From prehistoric cave art to today’s social media feeds, to design is to be human. This hour, designer Debbie Millman guides us through a world made and remade—and helps us design our own paths.
For decades, scientists have merely guessed it exists. They finally found proof it does.
After decades of exploration in nature’s smallest domains, physicists have finally found evidence that anyons exist. First predicted by theorists in the early 1980s, these particle-like objects only arise in realms confined to two dimensions, and then only under certain circumstances — like at temperatures near absolute zero and in the presence of a strong magnetic field.
Physicists are excited about anyons not only because their discovery confirms decades of theoretical work, but also for practical reasons. For example: Anyons are at the heart of an effort by Microsoft to build a working quantum computer.
These particle-like objects only arise in realms confined to two dimensions, and then only under certain circumstances—like at temperatures near absolute zero and in the presence of a strong magnetic field,
This year brought two solid confirmations of the quasiparticles. The first arrived in April, in a paper featured on the cover of Science, from a group of researchers at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. Using an approach proposed four years ago, physicists sent an electron gas through a teeny-tiny particle collider to tease out weird behaviors — especially fractional electric charges — that only arise if anyons are around. The second confirmation came in July, when a group at Purdue University in Indiana used an experimental setup on an etched chip that screened out interactions that might obscure the anyon behavior.
MIT physicist Frank Wilczek, who predicted and named anyons in the early 1980s, credits the first paper as the discovery but says the second lets the quasiparticles shine. “It’s gorgeous work that makes the field blossom,” he says. Anyons aren’t like ordinary elementary particles; scientists will never be able to isolate one from the system where it forms. They’re quasiparticles, which means they have measurable properties like a particle — such as a location, maybe even a mass — but they’re only observable as a result of the collective behavior of other, conventional particles. (Think of the intricate geometric shapes made by group behavior in nature, such as flocks of birds flying in formation or schools of fish swimming as one.)
The known universe contains only two varieties of elementary particles. One is the family of fermions, which includes electrons, as well as protons, neutrons, and the quarks that form them. Fermions keep to themselves: No two can exist in the same quantum state at the same time. If these particles didn’t have this property, all matter could simply collapse to a single point. It’s because of fermions that solid matter exists.
The rest of the particles in the universe are bosons, a group that includes particles like photons (the messengers of light and radiation) and gluons (which “glue” quarks together). Unlike fermions, two or more bosons can exist in the same state as the same time.
They tend to clump together. It’s because of this clumping that we have lasers, which are streams of photons all occupying the same quantum state.
Anyons don’t fit into either group. What makes anyons especially exciting for physicists is they exhibit something analogous to particle memory. If a fermion orbits another fermion, its quantum state remains unchanged. Same goes for a boson.
Anyons are different. If one moves around another, their collective quantum state shifts. It might require three or even five or more revolutions before the anyons return to their original state. This slight shift in the wave acts like a kind of memory of the trip. This property makes them appealing objects for quantum computers, which depend on quantum states that are notoriously fragile and prone to errors. Anyons suggest a more robust way to store data.
Wilczek points out that anyons represent a whole “kingdom” containing many varieties with exotic behaviors that can be explored and harnessed in the future. He began thinking about them about 40 years ago in graduate school, when he became frustrated with proofs that only established the existence of two kinds of particles.
He envisioned something else, and when asked about their other properties or where to find these strange in-betweeners, half-jokingly said, “anything goes” — giving rise to the name.
Now, he says, the new studies are just the beginning. Looking forward, he sees anyons as a tool for finding exotic states of matter that, for now, remain wild ideas in physicists’ theories.
Source – Discover Magazine
In 1901 Canadian psychiatrist Richard M. Bucke gathered 36 examples of people he believed had attained “cosmic consciousness,” including historical figures, such as the Buddha, Moses, Jesus and Dante. Bucke identified the 5 main characteristics of cosmic consciousness which we outline in this excerpt from Steve Taylor’s new book The Leap: The Psychology of Awakening.
