To set the stage, see a fascinating article, The Quiet Coup, in The Atlantic about why nations in economic crisis never do the obvious thing -- go after the oligarchs who caused it.
Fiduciary Duty vs. The Three Laws of Robotics” which contends that the modern corporation is exactly the wrong model for an intelligent, artificial organism, one whose feral amoral dedication only to stockholder value conflicts diametrically with all of the values that scholars and philosophers found attractive about Isaac Asimov’s famed “laws of robotics.”
Pitman raised interesting points. Still, I have to demure a little. Having served as the last author to channel Isaac -- indeed the one to consolidate and tie together all of his loose ends (see my novel Foundation’s Triumph), I became painfully aware of the flaws underlying Asimov's Three Laws -- especially the fact that super-intelligent lawyers would be able to interpret them any way they liked. Indeed, there is an additional complaint against the corporate fiduciary law, and that is the way it so easily is hijacked by parasites, like a simple organism taken over by viruses.
We have seen this happen in the corporate world, when the top leadership clade in not just one company, but whole swathes of the corporatocracy, were taken over by a single cartel/ingroup of a couple of thousand cronies, who bent every rule or procedure to assist each other in cycles of parasitism that had nothing to do with maximizing stockholder value. Both deceitful and self deceiving at every level. this small cluster of golf buddies did everything that a cartel does -- creating an artificial perception of “scarcity in managerial talent” that then allowed them to jack up prices for CEOs, directors and all other members of the cartel.
Thus, what we are discussing is not an inherent flaw of capitalism, but a failure of our immune system to deal with a calamity that we already know about. A crime that is already on the books.
Another interesting Pitman perspective is “Rethinking Mega-Corporations” -- I don’t agree on all levels. But it is part of the re-appraisal of corporate capitalism that’s badly needed... if we are to save and re-invigorate capitalism as an economic cornucopia.
==What to do about Detroit? About toxic assets?==
I’ll put aside most political matters for a couple of weeks, but let me just reiterate that there are some alternatives that ought to be on the table. I have suggested elsewhere (see: Offer a Fresh Deal to Labor and Management) that the best way to get the automakers a vastly better deal from the unions, and to get them out of hock, and to revamp management at the same time, would be to admit the core truth, that these companies are already employee owned. Replacing much of the hourly wage with stock would instantly fix the balance books while prodding workers with a powerful motivation to return the companies to profitability.
I do not understand Treasury Secretary Geithner. I thought he was supposed to be on our side. The way to deal with the “toxic assets” is to sop them up in a “negative auction” in which present owners race to the bottom, so we taxpayers get the best deal in buying them up. But Big G is arranging the opposite kind of auction, in order to boost the banks apparent balance books and keep them “apparently solvent.” But that appearance of solvency could be solved another way, simply by relaxing the rules for writing down bad debts, temporarily. Most of the mortgage-backed securities are NOT failing, but banks must liquidate due to reserve requirement rules. So? Adjust the rules, for a while! As long as it takes to buy the toxics at prices that aren’t toxic to you and me.
As if I know what I’m talking about.
==Misc New Items...==
Take a look at the amazing new H+ Magazine. Singularity 101 with Vernor Vinge, Space Solar, First Steps Toward Post Scarcity, Building Your Perfect Memory, Hacking The Economy, and Nanobots in the Bloodstream are among the articles in the impressive new Spring 2009 issue of the online trendsetting edge-culture magazine H+.
See an interesting profile of Freeman Dyson, who has suggested not that Global Warming isn’t happening... (only dingbats and those whores at Cato believe that)... but that there may be a lot of net good to arise out of the warming trend. He makes some interesting points, and I agree that chicken little scurrying may have gone too far. On the other hand, rapid transitions... ANY rapid transitions, inevitably spur disruption, habitat extinctions, desertification and local desperation. Some locales that turn desperate will also have nuclear weapons. Read and be provoked.
A distinct electric signature in the brain that predicts that an error is about to be made has been found by UC Davis and Donders Institute neuroscientists by analyzing recorded magnetoencephalographic (MEG) brain activity. (Donders Institute) About a second before errors were committed, alpha activity was about 25 percent stronger in the back of the head (the occipital region), and in the middle region, the sensorimotor cortex, there was a corresponding increase in the 's mu activity.
