Sunday, May 23, 2010
The Eco House Agent (www.ecohouseagent.com) is an online resource providing information about the implementation of “eco-friendly” devices in homes. The main goal of Eco House Agent is to help people make their house eco-friendly, reduce the use of carbon fuels, and become carbon neutral. While the vast majority of people perceive becoming carbon neutral as a lifestyle-altering commitment requiring a great deal of dedication, it is a process that when done effectively, will not drastically reduce the convenience of their daily lives.
Eco House Agent provides simple tips for homeowners such as walking instead of driving to local shopping centers, turning off lights, washing clothes at low temperatures, taking showers instead of baths, and turning appliances off instead of on standby. Eco House Agent also suggests resources that can be installed and implemented in your house, including solar power, photovoltaics, wind power, rainwater harvesting, insulation, and going “off the grid”.
According to Eco House Agent, based on the growing number of governmental incentives for reducing your carbon footprint, the time to implement these new strategies is now. “Soon we will be forced to reduce our Carbon footprint The government is looking to introduce environmental policies to encourage people to be more “Carbon Neutral”. The Carbon Credit Scheme will attempt to reduce the amount of carbon households produce. A Carbon Credit will be given for units of energy The government will reward those who use less Carbon, penalising less energy efficient households.”
The Eco House Agent teaches readers how to install new eco-friendly sources of energy, such as solar power, Photovoltaics, wind and rain power; harvest rainwater; and how glazing, installing insulation, and damp treatment can be beneficial for your money and the environment.
The website also offers a forum where users can “post all your green thoughts on Solar Power, Photovoltaics, Insulation, Wind Power & Rainwater Harvesting and energy saving, carbon neutral house ideas, helping us all to reduce our carbon footprint and have eco friendly houses.
The following topics are touched upon in detail on the Eco house Agent website:
Solar power energy: Explaining the importance and usefulness of harnessing light from the sun, Eco House Agent also talks about solar hot water heaters and how they are an ideal alternative to ordinary oil and gas hot water heaters. Also, solar power can be used to charge batteries in laptops, cell phones, iPods, and rechargable batteries.
Recycling: The recycling section supplies the importance of recycling and what methods and situations recycling can come in handy and be beneficial for you and the environment. The Salvo recycling centre is mentioned as an excellent source of materials that can be reused, such as doors, tiles, radiators, windows, timber, and furniture.
Finally, another notable section of Echo House Agent explains the benefits of having an “organic baby”. According to the website, “The decision to have children is arguably the most life-changing decision you may ever make, not only to yourself but also to the planet. You only have to look at some of the statistics associated with having children and the overpopulation of the planet to also make it one of the most guilt inducing decisions you’ve made.”
Posted by Chris Mansel at 1:37 PM
Sunday, May 9, 2010
Anil Seth in Brighton, where he has helped set up the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science. Photograph: Andy Hall for the Observer
Consciousness is the last outpost of pure mystery in our scientific understanding of the brain. We are learning ever more about the brain's physiology and how it controls our bodies, but the idea of where "we" exist, how we develop that sense of self and how it can be explained in terms of the activity of brain cells, all of that is still largely the domain of philosophers rather than scientists.
Anil Seth, co-director of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science at the University of Sussex, wants to turn that around. The recently opened institute will include neuroscientists, psychiatrists, roboticists, philosophers and a hypnotist. Using brain-scanners and computer algorithms, they will measure, model and characterise what consciousness might be at a physiological level. Seth and his co-director Hugo Critchley then want to take the findings into the clinic, using these ideas to explain whether altered states of consciousness might explain (and help treat) psychiatric conditions.
Why have scientists been so reluctant to study consciousness until now?
A hundred years ago, consciousness was at the heart of psychology, and it was only excluded following the advent of behaviourism, which focused scientific efforts only on what could be observed objectively — behaviour, not experience. But now we recognise it's OK to take people's descriptions of their conscious experiences as proper scientific data.
