Trump Administration Drops Protections For Whales, Turtles

Seemingly overshadowed by a new lawsuit against the president, a dismal approving rating, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions denying Russian collusion in the 2016 election, the Trump administration ditched a rule on Monday aimed at protecting endangered whales and sea turtles on the West Coast from mile-long gill nets meant to catch swordfish.

The National Marine Fisheries Service’s ruling is one of the administration’s first moves in targeting protections of threatened species, the Associated Press reported. Gill net fishing is banned in most of the world’s high seas. That includes the U.S., with the exception of the West Coast swordfish drift gill net fishery.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council proposed the rule in 2015 with the support of conservationists, regulators, and fishermen. Meant to protect whales, dolphins, and turtles that live in the waters off the West Coast, the rule would have closed gill net fisheries for up to two years if a combination of whales, turtles or dolphins were killed or injured by the nets.

But the NMFS decided that the rule was unnecessary given the apparent success of alternative measures used by the fishing industry in recent years, such as underwater sound systems designed to warn off whales and larger escape openings near the tops of the nets to give the animals a better chance at escaping.

“The bottom line is this is a fishery that’s worked hard to reduce its impact,” Michael Milstein, a spokesman with the federal fisheries service, told the AP.

Others, however, remain skeptical of the supposed strides made by the alternative measures. Dr. Geoff Shester, the California campaign director for Oceana, told Vocativ that the government should be incentivizing more efficient, and sustainable technology, such as deep-set buoy gear. This echoed a similar sentiment expressed in a September 2015 letter from three senators when the rule was first proposed.

National Geographic is Sharing Photos of Endangered Species This Summer to Help Save Their Lives

Photo Ark—one of National Geographic‘s many prized projects—has teamed up with the Outdoor Advertising Association of America to present a cute, cuddly, and critical campaign. Aptly titled #SaveTogether, the movement calls attention to species whose futures are uncertain.

The #SaveTogether campaign relies on a combination of social media and good, old-fashioned signage to educate and engage the public. Today, it kicks off with a “digital billboard takeover” in Times Square. Now through summer, a special photo station will remain in the iconic tourist attraction. Inside the booth, visitors can take a selfie with an image shot by Joel Sartore, the founder of Photo Ark. Once snapped, these photos will appear on one of Times Square’s famous billboards.

If you can’t make it to bustling New York City, however, you can still participate. In zoos, museums, and other public spaces across the country, portraits of animals in need—including a Sumatran tiger, an African white-backed vulture, and a pair of Citron-crested cockatoos—have begun to pop up. If you spot one of these National Geographic photos, you’re invited to snap a selfie with it and share it on social media with the hashtag #SaveTogether. Once tagged, you can see your selfie on the National Geographic website.

On a mission to bring awareness to endangered animals, Joel Sartore has photographed over 6,500 vulnerable species for Photo Ark. In addition to acting as an important record of each species’ existence, the photos aim to “inspire action through education and help save wildlife by supporting on-the-ground conservation efforts.” If you’d like to find out more about how you can get involved with the project (in addition to snapping a selfie, of course), you can check out the project’s page.

Sneak a peek at some of the endangered species featured in #SaveTogether, a campaign by National Geographic’s Photo Ark.

Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii)
Critically endangered, fewer than 15,000 left in the wild Photographed at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas Support the Photo Ark and projects working to help save species at PhotoArk.org and join the conversation on social media with #SaveTogether.

African white-backed vulture (Gyps africanus)
Critically endangered, fewer than 270,000 left in the wild Photographed at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo in Cleveland, Ohio
Support the Photo Ark and projects working to help save species at PhotoArk.org and join the conversation on social media with #SaveTogether.

Ploughshare tortoise (Astrochelys yniphora)
Critically endangered, fewer than 800 left in the wild Photographed at the Turtle Conservancy in Ojai, California Support the Photo Ark and projects working to help save species at PhotoArk.org and join the conversation on social media with #SaveTogether.

Red wolf (Canis rufus)
Critically endangered, fewer than 150 left in the wild Photographed at the Great Plains Zoo in Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Support the Photo Ark and projects working to help save species at PhotoArk.org and join the conversation on social media with #SaveTogether.

Burmese star tortoise (Geochelone platynota)
Critically endangered, fewer than 5,000 left in the wild Photographed at the Los Angeles Zoo in Los Angeles, California Support the Photo Ark and projects working to help save species at PhotoArk.org and join the conversation on social media with #SaveTogether.

Fiji banded iguana (Brachylophus fasciatus)
Endangered, fewer than 8,000 left in the wild
Photographed at the Houston Zoo in Houston, Texas
Support the Photo Ark and projects working to help save species at PhotoArk.org and join the conversation on social media with #SaveTogether.