Myelin (the fatty layer of insulation coating neural wiring in the ) plays a critical role in determining intelligence, and is largely genetically determined, a team headed by UCLA neuroscientists has found. Myelin-coated tracts make up the brain's white matter, while the bodies of neural cells are called grey matter. DTI scans of 92 pairs of fraternal and identical twins. They found a strong correlation between the integrity of the white matter and performance on a standard IQ test.
Resistance to paternalistic secrecy can take many forms. Satire is among the most powerful. See the Chinese people fighting back... with humor.
A fascinating summary of the roots of Chinese history in the conquest of Mexico and the Opium War:
Research spanning 20 years has given us almost a recipe for planting and embellishing false memories in people, said Elizabeth F. Loftus, a professor of psychology and criminology at the University of California at Irvine. This has serious implications for false memory problems that are occurring in society, which are really memory distortion episodes, she said.
An interesting article about lie-detection -- In the first use of fMRI to detect deception in individuals, the researchers used the patterns they identified to correctly determine whether each of the subjects had taken a watch or a ring 90 percent of the time. The use of fMRI represents the cutting edge of lie-detection technology. As far as we know, no region of the brain specializes in lies. But investigators have found that lying activates brain regions involved in suppressing information and in resolving conflicts—such as that between the impulse to describe reality and the wish to contradict it. ...When a subject was fibbing, the scientists noted a burst of activity in a strip of brain tissue at the top of the head that is involved in motor control and sensory feedback and in the anterior cingulate, which performs cognitive tasks such as detecting discrepancies that could result in errors. Also found that activity in inferior frontal regions and in the right anterior insula, which interprets bodily states as emotions, directly paralleled sweat gland productivity, lending credence to both brain and skin responses as indicators of fibbing. Otoh, studies of people with antisocial personality disorders, for example, indicate that such patients may have damaged frontal lobes. Because of these discrepancies, a sociopath, psychopath or someone who is simply a good liar might well be able to suppress any suspicious neural responses to the “insider” choices and thus avoid detection.
==On the Great Apes==
The Great Ape Trust in Iowa is engaging in an experiment, bonobos, which are part of the great ape family that includes chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans, have been given their own house in which to live and dwell. In 2005, organizers placed eight bonobos in a multi-million dollar facility in what is hoped will be a successful long term and multi-generational experiment. The house is equipped with 18 rooms that include a kitchen in which to prepare meals and vending machines that dispense snacks. There are flushing lavatories, an indoor waterfall and walls for climbing. When it comes time to eat, the apes help their human handlers prepare meals in a compound kitchen. The bonobos can monitor the front door with a camera and decide for themselves who can come in – although they are known for welcoming visitors and often taking newcomers by the hand to show them around the complex.
A fascinating development in the war between science and postmodernism. Apparently, some members of the latter -named cult have come to realize that their beloved nonsense became far more the tool of reactionary oppressors than science itself ever was.
See Brockman’s EDGE site for a fascinating essay on the 50th anniversary of CP Snow’s famous “two cultures” epistle, about the gaping divide between the scientific and the academic literary world. Snow's descriptions of the two cultures are not exactly subtle. Scientists, he asserts, have "the future in their bones," while "the traditional culture responds by wishing the future did not exist." Scientists, he adds, are morally "the soundest group of intellectuals we have," while literary ethics are more suspect.
Speaking of apes.... A truly dismal and misleading article in scientific American about S. JAY OLSHANSKY, LEONARD HAYFLICK and BRUCE A. CARNES says corectly that “no anti-aging remedy on the market today has been proved effective” and that most of the promises made so far are pipe dreams. I agree, so why do I find their article dumb and below SciAm standards? First, they dimiss any thought that aging may involve some kind of expiration clock, hewing solely and exclusively to the “accumulation of errors” theory. But...
(1) pure accumulation of errors, all by itself, would inevitably feature far more outliers -- individual exceptions -- than we see in human or animal populations.
