Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Consensus Reality Baby....,

So Nana and the mirror neurons provoked me to go and do a deep retrieve from several years and waaaaaay down the memory hole.....,


The artificial construction of reality was to play a key role in the new form of global intelligence which would soon emerge among human beings. If the group brain's "psyche" were a beach with shifting dunes and hollows, individual perception would be that beach's grains of sand. However this image has a hidden snag - pure individual perception does not exist.
Being here is a kind of spiritual surrender. We see only what the others see, the thousands who were here in the past, those who will come in the future. We've agreed to be part of a collective perception. Don DeLillo
A central rule of large-scale organization goes like this: the greater the spryness of a massive enterprise, the more internal communication it takes to support the teamwork of the parts. For example, in all but the simplest plants and animals only 5% of DNA is dedicated to DNA's "real job," manufacturing proteins. The remaining 95% is preoccupied with organization and administration, supervising the maintenance of bodily procedures, or even merely interpreting the corporate rule book "printed" in a string of genes.

In an effective learning machine, the connections between internal elements far outnumber windows to the outside world. Take the cerebral cortex, roughly 80% of whose nerves connect with each other, not with sensory input from the eyes or ears. No wonder in human society individuals spend most of their time communicating with each other, not exploring beasts and plants which could make an untraditional dish. This cabling for "bureaucratic maintenance" has a far greater impact on what we "see" and "hear" than most psychological researchers suspect. For it puts us in the hands of a conformity enforcer whose power and subtlety are almost beyond belief.

In our previous episode we mentioned that the brain's emotional center - the limbic system - decides which swatches of experience to "notice" and store in memory. Memory is the core of what we call reality. Think about it for a second. What do you actually hear and see right now? This article. The walls and furnishings of the room in which you sit. Perhaps some music or some background noise. Yet you know sure as those walls. You are certain that your home, if you are away from it, is still there. You can sense each room, remember where most of your things are placed. You know the building where you work - its colors, layout, and the feel of it. Then there are the companions who enrich your life - family, the folks at the office, neighbors, friends, and even people you are fond of whom you haven't talked to in a year or more - few of whom, if any, are in the room with you. You also know we sit on a planet called the earth, circling an incandescent ball of sun, buried in one of many galaxies. At this instant, reading by yourself, where do these realities reside? Inside your mind. Memory in a very real sense is reality. What the limbic system decides to "see" and store away becomes an interior universe pretending to stretch so far outside that it can brush the edges of infinity.

We are accustomed to use our eyes only with the memory of what other people before us have thought about the object we are looking at. Guy de Maupassant

The limbic system is more than an emotive sifter of the relevant from the inconsequent. It is an intense monitor of others, using its social fixations to retool your perceptions and your memories. In short, the limbic system makes each of us a plug-in of the crowd.

Elizabeth Loftus, one of the world's premier memory researchers, is among the few who know how powerfully the group shapes what we think we know. In the late 1970s, Loftus performed a series of key experiments. In a typical example, she showed college students a moving picture of a traffic accident, then asked after the film, "How fast was the white sports car going when it passed the barn while traveling along the country road." Several days later when witnesses to the film were quizzed about what they'd seen, 17% were sure they'd spied a barn, though there weren't any buildings in the film at all. In a related experiment subjects were shown a collision between a bicycle and an auto driven by a brunette, then afterwards heard questions about the "blond" at the steering wheel. Not only did they remember the non-existent blond vividly, but when they were shown the sequence a second time, they had a hard time believing that it was the same incident they now recalled so graphically. One subject said, "It's really strange because I still have the blond girl's face in my mind and it doesn't correspond to her [pointing to the woman on the videotape]...It was really weird." In visual memory, Loftus concluded that hints leaked to us by fellow humans are more important than the scene whose details actually reach our eyes.

Though it got little public attention until the debates about "recovered" memories of sexual abuse in the early and mid 1990s, this avenue of research had begun at least two generations ago. It was 1956 when Solomon Asch published a classic series of experiments in which he and his colleagues showed cards with lines of different lengths to clusters of their students. Two lines were exactly the same size and two were clearly not - the mavericks stuck out like basketball players at a convention for the vertically handicapped. During a typical experimental run, the researchers asked nine volunteers to claim that two badly mismatched lines were actually the same, and that the actual twin was a total misfit. Now came the nefarious part. The researchers ushered a naive student into the room with the collaborators and gave him the impression that the crowd already there knew just as little as he did about what was going on. Then a white-coated psychologist passed the cards around. One by one he asked the pre-drilled shills to announce out loud which lines were alike. Each dutifully declared that two terribly unlike lines were perfect twins. By the time the scientist prodded the unsuspecting newcomer to pronounce judgement, he usually went along with the bogus acclamation of the crowd. Asch ran the experiment over and over again. When he quizzed his victims of peer pressure, it turned out that many had done far more than simply go along to get along. They had actually shaped their perceptions to agree, not with the reality in front of them, but with the consensus of the multitude.

To polish off the mass delusion, many of those whose perception had NOT been skewed became collaborators in the praise of the emperor's new clothes. Some did it out of self-doubt. They were convinced that the facts their eyes reported were wrong, the herd was right, and that an optical illusion had tricked them into seeing things. Still others realized with total clarity which lines were duplicates, but lacked the nerve to utter an unpopular opinion. Conformity enforcers had rearranged everything from visual processing to open speech, and had revealed a mechanism which can wrap and seal a crowd into a false belief.

Another experiment indicates just how deeply social suggestion can penetrate the neural mesh through which we think we see hard-and-solid facts. Students with normal color vision were shown blue slides. But one stooge in the room declared the slides were green. Only 32% of the students ended up going along with the vocal but misguided proponent of green vision. Later, however, the subjects were taken aside, shown blue-green slides and asked to rate them for blueness or greenness. Even the students who had refused to see green where there was none in the original experiment showed that the insistent greenies in the room had colored their perceptions. They rated the new slides more green than they would have otherwise. More to the point, when asked to describe the color of the afterimage they saw, the subjects often reported it was red-purple - the hue of an afterimage left by the color green. The words of one determined speaker had penetrated the most intimate sanctums of the eye and brain.

