Sunday, August 22, 2010

stigma spreads faster than cooties..,

Video - Speak to your kids about cooties...before cooties speak to them first.

NYTimes | Jeremy Sparig spent months fighting bedbugs. Now, to some people, he is like a mattress left on the street, something best avoided in these times.

“They don’t want to hug you anymore; they don’t want you coming over,” said Mr. Sparig, of East Williamsburg, Brooklyn. “You’re like a leper.”

At the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, which recently had a bedbug breakout, defense lawyers are skittish about visiting, and it is not because of the fierce prosecutors.

Even Steven Smollens, a housing lawyer who has helped many tenants with bedbugs, has his guard up. Those clients are barred from his office. “I meet outside,” he said. “There’s a Starbucks across the street.”

Beyond the bites and the itching, the bother and the expense, victims of the nation’s most recent plague are finding that an invisible scourge awaits them in the form of bedbug stigma. Friends begin to keep their distance. Invitations are rescinded. For months, one woman said, her mother was afraid to tell her that she had an infestation. When she found out and went to clean her mother’s apartment, she said, “Nobody wanted to help me.”

Fear and suspicion are creeping into the social fabric wherever bedbugs are turning up, which is almost everywhere: “Public health agencies across the country have been overwhelmed by complaints about bedbugs,” said a joint statement this month from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Some of the fear is rooted in fact: The bugs, while they are not known to transmit disease, can travel on clothing, jump into pocketbooks and lurk in the nooks of furniture. And they do, of course, bite.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

clumsily aborted attempt at extraordinary rendition?

SJMN | Swedish prosecutors withdrew an arrest warrant for the founder of WikiLeaks on Saturday, saying less than a day after the document was issued that it was based on an unfounded accusation of rape.

The accusation had been labeled a dirty trick by Julian Assange and his group, who are preparing to release a fresh batch of classified U.S. documents from the Afghan war.

Swedish prosecutors had urged Assange -- a nomadic 39-year-old Australian whose whereabouts were unclear -- to turn himself in to police to face questioning in one case involving suspicions of rape and another based on an accusation of molestation.

"I don't think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape," chief prosecutor Eva Finne said, in announcing the withdrawal of the warrant. She did not address the status of the molestation case, a less serious charge that would not lead to an arrest warrant.

Prosecutors did not answer phone calls seeking further comment.

Assange had dismissed the rape allegations in a statement on WikiLeaks' Twitter page, saying "the charges are without basis and their issue at this moment is deeply disturbing." His whereabouts were not immediately known.

He was in Sweden last week seeking legal protection for the whistle-blower website, which angered the Obama administration for publishing thousands of leaked documents about U.S. military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan.

anti-depressant psychedelia?

Video - Terrance McKenna on the qualia of ketamine.

Scientific American | Ketamine—a powerful anesthetic for humans and animals that lists hallucinations among its side effects and therefore is often abused under the name Special K—delivers rapid relief to chronically depressed patients, and researchers may now have discovered why. In fact, the latest evidence reinforces the idea that the psychedelic drug could be the first new drug in decades to lift the fog of depression.

"We were trying to figure out what ketamine was doing to produce this rapid response," which can take as little as two hours to begin to act, says neuroscientist Ron Duman of the Yale University School of Medicine. So Duman and his colleagues gave a small amount of ketamine (10 milligrams per kilogram of body weight) to rats and watched the drug literally transform the animals' brains. "Ketamine… can induce a rapid increase in connections in the brain, the synapses by which neurons interact and communicate with each other, " Duman says. "You can visually see this response that occurs in response to ketamine."

More specifically, as the researchers report in the August 20 issue of Science, ketamine seems to stimulate a biochemical pathway in the brain (known as mTOR) to strengthen synapses in a rat's prefrontal cortex—the region of the brain associated with thinking and personality in humans. And the ketamine helped rats cope with the depression analog experience brought on by forcing the rodents to swim or exposing them to inescapable stress. "Preclinical and clinical studies show that repeated stress or depression can cause a decrease in connections and an atrophy of connections in the same region of the brain," Duman explains, noting that magnetic resonance imaging shows that some depressed patients have a smaller prefrontal cortex as a result. "Ketamine has the opposite effect and can oppose or reverse the effects of depression" for roughly seven days per dose.

last week, a quarter million people pledged to boycott Target

Video - Target ain't people.

