News Article | December 21, 2016
In the process, Meinert will study questions such as: How did Buddhism spread in multi-cultural, multi-linguistic and multi-religious Central Asia? Which local cultures were influenced by Buddhist ideas? And how did Buddhist beliefs change following the foray into those vast regions of deserts and steppes? The project bears the title "Dynamics in Buddhist Networks in Eastern Central Asia, 6th-14th Centuries", or "Buddhist Road" for short. It is one of eight German projects in the field of social studies and humanities that were selected by the ERC. In the course of the project, the researchers will for the first time investigate the transregional historical links between the Buddhist traditions in modern China, India and Tibet and the regional Buddhist cultures in Central Asia. Projected activities include source analyses of manuscripts in various European archives, as well as several field research trips in the regions of the medieval Buddhist Kingdom of Khotan, the Uyghur Khaganate and the Tangut Empire - regions that today are part of the territory of the People's Republic of China. The international team from Bochum is mainly interested in the way traders and monks distributed Buddhist ideas along the Silk Roads and to what extent those ideas were adopted by native peoples. So far, Buddhism in Eastern Central Asia has not yet been thoroughly studied from the point of view of interregional contacts. Carmen Meinert's team investigates it from the perspective of comparative religious studies. The academics intend to establish a new research approach that incorporates philology, art history, archaeology and religious studies. Thus, they wish to analyse the exchange of religious beliefs in Eastern Central Asia as a dynamic network. Carmen Meinert studied Sinology, Tibetology and Geography at the University of Bonn, where she was awarded her PhD in 2001. She worked as a researcher at Peking University, at Sichuan University, at the University of Hamburg and at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Humanities in Essen. In 2013, Carmen Meinert was appointed Professor for Central Asian Religions at the Centre for Religious Studies at Ruhr-Universität. Prior to that, she had worked as visiting research fellow at the Käte Hamburger Kolleg "Dynamics in the History of Religions between Asia and Europe". "Buddhist Road" is the second ERC-financed project at the Center for Religious Studies. In its capacity as a central research institution at Ruhr-Universität Bochum, the Center actively supports funding applications for innovative research projects in the fields of the history of religion and sociology of religion. Since 2015, the team of the "Jews East" project has been investigating the diverse historical interactions between Jews and Christians in the Middle East, the Caucasus, the Horn of Africa and Southern India.
News Article | December 1, 2015
How does matter make mind? More specifically, how does a physical object generate subjective experiences like those you are immersed in as you read this sentence? How does stuff become conscious? This is called the mind-body problem, or, by philosopher David Chalmers, the “hard problem.” I expressed doubt that the hard problem can be solved--a position called mysterianism--in The End of Science. I argue in a new edition that my pessimism has been justified by the recent popularity of panpsychism. This ancient doctrine holds that consciousness is a property not just of brains but of all matter, like my table and coffee mug. Panpsychism strikes me as self-evidently foolish, but non-foolish people—notably Chalmers and neuroscientist Christof Koch—are taking it seriously. How can that be? What’s compelling their interest? Have I dismissed panpsychism too hastily? These questions lured me to a two-day workshop on integrated information theory at New York University last month. Conceived by neuroscientist Guilio Tononi (who trained under the late, great Gerald Edelman), IIT is an extremely ambitious theory of consciousness. It applies to all forms of matter, not just brains, and it implies that panpsychism might be true. Koch and others are taking panpsychism seriously because they take IIT seriously. At the workshop, Chalmers, Tononi, Koch and ten other speakers presented their views of IIT, which were then batted around by 30 or so other scientists and philosophers. I’m still mulling over the claims and counter-claims, some of which were dauntingly abstract and mathematical. In this post, I’ll try to assess IIT, based on the workshop and my readings. If I get some things wrong, which is highly likely, I trust workshoppers will let me know. One challenge posed by IIT is obscurity. Popular accounts usually leave me wondering what I’m missing. See for example Carl Zimmer’s 2010 report for The New York Times, Koch’s 2009 Scientific American article, “A ‘Complex" Theory of Consciousness,” or his 2012 book Consciousness. The theory’s core claim is that a system is conscious if it possesses a property called Φ, or phi, which is a measure of the system’s “integrated information.” Phi corresponds to the feedback between and interdependence of different parts of a system. In Consciousness, Koch equates phi to “synergy,” the degree to which a system is “more than the sum of its parts.” Phi can be a property of any entity, biological or non-biological. Even a proton can possess phi, because a proton is an emergent phenomenon stemming from the interaction of its quarks. Hence panpsychism. Another key phrase is “conceptual structure,” which seems to correspond to the manner in which information is embodied and processed in a particular system at a particular moment. The conceptual structure, which I envision as a circuit diagram, or flow chart, determines—or rather, is--the conscious experience. Tononi kicked off the NYU workshop with a 90-minute tutorial on IIT, followed by another hour from Koch. Their presentations paralleled their 2015 paper on IIT, “Consciousness: here, there and everywhere?” Although the paper has whimsical passages (the title echoes an old Beatles song), this excerpt conveys IIT’s