Consciousness, panpsychism, and AGI: What is it like to be a hat?

  • Panpsychism is the idea that there is an element of consciousness in everything in the universe. The theory goes like this: You’re conscious. Ben Goertzel is conscious. And his hat is conscious too. What if consciousness isn’t about the brain at all, but it’s as inherent to our universe as space-time?
  • “Now, panpsychism, to me, is not even that interesting, it’s almost obvious — it’s just the foundation, the beginning for thinking about consciousness… ” says Goertzel. It’s what comes after that excites him, like the emerging technology that will let us connect our minds to bricks, hats, earthworms, other humans, and super AGIs like Sophia, and perhaps glimpse at the fabric of consciousness.
  • Goertzel believes brain-brain interfacing and brain-computer interfacing will unfold in the coming decades, and it’s by that means that we may finally crack the nut of consciousness to discover whether panpsychism makes any sense, and to learn why humans are so differently conscious than, for example, his hat.

Opioids not much better than placebos at treating pain, study says

  • The study examined more than 26,000 people experiencing chronic pain.
  • Opioids were only marginally better than placebos at treating pain and improving physical functioning.
  • It’s estimated that at least 2 million Americans have opioid use problems.

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Opioids are only slightly more effective than placebos at treating pain, according to a new study.

The study tracked the more than 26,000 people, all of whom who were experiencing chronic, noncancer pain, as they took either real opioids or placebos. People who took opioids reported “statistically significant but small improvements in pain and physical functioning, and increased risk of vomiting compared with placebo.”

Given the slight benefits and major risks associated with opioids, the researchers found that other treatments, such as ice or physical therapy, might be better options for people suffering from chronic, noncancer pain.

“The effects of opioids on chronic pain are uncertain, whereas the harms found to be associated with prescription opioids include diversion, addiction, overdose, and death,” the researchers wrote in their report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. “Compared with placebo, opioids were associated with increased vomiting, drowsiness, constipation, dizziness, nausea, dry mouth, and pruritus (itching).”

Most medical organizations and professionals support the prescription of opioids to treat cancer symptoms. But in recent decades doctors have increasingly prescribed these drugs to treat chronic pain stemming from a variety of ailments, including back pain, headaches and post-surgical pain.

Opioids might help to reduce pain for the estimated 50 million Americans who suffer from chronic pain, but the drugs also pose serious risks of overdose and addiction. That’s why the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that doctors only prescribe opioids to treat pain when absolutely necessary, and only after they’ve been made aware of alternative treatments.

“What most physicians do not recognize is that 92 percent of people who misuse opioids do so by taking prescription opioids, and that 75 percent of individuals who use heroin report that they started misusing opioids through the misuse of prescription opioids,” the researchers wrote, suggesting that people in pain first try Tylenol, ibuprofen or naproxen, which are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Why do doctors still prescribe opioids to noncancer patients?

The answer is likely twofold. Patients might want a quick fix to end their pain, and painkillers represent a familiar solution. Meanwhile, doctors might have enough time or incentive to explore the many possible alternative treatment options with their patients, so they end up writing a prescription instead.

“There are many options to consider when offering treatment for chronic pain that go beyond pharmacological management such as physical therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, mindful meditation, yoga, and tai chi,” the scientists wrote. “However, explaining these options to patients can be difficult and time-consuming for clinicians and helping patients access these treatment options even more difficult.”