African wild dog (Lycaon pictus)
Endangered, fewer than 2,000 left in the wild
Photographed at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in Omaha, Nebraska
Support the Photo Ark and projects working to help save species at PhotoArk.org and join the conversation on social media with #SaveTogether.

Black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes)
Endangered, fewer than 500 left in the wild
Photographed at the Toronto Zoo in Toronto Canada
Support the Photo Ark and projects working to help save species at PhotoArk.org and join the conversation on social media with #SaveTogether.

These National Geographic photos can be found on billboards across the country.

What to Do If You’re Attacked By a Shark, According to a Navy SEAL

While the chances of something happening is much less likely than a dog attack, you just never know, especially if you’re out surfing, swimming, or diving in open waters. We hope you never have to use these tips, but here’s what you should know.

Probably the most important thing you can do, obviously, is to avoid putting yourself in this dire position in the first place. River mouths and waters with fishing boats nearby are likely places for shark attacks to occur. And rethink being in the water during the early morning and late at night, when visibility is low.

If you do find yourself in a Jaws scenario, trained survival expert and a former member of SEAL Team Six, Clint Emerson, explains in this Business Insider video that sharks tend to attack from the bottom up, meaning that it’ll swim beneath you before launching itself upward. In the water, however, you have little chance of moving quickly enough to damage the shark with punches or kicks. In fact, you thrashing about in a wild panic could actually further draw the shark’s interest.

Richard Peirce, a shark expert and former chairman of Shark Trust, says in an interview with CNN that you should always remain eye contact, which discourages the shark’s natural tendency to want to ambush you. If possible, try to keep your back against something (a coral reef or boat) to prevent the shark from getting behind you.

When it comes to defending yourself, Emerson says to shove your thumbs into the shark’s eyes or jam your fingers in the vents of the gills and attempt to rip them apart. If you have anything with you, perhaps a waterproof selfie stick, use it as a weapon. Most of us aren’t trained badasses, however, so in such a stressful situation it’s probably all you can do to remain calm and try to slowly swim back to shore.

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Can Drugs Actually Be Good for Your Health?

Many consider drugs to be one of the primary catalysts for some of the world’s best art, music and cultural development. Typically it’s because they stimulate our minds to work in ways we never thought possible, and enhance the positive feelings at a party, making it seem more fun. And their role in America’s peace and love movement of the ’60s is simply undeniable. In short: Drugs, man—a lot of people love ‘em.

Drugs, and their impact on our lives, are a lot more nuanced than a casual bong rip and a ride to the 7-Eleven for some chimichangas (glorious as they are). If you have a headache, you take a laboratory-engineered pill that helps it go away. You’re depressed? Take some Zoloft, bud! You’re anxious? Xanax! Can’t sleep? No problem! Take a couple Lunestas and call me in the morning. Oh, your dick ain’t working right? One word: Viagra!

But what about the party stuff? The illicit substances that you have to get from a street pharmacist instead of a regular one. Weed may be getting more legal by the minute thanks to its medically-proven benefits (and well, the sheer amount of money that can be made from a legalized marijuana industry), but mushrooms, LSD, MDMA, and are far from being available in a legit way. Do they have any medicinal merit?

Believe it or not, according to science—some of them do! Teams of scientists and researchers from all over the world have spent extensive amounts of time thoroughly testing and experimenting with all sorts of drugs, and as it turns out, some of them are more useful than their ability to make us crave tacos at 3 in the morning.

Cannabis

Whether or not you’re a big smoker is pretty inconsequential to some of the incredible breakthroughs we’ve seen in medical marijuana over the last couple decades. We’ve known about its power to help ease the side effects of chemotherapy for a few decades now, but studies on the drug have come an incredibly long way in just the last few years.

Studies have demonstrated that marijuana and its extracts can drastically reduce the effects of epileptic seizures. One study tested 162 patients over 12 weeks with an extract that was 99% cannabinoids (aka: the stuff that doesn’t get you stoned). The study found that 36.5% of patients noted a reduction in seizures that either rivaled or beat the current medication they were taking, and 2% became completely seizure-free. If you want to see something less technically scientific, and more anecdotal, this video is both baffling and extremely powerful.

Studies also show marijuana can significantly reduce or even prevent completely the psychological symptoms of PTSD and depression. While the claims have only been tested in mice, the results are extremely positive. In the PTSD trial, researchers found that administering cannabinoids after a traumatic event stimulated changes in the brain centers that are in charge of storing traumatic memories. In the depression study, scientists found that mice that were chronically stressed or suffering from anxiety also suffered a shortage of endocannabinoids (which affect cognition, emotion and behavior). After receiving cannabinoids, the endocannabinoid levels in the mice were restored, thereby alleviating at least some of the symptoms of depression.

And, of course, recent studies have indicated that marijuana can not only alleviate the side effects of cancer treatment, but that cannabinoids can actually kill cancer cells. They were so conclusive, the National Cancer Institute actually changed the information on its website to reflect the results of the studies.