(2) Caloric restriction and sex-delay in many species (e.g. flies and mice) have triggered fundamentally and qualitatively different aging profiles and rates... and yet caloric restriction evidently has NO such dramatic effect upon human populations (a puzzle that I can tentatively explain, but that the authors’ theory cannot.)
(3) There is a famous mass-vs-lifespan curve for mammals, such that most species seem to get roughly the same number of heartbeats! Yes, this might be consistent with error-accumulation! Except primates get more heartbeats, apes even more, and humans three times the mammalian norm!
Funny thing, primates are the mammals that NEED longer lifespans because their babies are dependent longer. More so apes. And humans needed longer spans even more. So... we evolved to get them. Um... that sounds a lot more like a “clock” than error accumulation! These guys may be right in their cautionary message to the public. But it doesn’t stop em from being dopes.
==Please help update the predictions site!==
Until I can arm-twist some billionaire to fund a real predictions registry, we can at least continue our group experiment with the little wiki that holds me accountable. So folks, please do (if possible) drop by and help Tony (and others) revise, fill and update the predictions wiki at: http://earthbydavidbrin.pbwiki.com/Predictions
Not only is it interesting -- tracking the successful... and embarrassingly wrong forecasts from Earth and other books-- but filling it in and taking care of some of the missing sections could actually help your humble host at getting some attention paid to interesting topics. Making the wiki look fairly professional and respectable could make a real difference.If you want to join with full writing privileges, just ask Tony Fisk via the comments section, below.
Oh, someone be sure to keep an eye on Bill Christensen’s much more general sci fi predictions site, technovelgy.com! And help the two correlate. This is part of the long slog toward getting society to admit that sci fi knows best!
==And now for something different…==
After the sublime... the ridiculous! Google is at it again with April Fool’s yuks:
--Research Group switches on world's first artificial intelligence tasked array
--Introducing Google Chrome with 3D
--The easiest email could possibly be
An absolute must-see: FDA approves drug for the annoyingly cheerful!
*** Open call for articles about interesting breakthroughs in augmented or mixed reality, especially overlays of virtual objects on realtime surroundings (e.g. through eyeglass headsup displays.) Also, anybody with contacts with companies either in DC or Phoenix, I’ll be in those two cities and open to suggested folks who might want an inspirational and stimulating speech or consultation about “the future.”
Corrected link: Fiduciary Duty vs. The Three Laws of Robotics.
Also: Rethinking Mega-Corporations.
People who write about caloric restriction and placid lifestyles in the prevention of aging also complain that there is no ethical way to test this on human beings. To which I say "Bosh." There is an already existing population of men and women for whom this is a chosen lifestyle - has been for centuries. Millennia. If the theories are true, it should be visible in every monastery.
On the predictions registry front, Dr, Brin, a new site has launched and I think you might be interested: http://wrongtomorrow.com/ I've already told the creator he should get in touch with you, but maybe you'd care to contact him first. See the FAQ for his e-mail address.
Paul Krugman on the TARPish rescue scheme:
April 2, 2009, 8:58 AM
“The banks” versus “some banks”
On the run: this critique of my views is interesting. But I think there’s a crucial assumption that isn’t right. The question isn’t whether “the banks” are insolvent; most surely aren’t. Instead, some banks are probably insolvent.
So it’s not the case that the costs of the PPIP are costs we’d have to bear one way or another; there’s a lot of money going to institutions that would never otherwise arrive at the taxpayers’ door.
And that, in a broad sense, is what’s wrong with TARPish rescue schemes. They try to fix the banks by driving up the price of a whole asset class. Most of those assets are NOT held by the probably insolvent banks. So it’s a diffuse, inefficient way of tackling the problem — a taxpayer subsidy to basically anyone holding toxic waste legacy assets, rather than a direct infusion of funds where needed. Contrast it with what the FDIC does when it moves in: it doesn’t shower money on banks in general, hoping that this will solve the problem; it seizes banks that are in trouble, and recapitalizes them.
To justify the scheme as announced, you have to either assume that the toxic assets are wildly underpriced, or take as a given extreme political and legal constraints preventing you from doing anything close to the right thing.
