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Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that investigates principles of reality transcending those of any particular science, traditionally including cosmology and ontology. It is also concerned with explaining the ultimate nature of being and the world. Its name derives from the Greek words µet? (metá) (meaning "after") and f?s??? (physiká) (meaning "after talking about physics"), "physics" referring to those works on matter by Aristotle in antiquity. In English, though, "meta" means "beyond; over; transcending". Therefore, metaphysics is the study of that which transcends physics. Many philosophers such as Immanuel Kant would later argue that certain questions concerning metaphysics (notably those surrounding the existence of God, soul and freedom) are inherent to human nature and have always intrigued mankind.

A central branch of metaphysics is ontology, the investigation into what types of things there are in the world and what relations these things bear to one another. The metaphysician also attempts to clarify the notions by which people understand the world, including existence, objecthood, property, space, time, causality, and possibility. More recently, the term " metaphysics" has also been used more loosely to refer to "subjects that are beyond the physical world". A "metaphysical bookstore", for instance, is not one that sells books on ontology, but rather one that sells books on spirits, faith healing, crystal power, occultism, and other such topics.

Before the development of modern science, scientific questions were addressed as a part of metaphysics known as " natural philosophy"; the term " science " itself meant " knowledge ". The Scientific Revolution, however, made natural philosophy an empirical and experimental activity unlike the rest of philosophy, and by the end of the eighteenth century it had begun to be called "science" in order to distinguish it from philosophy. Metaphysics therefore became the philosophical enquiry into subjects beyond the physical world. Natural philosophy and science may still be considered topics of metaphysics, if the definition of "metaphysics" includes empirical explanations.


'Dark Matter'

Recent scientific breakthroughs have shown that most of the matter in the universe -- about four-fifths -- is not made up of atoms, but of something else, called 'dark matter,'" said Howard Baer, FSU's J.D. Kimel Professor of Physics. "The evidence for dark matter is now overwhelming, and the required amount of dark matter is becoming precisely known."

Baer explained that dark matter is believed to exist in the form of tiny particles that do not interact with light. Because they don't emit or reflect electromagnetic radiation the way atomic, or baryonic, matter does, these dark matter particles haven't been directly observed. However, scientists have long theorized their existence based on their gravitational effects on visible matter throughout the universe.

"For example, the gravitational effect of dark matter makes galaxies spin faster than one would otherwise expect," Baer said. "Also, dark matter's gravitational field distorts the light of objects behind it -- creating the so-called 'lensing effect.' By measuring these sorts of phenomena, we can tell that the universe is full of some sort of 'stuff' that we just can't see."

Despite this progress, the exact identity of dark matter remains a mystery.

"Current constraints on dark matter properties show that the bulk of dark matter cannot be any of the known particles," Baer said. "The existence of dark matter is at present one of the strongest pieces of evidence that the current theory of fundamental particles and forces, summarized in the Standard Model of particle physics, is incomplete. At the same time, because dark matter is the dominant form of matter in the universe, an understanding of its properties is essential to determine how galaxies formed and how the universe evolved. Therefore, the discovery of dark matter is among the most important goals in science today."



Chemical Compound Found In Tree Bark Stimulates Growth, Survival Of Brain Cells

The tree bark compound, known as gambogic amide, behaves much like Nerve Growth Factor (NGF), a molecule found in the brain. NGF binds to TrkA, a neuronal receptor, and activates neuronal signaling. It is known that the loss of TrkA density correlates with neuronal atrophy and severe cognitive impairment such as that associated with Alzheimer's disease.

Because gambogic amide also binds to TrKA and activates neuronal signaling, the researchers believe it may have potential as a therapeutic treatment in people affected by neurodegenerative disease, such as stroke, Alzheimer's disease and peripheral diabetic neuropathies.

Gambogic amide is derived from gambogic acid, a major ingredient of gamboges, a brownish-orange resin exuded from the Southeast Asian Garcinia hanburryi tree. The resin has been used in that area of the world for thousands of years to treat cancers without any reported toxicity to noncancerous cells.

"Humans actually have a naturally occurring molecule in the body, Nerve Growth Factor (NGF), which stimulates the growth and differentiation of certain types of nerve cells. However, NGF has poor pharmocokinetics and bioavailability when synthetically manufactured and used therapeutically, and it is also expensive to produce," according to Dr. Keqiang Ye, associate professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at Emory University.

"Previous research had focused on copying the chemical structure of NGF, but the cyclopeptide mimetics are not potent enough to use as a therapeutic agent. Instead, we decided that we needed to identify a more robust molecule that would pharmacologically mimic NGF's effect on brain cells by binding to TrkA. What we came up with was gambogic amide." Dr. Ye says.

The researchers are now conducting further pre-clinical research to investigate how the body processes gambogic amide and to confirm that it is in fact non-toxic.

The research was conducted by Dr. Ye along with other Emory University scientists; first author Sung-Wuk Jang, PhD, and Masashi Okada, PhD, post-doctoral fellows in Dr. YeĠs lab; Iqbal Sayeed, PhD, instructor; Donald Stein, PhD, Asa G. Candler Professor of Medicine; and Peng Jin, PhD, assistant professor of human genetics; and Dr. Ge Xiao at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Results of the study are published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and will be published in a future print edition.

This study was supported by the National Institutes of Health.


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