Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Understanding Mechanism and Consequence

Sunday, November 17th, 2013
CommUnity of Minds

First Atomic Bomb Explosion

CommUnity of Minds — Timothy Wilken, MD writes: Human intelligence develops over time and can achieve four levels of understanding. We start with PERCEPTION then develop and sometimes master CONCEPTION, then develop and sometimes master MECHANISM and finally develop and sometimes master CONSEQUENCE. These levels are sequential–CONCEPTION follows and depends on first mastering PERCEPTION, MECHANISM follows and depends on first mastering CONCEPTION, and  finally CONSEQUENCE follows and depends on first mastering MECHANISM.

It is possible for most humans to understand, and then master their intelligence fully. Those who choose to do so, can with practice, develop the ability to access five modes of thinking: Survive, Adapt, Control, Create, and Co-Operate at will. With additional study and contemplation they can gain mastery of the four levels of knowing: PERCEPTION, CONCEPTION, MECHANISM, and CONSEQUENCE.

PERCEPTION is the understanding of space and sameness—spacial integrity— recognizing WHAT is associated with Good Space and WHAT is associated with Bad Space. PERCEPTION is also knowing WHERE to go to enable or avoid a recognized event—knowing WHERE to go to secure Good Space and WHERE to go to avoid Bad Space. PERCEPTION enables the ability of Adaptation.

CONCEPTION is the understanding of time and difference—temporal sequence—local cause and effect, and from that understanding knowing WHEN to act in time to encourage a desired event, or WHEN to act in time to discourage an undesired event from occurring. CONCEPTION enables the ability of Control.

MECHANISM is the understanding of HOW things work together—what events and actions are necessary to produce a desired resultant—knowing how PERCEPTION and CONCEPTION relate to each other. MECHANISM enables the ability of Creation.

And finally, CONSEQUENCE is the understanding of the potential risks and benefits of our actions and their effects on our selves and upon others. CONSEQUENCE enables the ability of Co-Operation.

Let me provide one example of these four levels of knowing, and how they might apply to one problem currently threatening our civilization. As Albert Einstein warned us over sixty-six years ago: “The splitting of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.”

Einstein had discovered one of Nature’s MECHANISMS: E=mc2

The scientists and technicians working at the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, New Mexico used their KnowHow to weaponize this MECHANISM of Nature with the creation of nuclear bombs.

Now let us examine the threat of nuclear weapons from the perspective of our four levels of human knowing.

PERCEPTION is the level of knowing necessary to adapt to a nuclear event — to know what is associated with a nuclear blast, and to know where to go to escape from the blast of a nuclear weapon. Where is Good Space? Where can I go to avoid Bad Space?

CONCEPTION is the level of knowing necessary to control a nuclear event — to know when to act to either detonate, or deactivate a nuclear weapon. What is the proper sequence of actions to control the process? And, when do I enter the activation code? Or, when do I enter the deactivation code?

MECHANISM is the level of knowing necessary to create a nuclear event — to know how reality allows the forces of nature to interact and result in a nuclear explosion — E=mc2. And, it also is the level of understanding necessary to invent and manufacture the technology of a nuclear weapon — the Manhattan Project. How do I design a nuclear device?

And finally, CONSEQUENCE is the level of knowing necessary in order to co-Operate — to know why we should never have created nuclear weapons in the first place. Why are we creating these devices? What will be the consequence of their existence? (11/17/2013)


Remembering Alfred Russel Wallace

Monday, November 11th, 2013

Alfred Russel WallaceBBC Science History — James Morgan writes: The 100th anniversary of the death of Alfred Russel Wallace, the “forgotten hero” who co-discovered evolution, is being marked today in London. The first ever statue of the naturalist will be unveiled at the Natural History Museum by Sir David Attenborough.

A new wasp genus – Wallaceaphytis – has been named in honour of the man who has been in Darwin’s shadow ever since they co-published their theory in 1858. The wasp was discovered in Borneo, where Wallace carried out his research.  “It seemed only fitting to name it in his honour, especially as it is the centenary of his death,” said Dr Andrew Polaszek of the NHM, one of the expedition team who found the insect last year. They have published their discovery in the Journal of Natural History – the same annals in which Wallace published his famous paper on the origin of species – “the Sarawak Law”.