MoveOn | The retail company Target just gave over $150,000 to buy ads supporting a far-right Republican candidate for governor in Minnesota.

That's bad enough. But the stakes are much higher than one candidate and one company. If we don't push back hard, this will just be the tip of the iceberg. Other corporations will learn that they can pour money into elections to buy the outcome they want. So we're sending a message to Target's CEO that we won't shop there if Target continues spending money on elections.

A compiled petition with your individual comment will be presented to Target CEO Greg Steinhafel.

Friday, August 20, 2010

washington, we have a problem

Vanity Fair | We think of the presidency as somehow eternal and unchanging, a straight-line progression from 1 to 44, from the first to the latest. And in some respects it is. Except for George Washington, all of the presidents have lived in the White House. They’ve all taken the same oath to uphold the same constitution. But the modern presidency—Barack Obama’s presidency—has become a job of such gargantuan size, speed, and complexity as to be all but unrecognizable to most of the previous chief executives. The sheer growth of the federal government, the paralysis of Congress, the systemic corruption brought on by lobbying, the trivialization of the “news” by the media, the willful disregard for facts and truth—these forces have made today’s Washington a depressing and dysfunctional place. They have shaped and at times hobbled the presidency itself.

For much of the past half-century, the problems that have brought Washington to its current state have been concealed or made tolerable by other circumstances. The discipline of the Cold War kept certain kinds of debate within bounds. America’s artificial “last one standing” postwar economy allowed the country to ignore obvious signs of political and social decay. Wars and other military interventions provided ample distraction from matters of substance at home. Like many changes that are revolutionary, none of Washington’s problems happened overnight. But slow and steady change over many decades—at a rate barely noticeable while it’s happening—produces change that is transformative. In this instance, it’s the kind of evolution that happens inevitably to rich and powerful states, from imperial Rome to Victorian England. The neural network of money, politics, bureaucracy, and values becomes so tautly interconnected that no individual part can be touched or fixed without affecting the whole organism, which reacts defensively. And thus a new president, who was elected with 53 percent of the popular vote, and who began office with 80 percent public-approval ratings and large majorities in both houses of Congress, found himself for much of his first year in office in stalemate, pronounced an incipient failure, until the narrowest possible passage of a health-care bill made him a sudden success in the fickle view of the commentariat, whose opinion curdled again when Obama was unable, with a snap of the fingers or an outburst of anger, to stanch the BP oil spill overnight. And whose opinion spun around once more when he strong-armed BP into putting $20 billion aside to settle claims, and asserted presidential authority by replacing General Stanley McChrystal with General David Petraeus. The commentariat’s opinion will keep spinning with the wind.

The evidence that Washington cannot function—that it’s “broken,” as Vice President Joe Biden has said—is all around. For two years after Wall Street brought the country close to economic collapse, regulatory reform languished in partisan gridlock. A bipartisan commission to take on the federal deficit was scuttled by Republican fears in Congress that it could lead to higher taxes, and by Democratic worries about cuts to social programs. Obama was forced to create a mere advisory panel instead. Four years after Congress nearly passed a comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws, the two parties in Washington are farther apart than ever, and hotheaded state legislatures have stepped into the breach. Guantánamo remains an open sore because of fearmongering about the transfer of prisoners to federal prisons on the mainland. What Americans perceive in Washington, as Obama put it in his State of the Union speech, in January, is a “perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about the other side—a belief that if you lose, I win.” His chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, whose Friday-afternoon mantra has become “Only two more workdays till Monday!,” sums up today’s Washington in terms both coarser and more succinct. To him, Washington is just “Fucknutsville.”

understanding america's class system

Video - suppliers of the ultimate luxury portable toilets for the corporate and private events industry

JoeBageant | How about them political elites, huh? Five million bucks for Chelsea Clinton's wedding, 15K just to rent the air-conditioned shitters -- huge chrome and glass babies with hot water and everything. No gas masks and waxy little squares of toilet paper for those guys.

