Eat worms

Modern science has finally determined the root cause of 20th Century ailments that have made us so unhealthy, and the culprit is modern science.  It’s just not natural to be so healthy, and the results are making us sick.

‘Grandma knew that you have to eat a peck of dirt before you die,’ explains Dr Joel Weinstock of Tufts New England Medical Center, ‘but that wisdom seems to have been lost with the obsessive hygiene of the Lysol generation.’

The human body was not designed to be germ-free, and it seems that our magnificent immune systems, with their specialized armies of Natural Killer cells, suffer from inactivity and begin to attack the body itself, with consequences ranging from hay fever to Crohn’s disease to diabetes.

The proper scientific name for this, explains Dr Weinstock, is the heebie-jeebies.  It is leukocyte heebie-jeebies that is making us sick.

The cure: ‘Most of us would be a lot better off if we just went back to eating dirt,’ says Dr Weinstock, ‘but modern American hospitals can’t profit from selling dirt.  We’ve compromised, and now offer a program of worm therapy.  It’s very expensive.’

For about $4,000, you can arrange for an infusion of parasitic flatworms, good for what ails you, at Dr Weinstock’s clinic in Medford, MA.  Worm therapy is also available at University of Iowa Hospital, in Nottingham, UK and in Tijuana.  In contrast, programs to eliminate intestinal parasites in Africa cost about 20 cents per year per patient.

British Medical Journal review article on Crohn’s Disease
Asthma article from the British National Health System

Note: the ‘April Fool’ punchline is that the information in this article is largely accurate, though the quotes were made up. The therapy is real, if experimental, and the links are to real clinics and real journal articles. -JJM.

1 April 2009

Life is one-of-a-kind

Life may be defined as an open-ended evolving system. We know one example of life. All known living things on earth are related, and have a common biochemical basis, and a common evolutionary ancestor.

Theorists beginning with Darwin are fond of saying that just three things are required to create evolving systems: (1) reproduction with (2) variations, and (3) selection.  But computer scientists can easily recreate these conditions, and what they find is uninteresting dead ends: whatever quality is defined as ‘fitness’ soon maxes out, and nothing more interesting is created.  In contrast, real life displays a richness and complexity that seems to imply open-ended creativity.

Though we are very interested in general properties of life, we are forced to generalize from a single example. Inevitably, we misinterpret some peculiar properties of nucleic acid-based life as necessary characteristics of life defined broadly. Evolutionary biologists realize that we have a tendency to look at what is, presume that it could not be otherwise, and propose a causal explanation for its inevitability.

It would be eye-opening to have another example of life to study. There are four places this might come from:

  1. The discovery of life on another planet. (This is actually no guarantee that it evolved independently. There is a ‘panspermia’ hypothesis, which suggests that hardy bacteria can survive on meteors ejected from one and later seeding another.)
  2. How hard have we looked for life on earth that inhabits a parallel ecology, right under our noses? Microscopic life forms that don’t share a common chemical basis with us might have gone undetected.
  3. Cell biologists are trying to understand mechanisms of life deeply enough to create life in the test tube, combining synthetic chemicals that will collectively be able to metabolize nutrients and reproduce a copy of itself.
  4. The ALife or ‘artificial life’ community of researchers is seeking to create evolutionary rules for simulated ecosystems that live only in computers. This has been a multi-decade process, and all systems we have yet devised quickly saturate at some ‘fitness’ ceiling, and then cease to evolve in interesting, new ways.

Article in New Scientist covers just two of the four possibilities.

The one example of life that we know has a remarkable property that it has evolved four times into new levels of cooperation:

  1. Self-reproducing molecules banded together to form mutually-catalyzing ‘hypercycles’
  2. Larger collections of molecules formed cells.
  3. Cells formed into multi-cellular life with a ‘germ line’ and a ‘soma’.
  4. Individuals organize into communities, which behave in some ways like ‘superorganisms’.

Perhaps we are currently in the midst of a fifth grand transition, where entire ecosystems are developing tight, cooperative strategies.

