Today, our festive countdown – extracted from Rogerson's Book of Numbers – delves into mystical realms
The five components are: Ren, Ka, Ib, Ba and Sheut.
The simplest concept is Ren, which is literally your name: it lives for as long as you are remembered, or can be read about on inscriptions, or included in prayers for the ancestors and their achievements.
Ka is also easy enough to translate into modern idiom, for it is that vital essence that makes the difference between the living and the dead, between life and dead meat, between a warm body and cold clay.
Ib is literally the heart, formed from a single drop of clotted blood extracted from your mother's heart at the hour of your conception or birth. By heart, the Egyptians meant not just the organ for pumping blood around your body, but the seat of your soul, the good directing force in your life, searching after truth, peace and harmony.
Ba is that which makes each of us unique and different, that which makes us strive and achieve, the motivator but also the hungry elemental force that needs food and sex. In some form, your ba is destined to survive after death, often depicted or imagined as a human-headed bird, which with good fortune will go forth by day to enjoy the light, but might also end up existing only in the dark, like the bat or the ruin-haunting owl.
Sheut is your shadow, and by extension the other you, as well as being used to describe a statue, a model or a painting of a human.
Tomorrow: Six days of Genesis
Taken from Rogerson's Book of Numbers by Barnaby Rogerson (Profile)Barnaby Rogerson
Suzi Gage: Can your phone improve your mood? A new app developed by researchers at the University of Bristol might do just thatSuzi Gage
Deal set to scrap tariffs on major exports and includes controversial investor-state dispute settlement mechanismDaniel Hurst
Two years after surgery, scans on first recipients in the US show healthy blood vessel and tissue connections have formed
After two years the first full-face transplant recipients in the US are doing well, with medical scans showing the recipients have grown new networks of new blood vessels to connect the donor skin with their original tissue.
Dallas Wiens, the first US man to get a full face transplant, said: "My entire life is a miracle" as he spoke at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America on Wednesday.
Flanked by his new wife and golden retriever guide dog, Wiens, 28, showed visible facial scars but otherwise all the signs of a strong recovery. His face was burned off in a 2008 painting accident at his church when his head hit a high-voltage wire.
After surgery Wiens lived for two years with no facial features and a slit for a mouth until his transplant at Boston's Brigham and Women's hospital.
Imaging studies on Wiens and two other full-face transplants done at the hospital in 2011 show that a network of new blood vessels had formed within a year of the operations. A fourth full-face transplant was performed at the hospital this year.
The same thing typically happens with other transplants and it helps ensure their success by boosting blood flow to the donor tissue. But doctors say this is the first time it has happened with full-face transplants.
The finding could eventually shorten the operating time for future face transplants, radiologist Dr Frank Rybicki said. The operations can take up to 30 hours and include attaching thin arteries in the patients' existing tissue to the donor face, but the findings suggested attaching only two facial or neck arteries instead of several could be sufficient, he said.
Face transplants, using deceased donors, are still experimental. Fewer than 30 had been done since the first in 2005, said Dr Branko Bojovich, a surgeon involved in a 2012 face transplant at the University of Maryland Medical Centre.
He called the Boston team's findings "very reassuring" for surgeons and for future patients. "We're assuming that these patients will hopefully go on to live productive and long lives," Bojovich said.
Wiens's life before the accident was troubled and he said he missed nothing about it except possibly his eyesight. "I've learned more about other people and myself, being blind," he said.
He met his wife, Jamie Nash, in a support group for burn patients and they were married in March at the same church where Wiens's accident occurred.
Learning the tongue of the world's second largest economy may seem daunting but le français also has its challenges
French has been the first foreign language for the English since the Norman Conquest. Should the English now switch their attention to learning Chinese? It would certainly be wise for more English people to know the language of the world's second largest economy, but it would also be foolish for England to stop learning the language of our nearest continental neighbour with whom we share centuries of common history.
Many universities and some schools already offer Chinese for those who want to study it, and students already make their choices. In fact, spoken Chinese is less fearsome than its reputation. Students get used to the four tones – where rising, falling or level intonation can change the meaning of a word – and cope reasonably well with the different range of consonants.