And about those legal constraints: it’s funny how GM is being treated as a ward of the state, even though it hasn’t formally declared bankruptcy, in a way that AIG — which is 80% government-owned! — is not.
The entire post-modernist mindset, from what little I can understand, seems very reminiscent of C. J. Cherryh's Wave Without A Shore story, where an entire society of people on an alien planet routinely dismiss stuff they disagree with from their perception of reality. Pretty cool story but kinda scary when you see folks trying to do this in our world.
A certain segment of the Right will celebrate that story about myelin sheath thickness heritability with unrestrained glee, since it lets them claim that Science gives them the right to discriminate.
The same folks will snort and sneer at new evidence for global warming, and suggest that those concerned about it are humanity-hating cultists.
spreack: The sound my L-5 vertebrae would make if I were a cartoon character.
So folks, please do (if possible) drop by and help Tony (and others) revise, fill and update the predictions wiki
27 down and 22 to go.
Nice to see you here Eric. In case anyone missed it from the end of the last posting, the Institute For The Future have an interesting sounding game/experiment going that is relevant to prediction registries. It's called signtist. I haven't looked into the full details, but it appears to be an attempt to harness 'the wisdom of crowds' to identify and track trends.
buroggly: a gaseous and very satisfying brew that goes down a treat.
NASA Inspector General resigns for "retaliating against whistleblowers and prioritizing social relationships with top NASA officials over proper federal oversight."
The "Interesting Folks" link didn't work for me. I think Dr. Brin intended this link.
"Knowledge Ecologists"? That sounds like consultants who made up a word for what they do, so they can say "Does your company have any knowledge ecologists? *gasp* It doesn't? You must need our help right away!"
On the predictions registry front, Dr, Brin, a new site has launched and I think you might be interested: http://wrongtomorrow.com/ I've already told the creator he should get in touch with you, but maybe you'd care to contact him first. See the FAQ for his e-mail address.
Ooh, maybe Dr. Brin could formalize his prediction on "10,000 Timothy McVeighs". After all, his previous objection:
>>I am happy to see movement toward falsifiable rpedictions registries/ but why should I do it first?<<
No longer holds. :)
Robot scientist comes up with its own new discoveries
"I would have liked … Adam to be an author in our paper," said King, noting that the robot came up with the ideas and did the experimental work. "But the editors are a bit stuffy about such things"
People who write about caloric restriction and placid lifestyles in the prevention of aging also complain that there is no ethical way to test this on human beings.
... it seems that some scientists have already gotten the benefits of the caloric restriction at the metabolic level without having to remove the calories;
"Sinclair discovered several years ago that resveratrol activates the SIRT1 enzyme, one of an enzyme family known as sirtuins. Caloric restriction also activates sirtuins, which regulate cell function and rejuvenate mitochondria, the cellular components that convert glucose to chemical energy."
Read more here.
It is using a chemical found in red wine (which is produced MORE when grapes are in distress). You'd have to drink about a thousand bottles a day to get the same effects.
This looks like it is going to have a REAL impact on longevity.
>>> And speaking of improving humans,...
I've long had a theory that humans developed "weakness" as a survival mechanism for starvation. The modern human first appeared from amongst ***** erectus and the Neanderthals in the last great ice age -- when food was scarce. So we developed a slower metabolism without lots of the food required to keep an animal our size and a brain that large around.
Humans are the 2nd coldest of the warm-blooded large mammals. The only "colder" warm blooded mammal is an Armadillo -- which is almost a lizard.
So, the question to ask here is not; Why is this kid so strong. The real question is; Why are humans pound for pound so much weaker than other apes? I'm guessing that, they won't find a mutant gene in this kid -- what they will find is that LACK of a strength suppressing gene that effects metabolism.
Well, yeah -- here is is;
"Liam Hoekstra, 3, has myostatin deficiency, which increases his muscle mass and reduces his body fat. " There have been a few articles about myostatin deficiencies before. But my guess is, if we get genetic material from more primitive progenitors of humans, they will have less myostatin (not zero, however). If he had no myostatin, he would never be able to get rid of any muscle. So this kid will be able to get strong, without needing to work out much.