2 April 2009

Silver Linings

Cigarettes : Nicotine is what makes cigarettes so powerfully addictive, but it is not what causes the most harm to one’s health.  People who have trouble quitting smoking can cut way back on their risk of heart disease, cancer, and emphysema with patches, gum, or even chewing tobacco.

Cancer :  No one wants to be diagnosed with cancer, but people who come through the experience almost invariably call it transformative.  They learn depth of love that others have for them, and they learn to cherish being alive.

Demise of the printed newspaper :  Newspapers can’t make a profit, and people are seeking their news from more sources, deciding for themselves what to believe.

Economic collapse :  American imperialism, based on military might and the dollar as universal medium of exchange, is ending, clearing the way for global democracy.

Peak oil : Spikes in fuel prices are exactly the motivation that business needs to shift to renewable energy sources, which incidentally create new jobs, reduce pollution, and lower the contribution to global warming.

Global warming : This is the only motivation powerful enough to motivate international cooperation on global scale.  It’s beginning to happen.

3 April 2009

I am not my brain

Mainstream philosophy has adopted the position that the locus of conscious activity that I identify as ‘I’ is in the brain.  It is considered ‘obvious’ from basic facts about physiology and neuroscience.  People discuss in all seriousness whether it would be possible for me to know if I were just a brain in a nutrient bath, with its input neurons being stimulated in real time by a very advanced computer program.  People talk about complete simulations of the brain by computers that may be available in a decade or two, and assume that there is no distinction between living in a brain and living within a well-programmed computer simulation of a brain.

‘The brain analyzes, the brain loves, the brain detects a whiff of pine and is transported to a childhood summer spent at Girl Scout camp in the Poconos, the brain tingles under the caress of a feather.’
— Diane Ackerman, An Alchemy of Mind

On the other side, there are not just religious mystics, but many scientists and non-believers who consider it ‘obvious’ that consciousness is not merely in the brain, but there is something more.

‘The brain is essential for our lives, physiology, health and experience. But the idea that it is the whole story, or even the key to understanding the story, is not a scientific conclusion. It's a prejudice. Consciousness requires the joint operation of the brain, the body and the world...Instead of asking how the brain makes us conscious, we should ask, How does the brain support the kind of involvement with the world in which our consciousness consists? This is what the best neuroscientists do. The brain is not the author of our experience.’
— Gordy Slack, interviewed at

This seems to me a weak statement compared to a truly dualistic perspective, in which the soul has a prior claim to existence, and it is the soul that creates body and brain for itself.

Today, I am wondering if there is anything that either side can say to the other that would give them pause.  I don’t think Slack will convince anyone who is not already convinced.

Neuroscientist Michael Persinger is ‘incredibly lucky’, and has electrodes hooked up to a subject’s brain as she experiences a ghost in the room.  The EEG shows an aberrant trace in the left temporal lobe.  Just as he had hypothesized — mystical experiences are caused by irregular brain activity.

...Not so fast, says the skeptic. ‘Maybe there was a ghost in the room and it was just registered in that specific part of the brain. If you accept that “the mind is what the brain does” then any experience whatsoever would have to be “the result of neural activity”. Observing that this is true for ‘ghostly’ experiences does not support the proposition that they don’t exist.’

Two things come to mind that the materialist might say to the non-materialist:

1) Computer simulation are already close to passing the Turing Test, simulating normal human conversation well enough that you would be hard pressed to tell the difference.  As this facility inevitably improves over coming years, it will be harder and harder for you to maintain the position that your humanity is more than mechanical.

2) We all want to believe that something of us survives after death.  This constitutes a powerful motivation to delude ourselves.

Two things that the non-materialists might say to convince the materialist:

1) Quantum mechanics is deeply non-local.  To the extent that the brain is a quantum mechanical object, it cannot be an isolated machine. 

2) There is abundant evidence for telepathy, precognition, and other forms of psychic communication, though these phenomena seem to evade reliable reproduction.  By definition, the brain knows things about which there are no known physical mechanisms by which it could be receiving input.

4 April 2009

Socrates : Why don’t you give yourself the gift of bliss in this moment?

Epicurus : I don’t know how.

Socrates : Would you like to learn?

Epicurus : I don’t think that it is possible?

