Around the World in Six Ideas

By Dickey, Christopher | Newsweek, March 22, 2013 | Go to article overview

Around the World in Six Ideas


Dickey, Christopher, Newsweek


Byline: Christopher Dickey

Losing Our Religion

Americans are not giving up on God (only about 3 percent are atheists). But a growing number are turning away from organized religion. According to a recent survey, 20 percent say they have no religious preference at all. In 1990 that figure was only 8 percent; in 1972 it was 5 percent. Sociologist Mike Hout at the University of California, Berkeley, and his colleagues call this group the "unchurched." And in some respects detailed analysis of the data from the General Social Survey conducted every two years by the National Opinion Research Center is predictable. They found, for instance, that 40 percent of liberals are unchurched, but only 9 percent of conservatives. More than a third of the 18-to-25 crowd is without a religion. One can speculate about the reasons for this overall trend, including public disappointment with repeated scandals that expose the hypocrisy, or worse, of moralizing evangelists, ministers, imams, rabbis, gurus, and, of course, priests. Although 35 percent of Americans were raised Catholic, only 25 percent say they still consider themselves Catholic. The next survey in 2014 may show us whether a new generation of religious leaders--and a new pope in Rome--have changed these trends.

You Complete Me

If Hollywood ever makes a prequel to The Matrix, it could start with the research that scientists at Duke University are doing with rats. In the sci-fi movie, humans were connected to a machine and to each other in one enormous interlinked, well, matrix. It's not too dissimilar to what they've been doing at Duke. Thanks to technology they've developed that records and transmits brain signals, they've been able to plug rats' brains into each other so that when one learns a simple task, the other does as well. They even managed to connect a rat brain in Brazil to a rat brain in North Carolina. It seems the rodents begin to share their identities: acting, for instance, as if their whiskers were the same length when they're not. "We are creating a single central nervous system made up of two rat brains," says neurobiology professor Miguel Nicolelis. Theoretically, he said, there could be many more in what he called a "brain-net," or perhaps even a vast organic computer. "You can imagine that a combination of brains could provide solutions that individual brains cannot achieve by themselves," says Nicolelis. No mention of plugging human brains into each other ... yet.

De-Extinction

Stewart Brand grew famous in the 1960s for his iconic counterculture tool book, The Whole Earth Catalog, and he's proved a remarkable prophet of technology and environmental activism ever since. But, for Brand, the Earth still isn't whole enough. Too much of its natural richness and too many of its amazing species have been destroyed in just the last few millennia. So Brand is working with some of the top scientists researching ways to resurrect lost species from fragmentary DNA, and he's reaching out to the public with a TED talk on the Web meant to inspire a global movement for what he calls "de-extinction." Brand knows there may be problems if passenger pigeons return to the skies or woolly mammoths once more roam Siberia. (There is no question, scientifically or ethically, of bringing back dinosaurs a la Jurassic Park.) But "humans have made a huge hole in nature in the last 10,000 years," he says. "Some species that we killed off totally we could consider bringing back to a world that misses them." It's got to be a huge effort and long term, he says. It will take generations. But, "we will get the woolly mammoths back. …

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