Jessica Biel joins anti-vaccine activist RFK Jr. to lobby against California pro-vaccination bill

On Wednesday, actress Jessica Biel came out as an “anti-vaxx activist,” as The Daily Beast put it, joining anti-vaccination crusader Robert Kennedy Jr. at the California legislature to lobby against a bill that would make it harder to opt out of vaccinating children for medical reasons. This wasn’t an activity Biel’s publicist highlighted.

Biel and her husband, Justin Timberlake, didn’t comment on her activities at the legislature – though her perceived anti-vaccination lobbying was unpopular in the comments under an unrelated tweet – but Kennedy told The Daily Beast that Biel was an “extremely well-informed” and “very effective advocate.” He described her as “for safe vaccines and for medical freedom,” adding, “She has friends who have been vaccine-injured who would be forced to leave the state.” Biel has not publicly commented on vaccinations, though there were tabloid reports in 2015 that she and Timberlake planned to not vaccinate their children.

Vaccinations are in the news because of a large outbreak of the measles that started in low-vaccination areas around the country, and Kennedy’s relatives have sharply criticized his anti-vaccination advocacy, especially his repeatedly disproved claim that vaccines cause autism.

“The children who need medical exemptions will not have a problem getting them if SB 276 becomes law,” said Leah Russin, executive director of Vaccinate California, which backs the bill, along with the California Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, California. “People who are on immuno-suppressant drugs will not have a problem getting a medical exemption – and in fact, the people who truly need medical exemptions desperately need everyone else to be vaccinated. That’s why they support this bill.”

“A Hollywood celebrity and the head of an environmental organization should not have credibility on an issue about how to regulate the medical profession,” Russin added. “It’s the Jenny McCarthy show all over again.”

Hollywood dystopia? Sir Peter Jackson and James Cameron team up to promote meatless future

The bromance between two Hollywood heavyweights has led to a project that could change the future of Kiwi farming.

Avatar director James Cameron and Hobbit director Sir Peter Jackson have joined forces to create a “plant-based” food business.

Rumours about the secret venture have swirled for two years, but the pair has remained tight-lipped until now.

Speaking exclusively to TVNZ’s Sunday programme, Cameron said he and Jackson want to develop new food products that are made from plants.

“Peter’s very keen to get ‘plant meat’ factories here in New Zealand, so we can make jobs here,” Cameron said.

“I think it’s a way to keep [smaller] towns vital – if we could put ‘plant meat’ factories, or ‘plant cheese’ factories, or ‘plant dairy’ factories in those places.”

Cameron, the director of Terminator and Titanic, owns more than one thousand hectares of farmland in the Wairarapa. He is currently living in Wellington while filming four Avatar sequels.

An environmental activist, he wants New Zealand to phase out livestock farming due to its impact on the environment.

“What we see is that the rivers and the lakes are extremely polluted here,” he said. “New Zealand isn’t living up to its own image of itself right now – and the image that it projects to the world.”

Cameron believes our diets also need to change. His family no longer eats meat or dairy.

“I think what we need is a nice transition to a meatless or relatively meatless world in 20 or 30 years,” he said.

PBT New Zealand, a company established in March 2017, has four directors: Cameron and Jackson, along with their respective partners Suzy Amis Cameron and Dame Fran Walsh.

“It’s still early days,” said Cameron. “We have a very small team and we’re basically in a research phase right now.”

“We’ve been looking at ways to make extraction of protein from alfalfa more efficient.”

Cameron believes New Zealand could transform its farming sector into a world-leading hub for innovative plant-based foods.

“You wouldn’t just be exporting milk solids anymore; you’d be exporting retail products. You’d be adding value.”

A spokesperson for Sir Peter Jackson said he was too busy last week to respond to questions about the project.

But Cameron says plant-based innovation could lead to economic growth in heartland New Zealand.

“It’s harder to keep kids on the farm than ever before. We can make jobs in the community that are around [plant-based food] processing and product development.”

