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a well wisher  
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Rating: 0 of 0 votes Quote a well wisher Replybullet Posted: 03 October 2009 at 6:38pm
Consciousness Is The Brain's Wi-Fi, Resolving Competing Requests, Study Suggests

ScienceDaily (Oct. 2, 2009) — Your fingers start to burn after picking up a hot plate. Should you drop the plate or save your meal? New research suggests that it is your consciousness that resolves these dilemmas by serving as the brain's Wi-Fi network, mediating competing requests from different parts of the body. Published recently in the journal Emotion, the study also explains why we are consciously aware of some conflicting urges but not others.

"If the brain is like a set of computers that control different tasks, consciousness is the Wi-Fi network that allows different parts of the brain to talk to each other and decide which action 'wins' and is carried out," said San Francisco State University Assistant Professor of Psychology Ezequiel Morsella, lead author of the study. The study finds that we are only aware of competing actions that involve skeletal muscles that voluntarily move parts of the body, the bicep for example, rather than the muscles in the digestive tract or the iris of the eye.

In lab experiments, participants were trained to identify and report changes in their awareness, or the feeling of being about to make a mistake, while in a state of readiness to perform simple exercises...

The findings support a new theory developed by Morsella which predicts that the primary role of consciousness is to bring together competing demands on skeletal muscle. Morsella's theory also proposes that consciousness allows individuals to adapt their actions in the future, for example wearing an oven mitt to hold a hot dish.

The results give credence to an interesting idea that 'thinking is for doing,' a framework psychologists are using to explore the link among consciousness, perception and action. "Our findings add to the growing body of evidence that when you prepare to perform two competing actions you prime the same areas of the brain associated with carrying out that same action," Morsella said.

"What's interesting is that the changes in awareness that participants felt when preparing to perform conflicting actions was uniquely associated with increased activation of areas of the brain associated with action and perception, as we would expect, and also with working memory, including the pre- and post-central sulcus," Morsella said. "This is consistent with our theory because these brain regions are responsible for consciousness and selecting the right action at the right time."

The authors suggest that both studies identify the common elements underlying all conflicting urges and that the findings shed light on managing addiction and failures of self control.

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Rating: 0 of 0 votes Quote a well wisher Replybullet Posted: 04 October 2009 at 6:10pm
Valuable Intellectual Traits 
 
Richard Paul and Linda Elder

Intellectual traits, or virtues, are interrelated intellectual habits that enable students to discipline and improve mental functioning. Teachers need to keep in mind that critical thinking can be used to serve two incompatible ends: self-centeredness or fair-mindedness. As students learn the basic intellectual skills that critical thinking entails, they can begin to use those skills in either a selfish or in a fair-minded way. For example, when students are taught how to recognize mistakes in reasoning (commonly called fallacies), most students readily see those mistakes in the reasoning of others but do not see them so readily in their own reasoning. Often they enjoy pointing out others' errors and develop some proficiency in making their opponents' thinking look bad, but they don't generally use their understanding of fallacies to analyze and assess their own reasoning.
It is thus possible for students to develop as thinkers and yet not to develop as fair-minded thinkers. The best thinkers strive to be fair-minded, even when it means they have to give something up. They recognize that the mind is not naturally fair-minded, but selfish. And they understand that to be fair-minded, they must also develop particular traits of mind, traits such as intellectual humility, intellectual courage, intellectual empathy, intellectual integrity, intellectual perseverance, faith in reason, and fair-mindedness. Teachers should model and discuss the following intellectual traits as they help their students become fair-minded, ethical thinkers.
  1. Intellectual Humility: Having a consciousness of the limits of one's knowledge, including a sensitivity to circumstances in which one's native egocentrism is likely to function self-deceptively; sensitivity to bias, prejudice and limitations of one's viewpoint. Intellectual humility depends on recognizing that one should not claim more than one actually knows. It does not imply spinelessness or submissiveness. It implies the lack of intellectual pretentiousness, boastfulness, or conceit, combined with insight into the logical foundations, or lack of such foundations, of one's beliefs.

  2. Intellectual Courage: Having a consciousness of the need to face and fairly address ideas, beliefs or viewpoints toward which we have strong negative emotions and to which we have not given a serious hearing. This courage is connected with the recognition that ideas considered dangerous or absurd are sometimes rationally justified (in whole or in part) and that conclusions and beliefs inculcated in us are sometimes false or misleading. To determine for ourselves which is which, we must not passively and uncritically "accept" what we have "learned." Intellectual courage comes into play here, because inevitably we will come to see some truth in some ideas considered dangerous and absurd, and distortion or falsity in some ideas strongly held in our social group. We need courage to be true to our own thinking in such circumstances. The penalties for non-conformity can be severe.

