Health is a communist

We live in the most pathologically individualistic culture in human history, and of course it has health consequences. People are looking for a pill that will make them feel better and live longer when the answer could be as close as knocking on a neighbor’s door…

But of course it’s not so simple. To dance, to integrate meaningful ritual in our daily lives, to feel part of a tightly interdependent community that gives our lives meaning and that won’t let us down when we’re down…these are wonderful boons, but there are deep taboos standing in the way of anyone who pursues them. We are going to have to take risks, come together, turn our culture around.

Science Blog article

Fate, teleology, and retrocausality

The Greeks believed in destiny.  Most human cultures have a feeling that the world moves the way it does because it is tending toward how it was meant to be.  We have intuitions about what is a fitting end.

If you write in a biology journal about evolution tending toward a higher state of fitness, your paper will be redlined with an accusation of teleology.  “Don’t you know that evolution is blind to the future, and can only select from random variations on the past state?  It’s basic physics, Stupid.”

But you can write in a physics journal about retrocausality as a necessary feature of quantum mechanics, to be avoided only by accepting pictures of reality that disagree yet more wildly with our intuitions–for example, the idea that there is no objective physical reality, or that experimenters do not have free choice in designing their experiments.

In their philosophizing, neither physicists nor biologists are inclined to consider real experimental evidence for retrocausality.  Maybe in 3 billion years of evolution, cells have learned to use quantum mechanics in ways that scientists in 100 years haven’t yet discovered.

‘Spectacular’ drop in renewable energy costs leads to record global boost

For the first time last year, new solar installations were greater than any other electricity-producing technology.  With prices for solar falling and all other energy sources rising, this makes it easy to predict the future direction of world energy.

“Renewables are quite simply the cheapest way to generate energy in an ever-growing number of countries.”

From The Guardian

Renewable energy capacity around the world was boosted by a record amount in 2016 and delivered at a markedly lower cost, according to new global data – although the total financial investment in renewables actually fell. Plummeting prices for solar and wind power … led to new power deals in countries including Denmark, Egypt, India, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates all being priced well below fossil fuel or nuclear options. The new renewable energy capacity installed worldwide in 2016 was 161GW, a 10% rise on 2015 and a new record, according to REN21, a network of public and private sector groups covering 155 nations and 96% of the world’s population. New solar power provided the biggest boost – half of all new capacity – followed by wind power at a third and hydropower at 15%. Christiana Figueres, the former UN climate chief who delivered the Paris agreement and is now convenor of Mission 2020, said: “The economic case for renewables as the backbone of our global energy system is increasingly clear and proven. Offering ever greater bang-for-buck, renewables are quite simply the cheapest way to generate energy in an ever-growing number of countries.”

Panpsychism Proved

Met with stony silence.

“There’s a new way for me to find out what you’re thinking,” said Shirley, sitting down opposite her co-worker Rick in the lab’s sunny cafeteria. She looked very excited, very pleased with herself.

“You’ve hired a private eye?” said Rick. “I promise, Shirley, we’ll get together for something one of these days. I’ve been busy, is all.” He seemed uncomfortable at being cornered by her.

“I’ve invented a new technology,” said Shirley. “The mindlink. We can directly experience each other’s thoughts. Let’s do it now.”

“Ah, but then you’d know way too much about me,” said Rick, not wanting the conversation to turn serious. “A guy like me, I’m better off as a mystery man.”

“The real mystery is why you aren’t laid off,” said Shirley tartly. “You need friends like me, Rick. And I’m dead serious about the mindlink. I do it with a special quantum jiggly-doo. There will be so many applications.”

“Like a way to find out what my boss thinks he asked me to do?”

Panpsychism proved

“Communication, yes. The mindlink will be too expensive to replace the cell phone — at least for now — but it opens up the possibility of reaching the inarticulate, the mentally ill and, yeah, your boss. Emotions in a quandary? Let the mindlink techs debug you!”

“So now I’m curious,” said Rick. “Let’s see the quantum jiggly-doo.”

Shirley held up two glassine envelopes, each holding a tiny pinch of black powder. “I have some friends over in the heavy hardware division, and they’ve been giving me microgram quantities of entangled pairs of carbon atoms. Each atom in this envelope of mindlink dust is entangled with an atom in this other one. The atom pairs’ information is coherent but locally inaccessible — until the atoms get entangled with observer systems.”

“And if you and I are the observers, that puts our minds in synch, huh?” said Rick. “Do you plan to snort your black dust off the cafeteria table or what?”

“Putting it on your tongue is fine,” said Shirley, sliding one of the envelopes across the tabletop.

“You’ve tested it before?”