Last week, a report by global consultancy firm AT Kearney projected that global meat supply will drop by more than a third by 2040.

By then, AT Kearney projects that more than half of our “meat” will not come from dead animals. Some of it will be grown in a lab, using animal cells. Other products that taste and smell like meat will be made from plant protein.

Beef and Lamb New Zealand, which represents farmers and retailers, says the trends are not fatal to the livestock sector.

“What’s really great about our world today is that everyone can choose what it right for them,” said Lee-Ann Marsh, innovation manager for Beef and Lamb.

“We’re offering a choice to people who want to eat sustainably and ethically produced meat.”

But Marsh agrees that plant-based foods will also play a role in our future.

“We need to be thinking in terms of a [world population] of 10 billion people in 2050. Meat is only going to feed a small proportion of people, and we need to think about other technologies that are going to be able to feed them.”

James Cameron is investing in those technologies. But despite his interest in the future of food, the director has no plans to cut his film career.

“I’ve got the best job in the world when I’m working on a movie,” he said.

First Canadian case of insect resistance to genetically engineered corn discovered


Farmers in Nova Scotia have found that the European corn borer has developed resistance to the GM trait designed to kill it

In Nova Scotia, corn farmers are observing that the European corn borer, an insect pest, has developed resistance to the genetically engineered (genetically modified or GM) trait designed to kill it.

This is the first report in the world of the European corn borer (ECB) developing resistance to a genetically engineered trait used to confer insect resistance. It is also the first report in Canada of any insect pest developing resistance to a genetically engineered trait. The development of resistance in other insect pests targeted by Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) traits in corn has been observed in the US, South Africa and Brazil.(2) Additionally, in the US and other countries, some cotton pests have also developed resistance to Bt cotton traits.

“This is an important reminder that nature can adapt to and overcome genetically engineered traits,” said Lucy Sharratt of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.

The Canadian Corn Pest Coalition reported that some ECB populations have developed resistance to the Cry1F protein, which is one of at least eight genetically engineered Bt proteins used in Canada in genetically engineered insect-resistant corn.

In Canada, single-trait Cry1F corn seed is sold under the brand “Herculex 1” by Corteva (owned by DowDuPont). The genetically engineered Cry1F protein is also “stacked” with other Bt proteins (as well as herbicide-tolerant traits) in other GM corn varieties. Corn with Cry1F is sold in Canada by the companies Syngenta, Corteva and Bayer.

When it first approved GM insect-resistant corn in 1996, Canadian government regulators acknowledged that the European corn borer could develop resistance to Bt traits.(1) To delay the expected resistance, farmers planting GM corn are required to also plant a structured non-Bt refuge of 5%-20% where susceptible insects can reproduce.

To deal with newly resistant ECB and delay further resistance, the Canadian Corn Pest Coalition is advising farmers to buy corn with at least two other Bt traits stacked together in the one seed.(2)

“We’re concerned that seed costs will rise with an increasing reliance on stacked GM traits, while insects continue to evolve resistance,”(3) said Sharratt. “These genetically engineered plants are starting to fail, as was predicted, and are part of a costly technology treadmill.”

Genetically engineered Bt insect-resistant crops are designed to replace the use of certain insecticides but the federal government does not track how much or where Bt and other GM crops are grown in Canada, or how they affect pesticide use.

The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network estimates that over 80% of Canada’s grain corn is genetically engineered, most carrying multiple GM traits for both insect-resistance and herbicide-tolerance.(4)

NOTES

(1) For this citation (endnotes 154 and 157) and other details, see the 2015 report from the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network “Are GM Crops Better for the Environment?” www.gmoinquiry.ca/environment
(2) European Corn Borer Resistance to Bt Corn Found in Canada, Tracey Baute, Baute Blog, Field Crop News, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. May 10, 2019. http://fieldcropnews.com/2019/05/european-corn-borer-resistance-to-bt-corn-found-in-canada/
(3) On seed price increases see “Are GM Crops Better for Farmers?” Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, 2015. www.gmoinquiry.ca/farmers
(4) Statistics Canada tracks the amount of genetically engineered grain corn grown in Quebec and Ontario: 87.7% of the corn grown in both provinces together is GM, and the two provinces account for 80% of Canada’s total corn acres.