DMT

DMT is a naturally-occurring psychedelic compound that people generally smoke. Recreationally speaking, the high is short, super potent, and is generally described as a kind of out-of-body experience with intense hallucinogenic visions. People who’ve taken it say it’s like being momentarily transported to another dimension.

However, DMT and Ayahuasca (a brew containing DMT used in ancient Amazonian healing and enlightenment rituals for centuries), are more than just party drugs. South American shamans would administer the drug to people because not only was it rumored to have tremendous potential to heal, but also because it was believed to be a gateway to the spiritual world. In fact, it is known to South America’s indigenous peoples as “the teacher plant.”

Medicinally, DMT helps people conquer their addiction problems. In one study, a small group of 12 people struggling with a variety of different types of substance abuse issues took Ayahuasca over the span of six months. At the end of the six months, respondents reported using less tobacco, booze and cocaine, but their cannabis and opiate use stayed the same.

DMT and Ayahuasca have also recently raised a lot of eyebrows for their effect on depression. Though legitimate clinical research studies are still in their infancy, there are a couple of very convincing reports that note the drug’s ability to drastically reduce the effects of depression, even weeks after it is consumed.

Mushrooms

If you talk to people about their recreational drug preferences, ‘shrooms are probably the first or second one on everyone’s list. Known for its psychedelic, mood-altering effects, studies on mushrooms have found that the psychoactive drug in them, psilocybin, actually prompts psychological growth.

John Hopkins School of Medicine researchers gave the drug to 18 volunteers who participated in five eight-hour sessions where they were given the drug in varying doses in order to determine what its effects would be. Each of the 18 volunteers was college-educated, and all believed in spiritual experiences (although only 78% participated in “religious activities”).

Though the sample size was admittedly small, 94% of the people who participated in a follow up survey conducted 14 months after the first study said it was one of the top five most meaningful experiences of their lives. More so, their friends, colleagues and family members (awkward) reported that the experience had made their ‘shroom-tripping friends kinder and happier.

Other studies have concluded that psilocybin succeeds where conventional depression medication falls short. Their study included 12 volunteers diagnosed with chronic depression (an average of 17.8 years), none of whom had responded well to standard medications. Within just one week of receiving an oral dose of psilocybin, the patience reported a strong improvement in their symptoms. Within three months, five of the volunteers—nearly half—were in complete remission.

MDMA

Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, known more colloquially as Molly, Mandy or Ecstasy, was first synthesized in 1912 by the German pharmaceutical company Merck. Since its first “discovery,” people have been absolutely fascinated with and blown away by MDMA’s effect on the human psyche.

Of the MDMA studies conducted over the years, the evidence overwhelmingly supports the idea that the drug works wonders to alleviate the effects of both PTSD and severe, untreatable depression. While there is an array of PTSD studies from which to select, the information is pretty similar: Give people MDMA and they don’t just feel better, they get better.

One study noted that after just three MDMA sessions, 85% of participants no longer had any PTSD symptoms whatsoever. And after a 3.5-year follow up, many of those participants dramatically reduced and even stopped taking their PTSD medications completely.

Ketamine

While ketamine is used primarily for anaesthetic purposes, it is also a massive party drug that people take because not only is it a muscle relaxer and painkiller, but it provides a euphoric, sometimes even mild hallucinatory experience, even in lower dosages. People report feeling fuzzy, tingly and a dissociative-but-aware, near-out-of-body experience while on the drug.

Over the years, Ketamine has found a massive following in the psychiatric community for its medicinal uses. Ketamine has been used to treat otherwise untreatable bouts of clinical chronic depression in some patients, and has even been used successfully to inhibit suicidal thoughts in others.

At this point—probably because of the drug’s availability to clinical doctors—there is a massive library of studies that question whether or not ketamine is a viable option for people suffering depression, and the answer is typically a resounding yes.

In trial after trial, doctors report that in low dosages, ketamine is extremely effective in treating severe depression, and that its side effects are few, but its results are great. There’s even an entire “Ketamine Advocacy Network.” Go figure.

LSD

For literal decades, people have claimed lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is a miracle substance that’s healthy for the body and mind. Of course, everybody knows that’s not always true.

Nevertheless, everyone from the CIA to clinical psychologists have spent a tremendous amount of time and effort trying to study the sometimes mystifying effects of LSD, particularly on the human brain.

Most recently, a study by Swiss scientists tested 12 terminally ill patients who were, for all intents and purposes, about to kick the bucket. The participants in the study universally found that higher dosages of LSD helped them cope with their circumstances and had profound positive effects on their anxiety.

In a story from The New York Times about LSD’s resurgence as a therapeutic medical treatment, the leading doctor on the study, Peter Gasser, put the results into perspective quite plainly: “Their anxiety went down and stayed down.”