But this is just the iceberg's tip. Social experience literally shapes cerebral morphology. It guides the wiring of the brain through the most intensely formative years of human life, determining, among other things, which of the thinking organ's sections will be enlarged, and which will shrink.

An infant's brain is sculpted by the culture into which the child is born. Six-month olds can distinguish or produce every sound in virtually every human language. But within a mere four months, nearly two thirds of this capacity has been sliced away. The slashing of ability is accompanied by ruthless alterations in cerebral tissue. Brain cells are measured against the requirements of the physical and interpersonal environment. The 50% of neurons found useful thrive. The 50% which remain unexercised are literally forced to die. Thus the floor plan underlying the mind is crafted on-site to fit an existing framework of community.

When barely out of the womb, babies are already riveted on a major source of social cues. Newborns to four-month-olds would rather look at faces than at almost anything else. Rensselaer Polytechnic's Linnda Caporael points out what she calls "micro-coordination", in which a baby imitates its mother's facial expression, and the mother, in turn, imitates the baby's. Since psychologist Paul Ekman, as we'll see later in more detail, has demonstrated that the faces we make recast our moods, the baby is learning how to yoke its emotions to those of a social team. Emotions, as we've already seen, craft our vision of reality. There are other signs that babies synchronize their feelings to those of others around them at an astonishingly early age. Empathy - one of those things which bind us together intimately - comes to us early. Children less than a year old who see another child hurt show all the signs of undergoing the same pain.

After all, what is reality anyway? Nothin' but a collective hunch. Lily Tomlin

Cramming themselves further into a common perceptual mold, animal and human infants entrain themselves to see what others see. A four-month old human will swivel to look at an object his parent is staring at. A baby chimp will do the same. By their first birthday,
infants have extended their input-gathering to their peers. When they notice that another child's eyes have fixated on an object, they swivel around to focus on that thing themselves. If they don't see what's so interesting, they look back to check the direction of the other child's gaze and make sure they've got it right. When one of the babies points to an item that has caught her fancy, other children look to see just what it is.

One year olds show other ways in which they soak up social pressure. Put a cup and something unfamiliar in front of them and their natural tendency will be to check out the novel object. But
repeat the word "cup" and the infant will dutifully rivet its gaze on the drinking vessel. Children go along with the herd even in their tastes in food. when researchers put two-to-five-year olds at a table for several days with other kids who loved the edibles they loathed, the children with the dislike did a 180 degree turn and became zestful eaters of the item they'd formerly disdained. The preference was still going strong weeks after the peer pressure had stopped.

At six, children are obsessed with being accepted by the group and become incredibly sensitive to violations of group norms. They've been gripped by yet another conformity enforcer which structures their perceptions to coincide with those around them.

Even rhythm draws humans together in the subtlest of ways. William Condon of Pennsylvania's Western State Psychiatric Institute analyzed films of adult conversations and noticed a peculiar process at work. Unconsciously, the conversationalists began to coordinate their finger movements, eye blinks and nods. Electroencephalography showed something even more astonishing - their brain waves were moving together. Newborn babies already show this synchrony - in fact, an American infant still fresh from the womb will just as happily match its body movements to the speech of someone speaking Chinese as to someone speaking English. As time proceeds, these unnoticed synchronies draw larger and larger groups together. A
student working under the direction of anthropologist Edward T. Hall hid in an abandoned car and filmed children romping in a school playground at lunch hour. Screaming, laughing, running and jumping, each seemed superficially to be doing his or her own thing. But careful analysis revealed that the group was moving to a unified rhythm. One little girl, far more active than the rest, covered the entire schoolyard in her play. Hall and his student realized that without knowing it, she was "the director" and "the orchestrator." Eventually, the researchers found a tune that fit the silent cadence. When they played it and rolled the film, it looked exactly as if each kid were dancing to the melody. But there had been no music playing in the schoolyard. Said Hall, "Without knowing it, they were all moving to a beat they generated themselves." William Condon was led to conclude that it doesn't make sense to view humans as "isolated entities." And Edward Hall took this inference a step further: "an unconscious undercurrent of synchronized movement tied the group together" into what he called a "shared organizational

No wonder input from the herd so strongly colors the ways in which we see our world. Students at MIT were given a bio of a guest lecturer. One group's background sheet described the speaker as cold, the other group's handout praised him for his warmth. Both groups sat together as they watched the lecturer give his presentation. But those who'd read the bio saying he was cold treated him as distant and aloof. Those who'd been tipped off that he was warm, rated him as friendly and approachable. In judging a fellow human being, students replaced external fact with input they'd been given socially.

The cues rerouting herd perception come in many forms. Sociologists Janet Lynne Enke and Donna Eder discovered that in gossip, one person opens with a negative comment on someone outside the group. How the rest of the gang goes on the issue depends entirely on the second opinion expressed. If the second prattler agrees that the outsider is disgusting, virtually everyone will chime in with a sound-alike opinion. If, on the other hand, the second commentator objects that the outsider has positive qualities, the group is far less likely to descend like a flock of harpies tearing the stranger's reputation limb from limb.

Crowds of silent voices whisper in our ears, transforming the nature of what we see and hear. The strangest come from choruses of the dead - cultural predecessors whose legacy has a dramatic effect on our vision of reality. Take the impact of gender stereotypes - notions developed over hundreds of generations, contributed to, embellished and passed on by literally billions of people during the long human march through time. In one study, parents were asked to give their impression of their brand new babies. Infant boys and girls are completely indistinguishable aside from the buds of reproductive equipment between their legs. Their size, texture, and the way in which newborns of opposite sex act are the same. Yet parents consistently described girls as softer, smaller and less attentive than boys. The crowds within us resculpt our gender verdicts over and over again. Two groups of experimental subjects were asked to grade the same paper. One was told the author was John McKay. The other was told the paper's writer was Joan McKay. Even female students evaluating the paper gave it higher marks if they thought was from a male.