The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) brings together 16 groups to research, monitor and raise awareness about issues relating to genetic engineering in food and farming. CBAN members include farmer associations, environmental and social justice organizations, and regional coalitions of grassroots groups. CBAN is a project on the shared platform of Tides Canada.

Science says silence is much more important to our brains than we think

In 2011, the Finnish Tourist Board ran a campaign that used silence as a marketing ‘product’. They sought to entice people to visit Finland and experience the beauty of this silent land. They released a series of photographs of single figures in the nature and used the slogan “Silence, Please”. A tag line was added by Simon Anholt, an international country branding consultant, “No talking, but action.”

Eva Kiviranta the manager of the social media for VisitFinland.com said: “We decided, instead of saying that it’s really empty and really quiet and nobody is talking about anything here, let’s embrace it and make it a good thing”.

Finland may be on to something very big. You could be seeing the very beginnings of using silence as a selling point as silence may be becoming more and more attractive. As the world around becomes increasingly loud and cluttered you may find yourself seeking out the reprieve that silent places and silence have to offer. This may be a wise move as studies are showing that silence is much more important to your brains than you might think.

Regenerated brain cells may be just a matter of silence.

A 2013 study on mice published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice.[1] The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.

The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons.

“We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system.”

In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain.

The brain is actively internalizing and evaluating information during silence.

A 2001 study defined a “default mode” of brain function that showed that even when the brain was “resting” it was perpetually active internalizing and evaluating information.

Follow-up research found that the default mode is also used during the process of self-reflection. In 2013, in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Joseph Moran et al. wrote, the brain’s default mode network “is observed most closely during the psychological task of reflecting on one’s personalities and characteristics (self-reflection), rather than during self-recognition, thinking of the self-concept, or thinking about self-esteem, for example.

“When the brain rests it is able to integrate internal and external information into ‘a conscious workspace,'” said Moran and colleagues.

When you are not distracted by noise or goal-orientated tasks, there appears to be a quiet time that allows your conscious workspace to process things. During these periods of silence, your brain has the freedom it needs to discover its place in your internal and external world.

The default mode helps you think about profound things in an imaginative way.

As Herman Melville once wrote,[2]

“All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.”

Silence relieves stress and tension.

It has been found that noise can have a pronounced physical effect on our brains resulting in elevated levels of stress hormones. The sound waves reach the brain as electrical signals via the ear. The body reacts to these signals even if it is sleeping. It is thought that the amygdalae (located in the temporal lobes of the brain) which is associated with memory formation and emotion is activated and this causes a release of stress hormones. If you live in a consistently noisy environment that you are likely to experience chronically elevated levels of stress hormones.

A study that was published in 2002 in Psychological Science (Vol. 13, No. 9) examined the effects that the relocation of Munich’s airport had on children’s health and cognition. Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University notes that children who are exposed to noise develop a stress response that causes them to ignore the noise. What is of interest is that these children not only ignored harmful stimuli they also ignored stimuli that they should be paying attention to such as speech.

“This study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof that noise – even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage – causes stress and is harmful to humans,” Evans says.[3]

Silence seems to have the opposite effect of the brain to noise. While noise may cause stress and tension silence releases tension in the brain and body. A study published in the journal Heart discovered that two minutes of silence can prove to be even more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music. They based these findings of changes they noticed in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain.[4]

Silence replenishes our cognitive resources.

The effect that noise pollution can have on cognitive task performance has been extensively studied. It has been found that noise harms task performance at work and school. It can also be the cause of decreased motivation and an increase in error making. The cognitive functions most strongly affected by noise are reading attention, memory and problem solving.

