Friday, March 12, 2010

optogenetic neurophysiology

SciAm | as our understanding of the brain grows, our desire to intervene, to help ameliorate the many pathologies to which the mind is prey, grows commensurately. Yet today’s tools (drugs and deep-brain stimulations) are comparatively crude, with undesirable side effects.

To the rescue rides an amazing technology, a fusion of molecular biology with optical stimulation, dubbed optogenetics. It is based on some fundamental discoveries made by three German biophysicists—Peter Hegemann, Ernst Bamberg and Georg Nagel working on photoreceptors in ancient bacteria. These photoreceptors directly (rather than indirectly, like the ones in your eyes) convert incoming light in the blue part of the spectrum into an excitatory, positive electrical signal. The trio also isolated the gene for this protein, called channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2). Bamberg and Nagel subsequently engaged in a fruitful collaboration with Karl Deisseroth, a professor of psychiatry and bioengineering at Stanford University, and Edward S. Boyden, now at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The group took the ChR2 gene, inserted it into a small virus, and infected neurons with this virus. Many of the neurons took up the foreign instructions, synthesized ChR2 protein and inserted the photoreceptors in their membrane. In the dark, the receptors quietly sit there, with no discernible effect on their host cells. But illumination of the network with a brief flash (10 milliseconds) of blue light causes each of these bacterial photoreceptors to jolt their host cell a bit. Collectively, they reliably and repeatedly produce a spike in the membrane voltage. Spikes are the universal all-or-none pulses used by all but the tiniest nervous systems to communicate information among neurons. Each time the light is turned on, the cells spike reliably, exactly once. Thus, an entire population of neurons can be manipulated by precisely timed stabs of light.

The biophysicists added another photoreceptor to their tool kit. It derives from a different type of bacterium, one living in dry salt lakes in the Sahara Desert. Shining yellow light on it yields an inhibitory, negative signal. Through the same viral strategy, both photoreceptor types were then introduced into neurons. Once the neuron stably incorporates both types into its membrane, it can be excited by blue light and subdued by yellow. Each blue flash evokes a spike, like a note sounding when a piano key is pushed down. But a simultaneous flash of yellow light can block that spike. Consider the “musical score sheet” recorded from one such neuron as it is played with light. This ability to precisely control electrical activity in one or more neurons is unprecedented.


optogenetic engineering

Wired | Flashes of light may one day be used to control the human brain, and that day just got a lot closer.

Using lasers, researchers at the MIT Media Lab were able to activate a specific set of neurons in a monkey’s brain. Though the technique has been used to control and explore neural circuits in fish, flies and rodents, this is the first time the much-hyped technology has ever been used in primates.

“It paves the way for new therapies that could target a number of psychiatric disorders,” said MIT neuroscientist Ed Boyden, who led the research with postdoctoral fellow Xue Han. “This is very exciting from a translational standpoint.”

The beauty of this optogenetic technique is its specificity. By using a combination of lasers and genetic engineering, scientists can control, to the millisecond, the firing of a specific class of neurons, allowing them to pinpoint problematic cells and circuits while leaving innocent bystanders alone, thus minimizing potential side effects.

Viruses are engineered to infect neurons with a special type of channel, originally discovered in algae, which is sensitive to blue light. Once a blue laser shines on the infected neurons, the channels snap open, ions rush into the cell, and the neuron fires.

Crucial to the technique is that the virus is only injected into a very small part of the brain, and only a certain class of neurons, once infected, actually turn the channel on. The sharp laser beam further zeros in on a small portion of the brain. This precise aim is in contrast to current techniques, such as drugs and electrodes, both of which have a much broader reach.

The optogenetic method was pioneered in 2005 by Boyden and Karl Deisseroth at Stanford University and has since been used to understand how circuits of neurons control various behaviors, such as learning in mice and predator escape in fish. But until now, scientists had never demonstrated the technique in primates — a move essential for developing therapeutic uses for the technology in humans.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

free enterprise and the economics of slavery

PAEcon | Of the many contradictions we witness between fact and fiction, few would rank more significant today than the contradiction between the small town image commonly used to represent the essence of free enterprise and the real context of early capitalism—the Atlantic trade among the peoples of Europe, Africa, and the Americas. Here is the fiction:
It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.2
Such a context is not so difficult to imagine. Small shop owners provide different goods to each other, and the best way of doing this is for each to be guided by one’s self-interest, since in this intimate setting, it is certainly in one’s self-interest to provide a good product at a good price. How nice that we so easily do what is best for us and it turns out best for our neighbors.

The reality of commerce when Adam Smith was composing The Wealth of Nations was something else. The center of this trade was not the town square, but the Atlantic Ocean, which was used for the trafficking of millions of captive Africans to the Americas and the trafficking of American grown sugar and tobacco to the Europeans, as well as the Europeans sending other products and services—such as credit and weapons—that went along with the development of any empire. The “success” of early British economics, in other words, was not so much the result of small town exchanges as the result of the economic connections among Europe, Africa, and America.

why some countries are poor and some rich

PAEcon | This study has explored the relations between human body colours and levels of economic attainment. In so doing it offers an alternative and non-Eurocentric approach to the classical question of why some nations are rich and some poor. In this respect, the study has reached two original conclusions.
1. The poverty and wealth of nations are significantly and orderly correlated with the representative morphological trait of their citizens.

2. This correlation stems from colour-coded colonial practices, created from a spectrum where ethnic groups of light morphological traits where the colonizers – a group on top of the societal hierarchy, and where ethnic groups of dark morphological traits where the enslaved ones – a group on the bottom of the societal hierarchy.
The basis for the first conclusion lies on the empirical results of correlations between morphological traits, represented by four nuances of bodily colours, and sustained economic levels, represented by GDP per capita figures. Countries with the majority of their citizens with lighter morphological traits are in general richer than countries with the majority of their citizens with darker morphological traits. In other words, the systematic direction is that the lighter a country, the higher the probability of that country having a higher economic level. The importance of the results is also shown by the statistical showcase, which highlights the

magnitude of these inequalities. For instance, in current PPP US dollars, the darkest ethnic groups have only about nine percent of the GDP per capita level the lightest group enjoy, 14 percent of the second lightest group, and 51 percent of the third darkest group, while having only 21 per cent of the world average income of nearly 10 000 PPP US dollars.