  3. Intellectual Empathy: Having a consciousness of the need to imaginatively put oneself in the place of others in order to genuinely understand them, which requires the consciousness of our egocentric tendency to identify truth with our immediate perceptions of long-standing thought or belief. This trait correlates with the ability to reconstruct accurately the viewpoints and reasoning of others and to reason from premises, assumptions, and ideas other than our own. This trait also correlates with the willingness to remember occasions when we were wrong in the past despite an intense conviction that we were right, and with the ability to imagine our being similarly deceived in a case-at-hand.

  4. Intellectual Integrity: Recognition of the need to be true to one's own thinking; to be consistent in the intellectual standards one applies; to hold one's self to the same rigorous standards of evidence and proof to which one holds one's antagonists; to practice what one advocates for others; and to honestly admit discrepancies and inconsistencies in one’s own thought and action.

  5. Intellectual Perseverance: Having a consciousness of the need to use intellectual insights and truths in spite of difficulties, obstacles, and frustrations; firm adherence to rational principles despite the irrational opposition of others; a sense of the need to struggle with confusion and unsettled questions over an extended period of time to achieve deeper understanding or insight.

  6. Faith In Reason: Confidence that, in the long run, one's own higher interests and those of humankind at large will be best served by giving the freest play to reason, by encouraging people to come to their own conclusions by developing their own rational faculties; faith that, with proper encouragement and cultivation, people can learn to think for themselves, to form rational viewpoints, draw reasonable conclusions, think coherently and logically, persuade each other by reason and become reasonable persons, despite the deep-seated obstacles in the native character of the human mind and in society as we know it.

  7. Fair-mindedness: Having a consciousness of the need to treat all viewpoints alike, without reference to one's own feelings or vested interests, or the feelings or vested interests of one's friends, community or nation; implies adherence to intellectual standards without reference to one's own advantage or the advantage of one's group.



Edited by a well wisher - 04 October 2009 at 6:11pm
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Aspirin Misuse May Have Made 1918 Flu Pandemic Worse

ScienceDaily (Oct. 3, 2009) — The devastation of the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic is well known, but a new article suggests a surprising factor in the high death toll: the misuse of aspirin. Appearing in the November 1 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases and available online now, the article sounds a cautionary note as present day concerns about the novel H1N1 virus run high.

High aspirin dosing levels used to treat patients during the 1918-1919 pandemic are now known to cause, in some cases, toxicity and a dangerous build up of fluid in the lungs, which may have contributed to the incidence and severity of symptoms, bacterial infections, and mortality. Additionally, autopsy reports from 1918 are consistent with what we know today about the dangers of aspirin toxicity, as well as the expected viral causes of death.

The motivation behind the improper use of aspirin is a cautionary tale, said author Karen Starko, MD. In 1918, physicians did not fully understand either the dosing or pharmacology of aspirin, yet they were willing to recommend it. Its use was promoted by the drug industry, endorsed by doctors wanting to “do something,” and accepted by families and institutions desperate for hope.

“Understanding these natural forces is important when considering choices in the future,” Dr. Starko said. “Interventions cut both ways. Medicines can save and improve our lives. Yet we must be ever mindful of the importance of dose, of balancing benefits and risks, and of the limitations of our studies.”

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Mediterranean Diet Associated With Reduced Risk Of Depression

ScienceDaily (Oct. 6, 2009) — Individuals who follow the Mediterranean dietary pattern—rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains and fish—appear less likely to develop depression, according to a report in the October issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the JAMA/Archives journals

The lifetime prevalence of mental disorders has been found to be lower in Mediterranean than Northern European countries, according to background information in the article. One plausible explanation is that the diet commonly followed in the region may be protective against depression. Previous research has suggested that the monounsaturated fatty acids in olive oil—used abundantly in the Mediterranean diet—may be associated with a lower risk of severe depressive symptoms. ...........

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091005181623.htm

 

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A Simple Way For Older Adults To Assess Arterial Stiffness: Reach For The Toes

ScienceDaily (Oct. 7, 2009) — How far you can reach beyond your toes from a sitting position – normally used to define the flexibility of a person’s body – may be an indicator of how stiff your arteries are.

