Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Week

Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster, by Adam Higginbotham. This extraordinary book tells of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster—but it is also a powerful testament to how governmental propaganda and secrecy can cause these types of global-scale disasters to unfold. 

The surprisingly positive upshot of the disaster is that far safer nuclear power is being developed.  As Higginbotham notes: “Less than a month before the explosion of [Chernobyl] Reactor Number Four in 1986, a team of nuclear engineers at Argonne National Laboratory–West in Idaho had quietly succeeded in demonstrating that … the integral fast reactor … was safe even under the circumstances that destroyed Three Mile Island 2 and would prove disastrous at Chernobyl and Fukushima. The liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR), an even more advanced concept developed at Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, is fueled by thorium. More plentiful and far harder to process into bomb-making material than uranium, thorium also burns more efficiently in a reactor and could produce less hazardous radioactive waste with half-lives of hundreds, not tens of thousands, of years. Running at atmospheric pressure, and without ever reaching a criticality, the LFTR doesn’t require a massive containment building to guard against loss-of-coolant accidents or explosions and can be constructed on such a compact scale that every steel mill or small town could have its own microreactor tucked away underground. In 2015 Microsoft founder Bill Gates had begun funding research projects similar to these fourth-generation reactors in a quest to create a carbon-neutral power source for the future. By then, the Chinese government had already set seven hundred scientists on a crash program to build the world’s first industrial thorium reactor as part of a war on pollution. ‘The problem of coal has become clear,’ the engineering director of the project said. ‘Nuclear power provides the only solution.’” [Hat tip: Mary O’Dea] 

We read Midnight in Chernobyl in conjunction with watching the HBO documentary Chernobyl.  Television doesn’t get better than this.

Neurons Form Cliques of Various Sizes 

This fascinating article in ScienceAlert discovered that neurons develop into highly connected groups. As article author Signe Dean notes: “Algebraic topology provides mathematical tools for discerning details of the neural network both in a close-up view at the level of individual neurons, and a grander scale of the brain structure as a whole…. By connecting these two levels, the researchers could discern high-dimensional geometric structures in the brain, formed by collections of tightly connected neurons (cliques) and the empty spaces (cavities) between them… Those clearings or cavities seem to be critically important for brain function. When researchers gave their virtual brain tissue a stimulus, they saw that neurons were reacting to it in a highly organised manner.

“It is as if the brain reacts to a stimulus by building [and] then razing a tower of multi-dimensional blocks, starting with rods (1D), then planks (2D), then cubes (3D), and then more complex geometries with 4D, 5D, etc,” said one of the team, mathematician Ran Levi from Aberdeen University in Scotland.

“The progression of activity through the brain resembles a multi-dimensional sandcastle that materialises out of the sand and then disintegrates.”

Sound Body, Sound Mind: Physically Fit People Have Stronger, Sharper Brains

John Anderer in Study Finds describes recent research revealing that keeping oneself physically fit is also associated with better brain structure and functioning in young adults. As study team leader Dr. Jonathan Repple observes: “It surprised us to see that even in a young population cognitive performance decreases as fitness levels drop. We knew how this might be important in an elderly population which does not necessarily have good health, but to see this happening in 30-year-olds is surprising. This leads us to believe that a basic level of fitness seems to be a preventable risk factor for brain health.”

Your Undivided Attention Podcast

LHTLer Marta Pulley has recommended the new “Your Undivided Attention Podcast.”  We’ve read the transcripts from some of the episodes—this is a riveting and important new source to learn more about how “Technology companies are locked in an arms race to seize your attention, and that race is tearing apart our shared social fabric. In this inaugural podcast from the Center for Humane Technology, hosts Tristan Harris and Aza Raskin will expose the hidden designs that have the power to hijack our attention, manipulate our choices and destabilize our real-world communities. They’ll explore what it means to become sophisticated about human nature, by interviewing hypnotists, magicians, experts on the dynamics of cults and election hacking and the powers of persuasion. How can we escape this unrelenting race to the bottom of the brain stem? Learn more with our new podcast, Your Undivided Attention.”

Wonderful Forgiveness Weekend

Our friend Mary Hayes Grieco, who has just run a forgiveness session in Azerbaijan, is running another forgiveness session in the Twin Cities on Nov 15-17, 2019. It’s a great opportunity for anyone who is trying to get over an emotionally difficult story. If you know someone who has been suffering too long with a loss, disappointment, or a resentment, you may wish to pass this self-healing information along. It’s something to learn in a weekend and use for a lifetime. 

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team


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