Socrates : Have you ever tried?

Epicurus : No.

Socrates : Why don’t you give yourself the gift of bliss in this moment?

Epicurus : I don’t believe that it is so simple.

Socrates : What is the basis of your belief?

Epicurus : I have been taught to seek happiness through hard work. I have learned to invest effort in this moment in order to realize happiness in the future.

Socrates : How has that stratagem served you?

Epicurus : I am no worse off than others.

Socrates : Why don’t you give yourself the gift of bliss in this moment?

Epicurus : I have been taught to obey my superiors and to take my place in the community.

Socrates : Have you adopted that teaching, then, as your own?

Epicurus : It is what I know. It is comfortable.

Socrates : Are you satisfied with comfort?

Epicurus : I am willing to endure discomfort for the promise of future happiness.

Socrates : Why don’t you embark on a course of training to learn how to give yourself the gift of bliss from moment to moment?

Epicurus : Where do I sign up?

Socrates :

— Josh Mitteldorf

5 April 2009

The world is now full

of people who have leisure and education.  Hundreds of millions of people looking for creative outlets for their time, writing poetry, painting pictures, composing music, and others inventing new amusements.

 	This pangram tallies five a's, one b, one c, two d's,
 	twenty- eight e's, eight f's, six g's, eight h's,
 	thirteen i's, one j, one k, three l's, two m's, eighteen
 	n's, fifteen o's, two p's, one q, seven r's, twenty-five
 	s's, twenty-two t's, four u's, four v's, nine w's, two
 	x's, four y's, and one z.

Huge numbers of people are earning their living writing computer programs, while equally many program computers for sheer enjoyment....

 	This computer-generated pangram contains six a's, one b,
 	three c's, three d's, thirty-seven e's, six f's, three
 	g's, nine h's, twelve i's, one j, one k, two l's, three
 	m's, twenty-two n's, thirteen o's, three p's, one q,
 	fourteen r's, twenty-nine s's, twenty-four t's, five
 	u's, six v's, seven w's, four x's, five y's, and one z.


6 April 2009

I’m Alive, I Believe In Everything

Self. Brotherhood. God. Zeus. Communism.
Capitalism. Buddha. Vinyl records.
Baseball. Ink. Trees. Cures for disease.
Saltwater. Literature. Walking. Waking.
Arguments. Decisions. Ambiguity. Absolutes.
Presence. Absence. Positive and Negative.
Empathy. Apathy. Sympathy and entropy.
Verbs are necessary. So are nouns.
Empty skies. Dark vacuums of night.
Visions. Revisions. Innocence.
I've seen All the empty spaces yet to be filled.
I've heard All of the sounds that will collect
at the end of the world.
And the silence that follows.

I’m alive, I believe in everything
I’m alive, I believe in it all.

Lesley Choyce
    - more -

7 April 2009

He brought joy joy joy into my heart

Simon and Garfunkel, 1964

8 April 2009

Bearing the chastisement of our wishes

Les Hiboux

Sous les ifs noirs qui les abritent
Les hiboux se tiennent rangés
Ainsi que des dieux étrangers
Dardant leur oeil rouge. Ils méditent.

Sans remuer ils se tiendront
Jusqu’à l’heure mélancolique
Où, poussant le soleil oblique,
Les ténèbres s’établiront.

Leur attitude au sage enseigne
Qu’il faut en ce monde qu’il craigne
Le tumulte et le mouvement;

L’homme ivre d’une ombre qui passe
Porte toujours le châtiment
D’avoir voulu changer de place. 

— Charles Baudelaire,
     né ce jour en 1821

The Owls

Within the shelter of black yews
The owls in ranks are ranged apart
Like foreign gods, whose eyeballs dart
Red fire. They meditate and muse.

Without a stir they will remain
Till, in its melancholy hour,
Thrusting the level sun from power,
The shade establishes its reign.

Their attitude instructs the sage,
Content with what is near at hand,
To shun all motion, strife, and rage.

Men, crazed with shadows that they chase,
Bear, as a punishment, the brand
Of having wished to change their place.