Studies have also concluded that children exposed to households or classrooms near airplane flight paths, railways or highways have lower reading scores and are slower in their development of cognitive and language skills.

But it is not all bad news. It is possible for the brain to restore its finite cognitive resources. According to the attention restoration theory when you are in an environment with lower levels of sensory input the brain can ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities. In silence the brain is able to let down its sensory guard and restore some of what has been ‘lost’ through excess noise.[5]

Summation

Traveling to Finland may just well be on your list of things to do. There you may find the silence you need to help your brain. Or, if Finland is a bit out of reach for now, you could simply take a quiet walk in a peaceful place in your neighborhood. This might prove to do you and your brain a world of good.

References

[1] Nautil US: This Is Your Brain on Silence
[2] HuffPost: Why Silence Is So Good For Your Brain
[3] American Psychological Association: Silence Please
[4] Heart.: Cardiovascular, cerebrovascular, and respiratory changes induced by different types of music in musicians and non‐musicians: the importance of silence
[5] Journal of Environmental Psychology: The Restorative Benefits of Nature: Toward an Integrative Framework

SOTT FOCUS: MindMatters: The Triumph of Irrationalism and the Death of Metaphysics

For health and well-being, spend two hours a week in nature

Spending at least two hours a week in nature may be a crucial threshold for promoting health and well-being, according to a new large-scale study.

Research led by the University of Exeter, published in Scientific Reports and funded by NIHR, found that people who spend at least 120 minutes in nature a week are significantly more likely to report good health and higher psychological well-being than those who don’t visit nature at all during an average week. However, no such benefits were found for people who visited natural settings such as town parks, woodlands, country parks and beaches for less than 120 minutes a week.

The study used data from nearly 20,000 people in England and found that it didn’t matter whether the 120 minutes was achieved in a single visit or over several shorter visits. It also found the 120 minute threshold applied to both men and women, to older and younger adults, across different occupational and ethnic groups, among those living in both rich and poor areas, and even among people with long term illnesses or disabilities.

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Dr. Mat White, of the University of Exeter Medical School, who led the study, said: “It’s well known that getting outdoors in nature can be good for people’s health and well-being but until now we’ve not been able to say how much is enough. The majority of nature visits in this research took place within just two miles of home so even visiting local urban greenspaces seems to be a good thing. Two hours a week is hopefully a realistic target for many people, especially given that it can be spread over an entire week to get the benefit.

There is growing evidence that merely living in a greener neighbourhood can be good for health, for instance by reducing air pollution. The data for the current research came from Natural England’s Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment Survey, the world’s largest study collecting data on people’s weekly contact with the natural world.

Co-author of the research, Professor Terry Hartig of Uppsala University in Sweden said: “There are many reasons why spending time in nature may be good for health and well-being, including getting perspective on life circumstances, reducing stress, and enjoying quality time with friends and family. The current findings offer valuable support to health practitioners in making recommendations about spending time in nature to promote basic health and well-being, similar to guidelines for weekly physical”.

The full paper is entitled “Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and well-being”, published in Scientific Reports.

The hippies were right: It’s all about vibrations, man!

Why are some things conscious and others apparently not? Is a rat conscious? A bat? A cockroach? A bacterium? An electron?

These questions are all aspects of the ancient “mind-body problem,” which has resisted a generally satisfying conclusion for thousands of years.

The mind-body problem enjoyed a major rebranding over the last two decades and is generally known now as the “hard problem” of consciousness (usually capitalized nowadays), after the New York University philosopher David Chalmers coined this term in a now classic 1995 paper and his 1996 book The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory.

Fast forward to the present era and we can ask ourselves now: Did the hippies actually solve this problem? My colleague Jonathan Schooler of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and I think they effectively did, with the radical intuition that it’s all about vibrations … man. Over the past decade, we have developed a “resonance theory of consciousness” that suggests that resonance – another word for synchronized vibrations – is at the heart of not only human consciousness but of physical reality more generally.