There are not many similarities between Chinese and European vocabulary, but where it gets really difficult is the writing system. There is no alternative to learning hundreds of characters to read even a simple text. This is why Chinese authorities developed an alphabetical equivalent, pinyin.
French, by contrast, uses the same alphabet as English, give or take a few accents, and we share a lot of very similar words even if they can sometimes have different nuances. Spoken French has its difficulties for English learners, including the rolled R and the pinched U, although the French rather enjoy an English accent.
The problems come with grammar features such as the conjugations of verbs, genders and agreements. Chinese grammar appears more straightforward in structure.
Ultimately, the real challenge in learning another language is to understand the subtleties of meaning, the complex relationships and the cultural baggage it carries with it. This is the joy and the despair of learning a new language whether it begins with bonjour or nihao.
Professor Mike Kelly, former Department for Education adviser on languages and head of modern languages at the University of Southampton
I don't wish to claim that the UK is the best in the world at turning science into innovative products, but Aditya Chakrabortty's article (4 December) about the country's efforts in exploiting graphene – the ultra-thin "wonder material" made from carbon – was unnecessarily gloomy.
First, in describing the work by Nobel laureates Andre Geim and Sir Kostya Novoselov at Manchester University, where they discovered graphene in 2004, Chakrabortty fails to mention that the construction of the new, state-of-the-art £61m National Graphene Institute at the university has been specifically designed to encourage innovation.
Second, he cites AstraZeneca's closure of its research centre at Alderley Park in Cheshire as an example of Britain's lack of innovative nous. Yes, the centre closed this year, but it has been relocated to Cambridge. Of course, that raises separate questions over the north-south divide, but not to mention the centre's move seems a strange oversight.
Editor, Physics World
• Aditya Chakrabortty is right that government should be looking to science and innovation to improve our prospects for growth. Despite talk of continued austerity – which will no doubt be a feature of the autumn statement – there's scope to treble the science budget in four years' time.
On the latest official figures, the government is planning to go further than just balancing the books in the next parliament. In fact, it is targeting a surplus of £15bn in the structural budget by 2017-18. Instead of putting this cash aside for a rainy day, it could support the innovations Chakrabortty describes.
Building a more innovative economy will help raise our long-run productivity, growth in which is just 0.5%. If we keep going like this, forecasts by the Office of Budget Responsibility suggest that the pressures created by an ageing population will mean public sector debt rises above 100% of GDP, making recent public spending challenges pale by comparison.
Director, Social Market Foundation
Why do studies reinforce stereotypes about the male versus female brain, when the truth is that we are not so very different?
If you cut my head in half, out would spill sugar and spice and all things nice, obviously. The part of the brain that does parking would be small, but the part that organises cupcakes and friendship would fizz like sparkling rose. Because I am a girl whose mushy head is "hardwired" for girly things.
As ever, when I see the latest stuff on gender differences in the brain, I feel that I am barely female. Some parts of my brain have gone rogue. But before anyone gets out a soldering iron to rewire me, let's um … think about it.
What we are told is that neuroscience is actually a mass of disciplines: neurology, physiology, psychology, molecular biology and genetics, all of them ramped up by new ways of imaging the brain. Neuroscience has to be social, as we are social animals, and yet it stumbles over "a theory of mind". Are we simply a collection of brain processes that we experience as thoughts and feelings? If we are going to locate these inside the brain, we need some philosophical models too. It is all pretty epiphenomenal for my fluffy little brain. Which is smaller than most men's.
My brain also lives in a female body and clearly there are differences between men and women. But the latest overhyped study, which suggested that – guess what? – men are good at structure and co-ordinated action (map-reading?) and female brains are designed to facilitate communication (everything else?), is about as plausible as the finding reported in one notorious Daily Mail story that women were programmed by evolution to be "bitchy". This was based on showing 46 women in Canada pictures of other women in tight T-shirts. If this is science, I am Richard Dawkins.
Neuroscience is just as useful as evolutionary biology when it comes to reinforcing stereotypes in a pop-psychology manner. Are you right-brained (creative, intuitive) or left-brained (organised, systematic)? Do a quick quiz to see, rather than understand that this dichotomy has been fairly comprehensively debunked. The interaction between the hemispheres is what counts, but this is less marketable stuff. Such personality tests are sold to anxious parents, used in business recruitment and targeted at schools. All of them confirm what we already know, not what we could know.