Sound could replace lasers in surgery

  • Scientists announce the ability to simultaneously manipulate individual small levitated objects
  • Using high-frequency sound waves may provide a safer alternative to laser microsurgery
  • Video of the research looks like a cartoon, but it’s all real

For a while now, scientists have presented demonstrations of sound’s ability to levitate and move suspended particles. It’s pretty cool stuff, and you can find lots of amazing videos showing intriguing patterns made with acoustic waves. Now, though, mechanical engineers Asier Marzo of Spain’s Universidad Publica De Navarra and Bruce Drinkwater of the UK’s University of Bristol have published research in which they demonstrate, for the first time, the ability to independently move particles in 3D space using ultrasonic sound waves. This technology has the potential to one day offer a less-invasive and destructive alternative to the lasers current employed in surgery suites. As Drinkwater tells University of Bristol News, “Optical tweezers are a fantastic technology, but always dangerously close to killing the cells being moved. With acoustics we’re applying the same sort of forces but with way less energy associated. There’s lots of applications that require cellular manipulation and acoustic systems are perfect for them.”

HAT, not HOT

Marzo and Drinkwater call their invention “Holographic Acoustic Tweezers” (HOT), or simply “acoustic tweezers” in conversation. The HOT acronym differentiates the method from Holographic Optical Tweezers (HAT), the laser-based technology it hopes to supplant. The technique’s medical applications do seem plausible: The scientists have already shown that they can connect polystyrene spheres with thread and use HAT to sew fabric.

Since moving polystyrene balls in the air is hardly the same as manipulating tiny objects in the body, the current breakthrough is seen as just a first step. Marzo and Drinkwater hope to demonstrate the system working in water in about a year, and from there move on to getting it going in biological tissue. Marzo says, “The flexibility of ultrasonic sound waves will allow us to operate at micrometre scales to position cells within 3D printed assemblies or living tissue. Or on a larger scale, to levitate tangible pixels that form a physical hologram in mid-air.”

How HAT works

Even in its current form, the HAT technology is impressive, to say the least.

“We applied a novel algorithm that controls an array of 256 small loudspeakers,” says Marzo, “and that is what allows us to create the intricate, tweezer-like, acoustic fields.” The speakers emit very high-frequency sound waves, in the 40 kHz range — human hearing is said to top out at just above 20 kHz, though there’s some debate about its upper limits.

The HAT demonstration takes place inside a box-like array with the 256 single-centimeter speakers arranged on walls opposite each other over a reflective base. The “particles” they’re moving are styrofoam balls from 1-3 millimeters in diameter, and HAT is currently capable of moving up to 25 of them at a time.

The future of HAT

Marzo describes his vision for HAT’s future, saying, “The flexibility of ultrasonic sound waves will allow us to operate at micrometer scales to position cells within 3D printed assemblies or living tissue. Or on a larger scale, to levitate tangible pixels that form a physical hologram in mid-air.” He describes another tantalizing use to Agencia Sync: “At micrometric scales,” “Marzo says, it could allow “the manipulation of 3D cells to create structures beyond a simple culture in a two-dimensional Petri dish.”

A new study proves parachutes are useless

  • Scientists working at medical schools across the United States discovered that parachutes don’t lower the death rate of people jumping out of airplanes.
  • The study flies in the face of decades of anecdotal evidence.
  • The findings should be carefully applied, due to “minor caveats” with the experimental structure.

There is an old joke that says “If your parachute doesn’t deploy, don’t worry: you have the rest of your life to fix it.” The findings of a new study may put that joke out of fashion, as intrepid scientists found that jumping out of a plane with a parachute didn’t lower the death rate of test subjects compared to those who jumped without one.

A leap of faith in anecdotal evidence

The study, published in the light-hearted Christmas edition of BMJ, involved 23 test subjects who were randomly sorted into two groups. One would leap out of an airplane with a parachute while the second would do the same with a regular old backpack. Their survival rates were then compared after they hit the ground. Shockingly, it was found that the rates were the same for both groups!

The authors explained that “Our groundbreaking study found no statistically significant difference in the primary outcome between the treatment and control arms. Our findings should give momentary pause to experts who advocate for routine use of parachutes for jumps from aircraft in recreational or military settings.”

What? How!?!

In order to get people to agree to take part in the study, the scientists had to structure the experiment properly. The airplane was both on the ground and stationary, as they thought it would be impossible to get people to agree to leap from a moving plane several thousand feet up without a parachute. The authors admit this was a “minor caveat” in the study’s design.