Yes, it looks big time from the cheap seats. But the truth is that when we are looking at the political elite, we are looking at the dancing monkey, not the organ grinder who calls the tune. Washington's political class is about as upwardly removed from ordinary citizens as the ruling class is from the political class. For instance, they do not work for a living in the normal sense of a job, but rather obtain their income from abstractions such as investment and law, neither of which ever gave anybody a hernia or carpal tunnel. By comparison, the ruling class does not work at all.

Moneywise, Washington's political class is richer than the working class by the same orders of magnitude as the ruling class is richer than the political class. This gives the political class something to aim for. To that end, they have adopted the ruling elite's behaviors, tastes and lifestyles, with an eye on becoming members. Moreover, it is a molting process that begins with the right university and connections, and culminates in flying off to Washington with the rest of your generation's most privileged and ambitious young moths.

They make enough dough to at least fake it until they make it. Fifty-one of the 100 members of the US Senate are at the very least millionaires -- probably more than that, since multi-million million dollar residences and estates are exempt from the official tally. For instance in the House, Nancy Pelosi's net worth is either $13 million, or $92 million, depending upon who is counting. Why they bother to shave such large numbers is a mystery. Thirteen million, ninety two million, the difference is not gonna change our opinion of Nancy. Our opinion being that the broad is loaded. More than loaded. The comparatively poor members of Congress, like Barney Frank, are near millionaires. His publicly declared net worth is $976,000. For the life of me, I cannot see how they get by.

Along with the habits, the political class adopts the ruling class's social canon and presumptions, especially the one most necessary for acceptance: That the public has the collective intelligence of a chicken. OK, so it may be very hard to disprove that at the moment, but we must maintain at least some egalitarian semblance here. Anyway, as a group, the political elites think, look and act alike, and act toward their own interests. That makes them a class.

first as tragedy, then as farce..,

Video - philosopher Slavoj Zizek investigates the surprising ethical implications of charitable giving.

the philosophy of me (first and only)

Video - Ayn Rand makes the case that altruism is evil.

OpenLeft | Conservative philosophy has been on full-throated display in recent days. Between the Republican talking points at the Health Care Summit (which essentially boiled down to "we don't care about the uninsured or less healthy people, especially if it might cost any rich people a penny in taxes"), the Senate floor where Republicans held hostage a bill to help unemployed people because they wanted a chance to let mega-millionaires off the hook on inheritance taxes, and the speeches at the CPAC conference, the last few days have allowed us all to see the modern conservative philosophy in all its undisguised glory. My reaction to all this is that I owe Ayn Rand an apology. Given that she's been dead for a while, she's not likely to care, but even so Ayn: I'm sorry. I underestimated your influence. Where I wrote my book about the history of the American political debate, The Progressive Revolution: How The Best In America Came To Be, I neglected to mention Rand. I did this for a couple reasons. One was because her extreme form of libertarianism seemed to me only one modest strand compared to the intellectual and/or political giants of historical American conservatism such as John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, John C. Calhoun, the Social Darwinists, or even the modern day conservative movement builders like Buckley, Helms, Goldwater, or Reagan.

The other reason that I discounted her was, well - how do I put this diplomatically? She was such a freak. Her twisted novels extolling selfishness and cruelty - apparently based in part on her admiration of a kidnapper and murderer who dismembered his twelve year old victim and threw her head and torso at the girl's father as he sped away in a car - are so twisted and nasty that I had trouble believing she really merited note in a discussion of influential conservatives. But the victory of libertarian Ayn Rand disciple Ron Paul at the CPAC straw poll, the strong influences of her thinking on such CPAC heroes as Michelle Bachman and Glenn Beck, and the increasingly strident me-first-and-only-me rhetoric of a Republican party utterly captured by Tea Partiers have made me realize just how big Rand's influence is. Rand's philosophical magnum opus was a book she entitled "The Virtue of Selfishness." In it she argues not only that selfishness is moral and good, but that altruism, charity, and even kindness are evils - a "moral cannibalism" is what she called it. Like Glenn Beck, who glorified (to the laughter and cheers of the CPAC audience) the "lion eating the weak," people who are poor or weakened or in trouble for any reason are just parasites, nothing more.