The second main conclusion means that the above results are neither coincidental nor a simple reflection of geography. Colour-coded polarisations are a force in practically all societies around the world, and thus a harsh reality for countless people regardless of geographic location. In our context, a global histography provided an overview of processes and turns of events shaping and enhancing the ethnically biased economic levels. Adopting an original perspective and piecing together rather familiar facts from various disciplines brought an insight to the metaphysics of our colour-coded global economy.

In particular, the correlation between GDP levels and ethnicity at the international macro level exist primarily because it happened to be lighter ethnic groups of western Europe that were the colonisers, while it happened to be darker ethnic groups of Sub-Saharan Africa that where the enslaved ones. This social condition sparked and established colour-coded perceptions in colonial practices during nearly 500 years. Note that this does not mean colour-coded racism or other ethnic polarisations have not existed before. Here, the emphasis is on the creation of colour-coded polarisations relevant to contemporary global economy. Nor does it mean that ethnicity is the single shaper of economic inequalities. Here, the aim has been to highlight it as a variable that has determined international comparative development.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

nocera got $4 million, bloom box got $400 million...,

Dan Nocera: Personalized Energy from PopTech on Vimeo.

living above our means...,

MarketSkeptics | If the economy was a person, then the producing sector (agriculture, manufacturing, mining, etc) would be its “income”. If the service sector is much smaller than the producing sector (like China today or the US one hundred years ago), then a country is living below its means (net saver). If the service sector is much larger than the producing sector (like China today or the US one hundred years ago), then a country is living above its means (depleting savings and going into debt).


Justify FullThe Economist | Gendercide—to borrow the title of a 1985 book by Mary Anne Warren—is often seen as an unintended consequence of China’s one-child policy, or as a product of poverty or ignorance. But that cannot be the whole story. The surplus of bachelors—called in China guanggun, or “bare branches”— seems to have accelerated between 1990 and 2005, in ways not obviously linked to the one-child policy, which was introduced in 1979. And, as is becoming clear, the war against baby girls is not confined to China.

Parts of India have sex ratios as skewed as anything in its northern neighbour. Other East Asian countries—South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan—have peculiarly high numbers of male births. So, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, have former communist countries in the Caucasus and the western Balkans. Even subsets of America’s population are following suit, though not the population as a whole.

The real cause, argues Nick Eberstadt, a demographer at the American Enterprise Institute, a think-tank in Washington, DC, is not any country’s particular policy but “the fateful collision between overweening son preference, the use of rapidly spreading prenatal sex-determination technology and declining fertility.” These are global trends. And the selective destruction of baby girls is global, too. Fist tap Dale.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

tea partiers as true believers

Early Warning | US manufacturing employment has only ever been about a fifth the size of Chinese manufacturing employment.

But, and perhaps more importantly, I want to address a reaction I suspect many readers might have - "Oh, we've been dealing with Asian competition for decades now, yeah it's not good, yeah unemployment in Michigan is bad, but the sky hasn't fallen."

Indeed, this is true. However, I suggest that the problem with China is an order of magnitude larger than the earlier problem with Japan and Korea. Firstly, those countries have population of about 130 million (Japan) and 50 million (Korea). China has a population of 1.3 billion - ten times larger than Japan - and is determinedly trying to bring them all into the twentieth century. Secondly, as the labor cost graph higher up shows, Japanese manufacturing wages, for example, are about 80% of those in the US, while Chinese manufacturing wages are about 3%. It's going to take a very long while, or an unthinkably large correction in exchange rates, for Chinese wages to get anywhere close to those in the US.

You can see the effects of this in the data for US manufacturing employment. It peaked in 1980 and then gradually descended to the 2000 recession. But since then, as Chinese exports have ramped up, it's gone into a much more serious decline. It goes off a cliff in each recession, and it doesn't recover at all in between - in fact it continues to decline, only more slowly.

If we continue with our existing policies, it's very hard to see how this is going to change in the next decade or so (absent some internal collapse in China). As the Chinese figure out how to make cars, computers, furniture, etc, etc, to western quality standards, the entire industrial production capacity of the United States is going to get hollowed out. Manufacturing employment in the United States would appear to be headed towards zero, give or take some noise.

Let's not put too fine a point on this: guys like Errol are fucked.

In fact, the entire working class of the United States is fucked. Without manufacturing jobs, they are reduced to the small number of jobs installing and fixing the stuff that comes from China, and then low paying unskilled retail and service jobs. With large numbers of chronically unemployed, the folks who are employed will have no leverage whatsoever on pay and conditions.

And with a minority of exceptions, this is not something that can be fixed with education. To a rough approximation, the working class consists of the kids who didn't do well in school after they grew up. Remember the kids in your high school who didn't do well. Are they now going to turn around and become electronic engineers or CGI movie animators after some community college classes? A small fraction, sure (and more power to them). The vast majority, no way.

And at some level, Errol is beginning to understand his situation:
“As far as my job position,” he said, “I really don’t know what I want to do yet. I’m not sure.” When he was little, he wanted to be a mechanic, and he did enjoy the machine trade. But now there was hardly any work to be had, and what there was paid about the same as Walmart. “I don’t think there’s any way that you can have a job that you can think you can retire off of,” he said. “I think everyone’s going to have to transfer to another job.” He said the only future he could really imagine for himself now was just moving from job to job, with no career to speak of. “That’s what I think,” he said. “I don’t want to.”
Let's think about the political implications of this situation.

bloom box breakdown

CNET | Fuel cell apps in action. Fuel cell technology was most recently on the tech media's radar last year when the Department of Energy proposed cutting research for fuel-cell vehicles, which have been touted for many years as the ultimate green car solution. Mobile fuel cells have formidable technical challenges, notably storing enough hydrogen for a long driving range, and the lack of a hydrogen distribution infrastructure. Bloom Energy CEO KR Sridar told reporters at least twice during last week's press conference that the technology was not developed for cars, an indication of how much people associate fuel cells with vehicles.

Bloom Energy is using fuel cells for stationary power, which is arguably a better application for the technology. For starters, stationary fuel cells can use the natural gas lines already in place for fuel. The Bloom Energy Server can run on different fuel sources, including biogas, a gas made from organic materials. And they can be strung together, much the way servers are clustered to boost processing muscle. An initial customer, eBay, for example, is using a five 100 kilowatt boxes--each about the size of a parking space, to power 15 percent of its headquarters in San Jose, California.