— Charles Baudelaire,
     tr Roy Campbell

9 April 2009

Is this all there is?

‘His dreams have lost some grandeur coming true...’
— Joni Mitchell

Paramahansa Yogananda relates his first cosmic vision in convincingly rapturous tones that expand page upon page...then he goes on to describe it all over again in verse.

Vanished the veils of light and shade,
Lifted every vapor of sorrow,
Sailed away all dawns of fleeting joy,
Gone the dim sensory mirage.
Love, hate, health, disease, life, death,
Perished these false shadows on the screen of duality.
The storm of maya stilled by magic wand of intuition deep.
Present, past, future, no more for me...
Eternity and I, one united ray.
A tiny bubble of laughter, I
Am become the Sea of Mirth itself.

And when it’s all over, he asks his master, “When will I find God?”
His master replies, “You have found him,” and the young disciple is crestfallen.

Disappointment is a disease in its own right, independent of anhedonia or perfectionism or depression. Where does it come from? Why is it that the best life has to offer falls shy of our dreams, and fails to fill us up?

I, too, suffer from this disease, and have no answers.  Intuition tells me to seek insight by looking at death.  Perhaps the root of our disappointment is the prospect of eternal oblivion when life is done.  Perhaps the antidote is in a realization that we are beings of finite capacity for experience, and that to transcend our limits logically requires us to relinquish our present material form. 

10 April 2009

I’m posting this article only because it agrees with my preconceived theories

Our brains appear wired to adopt a belief about our milieu, consecrate it, then bar the door to our consciousness against any competing belief. If a different belief gets past our mental bouncer, the result is conflict, sometimes labeled cognitive dissonance. This process should be familiar to most of us, yet how likely is it to reflect some objective quality of our universe? The transcendent achievements of our brains help to blind us to their concomitant evolved limitations. There appears to be little circuitry in the brain encouraging it to adopt a critical posture towards itself...

Perhaps in questioning the integrity of our thinking, we may take a seat at one of life’s great feasts. If we cultivate within ourselves the capacity to hold two competing beliefs, simultaneously, we may proceed from there to a perhaps unlimited gathering of data and ideas within us, resisting the persistent impulse to clear the room of intruders. The very moment we feel the zing of eureka – that we have figured something out, and we would banish the inconsistent data and perceptions – we may do well to resist this deportation. The process of keeping our minds open – familiar to our tongues but rarely to our hearts – may require an ease with dissonance... 

— read more at ehard’s blog

11 April 2009

Dona nobis pacem

from the Bach B Minor Mass, Atlanta Symphony under Robert Shaw

12 April 2009

Do unto others...

Pleasure, and freedom from pain, are the only things desirable as ends; and all desirable things...are desirable either for the pleasure inherent in themselves, or as means to the promotion of pleasure and the prevention of pain.’
J. S. Mill

All the joy the world contains
Has come through wishing happiness for others.
All the misery the world contains
Has come through wanting pleasure for oneself.
Is there need for lengthy explanation? — Shantideva

Mill sounds so enlightened and rational, yet he clearly knows nothing about the perverse workings of the human psyche.  Shantideva sounds quaint and moralistic, yet his message derives from a wise  appreciation of human nature.

But imagine if Shantideva’s imperative were ever to become a reality!  We would have a society of Magi, all tripping over one another, trying to bring pleasure to others who  wished only to renounce it.

13 April 2009

To sleep, perchance to compose

Mozart claimed to receive musical compositions whole from his inspired source, and to transcribe rather than to compose them.  His manuscripts show little sign of editing or correction.

Berlioz reported that he received the opening movement of his only symphony as a dream, remembered it vividly on waking, and wrote it down afterword just as he had heard it.*

‘Music is the only faculty that is not altered by the dream environment, whereas action, character, visual elements and language may all be modified or distorted in dreams. Music in dreams does not become fragmented, chaotic or incoherent, neither does it decay as rapidly as do the other components of dreams on our awakening...Music in dreams then is the same as music in our waking life...One might say that music never sleeps. ..It is as if it were an autonomous system, indifferent to our consciousness or lack of it.’ 
        — Irving J Massey, quoted by Oliver Sachs

Listen to the 1st movement of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique

* Another legend about the provenance of the Symphonie Fantastique is less inspiring.

