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tv   Tech Know  Al Jazeera  January 8, 2016 2:30pm-3:01pm EST

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future again rayi-- generations. you can find out much more on our website. our main story there about what is happening in syria. you can find it at aljazeera.com. >> religion. long the spiritual nourishment of the soul. now groundbreaking research on how it impacts the brain. >> because it's the biggest question out there. >> scientists analyzing the minds of believers. >> can you tell the difference between the brain of mother theresa versus a terrorist? >> measuring the divine one brain scan at a time. >> this is "techknow". a show about innovations that can change lives.. >> the science of fighting a wildfire. >> we're going to explore the intersection of hardware and
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humanity, but we're doing it in a unique way. this is a show about science... by scientists. and now techknow investigates religion and the brain. >> hey welcome to techknow i'm phil torres here with dr. crystal dilworth and cara santa maria. now today we're going to start out talking about science and religion. now to be blunt, these aren't two things that often see eye to eye. >> true on the surface they very much seem opposed to each other and i was a scientist trained to take nothing on faith and to only look at the data. >> and that's what's so cool about this study. crystal and i had the chance to go to university of utah where researchers are trying to determine whether feeling the spirit can be measured scientifically. >> we even got the chance to participate in the study and the results were interesting. let's take a look.
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>> i baptize you in the name of the father and of the son and of the holy spirit. >> religious faith... of the seven billion people on the planet, it's estimated that 84-percent are members of one of hundreds of religions. despite the different gods, philosophies and rituals, most religions share a promise for a physical sense of spirituality. >> in our faith we do believe that you have the spirit constantly with you. >> like 27-year-old auriel peterson, i was raised mormon, a member of the church of jesus christ of latter day saints l-d-s for short... a christian faith founded in the united states in 1830. >> for people who maybe have never felt the spirit can you... i know its very personal, but can you try to describe maybe
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some of the components of it? >> it's a very much peaceful feeling. i have clarity and i have a burning sensation throughout my chest. >> and... do you get overwhelmed with any kind of emotional response? >> it does it elicits a lot of emotion and i'm prone to crying and so i get a little teary and a little misty eyed. >> auriel, a third generation mormon studying to be a nurse, lives near salt lake city, utah, headquarters of the mormon church... where she served her 18 month mission. >> it's a concentrated time in your life where you have many spiritual experiences. >> do you believe, in your heart of hearts, that you can scientifically investigate something like faith? >> i'd like to think so. i welcome anything that embraces the fact that you have a physical reaction to that. and that can be looked upon and measured. >> auriel's devotion to god and science made her a perfect subject for the university of utah's "religious brain project," that's where techknow's dr. crystal dilworth picks up this story.
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>> what motivated you to ask questions about religion and neuroscience? >> because it's the biggest question out there. >> dr. jeffrey anderson, professor of radiology and bioengineering, teamed up with dr. julie korenberg, director of the center for integrated neuroscience and human behavior. the study combined brain scans and blood tests on 20 devout mormons, to track their neurological reactions to biologically explained spiritual sensations. >> we don't even know when a young boy goes off to join isis or a mormon in salt lake has some sense of connectedness with the divine in their view... we don't know if that's the same thing. what do people experience in their brains when they feel religious and spiritual experience? >> what we've been awaiting is the level of genetic analysis and the level of imaging analysis to be able to get to this critical intersection
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point. >> participants, like auriel first undergo a structural m-r-i, that gives a detailed picture of the brain at rest. next is a functional m-r-i that records auriel's brain activity while she's reading quotes about faith that are paired with photos of religious figures. next up, church videos depicting mormon culture. during each, auriel has to press a button to indicate "how strongly are you feeling the spirit" and "how spiritually meaningful is this"? before and after the scans blood was drawn. >> what molecules are you looking to preserve? one of them is called oxytocin and the other one, vasopressin. they are also involved in reproduction, so it makes sense that the same hormones or molecules that are causing you
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to have romance are also influencing how you feel good. and perhaps are giving us some hints as to similarities between religious experiences and other stimulations of euphoria. >> since cara and i both study the brain, we asked to get a chance to experience the study first hand. >> are you apprehensive about seeing like mormon imagery again since you are a former mormon? >> no not apprehensive but i am interested to see if i do have activity in the brain because i will have some positive memories, even though now i don't even believe in god, i mean... i'm an atheist. >> right, i guess we'll find out. >> but you weren't raised religious at all? >> not really, no. >> so i'm wondering if any of the imagery is going to resonate with you at all. >> i don't think i will have anything to connect it to. >> hello. >> welcome. >> nice to meet you dr. anderson. >> i understand you're ready to