Rand went even further, writing that people who place even their families and friends above their own work and desires are immoral. Rand and Beck's philosophy that selfishness is the ultimate virtue, and that any kindness or generosity or compassion toward others - even your own family and friends - is so the opposite of what all the world's great religions and moral traditions teach us that you would think Bible toting conservatives would run from these beliefs. You'd think that the contradictions would be too great, and there are certainly rifts at times between the true libertarians and the Christian conservatives. But for political reasons conservatives try hard to keep a combination of these two philosophical strains in place at the same time, a sort of hybrid conservative that scours the Bible for quotes that can be somehow interpreted as pro-free market and against taxing the rich. My personal favorites in this genre include a Christian Coalition issues guide which argues against labor unions by quoting a verse about how slaves should obey their masters, and a guy named David Barton who argues that the Parable of the Talents (which some Bible readers might have thought was an analogy about spiritual matters) means that there should be no Capital Gains tax.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

virus behind cancer, ms?

The Scientist | After uncovering HPV's role in cancer, Harald zur Hausen is investigating another virus-disease relationship. Nobel Laureate Harald zur Hausen has a hunch, and he's gathering the data to support it.

For the past decade, zur Hausen and Ethel-Michelle de Villiers, his scientific partner and wife, are studying a little-known, single-stranded DNA virus -- Torque teno virus (TTV). Preliminary evidence is suggesting it may be an indirect cause or co-factor in certain multi-factorial diseases, including cancer and autoimmune diseases.

Addressing 675 young scientists at last month's 60th Meeting of the Nobel Laureates in Lindau, Germany, zur Hausen presented new findings on TTV. He and de Villiers have identified viral proteins that resemble certain MS auto-antigens in brain lesions of patients with multiple sclerosis. He's also found segments of TTV genomes in many cancer cell lines, including leukemia and Hodgkin's lymphoma lines, with no similar patterns in normal human tissues. He's found relatively high levels of complete TTV sequences in gastrointestinal, breast, lung cancers, as well as in samples of leukemia and myeloma. But the virus is also present at high levels in normal tissues.

Still, in TTV-infected tissues and cell lines, zur Hausen and de Villiers have found evidence of genomic rearrangements, and have linked a specific small region of TTV in cancer cells to truncated host cell genes. Given that studies have also linked TTV to immunosuppression and immunomodulation, chronic inflammation, prevention of apoptosis, and chromosomal aberrations, they suggest that TTV may act as an indirect carcinogen. Unlike human papillomavirus (HPV), which has a direct oncogenic effect on cells, TTV alone may not trigger disease -- but when combined with host factors such as higher levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, and other diseases such as malaria, that recipe could create problems.

gut sex

The Scientist | Jo Handelsman discusses a paper that found gut microbiota can influence sexual fitness in an invasive pest.

The Mediterranean fruit fly is one of the most damaging agricultural pests in the world. A common strategy to reduce its population consists of releasing sterilized industrially grown flies out into the wild in the hopes that they will steal females from virile males. It turns out, however, that the sterilized males are not as lucky in getting the attention of the ladies. A recent paper—selected by F1000 Faculty Member Jo Handelsman, a microbiologist at Yale—has a surprising explanation for the altered males’ inability to attract females: their gut microbiota ( ISME J , 4:28-37, 2010).

TS: Why would intestinal microbes affect the sexual performance of an organism?

JH: We know that the gut microbiota of many organisms controls the most surprising breadths of activities and physiology. In humans we’re finding that gut microbiota affects obesity, and sleep cycles perhaps, heart disease, diabetes, and all sorts of things that we never connected with microbial function before. The gut is emerging as perhaps the most important organ on the body for regulating health and disease, and that’s mainly through the functions of the bacteria that live there. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that bacteria may also affect sexual behavior and performance.

TS: Is this the first link between gut microbes and sexual behavior?

