Friday, May 20, 2011

Rapture? Yeah.. right.

I can't let this weekend begin without a fly-by comment about this nonsense. A bunch of hyper-religious people have somehow decided that the end of the world starts tomorrow, and that they'll be bodily removed from the chaos that ensues. Every so often the psychosocial world we all swim in together becomes punctuated by something whacky like this.

Make My Bed? But You Say the World’s Ending

Talk about deliberate amplification of already high stress levels - I mean, as if people who've already been through tornado and flood and economic crippling need any more wear and tear on their inner psychosocial connection points. Or maybe they do - maybe they need to ratchet it all up to the max so that on Monday, when they realize nothing is really changed, they can call it a miracle and confabulate a bunch of gratitude to enjoy the feeling of instead. I would die of embarrassment if it were me - I mean, here is a woman announcing to her own son that he isn't going to make it. How can she face him on Monday? Seriously? What's her back up plan to save face in case she's wrong? 

"Hi Honey, what would you like for breakfast this morning?" 

"Nothing. I don't want anything. I'll grab a muffin on the way to school. Bye. And I'm never making my bed again as long as I live, so shove it."



So, is the world gonna end? Probably. Some day. So what? 

It's been dying ever since it was born. Entropy baby. It's such a slow process most of us don't care about it, don't even think about it much. It's just there, like the oxygen we take for granted. The more we rush around consuming everything on the planet the faster we hurtle the planet toward it. 

EXCERPT: Entropy is the only quantity in the physical sciences that seems to imply a particular direction of progress, sometimes called an arrow of time. As time progresses, the second law of thermodynamics states that the entropy of an isolated system never decreases. Hence, from this perspective, entropy measurement is thought of as a kind of clock.

But what about renewal, and growth, and life? Well, these things seem on the surface to contradict the idea of entropy, but fit as a loop right inside it. My understanding, dim and rough, is that life is tolerated because it helps reduce energy gradients faster than they otherwise would reduce all by themselves. How's that for a catch-22?

The best book ever, and I must admit, the only one I was ever able to access with my own mental capacity, was Dorion Sagan's and Eric Schneider's wonderfully readable book, Into the Cool.  It's entirely online, readable there, explains everything in a science-based yet conversational manner, and is thoroughly digestible by most general readers, one hopes.  Even mere breathing of oxygen reduces the energy gradient, and certainly burning fossil fuels, something that humans seem desperate to do, helps a whole lot. Cutting down trees helps too, because those great big plants make more oxygen, even as we are trying our species-programmed best to reduce it. 

So even those of us who can only bear life by sitting still and breathing for long periods of time, are actually helping entropy move along... exhale... move along...inhale....move along.... exhale.

Anyway, yes, the world will end, but no, not tomorrow, and it's not about to start tomorrow, because it already started to end pretty much the day it began, just as we all do. And it has been accelerated by human activity on the planet, but again, that ship has kinda left the dock.. I truly think that only the indigenous peoples, specifically those who made a point of being very conservative with nature's resources, who dreamed up the notion of never taking anything out of nature without putting something back in, only they would be deserving of any divine rescue - not that there actually is any. We're all here together and we're all gonna die, and so is the planet gonna die. Some day. Probably not tomorrow. So, relax already.

Slate article by Vaughn Bell: Prophecy Fail  - a discussion of post-non-apocalyptic rationalization. 

Interacting with the skin to change the brain

Will Stewart, fitness trainer, has recently become a blogtalkradio host, and asked a few people for interviews, including me. Here is the interview we did yesterday, Interacting with the skin to change the brain, about an hour.

Previous interviews include Applying neuroscience to athletics and therapy practice with Jason Silvernail, May 16th/11, and Understanding Pain to Maximize Performance, with Barrett Dorko, May 12/11.  This page links all his blogradio episodes to date.

Will's blogger name is thrill96. He has a site, 3-D Optimal Performance. He is hosting a workshop with Barrett Dorko, Saturday June 11/11 in Wa. DC. (see details linked to his site).

Monday, May 16, 2011

Multi-cell bodies and ecosystems

I've always suspected as much...

Species are to ecosystems as cells are to the human body, according to a mathematical model

 Mathematical parallelism. Very cool. 

"...from this perspective, it could be stated that multiccellular beings are also ecosystems. That is, we are formed by different types of cells that cooperate and compete for resources; we are colonized by diverse types of bacteria (in the intestines, in the skin, etc.) whose activity is linked to other processes in our organism: we are invaded by viruses, which can be harmful or can take part in processes that regulate our DNA. "These beings are constantly being changed, in such a way that after a long enough time passes, all of the entities that form us have been substituted one or more times. Nevertheless, throughout the process, we continue to be ourselves. This is the same thing that happens with ecosystems," explains Prof. Cuesta."