I think you are right to question Dyson's ideas about the "good global warming." Any fast change is going to wipe out a lot of diversity.
The other problem is; we only know the world we already know. The law of unintended consequences is a great danger here.
Along with the climb in carbon, we have the acidification of the ocean.
While we might have had more CO2 when the dinosaurs were around, and we might have had more acidic oceans -- WE were not around in that environment. That's an important note. When we see the explosions of jellyfish and squid, and red tides that have algae blooms that release a neurotoxin -- well, those are some animals that might LIKE the changes.
MORE carbon dioxide isn't going to benefit the plants that WE necessarily want. Warmer nights helps N4 plants more than N3 -- that means that other than soybeans and weeds, our food plants are going to lose out. I don't pretend to know all the changes that can happen. And for Dyson to think of a couple dozen, it's likely there are 10 times that many bad side effects we haven't thought of.
Really, this is where at least the principles of Conservatism should be feeling a pulse. Where in human history, has it been a good idea to just change things for the sake of change? Hey -- let's dump 50,000 billion tons of iron into the ocean and see what happens! What could go wrong?
The analogy to the Robot Code is a good one. "First, do no harm, or by inaction, allow harm to happen." We need to add that to the Constitution IMHO.
I do not understand Treasury Secretary Geithner. I thought he was supposed to be on our side.
Where did you get that idea? From his long involvement with the same criminals who are robbing us blind?
In March 2008, he arranged the rescue and sale of Bear Stearns; in the same year, he played a pivotal role in both the decision to bail out AIG as well as the government decision not to save Lehman Brothers from bankruptcy, though claims were made after Geithner's nomination that distanced him from both AIG and Lehman Brothers.
There's more out there, too, about how Geithner is super-cuddle-buddies with all the big bankers.
Augmented reality.... It'a alive and well in medicine. In LASIK and other ophthalmic procedures, surgeons use systems which display video overlays on a live image of the eye. These are primarily used in planning the surgical procedure and adjusting laser parameters with visual feedback to properly register the treatment to the eye. Some of this is automatic (aligning the treatment to the patient's visual axis while displaying this for the surgeon), and some of this is "manual", such as registering the flap cut to the visible anatomy.
Well, I don't know so much about McVeighs, per se, but there does seem to be a sharp escalation in shootings in the last couple months. A great many people are killing, usually being driven by economic failures... Would you call this a manifestation of what you were expecting?
Hey, this sounds good (from talkleft.com):
Marijuana: Today in Mexico:
And with marijuana sales central to the drug trade, Mr. Holder said he was exploring ways to lower the minimum amount required for the federal prosecution of possession cases.
He also promised to send 100 more ATF agents to the border.
And Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano promised Mexico more help in the drug war from the Coast Guard.
And the idea that the Obama Administration would be smarter, rather than just tough on crime?
Mr. Medina-Mora said Mexico and the United States were working on ways to cooperate in the investigation and prosecution of smuggling and violent crimes, so that when there was a choice of jurisdiction, trials would be held in the country with the toughest applicable laws and penalties.
And from Napolitano:
“We are going to operate almost like a vise,” Ms. Napolitano said of the United States and Mexico, after the meeting with Mr. Calderón. “We’re going to take out the cartels that have been plaguing our communities for far too long.”
"Hedge Fund Paid [White House economic advsier Larry] Summers 5.2 Million Last Year"
And of course
"Bankers demand huge bonuses from taxpayers -- Obama says Yes we can!"
The Obama administration is engineering its new bailout initiatives in a way that it believes will allow firms benefiting from the programs to avoid restrictions imposed by Congress, including limits on lavish executive pay, according to government officials.
Administration officials have concluded that this approach is vital for persuading firms to participate in programs funded by the $700 billion financial rescue package.
The administration believes it can sidestep the rules because, in many cases, it has decided not to provide federal aid directly to financial companies, the sources said. Instead, the government has set up special entities that act as middlemen, channeling the bailout funds to the firms and, via this two-step process, stripping away the requirement that the restrictions be imposed, according to officials.
Obama just isn't doing it right. First, he needs to land a fighter jet on an aircraft carrier with a big banner MISSION ACCOMPLISHED IN AFGHANISTAN behind him while he gives a speech talking about our great victory in Afghanistan.