Peyote

Ahhhh, peyote. Native Americans have prescribed it for everything from tooth pain to spiritual enlightenment, and while that may sound more than a little ridiculous, there’s research to back it up. Harvard researcher Dr. John Halpern is a popular source to discuss the effects of peyote on the human psyche for medicinal effects because he has spent quite a large amount of time studying and researching it.

In a 2005 study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Halpern found that not only did his team find zero evidence that the Native Americans whom he studied had any neurocognitive issues from their life-long use of the drug, but that they even outperformed the average on several sections of the Rand Mental Health Inventory tests (typically used to diagnose psychological problems and determine mental health).

Halpern has also studied peyote’s power to fight against more serious addictions to things like alcohol and even heroin, and saw positive results. Of course, it’s just one of many studies that have concluded that peyote (and its naturally occurring alkaloid, mescaline) do help in the treatment of addiction.

Peyote is one of those drugs that hasn’t been studied too in-depth by American medical organizations, so there aren’t a lot of widely available studies or clinical trials. However, there are plenty of outside sources that talk scientifically about the physical health benefits of peyote as a pain reliever. Applied directly to the afflicted area in a solve (usually made from bees wax), or ingested orally in lower doses, people find it to be a powerful inhibitor of things like joint pain, toothaches and muscle aches.

Manatees Officially Swim Away From ‘Endangered’ Status

Dire environmental reports are seemingly everywhere, but today, there’s a bit of good news: The roly-poly West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus) is doing so well that the species is no longer considered endangered.

Significant increases in manatee population numbers and noted improvements to the animals’ habitats convinced the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to downgrade manatees’ status from endangered to threatened, as defined by the Endangered Species Act (ESA), FWS representatives announced online today (March 31) in a statement.

Both subspecies of the West Indian manatee — the Florida manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris) and the Antillean manatee (Trichechus manatus manatus) — will retain federal protections, as will the animals’ vulnerable Florida habitats, according to the FWS ruling.

Florida manatees were listed as endangered in 1967 under the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966, and officials added the Antillean manatee to the listing in 1970, the ruling reported.

While the manatees’ revised status represents improvement in their prospects, a threatened species is still considered to be at risk, as it is “likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range,” according to the Endangered Species Act.

Conservation efforts by local governments, industries, businesses and private citizens contributed to the manatees’ recovery, though challenges remain, FWS representatives warned.

Minimizing manatee interactions with boats, which are frequently lethal to the animals, will be a priority for FWS in collaboration with the U.S. Coast Guard and with coastal communities in Florida, the representatives added. Additional initiatives will regulate water pollution and the use of fishing gear in manatee habitats, and monitor the manatees’ access to warm natural springs, which could help the animals survive winter cold snaps, FWS representatives said.

The FWS estimated that about 6,300 Antillean manatees live in the wild, in an area ranging from the Mexican Gulf Coast to northern Brazil and the Caribbean, while an estimated 6,620 T. manatus latirostris individuals call Florida home.

“Today, we both recognize the significant progress we have made in conserving manatee populations while reaffirming our commitment to continuing this species’ recovery and success throughout its range,” Jim Kurth, acting director of the FWS, said in the statement.

The Weird Ways Your Politics Affects Your Morals

When news breaks about wrongdoings of our favorite politician, the other side inevitably argues that we have a scandal on our hands. We like to think that our superior grasp of logic is what enables us to reason through and reject the other side’s concerns.

But, a series of three studies I recently published suggest such decisions are not just the result of reasoning. Rather, feeling moral aversion toward political opponents compels us toward positions that help our team “win.” This is true even if it means adopting positions with which we’d otherwise disagree.

Here’s the effect in a nutshell: Imagine that you walked into an ice cream shop on Election Day. You discover that the shop is filled with supporters of the presidential candidate you oppose, and you find supporters of that candidate morally abhorrent. When you get to the front of the line, the worker tells you all of the other customers just ordered red velvet – normally your favorite flavor.

My studies demonstrated that when asked to order, you are likely to feel an urge to stray from your favorite flavor toward one you like less, politically polarizing an otherwise innocuous decision.

To understand what’s meant by “urge” here, it helps to understand the Stroop effect. In this classic experiment, people see a single word and are asked to name the color in which the word is printed. When the color and the word match – for example, “red” printed in red – the task is easy. When the color and the word are incongruent – for example, “red” printed in blue – the task is harder. People feel an impulse, or “urge,” to accidentally read the word. This urge interferes with the task of naming the color, and what should be a simple task becomes oddly difficult.

A theory of morality put forth by Jonathan Haidt suggests that morals “blind” people to alternative viewpoints such that even considering the other side’s opinions is taboo. With that theory in mind, I thought that moral aversion might be a social cause of unproductive urges similar to urges experienced in the Stroop task. That is, just as people in the Stroop task feel the impulse to incorrectly read the word, I thought that strong moral beliefs might cause people to feel impulses to make decisions that maximize their distance from people they believe have different morals.

