Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Magnetic Suicides

It's one of the more unusual questions you will come across today :

Does The Earth's Magnetic Field Cause Suicides?

Bizarrely, the answer might actually be yes, according to this story in New Scientist :
Many animals can sense the Earth's magnetic field, so why not people, asks Oleg Shumilov of the Institute of North Industrial Ecology Problems in Russia.

Shumilov looked at activity in the Earth's geomagnetic field from 1948 to 1997 and found that it grouped into three seasonal peaks every year: one from March to May, another in July and the last in October.

Surprisingly, he also found that the geomagnetism peaks matched up with peaks in the number of suicides in the northern Russian city of Kirovsk over the same period.

Shumilov acknowledges that a correlation like this does not necessarily mean there is a causal link, but he points out that there have been several other studies suggesting a link between human health and geomagnetism.

The review's author, Michael Rycroft, formerly head of the European Geosciences Society, says that geomagnetic health problems affect 10 to 15% of the population.

Psychiatrists too have noticed a correlation between geomagnetic activity and suicide rates.

Geomagnetic storms – periods of high geomagnetic activity caused by large solar flares – have also been linked to clinical depression.

"The most plausible explanation for the association between geomagnetic activity and depression and suicide is that geomagnetic storms can desynchronise circadian rhythms and melatonin production," says Kelly Posner, a psychiatrist at Columbia University in the US.

The pineal gland, which regulates circadian rhythm and melatonin production, is sensitive to magnetic fields. "The circadian regulatory system depends upon repeated environmental cues to [synchronise] internal clocks," says Posner. "Magnetic fields may be one of these environmental cues."

Geomagnetic storms could disrupt body clocks, precipitating seasonal affective disorder and therefore increase suicide risk, Posner told New Scientist.
Go Here To Read The Full Story
Orang-utans 'Discover' Spear Fishing

Saying that orang-utans in Borneo are now learning to spear fish is probably not accurate. More accurate would be to state that this is the first time observers keeping records have seen orang-utans making use of sticks to catch fish :
Orang-utans have confounded naturalists by learning to swim across rivers and to fish with sticks.
Naturalists were shocked to see the apes swim across a river to gain access to some of their favourite fruits at a conservation refuge on Kaja island in Borneo. Orang-utans were previously thought to be non-swimmers. The wildlife experts were equally surprised to see an orang-utan pick up a tree branch and stun a fish before eating it. Other apes introduced to the island were seen trying to spear fish with sticks after watching fishermen using rods.
But the orang-utans then found a much easier way to get their fish :
The naturalists also noted that the apes quickly worked out that it was even easier to steal fish from unattended lines used by the humans on the island.
Smart, and resourceful.

Go Here For More

Friday, April 18, 2008

When The Sky Is Your Home

Photograph George Steinmetz has a beautiful, sometimes stunning, portfolio of images from his time with the so-called 'Tree People' of West Papua online here.

Some background on the tree-dwelling tribes can be read here.
Skeksis Washes Up On Russian Beach?

It's probably a whale of some kind, but first thoughts were : Wow, that looks so much like a Skeksis from The Dark Crystal.

Don't you think?

Here's the 'mysterious' creature washed up in Russia :

Here's a Skeksis :

Skeksis in action from The Dark Crystal :

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Are Animals Aware Of Time Passing?

Some busy humans are constantly aware of time passing, while animals may not even be conscious that time even exists :
Dog owners, who have noticed that their four-legged friend seem equally delighted to see them after five minutes away as five hours, may wonder if animals can tell when time passes. Newly published research from The University of Western Ontario may bring us closer to answering that very question.

William Roberts and his colleagues in Western's Psychology Department found that rats are able to keep track of how much time has passed since they discovered a piece of cheese, be it a little or a lot, but they don't actually form memories of when the discovery occurred. That is, the rats can't place the memories in time.

These results, the researchers say, suggest that episodic-like memory in rats is qualitatively different from human episodic memory, which involves retention of the point in past time when an event occurred.

"This research," said Roberts, "supports the theory I introduced that animals are stuck in time, with no sense of time extending into the past or future."
Full Story Is Here

Maybe we only know what time is, and are aware of its passage, because we gave the concept of time a name, and invented clocks and watches.
Man With Donor Heart Of Suicide Victim, Takes His Own Life

A remarkable story, with a sad ending :
A man who received a heart transplant 12 years ago and later married the donor's widow died the same way the donor did, authorities said: of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Grateful for his new heart, Graham began writing letters to the donor's family to thank them. In January 1997, Graham met his donor's widow, Cheryl Cottle, then 28, in Charleston.

"I felt like I had known her for years," he said.

Full Story Is Here