The ultimate repository of herd influence is language - a device that not only condenses the influence of those with whom we share a common vocabulary, but sums up the perceptual approach of swarms who have passed on. Every word we use carries within it the experience
of generation after generation of men, families, tribes, and nations, including their insights, value judgements, ignorance, and spiritual beliefs.

Experiments show that people from all cultures can see subtle differences between colors placed next to each other. But only those societies equipped with names for numerous shades can spot the difference when the two swatches of color are apart. At the turn of the century, The Chukchee had very few terms for visual hues. If you asked them to sort colored yarns, they did a poor job of it. But they had over 24 terms for patterns of reindeer hide, and could classify reindeer far better than the average European scientist, whose vocabulary didn't supply him with appropriate tools.

Physiologist/ornithologist Jared Diamond, in New Guinea, saw to his dismay that despite all his university studies of nature, the natives were far better at distinguishing bird species than he was. Diamond had a set of scientific criteria taught in the zoology classes back home. The natives possessed something better: names for each animal variety, and a set of associations describing
characteristics Diamond had never been taught to differentiate - everything from a bird's peculiarities of deportment to its taste when grilled over a flame. Diamond had binoculars and state-of-the- art taxonomy. But the New Guineans laughed at his incompetence. They were equipped with a vocabulary each word of which compacted the experience of armies of bird-hunting ancestors.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Linnda Caporael points out that even when we see someone perform an action in an unusual way, we rapidly forget the unaccustomed subtleties and reshape our recalled vision so that it corresponds to the patterns dictated by language-borne conventionality. A perfect example comes from 19th century America, where sibling rivalry was present in fact, but according to theory didn't exist. The experts were blind to its presence, as shown by its utter absence from family manuals. In the expert and popular view, all that existed between brothers and sisters was love. But letters from middle class girls exposed unacknowledged cattiness and jealousy.

Sibling rivalry didn't begin to creep from the darkness of perceptual invisibility until 1893, when future Columbia University professor of political and social ethics Felix Adler hinted at the nameless notion in his manual for the Moral Instruction of Children. During the 1920s, the concept of jealousy between boys and girls finally shouldered its way robustly into the repertoire of conscious concepts, appearing in two widely quoted government publications and becoming the focus of a 1926 Child Study Association of America crusade. It was only at this point that experts finally coined the term "sibling rivalry." The formerly non-existent demon was blamed for adult misery, failing marriages, crime, homosexuality, and God knows what all else. By the 1940s, nearly every child-raising guide had extensive sections on this ex-nonentity. Parents writing to major magazines spotted the previously unseeable emotion almost everywhere.

The stored experience language carries can tweak the difference between life and death. It's been reported that one unnamed tribe used to lose starving mothers, fathers and children by the droves each time famine struck, despite the fact that a river flowed near them filled with fish. The problem: they didn't define fish as food. We could easily suffer the same fate if stranded in their wilderness, simply because our culture tells us that a rich source of nutrients is inedible too - insects.

The influence of the mob of those who've gone before and those who stand around us now can be mind-boggling. During the middle ages when universities first arose, a local barber/surgeon was called into the lecture chamber year after year to dissect a corpse for medical students gathered from the width and breadth of Europe. A scholar on a raised platform discoursed about the revelations unfolding before the students' eyes. The learned doctor would invariably describe a network of cranial blood vessels that were nowhere to be found. He'd report a shape for the liver radically different from the form of the organ sliding around on the surgeon's blood-stained hands. He'd verbally portray jaw joints which had no relation to those being displayed on the trestle below him. But he never changed his narrative to fit the actualities. Nor did the students or the surgeon ever stop to correct the book-steeped authority. Why? The scholar was reciting the "facts" as found in volumes over 1,000 years old - the works of the Roman master Galen, founder of "modern" medicine.

Alas, Galen had drawn his conclusions, not from dissecting humans, but from probing the bodies of pigs and monkeys. Pigs and monkeys do have the strange features Galen described. Humans, however, do not. But that didn't stop the medieval professors from seeing what wasn't there. For no more were they ruggedly individualistic observers than are you and I. Their sensory pathways echoed with voices gathered for a millennium, the murmurings of a mob composed of both the living and the dead. The world experts of those days and ours conjured up assemblies of mirage. Like ours, their perceptual faculties were unrecognized extensions of a collective brain.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Limits of Western Mentality

The Conscious Mind is Fitted to the Photon Interaction

What is normally referred to as the "conscious, thinking mind" is simply a functioning temporal (rigorously, chronotopological) mechanism that is painfully built up in the individual's awareness (his mind in the greater sense of both thought and awareness, whether monocular or multiocular) by training, conditioning and experience. Its functioning is largely conditioned by one's 90% or so attention to visual stimuli (to the partial reality remaining after photon interaction has been invoked, and to the memory-collated ordering of vast numbers of such photon interactions) and by one's cultural conditioning - which itself has been almost exclusively conditioned and shaped by the monocular photon interaction at base root.

Thus, since the beginning of man, (Bearden radically overstates the case here. It would be more accurate to say that since a time definite in the western epoch) his conscious, rational mind has been trained and constructed to function almost exclusively in basic correspondence with the photon interaction, and his experiential reality consists of the partial reality stripped from fundamental reality by photon interaction.

All "perceived differences," e.g., are created by this deep mind-set. As has been previously pointed out, 6 the solitary human problem responsible for all man's inhumanity to his fellow man is directly dependent upon man's almost exclusive detection, observation, perception, and conception of "difference" between humans, these "differences" being due exclusively and totally to the fitting of men's conscious minds to the photon interaction's monocular separation of spatial reality from nonspatial reality, i.e., to

∂/∂T (L3T) => L3

Such well-nigh total devotion to, and enslavement by, photon interaction also is responsible for the scientist's well-nigh total devotion to, and enslavement by, the present imperfect and incomplete three laws of logic, as presented by Aristotle. The depth of that devotion and enslavement is evidenced by the fact that the resolution of such paradoxes as Heraclitus's problem of change have eluded the best minds of humanity for several thousands of years. Indeed, these paradoxes cannot be resolved by the conscious, rational mind in its present state, for it has been most firmly constructed and fitted to function in accordance with the photon interaction.7 One cannot hope to resolve any logical paradox by using only those same logical methods that found the situation to be paradoxical in the first place!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Science Hack - Video Vetted by Scientists

Oh, I like this a lot;

A filter for vetting the random flow of videos for utility and validity.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Can WW-III Fix the Broken Global Machine?