They don’t admit this until the fourth or fifth paragraph into the paper, however, which leads to their larger point.

Beware of headlines

The authors explain that the whole study was designed to highlight the limitations of randomized trials and the dangers of not reading past the first paragraph of a study. They explain:

“The parachute trial satirically highlights some of the limitations of randomized controlled trials. Nevertheless, we believe that such trials remain the gold standard for the evaluation of most new treatments. The parachute trial does suggest, however, that their accurate interpretation requires more than a cursory reading of the abstract. Rather, interpretation requires a complete and critical appraisal of the study. In addition, our study highlights that studies evaluating devices that are already entrenched in clinical practice face the particularly difficult task of ensuring that patients with the greatest expected benefit from treatment are included during enrollment.”

While this study is funny, the questions it raises are real ones. Many influential studies in psychology have been found to be flawed because they used W.E.I.R.D test subjects or were applicable only to a limited range of situations. By clearly showing how accepted procedures can be used to create an absurd little paper, the authors remind us to look closely at the findings of any study.

Admit it, you’ve read a headline before and then pretended like you read the whole article later when you wanted to talk about it. The point of this silly study is to show just how misleading a summation of a study can be and how important context is in understanding what experiments mean. So have a laugh, and remember to always read more than the study’s abstract before you decide to take its supposed findings to heart.

New software could save 745 species in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest without hurting agribusiness

  • Brazil’s Atlantic Forest is one of the world’s most biodiverse regions, but relentless deforestation threatens hundreds of species of plants and animals.
  • Recently, a team of researchers created a computer program designed to optimize how forest land can best be used.
  • The approach could be used by governments and organizations in other parts of the world to maximize biodiversity gains while minimizing economic losses.

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New research shows that using a computer program to optimize land use in Brazil’s dwindling Atlantic Forest could triple biodiversity gains, take massive amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere, and save billions of dollars in costs.

The Atlantic Forest is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, home to an extraordinarily large number of species that can be found nowhere else. It’s thought to have once covered some 500,000 square miles, but today, due to logging and agribusiness, only an estimated 7 to 11 percent of the forest remains. Some scientists believe that forest cover needs to be restored to 30 percent in order to maintain biodiversity.

It’s a tricky problem, however, because the region’s economy relies heavily upon industries that practice deforestation. That’s why a team of international researchers recently created software designed to optimize how land could best be used in the forest.

The approach uses a linear programming method to identify priority nature areas in the massive forest. In a paper recently published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, the researchers describe how their main goal was to “maximize restoration benefits for biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation while reducing restoration and opportunity costs.”

The team first divided up the biome into 1.3 million units, each 1 square kilometer, and the software then prioritized the land based on potential for restoration and potential farming value, trying to strike an ideal balance. The team also used biodiversity data on various species in the forest to predict how different land-use scenarios would impact their habitats.

One of the scenarios produced by the software would save an estimated 745 animal and plant species from extinction, take in about 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide through restored trees over the next 20 years, and reduce current restoration costs by 57 percent.

An uncertain political situation

Dr. Morena Mills, one of the researchers on the team, said the study is an example of how restoration and industry can coexist.

“People recognise the benefits of forest restoration for their wellbeing and for nature, and there are extraordinary efforts to restore forest happening around the world,” she said. “Our study provides guidance on how multiple interests, in nature and agriculture, can be reconciled when developing forest restoration plans.”

The Brazilian government plans to use the recent research in upcoming restoration efforts, and possibly in future projects in other regions, including the Amazon Rain Forest. However, Mills told the Imperial College of London that those efforts might be stymied by Brazil’s recently elected president, a hard-right candidate named Jair Bolsonaro who once promised to exploit resources in the Amazon.

“Regardless of the political situation, this approach sets a foundation for better forest restoration efforts in Brazil and around the world,” Mills said. “This is a great example of a forest restoration plan which is both good for the people and good for nature.”