forbidding density: …the central identity of IIT can be formulated quite simply: an experience is identical to a conceptual structure that is maximally irreducible intrinsically. More precisely, a conceptual structure completely specifies both the quantity and the quality of experience: how much the system exists—the quantity or level of consciousness—is measured by its Φmax value—the intrinsic irreducibility of the conceptual structure; which way it exists—the quality or content of consciousness—is specified by the shape of the conceptual structure. If a system has Φmax = 0, meaning that its cause–effect power is completely reducible to that of its parts, it cannot lay claim to existing. If Φmax > 0, the system cannot be reduced to its parts, so it exists in and of itself. More generally, the larger Φmax, the more a system can lay claim to existing in a fuller sense than systems with lower Φmax. According to IIT, the quantity and quality of an experience are an intrinsic, fundamental property of a complex of mechanisms in a state—the property of informing or shaping the space of possibilities (past and future states) in a particular way, just as it is considered to be intrinsic to a mass to bend space–time around it. Tononi and Koch were at their clearest citing empirical evidence for IIT. The cerebellum, which seems to have less internal connectivity—and hence lower phi--than other neural regions, can be damaged without significantly affecting consciousness. Moreover, brain scans of paralyzed, uncommunicative, “locked-in” patients reveal higher phi in those showing other signs of being conscious. But the more Tononi, Koch and others talked about information, integration and conceptual structure, the less I understood these notions. I also wondered how scientists can measure a brain’s phi, or integrated information, given their ignorance of how brains encode information. When I confessed my bafflement to Tononi, he acknowledged that IIT takes a while to “seep in.” Others at the workshop also seemed osmosis-resistant. Participants often called on Tononi to settle disputes about the theory, but his oracular responses did not always clarify matters. Toward the end of the workshop, someone asked Tononi whether IIT posits that mind and matter are distinct phenomena or that mind is just a byproduct of matter. In other words, is IIT a materialist or dualist theory of mind? Tononi smiled and replied, “It is what it is.” (Perhaps he meant, “IIT is what IIT is.”) Participants seemed especially confused by an IIT postulate called “exclusion.” According to IIT, many components of a brain—neuron, ganglia, amygdala, visual cortex--may have non-zero phi and hence mini-minds. But because the phi of the entire brain exceeds that of any of its components, its consciousness suppresses or “excludes” its components’ mini-minds. Exclusion helps explain why we don’t experience consciousness as a jumble of mini-sensations, but it has odd implications. If members of a group—say, the IIT workshop--start communicating so obsessively with each other that the group phi exceeds the phi of the individuals, IIT predicts that the group will become conscious and suppress the consciousness of the individuals, turning them into unconscious “zombies.” The same could be true of smaller or larger groups, from a besotted couple to the United States of America. Of course, I could simply be too ignorant to assess IIT. General relativity and quantum mechanics also baffle me, and they’ve fared pretty well. It is thus significant that computer scientist Scott Aaronson, who fully grasps IIT’s technical details, doubts the theory. Speaking after Tononi and Koch, Aaronson described himself as the “official IIT skeptic.” He added, “My lunch seems not to have been poisoned, so thanks,” Aaronson reprised criticisms he leveled on his blog last year. (See also his followup post.) His main complaint is with IIT’s claim that high phi produces consciousness. “Phi may be a necessary condition for consciousness, but it is certainly not a sufficient condition,” he said. Aaronson said he could design a wide variety of simple information-processing systems—a two-dimensional grid, for example, running error-correcting codes like those employed in compact discs—possessing extremely high phi. As he stated on his blog, IIT “unavoidably predicts vast amounts of consciousness in physical systems that no sane person would regard as particularly ‘conscious’ at all: indeed, systems that do nothing but apply a low-density parity-check code, or other simple transformations of their input data. Moreover, IIT predicts not merely that these systems are ‘slightly’ conscious (which would be fine), but that they can be unboundedly more conscious than humans are.” [Bold in original.] Aaronson also faulted proponents of IIT for defending the theory inconsistently. For example, IITers cite the cerebellum’s low phi and lack of consciousness as evidence for the theory, but they can’t be sure that the cerebellum is unconscious; they are simply making a plausible inference, based on common sense. And yet when confronted with Aaronson’s reductio ad absurdum grid argument, Tononi embraced the absurdum; he suggested that maybe the grid is conscious, and he chided Aaronson for appealing to common sense. Aaronson objected on his blog: “You can’t count it as a ‘success’ for IIT if it predicts that the cerebellum is unconscious, while at the same time denying that it’s a ‘failure’ for IIT if it predicts that a square mesh of XOR gates is conscious.” [Bold in original.] At the workshop, Aaronson called this strategy “heads I win, tails you lose.” In other words, by appealing to common sense when it suits their purposes and rejecting it when it doesn’t, IITers make their theory immune to falsification and hence unscientific. Aaronson nonetheless complimented IITers for producing a theory precise enough for him to test. As he put it on his blog, “the fact that Integrated Information Theory is wrong—demonstrably wrong, for reasons that go to its core—puts it in something like the top 2% of all mathematical theories of consciousness ever proposed. Almost all competing