Friday, May 13, 2011

Just surfing around

Ectoderm, brain, amygdala ... I found this earlier today: The beginnings of the brain. I took a look and saw this first paragraph:
"All of the tissues and organs of the body arise from one of three embryonic precursors: the ectoderm, mesoderm and endoderm. The ectoderm contributes to several tissues, including the nervous system and the skin, but some studies have suggested that development into neurons requires nothing more than the absence of specific inhibitory signals."
Terminally interested as I am in unfoldment of the HumanAntiGravitySuit, I took a closer look and saw this, next:
"This phenomenon has led biologists to formulate what is called the ‘neural default model’. “The simplest interpretation of the neural default model is that the neural fate is a ‘left-over’ choice, passively determined by the elimination of other pathways of differentiation,” explains Yoshiki Sasai of the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe."
So, I wonder, is the 'neural default mode' to the embryo similar to the situation of the female gender (in humans at least) as 'default' human phenotype, requiring all sorts of special chomosomal, hormonal and anatomical applications to build the alternate, i.e. males? Or all those interesting XXY's and XYY's etc., inbetweeners? not to mention all the other aneuploidic people?
But really, this is a stray thought.

Further along in the story, whoever-the-author-is points out that calling something a 'default mode' doesn't contribute any explanation about what drives the nervous system to develop. Clever researchers are investigating that very topic. Right down to a single protein, Zfp521:
"They identified one intriguing candidate, Zfp521, which activated several other genes involved in neural development, even when the mES cells were cultured in the presence of factors that would normally curb this process."
So, it's ever more interesting even as I feel the water of scientific minutia closing over my head and drowning me for the kajillionth time. Good thing I can still breathe under that kind of water. I generally figure, the more I can expose my creaky brain to information, the more likely it will finally be able to retain some of it. Just a hunch, but this strategy usually has worked for me in the past.

Anyway, some links to some pretty heavy papers were included at the end of the story, which is always appreciated.. not that they always are decipherable by me in the moment:
1. Kamiya, D., et al. Intrinsic transition of embryonic stem-cell differentiation into neural progenitors. Nature 470, 503–509 (2011).

2. Watanabe, K., et al. Directed differentiation of telencephalic precursors from embryonic stem cells. Nature Neuroscience 8, 288–296 (2005).

From the link to the second paper, I strayed to a link that went to this:

Amygdala and neocortex: common origins and shared mechanisms (Ooh, that sounds kinda juicy...) which discusses an article,  A stream of cells migrating from the caudal telencephalon reveals a link between the amygdala and neocortex.

ABSTRACT: The amygdaloid complex consists of diverse nuclei that belong to distinct functional systems, yet many issues about its development are poorly understood. Here, we identify a stream of migrating cells that form specific amygdaloid nuclei in mice. In utero electroporation showed that this caudal amygdaloid stream (CAS) originated in a unique domain at the caudal telencephalic pole that is contiguous with the dorsal pallium, which was previously thought to generate only neocortical cells. The CAS and the neocortex share mechanisms for specification (transcription factors Tbr1, Lhx2 and Emx1/2) and migration (reelin and Cdk5). Reelin, a critical cue for migration in the neocortex, and Cdk5, which is specifically required for migration along radial glia in the neocortex, were both selectively required for the normal migration of the CAS, but not for that of other amygdaloid nuclei. This is first evidence of a dorsal pallial contribution to the amygdala, demonstrating a developmental and mechanistic link between the amygdala and the neocortex.

Fills in a bit of the story about how the amygdala arrives first on the scene, before the neocortex, evolutionarily, developmentally and functionally, then becomes a very fast and very bossy little spy, gathering the first scoop on any situation and always, throughout the whole lifespan, tries to tell the neocortex how to feel and think.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Getting closer

I've been out looking at office spaces over the last few weeks. The first place was formerly a doctor's office. It had a nice skylight but way too much space, about a thousand square feet, and a desperately ugly carpet. Twice the space I needed. Much renovating would have been involved. It was at street level, so would have been accessible. But the amount of fixing&cleaning&painting, the monthly expense, the excess room made me feel lethargic about going after it.

The second space was undeveloped, an even huger retail space, about 1800 square feet. Elevator, public bathrooms.. lots of light. Way more square footage than I needed. Building practically empty. Creepy. Probably hideously expensive. I didn't even ask.