To my knowledge, the first ever psychological study of what I call “wakefulness”—a higher-functioning expansive state of being—was conducted by Canadian psychiatrist Richard M. Bucke and published as Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind in 1901. Bucke gathered 36 examples of people he believed had attained “cosmic consciousness,” including historical figures, such as the Buddha, Moses, Jesus, Dante, and 18th-century Swedish philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg, and a number of contemporaries, some of whom he knew personally.
Characteristics of Cosmic Consciousness
The main characteristics of cosmic consciousness as identified by Bucke are:
- An intellectual revelation of the meaning, purpose, and aliveness of the universe
- The subjective experience of an ‘inner light’
- A moral elevation
- A sense of immortality
- Loss of the fear of death
- An absence of the concept of sin
Bucke also highlights the importance of light. Cosmic consciousness may feature an experience of being “immersed in a flame or rose-colored cloud, or perhaps rather a sense that the mind is itself filled with such a cloud or haze.”
Bucke’s interest in cosmic consciousness was partly inspired by the poet Walt Whitman—initially by his poetry and then by his personal encounters with Whitman. Bucke not only included Whitman in his book as an example of cosmic consciousness but also regarded him as the “highest instance of Cosmic Consciousness” (above the Buddha and Jesus!). In Bucke’s view, Whitman was able to integrate his mystical consciousness into his ordinary personality without allowing it to take over and “tyrannize over the rest.” This meant that he could live in a completely ordinary way, interacting with ordinary people in everyday life, rather than become otherworldly and detached, and live as a monk or hermit.
Although the details of his early life are sketchy, there are no signs that Whitman attained his wakefulness at a specific point in time. Sudden awakening is often triggered by a period of intense psychological turmoil (as I show in my book Out of the Darkness), but there’s no evidence that Whitman went through such turmoil in his early life. Whitman’s wakefulness was also not generated by prolonged and regular spiritual practice or by following a particular spiritual tradition. Eastern spiritual traditions and practices were little known in the United States during Whitman’s early years—he was born in 1819. In his later years, Whitman developed some familiarity with Indian philosophy but not any deep or detailed knowledge. (For example, when his contemporary Henry David Thoreau first read Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, he was deeply impressed and said it was “wonderfully like the orientals.” Thoreau asked Whitman if he had read oriental works, and he replied, “No, tell me about them.”) Rather, Whitman’s wakefulness seems to have been completely organic and spontaneous, a state that was wholly natural to him.
Whitman lived in a state of heightened awareness. To him, the world was a fantastically real, beautiful, and fascinating place. As Bucke writes of him:
“His favourite occupation seemed to be strolling or sauntering about outdoors by himself, looking at the grass, the trees, the flowers, the vistas of light, the varying aspects of the sky, and listening to the birds, the crickets, the tree frogs, and all the hundreds of natural sounds. It was evident that these things gave him a pleasure far beyond what they give to ordinary people.”
With this heightened awareness, Whitman sensed the sacred aliveness of the world and the radiance and harmony of a spirit-force pervading every object and creature. The whole world was divine, including his own being and body. As he writes in the poem “Song of Myself”:
Divine am I inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch…
I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and
each moment then,
In the faces of the men and women I see God, and I my own
face in the glass.
As well as bringing an intense sense of the is-ness of things, the heightened awareness of the wakeful state brings an intense sense of now-ness. Our present-tense experience—our awareness of our surroundings, perceptions, and sensations—becomes so powerful that we give complete attention to it. The past and future become completely unimportant as we realize that there’s only now, that life can only ever take place in the present moment. As a result, the whole concept of time becomes meaningless. Life is no longer a road with directions forward and backward; instead, it becomes a spacious panorama without movement or sequence. In Whitman’s words, “The past and present wilt—I have filled them, emptied them.” And here he describes his intense experience of nowness:
I do not talk of beginning or end.
There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now;
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.
Whitman’s awareness of a spirit-force pervading everything meant that to him there were no separate or independent phenomena. To him, all things were part of a greater unity. In his poem “On the Beach at Night, Alone,” for example, he describes his awareness that all things are part of a “vast similitude.” All suns, planets, human beings, animals, plants, all of the future and the past, and all of space are essentially one and the same:
This vast similitude spans them, and always has spann’d,
and shall forever span them, and compactly hold them, and enclose them.