A study in the American Journal of Physiology has found that, among people 40 years old and older, performance on the sit-and-reach test could be used to assess the flexibility of the arteries. Because arterial stiffness often precedes cardiovascular disease, the results suggest that this simple test could become a quick measure of an individual’s risk for early mortality from heart attack or stroke.

“Our findings have potentially important clinical implications because trunk flexibility can be easily evaluated,” said one of the authors, Kenta Yamamoto. “This simple test might help to prevent age-related arterial stiffening.”

It is not known why arterial flexibility would be related to the flexibility of the body in middle age and older people. But the authors say that one possibility is that stretching exercises may set into motion physiological reactions that slow down age-related arterial stiffening.

Arteries should be elastic

Healthy blood vessels are elastic, and elasticity helps to moderate blood pressure. Arterial stiffness increases with age and is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and death. Previous studies have established that physical fitness can delay age-related arterial stiffness, although exactly how that happens is not understood. The authors noted that people who keep themselves in shape often have a more flexible body, and they hypothesized that a flexible body could be a quick way to determine arterial flexibility....

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Honey Effective In Killing Bacteria That Cause Chronic Sinusitis

Honey is very effective in killing bacteria in all its forms, especially the drug-resistant biofilms that make treating chronic rhinosinusitis difficult, according to research presented during the 2008 American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Foundation (AAO-HNSF) Annual Meeting & OTO EXPO, in Chicago, IL.*
 

The study, authored by Canadian researchers at the University of Ottawa, found that in eleven isolates of three separate biofilms (Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and methicicillin-resistant and -suseptible Staphylococcus aureus), honey was significantly more effective in killing both planktonic and biofilm-grown forms of the bacteria, compared with the rate of bactericide by antibiotics commonly used against the bacteria.

Given the historical uses of honey in some cultures as a homeopathic treatment for bad wound infections, the authors conclude that their findings may hold important clinical implications in the treatment of refractory chronic rhinosinusitis, with topical treatment a possibility.

Chronic rhinosinusitis affects approximately 31 million people each year in the United States alone, costing over $4 billion in direct health expenditures and lost workplace productivity. It is among the three most common chronic diseases in all of North America.

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Invisible hand in invisible matter

PhysOrg.com) -- An international team of astronomers have found an unexpected link between mysterious 'dark matter' and the visible stars and gas in galaxies that could revolutionise our current understanding of gravity.
 

One of the astronomers, Dr Hongsheng Zhao of the SUPA Centre of Gravity, University of St Andrews, suggests that an unknown force is acting on dark matter. The findings are published this week in the scientific journal Nature.

Only 4% of the universe is made of known material. Stars and gas in galaxies move so fast that astronomers have speculated that the gravity from a hypothetical invisible halo of dark matter is needed to keep galaxies together. However, a solid understanding of dark matter as well as direct evidence of its existence has remained elusive.

Now the team believes that the interactions between dark and ordinary matter could be more important and more complex than previously thought, and even speculate that dark matter might not exist and that the anomalous motions of stars in galaxies are due to a modification of gravity on extragalactic scales.

Dr. Benoit Famaey (Universities of Bonn and Strasbourg) explains: "The dark matter seems to 'know' how the visible matter is distributed. They seem to conspire with each other such that the gravity of the visible matter at the characteristic radius of the dark halo is always the same. This is extremely surprising since one would rather expect the balance between visible and dark matter to strongly depend on the individual history of each galaxy."

Dr. Zhao at the SUPA Centre of Gravity notes, "The pattern that the data reveal is extremely odd. It's like finding a zoo of animals of all ages and sizes miraculously having identical, say, weight in their backbones or something. It is possible that a non-gravitational fifth force is ruling the dark matter with an invisible hand, leaving the same fingerprints on all galaxies, irrespective of their ages, shapes and sizes."

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Rising Sea Levels Are Increasing Risk Of Flooding Along South Coast Of England

ScienceDaily (Oct. 10, 2009) — A new study by researchers at the University of Southampton has found that sea levels have been rising across the south coast of England over the past century, substantially increasing the risk of flooding during storms.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091009092348.htm

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Simple Tool Can Boost Motivation, Improve Health In Older Adults

ScienceDaily (Oct. 12, 2009) — Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) have identified a tool -- the "Getting-Out-of-Bed (GoB) measure" -- to assess motivation and life outlook in older adults. The study, which appears in the October issue of the Journal of Psychosocial Oncology, shows that the tool has the potential to be an easy-to-use measure to bolster motivation and thus improve health behaviors and outcomes in the growing population of older adults.

