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FALL 2009 KAHN INSTITUTE LECTURES

 
 

Anthony Aveni: The End of Time: The Maya Mystery of 2012

Anthony Aveni, Russell Colgate Professor of Astonomy and AnthropologyDoes the ancient Maya calendar forecast a cataclysmic alignment with the center of the Milky Way in 2012? Or will the much anticipated end of the longest of all timekeeping cycles in the Maya repertoire issue a global renewal of human consciousness? These are some of the predictions flooding the Internet, print media, and movie story lines as the end of the ancient Maya "Baktun 13" approaches. Modern "Y12" prophets who lay out such head-turning scenarios tell us that ancient Maya wisemen were well aware of how and when the world would end—and possibly begin anew.

In this lecture, Anthony Aveni will explore the major theories of 2012 end-of-the-world predictions and measure them objectively against evidence unearthed by archaeologists, iconographers, and epigraphers. He will also attempt to place American pop culture's current fascination with ideas about World Ages in historical context.

Presented by the Kahn Institute project Telling Time: Its Meaning and Measurement.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

 

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Dr. Charles Raison: Meditation, Inflammation and Consternation:
Applying Buddhist Wisdom to the Search for Health and Well-Being

Dr. Charles Raison, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory UniversityWe instinctively gravitate toward people who make us feel good and toward social situations in which we feel cared for and understood. We do this for emotional reasons without realizing that positive psychosocial connections can also be understood as a medicine that is effective in preventing and/or improving outcomes for an array of mental and physical illnesses that bedevil the modern world. Data from years of research demonstrate that warm, supportive interpersonal relationships are hugely powerful in protecting against illness and extend the lifespan. For more than a millennium, Tibetan Buddhist tradition has made the practice of compassion meditation a central part of spiritual practice. In the last several years, research groups have become increasingly interested in the possibility that this technique might actually retrain people’s instinctive sense of psychosocial connectivity in ways likely to promote health and well-being.

In this lecture, Charles Raison provides a rationale for how a technique such as compassion meditation might benefit health by reducing the types of deleterious emotional and inflammatory responses to stress that are known to promote disease development. He will describe an emerging scientific understanding of brain-immune interactions that attempts to unify emotional and physiological functioning in mind and body, and will discuss the implications of the findings from research into those interactions.

Presented by the Kahn Institute project Wellness & Disease.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

 

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Rob McClung: Timing Is Everything: Genetic Analysis of Plant Circadian Rhythms

Rob McClung, Professor of Biological Sciences at Dartmouth CollegeMost organisms have an endogenous circadian clock with a period of about 24 hours that helps them measure time and time information to temporally regulate their biology. As humans, we are most familiar with circadian rhythms in the context of sleep-wake cycles and their disruption in jet-lag, but plants also have such rhythms for activities such as flower opening and fragrance emission. Indeed, much of a plant’s biology cycles daily. An underlying premise to the study of circadian rhythms has been that the coordination of an organism’s biology with its temporal environment enhances fitness. This premise has now been experimentally verified in several organisms, including cyanobacteria, fruitflies, chipmunks and the plant Arabidopsis thaliana, which is often used as a model plant.

Rob McClunb will illustrate the logic that a geneticist uses to understand something as fundamental and mysterious as biological timekeeping. Most that is known about the plant clock has been learned through the study of Arabidopsis. A number of labs, including including his own, are now investigating whether the model of the clock developed through research on Arabidopsis will apply to plants in genera with a goal of providing plant breeders with tools to enhance crop productivity.

Presented by the Kahn Institute project Telling Time: Its Meaning and Measurement.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

 

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Dr. Ichiro Kawachi: The Paradox of U.S. Health Status (Or Why Is Life in America Nasty, Brutish, and Short?)