JH: As far as I know, yes.

bacteria "sniff" each other out

The Scientist | When sensing the presence of other species, bacteria meet the textbook definition for olfaction. Bacteria have a sense of smell, which they may use to sniff out competitors and food sources, according to new research published this week in Biotechnology Journal.

A study led by Reindert Nijland, now at the University Medical Center in Utretcht, The Netherlands, found that Bacillus bacteria can sense each other's presence through the air by sensing ammonia production.

"This is basic science that's really, really interesting because if bacteria can really smell, that's something unexpected," Nijland told The Scientist.

Although researchers had known that bacteria could sense the presence of ammonia, "this is the first time it was shown that a gas is sensed for the purpose of regulating social behavior," said Jörg Stülke, a microbiologist at the University of Göttingen in Germany, who did not participate in the study.

rna arms race?

The Scientist | Do parasites use their own microRNAs to hijack host cell pathways? RNA silencing, which fine tunes up to 30% of genome during development,1 also plays a major role in innate antiviral and antibacterial defenses in plants, insects, and animals. But the sword cuts both ways, with bacteria and viruses undermining the host’s microRNA (miRNA)-based defenses to allow their own successful replication. For example, the hepatitis C virus appears to control a host miRNA to promote its own replication,2 and in plants, the bacterium Pseudomonas syringae interferes with host processes that normally suppress bacterial replication by using a bacterial E3-ubiquitin ligase to degrade a host miRNA.3

New research is pointing to ways that the host cell mobilizes its miRNA machinery to fight intracellular eukaryotic parasites in addition to bacteria and viruses. The results offer the possibility that parasites may have developed tactics to use these defenses to their advantage, remarkably by using their own small RNA.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

as a man thinketh....,

PaulGraham | You can't directly control where your thoughts drift. If you're controlling them, they're not drifting. But you can control them indirectly, by controlling what situations you let yourself get into. That has been the lesson for me: be careful what you let become critical to you. Try to get yourself into situations where the most urgent problems are ones you want to think about.

You don't have complete control, of course. An emergency could push other thoughts out of your head. But barring emergencies you have a good deal of indirect control over what becomes the top idea in your mind.

I've found there are two types of thoughts especially worth avoiding—thoughts like the Nile Perch in the way they push out more interesting ideas. One I've already mentioned: thoughts about money. Getting money is almost by definition an attention sink. The other is disputes. These too are engaging in the wrong way: they have the same velcro-like shape as genuinely interesting ideas, but without the substance. So avoid disputes if you want to get real work done. [3]

Even Newton fell into this trap. After publishing his theory of colors in 1672 he found himself distracted by disputes for years, finally concluding that the only solution was to stop publishing:
I see I have made myself a slave to Philosophy, but if I get free of Mr Linus's business I will resolutely bid adew to it eternally, excepting what I do for my privat satisfaction or leave to come out after me. For I see a man must either resolve to put out nothing new or become a slave to defend it. [4]
Linus and his students at Liege were among the more tenacious critics. Newton's biographer Westfall seems to feel he was overreacting:
Recall that at the time he wrote, Newton's "slavery" consisted of five replies to Liege, totalling fourteen printed pages, over the course of a year.
I'm more sympathetic to Newton. The problem was not the 14 pages, but the pain of having this stupid controversy constantly reintroduced as the top idea in a mind that wanted so eagerly to think about other things.

Turning the other cheek turns out to have selfish advantages. Someone who does you an injury hurts you twice: first by the injury itself, and second by taking up your time afterward thinking about it. If you learn to ignore injuries you can at least avoid the second half. I've found I can to some extent avoid thinking about nasty things people have done to me by telling myself: this doesn't deserve space in my head. I'm always delighted to find I've forgotten the details of disputes, because that means I hadn't been thinking about them. My wife thinks I'm more forgiving than she is, but my motives are purely selfish.

I suspect a lot of people aren't sure what's the top idea in their mind at any given time. I'm often mistaken about it. I tend to think it's the idea I'd want to be the top one, rather than the one that is. But it's easy to figure this out: just take a shower. What topic do your thoughts keep returning to? If it's not what you want to be thinking about, you may want to change something. Fist tap Dale.

the function of attention and will

Video - J.G. Bennett on education.