World Energy and Population: Trends to 2100

Energy constraints will trigger a reduction in population starting within 20 years, and the impact of those constraints will far exceed anything that such humanitarian measures could accomplish. In fact, if the model is correct, there will be no ongoing overpopulation problem at all, as natural processes intervene to bring our numbers back in line with our resource base.

This leaves the question of what such a population decline would look and feel like. The details of such a profound experience are impossible to predict, but it's safe to say it will be catastrophic far beyond anything humanity has experienced. The loss of life alone beggars belief. In the most serious part of the decline, during the two or three decades spanning the middle of this century, even with a net birth rate of zero we might expect death rates between 100 million and 150 million per year.

To put this in perspective, World War II caused 10 million excess deaths per year, and lasted a scant 6 years. This could be 50 times worse. Of course, a raw statement of excess deaths doesn't speak to the risk this will pose to the fabric of civilization itself. If it is true that the Inuit have a dozen words for "snow", we will need to invent a hundred for "hard times".

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Can WW-III Fix the Broken American Machine?

I wonder if massive mobilization under a genuine though entirely contrived national threat will suffice to weld the tattered fragments of Americaness together under an openly war-socialist regime such as the one that brought the U.S. out of the Great Depression?

The issue of Iran is a national problem which requires a collective debate, discussion and dialogue inclusive of all the facts, and stripped of all ideology and theocracy which would seek to deny reasoned thought conducted within a framework of accepted laws and ideals. It is grossly irresponsible of an American president to invoke the imagery of World War III without first sharing with the American people the framework of thought that produced such a comparison. Such openness will not be forthcoming from this administration or president. Not in the form of Stephen Hadley's policy of no policy, designed with intent to avoid and subvert both bureaucratic and legislative process and oversight, or Dick Cheney's secret government within a government, operating above and beyond the law and in a manner which violates both legal and moral norms and values, and certainly not in the president's own private conversations with "God," either directly or through the medium of lunatic evangelicals who embrace the termination of all we stand for, and especially the future of our next generation, in a fiery holocaust born from the fraudulent writings of centuries past.

The processes which compelled George W. Bush to speak of a World War III are intentionally not transparent to the American people. The president has much to explain, and it would be incumbent upon every venue of civic and public pressure to demand that such an explanation be forthcoming in the near future. The stakes regarding Iran have always been high, but never more so than when a nation's leader invokes the end of days as a solution.


Monday, October 22, 2007

No Water Except for Blackwater..,

If things keep spiraling downward with the extreme drought, the only water that will be available in abundance will be Blackwater;

Introducing "Peak Water"

Are you paying attention yet family? Or is this backdrop over which issues, events, and socio-political drama plays out - covered in too low-key a fashion to break through the surface tension of your awareness?

Whatever it is, you better tighten things up. Folks in Nawlins weren't paying attention either, and we all know what that produced. Right?

Now this situation in Georgia seems to barely be breaking the surface tension on the shallow waters of consensus reality, but it's vastly more serious than a heart attack. Folks lost in the regressive political sphere are going to get tragically caught with their pants down if they expect the government to substantively help them out. Gov. Sonny Purdue may be calling on Bush, but I bet you ought to know better than to expect anything more prounounced to come of that than what happened when the federales showed up in Nawlins.

Scientists sometimes
refer to the effect a hotter world will have on this country’s fresh water as the other water problem, because global warming more commonly evokes the specter of rising oceans submerging our great coastal cities. By comparison, the steady decrease in mountain snowpack — the loss of the deep accumulation of high-altitude winter snow that melts each spring to provide the American West with most of its water — seems to be a more modest worry. But not all researchers agree with this ranking of dangers. Last May, for instance, Steven Chu, a Nobel laureate and the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, one of the United States government’s pre-eminent research facilities, remarked that diminished supplies of fresh water might prove a far more serious problem than slowly rising seas. When I met with Chu last summer in Berkeley, the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, which provides most of the water for Northern California, was at its lowest level in 20 years. Chu noted that even the most optimistic climate models for the second half of this century suggest that 30 to 70 percent of the snowpack will disappear. “There’s a two-thirds chance there will be a disaster,” Chu said, “and that’s in the best scenario.”

Synthetic Genomics

The popular view in the British press; Imagine if the engineers of 18th-century Britain could have foreseen the consequences of industrialisation. If they had been warned that it would bring untold wealth and comfort to millions, but would also disrupt human communities, lead to a terrible escalation of war and huge environmental degradation, how then would they have weighed the massive and momentous consequences? And how are we going to? In a couple of decades we could have a nature to organise entirely as we like - the scientist Freeman Dyson suggested black-leaved forests for more efficient use of sunlight in an article on synbio in a recent New York Review of Books. We could be busy creating our own biodiversity to replace the one we will have lost. We might have a "new, improved nature" which is more efficient in meeting our needs and ensuring the survival of future generations: is that a threat or a promise of salvation? And who are we going to trust to make that judgment call?

The governance blueprint at the JCVI; Synthetic genomics combines methods for the chemical synthesis of DNA with computational techniques to design it. These methods allow scientists and engineers to construct genetic material that would be impossible or impractical to produce using more conventional biotechnological approaches. For example, using synthetic genomics it is possible to design and assemble chromosomes, genes and gene pathways, and even whole genomes.

Scientists foresee many potential positive applications including new pharmaceuticals, biologically produced (“green”) fuels, and the possibility of rapidly generating vaccines against emerging microbial diseases. However, as with many technologies, there is the potential for misuse and accidents.

