Find of the Day: 16 August 2016

The concept of “universal design,” which posits that designing for the underserved leads to better products for everyone, is a core tenet of Open Style lab’s curriculum. Grace Jun, the education director for the lab, says that for every product the fellows develop, they’re encouraged to think not only about how it meets the needs of people with a certain disability, but also the potential for it to be adapted to mass market.

Last year, for example, one team developed the Rayn Jacket for their client Ryan DeRoche, who uses a wheelchair after a bike accident left him with a paralyzing spinal cord injury. The weatherproof jacket includes a pouch that doubles as a lap cover—just as useful to bikers in the rain as it is to wheelchair users. The jacket was picked up by the San Francisco-based Betabrand, and is now sold through its online store.

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Enter, psychedelics, empathogens, entheogens and ‘plant medicines.’ Though many of these chemicals are currently schedule-1 drugs in many countries, humans have been using them for thousands of years for healing, self-inquiry and visioning into the nature of reality. In fact, some propose that the evolution of human consciousness itself was catalyzed by the use of mind-expanding substances discovered or concocted by early man.  If neurohacking is about upgrading the hardware our consciousness runs on, we would be remiss not to mention these technologies of altered states.

The rose tinted days of “tune in, turn on” are long past. Contemporary Neurohackers are exploring these chemicals for everything from accelerated learning to healing major trauma, reprogramming underlying associations that lead to habitual behavioral or thought patterns, shadow work, paradigm engineering, and, of course, the continued exploration of the nature of reality itself.

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If you read a sentence (such as this one) about kicking a ball, neurons related to the motor function of your leg and foot will be activated in your brain. Similarly, if you talk about cooking garlic, neurons associated with smelling will fire up. Since it is almost impossible to do or think about anything without using language — whether this entails an internal talk-through by your inner voice or following a set of written instructions — language pervades our brains and our lives like no other skill.

For more than a century, it’s been established that our capacity to use language is usually located in the left hemisphere of the brain, specifically in two areas: Broca’s area (associated with speech production and articulation) and Wernicke’s area (associated with comprehension). Damage to either of these, caused by a stroke or other injury, can lead to language and speech problems or aphasia, a loss of language.

In the past decade, however, neurologists have discovered it’s not that simple: language is not restricted to two areas of the brain or even just to one side, and the brain itself can grow when we learn new languages.
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For nearly nine decades, science’s favourite explanation for the origin of life has been the “primordial soup”. This is the idea that life began from a series of chemical reactions in a warm pond on Earth’s surface, triggered by an external energy source such as lightning strike or ultraviolet (UV) light. But recent research adds weight to an alternative idea, that life arose deep in the ocean within warm, rocky structures called hydrothermal vents.

A study published last month in Nature Microbiology suggests the last common ancestor of all living cells fed on hydrogen gas in a hot iron-rich environment, much like that within the vents. Advocates of the conventional theory have been sceptical that these findings should change our view of the origins of life. But the hydrothermal vent hypothesis, which is often described as exotic and controversial, explains how living cells evolved the ability to obtain energy, in a way that just wouldn’t have been possible in a primordial soup.

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