From The Dramatic Universe, Vol II, page 74-77 By J.G. Bennett

To find our way through the bewildering maze of theories of the Will, we must turn again to the basic connection between Will and Relatedness. If Will is the source of all relationships within and beyond Existence, we should be able to discover elements of our experience that have wholly the character of relatedness. Such elements should be neither the terms of a relationship nor the events in which relationships are manifested; but the very relationship itself. We do not have to seek far, for we find the first such element in the power of attention. It is easy to see that attention is not the doer of our actions. We can act without attention and, when we have the sense of making a voluntary action, we can readily observe that our attention is detached both from the source of the initiative and from the action itself. Moreover, attention is never an action. There is no function of attention. Attention cannot be accounted for in terms of nerve-impulses, although it is undoubtedly a determining factor in deciding how the impulses shall be transmitted. Going further, we can readily establish that attention is not the same as Being. Being cannot fluctuate from moment to moment. It is what it is-the measure of the potentialities latent in a given whole. Even if we ascribe changes in total state to Being and regard their character and range of variation as a test of the quality of Being, we still find that they are not the same as attention. Of all the elements of our experience, attention is pre-eminently that which is evidence in favour of the distinction between voluntary and involuntary action. Indeed, there are no means of deciding whether a given action is voluntary or involuntary except by observing the attention that precedes and accompanies it. Whatever significance we may attach to the word `will', we can scarcely help associating it with the notion of voluntary as `distinct from involuntary actions; and so, here at last, we have found a strong argument for concluding that through the study of attention we could learn about the nature of Will.

There arises, however, an obvious question as to the connection between attention and consciousness. We connect consciousness with Being, and we might very well argue that attention is no more than the focussing of consciousness. But focussing a lens is a different act from the passing of light through it. We can, moreover, readily verify from observation that the laws that govern attention are quite different from those that apply to the states of consciousness. For example, attention relates, but consciousness is what it is, in and for itself. Attention can be directed, but consciousness has neither direction nor place. Consciousness is never experienced as voluntary or intentional. Consciousness is a quality of existence. Attention does not exist; it is neither an extensive nor an intensive magnitude. Moreover, it is not rel!lted to sensitivity. In other words, it IS not one of the three states of hyle nor any combination of them. There is no such thing as `energy of attention'. Attention can direct energies, but it is not itself an energy. Consciousness, in all its manifestations, is a form of energy. There are as many levels of consciousness as there are levels of energy. The liberation of energy of a given quality is accompanied by a corresponding state of consciousness, even without the intervention of attention-which often follows rather than precedes the change of consciousness.

Consciousness fluctuates-sometimes under the direction of attention, sometimes quite independently of it. On the other hand, attention does not necessarily depend upon consciousness. We can readily find examples of unconscious attention-when we perform a series of connected actions that depend upon attention, but where neither the actions themselves nor the attention directing them are in the sphere of our consciousness. – In short, we may say that attention appears to be a power that is neither an activity nor an energy. The word `power' is here to be understood as that which directs energy and activity, but is different from either. We have to distinguish between powers that establish relationship-i.e., triads-and forces that produce action, i.e., dyads. Also a power must be distinguished from a state of being-tetrad-that carries its own form of order and organization. A power is more abstract than a state of being, but more concrete than a force. These powers are properties of the Will.

The power of choice and the power of decision are two further properties of the Will that, although closely connected With attentlon, are nevertheless distinct from it. These powers are connected with the property we have called ableness-to-be, and we might be tempted to refer all such powers to the hyparchic regulator and, hence, to regard choice as a functional activity. This would strike at the root of any doctrine of Value, for evidently choice and decision would be no more than reflex mechanisms unless they derived from a discrimination of values. We choose that which at the given moment appears to us to be the most `worth while', the most `interesting', the most `desirable'; in a word, the most `valuable' course of action. It is precisely because choice and decision are properties of the Will that they can relate us to a system of values. If they were functional only, they could do no more than bind us to facts. This is the argument of Plato's Gorgias, and it has not been bettered.