Designing ways to impede malicious uses of the technology while at the same time not impeding, or even promoting beneficial ones, poses a number of policy challenges for all who wish to use or benefit from synthetic genomics. The report presents governance options that attempt to reduce security- and safety risks without imposing undue burdens on researchers, industry, or government.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Watson's People

We have been graced with a guest piece by the formidable Abdul-Walid of Acerbia - thank you for sharing and know that you are most welcome here at Subrealism:

James Watson’s recent comments were delivered in that nebulous zone between public and private speech. He was, after all, in his own office, speaking casually with a reporter. The conversation did not focus on his scientific research. Rather, he spoke on a variety of informal topics. But he also knew that his comments would be published. He was speaking to one journalist, but through that journalist he was addressing the world.

It has been important for Watson’s defenders on this matter to cast him as a lone hero, someone who has the courage to say what others haven’t been able to. Defending him in these terms, as hundreds have done on various websites this week, is revealing. What did Watson say? He said he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” and “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours—whereas all the testing says not really.” Consider, in addition, Watson’s second statement: that he hoped everyone was equal but that “people who have to deal with black employees find this is not true.” What do these statements of his mean? I think it might be helpful to examine them structurally.

What Watson is doing in these statements is taking advantage of the gap between public and private speech. Hence the conspiratorial tone, and the offhand manner in which he implicates his interlocutor in his statements. He is using a stage whisper and a megaphone. It is coded language, less carefully coded, perhaps, than what a Republican candidate campaigning in the southern US might say, but coded all the same. Whatever else we might be going on here, it’s clear that Watson has an idea of “our” which is distinct from “Africa” or “black.” He gives this binary opposition a further twist when he implies that on one side you have “people” and on the other “black employees.”

Quite apart from the inaccurate assertions he makes about differences in intelligence, Watson commits a more fundamental error here. He seems to genuinely believe that there’s an in-group that is not and cannot be the same as African people. It certainly would not seem so to someone who has a lifetime habit of thinking of his in-group in terms of whiteness and maleness. It would not seem unethical at all. It would seem normal. That is the problem.

Watson is a geneticist. As such, he knows that the genetic diversity on the African continent far surpasses anything outside it. As difficult as it is to generalize about Europeans in genetic terms, it is even more difficult to generalize about Africa. Whereas Europeans represent a movement of selected populations from East Africa, via the Levant, into the European peninsula, the African population is largely what it has long been: a staggeringly complex web of human diversity. To compare the two in general terms would be like comparing a pair of Tiepolos with the entire artistic output of the Netherlands in the 17th century. It would make no sense.

Watson no doubt knows these things in theoretical terms. However, his urgent need to defend his privilege trumps this knowledge. He talks about Africa, but it means nothing, really. It is merely a word denoting the despised Other. It means only that his own whiteness is a valuable source of self-esteem to him. That Watson does not anywhere in the conversation say “ white” or Europe is, I think, also signal. For him, these categories constitute normality. To be white, to be of purely European descent, is to be “we.” He talks about “our social policy,” and so on. The “our” in question is a racialized in-group that includes the white journalist in conversation with him, the all-white readership he imagines for the Sunday Times, and also includes the world of work where the “people” who do the hiring are white.

What Watson’s “our” does not include is scientists of any other race, or readers of the paper who might be black or Asian, or indeed most of the population of the world. These nodes of exclusion will be familiar to any non-white person who has had to function in a majority-white environment.

Watson’s insinuations are intended, foremost, to provide comfort to just the sort of people who have appeared in large numbers all over the internet to support him. Insecure people, the sort who believe that, as the most widely used study suggests, Nigerians have an average IQ of 67. People who are happy with the insinuation that the average African is mentally retarded, and that to be normal and fully human is to be white.

Watson is wrong here, not only because he gets the facts wrong, and not only because he treats a ridiculously antiquated concept like IQ-testing with incurious respect. For a scientist, these are damaging gaffes, but they are forgivable. He is more egregiously wrong because he does linguistic violence to entire populations of people. In other words, he’s not wrong like Copernicus, he’s wrong like Goebbels.

His “our” denotes a world split into black and white. Blacks don’t belong. Whites are intelligent and they are the employers. They, the whites, are really the “people,” the “gens” from which both gentry and genetics take their name. But what about the thousands of Chinese-born researchers and professors in molecular biology today? Aren’t they people too? What about the thousands of Indian physicians in the US? What is served by pretending that the world, or the scientific world, is only black and white? Watson’s binary view is unconnected with reality.

My younger sister holds a doctorate in Microbiology and has presented several papers at Watson’s institution, Cold Spring Harbor. That he might cast aspersions on her intelligence is simply laughable. More troubling, however, is that he, from his position of power, continues to aggressively exclude people like my sister from the conversation. He is not alone. His is only the latest nasty and unwarranted attack on a group of people that is, and has been for so long, under constant attack.

Long after the Watson brouhaha has died away, the old question of who belongs will remain. The question of who owns what, “our social policy,” will have to be tussled with. It would be a mistake to see the Watson case—or any of the other rash of racially aggressive incidents in the media this year—as a question of free speech or political correctness. The issue here is ethical. When Goebbels said, of the Jews, “it is true that the Jew is a human being, but so is a flea a living being—one that is none too pleasant. Our duty towards both ourselves and our conscience is to render it harmless. It is the same with the Jews,” the ethical response is not, “We need to do further tests to figure out whether there’s any scientific truth to that.” It was a social statement, and it was intended to degrade and to humiliate. When James Watson declares, likewise, that blacks are less intelligent than “us,” he is speaking pseudoscientifically, and with a view to humiliation. What is a “black”? What is “intelligence” and how does one test it? The statement is a social one. It is a social intervention, a masked way of saying “I like our kind. And I don’t like blacks.” Watson’s people, those who share such views, understood the code right away.

It goes without saying that Watson would be unable to speak intelligently about the points of comparison and contrast between Scottish folksong, Yoruba oriki and Carnatic music. He would have no access to the depths of intelligence and subtlety contained within each. Such specific knowledge is outside his ken. He doesn’t know it, but he doesn’t even know that he doesn’t know it. Why would he wish to get bogged down in such specificities? He simply wished to air a prejudice.

A Fungus Among Us

The fungus Armillaria ostoyae, commonly known at root rot, has become the world's largest living organism thanks to an outbreak in Prairie City, Ore.