Just one millimetre long, the wasp belongs to a group known as parasitoids, which lay their eggs inside other insects or spiders. “Wallaceaphytis is so unusual that one of my volunteers called me over to the microscope saying ‘this looks really strange’,” Dr Polaszek told the BBC. “Not only is it a new species but also a completely new genus. And we found it in Wallace’s old stomping ground.”

The incredible variety of insects Wallace discovered during his travels in the Malay Archipelago inspired his theory of evolution by natural selection He described his ideas in an essay which he sent to Charles Darwin – who subsequently sought to co-publish his own independent version of the theory But while there are many, many monuments to Darwin, there has never been a single one of Wallace – until today.

A life-size bronze sculpture by Anthony Smith will be unveiled at the NHM by Sir David Attenborough, who said, “For me, there is no more admirable character in the history of science.” (11/11/2013)


Walking and Jumping Plant Spores

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Jumping horsetail seeds (c) Philippe MarmottantBBC Plant Science — Victoria Gill writes: Researchers in France have discovered a strange new type of movement in plants – tiny spores that walk and jump. The researchers used high speed cameras to find out how horsetail (Equisetum) spores dispersed.

This revealed that the microscopic spores’ “legs” curl and uncurl when the moisture levels change, causing them to appear to crawl around or even to spring from the ground. The findings are published in the Royal Society journal Proceedings B.

Lead researcher Dr Philippe Marmottant from Joseph Fourier University, Grenoble, explained that the motion of plants provides natural inspiration for self-propelled devices. Jumping enables the spores to enter wind currents, which they use to disperse over large distances

“If you think of a carnivorous plant, [like a Venus flytrap] their motion can be quite fast,” Dr Marmottant told the BBC. “So I was interested in finding new types of motion in plants, and a friend who is a biologist told me about these very special plant spores that have a motion driven by humidity.”

When Dr Marmottant examined the spores under the microscope, he saw their movement. But it was only when he combined the microscope with a high-speed camera that he revealed that the plants were not only moving, but walking and jumping. …

Before this study, it was not clear what the function of the spores’ leg structures was.

“People assumed they were like wings, so they would help dispersal into the wind,” explained Dr Marmottant. “But here we show they actually induce motion on the ground.

“And more importantly, they also enable jumps, which means [the spores] can enter the wind currents. And once you’re in the wind current, you can travel long distances, which is an evolutionary advantage, because it means you can disperse your seeds very widely.”

Horsetail plants, which grew when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, are still found all over the world today. But only now have researchers discovered the strange secret of their mobility, which has helped them disperse so effectively and become so prevalent. (09/11/2013)



Prototype HIV-vaccine Working in Monkeys

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

SIVBBC Medical Science — Rebecca Morelle writes: A vaccine for the monkey equivalent of HIV appears to eradicate the virus, a study suggests. Research published in the journal Nature has shown that vaccinated monkeys can clear Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV) infection from their bodies.

It was effective in nine of the 16 monkeys that were inoculated. The US scientists say they now want to use a similar approach to test a vaccine for HIV in humans. …

The research team looked at an aggressive form of virus called SIVmac239, which is up to 100 times more deadly than HIV. Infected monkeys usually die within two years, but in some inoculated primates the virus did not take hold.

The vaccine is based on another virus called cytomegalovirus (CMV), which belongs to the herpes family. It used the infectious power of CMV to sweep throughout the body. But instead of causing disease, it has been modified to spur the immune system into action to fight off the SIV molecules.

“It maintains an armed force, that patrols all the tissues of the body, all the time, indefinitely,” explained Prof Picker.

The researchers gave rhesus macaque monkeys the vaccine, and then exposed them to SIV. They found that at first the infection began to establish and spread. But then the monkeys’ bodies started to respond, searching out and destroying all signs of the virus. Of the monkeys that successfully responded to the vaccine, they were still clear of infection between one-and-a-half and three years later. …

Prof Picker said: “In order to make a human version we have to make sure it is absolutely safe. We have now engineered a CMV virus which generates the same immune response but has been attenuated [modified to lose its virulence] to the point where we think it is unequivocally safe.”

This would first have to pass through the regulatory authorities, but if it does, he said he hoped to start the first clinical trials in humans in the next two years. (09/11/2013)


Is the Universe Friendly?

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

Future Positive — Geoff Oslen writes: Albert Einstein once said the most important question a human being can ask is “Is the universe friendly?”

Think of that for a moment. How would you answer? If you think the universe is truly friendly and supportive of you, this obviously has a huge effect on your perceptions and behaviour. The same applies if you think cosmos is hostile – or just indifferent to your fate.

