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Friday, 8 August 2014

Death by Hunger, Death by Ageing

People die of hunger all the time. You can't make food out of nothing, right? No, people around you don't die of hunger at all, it may even seem a laughable, ridiculously unlikely event. But they do, people in the world die of hunger. Because you can't make food out of nothing. Our food? It comes from the sun - ultimately the energy from the sun. In a way, so does electricity and everything else. Because now, more than ever, we can transform types of energy from chemical to electrical and so on.

That's why you and I - we don't die of hunger. The punchline: why is our compulsive urge to avoid death by hunger - to seek out food - accepted by ourselves so obviously, since it is merely an extension of our urge to stay alive? Food is just to stay alive, not a purpose of its own.

Why is it that while hunger for food is a legitimate goal to pursue as a human being and as a civilization, hunger for what ultimately food is for - staying alive - is seen as illegitimate? Defeating ageing is seen as impossible. Just like making food out of nothing, or flying used to be. Why? If sunlight can sustain us, and air propel us, through time and through space, then why give up at another hurdle?

Think about it.

www.sens.org

The Long, Long, Cycle of Life

I remember a time when I was a child and wasn't aware of what happens as we get older and older. I asked mum what happens afterwards, and she said we stop getting older and older, and start getting younger and younger until we are children again. Then we get older and the cycle continues. I thought it was a beautiful thing and looked forward to my "second" childhood.

Today I acquired a unique perspective on how the above metaphor is exactly what happens with our germ (egg and sperm) cells. In the lineage traced back to the beginning of time, one cell never died. It grew forwards and specialised into the cells that make up a new individual, including that one germ cell that was passed on. At fertilisation, the cell started going backwards and turning into a totipotent stem cell that could once more grow forwards and specialise again. To germ, back to stem cell, to germ and back again. Backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards. Never dying. This cell has been alive for all of time, and is now alive within you.

So when you think what a "long" life should be, think of how long this little fella has been around.

What Young Scientists Should Do

“A Fred Sanger would not survive today’s world of science. With continuous reporting and appraisals, some committee would note that he published little of import between insulin in 1952 and his first paper on RNA sequencing in 1967 with another long gap until DNA sequencing in 1977. He would be labelled as unproductive, and his modest personal support would be denied. We no longer have a culture that allows individuals to embark on long-term—and what would be considered today extremely risky—projects.”

"Today the Americans have developed a new culture in science based on the slavery of graduate students. Now graduate students of American institutions are afraid. He just performs. He’s got to perform. The post-doc is an indentured labourer. We now have labs that don’t work in the same way as the early labs where people were independent, where they could have their own ideas and could pursue them.

The most important thing today is for young people to take responsibility, to actually know how to formulate an idea and how to work on it. Not to buy into the so-called apprenticeship. I think you can only foster that by having sort of deviant studies. That is, you go on and do something really different. Then I think you will be able to foster it."

Long and captivating read http://kingsreview.co.uk/magazine/blog/2014/02/24/how-academia-and-publishing-are-destroying-scientific-innovation-a-conversation-with-sydney-brenner/

Changing the Building Blocks of Life

"The history of science shows several changes to our worldviews, altering our folk-based narratives to more scientifically inspired (semi-)rational approaches. In this context, science has inflicted a series of disappointments and disillusions to our folk-based beliefs, such as: the earth is not the center of the Universe, men and apes share the same ancestors, or that emotions and thinking is correlated to a neurological substrate. The promoters of these ideas were often attacked by those trying to keep the intellectual status quo.

Xenobiology could easily trigger the next paradigm change in the way we understand nature and life. Just as the Earth lost its place as the center of the universe, or men lost its unique status in the animal world, our natural world could lose its unique status as being synonymous with “life.” But as with all other paradigm changes, concepts that better explain the world around us cannot be ignored for long."

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2909387/

Are there limits to what you can do in a dream?

Researchers are very interested in figuring out how memory works, as well as what consciousness is. In order to gather more insight into these areas, they are studying the phenomenon of lucid dreaming in which people are aware, within a dream, that they are within a dream. Lucid dreaming can be accompanied by the ability to alter the dreaming environment at will.

I'm not yet one of the people who can control how often they have lucid dreams, yet last night I had one. After the initial testing to check if it was indeed a dream (poking a hard surface and seeing it bend around my finger), and the inevitable playing out of certain "quick scenarios that could not happen in real life" (leave that to the imagination), I proceeded to do a few in-dream experiments.

I tried to see just how much I can alter within the dream, and what the limitations are.

1. After continuously altering everything in the environment for a few seconds, it became too difficult to continue. I got fatigued and changing things because more difficult.
2. Arbitrary elements persisted in the environment unless I specifically removed them - i.e. there is a stock background. It is easier to put things in than isolate them and take them out.
3. Just like in The Matrix, you have to believe in what you are attempting to create. If you doubt yourself it takes longer to change a chair for example into an armchair.