For companies that need on-site power, fuel cells are already in use because they are very reliable. Fuel cells could power data centers, for example, because of their reliability and the potential to supply DC power directly to electronic equipment. Since they are relatively clean sources of power, fuel cells can receive state subsidies, as they do in California.

Bloom is not alone. In getting so much media attention, Bloom Energy certainly benefited from its connections to high-profile investors, such as John Doerr of famed venture capital company Kleiner, Perkins, Caulfied & Byers. Kleiner's connections probably helped line up initial customers for Bloom, including Google, Walmart, Staples, FedEx--all companies which have invested in alternative energy sources for financial and environmental reasons. But Bloom Energy is not the only company making fuel cells for stationary power.

FuelCell Energy, which is based in Danbury, Connecticut, is already selling fuel cell power systems for commercial customers, which fuel cells that can run range from 300 kilowatts to 2.8 megawatts. Another is start-up ClearEdge Power, which recently introduced a smaller fuel cell for homes or small businesses to make electricity and heat. Panasonic is developing fuel cells for homes, which also use natural gas to make both electricity and hot water.

Where Bloom Energy stands out is the design and materials it's using in its fuel cells, which offers the potential to lower costs with higher manufacturing volume. The core of Bloom Energy's technology is a solid oxide fuel cell, which takes fuels and oxygen from the air to make an electrical current.

One technical challenge with this type of fuel cell is that they operate at very high temperatures. That allows for greater efficiency in energy conversion but also requires engineers to deal with high heat. Bloom has designed the system to recycle the heat generated from the energy conversion in the process of mixing incoming natural gas with steam, which is needed with this type of fuel cell. So instead of using the heat to make hot water, for example, the heat is fed back into make electricity, according to the company.

Another significant technical achievement is that Bloom Energy's system doesn't use expensive materials, notably platinum which is used as a catalyst in many types of fuel cells. Bloom Energy is cagey on exactly what it uses but says that the fuel cells use a ceramic made from sand and inks. Researchers have been trying to make fuel cells without platinum for years. Another company trying to make a low-cost fuel cell catalyst is SunCatalytix, a spin-off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, although it's a very different technical approach.

Cost. So why all the fuss over a well understood technology? Because Bloom Energy has said that it can deliver its electricity at between 8 cents and 10 cents per kilowatt-hour, including the cost of ongoing maintenance. In many parts of the country, that's cheaper that the grid rate. Because fuel cells are their own source of juice, they also offer back up power in the case that there is a grid outage.

According to Bloom Energy's data, companies which purchase this sort of system can earn back the initial outlay of between $700,000 and $800,000 for a 100 kilowatt system in three to five years. A 100-kilowatt system could be enough to power 10 U.S. homes or a small business, such as a Starbucks, according to the company. But keep in mind, that its stated cost per kilowatt assumes subsidies as high as 50 percent of the initial cost and natural gas prices of $7 per million BTUs, according to an interview. Still, Sridhar claims it can drive down the cost steadily and that it can compete without subsidies in the future.

Monday, March 08, 2010

the preparation party

Foundation | The United States of America will soon disintegrate, just as the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia in recent times, and countless nations and empires before them. The most that will remain of the present US is ethnically coherent fragments, as described in Joel Garreau’s book, The Nine Nations of North America (Avon Books / Houghton Mifflin, 1981). The goal of the Preparation Party is to prepare for that development, and promote the likelihood that a fragment will survive. The ultimate purpose of promoting this survival is to promote the establishment of a long-term-survivable planetary management system.

The US will soon collapse for two reasons: (1) The world is passing the peak of Hubbert’s Curve (the point at which half of all of the world’s commercially recoverable oil has been extracted), and global oil consumption will now decline, bringing an end to large-scale, global industrial / economic activity, a decline of human population to pre-petroleum levels, and the breakup of all large, ethnically diverse, energy-dependent countries; and (2) The US is such a country. Of the world’s present nations, Russia will likely dominate the post-industrial world for a time, because it is relatively ethnically compact, politically determined, and possesses a large amount of fossil fuel.

u.s. facing surge in rightwing extemists and militias

Guardian | The US is facing a surge in anti-government extremist groups and armed militias, driven by deepening hostility on the right to Barack Obama, anger over the economy, and the increasing propagation of conspiracy theories by parts of the mass media such as Fox News.

The Southern Poverty Law Centre, the US's most prominent civil rights group focused on hate organisations, said in a report that extremist "patriot" groups "came roaring back to life" last year as their number jumped nearly 250% to more than 500 with deepening ties to conservative mainstream politics.

The SPLC report, called Rage on the Right, said the rise in extremist groups was "a cause for grave concern" given their propensity to use violence during their heyday in the 90s, most notably with the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people. It added that the issues driving support for such groups were increasingly populist and that "signs of growing radicalisation are everywhere".

"Patriot groups have been fuelled by anger over the changing demographics of the country, the soaring public debt, the troubled economy and an array of initiatives by President Obama that have been branded "socialist" or even "fascist" by his political opponents," the report said.

"Already there are signs of … violence emanating from the radical right. Since the installation of Barack Obama, rightwing extremists have murdered six law enforcement officers. Racist skinheads and others have been arrested in alleged plots to assassinate the nation's first black president. One man from Brockton, Massachusetts – who told police he had learned on white supremacist websites that a genocide was under way against whites – is charged with murdering two black people and planning to kill as many Jews as possible on the day after Obama's inauguration. Most recently, a rash of individuals with anti-government, survivalist or racist views have been arrested in a series of bomb cases."

The report says the patriot movement has "made significant inroads into the conservative political scene" in part driven by a growing view of the US administration "as part of a plot to impose 'one-world government' on liberty-loving Americans".

grid replacement?

CBS | In the world of energy, the Holy Grail is a power source that's inexpensive and clean, with no emissions. Well over 100 start-ups in Silicon Valley are working on it, and one of them, Bloom Energy, is about to make public its invention: a little power plant-in-a-box they want to put literally in your backyard.

You'll generate your own electricity with the box and it'll be wireless. The idea is to one day replace the big power plants and transmission line grid, the way the laptop moved in on the desktop and cell phones supplanted landlines.

