Thursday, December 25, 2008

Can't come to work - I've caught "I Love You" virus...

Not sure if this find should go in here or the Zencookbook blog - but decided after a bit of head-scratching that it belongs here.  Yes, there's all kinds of threats to the environment, but there's also all kinds of benefits if one of these biohackers pulls off a particularly imaginative hack.

More interesting to me is how more and more technology is being lateralised, made available to anyone.  As far as I can see, this is the way it's meant to be and has been for millenia.  Telescopes weren't sequestered away and kept for "astonomers," what happened was that people made themselves telescopes, used them, and then called themselves astronomers.

Similarly, the largest and earliest impetuses in each field have come not from some enclave of "official" scientists working under some kind of "official" sanction - they've come from the people who thought to themselves "hey - I can do that!" and then did.  Charles Darwin was a minister's son and only became recognised for his work on evolutionary adaptation AFTER he did the work.  Leeuwenhoek didn't study optics - there was no official curriculum in optics at that stage - he created advances in the field and helped to formalise it as the field of optics, and he used what he created to make advances in microbiology, which is the thing he is more famous for.  All without a formal "official" education beyond basic schooling...

Some of our best advances in programming and electronic communication have come not from the "official" Internet Engineering Task Force and their directed research but from home hobbyists and self-confessed computer geeks and hackers.  We wouldn't have effortless web browsing today if not for individual efforts and ideas developed by individuals and small groups of "non-official" computer geeks.

All right - I mentioned "hackers" back there.  By now, a few of you will be backing up and going "ooh!  He said 'hackers,' he did!" and you'd be right to stop there.  The dangers of some dickhead producing a real-life "virus" in a meth-lab-like basement laboratory is real and present.  I wouldn't be surprised at all to see one coming out in 2009.  But also note that just as we had hackers, so we also have security minded people, who developed "antidotes" to the malware.

And while it looks like the spammers are winning, remember that there's a financial advantage to taking over computers and hacking - there is little financial advantage to killing the world's population.  Also, believe me when I say that anything, the most horrific things, that you can imagine are already being tried and tested in labs that hide behind barbed wire in underground bunkers, in countries all over the world...  Having as many facilities out there as possible in the public domain represents our best chance of someone with the knowledge and facilities to develop antidotes remaining alive out there...

Also - notice how computers and the Internet, which not so long ago were the esoteric realm of a relative few hobbyists and professionals, have now become everyday technology and in fact this is the enabling force behind the biohacking hobby now springing up.  Looking at the timeframe that led from physics and electricity as "official" fields, to electronics, communications, and then computers and Internet, you can see that once the knowledge was easily disseminated (via BBS's and early Internet) how exponentially the body of knowledge and achievements grew.  Now bear in mind that biology and modern allopathic medicine have been around for about the same amount of time, and huge amounts of information are coming online even as you read this.

So - don't waste your time trying to preserve "official ivory tower" desmesnes for the field, and instead start planning task forces and security forces to keep abreast of this new tsunami of biological innovations.  Haven't we learned anything from the progression from Brain virus to zombie farms?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Have an evolutionary Christmas!

Merry Christmas!  While I was sitting here waiting for my Christmas day to ramp up, I looked over an old article I'd saved from over a year ago.  Back then it didn't have this finding to round it out, but it still had the concept of a biological cause for religious experience down to a T.  The article is a good grounder in the whole matter, despite that it needs to be as long as it is to cover the subject.  Make the effort because it is worth it.

The question of why we feel religion (and superstition, mystical feelings, etc) is still a strange one even when you know that there's a bit of the brain that you can slow down the activity of and get an instant religious experience.

There's much debate about whether it's an evolutionary step or a byproduct of an evolutionary step, but I posit my theory that religion serves as a unifying force, a way to meld a culture together.  Religion may simply achieve that, and pretty much nothing else.  We (as biological creatures) notice that when "we" aren't as much in evidence inside our heads, we get an elated feeling, a reward.  We also notice that when we're in a large group, the "I" tends to go away in favour of the group.  And we get that reward feeling again. Together, the feeling seems to say, is how we should be.

Maybe that's the feeling social animals like ants and bees and sheep get all the time.  For them too, the aggregatory behaviour is an evolutionary bonus - large groups are more survival-oriented.  When they leave the safety of the herd, the sense of self stirs, and to a herd animal that would probably feel very negative and unfamiliar.

And I'd dare say that for humankind, too, groups were better than individuals.  Only in our case, our brain wasn't wired as a mob-dweller brain, it was wired as a solitary organism brain, and in our case depression of the ego produced a reward feeling.

Perhaps the right parietal lobe is a leftover from earlier days, or a mutation that proved advantageous - either way, we gained an extra personality from it.

And either way, it's no wonder we're such troubled creatures, with so many conflicting imperatives in our brains, we're probably glad to blame things on an entity called "God" or "Luck" or "Fate" or whatever.   But look on the bright side - because of that evolutionary kink, we get several holidays a year, Christmas included...

Which brings me back to Merry Christmas again...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Pssst! Can I interest ya in a re-con heart guv'nor?

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/12/22/canadian_lung_bubble/ reconditioned lungs are cool - there is yet hope that I won't be pushing up daisies before my 60th.  Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing depends, I guess.  I'll try and hold on until they get really really good at doing it.  %)

And of course, the future will hold a lot of things of interest to sufferers of other organ failures - imagine being able to get a heart with the embolism removed and healed ex vivo, then used to replace a totally failing heart.  At the exponential rate we're making advances, that will all happen around 11PM on Christmas Day or maybe the wee small hours of Boxing Day...

Friday, December 5, 2008

Gone - The Golden Age Of Great Genius? Maybe Not.

A recent Yahoo article poses the question of whether Einstein was the last great genius , citing the formation of large institutions as making it harder for individuals to make "stroke of genius" advances.  Me, I'm not so sure the great geniuses have vanished.  I think they've just moved to those large institutions.

If I had the choice of living on the bones of my arse with a laboratory made of collected scrap plumbing and the machinery from the old closed-down chip factory up the road, or living on a government grant, with a salary, a lab full of modern equipment, and half a dozen colleagues to bounce my ideas off, I know for sure it wouldn't take me a flash of genius to work out where I'd rather be....

I also say that except for a few rare individuals who work better in solitude, having a "support network" of colleagues is better for the creative process, so our geniuses these days are more likely to be found in collectives of very talented individuals.  That would tend to make them stand out a bit less, which might also give the impression that we're all out of genius.

Most of those solitary geniuses came out of a vastly different educational system, one less geared towards churning out average students and more likely to foster individualism.  That's not to say that genius can only flourish under such an educational system, of course.  If there's one thing we know about human spirit and intellect, it's that it will express itself under any conditions.  But the individual expressing it may these days be less averse to company than their counterparts under the less socialising system.

And of course, there may well be countless thousands of very intelligent people bordering on genius - but with today's surfeit of communications and magazines and peer reviews and blogs and websites and TV spots, they may well be singing in the wilderness for all the notice the world is taking of them, and their light shall, indeed, be hidden beneath bushels...

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