The great insights now are around the plasticity of the brain, how new pathways can be formed even after damage, and how they are formed through experience. Yet there is a focus on imagery and which bits of the brain light up, because it is whizzy and fun. Spending a lot of time a while back with neurosurgeons after a close relative suffered a head injury taught me that brain scans are still blunt intruments, that we don't know sometimes if some functions can be taken over by other areas of the brain, if nerves can repair. It taught me that coma is still a mysterious state from which one does not wake up, but rather swims slowly to the surface. All these very clever doctors were more than happy to talk about what they did not know about the brain.
Now, though, neuroscience has achieved a quasi-religious status. There are, of course, drug companies waiting to improve our mental states; the military is also heavily invested in some of the research, as are those who think we will soon be able to predict "criminality" and lock people up before they do anything. Right now, we have politicians basically telling us that intelligence is innate and inequality therefore predetermined. There are, of course, many brilliant scientists who are appalled at this.
Cordelia Fine, for instance, is wonderful at debunking the neuroscience of sex differences, which began in the mid-19th century. These differences were used to argue against giving women the vote. Now they are being used to confirm that women are empathetic, but not power hungry or good at maths. Something as complicated as language does not live in one part of the brain, whether that language is poetry or maths. What Fine dubs "neurosexism" explains female inferiority, lower pay and the lack of women in public life. Is this inferiority located in individual brains or in culture?
Indeed, the latest debate on education shows that we absolutely need a combination of creativity and analytical skills; the binary of left/right brain thinking is inadequate. Of course we can find studies that reinforce gender stereotypes and use a determinist model of the brain. All kinds of self-help books are flogged on the back of this.
How hormones change brain organisation has yet to be fully explained. Many people feel neither male nor female. We see more autism in men, more Alzheimer's in women – and all of this is to be explored. But the idea of plasticity, the ability to change our ways of thinking, gets lost in the new neuro-mythology, which, as authors Hilary Rose and Steven Rose have argued, ignores the ways in which "culture and education shape neuro-cognitive function".
The truth is our brains are much more similar than they are different. That's not a headline you will ever read, is it? "Men and women: much the same!"
• Comments for this article will be switched on on Thursday morning.Suzanne Moore
Witnesses from Nasa and MIT suggest to House committee that scientists may be on verge of breakthrough in search for aliensTom McCarthy
Scientists say DNA strands in thigh bone of 400,000-year-old early human can help build clearer picture of human family tree
Researchers have read strands of ancient DNA teased from the thigh bone of an early human who died 400,000 years ago in what is now northern Spain.
The genetic material was pieced together from a clutch of cells found in bone fragments – the oldest human remains ever to yield their genetic code.
The work deepens understanding of the genetics of human evolution by about 200,000 years, raising hopes that researchers can build a clearer picture of the earliest branches of the human family tree by studying the genetic make-up of fossilised remains dug up elsewhere.
"This is proof of principle that it can be done," said Matthias Meyer at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. "We are now very eager to explore other sites of a similar age."
The thigh bone was among the remains of at least 28 early human ancestors found at the bottom of a vertical shaft in a cave complex in the Atapuerca mountains in northern Spain. The Sima de los Huesos, or "pit of bones", lies 30 metres underground and half a kilometre from the cave system's nearest current entrance.
The individuals at Sima de los Huesos looked a little like Neanderthals, and many anthropologists classified them as Homo heidelbergensis, a potential forerunner of modern humans. The corpses were probably washed into the pit rather than buried intentionally.
Meyer's team sequenced DNA found in tiny sausage-shaped structures called mitochondria, which sit inside cells and provide them with power. Mitochondria are passed down the maternal line only, unlike DNA found in the cell nucleus, which carries genetic information from both parents and their ancestors.
The age of the bone fragments meant the cells and their DNA were badly degraded. "This is the hardest sample I have ever worked on that yielded a result," said Meyer.