It has a lot of smart people believing and buzzing, even though the company has been unusually secretive - until now.

sun catalix

Sun Catalix | Our technology is founded on cutting-edge science from the lab of Professor Daniel Nocera at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

We are commercializing a new, active, versatile, and affordable catalyst that splits water into oxygen and hydrogen fuel, mimicking photosynthesis.

To learn more about our technology, please read the peer-reviewed publications presented below.


  • Kanan M.W., Nocera D.G.
  • Science 2008, 321, 1072-1075
  • Kanan M.W., Surendranath Y., Nocera D.G.
  • Chem. Soc. Rev. 2009, 38, 109-114
  • Lutterman D.A., Surendranath Y., Nocera D.G.
  • J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2009, 131, 3838-3839
  • Surendranath Y., Dincă M., Nocera D.G.
  • J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2009, 131, 2615-2620

food and water driving 21st century african land grab

Guardian | We turned off the main road to Awassa, talked our way past security guards and drove a mile across empty land before we found what will soon be Ethiopia's largest greenhouse. Nestling below an escarpment of the Rift Valley, the development is far from finished, but the plastic and steel structure already stretches over 20 hectares – the size of 20 football pitches.

The farm manager shows us millions of tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables being grown in 500m rows in computer controlled conditions. Spanish engineers are building the steel structure, Dutch technology minimises water use from two bore-holes and 1,000 women pick and pack 50 tonnes of food a day. Within 24 hours, it has been driven 200 miles to Addis Ababa and flown 1,000 miles to the shops and restaurants of Dubai, Jeddah and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Ethiopia is one of the hungriest countries in the world with more than 13 million people needing food aid, but paradoxically the government is offering at least 3m hectares of its most fertile land to rich countries and some of the world's most wealthy individuals to export food for their own populations.

The 1,000 hectares of land which contain the Awassa greenhouses are leased for 99 years to a Saudi billionaire businessman, Ethiopian-born Sheikh Mohammed al-Amoudi, one of the 50 richest men in the world. His Saudi Star company plans to spend up to $2bn acquiring and developing 500,000 hectares of land in Ethiopia in the next few years. So far, it has bought four farms and is already growing wheat, rice, vegetables and flowers for the Saudi market. It expects eventually to employ more than 10,000 people.

But Ethiopia is only one of 20 or more African countries where land is being bought or leased for intensive agriculture on an immense scale in what may be the greatest change of ownership since the colonial era. Fist tap Dale.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

microbial planet

Astrobiology | AM: This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the publication of Microcosmos, which you co-authored with your son Dorion Sagan. You expressed some ideas that at the time were considered pretty maverick. How much controversy did the book generate?

Lynn Margulis: Well it depends on which aspects. The idea that the Precambrian, that is from 4600 million years ago to 541 million years ago, 7/8ths of the entire fossil record, was empty, that nothing happened for all that time, that the fossils were so scarce that you couldn't trace lineages - that idea prevailed such that Stephen Jay Gould said it relatively recently before he died. It was overturned almost exclusively by the science supported by this guy Dick Young. He started as an embryologist, and he started funding non-human NASA biology.

Young had a great deal of insight. He funded people like Elso Barghorn, the professor at Harvard who in 1954 published a paper describing two billion year old plants from the Gunflint chert. They weren't plants, of course, they were bacteria, but at the time the world was divided into plants and animals and there wasn't any choice. Young funded the whole activity that started as exobiology - today it's more astrobiology than exobiology - that completely turned around that idea. And I was privileged to be involved with those people as these data were coming in on the evidence for early life.

Our book is very microbe-centric. The world is very anthropocentric. What we did was sort of turn it around, put the people on the bottom and the microbes on the top as far as their importance in running the ecological system of the Earth. We said people are totally late, typical animals, and are really very unimportant in the workings of the system, whereas the microbes are much earlier, they do all the major gas transformations, they created all the major things we think are important, like sex. Today we might say that this turnaround - people down and microbes up in a world that has always had people up and microbes down -is a strategic perceptual shift. As humans, you can't escape your human perspective. We have a more nuanced view than we had in Microcosmos. On the other hand, at the time it was absolutely necessary to make that shift toward microbial perception because of the skewed anthropocentrism that was driving everything.

we are all microbes

Astrobiology | AM: In Microcosmos, you detailed four specific microorganisms that you thought were involved, through symbiogenesis, in the creation of various eukaryotic cells, the type of cells that animals and plants are made of. At the time, those ideas were not well accepted. Has that changed?

Lynn Margulis: Well, we've won three out of four.

Nobody today doubts that chloroplasts began as cyanobacteria. Chloroplasts are the little green dots in the cells of plants and algae, in which all photosynthesis occurs. Photosynthesis, the conversion of sunlight as energy to food and cell material, is fundamentally a bacterial virtuosity. It began in a specific group of oxygen-producing photosynthetic bacteria that, by definition, are cyanobacteria. If they're green, they're photosynthetic. They make food only in the sunlight, because they require sunlight for their source of energy. They take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, and fix it, that is, chemically change it to food and body, and they produce oxygen as waste. That series of changes is done by cyanobacteria exclusively. They're the only organisms that can make the oxygen and make the food that everything else needs.

Well, you say, can't plants do that? And the answer is yes, but plants are something that hold up cyanobacteria. That's all plants are. It's the cyanobacteria in the plants that do that transformation. You say, well, can't algae in the water, green water scum, can't they do it? And the answer is, yes, but the algae are something that brings the little green things inside the scum to the light. So the answer is: nothing but cyanobacteria can make our food and produce our oxygen.

We like to call them the greater bacteria, or the greatest bacteria, because they are. And they're in only three forms: they're in cyanobacteria (what used to be called blue-green algae) all by themselves; or they're in algae; or they're in plants. But fundamentally, if you cut them out of the plant cell, and throw away the rest of the plant cell, the little green dot is the only thing that can do that oxygen production. That is the greatest achievement of life on Earth, and it occurred extremely early in the history of life. Who knows whether it's 3 billion years ago, or 2.7 billion, or 3.5 billion, but it's that kind of time. And the idea that those little organelles, those little bodies inside of cells, started as free-living cyanobacteria is completely accepted by everybody who even thinks about these problems.

So that's one out of four.

bacteria don't have species

Astrobiology | AM: You have argued that bacteria don't have species. I wonder if you could explain that idea.