Whitman sensed himself as a part of this “vast similitude,” too. He felt such a strong connection between himself and other people that he shared his being with them; he felt that he actually was them. He writes, “I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise,” and “all the men ever born are my brothers … and the women my sisters and lovers.”
Interestingly, as well as being recognized by Bucke as an example of cosmic consciousness, Whitman is highlighted by the psychologist Abraham Maslow as an example of what he calls the “self-actualized person.” One of their most pronounced characteristics, according to Maslow, is a powerful sense of appreciation and gratitude.
As Maslow writes, self-actualized people “have the wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again, freshly and naively, the basic goods of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder and even ecstasy, however stale these experiences may have become to others.”
This was certainly true of Walt Whitman. When we hear the word miracle we usually think in terms of extraordinary feats such as healing incurable diseases or turning water into wine. But in the wakeful state, we don’t need to look outside the normal realm of things for miracles. Miracles are everywhere around us. The everyday world becomes strange and miraculous. As Whitman writes, “Who makes much of a miracle? As for me I know nothing but miracles.” It’s wonderful that he should be immortal, he writes, but “my eyesight is equally wonderful, and how I was conceived in my mother’s womb is equally wonderful.” But as far as he’s concerned, nothing is more miraculous than he himself: “Seeing, hearing, feeling, are miracles, and each part and tag of me is a miracle.”
Whitman’s joyous celebration of life by no means meant ignoring death. On the contrary, the subject of death crops up again and again throughout his poems, right from the first pages of “Song of Myself” (where he says that it is “just as lucky to die” as it is to be born). Whitman sensed very powerfully that rather than be the end of our existence, death is actually a kind of liberation, a transition to a fuller and more blissful state. Like his fellow poet William Wordsworth sensing “intimations of immortality,” Whitman heard “whispers of heavenly death” everywhere around him. In a moving short poem, “To One Shortly to Die,” Whitman describes visiting a friend on his deathbed. The bed is surrounded by weeping relatives, but as Whitman rests his hand on his friend he senses that he is preparing to leave his body and beginning to transcend his pain. It’s not a time for sadness but for joy:
Strong thoughts fill you and confidence, you smile,
You forget you are sick, as I forget you are sick.
You do not see the medicines, you do not mind the weeping friends, I am with you,
I exclude others from you, there is nothing to be commiserated,
I do not commiserate, I congratulate you.
Steve Taylor PhD is a senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Beckett University, UK. This article is an excerpt from his new book The Leap: The Psychology of Awakening.
2020 is finally coming to an end. This hour, we look back at moments, talks, and big ideas from past episodes that helped us make sense of this strange and unprecedented year. Guests include science journalist Laura Spinney, researcher Daniel Streicker, monk JayaShri Maathaa, and writers Huang Hung and Jonny Sun.
by Nikolina Eisinger
It’s getting harder and harder to pump the breaks of our busy
lives. Silence is hard to find these days. We are constantly over-stimulated
and/or distracted. In almost any given second, someone or something requires
our attention. We are connected with our families, friends, bosses and the rest
of the world 24/7 through smartphones, laptops and tablets.
I remember going to the library as a child. I love reading, so I
spent most of my free time there. The librarian would get mad at me when I was
making any kind of noise, and I would become so frustrated with his demands for
silence. Now, I crave silence and can’t remember the last time I slowed down
and sat quietly with my own thoughts for more than 15 minutes. My mind is
constantly running at a noisy pace.
Especially when I put my head on the pillow. It’s like a gate
opens and all of my thoughts, emotions and fears sneak their way into my mind.
It became scary even, so I began distracting myself with noise – books, social
media, videos, and the vicious circle was created.