The demographics of aging in the United States continues to change dramatically. In 2006, 37 million Americans, 12 percent of the population were 65 years or older. By 2030, those 65 years and older are projected to number 71.5 million representing nearly 20 percent of the US population. Furthermore, between 1992 and 2004 average inflation-adjusted health care costs for older Americans increased from $8,644 to $13,052 and are expected to continue to rise considerably. According to the researchers, such numbers underscore the importance of understanding common diseases and health behaviors of older adults, because many conditions can be prevented and/or modified with behavioral interventions....

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Healthy Neighborhoods May Be Associated With Lower Diabetes Risk

ScienceDaily (Oct. 13, 2009) — Individuals living in neighborhoods conducive to physical activity and providing access to healthy foods may have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes in a five-year period, according to a report in the October 12 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

The worldwide epidemic of type 2 diabetes mellitus is largely driven by the combined rise in obesity, intake of energy-dense or nutrient-poor foods and physical inactivity," the authors write as background information in the article. Interventions to reduce risk on the individual level—including surgery, medication and behavior change—have had mixed results. Large-scale behavior change may be necessary to reverse the diabetes epidemic, but such a change is difficult to achieve and may be unsustainable if the surrounding environment is not supportive....
 

"Given the challenges of mounting an intervention at the individual level, it is heartening to read a study suggesting that it may be possible to decrease the incidence of diabetes by modifying the environment," writes Mitchell H. Katz, M.D., of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, in an accompanying editorial.

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Researchers Discover Mechanism That Helps Humans See In Bright And Low Light

ScienceDaily (Oct. 14, 2009)Ever wonder how your eyes adjust during a blackout?

When we go from light to near total darkness, cells in the retina must quickly adjust. Vision scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have identified an intricate process that allows the human eye to adapt to darkness very quickly. The same process also allows the eye to function in bright light. .......

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091013123357.htm

 

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Sustainable Architecture: Setting Sail In An Ecological 'Earthship'

ScienceDaily (Oct. 16, 2009) — Could sustainable architecture address pollution, climate change and resource depletion by helping us build self-sufficient, off-grid, housing from "waste", including vehicle tires and metal drinks containers? That's the question researchers at the University of South Australia address in a new paper appearing in the International Journal of Sustainable Design

Martin Freney of the department of Art, Architecture and Design has taken a critical look at the work of architect, Michael Reynolds of Taos, New Mexico, USA, who has experimented with radical house designs, and construction techniques over the past three and half decades. Reynolds designs incorporate passive heating and cooling, water catchment and sewage treatment, renewable energy, and even food production. These houses, which Reynolds calls "Earthships" are essentially independent of external utilities and waste disposal. On the face of it, they offer, an environmentally benign approach to housing...
 
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State of the Earth 2010
 
A remarkable thing happened in 2009: The planet did not come to a grinding, howling collapse.

By Thomas Hayden

True, the signs of impending disaster were everywhere, from an unspooling global economy, to war and ongoing political turmoil, to drought-stricken land, and dying oceans. And above it all, we have the growing evidence that global warming is progressing even faster than anticipated, while the political will to address it remains sluggish.

No, the planet did not come to an end. And yet—here we are, too far into the new century to pretend any longer that a new age of awareness and responsibility will suddenly emerge, unless we can gather the resolve to drag it kicking and screaming from our imaginations and into reality.

To preserve and redeem our planet, we must first understand it—and the nearly seven billion people who share its beauty, its opportunities, and its challenges. That is the purpose of EarthPulse, and it has never been an easy task. But this year the stakes seem higher somehow, even as the impediments appear steeper. These are complex times, after all, and they are changing fast.

After decades of expansion and years of rapid acceleration, the global economy has grown to an unprecedented size and near universal reach. We are connected now as never before, directly through travel, the Internet and telecommunications, and no less tangibly through the global networks of finance, trade, and commerce, which have spread both wealth and worry to the farthest corners of the Earth. We find ourselves now in an unprecedented double bind, with our global bill for decades of overconsumption—of living beyond our ecological and economic means—apparently coming due just as our financial system faces its most serious threats in several generations.