“First I gave it to a couple of monkeys. Bonzo watched me hiding a banana behind a door while Queenie was gone, and then I gave the dust to Bonzo and Queenie, and Queenie knew right away where the banana was.

“I tried it with a catatonic person too. She and I swallowed mindlink dust together and I was able to single out the specific thought patterns tormenting her. I walked her through the steps in slow motion. It really helped her.”

“You were able to get medical approval for that?” said Rick, looking dubious.

“No, I just did it. I hate red tape. And now it’s time for a peer-to-peer test. With you, Rick. Each of us swallows our mindlink dust and makes notes on what we see in the other’s mind.”

“You’re sure that the dust isn’t toxic?” asked Rick, flicking the envelope with a fingernail.

“It’s only carbon, Rick. In a peculiar kind of quantum state. Come on, it’ll be fun. Our minds will be like websites for each other — we can click links and see what’s in the depths.”

“Like my drunk-driving arrest, my membership in a doomsday cult and the fact that I fall asleep sucking my thumb every night?”

“You’re hiding something behind all those jokes, aren’t you, Rick? Don’t be scared of me. I can protect you. I can bring you along on my meteoric rise to the top.”

Rick studied Shirley for a minute. “Tell you what,” he said finally. “If we’re gonna do a proper test, we shouldn’t be sitting here face to face. People can read so much from each other’s expressions.” He gestured towards the boulder-studded lawn outside the cafeteria doors. “I’ll go sit down where you can’t see me.”

“Good idea,” said Shirley. “And then pour the carbon into your hand and lick it up. It tastes like burnt toast.”

Shirley smiled, watching Rick walk across the cafeteria. He was so cute and nice. If only he’d ask her out. Well, with any luck, while they were linked, she could reach into his mind and implant an obsessive loop centring around her. That was the real reason she’d chosen Rick as her partner for this mindlink session, which was, if the truth be told, her tenth peer-to-peer test.

She dumped the black dust into her hand and licked. Her theory and her tests showed that the mindlink effect always began in the first second after ingestion — there was no need to wait for the body’s metabolism to transport the carbon to the brain. This in itself was a surprising result, indicating that a person’s mind was somehow distributed throughout the body, rather than sealed up inside the skull.

She closed her eyes and reached out for Rick. She’d enchant him and they’d become lovers. But, dammit, the mind at the other end of the link wasn’t Rick’s. No, the mind she’d linked to was inhuman: dense, taciturn, crystalline, serene, beautiful…

“Having fun yet?” It was Rick, standing across the table, not looking all that friendly.

“What…” began Shirley.

“I dumped your powder on a boulder. You’re too weird for me. I gotta go.”

Shirley walked slowly out of the patio doors to look at the friendly grey lump of granite. How nice to know that a rock had a mind. The world was cosier than she’d ever realized. She’d be OK without Rick. She had friends everywhere.

Rudy Rucker, reprinted from Nature journal (2006)

Just because science is compartmentalized doesn’t mean that the brain is compartmentalized.

When Gregor Mendel’s researches established the laws of genetics, he was studying height and color in pea plants. He looked at traits controlled by single genes, because there he could see the clearest patterns. We now know that his chosen genes were the exception. Most genes have multiple purposes, with many and varied interactions. The genome is a web that resists being compartmentalized, and epigenetics is even more intricately convoluted.

In recent decades, neurologists have been studying the brain the way Mendel studied genetics.  They can localize separate functions in separate regions with fMRI, and induce predictable reactions with stimulation of a particular neuron.

But there are hints that the brain’s organization will prove to be every bit as convoluted as the genome’s.  If this turns out to be the case, we will need very different methods and different concepts from the reductionism that has been the mainstay of Western science.

Read an article at The Conversation

fMRI biofeedback

The headline promises “The Most Promising Route to Mental Superpowers”.  But what this BBC article are talking about is really much like what Wim Hof promised (see yesterday’s post)—namely conscious control over the autonomic nervous system.

The path they offer is a lot easier and less painful than Hof’s, but it requires expensive machinery and huge magnets.

fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) is a technology for visualizing the brain in action, watching which parts are getting extra blood flow. By watching the screen, you can learn you can learn to activate different regions of your brain. The process is probably similar to the way a baby learns to control his hands and his fingers by proprioceptive and visual biofeedback.

The article is replete with speculation about improving concentration, blocking pain, even increasing IQ—but we’re not there yet.

Easier is learning directly to stimulate pleasure centers, to feel better in the moment by an act of will. It’s easy for me to believe this is possible, and I wonder how many people will be interested in doing it. I have a sense that many people would feel suspicious of feeling better via an act of will.

There’s another question about the direct effect of RF radiation and strong magnetic fields on the brain. There is a lot of denial among neuro-scientists because no one understands why the brain should interact with magnetic fields or radio waves.