Lynn Margulis: Bacteria are much more of a continuum. They drop their genes all the time. Like we say in What is Life?, it's like going swimming in a swimming pool, going in blue-eyed and coming out brown-eyed, just because you've gulped the water. Obviously, animals don't do that. But that's what bacteria do, all the time. They just pick up genes, they throw away genes, and they are very flexible about that.

Say you have a bacterium like Azotobacter. This is a nitrogen-fixing bacterium. It takes nitrogen out of the air and puts it into useable food. Nitrogen fixing is a big deal. It takes a lot of genes. If you put a little something like arsenium bromide in a test tube with these organisms, and put it in a refrigerator overnight, lo and behold, the next day the cells can't do this anymore, they can't fix nitrogen. So by definition you have to change them from one genus to another.

I'll give you another example: E. coli. It's a normal inhabitant of the human gut. If you put a particular plasmid into E. coli, all of a sudden you have Klebsiella and not E. coli. You've changed not only the species, but the genus. It's like changing a person to a chimpanzee. Can you imagine doing that, putting a chimpanzee in the refrigerator, and getting him out the next morning, and now he's a person?

Sorin Sonea, who was the chair of the microbiology department at the Université de Montreal, in Canada, has been saying for 25 or 30 years that you either have to consider all the bacteria on Earth as one species, or you have to consider them as no species at all. The criteria we use for species, which are good ones for animals and plants and fungi, do not apply, because bacteria can change overnight. You have all sorts of gradations, where adding or removing a few genes will change an organism's name, because those genes are what define the organism.

bacterial intelligence

Astrobiology | AM: Can you explain how you view bacteria as being intelligent?

LM: If you look up consciousness in the dictionary, it says, "awareness of the world around you," and that's because you lose it somehow when you become unconscious, right? Well, you can show that microorganisms, or bacteria, are certainly conscious. They will orient themselves, they will work together to make structures. They'll do a lot of things. This ability to respond specifically to the environment and to act creatively, in the sense that that precise action has never been taken before, is a property of life. Of course, it has to be moving life, or you can't tell. You can't tell if a plant is thinking, but in organisms that move, you can tell their intelligence.

For example, take Foraminifera - they're single-celled sea creatures, protoctists. The Egyptian pyramids are built of their shells. A colleague of mine put one of these forams in a dish with a small crustacean animal, like a water flea. He was going to watch the crustacean eat the foram. The foram's a single cell, and smaller, right? And he saw the foram kill, trap, and completely destroy and eat the animal. He's got beautiful movies of it. So that group of organisms not only can eat animals, but they can make hunting towers, and they can hunt from the top of the towers.

There's a group of them, called agglutinating forams, these have offspring that look exactly like the parent, with multi colors. But every generation they construct their coloration from pebbles. This single-celled blob - it would look to you like a blob of snot, probably - can pick up pebbles of the different colors. You have to have some red ones and some white ones and some black ones in order to get an offspring that looks like a parent. They will make appropriate choices such that when you see the offspring next to the parent, it looks like they just came about by dividing in half. You can't believe that the newer one, the offspring one, was naked, and then it spent a lot of time plastering and remolding and rearranging pebbles on the surface of itself, so that it now looks indistinguishable from its parent. Those kinds of activities are rampant.

Are humans the master of tools? No, enter the chimp. Are humans the master of language? Ask the dolphin...or a dog. Rico, a dog with an approximately 200-word "vocabulary," can learn the names of unfamiliar toys after just one exposure to the new word-toy combination.

People think that if you can't talk, you can't be intelligent. But you know that's not true if you have a dog. You can communicate with them without talking. If you define intelligence as speaking American English, well maybe they're not. But if you define it in the much more broad sense of behaviors that are modified on the individual level, that involve choice and change and response to the environment, there's every bit of evidence that intelligence is a property of life from the very beginning. It's been modified, of course, and changed and amplified, even, but it's an intrinsic property of cells.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

our predicament - she pushed the button...,

The Box

Martin Teague: Sir? If you don't mind my asking... why a box?
Arlington Steward: Your home is a box. Your car is a box on wheels. You drive to work in it. You drive home in it. You sit in your home, staring into a box. It erodes your soul, while the box that is your body inevitably withers... then dies. Where upon it is placed in the ultimate box, to slowly decompose.
Martin Teague: It's quite depressing, if you think of it that way.
Arlington Steward: Don't think of it that way... think of it as a temporary state of being.

gut bacteria cause overeating in mice

Wired | The connection between gut bacteria and obesity has gained some weight, with new findings demonstrating links in mice among immune-system malfunction, bacterial imbalance and increased appetite.

Mice with altered immune systems developed metabolic disorders and were prone to overeating. When microbes from their stomachs were transplanted into other mice, they also become obese.

“This supports the notion that some of the increase in obesity may be because of changes to gut bacteria,” said Andrew Gewirtz, an Emory University immunologist and co-author of the study, published March 4 in Science.

The findings are the latest in a growing body of research about the long-unappreciated role of bacteria in our bodies. Bacterial cells actually outnumber human cells in the body: From an outside perspective, people are not so much individual organisms as symbiotic human-bacteria collectives.

Disturbances to internal bacteria have been linked to asthma, cancer and many autoimmune diseases. Gut flora have also been linked to obesity. In 2006, researchers led by Washington University microbiologist Jeffrey Gordon documented bacterial changes in the stomachs of mice who became obese on high-fat diets.

When transplanted, their gut bugs turned other mice obese, suggesting that altered bacteria were not only an effect of weight gain, but a cause. The Science findings complement those, but also emphasize the immune system’s role and the possibility of appetite change.

“The reason why people are eating too much may not simply be because unhealthy food is cheap and available, but that their appetites may be driven by changes in gut bacteria,” said Gewirtz. Fist tap Dale.

bacterial observations: a rudimentary form of intelligence?

ScienceDirect | Genome sequencing has revealed that signal transduction in bacteria makes use of a limited number of different devices, such as two-component systems, LuxI–LuxR quorum-sensing systems, phosphodiesterases, Ser-Thr (serine-threonine) kinases, OmpR-type regulators, and sigma factor–anti-sigma factor pathways. These systems use modular proteins with a large variety of input and output domains, yet strikingly conserved transmission domains. This conservation might lead to redundancy of output function, for example, via crosstalk (i.e. phosphoryl transfer from a non-cognate sensory kinase). The number of similar devices in a single cell, particularly of the two-component type, might amount to several dozen, and most of these operate in parallel. This could bestow bacteria with cellular intelligence if the network of two-component systems in a single cell fulfils the requirements of a neural network. Testing these ideas poses a great challenge for prokaryotic systems biology.

