physiology to maintain core body temperature. I did a marathon without drinking in the desert and still maintained core body temperature. Learned by going into the cold, thermoregulation done by both the hypothalamus (brainstem) and the vascular system.

You have established a method for universal application but are there any caveats to this (don’t try this if you….)?

In general there are no conditions to not do this method, what we clearly communicate or want to communicate is to not force but to follow the feeling.

What science are you currently focused on exploring (the next experiment/challenge to expand our knowledge of human potential)?

We are currently doing research on the brainstem, inflammation, pain, depression and anxiety with multiple universities. The scientific community is embracing this method more and more and we love to go past scientific scrutiny as to get rid of any speculation. We believe and see it works with thousands of people and therefore want to prove it scientifically.

If you could advise people on one technique or action that they can do today for better health and performance, what would that be?

I would recommend the breathing techniques and mindset, realising that we as humans are all capable of connecting with our physiological as well as our mental systems and have the ability to regulate when we feel necessary.

In his new book ‘What Doesn’t Kill Us’, Scott Carney posits that your ability to suppress the immune response and generate heat in extreme cold is achieved through willpower. Do you agree with this, and how would you describe your thoughts when you are testing these parameters (controlling the physiology to resist infection and elevate core temperature)?

One learns to create and/or generate more energy (aerobic dissimilation) enabling a person to stay longer in cold environments. My method has also been proven to suppress inflammatory markers in the blood. Both these results benefit training, health, strength and mood, that is the aim.

What are your hopes for the future of human potential?

I challenge any university to do more research cause there is a lot more for humankind than has been shown with this method.

Photo Credit: © Henny Boogert / boogertfotografie.nl / imagesconnect.org

The more we learn about nature the more we come to realise just how little we understand about our world. Science has revealed some fascinating things about animal behaviour—from the intelligence of dogs to the ingenuity of birds, but what about…what a fish knows?

Do fishes think?

Do they really have three-second memories?

And can they recognize the humans who peer back at them from above the surface?

In What A Fish Knows, the myth-busting ethologist Jonathan Balcombe addresses these questions and more, taking us under the sea, through streams and estuaries, and to the other side of the aquarium glass to reveal the surprising capabilities of fishes. Although there are more than thirty thousand species of fish―more than all mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians combined―we rarely consider how individual fishes think, feel, and behave. Balcombe upends our assumptions about fishes, portraying them not as unfeeling, dead-eyed feeding machines but as sentient, aware, social, and even Machiavellian―in other words, much like us.

What a Fish Knows draws on the latest science to present a fresh look at these remarkable creatures in all their breathtaking diversity and beauty. Fishes conduct elaborate courtship rituals and develop lifelong bonds with shoalmates. They also plan, hunt cooperatively, use tools, curry favor, deceive one another, and punish wrongdoers. We may imagine that fishes lead simple, fleeting lives―a mode of existence that boils down to a place on the food chain, rote spawning, and lots of aimless swimming. But, as Balcombe demonstrates, the truth is far richer and more complex, worthy of the grandest social novel.

Highlighting breakthrough discoveries from fish enthusiasts and scientists around the world and pondering his own encounters with fishes, Balcombe examines the fascinating means by which fishes gain knowledge of the places they inhabit, from shallow tide pools to the deepest reaches of the ocean.

Teeming with insights and exciting discoveries, What a Fish Knows offers a thoughtful appraisal of our relationships with fishes and inspires us to take a more enlightened view of the planet’s increasingly imperiled marine life. What a Fish Knows will forever change how we see our aquatic cousins―the pet goldfish included.

Jonathan Balcombe on What A Fish Knows (Interview by Inga Yandell)

In this discussion with the author we dive deeper into the research and reveal both the inspiration and some of the curious insights from this pioneering publication.

How did fish become the subject of your new book?

As a scientist working on animal sentience, I was often encountering new studies of fishes showing that they have rich, interesting lives. But most of this information was buried away in scholarly journals that most folks never read. Translating science into something lay-readers find engaging is something I find challenging and enjoyable. And with fishes being the most exploited group of vertebrates on Earth, there was also a strong ethical motive to write a book of popular science about fishes.

Why are the insights of the ocean so vital to our future?

Few of us realize it, but we are totally dependent on healthy oceans for our own survival. The blue-green algae that inhabit ocean habitats produce most of the world’s oxygen. Marine life, including of course the fishes, are a critical part of aquatic ecosystems. As they go, so go their ecosystems (and vice versa), and ultimately, so go us. In 2015, the World Wildlife Fund reported that today there is only about half as much marine life in the oceans as there was in 1970. So we have lost half of all fishes and other sea creatures in less than fifty years. It is a sobering reminder that we need to cultivate a more respectful relationship to the oceans.

