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Symphony of Science: 'Our Place in the Cosmos' (ft. Sagan, Dawkins, Kaku, Jastrow)

"Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known." -Carl Sagan. Here's the third movement of the growing Symphony of Science, a series of songs that use scientists' spoken voices auto-tuned to make them sing. In this latest installment, the focus is again on the vastness of the cosmos and our place in it. The video also includes a few clips from my favorite film of all time, Koyaanisqatsi (more on that later this week).

If you're a fan of the original song ("A Glorious Dawn" featuring Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking), you can now buy it on vinyl from Jack White's record company. It's only six bucks (shipping included!), and the B side features replicas of the Voyager Golden Record's engravings. It's made of vinyl, not gold, though.

You can download free MP3s and learn more at SymphonyOfScience.com. See also: We Are All Connected.

Complete lyrics after the jump.

Lyrics

[Narrator]
With every century
Our eyes on the universe have been opened anew
We are witness
To the very brink of time and space

[Robert Jastrow]
We must ask ourselves
We who are so proud of our accomplishments
What is our place in the cosmic perspective of life?

[Carl Sagan]
The exploration of the cosmos
Is a voyage of self discovery
As long as there have been humans
We have searched for our place in the cosmos

[Richard Dawkins]
Are there things about the universe
That will be forever beyond our grasp?
Are there things about the universe that are
Ungraspable?

[Sagan]
One of the great revelations of space exploration
Is the image of the earth, finite and lonely
Bearing the entire human species
Through the oceans of space and time

[Dawkins]
Matter flows from place to place
And momentarily comes together to be you
Some people find that thought disturbing
I find the reality thrilling

[Sagan]
As the ancient mythmakers knew
We're children equally of the earth and the sky
In our tenure on this planet, we've accumulated
Dangerous evolutionary baggage

We've also acquired compassion for others,
Love for our children,
And a great soaring passionate intelligence
The clear tools for our continued survival

[Michio Kaku]
We could be in the middle
Of an inter-galactic conversation
And we wouldn't even know

[Sagan]
We've begun at last
To wonder about our origins
Star stuff contemplating the stars
Tracing that long path

Our obligation to survive and flourish
Is owed not just to ourselves
But also to that cosmos
Ancient and vast, from which we spring

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Live Smarter
Researchers Say You’re Exercising More Than You Think
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They say a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. If the thought of a thousand-mile journey makes you tired, we've got some great news for you: You've probably already completed one.* A new study published in the journal Health Psychology [PDF] finds that people underestimate the amount of exercise they're getting—and that this underestimation could be harmful.

Psychologists at Stanford University pulled data on 61,141 American adults from two huge studies conducted in the 1990s and the early 2000s: the National Health Interview Survey and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Participants answered questionnaires about their lifestyles, health, and exercise habits, and some wore accelerometers to track their movement. Everybody was asked one key question: "Would you say that you are physically more active, less active, or about as active as other persons your age?"

The researchers then tapped into the National Death Index through 2011 to find out which of the participants were still alive 10 to 20 years later.

Combining these three studies yielded two interesting facts. First, that many participants believed themselves to be less active than they actually were. Second, and more surprisingly, they found that people who rated themselves as "less active" were more likely to die—even when their actual activity rates told a different story. The reverse was also true: People who overestimated their exercise had lower mortality rates.

There are many reasons this could be the case. Depression and other mental illnesses can certainly influence both our self-perception and our overall health. The researchers attempted to control for this variable by checking participants' stress levels and asking if they'd seen a mental health professional in the last year. But not everybody who needs help can get it, and many people could have slipped through the cracks.

Paper authors Octavia Zahrt and Alia Crum have a different hypothesis. They say our beliefs about exercise could actually affect our risk of death. "Placebo effects are very robust in medicine," Crum said in a statement. "It is only logical to expect that they would play a role in shaping the benefits of behavioral health as well."

The data suggest that our ideas about exercise and exercise itself are two very different things. If all your friends are marathoners and mountain climbers, you might feel like a sloth—even if you regularly spend your lunch hour in yoga class.

Crum and Zahrt say we could all benefit from relaxing our definition of "exercise."

"Many people think that the only healthy physical activity is vigorous exercise in a gym or on a track," Zahrt told Mental Floss in an email. "They underestimate the importance of just walking to the store, taking the stairs, cleaning the house, or carrying the kids."
 
*The average American takes about 5000 steps per day, or roughly 2.5 miles. At that pace, it would take just a little over a year to walk 1000 miles.

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Medicine
Scientists Are Working on a Way to Treat Eye Floaters With Lasers
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Even people with 20/20 eyesight should be familiar with this scenario: You're enjoying a clear view when a faint doodle shape drifts into your peripheral vision like an organism under a microscope. Floaters affect almost everyone, but there's currently no medically accepted, non-invasive way to treat them. Two doctors with Ophthalmic Consultants of Boston are working to change that. As IFLScience reports, the team believes that lasers may be the solution to bothersome eye squiggles.

As Chirag Shah and Jeffrey Heier write in their study in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology, lasers can be used to safely combat the underlying causes of floaters. Also known as muscae volitantes, Latin for “hovering flies,” the condition comes from physical debris leaking into your eyeball. The front of your eyes is filled with a liquid called vitreous humor, and when drops of that gelatinous substance break off from the whole, the bits cast shadows on your retinas that look like gray blobs. Because floaters literally float inside your eyes, trying to focus on one is almost impossible.

These spots aren't typically a problem for young people, but as you get older your vitreous humor becomes more watery, which increases the chance of it slipping out and clouding your vision. Retinal detachment and retinal tears are also rare but serious causes of symptomatic floaters.

Shah and Heier tested a new method of pinpointing and eliminating floaters with a YAG laser (a type of laser often used in cataract surgery) on 36 patients. An additional 16 test subjects were treated with a sham laser as a placebo. They found that 54 percent of the treated participants saw their floaters decrease over six months, compared to just 9 percent of the control group. So far, the procedure appears be safe and free of side effects, but researchers noted that more follow-up time is needed to determine if those results are long-term.

At the moment, people with symptomatic floaters can choose between surgery or living with the ailment for the rest of their lives. YAG laser treatment may one day offer a safe and easy alternative, but the researchers say they will need to expand the size of future studies before the treatment is ready to go public.

[h/t IFLScience]

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