How different the world is today from the one we inherited from our parents and grandparents. In 1929, when the Great Depression struck, many people still lived in relative isolation, steeped in ancient cultural traditions and drawing on local resources for much of the food, water, and shelter they required. Today the world is knit together with cargo ships and jetliners, advertising campaigns and television reruns. Distances have collapsed, barriers have disappeared, and we are filling our homes and our minds with goods and ideas from around the globe. The human population has nearly quadrupled since the 1930s. Millions now enjoy greater wealth and security and nutrition than ever before, while others have been pushed to the margins.

And what of the planet itself? Our footprint can be seen everywhere, in the deserts we've caused to bloom and the many cities and roadways and verdant suburbs we've built, but also in the greenhouse gases we've pumped into the air, the seas we've emptied of fish, and the forests we've cut, burned, and bulldozed into oblivion. Yes, this interconnected world we've constructed has brought unprecedented comfort to millions, but it has also threatened the very functioning of nature's sustaining systems. We've transformed our home planet to such a dramatic extent that many scientists suggest we've created an entirely new geologic era: the Anthropocene, or the age of humans.

There have been exploiters and abusers throughout our history, and the greedy, the unthinking, and the downright immoral are with us still. But for the most part we've caused these planet-altering changes through the entirely understandable—laudable even—desire to better our own lot, that of our children, and even that of our fellow human beings. If our intentions have been largely benign, however, the impacts have been anything but.

Humans are nothing if not innovative, and we will likely find ways to feed our numbers as population swells beyond nine billion, and perhaps even to preserve some remnants of the planet's natural splendor. But can we do it while leaving enough rain forest so that the orangutans of Borneo can also survive? Is there room on the planet for pervasive global brands and for a thousand different cultures, each expressed through its own unique combination of sound and color, story, language, and belief? Can we continue to overcrowd and overconsume without losing the very things that have given us joy, kept us safe, and provided inspiration for as long as we've been a species? The allure of wealth, comfort, and health is powerful indeed. But asking whether we can afford them means much more than whether we simply have the money.

Money itself is now, for many, in distressingly short supply. If there is any good news in the recent economic slowdown at all, perhaps it is to be found in some still leafy corner of the Amazon Basin, where the primeval forest has not yet been converted to fire-scarred cattle range or soybean fields; or on a patch of Florida swampland that has not yet been drained, filled over, and covered with condominiums; or in the waters of a Chinese river not, for the moment, used to cool the overheated engines of industrial expansion.

After decades of accelerating deforestation, development, and exploitation, our moment of economic crisis has given the planet itself a brief moment of respite. There can be no joy in the global financial collapse—too many lives have been broken, and too many dreams put on hold. But perhaps this is a moment of opportunity also, as we seek to rebuild our systems of production and trade, and perhaps it would be just as wrong to let that opportunity pass us by.

The future is uncertain, but only the most pessimistic among us would say that the world economy will not recover and start to grow again, whether in six months, a year, or ten. We have paused in our centuries-long push to produce and consume ever more now, and the most optimistic might say that this is our chance to breathe deeply and consider the sort of future we want for ourselves and for our planet. Will consumption continue to rule the day, or will we find ways to do more good for humanity, with less harm to the Earth? Will we make our recovery merely fast, or can we make it smart as well? The choice has always been ours; the time to make it, definitively, is now.

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Better world: Big thinkers, big ideas

We asked prominent thinkers and doers what they reckon will make the world a better place.

The key to a better future for the entire world population lies in giving priority to the development of human capabilities.

The immediate priority must be universal primary and secondary education - all children in school at least through to age 15 - everywhere in the world. New research shows that this generally leads to better health, higher economic growth and in the long run better government.

Better-educated women will choose to have fewer children who in turn will get better educations. Citizens empowered through education will be better able to improve their own living conditions, as well as the conditions of their societies, and will be better prepared for adapting to the consequences of climate change.

While education is not a guarantee for success it improves the chance more than any other intervention.

This calls for a radical reorientation of our development strategies: shift the focus from giving money to developing minds!

Wolfgang Lutz, academic and author of many books on population and development

If each of us made service to others a part of our lives, the world would become an infinitely better place.

From the beginning Americans have dedicated themselves to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". But the happiness that was to be pursued was not the buzz of a sexual escapade or a shopping spree, it was the happiness that comes from feeling good by doing good.

This moment in history demands that we stop waiting on others to right the wrongs of our times. Now, more than ever, we must mine the most underutilised resource available to us: ourselves.