theories of consciousness, it seems to me, have been so vague, fluffy, and malleable that they can only aspire to wrongness.” Tononi shrugged off Aaronson’s criticism. “We have to be prepared to be extremely surprised,” he said. He also suggested that Aaronson had critiqued an outdated version of phi. IIT is “a work in progress,” Tononi said. Physicist Max Tegmark, Aaronson’s MIT colleague and an IIT enthusiast, presented half a dozen alternative mathematical definitions of phi, which he suggested might be less problematic than the version critiqued by Aaronson. Aaronson said his analysis applied to all the versions of phi proposed by Tegmark and Tononi. The wrangling over definitions of phi reminded me of the inability of researchers in the once-trendy field of complexity to agree on what they were studying. As I have pointed out, there are at least 40 different definitions of complexity--some of which involve information, another notoriously protean concept. That brings me to philosopher John Searle’s critique of IIT. Searle voiced his criticism not at the NYU workshop (which he did not attend) but in a 2013 review in The New York Review of Books of Koch’s book Consciousness. Searle complained that IIT depends on a misappropriation of the concept of information: [Koch] is not saying that information causes consciousness; he is saying that certain information just is consciousness, and because information is everywhere, consciousness is everywhere. I think that if you analyze this carefully, you will see that the view is incoherent. Consciousness is independent of an observer. I am conscious no matter what anybody thinks. But information is typically relative to observers. These sentences, for example, make sense only relative to our capacity to interpret them. So you can’t explain consciousness by saying it consists of information, because information exists only relative to consciousness. See also the subsequent exchange between Tononi, Koch and Searle, in which Searle said IIT “does not seem to be a serious scientific proposal.” At the NYU workshop, Tononi and other proponents of IIT rejected Searle’s critique, claiming that Searle misrepresents their view of information. But to my mind, Searle zeroed in on IIT’s major flaw. In fact, Searle’s point applies to other information-centric theories of consciousness, including one sketched out by Chalmers more than 20 years ago (which helps explain his affinity for IIT). Information-based theories of consciousness are circular; that is, they seek to explain consciousness with a concept—information—that presupposes consciousness. I spelled out this concern in a 2011 post, “Why Information Can’t Be the Basis of Reality.” The post addressed not IIT specifically but the more general proposition that information is a fundamental property of nature, along with matter and energy. I traced this idea to physicist John Wheeler’s notion of “the it from bit,” which was inspired by apparent resonances between information theory and quantum mechanics. I wrote: The concept of information makes no sense in the absence of something to be informed—that is, a conscious observer capable of choice, or free will (sorry, I can't help it, free will is an obsession). If all the humans in the world vanished tomorrow, all the information would vanish, too. Lacking minds to surprise and change, books and televisions and computers would be as dumb as stumps and stones. This fact may seem crushingly obvious, but it seems to be overlooked by many information enthusiasts. The idea that mind is as fundamental as matter—which Wheeler's "participatory universe" notion implies--also flies in the face of everyday experience. Matter can clearly exist without mind, but where do we see mind existing without matter? Shoot a man through the heart, and his mind vanishes while his matter persists. Moreover, like all theories of consciousness, IIT slams into the solipsism problem (which is at the heart of Aaronson’s critique). As far as I know, I am the only conscious entity in the cosmos. I confidently infer that things like me—such as other humans--are also conscious, but my confidence wanes when I consider things less like me, such as compact discs and dark energy. (There was a mini-discussion at the workshop over whether dark energy could be conscious, leading Koch to quip, “Let’s not be baryonic chauvinists.”) The solipsism problem is especially acute for IIT because of its panpsychic implications. IITers have proposed the construction of a “consciousness-meter” that measures the phi and hence consciousness of any system, from an iPhone to a locked-in patient. But such an instrument would not really be detecting consciousness any more than current brain scans do. No conceivable instrument can solve the solipsism problem. To sum up: Going to the workshop bolstered my bias toward mysterianism. I doubt IIT is taking us closer toward solving the mind-body problem, and I predict that the theory’s metaphysical baggage—panpsychism and all the rest—will limit its popularity. But I loved the workshop. Watching all those brainy participants grappling with the deepest conundrums of existence, citing Descartes, Leibnitz and Hume as well as papers less than a year old, was the most exhilarating intellectual experience I’ve had in a long time. Whatever phi is, my brain brimmed with it by the workshop’s end. Pondering IIT has also deepened my appreciation of the mind-body problem. In an age of rampant scientism, we need theories like IIT to help us rediscover the mystery of ourselves. Postscript: For responses to this article from attendees of the IIT workshop and others, see this followup post. Christof Koch on Free Will, the Singularity and the Quest to Crack Consciousness. Why information can't be the basis of reality. Do Big New Brain Projects Make Sense When We Don't Even Know the "Neural Code"? Is Scientific Materialism "Almost Certainly False"? Why I am Not An Integrated Information Theorist. Post-Postscript: The IIT workshop was co-sponsored by NYU's Center for Mind, Brain and Consciousness (co-directed by Chalmers and Ned Block) and Global Institute for Advanced Studies.