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have your brains scanned. >> yes, yes. >> i think so. >> great. >> but before we do, i probably can't go in with all this metal, can i? >> not a good idea. >> okay, so i need to take all this off? >> yes please. >> everything on my face and my hands? >> preferably. >> okay. >> you have a lot more to do than i have! >> the mri scanner is one powerful magnet... and here's what could happen to any metal. so cara, minus her bling... >> ta da! ready to go! >> is ready to have her mind read... while i watch in the control room with doctor anderson. >> can you explain a little bit about how an fmri gets its signal? >> that helmet that she has, has coils of wire that pick up the radio waves from the scanner. the mri signal is sensitive to blood oxygen and the blood oxygen lets us know how much blood flow there is in different parts of the brain and that lets
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us know indirectly what the brain is doing. >> so when certain parts of the brain are activated more or less blood is flowing to those areas? >> that's right and it's very precise even within a few millimeters. it will take an image through the entire brain and then the next 700 milliseconds we take another image all the way through the brain so we can see changes over time. >> i would imagine that feeling the spirit as you describe it is very subjective? >> i don't buy that, i think there is more common ground than people suppose. okay the next scan that we are going to do is some quotations. >> like auriel, cara is instructed to press a button to indicate any spiritual reaction. >> okay we are done. >> that's it? >> yeah, that's it. >> she can be released? >> yeah. >> how was your experience? >> i would say the hardest thing
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is that you have to stay completely still and we drank a lot of coffee this morning... (laughs). >> we did! so tell me if my brain looks weird. >> now i get to watch crystal's brain and debrief dr. anderson about my experience. >> i wondered if, looking at memory systems, if certain things would light up more for me because i had a physical memory of being there, of having that experience? >> for the next six minutes you'll see audio visual images and we want you to push the button if you have a peak emotional response. >> if i had taken this when i was 8 years old it might have been different. and in conversations with people who aren't believers that is such a common sentiment, that "would i feel the same thing if i were in nature, if i had the ability to listen to music"? we wonder are they the same brain networks? and yet the participants in the study had a very different experience to the same stimuli. they almost across the board would come out in tears.
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>> but no tears from crystal when she was done. >> how was it? >> i thought it would be more unpleasant or uncomfortable but it wasn't that bad. >> did you feel the spirit? >> i hope they can see some sort of emotional response. >> we probably both had one but they just might both be different. >> a computer program sifts through the images of our cortical folds, those grooves and bumps that make up our brain, measuring our reactions. >> when we come back on techknow we'll see the results of our fmri scans. >> and find out which one of us has more cortical folds. >> me. >> me. >> me. >> we want to hear what you think about these stories. join the conversation by following us on twitter and at aljazeera.com/techknow.
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>> salt lake city, utah - framed by the majestic wasatch mountains. founded as the spiritual home for the millions of followers of the mormon faith. >> we need you to keep your eyes closed and kinda just let your thoughts wander, okay? >> it's also at the center of the emerging field of religious neuroscience at the university of utah. researchers julie korenberg and jeffrey anderson are conducting brain scans and blood tests on a small group of devout mormons. like auriel peterson. tracking reactions to religious quotes and videos to find a biological connection to the feeling of spiritual bliss. >> techknow's resident neuroscientist, dr. crystal dilworth and i asked to get our heads examined.
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>> okay the next scan that we are going to do is some quotations. >> for me, the project had added resonance. >> i'm here at temple square in salt lake city, utah, i used to come here all the time as a child because i was raised mormon until i was 14-years-old and i'm interested to see how that up bringing may affect my brain scan. >> it took about two hours to do an analysis of our scans. >> both cara and crystal have perfectly beautiful brains. >> beautiful... but what does it really mean? it was time to compare my brain and crystal's against auriel peterson's. >> this is auriel's response. you are looking at here pictures of the brain when she was looking at the same quotations that both of you looked at. >> what regions of the brain seem to be most involved for her? >> there is an area in the middle of the brain called the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and the area called the insula. and together form a special brain network.
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it's called the novelty detection network or the salience network. >> the salience network is part of the circuitry in the brain that decides what's most important and what is worth responding to. >> why would you see more activity in novelty areas when she would have been exposed to these type of quotes and imagery before? >> i'm not sure if it's so much that it's new or novel as much as it's more relevant to her and it may be that that network is responding to her feelings. >> it may be activating some of those regions that say, "wow, this is something i want to focus on". >> and what did auriel think about that? >> your brain was lit up like a christmas tree. >> wow. >> it was very telling how much the emotional response on your brain showed a lot of activity in a lot of different regions. >> i welcome anything that embraces the fact that you have a physical reaction to that, and that can be looked upon and measured. >> and then it was time to find out how we did.