Meyer's team dated the bone fragments to 400,000 years old, but further analysis left them baffled. The mitochondrial DNA did not match that of Neanderthals, but was closer to a sister group called the Denisovans that lived in Siberia. Details of the study appear in the journal Nature.
Meyer says there are a number of explanations, but admits more work is needed. One possibility is that an older lineage of human ancestors, perhaps Homo erectus, bred with the ancestors of the Sima de la Huesos individuals, and passed on their mitochondria. But several other explanations are being explored by anthropologists."Either way, this new finding can help us start to disentangle the relationships of the various human groups known from the last 600,000 years," said Chris Stringer, head of human origins at the Natural History Museum in London. "If more mitochondrial DNA can be recovered from the Sima population of fossils, it may demonstrate how these individuals were related to each other, and how varied their population was."
Meyer said the Leipzig group now hopes to extract so-called nuclear DNA from the Sima fossils, which contains more information but will be much harder to extract because there is far less material.
"We have taken a first glimpse now and what we find is unexpected and confusing," he said. "But I'm confident we'll get more data, and then it's very likely we'll be able to nail down some hard facts, about whether these Sima de la Heusos guys are the ancestors of Neanderthals, the ancestors of both Neanderthals and Denisovans, or even something completely different."Ian Sample
Roland Jackson: We've had 20 things politicians need to know about science and 20 things scientists need to know about policy. Where's the rest of society fit into this?Roland Jackson
Tech workers in San Francisco reportedly take exception to the name, but they may be in the minority. Perhaps, as we have all become more technologically proficient, it's a redundant word anyway
Calling all techies! Oops. I hope you don't mind me calling you that. Some people who are technologically gifted consider the word "techie" an insult, according to the San Francisco Chronicle on Tuesday. One interviewee, described as "a tech entrepreneur", said he preferred "hackers", "makers" or "coders". Techie, he thought, designated "an outsider". In San Francisco, the large numbers of tech immigrants has put pressure on housing, which may explain some of the discomfort with the term. But is "techie" really offensive?
Patrick Goss, editor in chief of TechRadar magazine, thinks "it's almost categorically not offensive". Five years ago, he says, "techie" was "pejorative – used to describe someone who was geeky". Perhaps Goss just has a high tolerance for insult though. Can he ask his five colleagues too? He calls out. None finds the word insulting. Ditto the team on T3 magazine next door.
So what has changed? Goss thinks we are all techies now. Techies can be "people who own a smartphone; someone who wants to buy a games console; who is able to deal with Wi-Fi in their household". I am still waiting for a category that I fit into.
On Twitter, I found no one who dislikes the word "techie", though people are queueing up to say it is not offensive at all. Addie at TechCity shrugs. Perhaps it has been rehabilitated like "geek". Steven Ramage, head of Ordinance Survey International, says he's "worked with techies for 20 years and they proudly call themselves techies". Ben Rose, IT manager at a City bank, thinks that if you can do the things that Goss suggests you are not a techie, but simply normal.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first recorded use of "techy" was in 1969, in a publication called Current Slang. It referred to "a student in a school of technology or math". By 1981 it was applied specifically to students of MIT. Last weekend it was used heartbreakingly by a number of publications in India: "Hyderabad techie commits suicide by jumping from building". Perhaps it is the suffix "ie" that suggests a diminution at just the wrong moment; I don't think "Hyderabad hairdresser" sounds as reductive.
I still have found no one in this small UK sample who feels upset by the word "techie". So I call a company called Call-Tech in Bolton. They service laptops. They could have named themselves Call-Techie.
Nigel picks up the phone. "Call-Tech," he says. He sounds cheerful.
"Hi. Are you techies?"
"Course we are," he says. The business's owner, Mick Warrington, comes on the phone. "Would you think a bricklayer would be offended being called a brickie?" he asks. "That's the term that the tradespeople use. We wouldn't be offended to be classed as techies because that's what we do. Would we prefer to be called computer consultants? Not really."
However, Mick does have a term for customers who display zero technological nous. "SSU," he says straightaway. "Stupid silly user."Paula Cocozza
The US Congress held a hearing on the search for extraterrestrial life. Is Congress crazy or enlightened?