Next, Obama needs to start a new anti-drug campaign: JUST SAY NO. That's sure to work.
And lastly, Obama needs to go on TV and start making speeches in which he announces: "We must ask the quesiton -- is our children learning?"
Yes indeedy...CHANGE YOU CAN BELIEVE IN!!!
"best way to get the automakers a vastly better deal from the unions,"
" while prodding workers with a powerful motivation to return the companies to profitability. "
Dr. Brin? Do you really think it's workers that need prodding? They don't have 20 million dollar parachutes. They care about keeping their jobs.
There is only one way to get domestic Automakers out of hock, and that's to assume their healthcare liabilities.
Other than that, the Unions have been squeezed as hard as they can be squeezed. Workers have accepted huge pay cuts, and the job banks are gone.
Push them much farther, and we're headed back to the days of the Battle of the Overpass.
The UAW handles the pensions, and the big three have no pension liability.
The wages they pay aren't at all out of line for skilled tradesmen doing tedious and sometimes dangerous work.
Plumbers, steamfitters, boilermakers, electricians, heavy equipment operators ect. make a lot more. Even guys who install alarm systems and fire sprinklers make similar wages.
So, highly skilled blue collar workers are making 23-33 dollars an hour. That's not a hell of a lot, today, and it's actually only about 2/3rds of what their fathers made 40 years ago in real dollars.
There is only one way, worker owned or not, to return the big three to profitability - to take healthcare off their backs. That's why all three switched sides on the healthcare debate a few years back.
If Toyota and Honda had to pay double for worker healthcare (Japan is not single payer, but heavy regulation keeps prices down) they'd be in just as big a mess.
I know, I know, some flappy headed pundit creature told you last year that UAW line workers make 73 dollars an hour.
It's BS, and always was.
That number includes legacy healthcare costs, covering retirees (and their spouses/widows) from the days when they employed three times as many people.
The UAW is not and never was the problem.
The problems are -
1) A lack of foresight by management, in deciding to continue producing gas guzzling tanks as if oil would always be cheap.
2) A move from making money selling cars to making money financing cars.
3) Skyrocketing health care costs.
4) Currently, a consumer credit crunch.
5) Banks refusing to negotiate down the intrest on the Bonds they hold, because they expect to actually get more money in a bankruptcy settlement.
idiotgrl went to a place I had thought solely my own, till now. ;-) The "monastaries" argument. Ascetic monasteries have done the caloric restriction experiment in hundreds of variations down 3,000 years. If there were something simple to stumble into, they would have.
Sociotard, make allowances for polemical exaggeration. If there are 10,000 McVeighs, allow that 99.99% will be to timid, stupid or lazy or else smart, to actually perpetrate real mayhem. That doesn't mean the stirred up malevolence isn't there. When the feedstock gets big, you'll get some actual fruit. Bitter fruit.
David Brin wrote:
"Sociotard, make allowances for polemical exaggeration. If there are 10,000 McVeighs, allow that 99.99% will be to timid, stupid or lazy or else smart, to actually perpetrate real mayhem."
How to say this politely... This is a rather massive bit if fudging coming from a guy who loves to trumpet his predictive success as much as you do. The definition of a "Timothy McVeigh" in this kind of context can only refer to people who "actually perpetuate real mayhem." To say "There will be a thousand Lee Harvey Oswalds...but none of them will actually take a shot at the President" isn't really much of a prediction, is it?
If by "Timothy McVeighs" you "really meant" right wing whackaloons who just watch Fox News and shout at the TV whenever President Obama comes on the screen, then I imagine your "10,000 Timothy McVeighs" posts would have read quite differently. A prediction that in the near future there would be only 10,000 Dittoheads would have come out in tones of anticipatory triumph, rather than warning.
On the other hand if I were in your shoes, I would not abandon the 10K TVM prediction so quickly. These are early days. The economy is still in collapse, and we haven't seen the "last-helicopter-out-of-Baghdad" footage yet. IIRC, Glenn Beck and Chuck Norris both recently made rumblings about forming armed "cells" of "resistance."