Algorithmic catastrophe: How news feeds reprogram your mind and habits

  • According to a Pew Research poll, 45% of U.S. adults get at least some of their news from Facebook, with half of that amount using Facebook as their only news outlet.
  • Algorithms on social media pick what people read. There’s worry that social media algorithms are creating filter bubbles, so that they never have to read something they don’t agree with and thus cause tribal thinking and confirmation bias.
  • The Charles Koch Foundation is committed to understanding what drives intolerance and the best ways to cure it. The foundation supports interdisciplinary research to overcome intolerance, new models for peaceful interactions, and experiments that can heal fractured communities. For more information, visit charleskochfoundation.org/courageous-collaborations.
  • The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.

Why this 2015 NASA study is beloved by climate change skeptics

  • A 2015 NASA study caused major controversy by claiming that Antarctica was gaining more ice than it was losing.
  • The study said that ice gains in East Antarctica were effectively canceling out ice losses in the western region of the continent.
  • Since 2015, multiple studies have shown that Antarctica is losing more ice than it’s gaining, though the 2015 study remains a favorite of climate change doubters to this day.

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Climate change skeptics don’t usually cite NASA when trying to make a point. The space agency has, after all, been a leading voice in advancing climate change research and awareness, promoting the idea that at least 97 percent of climate scientists agree that recent global warming is due to human activity, and overseeing a host of missions designed to study the changing nature of the climate from space.

There is one exception, however. In 2015, a team of scientists led by Jay Zwally, a glaciologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, published a study in the Journal of Glaciology under the title ‘Mass gains of the Antarctic ice sheet exceed losses’.

It was immediately and warmly embraced by climate change skeptics and deniers, and some in conservative media.

“Ooops! New NASA study: Antarctica isn’t losing ice mass after all!” read one headline. “MELTDOWN MYTH: Antarctic ice growing is just the first EVIDENCE global warming is NOT REAL” read another.

The study was, to them, a much-welcomed monkey wrench thrown from NASA’s hands into the gears of a liberal-controlled narrative machine that wouldn’t stop shouting about climate change and, specifically, the melting Arctic and Antarctic ice. It gave them license to roll their eyes at the so-called consensus they’d long doubted.

They weren’t entirely wrong. The 2015 study was a direct challenge to a consensus held by climate scientists—just not the one the skeptics hoped to shatter.

What did the study say?

In short, the study claimed that, yes, Antarctica is losing some ice, but it’s simultaneously gaining more ice than it’s losing, and scientists haven’t realized this because they’ve been incorrectly measuring snow and ice across the massive continent.

Zwally and his team argued that Antarctica saw a major increase of snowfall starting about 10,000 years ago in East Antarctica and the interior of West Antarctica. As the snow fell, it compacted and thickened the continent’s ice with each passing year. This thickening process continues to this day, the team said, and it’s caused Antarctica to gain more ice than it lost to melting glaciers from 2003 to 2008.

Scientists generally agree that East Antarctica is gaining mass in the form of ice or snow. The question is how much, and in what form? It’s on these points that Zwally’s team strayed from the scientific consensus: They argued that the ice gains were much higher than previously thought, and that the gains came in the form of ice.

​Why the discrepancy?

To measure the changes, Zwally and his colleagues used NASA and European Space Agency satellites that fired lasers at specific spots on Antarctica’s ice. Those beams would then reflect back to the satellites at slightly differing times, indicating the altitude of various points on the ice sheet. This process required calibrating the satellites by firing lasers at a flat “reference surface”; Zwally’s team chose the still waters of the Southern Ocean.

But some scientists said this measuring method isn’t exactly reliable. For one, those waters aren’t always still, and they could’ve been covered in ice. Also, the 2015 study yielded results that flew in the face of past measurements made by another NASA tool, the GRACE satellites, which record the changing mass of ice based on differential tugs of gravity on the spacecraft as they pass over the planet.