On a first reading, Einstein’s question is trivially true. If you’ve decided, consciously or unconsciously, that the universe is friendly, your positive outlook is likely to be mirrored by positive responses from others, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy about your world being fundamentally good. You are likely to have more friends, job offers, etc. Conversely, if you are suspicious by nature, or walk around with a cloud over your head, you’re not likely to be much fun at parties, although you may win nodding approval from fellow grumps. At the very least your life is likely to seem a series of disappointments. This is pretty self-evident stuff. From Ralph Waldo Emerson to Dale Carnegie to Wayne Dyer, most of us have heard the drill: life is what you make it.

But if it’s Einstein talking, there’s a good chance there’s more to it than this. Spend a bit of time on it, and you realize the question’s depth. This goes far beyond the soothing homilies about high self-esteem, or the pieties of religious dogmatism. This is about whether universe is friendly (unifiable, consoling) or unfriendly (neutral, fragmented, hostile, “other”). From the choice you make, you can extrapolate the direction of subsequent life decisions. Your state of being could evolve from the answer to that one all-important question. But bear with me; because it’s a big topic and this essay is all over the map, from childhood psychology to the pest problems of a Hollywood star author, to the paradoxes of cosmology and quantum physics, to the “angel” in the library.

The choice to believe in a friendly or unfriendly universe undoubtedly begins in our early years. It may well be that people who are preternaturally content, seemingly at peace with themselves and the world, were introduced to “a friendly universe” through proper nurturing as infants. Their early experiences became the foundation for their psychic life. The results of less desirable childhood beginnings are also obvious. If a child suffers a traumatic birth, and/or their parents abuse their natural trust, that individual may grow up extrapolating their experience to the whole of existence, always suspecting the worst and failing to trust in others.

Rev. Gerard Pantin is the founder of Service Volunteered for All (SERVOL) in Trinidad and Tobago. In a speech he gave in 2000, he noted how the Yequana Indians of Brazil make sure that their babies are in physical contact with the skin of another human being 24 hours a day for the first two years. “These children grow up without that emptiness that we modern people spend our lives trying to heal or cope with. A lot of our modern preoccupation with ‘feeling good’ through sex and drugs dates back to the fact that the way in which we were brought up didn’t give us the opportunity of feeling good about our infant bodies.”

Citing Einstein’s famous line, Pantin adds that “Yequana children, because of close bodily contact, not only see the universe as friendly but feel it to be loving.” Beginning with a bodily, visceral sense of an all-embracing love, the Yequena don’t intellectualize over whether the universe is friendly or not; they carry within themselves the felt conviction that they are loved beings. (09/02/2013)


Honeybees and Consequence

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

CommUnity of Minds — Timothy Wilken, MD writes: The animals have perceptual intelligence. It is perceptual intelligence that allows the animals to survive in the fight or flight world of adversarity and to adapt to their environment.

We humans share the perceptual intelligence of the animals, but are blessed with a 2nd form of intelligence called conceptual intelligence. Conceptual intelligence allows us to speak with a voice, be aware of Time, and learn from our mistakes. It is conceptual intelligence that allows we humans to control the events in our lives by understanding how cause and effect work, to use tools to leverage our actions, and lets each new generation start from where the last generation left off.

Some humans learn to use their perceptual intelligence together with their conceptual intelligence to generate a 3rd form of intelligence called  genius intelligence. Examples of humans possessing  genius intelligence include: Albert Einstein in science, Michael Jordan in sports, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in music. It is genius intelligence that allows some humans to understand mechanism. Those understanding mechanism can invent new tools of science and technology, create new ways of playing basketball, and create original musical masterpieces.

A few humans learn to use their perceptual intelligence together with their conceptual and together with their genius intelligence to generate a 4th form of intelligence called goodness intelligence. Examples of humans possessing goodness intelligence include: Jesus of Nazareth, Siddhartha Gautama, known as the Buddha, Lao Tzu, Florence Nightingale, Albert Schweitzer, Mohandas Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and the Dali Lama to name a few. It is goodness intelligence that allows a few humans to understand consequence. Those understanding consequence can see the truth. They can see good action. They know that they should avoid hurting others, and whenever possible they should help others.

As today’s author warns: “Beginning nearly a decade ago, honeybees started dying off at unusually and mysteriously high rates—this past winter, nearly one-third of U.S. honeybee colonies died or disappeared.”