The third place was a second floor walk-up. About the right size, some nice east light, but dark dull carpet, dark dull wall board, and another occupant on the same floor who is a tattoo artist. I would have had to fight for street visibility, because the tat artist had his place advertised all over the glass door at street level. I hate needles, acupuncture, all that stuff. I've never wanted and never will want a tattoo. I don't know what I would have been charged. I didn't even ask. Twenty-two steps are too many for most of the old folks in this town to climb.

The fourth place.. it might be the right space. Just under 400 square feet. Used to be a barber shop. It has a bathroom with a rust-stained toilet which I'm told will be changed out for a new updated toilet. It has street level entryway, north window exposure, can be partitioned into a treatment room and a little reception room. The price is affordable, includes utilities (heat, light, air), a parking spot, sidewalk cleaning in the winter. Right now it has dark rubber tile and dark navy walls [/sigh]. It would look great with hardwood and light neutral walls and a beautiful blind to allow light in at the top but screen out peeping toms. Best of all, it's in a fairly modern building that houses seniors. Perfect. Excellent neighbours. Maybe future customers.

It's right downtown. It's near a fabulous old shiny white marble building that I remember from childhood. It's now a bank, but my childhood doctor used to have an office in there. I can see that building from the balcony where I live. It glistens in the sunset, it shines in the rain. The office would be only two blocks from where I live. How much more convenient could it get? Yeah. I think I'm ready to handle my life again. I think I have at least another 15 years of human primate social grooming left in me. I'll be 75 by then.

On other fronts, I met a couple who just moved here; the wife is a PT, with a secure job in a provincially funded rehab facility, who is trying to organize a teaching gig for me (something I cannot seem to manage to do on my own). The husband is a tech-savvy guy who is going to help me make an app. Another friend is helping edit/update my long-neglected manual. I feel things shifting, whether I'm ready for a shift or not. I'm never ready, but do my best to stay caught up to whatever is happening on whatever beach life washes me up onto. Until whenever the next inner tsunami comes along to wash me out of my comfortable rut yet again.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Post election

It was a hand-wringer. Apparently the voting percentage went up by about 5% (I read somewhere), so that's nice I guess. Couldn't be more pleased with a Green seat finally, and all that orange spread in Quebec. But.. Harper with the steel hair now has a majority. Which means he can ram through whatever he wants. Not that he didn't before - when he couldn't get his way he would simply prorogue. That was how he dictated when he only had minority government. Look out - now he doesn't have to listen to anyone if he doesn't want to, and he has never indicated (other than in his pretty acceptance speech last night) that he ever has wanted or wants to.

This is a whole new scene this morning. Watch the NDP be the official opposition for the first time ever in history. Politically, no schmoozy Liberal Party pretending to be all things to all people while itSELF doing whatever it wanted with whomever it wanted. The vasoline is off the mirror now and we'll get to see how our country operates politically, way more accurately. A clear corporate shill party in total domination position and a much more people-party in official opposition.

Superficially it looks like English Canada versus French Canada. However, I trust the instincts of French voters way ahead of the motives of English voters, in this country. I've always voted NDP, and now, most of Quebec does too. What I don't understand is why it took them so long to see what the NDP stood for. I mean, yeah, it started out as the CCF, and the CCF started out in Saskatchewan, and yeah, it all connects to medicare and Tommy Douglas, so yeah, it's originally a leftist party with roots in prairie English-speaking populism, so I can see how superficially at least, the Quebec voter might be apt to have not wanted to look any deeper. But 50 years have passed, and as it turns out Jack Layton is a Quebecer. OK, an English-speaking Quebecer, but still, he's from Quebec, not the prairies. That must have made a difference, and the fact his dad was an MP (a conservative MP if you can imagine, when Quebec loved Mulroney) must have made a difference. Whatever the case, Quebec seems to think it has a national voice again, now, so that's got to be good. 

Someone in the US asked me on Facebook if the Conservative/Liberal divide was along urban/rural lines the way it is in the US. I replied,
"Yes, generally. The thing about Canada though is that only a few cities are big enough to be urban cultures on their own - most of the cities are midsize and therefore still have "heartlandish" tendencies. Quebec is a force unto itself, as you can see by these results. Even though English-speaking Canada continues to frame Quebec as the tail wagging the dog, really, Canada is a two-headed dog with just one tail, wagged by mutual agreement."

Other than a few of us iconoclasts sprinkled thinly throughout the country, though (e.g., like me who has voted NDP my entire life, since I came of voting age 42 years ago), there has never been the accelerated push behind the party that Quebec voters provided yesterday, pushing the orange colour forward, an almost 300% increase in seat numbers, giving it official opposition status for the first time in history and pretty much putting the Liberal Party out of its historical 'party of Canada and the Queen' position it has held since the Canada was a newborn, and maybe out of its misery.