Here’s how I tested it:

I first had people do several Stroop trials to make them aware of what that urge to make an error feels like.

Next, I asked people six fairly trivial consumer choice questions, such as preference for car color (forest green vs. silver) or vacuum brand (Hoover vs. Dirt Devil).

Here’s the twist: After answering each question, participants were told how a majority of other participants answered the same question. The identity of this majority group was random. It could be either a group that everyone belonged to (for example, Americans) or a more politically charged group (for example, Trump supporters, Clinton supporters or white supremacists).

Finally, I showed participants the set of questions a second time, and asked them to simply state their previous answer a second time. I also asked participants to rate their urge to change their answer – similar to the urge to make an error in the Stroop test.

This should have been straightforward.

Participants were not asked to evaluate the majority answer or reconsider their opinion in any way. Still, just like the interference felt in the Stroop task, knowing the majority response caused people to feel an urge to give the wrong answer.

When participants belonged to the majority group, they reported heightened urges to make an error when they had previously disagreed with the majority. Despite just being asked to repeat what they said a moment ago on a fairly trivial opinion question, they felt a conformist urge.

Similarly, when participants had strong moral distaste for the majority group, they reported heightened urges to make an error when they agreed with the group. In other words, participants’ initial responses were now morally “tainted,” and, even for these rather inconsequential questions, they felt an urge to abandon that response and distance themselves from their opponents. This urge made the trivial task of stating their opinion again slightly more difficult.

As America is more ideologically divided now than any other point in history, these results illuminate two things about the psychology behind political polarization.

First, people might think they are able to use their reasoning to decide whether, say, a minimum wage increase will have positive or negative consequences. However, moral impulses have likely already nudged people toward disagreeing with their opponents before any deliberative thinking on the issue has begun.

Second, the effects observed here are likely a passive process. Participants did not want to feel urges to make an error in the Stroop task, and they likely did not want to feel urges to contradict their own opinions in my studies. The urges just happen as a result of a morality-driven psychology.

These results suggest that efforts to bring those on the fringe closer to the middle will likely fall on deaf ears. A more optimistic interpretation is that polarization might have its roots in unintentional partisan urges. While there is no shortage of moral issues that lead to polarization, polarization does not necessarily result from the malice of those involved.

Punxsutawney Phil’s Greatest Hits

This morning, Punxsutawney Phil, America’s most beloved forecasting groundhog, made his annual appearance in Gobbler’s Knob, Pennsylvania. As a bevy of men in top hats egged him on, Phil spied his shadow, a sure sign that we will have a long, long winter.*

People do a lot of weird things, but the Groundhog Day behavior exhibited in the United States—which may have evolved from the European tradition of Candlemas—is pretty far out there. And for something so steadfastly traditional, the holiday has a funny way of reflecting the current moment. Here are six times when we looked for Phil’s shadow and saw, instead, ourselves.

Pre-1900s: Phil’s Predecessors

Phil is merely the latest creature to dupe us. According to Pennsylvania historian Christopher R. Davis, humans have looked for spring-related omens in “the position of a cat sitting by a fire, the size of the black markings on woolly-bear caterpillars, the measure of fur around a rabbit’s feet … crickets in chimneys, the height of anthills, and the elevation of hornets’ nests,” as well as early appearances of woodchucks, badgers, marmots, wolves, foxes, and bears. Davis also traces the strange fear of shadows to a need for cloudiness in the winter—without enough snow and rain through February, he explains, crops will be dry, and spring won’t be worth looking forward to at all.

1889: Phil On Toast

Before Groundhog Day meant placing faith in the shadow-based whims of groundhogs, it meant eating them. According to Davis, the Groundhog Club actually started as a group of people who liked to hunt and eat groundhogs, and tended to celebrate this trait on one particular day of the year. “Fellowship, oratory, skits, and rites of initiation were soon emphasized,” Davis writes, and it was only a short hop from there to groundhog worship. No wonder the poor thing is scared of his shadow.

1920: Phil Gets Sauced

According to the official Groundhog Day website, during Prohibition, “Phil threatened to impose 60 weeks of winter on the community if he wasn’t allowed a drink.” In soberer times, Phil’s favorite foods are apparently dog chow and ice cream.

1958: Phil In Space

In 1958, as the Soviet Union beat the United States into space, Phil came out with a conspiracy theory—that a “United States Chucknik,” not Sputnik, was currently orbiting the earth, presumably collecting weather data.

2013: Phil Gets Sued

Despite a stellar show-up record (records show that since 1900, he has only skipped one year—1943—due to World War II), statistical analyses have found that Phil is pretty bad at his job. In 2013, Ohio prosecutor Mike Gmoser sued Phil for “misrepresentation of early spring, an Unclassified Felony.” Gmoser sought the death penalty, but eased up after Phil’s then-handler offered to take the blame.