How are fish innovating science and what are the primary areas benefiting from this?

It appears that fishes have become the most commonly used vertebrate animals in scientific experiments. However, I do not focus on this in my book “What a Fish Knows,” and I am not enthusiastic about the use of sentient animals in research that causes animals to suffer and die, as much of this research does. Instead, I focus mostly on research into how fishes live their lives—such as how they think and feel, how they interact and communicate with each other, how they find mates and raise their young, how they play, deceive, and cooperate.

How curious and creative is the scope of the studies you researched?

Scientists have been remarkably creative and innovative in coming up with ways to explore the inner worlds of fishes. Some have accumulated hundreds of hours of SCUBA time watching fishes interact and painstakingly measuring their behaviors. Others have created artificial habitats to better understand how fishes respond to different environments. Because fishes can be trained to indicate their preference for one of a pair or group of stimuli, we can determine, for instance, that fishes can recognize each other as individuals, they can recognize human faces, and that they “fall” for optical illusions as we do.

Who are the pioneers, what are the species and where are the locations?

In the 1930’s, the Nobel Prize-winning Austrian ethologist Karl von Frisch made two important discoveries about fishes. He demonstrated fish hearing by training a blind catfish to come for food at the sound of a whistle. He also described an alarm chemical, which he termed “schreckstoff” (translation: scary stuff), that many fish species produce when they become scared. Schreckstoff serves a useful social function by warning nearby fishes that danger, such as a predator, may be lurking.

In a series of captive studies conducted between the 1940s and the 1970s, American scientist Lester Aronson showed that a little fish of the intertidal zone called the frillfin goby, was able to leap accurately to neighboring tide-pools thanks to the uncanny ability to memorize the topography of their habitat by swimming over it at high tide. Not only that, but the gobies were able to memorize the tide-pool layout in just one go and they could remember it 40 days later.

Is the science applicable to people now, or are the revelations subject to further investigation and development?

It is one of the paradoxes of knowledge that the more we know, the more there is to discover. For example, until it was discovered that frillfin gobies could jump to a neighboring tide-pool without ending up stranded on the rocks, nobody was asking how they did this. And now that we know how, we may ask questions like what part of the brain performs this feat, do they enjoy learning it, and can these gobies perform other memory feats unrelated to tide-pools, etc.

What are three things a fish knows that will surprise and inspire readers?

There are so many, but here are three.

Grouper fishes perform a head-shaking gesture to invite moray eels to hunt with them as a team, and both fishes are more successful when they hunt cooperatively than when they hunt alone.

Sharks will swim up to trusted divers who stroke their heads and bellies, sending the sharks into a state of extreme relaxation, in which they will allow the divers to remove fishing hooks imbedded in their mouths.

A tiny male pufferfish from Japan spends hours carefully constructing an exquisite, six-foot-wide circular nest in the sand, with concentric rings of fingerprint-like ridges, into which he hopes to attract a female. He decorates his artwork with pieces of crushed shells, which help cover and protect the female’s fertilized eggs.

Events and other info: www.jonathan-balcombe.com

What A Fish Knows is available on Amazon.

culture-and-chemisrty

Marianne Sommer guides us through a fascinating exploration of human origins and the future of culture and chemistry in History Within.

Spanning evolutionary and biological depths—encompassing every aspect of human condition and expression. Her investigation traces the passage of modern science, viewing our past with expansive potential.

Author Synopsis…

History Within deals with human histories that have been reconstructed on the basis of bones, organisms, and molecules in the twentieth and twenty-first century. It focuses on the work of Henry Fairfield Osborn, Julian Sorell Huxley, and Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza in paleoanthropology, evolutionary biology, and human population genetics. Besides following the history of science, it is an analysis of the circulation of knowledge at the museum, the zoo, through organizations such as UNESCO, and projects like the Human Genome Diversity Project and the Genographic Project, as well as through print, radio, and film. The book illuminates the ways in which the sciences of human origins have contributed to particular historical cultures. How have the evolutionary perspectives informed other scholarly and scientific disciplines, areas from national and international politics to literature and art, and how have they been adapted by individual readers and visitors to their own purposes, ‘identities’, and orientations in life?