Here it is necessary to observe that the powers of attention, choice and decision are exercised by men far more rarely than might be supposed from the frequency with which they appear in discussion about human behaviour. We do attend, choose and decide: but It IS very seldom that our choice and our decision are voluntary. On the contrary, we have the paradox-contrary to Kant's supposition-that the Will in man is scarcely ever free, and that the evil state of man results not from choice but from failure to choose. Nearly all that man does is the result of the operation of laws over which he has no control. This is so mainly because he does not understand them. Only seldom, and then nearly always in trivial situations, do a man's actions stem from the exercise of his will-power.

The connection between Will as Power and Will as the Principle of Relatedness is not hard to establish. Attention is a relationship, and so are decision and choice. Attention cannot be described as a dyad of `observer and observed', for it is an element that is independent of both and yet relevant to both. The considerations put forward in the Introduction regarding the nature of relatedness are exemplIfied in every manifestation of Will.

It remains to consider the connection, traced in Chapter 4, between Will and Understanding. First, we may note that understanding is a relationship, and not an activity nor a state of consiousness. Secondly, understanding is effectual only through the exercise of the powers of attention, choice and decision. Unless related by the power of attention, a man's understanding is useless to him. Unconscious choice is nothing but a change in the direction of functional activity. A decision that is not based upon understanding cannot be ascribed to the Will. These assertions are not self-evident, but they can be verified if we observe that all activity is the operation of laws. It very seldom happens that all the forces at work are contained within a given whole or system. In the case of human activity, a man is acted upon and reacts. Will is then only the operation of laws external to the man's own consciousness and being. When he understands what is happening in these regions of his being, he acquires the possibility of voluntary action; that is, of bringing the operation of the laws, at least in part, within the sphere of his own will. Thus the powers are present, but the exercise of the powers is possible only if there is understanding. Hence we may conclude-and very naturally-that the subjective aspect of Will consists in the exercise of powers, and that their exercise derives from Understanding.

ray kurzweil does not understand the brain

Pharyngula | There he goes again, making up nonsense and making ridiculous claims that have no relationship to reality. Ray Kurzweil must be able to spin out a good line of bafflegab, because he seems to have the tech media convinced that he's a genius, when he's actually just another Deepak Chopra for the computer science cognoscenti.

His latest claim is that we'll be able to reverse engineer the human brain within a decade. By reverse engineer, he means that we'll be able to write software that simulates all the functions of the human brain. He's not just speculating optimistically, though: he's building his case on such awfully bad logic that I'm surprised anyone still pays attention to that kook.

Sejnowski says he agrees with Kurzweil's assessment that about a million lines of code may be enough to simulate the human brain.

Here's how that math works, Kurzweil explains:
The design of the brain is in the genome. The human genome has three billion base pairs or six billion bits, which is about 800 million bytes before compression, he says. Eliminating redundancies and applying loss-less compression, that information can be compressed into about 50 million bytes, according to Kurzweil.

About half of that is the brain, which comes down to 25 million bytes, or a million lines of code.
I'm very disappointed in Terence Sejnowski for going along with that nonsense.

See that sentence I put in red up there? That's his fundamental premise, and it is utterly false. Kurzweil knows nothing about how the brain works. It's design is not encoded in the genome: what's in the genome is a collection of molecular tools wrapped up in bits of conditional logic, the regulatory part of the genome, that makes cells responsive to interactions with a complex environment. The brain unfolds during development, by means of essential cell:cell interactions, of which we understand only a tiny fraction. The end result is a brain that is much, much more than simply the sum of the nucleotides that encode a few thousand proteins. He has to simulate all of development from his codebase in order to generate a brain simulator, and he isn't even aware of the magnitude of that problem.

We cannot derive the brain from the protein sequences underlying it; the sequences are insufficient, as well, because the nature of their expression is dependent on the environment and the history of a few hundred billion cells, each plugging along interdependently. We haven't even solved the sequence-to-protein-folding problem, which is an essential first step to executing Kurzweil's clueless algorithm. And we have absolutely no way to calculate in principle all the possible interactions and functions of a single protein with the tens of thousands of other proteins in the cell! Fist tap Dale.

the first church of robotics

NYTimes | What I would like to point out, though, is that a great deal of the confusion and rancor in the world today concerns tension at the boundary between religion and modernity — whether it’s the distrust among Islamic or Christian fundamentalists of the scientific worldview, or even the discomfort that often greets progress in fields like climate change science or stem-cell research.

