Aliens – Friends or Foe?

The image of visiting aliens as ruthless invaders hell-bent on destroying mankind in order to colonise our little blue planet for themselves, may be good for the Hollywood box-office, but how likely is it to reflect reality?

The deeper we delve into the cosmos, the more likely it appears that we are not alone. Even if bio-genesis – the appearance of life from non-living chemical components – is a mind-numbingly rare event, the Universe is so vast, and the numbers of potential star systems so large, that even the slimmest odds could result in millions of occurrences. Continue reading “Aliens – Friends or Foe?”

Why do we like Music? – Part 2 – Answer: Fractals?

In part 1 of this essay, we looked briefly at the history of music and at possible explanations for its universal appeal.  Today, I want to discuss three recent pieces of  research which further support and expand on what we’ve already discussed. Continue reading “Why do we like Music? – Part 2 – Answer: Fractals?”

Why do we like music? – Part 1

listening to music
listening to music
Listening To Music by Petr Kratochvil

Music seems to have a been a part of human culture since the beginning of culture itself. Earlier this year, researchers excavating caves in southern Germany found ancient flutes carved from mammoth ivory, subsequently shown via Carbon dating to be between 42000 and 43000 years old. This means we were making music at least as far back as the time when we shared the Earth with Neanderthals.  But why? Continue reading “Why do we like music? – Part 1”

The Empathy Continuum – part 2

Gwen Stefani and baby Zuma
Gwen Stefani and baby Zuma

In the first part of this essay, I briefly introduced the idea of an empathy continuum, before diving straight into what might have seemed like a totally unrelated topic – our stress response system. In this post, I will try to explain how these two things are crucially connected and what this means for us all.

So what is Empathy?
The word “empathy” is thrown about a lot these days, often in vague and imprecise ways to cover to a variety of things from sympathy to compassion, but true empathy refers specifically to a natural capacity found in humans and known to exist in other mammals, allowing us to literally feel for others. To empathise is to place oneself in another’s shoes, see things from the other’s perspective, and to some extent, to actually feel what that person is feeling. Before we look at how this works, perhaps the first question should be why.

Why did humans evolve empathy? Continue reading “The Empathy Continuum – part 2”

What is it about mountains?

One of the brief moments last week when it stopped raining long enough to take a photo.

On a recent road trip through the breathtakingly beautiful (and relentlessly cold, rainy and misty) Snowdonia national park, I was once again, like so many times before, struck by the awesome majesty of mountain ranges.
I’ve always been intrigued as to the origins of aesthetic beauty, whether manmade (music, dance, sculpture, fine art etc.) or the abundant natural beauty of this Universe we inhabit. Although any expanse of verdant countryside might be considered beautiful, why is it that when such land is extruded thousands of feet into the air to form mountains, we are filled with such powerful emotions of wonder and awe? After all, except for the fact that it’s inclined at 45 degrees or so, it’s really not so very different to the rest of the countryside.
There are different approaches to answering such questions depending on whether one is inclined to romantic, poetic, religious, or scientific explanations. Continue reading “What is it about mountains?”