14 April 2009

Funding research and playing the lottery

This is how discovery works: returns on research investment do not arrive steadily and predictably, but erratically and unpredictably, in a manner akin to intellectual earthquakes.
…scientific history seems to pivot on the rare seismic shifts that no-one predicts or even has a chance of predicting, and on those utterly profound discoveries that transform worlds. They do not flow out of what the philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn called ‘normal science’ — the paradigm-supporting and largely mechanical working out of established ideas — but from ‘revolutionary’, disruptive and risky science.

All of which, as Sornette has been arguing for several years, has important implications for how we think about and judge research investments. If the path to discovery is full of surprises, and if most of the gains come in just a handful of rare but exceptional events, then even judging whether a research programme is well conceived is deeply problematic. ‘Almost any attempt to assess research impact over a finite time’, says Sornette, ‘will include only a few major discoveries and hence be highly unreliable, even if there is a true long-term positive trend.’

This raises an important question: does today's scientific culture respect this reality? Are we doing our best to let the most important and most disruptive discoveries emerge?

Mark Buchanan, writing for Physics World

15 April 2009

of Theories and Theologies

‘...two aspects of Pythagoras: as religious prophet and as pure mathematician. In both respects he was immeasurably influential, and the two were not so separate as they seem to a modern mind....

‘The changes in meanings of words are often very instructive...I want to speak about the word “theory”. This was originally an Orphic word...“passionate sympathetic contemplation...the spectator is identified with the suffering God, dies in his death, and rises again in his new birth.” For Pythagoras, the “passionate sympathetic contemplation” was intellectual, and issued in mathematical knowledge. In this way, through Pythagoreanism, “theory” gradually acquired its modern meaning; but for all who were inspired by Pythagoras it retained an element of ecstatic revelation. To those who have reluctantly learnt a little mathematics in school this may seem strange; but to those who have experienced the intoxicating delight of sudden understanding that mathematics gives, from time to time, to those who love it, the Pythagorean view will seem completely natural even if untrue...

‘Modern definitions of truth...which are practical rather than contemplative, are inspired by industrialism as opposed to aristocracy.’

—Bertrand Russel, History of Western Philosophy

16 April 2009


 ‘A cricket is nothing but a safety pin that believes in God.’

Heather O'Neill

17 April 2009

Many worlds

Scientists who study quantum mechanics agree about how to calculate the predictions for results of experiments, but disagree about what it all means.  This situation arose because QM is not compatible with the intuitive way in which we all regard the physical world.  ‘Something has to give,’ and one physicist may preserve what he thinks is the most important aspects of our relationship to reality, sacrificing others that another physicist holds more dear.

The prescription for calculation says that the world exists as fuzzy probability waves that crystallize into a specific outcome the moment any measurement is made.  The questions on which there is disagreement have to do with what constitutes a measurement, and whether the probability waves are regarded as primary, ‘real’ objects, or whether the measured results are more ‘real’.

One of the most conservative views of what it all means is also one of the most preposterous.  According to the Many Worlds Interpretation, every time an ambiguity is resolved, the world splits going forward into branches in which each of the possible outcomes is realized.  (Here the word ‘many’ is clearly the world’s greatest understatement.)

“Sounds wacky, don’t it? Why would anyone believe in a universe that is endlessly splitting into (as far as we know) unobservable slightly-different versions of itself? Here is the point at which, as a physicist or philosopher, your biases will likely show themselves. People will line up behind the Many-Worlds Interpretation because of its consistency. Its advantage is that it keeps the math whole. There is no special pleading about consciousness intruding on the measurement.”

Read about the Many Worlds Interpretation in Adam Frank’s blog for Discover Magazine
Slate article by Jim Holt, on the pros and cons of admitting so many universes

18 April 2009

The Sufficiency of Truth

No despot has been able to rise to power without the Big Lie. Every oppressive regime has seized control of the airwaves and the printing presses, only to discover that the truth was not so easily stifled, and ongoing violence was required in order to maintain secrecy.