Arianna Huffington, author and founder of The Huffington Post

Climate change is happening and will shape the future world. It is unlikely that we will succeed in slowing the pace of change, mainly because we are too slow and unable to make effective responses in under 20 to 40 years. More than this, the Earth itself will soon be in the driving seat and aiming at a 5 °C hotter world.

I think that our best course of action is to spend at least as much effort adapting to global heating as in attempts to slow or stop it happening.

There are no heroes or villains: we accidentally and unintentionally triggered global heating, always a possibility when an intelligent communicating animal evolves.

The Earth system is far more powerful than we are and has its own goals, but we are of enormous value to it as well as to ourselves, therefore our shared imperative is survival.

James Lovelock, independent scientist and originator of the Gaia hypothesis

America faces enormous policy challenges, from global warming to a collapsing financial system. Yet America has practically no capacity for engaging in sensible policy solutions.

To an extent almost never matched in American history, policymaking has been captured by the interests necessary to fund campaigns. The world would be an enormously better place if policymakers in America could be independent of those interests – pursuing policy that made sense, and not that raised campaign dollars.

Lawrence Lessig, professor of law, Harvard University

Public health and medicine have proved to be invaluable bridges to improved international understanding and cooperation – witness smallpox eradication, control of polio and biomedical research in tropical diseases.

Relevant national efforts today are fragmented across governments, uncoordinated and underfunded.

Why not create a strong World Health Organization that is funded and supported with the seriousness and intent that its performance deserves.

D. A. Henderson, leader of the smallpox eradication campaign

One of the biggest problems we face today is a feeling of helplessness. How can one person possibly make a difference in the face of overpopulation, poverty, overconsumption, deforestation and desertification, loss of biodiversity, pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, climate change, decreasing water supplies, human violence – and all the rest. No wonder people feel helpless and hopeless.

It is desperately important for us to understand that each one of us does make a difference. Every day we make some impact on the environment and the living beings around us. And we have a choice as to what sort of impact we make.

Although one person out of several billion doing his or her bit to save water, for example, would have no impact on the water crisis, a few million or billion doing the same would result in the kind of change we must see.

There is an indigenous saying: "We have not inherited this world from our parents, we have borrowed it from our children." This is simply not true. When you borrow you intend to pay back. We have been stealing the future of our children.

We are, arguably, the most intellectual creature to have walked the planet. How come, then, we are destroying it?

I believe we have lost the wisdom of the indigenous people who made decisions based on how they would affect their people generations ahead. We make decisions based on, "How will this affect me now?" Or, "How will this affect the next shareholders' meeting, three months from now?" And so on.

If we would all – and particularly the powerful voices in industry and government – regain the lost wisdom and think about future generations, the world would rapidly become a much better place.

Jane Goodall, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and a United Nations' Messenger of Peace

There are huge health inequities in the world.

This is not simply due to a lack of access to medical care. It is the result of inequities in power, money and resources, which, in turn, shape the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age.

We need to take action here to solve the problem. Health equity should be part of the consideration of all policy makers. If we can get the United Nations, World Bank, IMF and national governments to start thinking and talking in this way, that would be a good start.

Michael Marmot, epidemiologist, University College London

Within hunter-gatherer groups, virtually all members possessed the same non-genetic information – that is, the same culture. The exceptions were few: perhaps a hunter with a favourite productive spot for placing rabbit snares, a group of women who knew the medicinal properties of a certain plant, a canoe-builder who had a special way of lashing on an outrigger support, or a shaman whose mentor had taught him a secret incantation.

One might estimate that all adults stored at least 75 percent of the group's significant culture, the information it needed to survive and prosper.

Contrast that with the culture gap in Britain or America today. Even the most educated individuals can't possibly store more than a millionth of one percent of their culture.

If given the correct pile of parts, few would know how to assemble a television set, let alone be able to describe the processes by which the parts were manufactured, the provenance of the materials they embodied, or the methods by which they had been gathered and processed.

Even most university professors could not describe how the basic process of evolution works, give a coherent description of the threat climate change poses to civilization, explain how population size influences vulnerability to novel pandemics, or tell why racism is biological nonsense.

This giant culture gap, a very recent phenomenon in the history of our species, is on display nightly in the evening news and in the blogosphere. To make the world a better place, societies must start trying to close the gap. If many more people know the basics of how the world works, civilization has a much better chance to reach sustainability.