2009-2017: Phil Goes Political

Phil’s Big Apple stand-in, Staten Island Chuck, does not get along well with New York mayors. In 2009, he bit Michael Bloomberg on the hand after stealing an ear of corn from him. In 2014, Bill de Blasio dropped Staten Island Charlotte, who died a week later from injuries sustained in the fall. This year, Chuck disagreed with Phil, further dividing the nation. Maybe we need a Groundhog Debate.

What Your New Years Resolution Should Be, Based On Your Zodiac Sign

Aries

(March 21st to April 19th)

This year vow to work on taking things down a notch. You’re very impulsive and only want things when you want them so this year take a step back. Learn to appreciate things for what they are and give yourself more time before you jump into something you might not actually want just because it sounds good at the time.

Taurus

(April 20th to May 21st)

This year vow to work on letting people in. I know you’re reserved, you think you can do everything on your own (and you can) but that doesn’t mean you have to. Start working on accepting that and slowly begin to peel back the layers around your heart.

Gemini

(May 22nd to June 21st)

This year vow to do what makes you happy. This year let all the outside voices pass you by and focus on what you really want out of life.

Cancer

(June 22nd to July 22nd)

This year vow to owning your choices. Not every choice you make will be a good one, but that’s a perfect way to learn. Somethings might be really challenging but find it in yourself to keep moving forward, this will be a year of growth for you as an individual.

Leo

(July 23rd to August 22nd)

This year vow to stop comparing yourself to others. Stop looking at your friends lives on social media and people you’ve never even met. On social media people only post the positives that they want you to see and filter out the bad, anyone can take a beautiful photo while having an awful time, remember that. You are good enough as you are, you don’t need to compare yourself to others.

Virgo

(August 23rd to September 22nd)

This year vow do just doing it, whatever it is to you. Don’t keep living life in the back seat, grab the wheel and take control. If you want to travel, go travel. If you want to quit your dreadful job, quit. This year just do it, stop thinking about it so much and make it happen.

Libra

(September 23rd to October 22nd)

This year vow to chase after what you want and don’t let anything hold you back – not your pride or  your fears. Just go after your dreams because that’s the only way they’ll ever happen.

Scorpio

(October 23rd to November 22nd)

This year vow to not setting unbelievably challenging standards. Don’t get me wrong it is great to have standards, but don’t set them so high you set yourself up for failure. You are very capable of achieving so much, just don’t beat yourself up if you tried your best and didn’t get to where you wanted. Just keep working hard, but also enjoy yourself while doing it.

Sagittarius

(November 23rd to December 21st)

This year vow to work on breathing. Vow to take a break, to realize the little things are just the little things and there is no real reason to stress about them. Know that things will work out the way they should, you just have to trust.

Capricorn

(December 22nd to January 20th)

This year vow to work on yourself. Vow to stop being so wrapped up in material items that you forget what truly matters. Money is nice, but it isn’t everything. Your friends and family are what makes life worth living, not material items that wear out and need to be replaced.

Aquarius

(January 21st to February 18th)

This year vow to work on treating others better. Sometimes you get carried away in yourself and your own problems that you forget that other people also have their own problems. Try taking the focus off you and start to realize that everyone has their own shit going on in some way or another.

Pisces

(February 19th to March 20th)

This year vow to face your fears. Even if it’s just one, do it. It will make you feel so much more sure of yourself in confident in multiple ways. A fear is only as real as you make it out to be, so try to pick one and conquer it.

All the Gods Born to Virgins on December 25 Before Jesus Christ

There are common themes in ancient religion that make one wonder if Christianity was not the one exception to the rule that societies tend to adopt beliefs, stories, and traditions from one another.

True, it’s not always clear whether common themes are a testament to the human exchange of ideas or to the universal imagination of early human thought (parallels may exist between religions on entirely different continents, for example, but that does not necessarily mean one influenced another).

But what is clear is where certain ideas in human history did not originate.

Long before Yahweh and Jesus Christ, many religions had gods who were born in strange, miraculous ways, at times to virgins, who came to earth, and (though these are not the focus of this article) performed miracles, taught about judgement and the afterlife, were killed, reborn, and ascended into heaven.

True, these stories are different from those of Christ, but the common archetypes in cultures in close proximity to Palestine suggest pagan influences on the biblical story of Christ’s birth.

For example, December 25 was an important birthday for many human gods.

Most Christians understand Christ was not actually born on this date (biblical scholars believe he was born in the spring, because the Bible mentions shepherds in the fields at the time of his birth).

The idea that Christ was born on December 25 doesn’t appear in the historical record until the fourth century A.D.; the earliest Christian writers, such as Origen, Tertullian, Irenaeus, and the gospel authors, are silent on the subject.

