Professor Steven Barker is a curious, if strange, man. And he does little to hide it, if he does so at all.
With 28 years of work at the University behind him, this particular afternoon sees Barker smiling comfortably from the worn-in furniture in his office, his open-wide blue eyes betraying an eagerness to explain himself.
There is much explaining to do.
Every surface of his office in the Veterinary Science Building is bespattered by his youthful inquisitiveness with strange and intriguing curios. A large, marble mortar and pestle glows in the windowsill; a dusty three-dimensional model of a DNA molecule rests in the corner; awards and accolades adorn the homey wooden walls, which surround two exceedingly homey sofas; and atop his desk sits a cylinder from an outdated mass spectrometer — an intimidating device whose mystery is only exceeded by its price.
Though it looks like it would shrink one's family or churn out superheroes with the flip of a switch, it is used to detect chemicals in focused samples, or quadrupoles.
"Pretty fancy stuff," Barker laughed, and with a price tag that set the University back nearly $400,000 15 years ago, a dash of facetiousness doesn't hurt.
Prof Cox, who hosts the show with comedian Dara O'Briain, said he had hoped to point the Jodrell Bank telescope at the planet Threapleton Holmes B after it was discovered live on air last year and listen for signs of life.
But he claimed he was prevented from doing so because the Corporation was concerned that a discovery of aliens could violate BBC regulations.
Speaking on the BBC Radio 6 Music breakfast show on Wednesday, Prof Cox said: "The BBC actually said 'You can't do that. We need to go through the regulations and health and safety and everything in case we discover a signal from an alien civilization'.
Ever since I can remember, I have been fascinated with two topics, Zen and quantum physics. Along the way there have been many things that have caught my fancy, from writers, film makers, philosophers and psychologists. But I always come back to Zen and physics, especially quantum physics.
I don’t pretend that this essay is original, many have written on the topic with much more authority than me. Even though I have no scientific background, I will try and delve a little more deeply than books like The Secret with the topical quotes from ‘international coaches and speakers’ like (I am paraphrasing) “new discoveries in quantum physics prove that our thoughts create our realities” or from Ig Nobel prize winner Deepak Chopra for this brilliant piece of writing, which I found on Wikipedia,
“Quantum healing is healing the body mind from a quantum level. That means from a level which is not manifest at a sensory level. Our bodies ultimately are fields of information, intelligence and energy. Quantum healing involves a shift in the fields of energy information, so as to bring about a correction in an idea that has gone wrong. So quantum healing involves healing one mode of consciousness, mind, to bring about changes in another mode of consciousness, body.”
As reported in a previous article, a number of fascinating studies recently have focused on the effects of the drug psilocybin, a classic psychedelic drug. Scientists still do not have a good understanding of the brain mechanisms by which psilocybin produces its effects. A recent study used brain scanning (specifically, functional magnetic resonance imaging) to obtain a window into the brain of 30 volunteers injected with this drug in order to understand what happens during the transition between normal waking consciousness and the onset of drug effects (Carhart-Harris et al., 2012). The researchers were surprised to discover that drug effects were associated with decreases in activity in a number of key brain areas, rather than the expected increase. This finding has led to speculations about the relationship between brain activity and mystical states experienced under psychedelic drugs. However, the actual implications of the study’s findings are far from clear.
In this study, participants received two brain scans each, once after receiving a saline injection, and once after receiving a psilocybin injection. The effects on brain activity were then compared. After receiving psilocybin brain blood flow decreased, indicating reduced activity. In particular, activity in areas regarded as important network hubs that maintain the connectivity of the various areas of the brain showed the most consistent deactivation. These areas are known as the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC).