Monday December 18, 2017
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Evolution and falling levels of human intelligence: Learn from cats!

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By Nury Vittachi

A new island appeared off the coast of Japan and scientists are watching it to see evolution at work.

So I was told. I was a bit dubious. Doesn’t evolution take a while? The reader who sent me the report, Sunita Chau, admitted that the only biological entity on the island of Nishinoshima so far was bird poop.

I suppose one can imagine bird poop evolving into extremely primitive live forms such as bacteria, single-celled micro-organisms, and Fox News viewers, for example. She said she reckoned that nationalist politicians in some countries probably shared 99 percent of their DNA with bird poop. I think she was joking, but either way, no offence is intended to any bird poop which might be reading this.

A Wikipedia check showed that organic communities develop fast. Scientists observing Surtsey, an island which appeared suddenly in the sea near Iceland in 1963, noticed that by 1964 it had insects, by 1965 a plant, and by 1998 a slug. In evolutionary terms, a slug is a long way from being a human, but in terms of intelligence, is perhaps not that far from nationalist politicians, supermodels and the like.

To do my due diligence, I phoned a scientist, who castigated me for making the common assumption that human intelligence was the pinnacle of evolution. Intelligence is an anti-evolutionary trait, he said, quoting numerous studies. Stupidity improves efficiency (Journal of Management Studies), boosts productivity (University of Texas), and increases happiness (University of Edinburgh).

That makes sense, if you think about it. The most powerful people in human society are rock stars, builders, footballers, supermodels, stockbrokers et al, folk whose intelligence levels are too often roughly level with that of an average novelist’s colonic microfloral bacteria.

In contrast, people who actually have big brains are writing novels or teaching math and not earning enough money to rub two coins together to keep warm, let alone marry and spread their DNA.

If humans are not evolution’s zenith, what is? One colleague nominated sharks. They do nothing at all except eat, sleep, reproduce and occasionally star in movies. (My dream schedule)

A second said it was domestic dogs. “We feed them and clean up their poop in return for nothing but love and affection.” A third said cat-owners feed and clean up the poop of cats “in return for nothing but disdain and aloofness”. Cats win.

Retreating to my inbox, I found a reader had sent a web link to a news report about a woman who accidentally shot herself when trying to take a “selfie” while holding a gun to her head. It was followed by a report about officials in India asking pet-owners to paint their dogs blue to differentiate them from wild dogs. A web-search led me to a New Scientist report that several studies showed that human intelligence was falling rather than rising.

All this could be good news for the long-term survival of the human race. So let’s all do our bit. Avoid the natural temptation to overthink things. Create balance by drastically under thinking every decision you make.

Step one is to stop worrying about what’s evolving on Nishinoshima and learn from cats. Feed me. Love me. In return, I promise disdain and aloofness.

(Vittachi is an Asia-based frequent traveller. With inputs from IANS)

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Top 5 Affordable Travel Destinations where Money will be the Last Thing on your Mind!

Indian currency seems weak when compared to international currencies. Hence, planning a trip to New York or California is not easy

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affordable travel destinations
Japan will have your heart at first sight! Pixabay

How many times has it happened that you longed for an exotic foreign trip, but gave up on the idea because of upsetting figures in your bank balance? Indian currency seems weak when compared to international currencies. Hence, planning a trip to New York or California is not easy; everybody knows these are expensive places and you will have to think twice before your NYC dreams come true.

But what if we tell you there are countries in the world that you can visit and gather equally thrilling and exotic experiences, at much lesser price?

Yes, there are countries that can be on your travel bucket list, where money will be the last thing you will worry about! These places are not only unique and undoubtedly beautiful, they are relatively cheap and our Indian currency will prove a stronger, higher currency when compared to their own currencies!

So, what are you waiting for? We bring you our top 5 picks for affordable travel destinations and you should get packing!

 1. SRI LANKA

1 INR (Indian Rupee) = 2.37 LKR (Sri Lankan Rupee)*

Sri Lanka is the first in our affordable travel destinations list!

affordable travel destinations
Sri Lankan beaches are a sight not to be missed. Pixabay

Despite being extremely small in size, Sri Lanka is a heavenly abode that makes it to the post of top five biodiversity hotspots in the world!

Dive in with the blue whales or watch spinner dolphins play against the setting sun! Go on a wildlife safari and spend days playing with elephants in the water.

affordable travel destinations
Elephant safari in Sri Lanka. Pixabay

Sri Lanka is a haven for back-packers, packed with Dutch architecture from the times of Sri Lanka colonialists, and exotic scenic locales, it is closer to home and yet, everything that any far-off international destination could possibly offer!

 

 2. JAPAN

1 INR (Indian Rupee) = 1.70 JPY (Japanese Yen)*

Cute buildings, cute people, cute food, and cute everything else! Second on our list of affordable travel destinations is Japan.

Food is an integral part of Japan, and something that the Japanese wholly embrace as a prime part of life.

Japan’s history is intrinsically linked to the Buddhist, Shinto, and Taoist faiths- the reason why a visit to Japan will be no less than a serene and tranquil experience.

affordable travel destinations
Japan will have your heart at first sight! Pixabay

Japan is categorically blessed with natural beauty with the country boasting of extremely rare and fascinating flora and fauna – experience the magnificence of Mt. Fuji in summer and spring, and visit the streets completely covered with cherry blossoms in March and April- Japan will present you with sights that will simply take your breath away!

 

 3. ICELAND

1 INR (Indian Rupee) = 1.66 ISK (Icelandic Króna)*

Iceland convincingly makes it to the third spot on our affordable travel destinations list. Iceland is situated just below the Arctic Circle, which means the country has 24-hour daylight from mid-May to late July. Isn’t that already stimulating?

And who hasn’t heard of Iceland’s famous northern lights? The county is undoubtedly one of the world’s best places to witness the magic of the northern lights or aurora borealis. The best time to witness the magic of these celestial marvels from September to mid-April.

affordable travel destinations
The northern lights, do they even look real? Pixabay

Iceland’s rich water supply is undoubtedly its most valuable natural resource. Why are we telling you about this? Iceland has natural pools that can be found all around the country, calmly seated in natural environment.

affordable travel destinations
Iceland has natural pools that make for magnificent sights! Pixabay

Fun fact : People of Iceland do not have surnames. They follow the traditional Nordic naming system in which a person’s name includes their father’s first name.

 

 4. HUNGARY

1 INR (Indian Rupee) = 4.00 HUF (Hungarian Forint)*

From its cosmopolitan cities to the charming countryside, Hungary will provide you with innumerable reasons to make a stop here. Nonetheless, it is going to be a decision you will not regret. From mouth-watering food to traditional folk culture, Hungary offers something for everybody, which is what brings the country on the fourth spot in our affordable travel destinations list.

Hungary’s countryside is filled with naturally magnificent sights- from natural landscapes in the Hortobagy National Park, to extravagant caves of Lillafured, your Hungarian vacation will be both peaceful and beautiful!

affordable travel destinations
Szechenyi Chain Bridge. Pixabay

Hungary will be the best option if you’re looking for an affordable vacation – with affordable food, drink, and many of the country’s attractions being totally free to visit such as the Chain Bridge)

 

5. VIETNAM

1 INR (Indian Rupee) = 353.78 VND (Vietnamese Dong)*

The last on the list of affordable travel destinations is Vietnam. With its fascinating history, succulent food, gorgeous beaches, old towns, islands and waters, Vietnam should definitely be on everybody’s bucket list.

affordable travel destinations
Sunrise at Vietnam is to die for! Pixabay

Street food is a trademark of Vietnam and you will find countless food stalls on street sides throughout your trip that you can gorge on! Vietnam will also not disappoint mountaineers, or adventure seekers- you can either rent a motorbike and drive to the scenic mountains in the north or along the length of the country from north to south – but beware, this thrilling ride is not for the faint-hearted.

Don’t forget to share with us if you do plan a trip to any of these places!

* Conversion rates are subject to change. 

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Astronomers Discover New ‘Mid-size’ Black Hole 100,000 Times More Massive than the Sun

Scientists predict that nearly 100 million of these small black holes should exist in the Milky Way, however only about 60 have been found till now

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Black hole in milky way
A near-infrared image of a black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy as seen with Hubble Space Telescope/NICMOS. (NASA/STScI) (VOA)
  • Researches in Japan have discovered a super-massive black hole in Milky Way Galaxy
  • The black hole is believed to weigh as much as 400 suns
  • According to studies,  at least 100 million of these small black holes should exist in the Milky Way

Japan, September 5, 2017 : Astronomers have found new evidence for the existence of a mid-sized black hole, considered the missing link in the evolution of super-massive black holes.

Astronomers in Japan found the possible black hole in our own Milky Way galaxy, a long-theorized object which is bigger than the small black holes formed from a single star, but still much smaller than giant black holes such as the one at the center of the Milky Way.

Black holes are difficult to find because they do not emit any light. However, scientists can detect them by their influence on nearby objects.

The astronomers in Japan found new evidence of the so-called intermediate-mass black hole when they turned a powerful telescope in Chile’s Atacama desert on a gas cloud near the center of the Milky Way. The gases in the cloud move at unusual speeds, and the scientists believed they were being pulled by immense gravitational forces. They say the gravitational force is likely caused by a black hole measuring about 1.4 trillion kilometers across.

black hole in Milky way galaxy
Radio telescope antennas of the ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) project are seen in the Atacama desert, some 1500 km north of Santiago, Chile, VOA

The findings are published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Theoretical studies predict at least 100 million of these small black holes should exist in the Milky Way, however only about 60 have been found.

The possible mid-sized black hole is much smaller than the super massive black hole that is located in the center of the galaxy, known as Sagittarius A, which weighs as much as 400 million suns.

“This is the first detection of an intermediate-mass black hole candidate in the Milky Way galaxy,” said the study’s leader, Tomoharu Oka from Keio University, Japan.

If confirmed, the intermediate-mass black hole could help explain how supermassive black holes operate. One theory is that supermassive black holes, which are at the center of most massive galaxies, are formed when smaller black holes steadily coalesce into larger ones. However, until now no definitive evidence has existed for intermediate-mass black holes that could indicate a middle step between the small and massive black holes already detected.

Researchers say they will continue to study the intermediate-mass black hole candidate in the hope of confirming its existence. (VOA)

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Hinduism Acts As a Boundary for the Spread of Radical Islam in India: Chinese Media

The article called attention to the solid impact of Hinduism in India

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Hinduism in India
Hinduism in India. Pixabay

Sep 03, 2014: Muslims in India generally stayed unaffected from the radicalization of Muslim gatherings in different parts of the world in light of the strong impact of Hinduism in the nation, which has established a mark of itself by going past a religion to end up plainly as a lifestyle and a social establishment, said the state-run Chinese media on Wednesday.

Adulating Hinduism for helping India setting up an ever lasting attachment towards the religion among different sects, an article in Global Times, titled – “Hinduism tied to India’s geopolitical standing” said that Hinduism made India a boundary for the spread of radical Islam on the global geopolitical scene.

The article asserted that-

Why does it seem that Muslims in India have remained largely apart from the radicalization that has happened to Muslim groups in other parts of the world? Indian Muslims seldom have extreme organizations compared with groups in many other Asian countries. In the southern part of the Philippines, extremists backed by Islamic State have turned their occupied cities into horrible places. In southern Thailand, terror attacks staged by Muslim extremists take place almost every week.

The article called attention to the solid impact of Hinduism, the dominant religion of India while answering the question: Why does it seem that Muslims in India have remained largely apart from the radicalization that has happened to Muslim groups in other parts of the world? 

“Like many other religions, Hinduism has its extreme side, but for the most part, its more moderate side has the strongest influence. Perhaps it is this more moderate influence that has helped establish India’s lasting cohesion and is one of the reasons that the country has not separated”

Indians take pride in the Mughal Dynasty, the time of history which was built up by Muslims, not even by the Hindus, however, there was a strong Hindu influence in that time also.

“In the long history of India, Hinduism has gone far beyond a religion to become a lifestyle and social institution. Both its extreme and tolerant sides have constituted the foundation for its relationship with Muslims and this dual character is going to exist for a long time,” it said.

The consequence of this relationship has made India a hindrance for the spread of radical Islam on the global geopolitical scene.

Also Read: How Hinduism is Interpreted by Western Indologists-David Frawley. Wendy Doniger. Koenraad Elst

The article brought up that the absence of Islamic fanatics in India has established its role in Asia and it has been thought about by the US, Japan, Russia and European nations as well.

“In the future, India is sure to continue to stand out in geopolitical significance when it comes to increasing religious and ethnic conflicts around the world. Where China is concerned, this significance should not be ignored”, the article concluded.


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