News Article | December 1, 2016
WASHINGTON, DC, December 01, 2016-- William A. Nitze has been included in Marquis Who's Who. As in all Who's Who biographical volumes, individuals profiled are selected on the basis of current reference value. Factors such as position noteworthy accomplishments, visibility, and preeminence in a field are all taken into account during the selection process.Recognized for more than four and one-half decades of invaluable contributions to the energy and environment field, Mr. Nitze has parlayed his knowledge and experience from a series of positions in the private, government and non-profit sectors into his current leadership roles in Oceana Energy Company and several other early stage companies including Senseye, Inc. He started his career as an associate lawyer at the firm of Sullivan & Cromwell in 1970 after receiving his JD from Harvard Law School in 1969 and BA degrees from Wadham College, Oxford, and Harvard College in 1966 and 1964, respectively.In 1972, Mr. Nitze left Sullivan & Cromwell to devote himself to the reorganization of London Arts, Inc. as its Vice-President. After successful completion of this task, he joined Mobil Oil Corporation in 1974 as counsel in Mobil South, Inc., where he handled legal matters with respect to the reorganization of Mobil's marketing activities in a number of Southern Hemisphere countries, briefly acting as General Manager of Mobil Oil Zaire during the summer of 1975. In 1976, Mr. Nitze was appointed General Counsel and a Director of Mobil Oil Japan in Tokyo, where he managed the company's legal portfolio and represented it in critical profit-sharing negotiations.In 1980, he returned to New York City as an Associate General Counsel of Mobil's Exploration and Producing Division, where he spent the next seven years working on legal matters related to Mobil's exploration and producing activities in East Africa, the North Sea and North America. During this period Mr. Nitze became increasingly involved in New York Republican politics building on his prior position as Chairman of Republicans Abroad - Japan, an involvement that finally led to his receiving a political position in the Reagan Administration as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Environment, Health and Natural Resources in 1987.After acting as the State Department's working level negotiator on a broad range of international environmental issues including ozone depletion, acid rain, chemical safety, wildlife conservation and climate change, Mr. Nitze left government in early 1990 to become a visiting scholar at the Environmental Law Institute (ELI). At ELI he wrote a paper jointly published by ELI and the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London on formulating a climate convention many of whose proposed elements were reflected in the International Framework Convention on Climate Change signed at Rio de Janeiro in 1992.Later in 1990, Mr. Nitze became President of the Alliance to Save Energy, a broad coalition of elected officials, industry and union leaders, environmental NGOs and regulators dedicated to promoting programs, investments, standards and other policies to improve energy efficiency in the U.S. and abroad. During this period, he also became a professional lecturer at the Johns Hopkins School of International Studies, co-teaching a course on the formulation of international environmental regimes with a focus on climate change. Mr. Nitze subsequently taught or co-taught this course several more times and in 2016 resumed his teaching career as an adjunct faculty member at George Mason University co-teaching a course on ethics and artificial intelligence.He was nominated and confirmed as Assistant Administrator for International Activities at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1994. During his six and one-half years in that position, Mr. Nitze represented the Administrator in managing bi-lateral and tri-lateral efforts to address transboundary pollution issues and build environmental infrastructure in North America and led efforts to strengthen environmental cooperation with key countries around the world. He also partnered with his counterpart at the Department of Defense in a new environmental security initiative to help the Russian Federation better manage its low and high-level nuclear waste.After leaving government at the end of the Clinton Administration in 2001, Mr. Nitze pursued a number of entrepreneurial activities in the energy and environment field, including consulting as President of the Gemstar Group and becoming the founding Chairman of GridPoint, Inc., an energy management company, in 2003. He also played a leadership role in several environmental non-profits, serving as Chairman of the Climate Institute (2002-9) and the Galapagos Conservancy (2003-9). He has been Chairman of Oceana since 2006 and Vice-Chairman of Senseye since 2015. In addition to his teaching responsibilities, Mr. Nitze serves as Chairman of the Advisory Board at the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Studies at George Mason.A shining example of skill in the field, Mr. Nitze has achieved much throughout his long-standing career. He was recognized by numerous honors publications, such as Who's Who in America, where he was featured 21 times, Who's Who in American Law, 13 times, and Who's Who in American Politics, four times. Looking ahead, he intends to experience the continued growth and success