Further, even if scientists accept the study’s findings regarding altitude changes in the ice sheet, it’s still unclear what’s causing the rise: ice or snow? Zwally’s team claimed it was ice, an assumption that necessarily meant their estimates for the continent’s total ice gains were going to significantly higher, because ice is denser than snow. Again, this finding was disputed by subsequent research conducted with the GRACE satellites that found ice gains in East Antarctica during the study period to be three times smaller than the amount suggested by Zwally’s team.

​The Zwally study didn’t argue against the existence of climate change

Suffice it to say that recording precise measurements of ice changes in Antarctica is a difficult pursuit. But whether Zwally’s study missed the mark is, in a way, irrelevant, because his team agrees with the broader scientific community on the main issue: Antarctica is melting due to rising temperatures.

Zwally said he said hoped his study wouldn’t detract from other research highlighting the scope and dangers of climate change.

“When our paper came out, I was very careful to emphasize that this is in no way contradictory to the findings of the IPCC report or conclusions that climate change is a serious problem that we need to do something about,” he told Scientific American.

He also seemed aware some people would weaponize the study for political purposes.

“I know some of the climate deniers will jump on this, and say this means we don’t have to worry as much as some people have been making out,” he said. “It should not take away from the concern about climate warming.”

Where does the scientific community stand on Antarctic ice loss?

Since 2015, the bulk of scientific research suggests that Antarctica is losing more ice than it’s gaining. This research includes:

In December, NASA scientists described how increased snowfall helped to offset ice loss in East Antarctica, though the losses are still outpacing the gains. That’s not to suggest that climate change isn’t occurring, but rather the opposite: Global warming has enabled the atmosphere to retain more water, which has led to increased precipitation in Antarctica.

“Our findings don’t mean that Antarctica is growing; it’s still losing mass, even with the extra snowfall,” said Brooke Medley, a glaciologist with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the study, which was published in Nature Climate Change on Dec. 10. “What it means, however, is that without these gains, we would have experienced even more sea level rise in the 20th century.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo calls for New York to legalize recreational marijuana

  • Governor Andrew Cuomo said he’d pursue the legislation in 2019.
  • New York would become the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana.
  • The legalization of marijuana in a prominent state like New York would likely represent a landmark shift in how the country views marijuana regulation.

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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Monday that he plans to push for the statewide legalization of recreational marijuana in early 2019.

The Democrat governor, who was in Manhattan giving an address that outlined an agenda for his first 100 days in office for his upcoming third term, said “we have had two criminal justice systems: one for the wealthy and the well off, and one for everyone else,” adding that some policies disproportionately affected African-American and minority communities.

“And that’s going to end,” he said in Manhattan. “We must end the needless and unjust convictions and the debilitating criminal stigma and let’s legalize the adult use of recreational use of marijuana once and for all.”

Cuomo, who as recently as 2017 called marijuana a “gateway drug,” had ordered the state health department to conduct a study forecasting the impacts that legalization would bring to New York. The results, published over the summer, found that the benefits of legalizing pot for adults “would outweigh the potential negative impacts,” and predicted that legalization would yield, at the very least, about $250 million in annual tax revenue.

It’s unclear where that tax revenue would go, but some groups have suggested putting it toward New York City’s subway system or investing it in black and Latino communities that have been hit hardest by drug enforcement policies like stop-and-frisk.

The ‘great experiment’ in pot-friendly states

New York would become the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana if it passes the legislation, potentially joining Alaska, Colorado, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Vermont, as well as the District of Columbia. What’s more, a total of 33 states allow for medical marijuana in some form.

It’s hard to say exactly how recreational legalization is working out in other states so far, but it seems generally positive, at least in financial terms. In Colorado, for instance, total marijuana sales hit a record $1.51 billion in 2017, generating more economic output than 90 percent of all other industries in the state, as the Colorado Spring Gazette reports.