The first part of the book deals with Osborn. His production and popularization of the history within are analyzed during his presidency of the American Museum of Natural History in New York in the early decades of the twentieth century. He invested enormous energy not only into having every ‘fossil hominid type’ represented in his exhibition hall but also into finding the still ‘missing link’. Osborn’s work is situated in the museum and education reforms, in eugenic concerns, and in the cult of the wild, the primitive, and ‘threats of modernization’. Part II engages with Huxley’s production and popularization of history within from the perspective of the new evolutionary synthesis. This perspective and the understanding of the living organism as a museum of evolutionary history informed his directorship of London Zoo and his involvement in organizations such as the Colonial Service, UNESCO, IUCN, and WWF. The third part of the book is about Cavalli-Sforza’s history within the gene. In his scientific career, he was instrumental in the development of a mathematical, computational human population genetics. He also popularized the light this science throws on modern human evolution and the genetic kinship of human populations in books and engaged in global projects of blood collection and genetic analysis, most centrally in the Human Genome Diversity Project.

The knowledge scientists created about evolutionary history and human diversity stood in connection with imperialism, colonialism, (inter-)nationalism, or totalitarianism, not least through understandings of race, ethnicity, and gender. While for Osborn in the first decades of the twentieth century, race was a constitutive factor in the human evolutionary past and present, Huxley deconstructed the very concept and was among those interwar intellectuals who argued for a global democracy on a biological basis. Finally, Cavalli-Sforza’s postwar endeavors in human population genetics were driven by a belief in the liberating and enlightening capacity of scientific knowledge. Central to all projects was the collection, preservation, analysis, and management of bones, organisms, or molecules at museums, through national parks, and in databanks, but not only the conservation of biological but also of cultural diversity has been a concern. With Huxley’s science, popularization, and public work at UNESCO and conservation organizations, concepts such as diversity, trusteeship, heritage, applied ecology, and evolutionary humanism gained in currency. All three protagonists also worked with particular understandings of ‘memory’, as related to biological heredity or as the store of cultural knowledge, and they worked toward what they believed to be progressive human evolution.

The approach taken in the book draws on diverse perspectives from the history of science in order to answer the question how ‘bones, organisms, and molecules’ were translated into texts, images, or exhibits about ‘our’ biologically reconstructed past and deep-rooted ‘identities’ that may then circulate. The book inquires after the role not only individual scientists, but also institutional networks played in the process. It situates the scientists’ own understanding of science communication in the developments within history of science from ‘the popularization of science’ to ‘the circulation of knowledge’. It engages with the concept of historical culture and asks after the role of the human origins sciences (‘history within’) in interaction with other kinds of histories (‘history without’) as a kind of public history effort. Particular attention is paid to the media and genres of communication, and to the images and metaphors Osborn, Huxley, and Cavalli-Sforza developed to capture human biological kinship, in terms of trees or networks.

The projects of the scientists engaged with in this book were ultimately directed at an improvement of the human condition and to varying degrees at the associated conservation and development of natural environments. In their view, evolutionary biology is the Leitwissenschaft that should inform worldview and guide ideas about the future of humankind. Their practices were accompanied by reconfigurations of ‘nature and culture’ that encompassed processes of naturalization, de-naturalization, and re-naturalization with regard to human identities. Such processes were marked by an increase in mathematization and technologization that – together with the latest ‘historical document’, ‘the gene’—create an aura of authority and objectivity. Population geneticists today can analyze entire genomes and have computer programs that group people according to them. They can visualize genetic kinship in different ways – as dendrogram or as a mosaic pattern.

What might the future history within look like in view of these developments and those in other branches such as epigenetics?

About the Author: Marianne Sommer is professor in the Department of Cultural and Science Studies at the University of Lucerne. She is the author of History Within: The Science, Culture, and Politics of Bones, Organisms, and Molecules (University of Chicago Press 2016).

history-within

This is the official trailer of the documentary “The Northern Lights: A Magic Experience”.

The 25 minute documentary takes you on a breathtaking journey through space. By using pedagogic top-quality animations and spectacular solar imagery from NASA satellites it tells the full story of the northern lights from myth to science. The film is packed with interesting historical anecdotes and includes tips about how to take your own stunning aurora photos.

It includes some of the world’s best photography and time lapse sequences of the northern lights. The film is perfectly suited for use at science museums, planetariums, hotels and by aurora tour guide companies.

The documentary is produced by Pål Brekke, an internationally recognized solar physicist and public outreach expert with many years at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (solarmax.no/Aurora/Home.html).