So how were the hippies right? Well, we agree that vibrations, resonance, are the key mechanism behind human consciousness, as well as animal consciousness more generally. And, as I’ll discuss below, that they are the basic mechanism for all physical interactions to occur.

All things in our universe are constantly in motion, vibrating. Even objects that appear to be stationary are in fact vibrating, oscillating, resonating, at various frequencies. Resonance is a type of motion, characterized by oscillation between two states. And ultimately all matter is just vibrations of various underlying fields.

An interesting phenomenon occurs when different vibrating things/processes come into proximity: they will often start, after a little time, to vibrate together at the same frequency. They “sync up,” sometimes in ways that can seem mysterious. This is described today as the phenomenon of spontaneous self-organization.

Examining this phenomenon leads to potentially deep insights about the nature of consciousness and about the universe more generally.

ALL THINGS RESONATE AT CERTAIN FREQUENCIES

Stephen Strogatz provides various examples from physics, biology, chemistry and neuroscience to illustrate what he calls “sync” (synchrony) in his 2003 book also called Sync, including:

  • Fireflies of certain species start flashing their little fires in sync in large gatherings of fireflies, in ways that can be difficult to explain under traditional approaches.
  • Large-scale neuron firing can occur in human brains at specific frequencies, with mammalian consciousness thought to be commonly associated with various kinds of neuronal synchrony.
  • Lasers are produced when photons of the same power and frequency are emitted together.
  • The moon’s rotation is exactly synced with its orbit around the Earth such that we always see the same face.

Resonance is a truly universal phenomenon and at the heart of what can sometimes seem like mysterious tendencies toward self-organization.

Pascal Fries, a German neurophysiologist with the Ernst Strüngmann Institute, has explored in his highly cited work over the last two decades the ways in which various electrical patterns, specifically, gamma, theta and beta waves, work together in the brain to produce the various types of human consciousness.

These names refer to the speed of electrical oscillations in the various brain regions, as measured by electrodes placed on the outside of the skull. Gamma waves are typically defined as about 30 to 90 cycles per second (hertz), theta as a 4- to 7-hz rhythm, and beta as 12.5 to 30 hz. These aren’t hard cutoffs – they’re rules of thumb – and they vary somewhat in different species.

So, theta and beta are significantly slower than gamma waves. But the three work together to produce, or at least facilitate (the exact relationship between electrical brain patterns and consciousness is still very much up for debate), various types of human consciousness.

Fries calls his concept “communication through coherence” or CTC. For Fries it’s all about neuronal synchronization. Synchronization, in terms of shared electrical oscillation rates, allows for smooth communication between neurons and groups of neurons. Without coherence (synchronization), inputs arrive at random phases of the neuron excitability cycle and are ineffective, or at least much less effective, in communication.

Our resonance theory of consciousness builds upon the work of Fries and many others, in a broader approach that can help to explain not only human and mammalian consciousness, but also consciousness more broadly. We also speculate metaphysically about the nature of consciousness as a more general phenomenon of all matter.

ARE ALL THINGS AT LEAST A LITTLE BIT CONSCIOUS?

Based on the observed behavior of the entities that surround us, from electrons to atoms to molecules to bacteria to paramecia to mice, bats, rats, etc., all things may be viewed as at least a little conscious. This sounds strange at first blush, but “panpsychism” – the view that all matter has some associated consciousness – is an increasingly accepted position with respect to the nature of consciousness.

The panpsychist argues that consciousness (subjectivity) did not emerge; rather, it’s always associated with matter, and vice versa (they are two sides of the same coin), but mind as associated with most of the matter in our universe is generally very simple. An electron or an atom, for example, enjoy just a tiny amount of consciousness. But as matter “complexifies,” so mind complexifies, and vice versa.

Biological organisms have leveraged faster information exchange through various biophysical pathways, including electrical and electrochemical pathways. These faster information flows allow for more macro-scale levels of consciousness than would occur in similar-scale structures like boulders or a pile of sand, simply because there is significantly greater connectivity and thus more “going on” in biological structures than in a boulder or a pile of sand. Boulders and piles of sand only have thermal pathways with very limited bandwidth.