Late December, the time of the winter solstice (in the Northern Hemisphere, the shortest day and longest night of the year), was full of pagan European celebrations. The Roman Empire declared December 25 a holiday to celebrate the birth of their adopted Syrian god Sol Invictus in 274 A.D. Some 50 years later, Roman Emperor Constantine officially adopted December 25 as the day for celebrating Christ’s birth.

Before 1,000 B.C. we have the following gods or demigods born on December 25: Horus, Osiris, and Attis. Before 200 B.C. we have Mithra, Heracles, Dionysus, Tammuz, Adonis, and others (see All About Adam and Eve, by Richard Gillooly). Some of these characters, you will see below, were also born to virgins.

Interestingly, in ancient mythology, many gods are born to women with names derived from “Ma,” meaning mother: Myrrha in Syrian myth, Maia in Greek myth, Maya in Hindu, Mary in Hebrew.

A god or demigod’s birth was often accompanied by incredible sights and came about through the actions of another god.

John D. Keyser writes,

We learn, from classical authors, that the notion of the gods visiting mortal women and becoming fathers of their children was commonly entertained throughout the near East in Greek and Roman times…

‘The gods have lived on earth in the likeness of men’ was a common saying among ancient pagans, and supernatural events were believed in as explanations of the god’s arrival upon earth in human guise.

Stars, meteors, and heavenly lights allegedly signaled the birth of many man-gods, including Christ, Yu, Lao-tzu, various Roman Caesars, and Buddha (see Gillooly). This parallels the strange and fantastic events that surround the births of purely mythological figures, such as Osiris in Syria, Trinity in Egypt, and Mithra in Persia.

But nothing was more spectacular than virgin birth.

Virgin birth, and a reverence and obsession with virginity, was a common theme in ancient religions before the time of Christ and near where Christianity originated (see “The Ancient Beginnings of the Virgin Birth Myth,” by Keyser). It marked the child as special, often divine.

Two thousand years before Christ, the virgin Egyptian queen Mut-em-ua gave birth to Pharaoh Amenkept III. Mut-em-ua had been told she was with child by the god Taht, and the god Kneph impregnated her by holding a cross, the symbol of life, to her mouth. Amenkept’s birth was celebrated by the gods and by three kings, who offered him gifts.

Ra, the Egyptian sun god, was supposedly born of a virgin, Net. Horus was the son of the virgin mother Isis. In Egypt, and in other places such as Assyria, Greece, Cyprus, and Carthage, a mythological virgin mother and her child was often a popular subject of art and sculpture.

Attis, a Phrygian-Greek vegetation god, was born of the virgin Nana. By one tradition, Dionysus, a Greek character half god and half human, was the son of Zeus, born to the virgin Persephone.

Persephone also supposedly birthed Jason, a character with no father, human or divine. Perseus was born to a mortal woman named Danae, and fathered by Zeus. Zeus also slept with a mortal woman (though daughter of a nymph) named Io, and they had a son and a daughter. He slept with the mortal Leda, who gave birth (hatched, actually) Helen of Troy and other offspring.

Even Plato in Greece was said by some to have been born to a virgin, Perictione, and fathered by the god Apollo, who gave warning to Ariston, Perictione’s husband-to-be.

Some followers of Buddha Gautama decided he was born to the virgin Maya by divine decree. Genghis Khan was supposedly born to a virgin seeded by a great miraculous light. The founder of the Chinese Empire, Fo-Hi, was born after a woman (not necessarily a virgin) ate a flower or red fruit. The river Ho (Korea) gave birth to a son when seeded by the sun. Krishna was born to the virgin Devaka. In Rome, Mercury was born to the virgin Maia, Romulus to the virgin Rhea Sylvia (see “An Old Story,” Chapman Cohen).

The Persian god Mithra was made the “Protector of the Empire” by the Romans in 307 AD, right before Christianity was declared the official religion. Some versions of Mithra’s story, predating Christianity, make him the son of a human virgin. His birth, on December 25, was seen by shepherds and Magi, who brought gifts to a cave, the place of his birth (see Godless, by former pastor Dan Barker).

Why Do Kids Believe in Santa Claus?

The holiday season is upon us, and so are its attendant myths, most prominent of which is the Santa Claus story. This is the time that many children are told about a man who lives forever, resides at the North Pole, knows what every child in the world desires, drives a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer and enters one’s house through a chimney, which most children don’t even have.

Given the many absurdities and contradictions in this story, it’s surprising that even young children would believe it. Yet research from my lab shows that 83 percent of five-year-olds think that Santa Claus is real.

Why?

At the root of this paradox is a very basic question regarding the nature of the young child as an inherently credulous being – that is, believing everything he or she is told – versus a rational one.

The noted author and ethologist Richard Dawkins, in a 1995 essay, proposed that children are inherently credulous, and prone to believing in just about anything. He even suggested that it was an evolutionary advantage for children to believe.