For all of us who want to create to a world of peace and tolerance and cooperation, we have a one-point program that will take us there:

Bear witness to truth.*

— Josh Mitteldorf

* Stick to what you are sure of. No need for dogmatism or rudeness. We cannot stifle the Big Lie or shout over it. Be patient and persistent. Trust that your truth will prevail.  

19 April 2009

Αγαπη and ερος, Sapir and Whorf

How did it come to be that the same English word is used to describe an obsessive experience of longing and need for validation from one particular individual
and also that state of ego-expansion wherein personal needs are dissolved into universal goodwill?

How would my experience and my practice be different if they were two different words?

(In what languages are these separate words, and is love in those cultures described differently?)

Love begins to be a demon the moment he is worshipped as a god.
C S Lewis

20 April 2009

‘What are friends for?   Health and longevity.’

‘A 10-year Australian study found that older people with a large circle of friends were 22 percent less likely to die during the study period than those with fewer friends...Friendship has a bigger impact on our psychological well-being than family relationships.’

Tara Parker-Hope blogging for the NYTimes Health page
     David Slotnick reviews the benefits

21 April 2009

Bathed by rain

Las nubes nos bañan

La Lluvia
hovers over us

As thunder
into tiny pieces

bowling hail
dents hoods,
stones roofs.

Rain insists
into crevices.

A river
parched sidewalks.

This spanking
of reality
reminds us,

leaden clouds
wash us
with sky.

Judith Pordon

22 April 2009


In Finland, where 80% of workers belong to unions, all employees enjoy at least 30 days paid vacation and the gap between the rich and poor is far more equitable than in the United States... it is no small thing that democratic countries like Finland exist that operate under egalitarian principles, which have virtually abolished poverty, which provide almost-free, quality health care to all their people, and provide free, high-quality education from child care to graduate school. 

Bernie Sanders

23 April 2009

How much of ‘me’, is really ‘us’?

We live in one of the world’s most individualistic cultures.  That doesn’t mean that our thoughts or experiences are our own, so much as that we are all socialized and conditioned to think and talk in the language of individualism.  We sustain the illusion that our thoughts are our own.  We march to the beat of a different drummer en masse, in stylized ways.  We rebel by smoking Marlboros and think different by buying an iPhone.

Where is ‘I’ located, and what can we truly call our own?  Is even our pride a social affectation, and the motive for self-preservation merely instinct from the brain stem?

Imagine if I had been raised in isolation, without language, without models for social behavior.  A more difficult exercise in imagination I can’t imagine.  Perhaps we get a window by becoming acquainted with feral children, succored by wolves.  There are many such children, and they tend to navigate on all fours, to bark, to growl and to bite when approached by humans.

Thirty-five years ago, I first traveled to China for the express purpose of gaining perspective on myself from outside my culture.  What I quickly learned was that the idea of transcending  my culture of origin was a very American idea.

Some forms of meditation seek to put us in touch with primal experience, before culture was interposed as a filter and interpreter; but progress in this direction is terribly elusive and fragile. 

Listen to WNYC interview of Alva Noe about his new book, Out of our Heads

Listen to things more often than beings.
Hear the voice of the fire, hear the voice of the water,
Listen in the wind to the sighing of the bush

 — traditional song from Senegal, transcribed by Birago Diop

24 April 2009

Yoga for life

In 1957, the West was still hypnotized by technological progress, and wide-eyed at the first Sputnik.  But Bette Calman was already out to convince us we had a lot to learn from 5,000-year-old practices of physical culture. 

Living in Melbourne, Australia, still teaching and practicing yoga daily at 83, Calman was the subject of several international feature stories yesterday.

B K S Iyengar is still practicing, teaching and writing at 91.  Legend has it that yogi adepts are able to take control of aging as they do other aspects of the unconscious metabolism, but reliability of the stories of information is difficult to verify.  There is reason to believe both that the most celebrated cases are apocryphal and that the most accomplished masters avoid publicity.

Let’s not forget Yogi Berra, who will be 84 next month:
‘Always go to other peoples’ funerals; otherwise they won’t go to yours.’ 