WorldScience | To properly assess if bacterial signals constitute intelligence, whether of a social or individual brand, Hellingwerf and some other researchers work from the inside out.

Rather than focusing on the behaviors, which are open to differing interpretations, they focus on the systems of interactions followed by the molecules. These systems, it is hoped, have distinct properties that can be measured and compared against similar interactions in known intelligent beings.

For instance, if these bacterial systems operate similarly to networks in the brain, it would provide a weighty piece of evidence in favor of the bacterial intelligence.

Hellingwerf has set himself a more modest goal, comparing bacterial signaling not to the brain, but to the brain-like, human-made neural network devices. Such an effort has a simple motivation. Demonstrating that bacterial signaling possesses every important feature of neural networks would suggest at least that microbial capabilities rival those of devices with proven ability to tackle simple problems using known rules of brain function—rather than robot-like calculations, which are very different.

To understand how one could do such a comparison requires a brief explanation of how neural networks work, and how they differ from traditional computers.

Computers are good at following precise instructions, but terrible at even simple, common-sense tasks that lack definite rules, like the recognition of the difference between male and female.

Neural networks, like humans, can do this because they are more flexible, and they learn—even though they can be built using computers. They are a set of simulated “brain cells” set to pass “signals” among themselves through simulated “connections.”

Some information that can be represented as a set of numbers, such as a digitized photograph, is fed to a first set of “cells” in such a way that each cell gets a number. Each cell is then set to “transmit” all, part or none of that number to one or more other cells. How big a portion of the number is passed on to each, depends on the simulated “strength” of the connections that are programmed into the system.

Each of those cells, in turn, are set to do something with the numbers they receive, such as add them or average them—and then transmit all or part of them to yet another cell.

Numbers ricochet through the system this way until they arrive at a final set of “output” cells. These cells are set to give out a final answer—based on the numbers in them—in the form of yet another number. For example, the answer could be 0 for male, 1 for female.

Such a system, when new, will give random answers, because the connections are initially set at random. However, after each attempt at the problem, a human “tells” the system whether it was right or wrong. The system is designed to then change the strength of the connections to improve the answer for the next try.

To do this, the system calculates to what extent a change in strength of each connection previously contributed to giving a right or wrong answer. This information tells the system how to change the strengths to give better results. Over many attempts, the system’s accuracy gradually improves, often reaching nearly human-like performance on a given task.

Such systems not only work quite well for simple problems, many researchers believed they capture all the key features of real brain cells, though in a drastically simplified way.

The devices also have similarities to the messaging systems in bacteria. But how deep are the resemblances? To answer this, Hellingwerf looked at four properties that neural-network experts have identified as essential for such devices to work. He then examined whether bacterial signaling fits each of the criteria.

The four properties are as follows.
First, a neural network must have multiple sub-systems that work simultaneously, or “in parallel.” Neural networks do this, because signals follow multiple pathways at once, in effect carrying out multiple calculations at once. Traditional computers can’t do this; they conduct one at a time. Bacteria do fit the standard, though, because they can contain many messaging networks acting simultaneously, Hellingwerf observes.

Second, key components of the network must carry out logical operations. This means, in the case of a neural network, that single elements of the network combine signals from two or more other elements, and pass the result on to a third according to some mathematical rule. Regular computers also have this feature. Bacteria probably do too, Hellingwerf argues, based on the way that parts of their signaling systems add up inputs from different sources.

The third property is “auto-amplification.” This describes the way some network elements can boost the strength of their own interactions. Hellingwerf maintains that bacteria show this property, as when, for example, some of their signaling systems create more copies of themselves as they run.

The fourth property is where the rub lies for bacteria. This feature, called crosstalk, means that the system must not consist just of separate chain reactions: rather, different chain reactions have to connect, so that the way one operates can change the way another runs.

Crosstalk is believed to underlie an important form of memory called associative memory, the ability to mentally connect two things with no obvious relationship. A famous example is the Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov’s dog, who drooled at the ring of a bell because experience had taught him food invariably followed the sound.

Crosstalk has been found many times in bacteria, Hellingwerf wrote—but the strength of the crosstalk “signals” are hundreds or thousands of times weaker than those that follow the main tracks of the chain reactions. Moreover, “clear demonstrations of associative memory have not yet been detected in any single bacterial cell,” he added, and this is an area ripe for further research. If bacteria can indeed communicate, it seems they may be holding quite a bit back from us.

bacteria drive electric mud

The Scientist | Underwater mud can conduct electricity, possibly with the help of bacteria in the sediment -- a result that helps explain the large amount of electrical activity researchers have detected in ocean sediments, a study published in this week's in Nature reports.

The finding could change how researchers think about microbes' contributions to geochemical processes.

"It's an interesting and important contribution," said Dirk de Beer from the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, who was not involved in the study. The findings show that processes crucial for life in underwater environments, such as oxidation and reduction reactions, "run faster than we think they can, and in places where we don't expect them," said de Beer.

Researchers made the discovery, because, like many great scientist, they got lazy about cleaning their petri dishes, said lead author Lars Peter Nielsen from Aarhus University in Denmark. "We had some stinky mud standing in the lab," said Nielsen, and they noticed that the sulfides -- "the stinky part" in the upper centimeter of the mud -- changed color over time, indicating that the sulfide had been oxidized. Sulfides are present in mud that lacks oxygen, which should have been true of all the mud in Nielsen's petri dish save that at the very surface, and yet as far as a centimeter down, the sulfur had been converted into elemental sulfur -- a process that requires an electron acceptor like oxygen.

When they depleted oxygen from the surface water, sulfide levels in the mud rose, and when oxygen was bubbled back into the water, the sulfide levels dropped. Oxygen can't diffuse into the mud as quickly as this fluctuation took place; instead, the researchers showed a link between this change and the movement of electrons.

Nielsen and his colleagues believe that conductance is driven by bacteria stratified in different layers of the sediment. The bacteria at the surface, with access to oxygen, respire, consuming the electrons. Those electrons are produced by the bacteria in the sulfur rich lower sediments as they convert food into energy. "One will eat, the other will breathe and together they will share the energy," said Nielsen. Fist tap Dale.