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>> something tells me there will be some differences in our brains. (laughs). >> i think so. >> you were scanned first so you get to go first on this too. >> so what do you notice? >> it's very quiet, my brain is very quiet. yeah, and there's a few areas that seem pretty significant even if they are small and they tend to be in what we call the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. and it has to do with analysis, pattern recognition, working memory, being able to determine what a complex idea represents, so you are thinking harder about those ones you like more. >> so this is the brain of somebody who is having the opposite of an emotional response. >> this is the brain on analysis. >> well it sounds like me. >> that looks like crystal. >> that's me. >> i recognized you by your brain. >> you have more activity in certain regions! >> a different region. >> even though there is some brain activity that is different here. what we do see is again dorsalteral prefrontal cortex, the same as for cara and we also see an area in intraparietal
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sulcus. >> that's one that we haven't mentioned before what does that do? >> attention. >> oh. >> so you knew you were going to scan our brains today and you knew about our background before hand. do our scans meet your expectations? >> yes, i think that's pretty much what we would have expected. that there would be very little activity for these types of stimuli and where there is activity, it's much more analytical, cerebral. >> the researchers hope to widen the study to a variety of religions. would the results of your study contribute to being able to tell the difference between the brain of mother teresa versus a terrorist? >> i think perhaps more likely we may see there is no difference. >> we might see they are very similar. >> and when we understand that, perhaps its possible to recognize that our brains work the same way our feelings are the same regardless of what doctrines they are associated with and i think that's provable.
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>> that was a really fascinating look into one aspect of how the brain works but you both have a background in neuroscience, what was your take? >> i think it's really important to put a study like this in context. i mean, one study only on devout mormons, what you can really interpret from the results is that this is preliminary. these can be very exciting, but we need larger studies, with more test subjects and different religions and control groups in order to really say conclusively that we know anything about faith in the brain. >> why do you think there aren't more studies like this? >> it's really a fledgling field, only recently do we have the tools to deeply investigate the brain and researchers are now interested - what is happening when someone has a religious experience? but it is hard to get funding, this is not a field of research that would necessarily improve somebody's health or their longevity. >> for me, watching this, i'm religious myself, but i'm also a scientist and i really appreciate studies like this because it allows this type kind of conversation to happen it
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kinda breaks down some of those walls and at the end of the day, for me personally, my religion is more than just that feeling, it's kind of a way of life but i do think that feeling is something special and something i would love to learn more about. >> from my experience growing up in the mormon church, i realized that a lot of lds individuals are very pro science and they are interested in a marriage between science and faith. >> now from neuroscience your area of expertise to entomology, my area of science, we're going to go discover some new species of insects we don't need a passport or plane ticket to do it. that'll come up, after the break. >> "inside story" takes you beyond the headlines, beyond the quick cuts, beyond the soundbites. we're giving you a deeper dive into the stories that are making our world what it is.
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>> hey everyone welcome back to techknow i'm cara santa maria here with dr. crystal dilworth and phil torres. now this next story has something i think we all love about science... >> bugs! >> well the story is about discovery, it's about getting people interested in and excited about science and for phil it's about bugs. >> absolutely, but it's also a reminder that there is discovery in science all around us, you just have to take the time to look. >> it's not your typical entomologist field route but a car, congestion and a trunk full of dead bugs are essential tools of the trade for lisa gonzolez. it's los angeles, california. hidden in between the freeways,
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beaches and palm trees is a unique community project. >> very very carefully unscrew this bottom bottle here. that's a weeks worth of insects right there. a lot of the bigger insects are already known, and there's just this whole hidden world under our feet that we just never recognize because these things are so tiny we just dismiss it, so it's really just this incredible eye opener once you realize just how many insects are out there. >> the bioscan project wouldn't be possible without the devotion of volunteer citizen scientists. >> we were in the middle of los angles, yet you guys discovered a new species right here in your backyard. >> walter renwick and his daughter eleanore, are among the 30 families taking part in this program, the kind of new "lord of the flies", willing to make a long-term commitment to collecting bugs. >> so for three years you've got this thing out there? >> yes. >> were you intimated at all? >> in the beginning but actually elanore and i were talking about
