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Science

On Stars...and On Us

The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff - Carl Sagan, Cosmos

While the saying “we are stardust” seems poetic but vague, it is literally true. The atoms of our bodies were created in the cores of stars billions of years ago. 

On the Universe

Imagine our universe as only one of an infinite number of possible universes - be they "Quilted", "Brane" or, most strangely of all, "Ultimate". Brian Green tackled this almost mystical idea head-on in The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos. Greene discussed his ideas further during a March 2011 edition of Start the Week.

Imagine too flying through the universe. This animated flight through the universe shows close to 400,000 galaxies, and was derived at John Hopkins University from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

Another video meanwhile takes viewers from the Himalayas through our atmosphere and the inky black of space to the afterglow of the Big Bang.

On Scientific Progress

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Imagining scientific concepts that could improve everyone's cognitive abilities. This is the challenge that some of the world's leading scientific thinkers tackled in answer to the 2011 Edge question.

The responses were various and imaginative. One good example came from author Michael Shermer, who wished we would understand that almost everything important in nature and society...

"...happens from the bottom up, not the top down. Water is a bottom-up, self-organised emergent property of hydrogen and oxygen. Life is a bottom-up, self-organised emergent property of organic molecules."

Adding this to their cognitive toolkit might e.g. let religious conservatives recognise the reality of evolution, says Shermer, and let political liberals see that "too much top-down design can interfere with market efficiency".

On Time

According to Thor Heyerdahl, it is almost impossible grasp the meaning of time.  He didn't believe it exists and he felt this again and again, when alone and out in nature.  As Henry Ford said, it feels at such moments that "life is just one damn thing after another".  Nevertheless, in the BBC’s The Wonders of the Universe, Brian Cox argued that, thanks to the second law of thermodynamics, entropy means that does indeed flow, and in only one direction.

"As a species, we can never know where our true potential lies until we confront the systems that keep us tied to the past. And that is where the true adventure will begin" - Thomas Frey

On Interplay

Inspired by the interplay between therapy, poetry, neuroscience and novels in Start the Week.

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Forensic psychotherapist Dr Gwen Adshead talked about the lost natures of her Broadmoor patients, in whom she can still sometimes recognise the little boys they once were.

William Boyd explored how early talent can flourish suddenly and then fade slowly.

Craig Raine compared the "language on point" composition of a poem to the art of dress-making.