Goodness intelligence grants us humans the ability to understand consequence. If we understand consequence, then we realize that we should move as quickly as possible to understand the plight of the honeybee. For only if we understand this crisis can we hope to rescue the honeybee, and perhaps rescue ourselves as well.


Nature Has a Mind of Its Own

Monday, August 5th, 2013 Positive — Christian de Quincey writes: The great American psychologist William James had just finished a lecture on the nature of reality when a little old lady approached him. “Excuse me, Professor,” she said, “but I’m afraid you’ve got it all wrong. The world is really supported on the back of a great big turtle.”

The venerable professor, being a gentleman, decided to humor the woman: “Tell me, then, what is holding the turtle up?”

Quick as a flash, the old lady snapped back: “Another turtle, of course.”

“And what’s supporting that turtle?” James asked, trying gently to get her to see her mistake. The conversation went on like this for another round or two until the little old lady interrupted with a noticeable tremor of exasperation:

“Save your breath, sonny. It’s turtles all the way down.”

At least so the story goes (though some associate it with Bertrand Russell instead of William James). True or not, the “turtle” incident illustrates a fundamental intuition we all share about the nature of reality: Something can’t come from nothing. Something must “go all the way down” or all the way back. Even the Big Bang must have had some kind of “fuse.” (Religions, of course, say it was God.)

James was teaching around the turn of the last century, but the little old lady’s point still carries force. In the modern-day version, turtles are replaced by consciousness. The question now is not what is holding the world up, but where did mind or consciousness come from? In a purely physical universe, the existence of mind is a profound puzzle. And if we are to believe the standard scientific view on this, then mind emerged from wholly mindless matter. But just how this occurred remains a complete mystery. In fact, in Radical Nature, I make the case that it couldn’t happen without a miracle. And miracles have no place in science. Instead, our best option is to revive the old lady’s insight and proclaim that “consciousness goes all the way down.” Mind has always existed in the universe. Cosmos — the world of nature — has a mind of its own.

What’s the greatest mystery facing every person on the planet? Ultimately, it’s some version of the age-old “Where do I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going?” And these questions, which lie at the heart of all philosophy and religion, can be summed up as: “How do I fit in?” How do we humans (with our rich interior lives of emotions, feelings, imaginations, and ideas) fit into the world around us? According to science, the world is made up of mindless, soulless, purely physical atoms and energy. So far, no one has a satisfactory explanation for the existence of nonphysical minds in this otherwise physical universe.

We lack an explanation because our questions already assume something quite disturbing. We assume we are split from nature. We assume that humans are somehow special, that we have minds or souls while the rest of nature doesn’t. Some of us draw the “soul line” at higher animals and some of us draw it at living organisms; few of us draw no line at all. Ask yourself: Are rocks conscious? Do animals or plants have souls? Have you ever wondered whether worms or insects might feel pain or pleasure? Can trees feel anything at all? Your answers will reveal where you are likely to draw the line.

In philosophy, this is called the “consciousness cut.” Where, in the great unfolding of evolution, did consciousness first appear? In contemporary philosophy and science, the cut-off is usually made at brains — if not human brains, then the brains of higher mammals. Only creatures with highly developed brains or nervous systems possess consciousness, so the scientific story goes.

Because of our assumed “specialness,” because of the deep fissure between humans and the rest of nature, and because of the mind-body split, we need a new understanding of how we — ensouled, embodied humans — fit into the world of nature. Our current worldview, based on the materialist philosophy of modern science, presents us with a stark and alienating vision of a world that is intrinsically devoid of meaning, of purpose, of value — a world without a mind of its own, a world without soul. And this worldview has had dramatic and catastrophic consequences for our environment, for countless species of animals and plants, and for the ecosystems that sustain us all. (08/05/2013)


Regular Exercise promotes Good Health

Monday, August 5th, 2013 Health Science — Most adults in England are risking their health by failing to get enough exercise, research suggests. A University of Bristol-led study found 80% failed to meet the government target of taking moderate exercise at least 12 times in a four-week period (three times a week).

Better-off and better-educated adults were most likely to exercise, while the poorer and least educated were most likely to be inactive. The study analysed exercise data for more than a million adults in England. It found about 8% of adults who were physically able to walk had not walked for even five minutes continuously during a four-week period, while 46% had not walked for leisure for more than 30 minutes continuously. Researchers said 88% had not been swimming, 90% had not used a gym and around 20% of people over the age of 16 had done only minimal amounts of physical activity.