of his career.About Marquis Who's Who :Since 1899, when A. N. Marquis printed the First Edition of Who's Who in America , Marquis Who's Who has chronicled the lives of the most accomplished individuals and innovators from every significant field of endeavor, including politics, business, medicine, law, education, art, religion and entertainment. Today, Who's Who in America remains an essential biographical source for thousands of researchers, journalists, librarians and executive search firms around the world. Marquis now publishes many Who's Who titles, including Who's Who in America , Who's Who in the World , Who's Who in American Law , Who's Who in Medicine and Healthcare , Who's Who in Science and Engineering , and Who's Who in Asia . Marquis publications may be visited at the official Marquis Who's Who website at www.marquiswhoswho.com
News Article | December 14, 2016
During the 1920s and 1930s, Viennese physician and adventurer Alfons Gabriel fell under the spell of Iran's Lut Desert. Gabriel had crisscrossed arid parts of the Middle East, Pakistan, and Afghanistan by camel, observing and mapping areas into which few dared venture—lands with names such as Dasht-i-Naumid (the Desert without Hope) and Dasht-i-Margo (the Desert of Death). But a "confused mass of impassable tangled dunes" stymied his efforts to probe the interior of the Lut Desert, a tract of sand and fantastical rock formations in southeastern Iran that was said to be the hottest place on Earth. In March 1937, Gabriel finally conquered the central Lut—and barely made it out alive. He described his experiences a year later in a spellbinding talk to the Royal Geographical Society in London. Late one afternoon, Gabriel recounted, "the landscape darkened under red clouds … and a noise like the roaring of the sea began." The dust storm raged into the night. "For several anxious hours we lay, motionless and helpless, outstretched on the ground." Later, the voyagers were disoriented by mirages that were most vivid when the air was coolest, just before sunrise. Near the end of the 3-week journey, even their parched camels had had enough: "Their legs trembled; they panted, knelt down, and sometimes crept along on their knees." The allure of the Lut persists. Last month, a convoy of five SUVs carried 10 researchers and their guides, along with cameras, instruments, and hundreds of liters of water and fuel, into the heart of the desert. These modern explorers from Iran, the United States, and Europe were drawn not so much by the exotic landscape as by the puzzle of its unusual ecosystem. Many researchers had assumed that the Lut Desert is too hostile to sustain life, says Hossein Akhani, a plant biologist at the University of Tehran. The interior of the desert, an area nearly as big as West Virginia, is mostly devoid of plant life. But adventurers and the occasional scientist who traveled into the Lut had spotted diverse animal life, including insects, reptiles, and desert foxes. How that food web holds together without plants has been a mystery. A morbid, and possibly unique, phenomenon may be the answer. Dead birds are a frequent sighting in the desert. A few years ago, scientists in Iran began wondering whether migratory birds stray into the Lut and, overcome by the intense heat, fall from the sky like manna, forming the base of a food web. The expedition, organized by Akhani and Bahman Izadi, head of an environmental nonprofit in Shiraz, Iran, and a Lut explorer, set out to test the idea. Colleagues warned that in the fall, right after the heat of summer, the team might not find enough living things to tell. Creatures that burrowed or migrated to escape the heat would not have had time to venture back into the desert. Instead, the team confirmed the existence of a vibrant ecosystem and saw compelling signs that migratory birds do help nourish it. They also found that the bone-dry landscape conceals what they are calling a "hidden sea": a surprisingly shallow layer of salty groundwater that may also help sustain life. The Lut Desert also offers a less uplifting lesson—at least for people living on the knife edge of sustainability in arid regions. Climate change models predict that as temperatures rise, tracts of the Middle East that are naturally uninhabitable—not survivable without air conditioning—will expand. Those areas may come to resemble the transition zone between settlements on the Lut's edges and its supremely hostile core. After Gabriel's pioneering venture, the scientific literature on the Lut Desert remained sparse. One point was settled, though: Gabriel had noted that a contemporary, the German geographer Gustav Stratil-Sauer, "was of the opinion that the hottest region of the earth was not, as hitherto supposed, to be found in Sind, or Abyssinia, or in the Death Valley of California, but in the southern Lut." In 2005, an infrared radiometer on NASA's Aqua satellite measured a ground temperature of 70.7°C (159.3°F) at one spot in the Lut—the hottest satellite reading of ground temperature ever. And in April 2014, Morteza Djamali, a paleoecologist at the Mediterranean Institute of Marine and Terrestrial Biodiversity and Ecology in Marseilles, France, and his colleagues ventured into the central Lut to install a temperature logger at the same spot. In an experience worthy of Alfred Hitchcock, a swarm of locusts descended, picking nearby bird carcasses clean, cannibalizing each other, and biting the