People needn't know about Sun Tzu or Beethoven, but once large numbers are familiar with such things as ecosystem services, elementary demography, and the constraints placed on human activities by the second law of thermodynamics, the human future will be much brighter.

Paul R. Ehrlich, Bing Professor of Population Studies, Stanford University

These are urgent times, and perhaps now some of our messages will have greater resonance.

Blind faith in economic growth and gain as the be-all, end-all, cure-for-all has been misplaced. Fairness is at the heart of our ambitions.

Greater equity in the health status of populations, within and between countries, should be regarded as a key measure of how we, as a civilised society, are making progress.

Margaret Chan, director-general, World Health Organization

I hope to change the world through spreading my Heroic Imagination Project virally as a smart meme, creating new ordinary heroes in every country, of every age, gender and social class to oppose evil in all its forms, and promote the civic virtues of compassion and justice.

We are doing this by creating new Heroic Imagination curricula in schools and camps, and will be using the web and mobile phones to spread the word. We want people to make a public commitment that they are "heroes-in-waiting" – doing small social virtuous acts – and becoming "heroes-in-training" using our Hero Resource kit guidelines, so that when the time comes for a major heroic deed, they will be willing and able to act heroically.

Most heroes are ordinary people who act socio-centrically by aiding others in need or for a moral cause, aware of the likely personal costs and without expectation of tangible reward.

Philip Zimbardo, psychologist, Stanford University

I've been thinking about your question - how to make the world a better place - since receiving your letter. Actually, it's what I write and speak about all the time. A serious effort would be out of place here, and every brief response I think of seems trite or inadequate, requiring more explanation and background.

Noam Chomsky, linguist, philosopher and activist, MIT

In the middle of the 20th century, the US was largely a force for good in the broader world. That has changed, and not for the better. In recent years the US (and countries influenced by it, which include the UK) has been dominated by the three Ms: money, markets and me.

We need to flip those three Ms on their side and replace them with good work and good citizenship so that people pursue the three Es: excellence (they know their stuff), engagement (they care about work and citizenship) and ethics (they behave in ways that are responsible, not selfish).

Then we need to flip the figure another 90 degrees to form a W for We – members of society need to work together in the pursuit of good work and good citizenship. As President Obama says: "It's not about me, it's about you and us."

No one can know whether the US will continue to be influential and, if so, in what ways. But if we want to make the world a better place, we need to be excellent, engaged and ethical in our work and in our citizenship.

Howard Gardner, author of Good Work

The single investment that would best help the world today would be in cheap policies to combat malnutrition, undernourishment and hunger.

Research for Copenhagen Consensus 2008 showed that getting basic micronutrients like vitamin A and zinc to 80% of the world's 140 million or so undernourished children would require just $60 million annually, and produce human gains valued at more than $1 billion a year.

We should focus much more on areas like this where we could significantly, effectively, and cheaply reduce human suffering and heartache.

Bjørn Lomborg, director of the Copenhagen Consensus Centre

Rather than highlight one of the giant problems waiting to be solved, how about we properly acknowledge one area of success and then spread it around?

In the Western world our average life expectancy brings us to our late seventies. There is much to celebrate in this achievement; it is testament to medical science, to education, to public health policy and to peace. This success raises some serious issues, though.

For a start, the time may now have come for a mature discussion of just how old we want to get, and how important quality of life is, and what we want to achieve with this previously unimaginable life-span, and just as importantly, how we would wish to manage our own old age and death.

More importantly though, we can't escape that this is just a clumsy average. We all know too many people who die young; and in too many parts of the world, some in our own countries, there are entire populations that can't reach this benchmark.

How about this as a promise? Let's get everyone to 70. As a campaign promise, this would have massive implications for medical research and resources, for health information and for the fight against AIDS.

We've far exceeded that number in so many countries, though. It is achievable. And you wanted an idea to improve people's lives? How about a few more years of life?

Oh, and as a little treat for me, if you're a "complementary" medical practitioner who can't stump up some evidence; there's a new law. Every sentence out of your mouth has to finish with the words, "Of course, everything I say is for entertainment purposes only".

Dara O'Briain, comedian

As I have worked for more than a decade to share the impacts of globalisation on the Arctic and its peoples, I have come to realise that the deepest problem impacting our global civilisation is the great disconnectedness that has arisen between us.