They say the findings provide evidence of a direct correlation between an individual’s education, household income and local area deprivation and their level of physical activity. Those with higher socioeconomic status were more physically active and people with a degree only had a 12% chance of being inactive. However, those with no qualifications were three times as likely to not exercise. … The study also found warm weather made people more likely to exercise, while rain reduced levels of physical activity.

Carol Propper, professor of economics at the university’s Centre for Market and Public Organisation, said: “Physical inactivity is the most important modifiable health behaviour for chronic disease, so knowing who is physically inactive is important for designing cost-effective policy interventions.” She said the findings suggested that “financial as well as cultural barriers need to be overcome to reduce the prevalence of physical inactivity”.

The NHS recommends people exercise at moderate intensity for at least two and a half hours every week. This can include cycling, fast walking, hiking and basketball. Experts also recommend muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week to work major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms). (08/05/2013)



Survival of the Most Co-Operative?

Monday, August 5th, 2013

Two men huggingBBC Evolutionary Science — Evolution does not favour selfish people, according to new research.

This challenges a previous theory which suggested it was preferable to put yourself first. Instead, it pays to be co-operative, shown in a model of “the prisoner’s dilemma”, a scenario of game theory – the study of strategic decision-making.

Published in Nature Communications, the team says their work shows that exhibiting only selfish traits would have made us become extinct. Game theory involves devising “games” to simulate situations of conflict or co-operation. It allows researchers to unravel complex decision-making strategies and to establish why certain types of behaviour among individuals emerge.

A team from Michigan State University, US, used a model of the prisoner’s dilemma game, where two suspects who are interrogated in separate prison cells must decide whether or not to inform on each other.

In the model, each person is offered a deal for freedom if they inform on the other, putting their opponent in jail for six months. However, this scenario will only be played out if the opponent chooses not to inform. If both “prisoners” choose to inform (defection) they will both get three months in prison, but if they both stay silent (co-operation) they will both only get a jail term of one month.

The eminent mathematician John Nash showed that the optimum strategy was not to co-operate in the prisoner’s dilemma game. “For many years, people have asked that if he [Nash] is right, then why do we see co-operation in the animal kingdom, in the microbial world and in humans,” said lead author Christoph Adami of Michigan State University. The answer, he explained, was that communication was not previously taken into account. “The two prisoners that are interrogated are not allowed to talk to each other. If they did they would make a pact and be free within a month. But if they were not talking to each other, the temptation would be to rat the other out. “Being mean can give you an advantage on a short timescale but certainly not in the long run – you would go extinct.” …

Prof Andrew Coleman of Leicester University, UK, said this new work “put a brake on over-zealous interpretations” of the previous strategy, which proposed that manipulative, selfish strategies would evolve. “Darwin himself was puzzled about the co-operation you observe in nature. He was particularly struck by social insects,” he explained. “You might think that natural selection should favour individuals that are exploitative and selfish, but in fact we now know after decades of research that this is an oversimplified view of things, particularly if you take into account the selfish gene feature of evolution. It’s not individuals that have to survive, its genes, and genes just use individual organisms – animals or humans – as vehicles to propagate themselves.”

“Selfish genes” therefore benefit from having co-operative organisms. (08/05/2013)


The $300,000 Hamburger

Monday, August 5th, 2013 Food Science — The world’s first lab-grown burger was cooked and eaten at a news conference  today in London on. Scientists took cells from a cow and, at an institute in the Netherlands, turned them into strips of muscle that they combined to make a patty.

Researchers say the technology could be a sustainable way of meeting what they say is a growing demand for meat.

Critics say that eating less meat would be an easier way to tackle predicted food shortages. The burger was cooked by chef Richard McGowan, from Cornwall, and tasted by food critics Hanni Ruetzler and Josh Schonwald.

Upon tasting the burger, Austrian food researcher Ms Ruetzler said: “I was expecting the texture to be more soft… there is quite some intense taste; it’s close to meat, but it’s not that juicy. The consistency is perfect, but I miss salt and pepper.” She added: “This is meat to me. It’s not falling apart.”

Food writer Mr Schonwald said: “The mouthfeel is like meat. I miss the fat, there’s a leanness to it, but the general bite feels like a hamburger. “What was consistently different was flavour.”

Prof Mark Post, of Maastricht University, the scientist behind the burger, remarked: “It’s a very good start.” (08/05/2013)