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this earlier and we're half way through. i think we have maybe just a little more of a year left and elanore was really sad, she was like, oh now, i love that trap! >> six year old elanore is growing up with the large science experiment in her backyard. >> when i was little, when i was 5 years old, we found a sparkling beetle and then we started to like them because they were all sparkly. >> although the new flies are the aim of this project, a plethora of other insects are also in the bug soup. >> wow. >> whether it's beetles, ants or flies - the 30 volunteer families have actually created a buzz... discovering a total of 30 new species within the first three months of the experiment. >> megasilia renwickorum. >> you say that very proudly--. >> i am! >> that is a fly that is named after you guys. >> yes, i don't have any sons to carry on the family name so... we have fly. >> at l.a.'s natural history museum, the bug stops here. scientists are constantly
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cataloging insects of every shape and size. >> this is where all the bioscan samples are being saved. only in l.a.'s natural history museum is there anything like it in the world, nothing is being lost on this research project. >> what you have in your hands right now is just a giant unsorted sample of lepidopterous... so my job is to select and sort out all the leps so that their scales don't muddy up the sample that will then go on to our entomologists in the museum. >> before working here, did you have any involvement with insects? >> i didn't. i was actually really terrified of insects (laughs) but i've become really interested in the things they do and their behavior and just how they look because some of them look pretty crazy. >> after visiting the nerve center of bioscan, where usc students and volunteers work to sort out the samples, i met one of the entomologists responsible for the new discoveries. >> you spent countless hours
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behind this scope looking at flies, did you ever think it would have such a big impact on the l.a. community and around the world? >> i hoped, that people would pay attention to that and think that was as remarkable as i thought it was but in the beginning i had no idea. in the beginning i was just sitting down at a scope and i was looking through these samples and i was frustrated that i didn't know what so many of them were. >> emily hartop has gone through over 35 thousand samples looking for new flies. >> we're looking at the morphology... what we start with is just looking at a whole bunch of flies together and saying "well, this one looks different than this one, and this one looks different from this one" and then as you begin to refine that, you take notes on specific characters, you take measurements, you take photographs and you get more specific from there. >> flies might be in focus for bioscanners but the research potential for this collection is nothing to swat away. >> understanding biodiversity right here is tremendously important for this city. >> dean pentcheff is bioscan's
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project coordinator. he is leading the charge to keep hundreds of thousands of insect specimens organized. >> it's the biodiversity here that fuels the ecosystem services, like oxygen generation, waste management, things like that that keep this city going. but we know full well there is much more to be had from these samples than we are going to take from them. >> this is just the beginning of the research endeavor. >> if we don't take an inventory right now and discovery what's here right now, we'll never know if it is changing 50 years from now so as issues like climate change, as these things keep rolling and changing things for the environment, we need to know how they are affecting everything, including our urban environments. frustration and curiosity were definitely leading the way. >> now i got to say, seeing the child in the backyard, she was excited about bugs about discovering new things, it really reminded me of what i was like at that age and i just never stopped getting excited about bugs.
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>> aw. you know you're always galavanting around the world going to the amazon going to the arctic, what was it like to be able to look at science that's happening right in your backyard? >> yeah i mean for me normally when i do my science it's three flights two bus rides two days of canoes and then you get to your field site. this was just being in traffic on the 405 for about half hour and so it was exciting just to know that "okay, i don't always want to be traveling afar to discover something and to be able to share with people where those discoveries take place, it's not always far away where we still are exploring, it's right in our backyard... there are still rocks to be turned back there. >> but let's be honest, most of us who encounter bugs in our backyard don't exactly have a positive response, so what would you say to someone who is trying to kill all of those critters in their backyard. >> you know, i get that a lot and people think that the norm is to kill where as i think the norm would be to let an animal continue living like it was in the first place, just doing its
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own thing. i do think studies like this really help bring awareness that what you're killing might be something new or interacts with something that we don't know about so there are mysteries in your own backyard, these things are just living part of this ecosystem that we call los angeles. you know be it religion or in your backyard, i think this episode is all about finding science in places you don't normally look for it. i think there's kind of a nice lesson in that. that's it for this episode, we'll see you next time right here on techknow. >> dive deep into these stories and go behind the scenes at aljazeera.com/techknow. follow our expert contributors on twitter, facebook, instagram, google+ and more. >> this year is blowing our minds. >> scientists are studying el nino from space and the oceans. >> when the pacific speaks...
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everybody better listen. >> techknow's team of experts show you how the miracles of science... >> this is what innovation looks like. >> can affect and surprise us. >> i feel like we're making an impact. >> let's do it. >> techknow - where technology meets humanity. sprawling... safe... serene. the suburbs. not the kind of place you'd

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