researchers. "I can imagine that a lonely traveler could be killed by these small creatures" in a few days, Djamali says. The hardship paid off, Djamali says. In July, the thermometer, planted 30 centimeters above the surface in the shade of a wooden cylinder, registered 61°C—some 5°C higher than the official shade record set in Death Valley in 1913. Bands of heat-absorbing black sand, primarily magnetite, together with topography that limits air movement help explain the blazing temperatures, Djamali says. That same year Akhani paid his first visit to the Lut, a quick scouting trip. A specialist in salt-loving plants, which grow in salty seeps in a few spots in the desert, he also had noticed the birds' carcasses and wondered what role they might play in the ecosystem. Cobbling together backing from the Iranian National Science Foundation, the Saeedi Institute for Advanced Studies at Kashan University in Iran, and other sources, he assembled a team of specialists from Iran and abroad that will spend the next 5 years prizing scientific secrets from the desert. The team set off last month on its maiden expedition, departing from Shahdad, an oasis on the Lut's western edge, and heading due north before arcing south in a path that bisected the desert. In some areas, yardangs, wind-sculpted rock formations several meters tall, sprouted from the desert like mushrooms. Heftier formations called kaluts reminded Akhani of "the ruins of an old city." Relics of what Djamali calls a "complex geoclimatic history," some are made of sandstone, whereas others were eroded from the beds of saline and playa lakes that dotted the landscape some 10 million years ago. The topography, whimsical or majestic, is a major reason the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization inscribed the Lut Desert on its World Heritage List last July. (Iran hopes it will beckon intrepid ecotourists.) Along their 700-kilometer journey, the researchers sampled soil and biota at 37 sites before emerging from the desert east of Bam, a city that suffered catastrophic damage from a 2003 earthquake. One day, the team struck out on foot into a canyon called Zabone Mar, which means "snake's tongue." By satellite, the canyon, about 15 meters wide with walls reaching 30 meters high, looks like a bifurcated tongue. "I noticed a weird noise," recalls expedition member Amir AghaKouchak, a hydrologist at the University of California (UC), Irvine. A continuous, soft crackling emanated from the walls. He speculates that the sound was the rock expanding as temperatures soared from nightly lows near 0°C up to fall daily maximums of about 40°C. "I just stopped and listened to this beautiful music." Or perhaps it was a siren call: The canyon is a death trap. Within its walls, the researchers found the remains of dozens of migratory birds. The birds may have sought shelter in the canyon's shade, but without water they would have quickly perished, AghaKouchak says. Mahmoud Ghasempouri, an ornithologist at Tarbiat Modares University in Tehran, collected carcasses of several migratory species. Why the birds make a fatal detour into the desert is a puzzle, he says. Even outside the canyon dead migratory birds were plentiful, and they often bore signs of having been scavenged by foxes. "I think that's their main food source," AghaKouchak says. Insects, too, are critical to the Lut's food web. Many nibble on plants on the desert's periphery and are in turn eaten by spiders, reptiles, and foxes in the Lut's interior, supplementing the nutrients in the ill-fated birds, says expedition member Hossein Rajaei, curator of Lepidoptera—moths and butterflies—at the Stuttgart State Museum of Natural History in Germany. Yet some live in the heart of the desert. When Rajaei set up light traps at night, he was surprised to count large numbers of moth species. "What do they do there? What do they eat there?" he asks. How the fly larvae he found in a pool of hypersaline water survive is another enigma, he says. And so is the question of how the Lut's denizens stay hydrated. The answer may lie just below the surface. Before the expedition began, AghaKouchak had scrutinized satellite sensor data from the Lut. To his surprise, microwaves emanating from the ground suggested that in some parts of the oven-hot desert, the soil is moist. Perplexed, AghaKouchak consulted a colleague, who proposed that the Lut's soil is so dry that microwaves were radiating from deeper layers of soil or even rocks, falsely indicating shallow moisture. Last month, in the heart of the desert, the team's convoy entered "a flat landscape, as far as you can see," the hydrologist says. A short distance onto the plain, one of the trucks broke through several centimeters of hard, crusty soil and sank, up to its axles—in mud. After another SUV pulled out the stricken vehicle, "you could actually see water" where the tires had been. "It was hard to believe," AghaKouchak says, "but the area is really, really wet." He thinks the moisture comes from distant mountains that ring the table-flat playa. Occasional rainfalls in the spring and early fall drain into the flat basin, he says. According to the team's guides, other areas of the Lut have similar features. Back at UC Irvine, AghaKouchak will attempt to correlate the local knowledge with satellite moisture data to map the extent of the hidden sea. No one lives in the heart of the Lut, and after a 6-year-long drought in Iran, settlements