Ichiro Kawachi, Professor of Social Epidemiology and Chair of the Department of Society, Human Development and Health at the Harvard School of Public HealthA fundamental paradox in population health is why Americans rank near the bottom of the life expectancy league table among industrialized nations. Despite being the wealthiest country in the world (in terms of per capita GDP), and despite spending twice as much on health care compared to the rest of rich nations, Americans are sicker and die sooner compared to citizens of much poorer societies. In my lecture, I will explore some of the “usual suspects” that are trotted out in public discourse about the lagging health performance of Americans, including racial/ethnic diversity (and by extension, innate biological or genetic predisposition to poor health status), unequal access to health care, and “lifestyle” habits. I argue that none of these suspects can adequately account for the paradox of American health status. Instead, I argue that the dismal state of American health is a reflection of the mal-distribution of resources – financial capital, human capital, as well as access to power/authority in labor relations – that characterize American society.

Presented by the Kahn Institute project Wellness & Disease.

Friday, October 30, 2009

 

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Richard Einhorn: Music and Science: Same Thing, Only Different

Richard Einhorn, ComposerThere has always been an intimate connection between the science and technology of the times and musical expression, arguably on a deeper level than for other arts. Nearly every complex musical culture, from the ancient Greeks to Indonesia, has developed elaborate music theories based as much upon the prevailing science as seemingly more traditional aesthetic concerns such as the creation of a mood in sound. Today, music seems, for some, almost dismayingly connected with modern technology, especially digital signal processing and mass production. Nevertheless, despite the increasingly common use of electronic instruments, and despite the ideology of an influential branch of 20th century composition, the central concerns of nearly all music depend upon a very different perspective than the one typically thought of as scientific. Or perhaps not? The great visionary composer Edgard Varese made much the same point when he remarked, with characteristic acerbity, "My experiments end up in the wastebasket. Afterwards, it is the listener who must experiment."

In this lecture, Einhorn will discuss his forty-year love/hate relationship with music technologies, from multimedia works composed in the late sixties to his latest oratorio celebrating the life and work of Charles Darwin. His perspective will be that of a working composer, not a scholar, scientist, or social critic, a perspective that combines experimentation, a considerable amount of research, much thought and —equally important—a healthy dose of (hopefully) creative misunderstanding.

Presented by the Kahn Institute project Music and Science: From The Creation to The Origin.

Friday, October 30, 2009

 

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Tracey Revenson: Are Close Relationships Good Medicine for People Coping with a Chronic Illness?

Tracey Revenson, Professor at The Graduate Center, City University of New YorkFor the most part, close friends and family help individuals adjust to the stresses and strains of living with a chronic physical illness such as cancer or arthritis. But – intentionally or not – family and friends can make ill individuals feel worse and undermine their coping efforts. In this talk Professor Revenson presents an in-depth look at recent theoretical perspectives and original research on how support efforts sometimes go south. Drawing on current psychological concepts such as social constraints (perceptions that others don’t want to hear about your problems) and dyadic coping (when two persons’ coping styles match) used in research on couples and families, she illuminates under what conditions and at what times close relationships are good medicine.

Presented by the Kahn Institute project Wellness & Disease.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

 

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Michael Williams: Telling Earth Time: Dating & Explaining Geologic Processes

Michael Williams, Professor of Geosciences, University of MassachusettsMichael Williams, head of the Geosciences Department at UMass, explores how the timing and repeat frequency of earthquakes and volcanoes, the pace of global warming, the age of mountain-belts, and the evolution of life are enabling a new understanding of our planet, its history, and its future. In addition, he discusses how critical it is for the general population to gain an understanding of the scales of time over which our planet is shaped, from the billion-year evolution of continents to the nanosecond rupture of an earthquake fault. This understanding is central to debates about evolution, earthquake and volcano prediction, and the record of climate change. A major new exhibition is in development at the Grand Canyon, the “Trail of Time”, to communicate the nature of time, especially deep time, in the context of Earth processes.

Presented by the Kahn Institute project Telling Time: Its Meaning and Measurement.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

 

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