Friday, March 05, 2010

darwin foes add warming to targets

NYTimes | Critics of the teaching of evolution in the nation’s classrooms are gaining ground in some states by linking the issue to global warming, arguing that dissenting views on both scientific subjects should be taught in public schools.

In Kentucky, a bill recently introduced in the Legislature would encourage teachers to discuss “the advantages and disadvantages of scientific theories,” including “evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning.”

The bill, which has yet to be voted on, is patterned on even more aggressive efforts in other states to fuse such issues. In Louisiana, a law passed in 2008 says the state board of education may assist teachers in promoting “critical thinking” on all of those subjects.

Last year, the Texas Board of Education adopted language requiring that teachers present all sides of the evidence on evolution and global warming.

Oklahoma introduced a bill with similar goals in 2009, although it was not enacted.

The linkage of evolution and global warming is partly a legal strategy: courts have found that singling out evolution for criticism in public schools is a violation of the separation of church and state. By insisting that global warming also be debated, deniers of evolution can argue that they are simply championing academic freedom in general.

Yet they are also capitalizing on rising public resistance in some quarters to accepting the science of global warming, particularly among political conservatives who oppose efforts to rein in emissions of greenhouse gases. Fist tap Nana.

the debate

The Debate.

climate change and environmental education

ClimateandCapitalism | Probably many of the scenarios presented in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) most recent reports on the natural and social impacts of global warming will take place not in the year 2100 or even 2050. It seems they will occur much sooner than that. Actually, we can already see several examples of environmental collapse. Therefore, it is critically urgent to adopt policies which truly address the environmental problems we face. Environmental education is a vital part of this call to action. As an intellectual mechanism, environmental education serves both as a means of persuasion and a way to bring about behavioral change.

But first we need to clarify the kind of environmental education that can actually achieve this goal, since, in general, government policies regarding environmental protection have been superficial and do not focus on the true causes of the ecological crisis. This is not a surprise. Governments today are simply incapable of preventing the ecological suicide which the prevailing capitalist logic is paving the way for. This superficial approach, however, is not due to a lack of understanding of the environmental crisis; rather it is an inherent consequence of the functioning of the capitalist economy.

Profit is the main driving force behind capitalism, and this requires unlimited expansion, unlimited accumulation and commodification. These conditions are essential for the continuous reproduction of the capitalist system. Aside from all other technicalities, this is the main ideological aspect of the climate issue: Capitalism is incapable of dealing with the global warming issue in a serious and responsible way.

Therefore, environmental educators must formulate a program of instruction which both holds the capitalist economy responsible for the global ecological crisis, while at the same time pointing out new directions in the fight against the ecosystem’s collapse.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

g.i. gurdjieff

Wikipedia | Gurdjieff argued that many of the existing forms of religious and spiritual tradition on Earth had lost connection with their original meaning and vitality and so could no longer serve humanity in the way that had been intended at their inception. As a result humanity were failing to realize the truths of ancient teachings and were instead becoming more and more like automatons, susceptible to control from outside and increasingly capable of otherwise unthinkable acts of mass psychosis such as the 1914-18 war. At best, the various surviving sects and schools could only provide a one-sided development which did not result in a fully integrated human being. According to Gurdjieff, only one dimension of the person - namely, the emotions, the physical body or the mind - tends to be developed in such schools and sects and generally at the expense of the other faculties or centers as Gurdjieff called them. As a result these paths fail to produce a proper balanced human being. Furthermore, anyone wishing to undertake any of the traditional paths to spiritual knowledge (which Gurdjieff reduced to three - namely the path of the fakir, the path of the monk, and the path of the yogi) were required to renounce life in the world. Gurdjieff thus developed a Fourth Way which would be amenable to the requirements of modern people living modern lives in Europe and America. Instead of developing body, mind, or emotions separately, Gurdjieff's discipline worked on all three to promote comprehensive and balanced inner development.

In parallel with other spiritual traditions, Gurdjieff taught that one must expend considerable effort to effect the transformation that leads to awakening. The effort that one puts into practice Gurdjieff referred to as "The Work" or "Work on oneself". According to Gurdjieff, "...Working on oneself is not so difficult as wishing to work, taking the decision." Though Gurdjieff never put major significance on the term "Fourth Way" and never used the term in his writings, his pupil P.D. Ouspensky from 1924 to 1947 made the term and its use central to his own teaching of Gurdjieff's ideas. After Ouspensky's death, his students published a book titled The Fourth Way based on his lectures.

Gurdjieff's teaching addressed the question of humanity's place in the universe and the importance of developing latent potentialities — regarded as our natural endowment as human beings but rarely brought to fruition. He taught that higher levels of consciousness, higher bodies, inner growth and development are real possibilities that nonetheless require conscious work to achieve.

In his teaching Gurdjieff gave a distinct meaning to various ancient texts such as the Bible and many religious prayers. He claimed that those texts possess a very different meaning than what is commonly attributed to them. "Sleep not"; "Awake, for you know not the hour"; and "The Kingdom of Heaven is Within" are examples of biblical statements which point to a psychological teaching whose essence has been forgotten.

Gurdjieff taught people how to increase and focus their attention and energy in various ways and to minimize daydreaming and absentmindedness. According to his teaching, this inner development in oneself is the beginning of a possible further process of change, the aim of which is to transform people into what Gurdjieff believed they ought to be.

Distrusting "morality", which he describes as varying from culture to culture, often contradictory and superficial, Gurdjieff greatly stressed the importance of conscience. This he regarded as the same in all people, buried in their subconsciousness, thus both sheltered from damage by how people live and inaccessible without "work on oneself".

To provide conditions in which inner attention could be exercised more intensively, Gurdjieff also taught his pupils "sacred dances" or "movements", later known as the Gurdjieff movements, which they performed together as a group. He also left a body of music, inspired by what he heard in visits to remote monasteries and other places, written for piano in collaboration with one of his pupils, Thomas de Hartmann. Gurdjieff also used various exercises, such as the "Stop" exercise, to prompt self-observation in his students. Other shocks to help awaken his pupils from constant day-dreaming were always possible at any moment.

women equality and Islam...,

AsianNews | In the Koran there is plenty of discrimination. More specifically there is no equality in principle, that men and women have equal rights. This is not surprising. In the Bible we find, perhaps even greater, inequality between men and women. It is normal, because God speaks to men according to their language and their mentality, but it is up to men to understand the intent of the revealed text.

