Optography: retrieving a dead person’s last sight from their retina

‘Could you recover a murder victim’s last sight of their killer by extracting it from the retina? Little more than a century ago, forensic scientists thought it might be possible. After all, in 1877 physiologist Wilhelm Friedrich Kühne was able to develop a simple image from an albino rabbit’s dissected eyeball. (Above, the two images on the right come from rabbits who stared at two different windows. The left shows just nerves and blood vessels.) …’

Source: Boing Boing

The fundamentalist Christian preacher who became an atheist

‘Few atheists know the Bible as intimately as Dan Barker. Few, after all, can profess to have begun their careers as fundamentalist Christian preachers. Currently co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, an American non-profit organisation, Barker was a self-proclaimed “extremist” for 19 years, until he renounced the faith.

Given how vehemently the 66-year-old now defends a life free of any supernatural authority, I ask him if he regrets the consequences that his Christian ministry may have had on people he would now describe as vulnerable. “Yes, I do regret a lot of it,” he says with candour. “I would counsel people to pray for healing. That’s dangerous. That’s harmful. People die from that. And I acted irresponsibly with my health, because I knew that God was going to take care of me.” This is a window that, once opened, is difficult to close. Barker reels off multiple instances in which he believes that he seriously damaged the lives of his parishioners.

In Arizona, a woman approached him, looking for faith healing to cure her of an illness. The two prayed together and when, inevitably, it did nothing, he said, “Let it be unto you according to your faith” (a reference to a line originally found in Matthew 8:13). “In other words,” Barker says, “it was her fault. She walked out of that meeting not only not healed but feeling chastised. It’s not a kind way to treat another human being.”

In his mid-twenties, he counselled a woman who was struggling with an abusive husband. Barker told her to persevere with him because, as the Bible says, he would eventually see the light. “So I counselled a woman to stay in an abusive relationship, because the Bible says that you are married for life.” What would he say if she approached him with the same problem now? “I would tell her to run for the nearest shelter and get out of there.”

Barker may have left religion behind but he is still a preacher of sorts. His latest book, God: the Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction, draws on his knowledge of scripture to attack the Bible’s claim to moral authority. If the title sounds familiar, that’s because it’s a phrase that Richard Dawkins uses to introduce the second chapter of The God Delusion. There, he accuses the God of the Old Testament of 19 character flaws, among them jealousy, sadomasochism, caprice and ethnic cleansing. In a foreword to Barker’s book, Dawkins writes that The God Delusion’s reputation for stridency owes much to this one sentence…’

Source: New Humanist

Demon Core: The Strange Death of Louis Slotin

‘The demonstration began on the afternoon of May 21, 1946, at a secret laboratory tucked into a canyon some three miles from Los Alamos, New Mexico, the birthplace of the atom bomb. Louis Slotin, a Canadian physicist, was showing his colleagues how to bring the exposed core of a nuclear weapon nearly to the point of criticality, a tricky operation known as “tickling the dragon’s tail.” The core, sitting by itself on a squat table, looked unremarkable—a hemisphere of dull metal with a nub of plutonium sticking out of its center, the whole thing warm to the touch because of its radioactivity. It had been quickly molded into shape after the bombing of Nagasaki, to be used in another attack on Japan, then reallocated when it turned out not to be needed for the war effort. At that time, Slotin was perhaps the world’s foremost expert on handling dangerous quantities of plutonium. He had helped assemble the first atomic weapon, barely a year earlier…

Slotin’s procedure was simple. He would lower a half-shell of beryllium, called the tamper, over the core, stopping just before it was snugly seated. The tamper would reflect back the neutrons that were shooting off the plutonium, jump-starting a weak and short-lived nuclear chain reaction, on which the physicists could then gather data. Slotin held the tamper in his left hand. In his right hand, he held a long screwdriver, which he planned to wedge between the two components, keeping them apart. As he began the slow and painstaking process of lowering the tamper, one of his colleagues, Raemer Schreiber, turned away to focus on other work, expecting that the experiment would be uninteresting until several more moments had passed. But suddenly he heard a sound behind him: Slotin’s screwdriver had slipped, and the tamper had dropped fully over the core. When Schreiber turned around, he saw a flash of blue light and felt a wave of heat on his face…’

Source: The New Yorker

Absurd Creatures: Three-Foot-Wide Crab Will Eat Your Soul and Maybe Also Kittens


‘YOU KNOW THAT hermit crab you had in elementary school? The one you so rudely neglected? Well, it told its cousin on you—its 9-pound, three-foot-wide cousin the coconut crab. This thing has everything: wildly powerful claws, the ability to invade your nightmares, and a penchant for coconuts and sometimes kittens…’

Source: WIRED