Currently the fungus form dubbed the "humungous fungus" by the U.S. Forest Service underlies 2,200 miles of land outside the Oregon city and wildlife officials are at a loss how to stop its growth, The (Portland) Oregonian said Sunday.

With some estimates placing the fungus' age at 8,000 years old, the natural organism has had plenty of time to spread throughout the region as other life forms unknowingly moved above. To that end, the fungus now spreads across an area equal to 1,600 football fields and is only noticeable in areas where it has claimed trees.

A far more recent fungal organism has taken root in our midst and is growing by precipitous leaps and bounds, inside, outside, and all around us....., that's the one I really, really want you to think about, as you mull over those playstations supercomputing and shit. Officials are at an even much greater loss how to stop its growth....,

Astrophysicist Replaces Supercomputer with Eight PlayStation 3s

"The interest in the PS3 really was for two main reasons," explains Khanna, an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth who specializes in computational astrophysics. "One of those is that Sony did this remarkable thing of making the PS3 an open platform, so you can in fact run Linux on it and it doesn't control what you do."

He also says that the console's Cell processor, co-developed by Sony, IBM and Toshiba, can deliver massive amounts of power, comparable even to that of a supercomputer -- if you know how to optimize code and have a few extra consoles lying around that you can string together.

"The PS3/Linux combination offers a very attractive cost-performance solution whether the PS3s are distributed (like Sony and Stanford's Folding@home initiative) or clustered together (like Khanna's), says Sony's senior development manager of research and development, Noam Rimon.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Cover Blown - Watson Disavowed

Official cover is a term used in espionage to refer to operatives who assume positions in organizations with diplomatic ties to the government for which they work.

Official cover operatives are granted a set of governmental protections, and if caught in the act of espionage, they can request diplomatic protection from their government. In other words, official cover operatives are agents officially recognized by their country. In contrast, non-official cover (NOC) refers to operatives who assume positions with no ties to their government, and whose actions are officially disavowed by that government.

Update: Lab suspends DNA pioneer Watson

The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory had already distanced itself from the scientist's comments but its trustee board has also now suspended him.

A statement from the Long Island, New York, institution said the action was being taken "pending further deliberation by the board".

FAS condemns comments made by Dr. James Watson:

The Federation of American Scientists condemns the comments of Dr. James Watson that appeared in the Sunday Times Magazine on October 14th.

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) is outraged by the noxious comments of Dr. James Watson that appeared in the Sunday Times Magazine on October 14th. At a time when the scientific community is feeling threatened by political forces seeking to undermine its credibility it is tragic that one of the icons of modern science has cast such dishonor on the profession.

The scientific enterprise is based on the promotion and proof of new ideas through evidence, however controversial, but Dr. Watson chose to use his unique stature to promote personal prejudices that are racist, vicious and unsupported by science.

While we honor the extraordinary contributions that Dr. Watson has made to science in the past, his comments show that he has lost his way. He has failed us in the worst possible way. It is a sad and revolting way to end a remarkable career.

Others, including Watson are in deep denial:
"I am mortified about what has happened," Watson said. "More importantly, I cannot understand how I could have said what I am quoted as having said.

Several longtime friends of Watson insisted he's not a racist.

"It's hard for me to buy the label `racist' for him," said Victor McElheny, the author of a 2003 biography of Watson, whom he's known for 45 years. "This is someone who has encouraged so many people from so many backgrounds."

So why does he say things that can sound racist? "I really don't know the answer to that," McElheny said.

Biologist and Nobel laureate Phil Sharp at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who's known Watson since 1971, said, "I've never considered Jim a racist. However, Jim likes to use statistics and observations to provoke people, and it is possible that he is provoking people by these comments."

Calling Watson "one of the great historical scientific figures of our time," Sharp said, "I don't understand why he takes it upon himself to make these statements."

Mike Botchan, co-chair of the molecular and cell biology department at the University of California, Berkeley, who's known Watson since 1970, said the Nobelist's personal beliefs are less important than the impact of what he says.

"Is he someone who's going to prejudge a person in front of him on the basis of his skin color? I would have to say, no. Is he someone, though, that has these beliefs? I don't know any more. And the important thing is I don't really care," Botchan said.

"I think Jim Watson is now essentially a disgrace to his own legacy. And it's very sad for me to say this, because he's one of the great figures of 20th century biology."

What's Up Atlanta?

Throat too dry to speak up?

Georgia seeks water disaster declaration - With water supplies rapidly shrinking during a drought of historic proportions, Gov. Sonny Perdue declared a state of emergency Saturday for the northern third of Georgia and asked President Bush to declare it a major disaster area.

What if Atlanta's faucets really do go dry?

So far, no real backup plan exists. And there are no quick fixes among suggested solutions, which include piping water in from rivers in neighboring states, building more regional reservoirs, setting up a statewide recycling system or even desalinating water from the Atlantic Ocean.

An unprecedented drought stretching across the southeastern United States has forced some of the region's largest cities to declare water emergencies.

The situation has become so serious that officials in Atlanta, where rainfall totals are more than 16 inches below normal, said they could run out of drinking water in a matter of weeks.

I read that it's supposed to rain tonight but dayyum! Quiet as it's kept in the MSM - folks'd almost think everything's just hunky dory. For what it's worth, I'm thinking about you.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Africans are Less Intelligent than Westerners says DNA "Pioneer"

"All our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really"

The 79-year-old geneticist reopened the explosive debate about race and science in a newspaper interview in which he said Western policies towards African countries were wrongly based on an assumption that black people were as clever as their white counterparts when "testing" suggested the contrary. He claimed genes responsible for creating differences in human intelligence could be found within a decade.

His views are also reflected in a book published next week, in which he writes: "There is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so."

It’s the Oil!

Iraq is ‘unwinnable’, a ‘quagmire’, a ‘fiasco’: so goes the received opinion. But there is good reason to think that, from the Bush-Cheney perspective, it is none of these things. Indeed, the US may be ‘stuck’ precisely where Bush et al want it to be, which is why there is no ‘exit strategy’.