on the desert's fringes are in retreat. That may foreshadow the fate of other parts of the Middle East as global warming pushes summer temperatures still higher, says Elfatih Eltahir, an environmental engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. Last year, in Nature Climate Change, Eltahir and a colleague defined a naturally uninhabitable climate as one in which the heat index—temperature adjusted for humidity—exceeds 35°C for more than six straight hours. "What we are talking about are really extreme conditions," Eltahir says. "If a human being is exposed to that, very likely that person would die." In summer, areas of the Persian Gulf already exceed that threshold and would be unbearable without air-conditioning. Barring "significant mitigation," the uninhabitable areas near the Persian Gulf are likely to expand, including arid but still habitable regions of Iran. "Lut would be a good lab to study what an extreme environment would look like," AghaKouchak says. To probe such questions more deeply, Akhani's team plans to return in the spring. Among other things, they will bring more sophisticated instruments for measuring soil moisture and set up camera traps to study the ecology of the desert fox and other creatures in more detail. They also hope to decipher at a molecular level how the life forms adapt to broiling heat, Akhani says. In 2018, they may even attempt a summer expedition. "If we go then, we probably need to bring a physician," says AghaKouchak, who hastens to add, "I can't wait to go back."
News Article | February 15, 2017
As citizens of a democracy, Americans seem to face a series of intractable problems associated with environmental sustainability. One of the major obstacles to implementing solutions is deep partisan and ideological divisiveness. We can’t seem to agree on what constitutes “the right thing to do.” This year, Husson University’s Ethics Symposium will examine this issue as part of a presentation by Dr. Steven A. Fesmire, professor of philosophy and environmental studies at Green Mountain College in Vermont. His lecture, “Rescuing Democracy from Moral Fundamentalism: How Moral Certainty is a Roadblock to Sustainability,” will take place at the Gracie Theatre on Monday, February 6, 2017 from 3:30 - 4:30 p.m. The presentation is free and open to the public. “Dr. Fesmire is a great example of a long line of American pragmatic thinkers going back to William James and John Dewey,” said Cliff Guthrie, Ph.D., a professor of ethics and humanities at Husson University’s College of Science and Humanities. “Like these other thinkers, he argues that we should view our moral disagreements more like practical everyday problems, and that Americans are great at using their imaginations to come up with new solutions to practical problems.” The lecture will focus on the challenges created in democratic societies by moral fundamentalism – a disposition to believe that there is only one right way to think about and solve moral or political problems. Fesmire will then go on to discuss ways to deal with moral fundamentalism so that democracies can successfully address the tangled local, bioregional, and global problems that prevent our lives from becoming healthier, more just, and more sustainable. Fesmire is the author of Dewey (Routledge Press, 2015), winner of the 2015 Choice “Outstanding Academic Title” award. He is also the author of John Dewey and Moral Imagination: Pragmatism in Ethics (Indiana University Press, 2003) and the winner of the 2005 Choice “Outstanding Academic Title” award. In addition, Fesmire is the editor of the Oxford Handbook of Dewey (Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2017) and is preparing a manuscript titled Ecological Imagination: Essays in Pragmatism, Ethics, and Education. He was a 2009 Fulbright Scholar at Kyoto University and Kobe University in Japan, a 2015-16 visiting scholar at Dartmouth College, and a 2016 fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. “Beyond teaching practical career-related knowledge, Husson University is committed to education that helps us better understand ourselves and our society,” said Dr. Patricia Bixel, dean of the College of Science and Humanities. “In the face of global warming and serious partisan division, we struggle to address environmental problems. Perhaps a more pragmatic approach can help us make progress toward solving some of these issues.” If you would like more information about the upcoming presentation, or if you need to talk to someone about special arrangement or accommodations, please contact Cliff Guthrie, professor of ethics and humanities at guthriec(at)husson(dot)edu or 207 941-7760. For more than 100 years, Husson University has prepared future leaders to handle the challenges of tomorrow through innovative undergraduate and graduate degrees. With a commitment to delivering affordable classroom, online and experiential learning opportunities, Husson University has come to represent superior value in higher education. Our Bangor campus and off-campus satellite education centers in Southern Maine, Wells, and Northern Maine provide advanced knowledge in business; health and education; pharmacy studies; science and humanities; as well as communication. In addition, Husson University has a robust adult learning program. For more information about educational opportunities that can lead to personal and professional success, visit Husson.edu.