Most people, communities and nations are no longer connected to their local environments and so make unsustainable choices. Moreover, we have lost our connections to others like us around the world whose ways of life are deeply impacted by the cars we drive, the decisions we make, and the disposable cultures so many of us have embraced.

The way forward then, beginning at the highest levels of our nations, international organisations and corporations, is to once again realise the deep interconnectedness between our societies, economies and global environment, and to reconnect courageously to address our global challenges as a shared humanity.

Sheila Watt-Cloutier, environmental campaigner

We are in the information age. Information is now our most precious resource, limited only by the constraints of human intelligence, innovation and imagination.

However, like most resources, it is not shared equally. I would like to see full and free sharing of information and knowledge, across all sectors, disciplines and borders, guided by the shared values and universal language of human rights.

This would enable the progress, development and transformations necessary, in such fields as science, medicine and technology, to overcome our greatest challenges and make this world a better place for all.

All progress is accelerated through greater sharing – of ideas, resources, technology and wealth - and sharing is fostered through an appreciation of our interdependence and of how much we have in common.

In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted. The shared values and responsibilities it enshrines, detail not just the rights vital to human dignity and well-being, but the means by which we can overcome even the most daunting challenges of the 21st century.

The only way we can realistically create and adopt solutions to tackle the crises of climate change, food insecurity, and lack of access to healthcare, is by working together through inclusive and transparent means.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration includes the right "to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers." In our lifetime, science and technology have transformed what the enjoyment of this right to information requires.

In 2007, less than one-fifth of the world's people had access to the Internet, meaning that the majority remain unable to exercise their fundamental right to information, resulting in deprivations of many other kinds.

Access is improving, however. While computer ownership remains very low in the world's least developed countries, penetration of mobile phones is increasing rapidly. In Africa, for example, mobile phone penetration is now at 37 per cent. By 2012, it is expected to climb to more than 60 per cent.

A significant proportion of the world's population is going to be able to take part in the global sharing of ideas and solutions by accessing email and knowledge-sharing platforms on their mobile phones.

To ensure the full realisation of human rights for all, each community's unique contributions are needed. Collaboration and knowledge sharing between communities, such as science, technology and medicine, is also essential, both within countries and beyond international borders.

A human rights framework improves policy coherence across sectors and disciplines. It is vital that governments do what they can to foster increased bridge-building and exchange of ideas.

Benefits will be seen throughout all sectors and in relation to all of our greatest challenges:

  • The rapid transfer of green technologies to developing countries so that water distillation, solar-powered cooking, electricity generation, advances in battery technologies for more efficient and affordable electric cars, and many other sustainable development needs, can be adequately and equitably addressed.
  • By protecting free thought and exchange, governments are more likely to retain their educated professionals, such as health workers that are now haemorrhaging from countries where they are so desperately needed.
  • The cautious scepticism of the scientific community merged with the vision and activism of the human rights community is enabling the evolution of climate science into the concept of climate justice: recognising that global warming is caused by human behaviour in the developed part of the world, and impacts severely on the vulnerable life chances of those in poor countries who have not contributed to the problem. January saw the launch of the AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition, aimed at facilitating collaboration among scientific organisations on questions of human rights. It is no exaggeration to say that everyone stands to benefit from such a project.

Mary Robinson, president of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative

The most important thing we can do individually is to really focus our minds and think. That's a prerequisite for getting anything useful done about any of the major problems we face.

Next time you are faced with a problem, pause. Instead of responding to soundbites with your gut reaction, get the facts, integrate them so you get a complete picture of the problem, and the possible solutions.

As an exercise, take one of your strongly-held opinions and challenge it. Spend a week, or better a month, researching it, read books, web sites and engage in forums that challenge your point of view.

You may find that you were mistaken. And if it turns out you were right, then so much the better.

Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia

The most effective way to make the world a better place is through education that shapes the future rather than reflects the past.

By undercutting fundamentalism, education curtails violence and war. By empowering women, education curbs poverty and population.

The curriculum should shift from one watered down by consensus and lobbying to skills our century needs - for relationships, health, time management, critical thinking and recognising propaganda. For youngsters, learning a global language and typing should trump long division and writing cursive.

The most important goal of all should be to inspire curiosity and the desire to learn more.

Max Tegmark, cosmologist, MIT

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20327252.000-better-world-big-thinkers-big-ideas.html?full=true

La ilaha ill-Allah, Muhammadur Rasulullah
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