Iraq has 115 billion barrels of known oil reserves. That is more than five times the total in the United States. And, because of its long isolation, it is the least explored of the world’s oil-rich nations. A mere two thousand wells have been drilled across the entire country; in Texas alone there are a million. It has been estimated, by the Council on Foreign Relations, that Iraq may have a further 220 billion barrels of undiscovered oil; another study puts the figure at 300 billion. If these estimates are anywhere close to the mark, US forces are now sitting on one quarter of the world’s oil resources. The value of Iraqi oil, largely light crude with low production costs, would be of the order of $30 trillion at today’s prices. For purposes of comparison, the projected total cost of the US invasion/occupation is around $1 trillion.

Who will get Iraq’s oil? One of the Bush administration’s ‘benchmarks’ for the Iraqi government is the passage of a law to distribute oil revenues. The draft law that the US has written for the Iraqi congress would cede nearly all the oil to Western companies. The Iraq National Oil Company would retain control of 17 of Iraq’s 80 existing oilfields, leaving the rest – including all yet to be discovered oil – under foreign corporate control for 30 years. ‘The foreign companies would not have to invest their earnings in the Iraqi economy,’ the analyst Antonia Juhasz wrote in the New York Times in March, after the draft law was leaked. ‘They could even ride out Iraq’s current “instability” by signing contracts now, while the Iraqi government is at its weakest, and then wait at least two years before even setting foot in the country.’ As negotiations over the oil law stalled in September, the provincial government in Kurdistan simply signed a separate deal with the Dallas-based Hunt Oil Company, headed by a close political ally of President Bush.

Read the entire article in Thursday's London Review of Books

Monday, October 15, 2007

Information and Biological Revolutions

Global Governance Challenges — Summary of a Study Group

It was this subtitle that really, really baked my noodle and sent me down the rabbit hole of spiraling cogitations and digital collaborations concerning the nature of things as they presently stand - and the shape of things to come.

This report summarizes the issues that arose and the discussions held during the meetings of a 1998-1999 study group focusing on global governance of information technology and biotechnology. The goal was to bring a policy perspective to bear on a discussion of new technological developments through a series of free-flowing and exploratory presentations and discussions.

Download it and read it in its entirety when you get a chance...,

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Regulatory Rethink on Human Hybrids

A radical Government re-think on the law governing hybrid embryos will allow scientists to carry out virtually any work they like - if it is approved by regulators.

The move opens the door to experiments involving every known kind of human-animal hybrid. These could include both "cytoplasmic" embryos, which are 99.9% human, and "true hybrids" carrying both human and animal genes.

In addition "chimeras" made of a mosaic-like mix of cells from different species, and "human transgenic embryos" - human embryos modified with animal DNA - will also be allowed under licence.

Provision has also been made for the regulation of hybrid embryo research to incorporate any unforeseen developments that might arise in the future.

The revised Bill does more than even the committee asked for. It effectively removes the barriers completely, permitting the creation of all four currently envisaged types of hybrid embryo, subject to a licence being granted by the relevant regulatory authority - in this case the HFEA.

Allowing scientists to work on human-animal hybrid embryos will greatly speed up progress in stem cell research. Researchers hope to use embryonic stem cells (ESCs), which can transform into virtually any kind of body tissue, to investigate the causes of human diseases and develop new therapies for currently incurable conditions such as Parkinson's and type 1 diabetes.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Fading in Spirals

My son, who's in the third grade, has a project to complete by the beginning of November. He has to;

1. Write a paper

2. Make a presentation

3. Construct a diorama

Explaining his understanding of the plight of an endangered species.

On his own, he selected the blue whale as the subject of his meditation.

When I was his age, I clearly recollect being inordinately fascinated by blue whales. Funny how the spirals dictate certain tendencies across generations. As I helped him organize his information gathering approach yesterday afternoon - I was reminded of an article I read a while back on the organelle website.

If you haven't done so already, I encourage you to explore organelle. It is easily one of the most thought provoking and substantively rewarding sites on the public Internet.

From an ant’s-eye view, Nature is the domain of gods and giants — universes of incredibly alien diversity are everywhere appearing — at scales local and distant in size. At the ant’s scale, terrain is thousands or millions of times vaster than ours, time is different — everything shifts in relation our scale, speed and attitudes of approach. Much of what might be sensed as nearby motion harbors danger of injury, predation or crushing.

The world of Life as seen from the ant’s scale, contains vast catalogues of participants of enormous size. Some of these creatures feed upon ants. But there is a single creature that does something literally unlike with Life, as a general biocognitive momentum. This creature exterminates ants, and builds artifacts which change their biological, cognitive and experiential universe in bizarre and often deadly ways.

Let us switch scales to the large. From the perspective of a blue whale, most of the universe of life is small, or even tiny. Yet again, there are universes organized by the small (humans) which are embodied specifically to eliminate

The primary expression of human relationship with whales is not predation — predation is something that we can observe in many scales of living symmetry — it is instead extermination, something that happens only with technologies of knowing and their mechanized or industrial artifacts and metaphors. The most serious threat to each of the species at risk or erased by human behavior is virtual, arising in our cognition, and flowering in our activity. At the core of these momentums are simple models of value couched in metaphoric relationships between tokens. For the whales, these tokens have proven deadly, and almost exterminative.

If animals use representational systems of knowing, however different from our own they may be, we can be fairly certain that they are wondering what went wrong with the monkey-people. They are probably desperately hoping that they do not succumb to the same fate, or fall victim to one of the many bizarre machine-rituals which the monkey-people are constantly at labors to elaborate and support. Somehow, our species has earned the dubious distinction of becoming the authors or parents of mere systems of relation, which result in life-eating machines that exhibit a terrifying mimicry of part of Life’s reproductive agenda. These are irreal constructs, which functionally demand and obtain authority over real living organisms, and their natural symmetries of scale. Instead of using their own energies and resources for reproduction, they use the biosphere’s, as well as the living forms, activities, and resources of its children. They are virtual tyrants

Our species’ dances with the tokenization of our relationships and connectivities with our world is costing the living planet its future, and this cost extends deeply into the terrains of our human minds, and our individual lives, in ways we may not yet see as obvious, yet which are consistently expressed in each moment of our own biocognitive activity, experience and elaboration.