Bunzli J.-C.G.,Korea University |
Bunzli J.-C.G.,Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne |
Eliseeva S.V.,CNRS Center for Molecular Biophysics |
Eliseeva S.V.,Institute for Advanced Studies
Chemical Science | Year: 2013
The enthralling properties of lanthanide luminescence have propelled luminescent probes, tags and materials based on these elements to the forefront of science and technology. In this minireview, attention is focused on the latest innovations and on less-known aspects of this field. Exciting new developments in bioimaging, therapy, drug delivery, security tags, luminescent sensors, and solar energy conversion are highlighted. © 2013 The Royal Society of Chemistry.
Sigalas E.,Institute for Advanced Studies
Space Policy | Year: 2012
This paper investigates the role of the European Parliament (EP) in the development of the space policy of the EU (EUSP), an important policy area that has been neglected in the political science and EU studies literature. EUSP is the offspring of the European space policy which started as a purely intergovernmental affair, but gradually acquired a supranational dimension. Although the EP did little to initiate this process, it always supported the involvement of the EU in space, and it used both its formal and informal powers to affect and promote its development. Under the consultation procedure the EP managed to become a conditional agenda setter, and under co-decision an influential legislation maker. The changes it introduced in the European global navigation satellite and Earth observation programmes relate not only to the inter-institutional balance and its controlling powers, but to a series of substantive issues also. Consequently, the activism of the EP has played an important part in the development of the EUSP, even if it was not the main force behind its inception. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.
De Lima M.S.F.,Institute for Advanced Studies |
Sankare S.,IREPA LASER
Materials and Design | Year: 2014
Laser additive manufacturing of stainless steels is a promising process for near net shape fabrication of parts requiring good mechanical and corrosion properties with a minimal waste generation. This work focuses on high aspect ratio AISI 316 steel structures made by superposition of sequential layers. A special nozzle for precise powder delivery together with a monomode fiber laser allowed producing high quality steel stringers on AISI 316 steel substrates. Although the stringers average compositions were inside the austenite plus ferrite range, only austenite phase was verified. The cladded structure presented some internal pores and cracks, responsible by the low Young's moduli. However, the tensile properties were similar to the base material and other literature results. The three-point flexural tests also produced good results in terms of formability. The fabricated structures proved to be useful for use in mechanical construction. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.
Spohn H.,Institute for Advanced Studies |
Spohn H.,TU Munich
Journal of Statistical Physics | Year: 2014
With focus on anharmonic chains, we develop a nonlinear version of fluctuating hydrodynamics, in which the Euler currents are kept to second order in the deviations from equilibrium and dissipation plus noise are added. The required model-dependent parameters are written in such a way that they can be computed numerically within seconds, once the interaction potential, pressure, and temperature are given. In principle the theory is applicable to any one-dimensional system with local conservation laws. The resulting nonlinear stochastic field theory is handled in the one-loop approximation. Some of the large scale predictions can still be worked out analytically. For more details one has to rely on numerical simulations of the corresponding mode-coupling equations. In this way we arrive at detailed predictions for the equilibrium time correlations of the locally conserved fields of an anharmonic chain. © 2014 Springer Science+Business Media New York.
News Article | February 15, 2017
SOME people see the future in tea leaves. David Simmons-Duffin is more interested in the boiling water. The jostling of water molecules as they turn from liquid to gas represents a problem that, for theoretical physicists like him, is just too hot to handle. So what, you might say, as long as we can still make a decent cup of tea. But dive a little deeper into how water boils, and a pattern begins to emerge – the same pattern that crops up in all sorts of places where matter starts to shift shape. Whether it’s the collective properties of electrons that make a material magnetic or superconducting, or the complex interactions by which everyday matter acquires mass, a host of currently intractable problems might all follow the same mathematical rules. Cracking this code could help us on the way to everything from more efficient transport and electronics to a new, shinier, quantum theory of gravity. Simmons-Duffin, who works at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, New Jersey, and his band of fellow researchers don’t claim to have cracked this code yet. But they have made more headway in a few years than people did in the generation before – using a key in a problem that first surfaced almost a century ago. Physicists like simplicity. Their discipline is all about keenly observing the world and drawing out unifying mathematical rules that govern its workings. Take orbiting planets. First Johannes Kepler meticulously sifted through the available data to establish three mathematical rules that governed their motions. Then Isaac Newton showed that those three rules were just facets of