Still, it hasn’t been without costs. The black market for pot is actually booming in Colorado, despite its legal status, due to illegal growers who move there to grow pot that they eventually sell in other states where marijuana is still illegal. Other reports show that more adults in Colorado are smoking pot after legalization, though consumption rates among kids have remained stable in recent years.

​A shift in the national conversation

Marijuana remains a controlled substance at the federal level. But if New York decides to legalize recreational marijuana, it could represent a landmark shift in the way the country views marijuana regulation, given the state’s prominence. The legislation likely wouldn’t have a hard time passing, given that Democrats captured the State Senate in November, and a Quinnipiac University poll from May showed that 63 percent of New Yorkers favored legalization.

Nationally, a Pew survey from October showed that 62% of Americans favored legalizing recreational marijuana, up from 31% in 2000.

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‘Deepfake’ technology can now create completely real-looking human faces

  • In 2014, researchers introduced a novel approach to generating artificial images through something called a generative adversarial network.
  • Nvidia researchers combined that approach with something called style transfer to create AI-generated images of human faces.
  • This year, the Department of Defense said it had been developing tools designed to detect so-called ‘deepfake’ videos.

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A new paper from researchers at Nvidia shows just how far AI image generation technology has come in the past few years. The results are pretty startling.

Take the image below. Can you tell which faces are real?

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Actually, all of the above images are fake, and they were produced by what the researchers call a style-based generator, which is a modified version of the conventional technology that’s used to automatically generate images. To sum up quickly:

In 2014, a researcher named Ian Goodfellow and his colleagues wrote a paper outlining a new machine learning concept called generative adversarial networks. The idea, in simplified terms, involves pitting two neural networks against each other. One acts as a generator that looks at, say, pictures of dogs and then does its best to create an image of what it thinks a dog looks like. The other network acts as a discriminator that tries to tell fake images from real ones.

At first, the generator might produce some images that don’t look like dogs, so the discriminator shoots them down. But the generator now knows a bit about where it went wrong, so the next image it creates is slightly better. This process continues until, in theory, the generator creates a good image of a dog.

What the Nvidia researchers did was add to their generative adversarial network some principles of style transfer, a technique that involves recomposing one image in the style of another. In style transfer, neural networks look at multiple levels of an image in order to discriminate between the content of the picture and its style, e.g. the smoothness of lines, thickness of brush stroke, etc.

Here are a couple examples of style transfer.

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In the Nvidia study, the researchers were able to combine two real images of human faces to generate a composite of the two. This artificially generated composite had the pose, hair style, and general face shape of the source image (top row), while it had the hair and eye colors, and finer facial features, of the destination image (left-hand column).

The results are surprisingly realistic, for the most part.

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​Concerns over ‘deepfake’ technology

The ability to generate realistic artificial images, often called deepfakes when images are meant to look like recognizable people, has raised concern in recent years. After all, it’s not hard to imagine how this technology could allow someone to create a fake video of, say, a politician saying something abhorrent about a certain group. This could lead to a massive erosion of the public’s willingness to believe anything that’s reported in the media. (As if concerns about ‘fake news’ weren’t enough.)

To keep up with deepfake technology, the Department of Defense has been developing tools designed to detect deepfake videos.

“This is an effort to try to get ahead of something,” said Florida senator Marco Rubio in July. “The capability to do all of this is real. It exists now. The willingness exists now. All that is missing is the execution. And we are not ready for it, not as a people, not as a political branch, not as a media, not as a country.”

However, there might be a paradoxical problem with the government’s effort.

“Theoretically, if you gave a [generative adversarial network] all the techniques we know to detect it, it could pass all of those techniques,” David Gunning, the DARPA program manager in charge of the project, told MIT Technology Review. “We don’t know if there’s a limit. It’s unclear.”