Over-thinking every situation is not at all “being present” in
the moment. I was analyzing the conversations I had with my friends and
colleagues during the day and wondering what I could have said differently. I
was convincing myself that my boss would fire me, that my friends were mad at
me, and I was coming up with numerous diseases and unfortunate events that
could happen in my future to me and my loved ones. One night I convinced myself
that I had a deadly disease, and I was so anxious and scared that I couldn’t
sleep for a second. I was tossing, turning and analysing until the alarm went
That was the moment I realised that I’d gone too far and that it
had to stop. I used to believe that over-thinking meant that I’m a person who
loves to plan ahead. We all know there is nothing wrong with preparing yourself
for different scenarios. You can make informed decisions this way, plan your
future, choose your path and be happy. Yet my behaviour was anything but this –
it was toxic for both my mind and body. It was leading to stress, panic,
anxiety, unnecessary and irrational fears.
Aware of the problem, I decided that was time to do something
about it. I googled how many thoughts an average person has per day – the
answer was something close to 75,000! And it turns out that almost 80% of these
thoughts are negative – and repetitive. Imagine the damage we’re inflicting on
ourselves on a daily basis.
How I used meditation to stop overthinking
The next logical thing to do was to google “how to stop over-thinking”,
and I was once again flooded with information on the matter. You can find
numerous tips online on the topic. Of course, I read almost all of them and
decided to try meditation.
One of the most useful things I found was a simple test that you
can do in a matter of minutes: put a timer on your phone for 30 seconds, close
your eyes and count any thoughts that cross your mind. I counted over 40. It
started with “why am I doing this?” continued with “I bet I look silly?”, and
turned to “what should I cook today?”, and “how am I supposed to meet my
Almost all of the thoughts I caught were negative.
Motivated to change this toxic pattern, I lit up my candles,
took my favourite blanket and sat comfortably in my bed and prepared to
meditate. I put a 15 minute timer on my phone and waited for the magic to
happen. But nothing really happened. I felt uncomfortable and weird. I tried
that a couple of more times, and I became frustrated that my mind was
resisting. So, naturally, I started over-thinking that as well.
I dug into meditation forums, and it turned out that a lot of
people feel this way in the beginning. Nothing of lasting benefit happens
overnight so I don’t know why I thought that this would.
I dug deeper into the topic, and I found guided meditation. You just play a recording with instructions about when to breathe in and when to breathe out. Excited, I gave it a try. It still felt weird, but I found myself able to experience uninterrupted stillness (for at least a couple of minutes). Turns out that the process of meditation is very simple – you can just sit and follow your breath. When you notice that your mind has wandered and you are lost in thought, you gently lead your attention back to the breath.
As I learned, regular practice is key. I also learned that
mindfulness doesn’t promise to remove all the problems from one’s life.
However, with practice, you might begin to relate to those problems
differently. Life challenges are always likely to arise and mindfulness can change
how you react to the events and circumstances that are happening.
Here are some practical tips that helped me throughout my
Create a schedule and commit to it
The first thing you need to do is come up with a schedule and
commit to it. Start with 10-15 minutes per session, 2-3 times a week. Choose a
time when you’ll be relatively undisturbed until you build a habit of it. Many
people start out waking early in the morning while everyone else is
There is not a golden rule to follow here. Just make sure to wear something that makes you feel comfortable and relaxed. Choose a suitable environment in which to meditate. Whether it’s outside, inside, on the couch, on the floor, cross-legged or laying down – all that matters is that you are able to come to rest whilst remaining alert.
Practice staying mindful throughout the day
I started meditation to become more mindful and self-aware in the
moment. I wanted to build skills to help me stop over-thinking. What I learned
is while it’s great to be mindful for the duration of a meditation, you can
also learn to fold mindfulness into your everyday life. As my practice became
more and more grounded, I learned to be mindful in all kinds of different
I no longer fear my thoughts. When I get caught up in
over-thinking, whether during meditation or in the rest of my day, I can notice
where my mind has gone and gently bring my attention back to the present
moment. I’ve learned how to live my life rather than over-think it.
After an incredible career working for B companies like Live Earth and Headspace, and travelling the world, Nikki now lives on a 1901 homestead in NW Montana with her partner, twin teen girls, a herd of goats, chickens and two dogs. Like most folks in Montana, Nikki doesn’t “do” just one thing. She is the founder of Glad.is – a guide to intentional living & mindfulness, and co-owner of Tobacco River Ranch Glamping
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