Hopefully the 10K TVM prediction will turn out to be wrong though. When it does, I hope you will say, "Whelp--I missed that one. But hey, here's a company building magnus-effect airships! Didn't I mention that someplace in Earth?
H+ Magazine's web site does not work in Firefox. Spins saying "loading publication" until bovines return to domicile.
There is evidence that calorie restriction promotes autophagy of damaged organelles in the organism's cells thus promoting a cellular rejuvenation of sorts. This may also dovetail with Warburg's idea that cancer is due to malfunctioning or damaged mitochondria which is making a comeback in cancer research (cancers are a metabolic disease). The lifespans of mice can be extended by increasing certain oxidative damage repair enzymes' levels to suppress levels of free radicals that lead to peroxide damage of lipids and macromolecules in mitochondria. There are two mechanisms at work in aging - preprogrammed cellular aging and accumulated damage of cellular components. Calorie restriction and stimulation of the SIRT pathways via natural and manmade polyphenolic compounds is possible leading to a lower accumulation of damaged cells. Such drugs will likely improve the quality of life of the species as it ages. Preprogrammed cell death is likely not reversible via drugs currently, and it may never be if the regulatory networks do not allow it. The reason for this is because of the ends of the chromosomes called telomeres. Due to an inherent property of replicating linear DNA strands, those strands must become shorter after each replication. Genes near the chromosome ends tend to become silenced. One would have to reactivate expression of teleomerase (which lengthens the ends of chromosomes) which is not expressed in somatic cells. Teleomerase expression may depend upon factors that are only expressed in cancer and fetal stem cells.
Nature's immortality is children since most people didn't die of old age on the savannahs of Africa.Evolution favors reproduction over longevity. We've done the experiments and animals that live longer are less fecund. While I'm all for extending the quality of life, extending the lifespan past 120 years will likely not be likely without some genetic engineering of the race. I'm not sure I'd want to live that long personally anyway if I could not lead a full and active life.
A study just came out that humans have more motor neurons which lead to greater and finer muscle control. We can do delicate muscular tasks. Chimps have fewer motor neurons attached to the same muscles. They have something of an all or none muscle capability. This difference makes them great sprinters and they appear stronger, but it may be an illusion because we have more conscious control over our muscles than they do. Humans have been able to lift sizeable weights under stress in emergencies which means that our minds might be limiting our strength (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/03/090330200829.htm). Don't confuse physiology with metabolism. Aging will fall into the latter grouping.
The monasteries argument has problems. Many monks were scribes and they used lead based paints in their inks. Lead poisoning is a slow way to die, but one will still die younger than a scribe who doesn't use lead based paints. Without being able to exclude such environmental factors leading to premature death, surveying monasteries for lifespan data is largely useless. Most people die from infectious disease, and this was especially true up until antibiotics were widely available.
Here's a bit that's good:
From a source I wouldn't usually expect to read or recommend:
"While we should not regret that we cannot really constrain human nature very well, at least Austrians (a breed of libertarian-linked economists, for any visitors not already familiar with these pages or the great LvMI organization that hosts them) ought to be paying attention to the inadequate institutional framework that is not only poisoning the political atmosphere, but posing risks to important globally and regionally shared open-access commons like the atmosphere and oceans (which are probably are in much more immediate and grave threat than the climate). And they also ought to recognize that there are important economic interests that profit from the current institutional framework and have quite deliberately encouraged the current culture war...."
WHAT’S NEW Robert L. Park Friday, 20 Mar 09 Washington, DC
1. ENLIGHTENMENT: SPRING ARRIVES FOR AMERICAN SCIENCE. "The Enlightenment Returns," a guest editorial by Kurt Gottfried and Harold Varmus in today's Science, reminds readers that the founders of our nation were children of the Enlightenment. They "understood the power that flows from combining human reason with empirical knowledge." President Obama's Memorandum on Scientific Integrity directs administration officials to neither suppress nor alter scientific and technological findings, and make information developed for the government available to the public. Our long winter is over.
H+ Magazine's web site still doesn't work in Firefox. Spins saying "loading publication" with zero network activity, so it's not actually loading a damn thing.
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