25 April 2009

Science is an island surrounded by a sea of ignorance.
As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance.
John Archibald Wheeler

Vouchsafe I’ll never die to wonder,
And so long as I’m alive,
May I seek new ways to blunder,
As toward new understanding strive.

Mystery stirs to thought unending,
I seek with e’er unjaded view
To guard mind open, changing, bending
Thralled by each uncovered clue.

But if, despite my firm resolve,
My mind toward preconception bends,
May I to largesse devolve:
Blind to the failings of my friends.

— Josh Mitteldorf

26 April 2009

We ain’t got a barrel o’ money

The economic crisis has a huge upside: an opportunity to improve your relationship.
Layoffs, furloughs and shrinking 401(k)s may not seem like natural aphrodisiacs, but according to experts in relationships and sex, the depressed financial picture is leading some couples - and singles - to better appreciate each other.

‘The recession brings with it a re-evaluation of what’s important in life,’ says Manhattan psychoanalyst Amy Joelson.

...While many of Joelson’s patients, for example, have expressed anxiety about spending money on frivolous items, they still feel good about engaging in physical intimacy. ‘People wrestle with guilt about indulging in all kinds of pleasures, like going shopping or eating at expensive restaurants; that’s seen as politically incorrect,’ she says. ‘But you don’t need a 401(k) to have sex.’

Forbes article by Susan Adams

27 April 2009

Ah — to be young again!

Carion beetles (Trogoderma glabrum) live their first ten days as larvae before turning into adults.  But if they don’t have enough food to grow into adults, they begin shrinking again, becoming not only smaller but biologically younger.  In the laboratory, if they are alternately fed and starved, fed and starved, they can be cycled through this process of maturation and regression at least 10 times. 

With full feeding, the beetles have an 8-week life span.  But in the lab, they have been cycled through growth and retrogression for two years.  Once they are fully fed, they grow into normal adults, with normal life spans, no matter how many childhoods they have enjoyed.

article in Science by Beck & Bharadwaj, 1972

28 April 2009

Remain aghast at life

Enter each day
as upon a stage
lighted and waiting
for your step
Crave upward as flame
have keenness in the nostril
Give your eyes
to agony or rapture

Take earth for your own large room
and the floor of earth
carpeted with sunlight
and hung round with silver wind
for your dancing place

~ May Swenson ~
           ( from Nature: Poems Old and New )


29 April 2009

A new kind of science

The ‘old’ way to do science was to look at the phenomenon you’re interested, collect data, try to surmise the rules governing its behavior, go back and see if those rules correctly predict some behaviors you have yet to study.  When you’ve achieved some success with one system, you could try to leverage that to a broader class of systems, guessing that there might be a common principle underlying the entire class. 

For forty years, physicists have dreamed of a ‘Theory of Everything’ that would be the natural denouement of this project, generalizing so far that all natural phenomena might be deduced from a small number of truly fundamental laws.

Stephen Wolfram has a different idea.  He earned his right to our attention two decades ago by giving science the gift of Mathematica, a ‘Researcher’s Playground’ that solves equations, performs integrals and derivatives, multiplies matrices, plots graphs, and generally allows the mathematically-inclined investigator to play ‘what-if’ without the drudgery of having to compute anything.

Now he proposes: Let’s assume that there is a Theory of Everything, a few simple rules from which all the phenomena of nature can be deduced.  With sufficient computational power, we can try a really dumb approach to finding the Theory of Everything:  We’ll start with the simplest possible rules, work out their consequences, see if they agree with the Universe in which we find ourselves, then systematically classify all such simple rule sets, try them one-by-one and work out the consequences.  With the right software tools, we can automate the process, sit back and wait for our computer to announce that, after trying the simplest two trillion possible theories, it has found one that works.

In order to automate the process of comparing with reality, there remains the small detail of encoding and systematizing all scientific knowledge — what Wolfram calls the ‘Leibniz Project’.  Wofram has taken a stab at that task, and has promised to unveil his efforts next week.

You have to hand it to the man — he doesn’t lowball his aspirations.

30 April 2009

Queen of Hearts — Archive of past entries. Bullfrog Design