Co-producer is the award-winning aurora photographer and popular science writer Fredrik Broms who took all the aurora images and time lapse footage (northernlightsphotography.no).

fredrik-broms

The USB Full HD and DVD version are available from: solarmax.no/Aurora/USB-DVD.html

You can see Northern Lights at The Explorers Club Polar Film Festival, Nov 4-5th 2016.

LetLionsLive.org

The Cecil Summit, hosted this week by Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) and Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization, has outlined an emboldened commitment and path forward to address the conservation crisis facing Africa’s lions.

Honoring the global outpouring of outrage and recognition that accompanied the death of the now legendary lion known as Cecil, the Summit assembled some of the world’s leading lion biologists alongside influential experts from the fields of international policy, law enforcement, economics, ethics, law and other sectors.

Together, this brain trust of conservation specialists explored the complex and varied issues affecting the international mosaic of lion conservation, and the innovative solutions required to secure a future for both lions and their landscapes, as well as the people of Africa.

WildCRU Director David Macdonald stated, “Lion conservation has the world’s attention as never before. The Cecil Summit is a continuation of an evolving discussion with members of Africa’s nation states who must be part of the solution to save our global heritage.”

Cecil Summit participants produced a five-point declaration, with the goal of forming the foundation of a renewed path forward for lion conservation.

Restoring Lionscapes: Reinstating the economic and social value of lions across their African landscapes in perpetuity.

Inspiring National Communities: Increasing the pride of local people for their lions and establishing fairness in conservation practices.

Inspiring a Global Community: Increasing international interest in lion conservation and mobilizing financial resources on its behalf.

Enacting the Robin Hood Model: Harnessing members of the global community with the greatest interest and financial resources to support conservation in lion range states.

Financing Lion Conservation: Accelerating the governmental and multi-national engines of financial support required to assist African nations to save the lion.

On behalf of WildCRU and Panthera, WildCRU Director David Macdonald addressed members of the Cecil Summit, media and general public at the closing Summit panel Wednesday to share this declaration. View the recorded session here.

Former editor of The Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, moderated a discussion amongst panel participants on the complexities of the international conservation frontier. Contributors included Director General of the United Nations Environment Programme Achim Steiner, leading lion biologist Craig Packer, UK Minister of State at the Department for International Development Rory Stewart and Panthera founder and historic WildCRU benefactor, Dr. Thomas S. Kaplan. The panel was launched with a message from Edmond Moukala, UNESCO World Heritage Centre’s Africa Unit Chief.

Panthera President and Chief Conservation Officer, Dr. Luke Hunter, shared, “The Cecil Summit underscores the fact that compelling solutions and enormous opportunities to save the lion are within our grasp. Over 1 million square kilometers of lion range are already legally protected but those areas need massive support to truly thrive. Equally, the people that live with lions need to enjoy more benefits from protected areas and have access to new incentives that foster conservation on their own lands.”

Hunter continued, “Conservation and human prosperity are inter-twined in Africa. If we can secure these parks and reserves, we ensure not only the lion’s future but also the future of local people whose livelihoods are directly linked to tourism and other economic opportunities that result.”

Now famous the world over, Cecil the lion was studied through the Hwange Lion Project in Zimbabwe for eight years before his tragic death in 2015 outside of Hwange National Park. Today, the project lives on under the operation of Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), with support from Panthera.

Emboldened by the urgency of the African lion conservation crisis, WildCRU and Panthera resolved to utilize the momentum from the death of Cecil to arouse a Cecil Movement. As the world has learned, the lion is in need of conservation attention now more than ever, with an estimated 20,000 individuals remaining across the entire African continent, a number which represents a decline of 90% over the last century.

Panthera Founder and WildCRU benefactor, Dr. Thomas Kaplan, shared, “The Summit holds the potential to mark an extraordinary turning point for lion conservation. As the participants showed, the land and people are there to save lions. What is needed is will…and commitment. By combining the insights of the broadest array of thinkers and stakeholders in the field, from practitioners on the ground in Africa to government figures, there’s hope that the voice that was given to Cecil and his species may yet turn into a roar.”

Preceding the Cecil Summit, Panthera, WildAid and WildCRU released a new lion report outlining the ongoing threats contributing to the conservation crisis facing lions. Read the report, entitled Beyond Cecil: Africa’s Lions in Crisis, and learn about the #LetLionsLive campaign at letlionslive.org.

Panthera’s Project Leonardo leads or supports initiatives in 15 African nations to bring lion populations back to a minimum of 30,000 individuals within 15 years. Learn more.