Pending question: are the experiences perceived in dreams purely replicas of experiences already lived, or can they be generated anew, and therefore stay unique to the dream world?

Where did our Moon come from?

Recently new evidence came to light that supported the long-held hypothesis regarding the formation of our Moon. Where did the Moon come from? Scientists believed that a very, very, very long time ago (4.5 billion years) a planetary body called Theia, the size of Mars, indirectly collided with Earth and formed a lot of debris. 

Photo: Recently new evidence came to light that supported the long-held hypothesis regarding the formation of our Moon. Where did the Moon come from? Scientists believed that a very, very, very long time ago (4.5 billion years) a planetary body called Theia, the size of Mars, indirectly collided with Earth and formed a lot of debris. 

The Moon formed over time from this remainder, and ever since has been orbiting out planet like clockwork. In 2 days, we'll have a full Moon as seen from Earth. The phases of the Moon have been calculated with extreme precision for every single day gone, and every single day yet to come. 

Many associate the Moon with emotional depth, a hidden yet powerful force - the kind that makes the oceans move. And they do, they move, in tides. Whenever two people meet, a collision takes place. Most of what happens bounces off into deep space, just like the debris from Theia. Yet sometimes, a little something stays with you, becomes intertwined with your inner workings in a way beyond your comprehension, gives way to a silent force that likes to come out at night, and for a very long time will dance with you. Just like the Moon stayed with the Earth.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theia_(planet)

The Moon formed over time from this remainder, and ever since has been orbiting out planet like clockwork. In 2 days, we'll have a full Moon as seen from Earth. The phases of the Moon have been calculated with extreme precision for every single day gone, and every single day yet to come. 

Many associate the Moon with emotional depth, a hidden yet powerful force - the kind that makes the oceans move. And they do, they move, in tides. Whenever two people meet, a collision takes place. Most of what happens bounces off into deep space, just like the debris from Theia. Yet sometimes, a little something stays with you, becomes intertwined with your inner workings in a way beyond your comprehension, gives way to a silent force that likes to come out at night, and for a very long time will dance with you. Just like the Moon stayed with the Earth.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theia_(planet)

Genetic Selection Guidelines on Babies

Should people be able to choose their baby's sex, skin colour, intelligence, etc.? I propose a guideline that has the following foundation: the limitations of direct genetic engineering on babies should be the same as those of indirect selection through choosing who to have the baby with. 

Guidelines are important here because there is a fine line between the inalienable human right to reproduce by choice with whomever, and outright eugenics (creating a human "superior master" race).

I don't believe eugenics would be the main issue. After all, how many people would choose to have a child not genetically theirs because they objectively assess themselves as ugly and stupid (chuckle)?

I believe the main issue would be an amplification of the already existing set of expectations parents lay on their children before they are born.

A baby's general appearance can be selected indirectly by mate selection, therefore to that extent it should be available in genetic engineering. Thankfully, our genome is not as discerning as we are, and most features are not monogenic.

You could select your baby's rough height, skin/hair colour, rough facial features, but you could not select the precise nose-mouth size ratio. Eye colour itself is a combo of around 16 genes.

You can't select your baby's sex by choosing different partners - and so you shouldn't have that option through genetic engineering (again, not because there's something wrong or dangerous with that; there isn't; but because it would inflate parent expectations in a harmful way).

Many attractive features such as sense of humour, occupation, and appearance are not inheritable e.g. make up, exercise, so in fact any genetic engineering should be focused on optimising health; any remaining subjective features should be put through the "if I chose a partner" test.

If a feature could not be chosen indirectly through the partner, it should not be available directly via genetic engineering.

Can Artificial Intelligence Become "Alive"?

Re: AI (Artificial Intelligence) et al.: The direction of all things which seem a result of human intelligence is not determined by this intelligence. AI in itself is just this intelligence; our intelligence is the means - not the cause or the purpose. 

Both cause and purpose are the driving forces behind all humans do, and AI is not inherently endowed with either. Both cause and purpose in quality are constant tracing back to the first cell. It is what separates living from dead matter.

The Sun is great and powerful. Yet it has no intent to survive and reproduce - to take over the world, to own, to expand. These are living matter properties that are not breathed into intelligent dead matter.

Our consciousness is not suspended by intelligence. It is suspended by instinct. Our condition not logical. Even our inferior intelligence ultimately realises the nonsense condition life is. Superior AI does not doubt it.

Without an illogical drive, which may or may not be tainted into the AI, the dead will not come to life. And just as our 'natural' intelligence, AI would only be another continuation and branching point in the tree of life that serves as a tool to fulfill ends.