5 different New Year celebrations from around the world

  • The majority of countries around the world follow the Gregorian calendar, but still have special days to celebrate their cultural or religious New Year’s celebrations.
  • Some calendars are based off of the lunar cycle or a mix of the lunar and solar cycle, which the Chinese use. They then dedicate an entire two weeks for celebration.
  • Thailand’s New Year hosts a huge water fight on their New Year that people around the world flock to.

The New Year’s holiday is largely a secular celebration held around the same time worldwide, as nearly the entire world uses the Gregorian calendar as their only civil calendar. But many disparate calendars are based on religious myths and other cultural tradition.

The beginning of the new year always comes with a unique set of celebrations with rituals, great parties and unique customs. Here are some of the celebrations from one culture to the next.

Chinese New Year

Each year brings about a new changing date for the Chinese New Year. It usually falls somewhere between January 21st and February 21st, depending on how the new moon of the first lunar month arises.

In China, there is a fifteen day observance for this holiday that has recently been cut down to around seven days. It is one of the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays and it’s also known to many as the “Spring Festival.” Many Chinese activities include the usual rounds of putting up decorations, blasting off fireworks and giving gifts. In major Chinese cities, traditional performances like dragon dances and lion dances are performed, while red Chinese lanterns are hung throughout the streets.

The Chinese New Year tradition was born out of a great legend. It was said that a wild beast named Nien would appear at the end of each year and kill villagers. Eventually this led to the rambunctious festivities we see today in which villagers were told the noise and raucous they made would scare the beast away. From gifting hong bao (money in red envelopes), dancing, blasting off fire trackers and dragons – the New Year’s celebration caps off with a wild lantern ceremony.

Rosh Hashanah 

The Jewish New Year is celebrated in autumn and is based usually around the first two days on the seventh month of the Hebrew Calendar – called Tishrei. For the Jewish people, it is a time to reflect on the year that has passed and see what can be done to change their life for the better in the year to come. Most celebrations of Rosh Hashanah center around food. Jewish families light many candles and recite blessings over their wine and bread. The challah is shaped into a circle to symbolize the cycles of life. Traditional breads and apples dipped in honey symbolize the hopes for a prosperous and sweet New Year.

Most of the day is spent worshipping in the synagogue, as this is one of the most holy days for the Jewish faith. A time of introspection and rejoicing, the Jewish New Year ushers in the ten days of repentance which end in the major fasting day of Yom Kippur.

Hijri New Year

The Islamic New Year occurs on the first day of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar. Also widely celebrated as Eid al-Adha, it marks the climatic point of the hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

The Islamic calendar is based on a 30 year cycle, so the Hijri New Year will fall on different times each year. It is celebrated differently by each separate Muslim sect and for those not making the pilgrimage, will celebrate in their own local communities at home.

Hindu New Year 

There are a number of Indian New Year’s days surrounding the Hindu faith. Many of these celebrations occur on the first Hindu month, Chaitra. The month of Chaitra is another New Years holiday that is associated with the coming of spring and bases itself off the Lunar calendar. The Gudi Padwa festival is celebrated on the first day of the Chaitra month. Everyone dresses up in extravagant new clothes and goes to family gatherings. Special dishes are made from the bitter leaves of the neam tree.

During this month, fifteen days are dedicated to fifteen different deities. The month is also representative of the month in which all of creation of the universe was started as well.

Songkran 

The Thai New Year is celebrated from April 13th to 15th. Songkran, also known as the Thailand water festival marks the traditional Thai new year. During Songkran, the Thais use this time to purify, clean and symbolize a fresh new start. When it comes to the more traditional aspects, Buddhists will all go to their temples to celebrate something called Wan Nao and build sand chedis, which look like little Buddhist temples.

Houses and places of worship are meticulously cleaned. Buddha statues are carried through the streets in parade processions to be cleaned with flower scented water. Elders are honored and their hands are washed with other special scented water. There’s no shortage of wild water fights either. Hoses, water guns and mounted elephants litter the streets as over half a million people engage in water fights.