In humans and our societies, the containers of such tokens are alive, and thus, the tokens we choose come to life, informed by the abilities and potentials of the animalian consciousness which contains and transports them. When we empower mechanized tokens over those which are more inclusive and flexible, we end up with a devastating cost, which grows geometrically over time, and is expressed in atrocity, and the mutilation of people, cultures, ecosystems, and our planet.

Living planets do not build or support machines — their domains of expression are chemistry, uniqueness, biology and cognition. Earth is unlikely (at best) to be found forcing the expenditure of irreplaceable resources in order to specifically torture or erase her children (which are her body and mind), or whole domains of related children for the sake of a few briefly embodied machines. Yet one of her children is doing this .

Earth, and most of her children, creatively generate universes of living cognitive jewels each instant, at countless billions of scales. She’s been doing this, purportedly, for at least a thousand million years. Machines are not her game. Children are. When we value machines over children, we’re paying predators of our own creation to erase us, and our world.
whales, and these momentums have nearly succeeded. This would be something like rats organizing themselves into collectives who variously persecuted and exterminated humans from airships of 2 to 3 times our size or smaller.

We might observe that we relate with flat maps cognitively in a way that results in a species of inward machines, which tend, over time, to result in outward machines. Once these are thoroughly entrenched, they form a kind of expanding catastrophe-clock. Given time and resources, they will erase a living planet, and their living parents. As time progresses, due to their effects of presence upon the organisms who created them, this circumstance will increase geometrically in two domains: velocity of expansion, and deniability. The presence of machines literally breaks the minds of organismal sentience-networks — with noise, or by essentially replacing living connectivity with mechanized (co-opted) transports which mimic what they replaced.

Such a process grows less obvious to its host in a geometric spiral — partially because it first co-opts the organismal features required to detect or resolve the circumstances correctly much in the way an auto-immune disorder may create a structural breakdown in the system in place to defend against it.
Cultures are like species, as well. Some are predators, some are prey. Many are endangered, and many have been permanently lost. “I think cultures are kinds of virtual realities where whole populations of people become imprisoned inside a structure which is linguistic and value-based.”

Monday, October 08, 2007

Whose Prosthesis Are We?

“I think cultures are kinds of virtual realities where whole populations of people become imprisoned inside a structure which is linguistic and value-based.”

“Now, if we’re gonna become a planetary being, we can’t have the luxury of an unconscious mind, that’s something that goes along with the monkey-stage of human culture. And so comes then the prosthesis of technology, that all our memories and all our sciences and our projective planning abilities can be downloaded into a technological artifact which is almost our child or our friend or our companion in the historical adventure.”

(Terence McKenna 1998)

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Discrimination in Academia?

Frank Douglas has resigned from MIT.

On June 3, I resigned from faculty and administrative positions at MIT, effective June 30. I did so because I perceived an unconscious discrimination against minorities and because my colleagues and the institute authorities did not act on my recommendations to address these issues. The timing was such that many of my colleagues thought I was resigning over the case of James Sherley, who was denied tenure in 2004 and went on a hunger strike earlier this year in protest. But my decision was based on the complex, insidious nature of discrimination in a university context.

I will go into more detail about my decision below, but several things have become clear to me throughout my decades of experience in industry and academic science. Academia is where the leaders and change agents of society and the world are educated, imprinted and nurtured. Selecting and preparing these future citizens and leaders has historically relied on various methods. Foremost is that done on the basis of excellence, whether it is in ability to recite, repeat or find new solutions to historical problems. This is the discrimination of excellence to the discipline, and is widely held to be a good thing.

The other two methods are not considered as positive because of the role that personal preferences - that is, prejudices - plays in them. One, the curious phenomenon of fraternities, sororities and special clubs, which discriminate along social lines, is the discrimination of social acceptance. The other, based on a behavioral or style component supportive of the goals of the department or discipline, is the discrimination of best fit. What makes these selection methods particularly troublesome for minorities is that discrimination of excellence to the discipline is impacted by the other two criteria. Recent events at MIT have been no exception to this pattern.

The Full Monty including interesting and mostly supportive commentary is available at The Scientist

Brother Douglas is not lying about his motives being complex and discrimination being insidious and highly resistant to change within the scientific establishment. Frankly, I'm confused as all get out about the BiDil connection - because I don't appreciate the scientific validity of a "race drug" - but the rest of it I understand and fully appreciate. My concerns about a "race drug" stem from my disbelief that the folks pursuing that aim possess the objectivity to do so in good faith. In fact, anything smacking of racial science raises the hairs on the back of my neck because the entire field of endeavor has a history of being polluted by bad intentions to its very core.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

In The Beginning

Today is a very good day to start a blog.

Any day now Craig Venter - geneticist, yachtsman and Vietnam veteran - will announce that he has achieved one of the greatest feats in science: the creation of artificial life.

The DNA researcher involved in the race to decipher the human genetic code, has built a synthetic chromosome out of laboratory chemicals and is poised to announce the creation of the first new artificial life form on Earth.

There is a distinct possibility that this changes everything with regard to the future of humankind. For the past several years, I have been very pessimistic about our prospects because of Peak Oil and the way some of us have acted in response to that challenge. For more time than I care to recount, I have contemplated and planned for a dystopian patch of road just around the signpost up ahead. Economic crash, societal disruption, and the prospect that our species has entered an evolutionary blind alley.

Our teaming masses have badly overshot sustainability, and our ecological footprint is crushing the life out of the natural biosphere. I suspect that the next major breakthroughs in physics
(and thus matter/energy) would require a substantial improvement in our level of consciousness. Having despaired of the latter, I had discounted the likelihood of the former. Now however, by a process of looking inward, as deep inward as it is possible for our science and our consciousness to look, it appears that we stand on the precipice of a major breakthrough that will absolutely revolutionize our place in the world. If Venter's team has done what is claimed, as a species, we have at long last reached our childhood's end.

I'm very excited about what this may mean for the future of my own children. Possibly a utopian rather than a dystopian future. I'm equally excited about what it means for the deeper understanding of where we've come from and to whence we appear to be returning.