Boulders and piles of sand are “mere aggregates” or just collections of more rudimentary conscious entities (probably at the atomic or molecular level only), rather than combinations of micro-conscious entities that combine into a higher level macro-conscious entity, which is the hallmark of biological life.

Accordingly, the type of communication between resonating structures is key for consciousness to expand beyond the rudimentary type of consciousness that we expect to occur in more basic physical structures.

The central thesis of our approach is this: the particular linkages that allow for macro-consciousness to occur result from a shared resonance among many micro-conscious constituents. The speed of the resonant waves that are present is the limiting factor that determines the size of each conscious entity.

As a shared resonance expands to more and more constituents, the particular conscious entity grows larger and more complex. So, the shared resonance in a human brain that achieves gamma synchrony, for example, includes a far larger number of neurons and neuronal connections than is the case for beta or theta rhythms alone.

It’s resonating structures all the way down-and up.

Our resonance theory of consciousness attempts to provide a unified framework that includes neuroscience and the study of human consciousness, but also more fundamental questions of neurobiology and biophysics. It gets to the heart of the differences that matter when it comes to consciousness and the evolution of physical systems.

It is all about vibrations, but it’s also about the type of vibrations and, most importantly, about shared vibrations.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it … man.

Breakfast cereals marketed to kids are loaded with glyphosate, says new report

The Environmental Working Group has released findings of research showing “troubling levels of glyphosate, the cancer-causing ingredient in the herbicide Roundup” in food products including children’s breakfast cereals.

The Washington, DC-based advocacy group said in a statement released June 12 that the chemical, was detected “in all 21 oat-based cereal and snack products sampled in a new round of testing.”

Furthermore, all of the products but four were found to contain levels higher than EWG’s safety threshold for child consumption, which is 160 parts per billion (ppb). The products “Cheerios” and “Honey Nut Cheerios Medley Crunch” were found with the highest glyphosate levels with 729 ppb and 833 ppb respectively. The findings follow two previous research studies conducted with independent labs conducted last year.

Monsanto, the maker of Roundup, was acquired by the German agro-chemical giant Bayer in 2018.

“The glyphosate levels in this report are far below the strict limits established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect human health,” a Bayer spokesman told RT when contacted for comment. “Even at the highest level reported by the EWG (833 ppb), an adult would have to eat 158 pounds of the oat-based food every day for the rest of their life to reach the strict limits set by the EPA.”

Although the EPA does not consider glyphosate carcinogenic, organizations including the World Health Organization, International Agency for Research on Cancer, and California’s Environmental Health Hazard Assessment have disagreed. Serious doubts have also been cast on the EPA’s neutrality regarding glyphosate, with critics accusing the agency of colluding with Bayer to pass off the chemical as safe.

A petition from the EWG to the EPA calls on the agency to reinstate the ‘1993 standard for glyphosate presence in oats, far more restrictive than the current one.

“But it could take years for EPA to act, and the agency has been caught colluding with Monsanto to promote the claim that the chemical is safe,” wrote doctors Olga Naidenko and Alexis Temkin of the CWG.

The Bayer spokesperson questioned the credibility of EWG, claiming the group has “a long history of spreading misinformation about pesticide residues.”

Bayer is currently fighting off a series of high-profile lawsuits alleging that Roundup is responsible for cancer. Last month, a jury in California ordered the company to pay over $2 billion to a couple from Oakland who contracted non-Hodgkins lymphoma after using the glyphosate-containing pesticide on their property for decades.

Herbicidal properties of glyphosate were discovered by one of Monsanto’s chemists, John E. Franz, in 1970. Monsanto held exclusive rights to market glyphosate until 2000, when its patent expired. The chemical is used on oats before harvest, to kill and dry the crop in order for it be harvested sooner. It is also used on genetically modified corn and soybeans.