The study of consciousness may also have been retarded by people worrying about what the philosopher David Chalmers called the "hard problem". This says, let's say we can understand everything about how the brain works, we know how you generate behaviour and perceptions... but we would still have no idea why there was anything like experience generated by this stuff. In other words, why is there consciousness in the universe at all?
Nowadays, more of us realise that we don't need to answer that "why?" question to make a lot of progress. Consciousness exists, we know when we're conscious and when we're not, and what we're conscious of. We can start to study those differences in the same way physicists have made progress without worrying about why there's a universe in the first place.
We know quite a lot about which brain mechanisms are necessary: you can get rid of quite large parts of the brain without seeming to affect consciousness. For example, you can lose large parts of the cerebellum and it doesn't seem to affect your conscious experience. But if you lose small parts of the brain, say parts of the thalamus, you lose consciousness forever.
Is consciousness something you can localise to parts of the brain or is it more likely that the senses network together to create it?
Consciousness, since it's generated by the brain, is not likely to be localisable to one region. It's likely to be a distributed process that's going to largely depend on the thalamocortical system, which is a big chunk of the brain but, by no means, all of it.
There is this idea that, to study something scientifically, you need to have a really explicit definition of it before you get going. But I don't think that's true. With consciousness, you can define it with various levels of specificity. You can distinguish between conscious level — the scale between being completely asleep or in a coma and being completely aware and awake, say — and conscious content, which would be the actual components of a given experience. So, if you were looking at cup of tea. Things that are relevant to conscious level might not be relevant to conscious content. There's another important distinction between primary consciousness – the raw components of an experience – and what people call higher-order or reflexive consciousness, or even self-consciousness. This is the part of our experience that maps onto our concept of "I". There is an experiencing subject for all these experiences we're having.
There hasn't always been as much communication between psychiatry and neuroscience as one might have expected. That's changing now. One reason is that psychiatrists are increasingly interested in the possibility of finding biomarkers for psychiatric disorders. Right now, psychiatric disorders are classified on the basis of symptoms presented in the clinic. There is, in most cases, no other reliable way of making a psychiatric diagnosis. That difficulty maps to treatments as well, which are often based primarily on alleviating symptoms. By thinking of psychiatric disorders as disturbances of conscious experience, and trying to understand the mechanisms that might generate particular patterns you see, you have a new way to diagnose and treat them.
One example comes from schizophrenia, where one of the symptoms is this misattribution of thoughts and actions, so that the person thinks they are being controlled by something else – by the TV or aliens. One possible explanation for that is, our normal experience of thinking and behaving is unproblematic because we can predict the sensory consequences of our own actions. A thought is just like an action that stays in the brain, so if we can predict what's going to happen when we have a thought or perform an action, then we know that they're not caused by anything else.
But if our predictions are awry, possibly because our internal timing mechanisms are screwed up, we might not be able to predict the consequences of our own actions so the brain is then forced to find some other cause for these things that are happening.
So it's possible that underlying some of the symptoms seen in schizophrenia, there might be a disorder of making fine time judgments or predictions.
One phenomenon we're studying is depersonalisation, a fascinating condition where the world or the self loses its subjective reality. There's evidence that those brain areas responsible for integrating external perceptions with internal ones are less active in people with depersonalisation. We want to extend this work into clinical contexts such as the early stages of schizophrenia.
In terms of how the world works, ontologically, consciousness must be. Otherwise, something dualistic is going on, there's something about consciousness that's different from the universe that is not part of the natural world. Consciousness is dependent on the laws of physics, chemistry and biology and we may not know all of those laws yet but we're not going to need anything else.
The right level at which to explain the phenomenon is a different question. I'm less confident that the right level to explain how brains generate consciousness is going to be at the level of this neurotransmitter or this molecule or something like that. It may turn out that the best explanation comes at a higher level.
Posted by Chris Mansel at 8:32 PM