In Islam, there is the same principle that consists of finding "the purpose of the Sharia" (maqâsid al-shari'ah). Muslims who read the Koran as if it were an immutable text literally applicable to all times and in all places, create the problem. It is their way of understanding the Koran, and of applying laws, which poses problems.

Is it possible to reinterpret the Koran? Of course! But it is easier said than done. We must establish criteria for interpretation, ie a "hermeneutics." This is what exegetes of the Koran are lacking today. The reason? For at least seven centuries, no one has done so: thinking has been blocked. The more time passes, the more difficult this task becomes. Today, some Muslims are trying to do so academically, but are immediately accused of ignorance in religious matters or indeed, of heresy. As for the learned in religious matters (the ulamâ ' or "ulema"), they only serve to repeat the comments of the ancient classical interpretations (tafsîr).

Only a cultural problem?

It is often said that the problem is not the Koran, which is perfect. The problem is the ignorance of the faithful, ancestral traditions, or the culture of the various Islamic countries. Which is also true. But the question, without resolving the problem, results in another: where does this ignorance, these traditions, this culture come from? Why do so many Muslims attribute to these traditions and this macho culture an Islamic religious value? But if the problem is the traditions and cultures in which it is interpreted, then by what right are they transformed into divine laws?

The argument that it is only a problem of some countries and some cultures is not correct: it is a very general problem in the Islamic world. Taking Tunisia and Syria as examples of equality between the sexes, is rather the anti-demonstration. Indeed, in Tunisia or Syria if there is more freedom for women and more equality between the sexes, it is not because of Islam, but for the fact that these two countries have made moderate secular choices. In the 1950’s under the influence of President Bourguiba, Tunisia adopted secular law to solve this problem, and Syria did the same with the secular ideology of the Baath.

In fact, where there is a secular, not Muslim, system there is a certain freedom. Every time a country tries to be more "Muslim", to "return to authentic Islam," it is the woman who pays the consequences! However, where Sharia law is not enforced, there is more freedom.

divorced before puberty

NYTimes | For Nujood, the nightmare began at age 10 when her family told her that she would be marrying a deliveryman in his 30s. Although Nujood’s mother was unhappy, she did not protest. “In our country it’s the men who give the orders, and the women who follow them,” Nujood writes in a powerful new autobiography just published in the United States this week, “I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced.”

Her new husband forced her to drop out of school (she was in the second grade) because a married woman shouldn’t be a student. At her wedding, Nujood sat in the corner, her face swollen from crying.

Nujood’s father asked the husband not to touch her until a year after she had had her first menstrual period. But as soon as they were married, she writes, her husband forced himself on her.

He soon began to beat her as well, the memoir says, and her new mother-in-law offered no sympathy. “Hit her even harder,” the mother-in-law would tell her son.

Nujood had heard that judges could grant divorces, so one day she sneaked away, jumped into a taxi and asked to go to the courthouse.

“I want to talk to the judge,” the book quotes Nujood as forlornly telling a woman in the courthouse.

“Which judge are you looking for?”

“I just want to speak to a judge, that’s all.”

“But there are lots of judges in this courthouse.”

“Take me to a judge — it doesn’t matter which one!”

When she finally encountered a judge, Nujood declared firmly: “I want a divorce!”

Yemeni journalists turned Nujood into a cause célèbre, and she eventually won her divorce. The publicity inspired others, including an 8-year-old Saudi girl married to a man in his 50s, to seek annulments and divorces.

As a pioneer, Nujood came to the United States and was honored in 2008 as one of Glamour magazine’s “Women of the Year.” Indeed, Nujood is probably the only third grader whom Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has described as “one of the greatest women I have ever seen.”

Nujood’s memoir spent five weeks as the No. 1 best-seller in France. It is being published in 18 other languages, including her own native language of Arabic.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

the century of famine

Culture Change | Although, when discussing theories of famine, economists generally use the term “neo-malthusian” in a derogatory manner, the coming famine will be very much a case of an imbalance between population and resources. The overwhelming cause of the imbalance and famine will be fossil-fuel depletion, not government policy (as in the days of Stalin or Mao), warfare, ethnic discrimination, bad weather, poor methods of distribution, inadequate transportation, livestock diseases, or any of the other variables that have often turned mere hunger into genuine starvation.

The increase in the world’s population has followed a simple curve: from about 1.7 billion in 1900 to about 6.1 billion in 2000. A quick glance at a chart of world population growth, on a broader time scale, shows a line that runs almost horizontally for thousands of years, and then makes an almost vertical ascent as it approaches the present. That is not just an amusing curiosity. It is a shocking fact that should have awakened humanity to the realization that something is dreadfully wrong.

Mankind is always prey to its own “exuberance,” to use Catton’s term [2]. That has certainly been true of population growth. In many cultures, “Do you have any children?” or, “How many children do you have?” is a form of greeting or civility almost equivalent to “How do you do?” or, “Nice to meet you.” World population growth, nevertheless, has always been ecologically hazardous. The destruction of the environment reaches back into the invisible past, and the ruination of land, sea, and sky has been well described if not well heeded. But what is even less frequently noted is that with every increase in human numbers we are only barely able to keep up with the demand: providing all those people with food and water has not been easy. We are always pushing ourselves to the limits of Earth’s ability to hold us.

Even that is an understatement. No matter how much we depleted our resources, there was always the sense that we could somehow “get by.” But in the late twentieth century we stopped getting by. It is important to differentiate between production in an “absolute” sense and production “per capita.” Although oil production, in “absolute” numbers, kept climbing — only to decline in the early twenty-first century — what was ignored was that although that “absolute” production was climbing, the production “per capita” reached its peak in 1979 [1].

The unequal distribution of resources plays a part, of course. The average inhabitant of the United States consumes far more than the average inhabitant of India or China. Nevertheless, if all the world’s resources were evenly distributed, the result would only be universal poverty. It is the totals and the averages of resources that we must deal with in order to determine the totals and averages of results. For example, if all of the world’s arable land were distributed evenly, in the absence of mechanized agriculture each person on the planet would have an inadequate amount of farmland for survival: distribution would have accomplished very little.