If technologists are creating their own ultramodern religion, and it is one in which people are told to wait politely as their very souls are made obsolete, we might expect further and worsening tensions. But if technology were presented without metaphysical baggage, is it possible that modernity would not make people as uncomfortable?

Technology is essentially a form of service. We work to make the world better. Our inventions can ease burdens, reduce poverty and suffering, and sometimes even bring new forms of beauty into the world. We can give people more options to act morally, because people with medicine, housing and agriculture can more easily afford to be kind than those who are sick, cold and starving.

But civility, human improvement, these are still choices. That’s why scientists and engineers should present technology in ways that don’t confound those choices.

We serve people best when we keep our religious ideas out of our work. Fist tap Nana.

reclaiming the imagination

NYTimes | In science, the obvious role of imagination is in the context of discovery. Unimaginative scientists don’t produce radically new ideas. But even in science imagination plays a role in justification too. Experiment and calculation cannot do all its work. When mathematical models are used to test a conjecture, choosing an appropriate model may itself involve imagining how things would go if the conjecture were true. Mathematicians typically justify their fundamental axioms, in particular those of set theory, by informal appeals to the imagination.

Sometimes the only honest response to a question is “I don’t know.” In recognizing that, one may rely just as much on imagination, because one needs it to determine that several competing hypotheses are equally compatible with one’s evidence.

The lesson is not that all intellectual inquiry deals in fictions. That is just to fall back on the crude stereotype of the imagination, from which it needs reclaiming. A better lesson is that imagination is not only about fiction: it is integral to our painful progress in separating fiction from fact. Although fiction is a playful use of imagination, not all uses of imagination are playful. Like a cat’s play with a mouse, fiction may both emerge as a by-product of un-playful uses and hone one’s skills for them.

Critics of contemporary philosophy sometimes complain that in using thought experiments it loses touch with reality. They complain less about Galileo and Einstein’s thought experiments, and those of earlier philosophers. Plato explored the nature of morality by asking how you would behave if you possessed the ring of Gyges, which makes the wearer invisible. Today, if someone claims that science is by nature a human activity, we can refute them by imaginatively appreciating the possibility of extra-terrestrial scientists. Once imagining is recognized as a normal means of learning, contemporary philosophers’ use of such techniques can be seen as just extraordinarily systematic and persistent applications of our ordinary cognitive apparatus. Much remains to be understood about how imagination works as a means to knowledge — but if it didn’t work, we wouldn’t be around now to ask the question. Fist tap Nana.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

artificial meat - food for thought?

Guardian | Artificial meat grown in vats may be needed if the 9 billion people expected to be alive in 2050 are to be adequately fed without destroying the earth, some of the world's leading scientists report today.

But a major academic assessment of future global food supplies, led by John Beddington, the UK government chief scientist, suggests that even with new technologies such as genetic modification and nanotechnology, hundreds of millions of people may still go hungry owing to a combination of climate change, water shortages and increasing food consumption.

In a set of 21 papers published by the Royal Society, the scientists from many disciplines and countries say that little more land is available for food production, but add that the challenge of increasing global food supplies by as much as 70% in the next 40 years is not insurmountable.

Although more than one in seven people do not have enough protein and energy in their diet today, many of the papers are optimistic.

A team of scientists at Rothamsted, the UK's largest agricultural research centre, suggests that extra carbon dioxide in the air from global warming, along with better fertilisers and chemicals to protect arable crops, could hugely increase yields and reduce water consumption.

fossil fuels allowed higher world population


Video - Terry J. Lovell running down Big Don's view on this issue, chapter and verse. Terry Lovell is a professor of business at Yavapai Community College in Prescott, Arizona. He lives in nearby Prescott Valley, and is the producer of the Patriot Network Videos. He is also involved with the Heritage Foundation, and is also on a local radio station in the Prescott area. Fist tap Big Don.