He illustrated that quite convincingly with an example of a young child living near an alligator-infested swamp. His point was that the child who is skeptical, and prone to critically evaluating his parents’ advice not to go swimming in that swamp, has much less chance of surviving than does the child who unthinkingly heeds his parents’ advice.

This view of young children who believe easily is shared by many, including 18th-century philosopher Thomas Reid, and developmental psychologists, who argue that children are strongly biased to trust what people tell them.

Yet research from my lab shows that children actually are rational, thoughtful consumers of information. In fact, they use many of the same tools as adults to decide what to believe.

So, what are some of the tools that adults use to decide what to believe, and what evidence is there that children possess them?

I’ll focus on three: One is attention to the context in which new information is embedded. A second is the tendency to measure new information against one’s existing knowledge base. And the third is the ability to evaluate the expertise of other people.

Let’s look first at context.

Imagine reading an article about a new species of fish – let’s call them “surnits.” Then imagine you’re reading this article in two very different contexts – one in which your doctor is late and you’re in the waiting room reading the article in a copy of National Geographic, the official magazine of a scientific society.

In another context, you encounter a report of this discovery while waiting in line at the grocery store and perusing the National Enquirer, an American supermarket tabloid. My guess is that the context surrounding your introduction to this new information would guide your judgment about the reality status of this new fish.

We essentially did this with children. We told them about animals they’d never heard of, like surnits. Some children heard about them in a fantastical context, in which they were told that dragons or ghosts collect them. Other children learned about surnits in a scientific context, in which they were told that doctors or scientists use them.

Children as young as four were more likely to claim that surnits really existed when they heard about them in the scientific context versus in the fantastical context.

One of the primary ways we, as adults, learn about new things is by hearing about them from others. Imagine hearing about a new kind of fish from a marine biologist versus from your next-door neighbor who often regales you with reports of his alien abductions. Your evaluation of the expertise and trustworthiness of these sources presumably will guide your beliefs about the true existence of this fish.

In another research project, we presented young children with novel animals that were either possible (e.g., a fish that lives in the ocean), impossible (e.g., a fish that lives on the moon) or improbable (e.g., a fish as big as a car). Then we gave them the choice to figure out on their own whether the entity really existed or to ask someone. They also heard reports from either a zookeeper (an expert) or a chef (a nonexpert).

We found that children believed in the possible entities and rejected the impossible ones. Children made these decisions by comparing the new information to their existing knowledge. For the improbable animals – ones that could possibly exist but were rare or odd – children were significantly more likely to believe in them when the zookeeper claimed they were real than when the chef did.

In other words, children use expertise, just as adults do.

If children are so smart, why do they believe in Santa?

The reason is simple: Parents and others go to great lengths to support the Santa myth. In a recent study we found that 84 percent of parents reported taking their child to visit more than two Santa impersonators during the Christmas season.

The Elf on the Shelf, originally a children’s picture book about elves who inform Santa about children’s behavior around Christmastime, is now a multi-million-dollar franchise. And the United States Postal Service now promotes a “Letters from Santa” program in which it provides personal replies to children’s letters to Santa.

Why do we feel compelled to go to such great lengths? Why does Uncle Jack insist on climbing onto the roof on Christmas Eve to stomp around and shake jingle bells?

The answer is simply this: Children are not unthinkingly credulous and do not believe everything we tell them. So, we adults must overwhelm them with evidence – the bells on the roof, the live Santas at the mall, the half-eaten carrot on Christmas morning.

Given this effort, it essentially would be irrational for children not to believe. In believing in Santa Claus, children, in fact, exercise their scientific thinking skills.

First, they evaluate sources of information. As ongoing research in my lab indicates, they’re more likely to believe an adult than a child about what’s real.

Second, they use evidence (e.g., the empty glass of milk and half-eaten cookies on Christmas morning) to come to a conclusion about existence. Other research from my lab shows that children use similar evidence to guide their beliefs about a fantastical being, the Candy Witch, who visits children on Halloween night and leaves new toys in exchange for candy.

Third, research shows that, as children’s understanding becomes more sophisticated, they tend to engage more with the absurdities in the Santa Claus myth, like how a fat man can fit through a small chimney, or how animals could possibly fly.

Some parents wonder whether they are harming their children by engaging in the Santa myth. Philosophers and bloggers alike have mounted arguments against perpetuating the “Santa-lie,” some even claiming that it could lead to permanent distrust of parents and other authorities.

So, what should parents do?

There is no evidence that belief, and eventual disbelief in Santa, affects parental trust in any significant way. Furthermore, not only do children have the tools to ferret out the truth; but engaging with the Santa story may give them a chance to exercise these abilities.

So, if you think it would be fun for you and your family to invite Santa Claus into your home at Christmas time, you should do so. Your children will be fine. And they might even learn something.